Why I Love Budget Travel

I love budget travel. Maybe it's from watching too many episodes of Europe Through the Backdoor and drinking the Rick Steves Kool-Aid, but I wonder if you'll believe me when I tell you that I wouldn't travel any other way.

Last year I was considering taking a trip with friends — an all-inclusive spa vacation at a fancy resort. Ultimately I declined because all of the selling points — meals included, C ondé Nast Traveler seal of approval, fancy spa treatments — were actually drawbacks for me. There's nothing wrong with all-inclusive trips, mind you. They're easy to plan, and you don't have to worry about where you'll eat or how you'll get from point A to point B. They're a good option for a lot of people, and even culinary adventurer Anthony Bourdain has sung the praises of staying put and vegging out.

But our vacation dollars are limited, and my husband and I like to explore. The trip would have cost double what we paid for our honeymoon to the same destination (literally right down the beach), and the honeymoon included scuba diving, cooking classes, and renting a car — things we'd have to pay extra for if we took the spa trip. I also thought about how we enjoy checking out local restaurants, but with an all-inclusive meal plan, we'd be paying for meals that were essentially covered in the trip package.

That's when I realized that even if we could live the five-star travel life, we wouldn't. We're budget travelers at heart, and here's why:

  1. Budget-friendly accommodations are a great way to make new friends. Even within the “budget” category, there are different levels of frugality. Couch surfing is free, and you'll likely get to know your hosts very well, since you're staying in their home. In hostels you might be sharing a room, and you'll definitely share communal living spaces. In locally owned hotels and bed-and-breakfasts (my preference), there's the opportunity to get to know the family who owns and runs the joint. I particularly enjoyed speaking Italian with the owner of our hotel in Rome last year, who graciously (very, very graciously) told me I spoke Italian well. Italians are a kind people.
  2. Travel by train or bus gives you a glimpse into the everyday lives of locals. I really enjoy subways and buses. I mean, taxis have their place, as do airplanes. But I like trains and buses best. The first time we went to Rome, we were on a bus so crowded we were packed like sardines — literally right against our fellow passengers. Just when I thought that surely the bus driver wouldn't stop to pick up more people, he did. A petite nun stepped onto the bus, and everyone crammed in that much harder. After that, a few members of our group decided to take taxis for the rest of the trip. But I — the gal who gets nervous in large crowds — found the situation hilarious. If I had been in a taxi, I wouldn't have learned that overcrowded buses still stop for nuns!
  3. Pounding the pavement often results in the best “magic” moments. The cheapest mode of transportation isn't train or bus, it's your own two feet. I've happened upon some of the coolest stuff because I was wandering around on foot, most recently Caffe Roma Pastry on Mulberry Street in New York City. My husband and I walked in to what turned out to be a Little Italy institution, established in 1891. The pressed-tin ceiling and long wooden counters gave the place an old New York feel, like we'd stepped back in time, and the giant cannoli brought us right back into the moment. Some of my favorite travel moments are the ones I've literally walked into. Walking is also cheap exercise, or in my case, an excuse for a cannoli to go.
  4. Budgets make you creative. Tourist sights are popular for a reason, and there are usually several on my list of things to do. But I try to balance those with some off-the-beaten path activities, which are usually cheap (or free). For example, one day I went to the Natural History Museum and paid $25 for my ticket, and the next day I tracked down a secret bookstore (free admission, $10 spent on a used book). Make a list of the top attractions that are important to see or do, then use a budget travel book like Frommer's or Let's Go to find interesting, inexpensive activities to fill in the rest of your time.
  5. Street food, mom-and-pop restaurants, and picnics are fun and delicious. On that same trip to New York, we ate lunch at The Grand Sichuan. The orange beef and rice were easily the best I've ever had, and we had wonton soup, hot tea, and a huge plate of soup dumplings (a first for me, and a new favorite). The entire meal for two came to $14. On another day, we went to East Village Cheese Shop and bought picnic food, like 16 ounces of top-notch Brie for $3. We took our groceries to Central Park, where we met up with friends for a 3-hour leisurely lunch. Again, I consult a guidebook for ideas about which street carts to try and where to shop for picnic foods.

As Rick Steves writes, “A tight budget forces you to travel close to the ground, meeting and communicating with the people.” In my experience, that's been true.

We do make the occasional splurge while on vacation, usually picking one restaurant per trip where we'll have a really nice meal. During our New York trip, it was Il Buco. While it was expensive compared to The Grand Sichuan, it was worth every dollar (and actually not so pricey compared to what I imagine one could spend on a meal in NYC). Plus, the waiter was incredible. We don't particularly care if waiters are overly friendly or helpful, we're more interested in the food! But when you're in the hands of someone who's great at his job, the entire meal feels a little more special.

This isn't to say I'll never go on an all-inclusive trip. I'd never say never. If you have three kids and both parents work full-time, trying to plan a vacation can be another job and source of stress. (There are great all-inclusive deals out there, depending on what you like to eat and do.) And if you're the most comfortable in a five-star hotel and you can afford it, go for it! By all means, do what works for you.

But no matter how my situation might change, I think I'll always be a budget traveler at heart, seeking out the cheap, fantastic Chinese food and secret bookstores. Besides the obvious benefit of saving money, most of my favorite travel moments have been cheap or free.

What's your travel style? Where do you save and where do you happily spend more?

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Kat
Kat
8 years ago

Another travel article? Really? There’s only so much that can be said about liking hostels.

Annelise
Annelise
8 years ago
Reply to  Kat

Hear hear! Sorry to be a downer, but I’m getting a little tired of this. These articles are not just about travel (which, as a topic in itself, is welcome), they’re always about the (apparently) only “virtuous” way to travel, which is to stay in hostels and eat street food. Disagree, and you’re denounced either as some soulless corporate shill who only wants to eat at TGIF and shop at the local equivalent of Walmart or a frivolous spendthrift. I think this topic has come up enough by now for people to give me a bit of credit for what… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

Annelise, when I first read this article I found myself hoping that you would comment.

Your first paragraph is true enough, but your second really knocks the ball out of the park. Thank you!

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I have to say, I used to be an adventure budget traveler. But now that I have kids, my life is enough of an adventure and on vacation I want to relax period. Vacation packages are the only way to go. I recommend travel zoo’s top 20 email list. The deals on that list are amazing. You can travel with a package and still get great deals, why not an article on that?

partgypsy
partgypsy
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Yeah I’ve done that (kind of traveling). Now work full time plus have 2 kids. The only planned vacation I get every year is basically a free one with extended family, either staying in a cabin or tent. I WANT a vacation where I don’t have to cook, do laundry and take care of other people.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I’m so glad you spoke up, Annelise. As a young single woman with a chronic illness and disability, travel naturally takes a backseat budget wise, but when it does happen, comfort, health, safety and accessibility is the priority.

The last thing I want to do is to return from a trip needing to take a vacation from the vacation itself.

Michelle
Michelle
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

It’s one thing if you don’t like travel posts – that’s valid. But in my read of this particular post I did not sense any belittlement of anyone who makes different choices in travel. It was simply April’s explanation of why she prefers to travel this way.

I’m don’t understand the level of outrage in proportion to the content of the story. Perhaps you need a vacation….

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  Michelle

Agreed. I think people are continuing “conversations” started with the “Hostel” post.

Kat
Kat
8 years ago
Reply to  Michelle

I think people are just aggravated with the disproportionate amount of budget-travel articles. It’s nothing against April’s article, it’s just generally being bored with the topic. It’s been done to death on here.

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

You don’t need to be an introvert to not want to WASTE your vacation in a new place just conversing with other American backpackers. Extrovert here – sometimes you just want to experience somePLACE instead of the other travelers.

BWrites
BWrites
8 years ago
Reply to  Annelise

I think everyone has their own ‘nope, that’s too far’ mark; street food is great, unless I’m low on cash, but I’ve struggled enough with trying to sleep in unquiet hotel rooms (important lesson: for me, at least earplugs help, but not enough) to know that a room to myself is non-negotiable. At least the author is accommodating enough to recognize everyone has their own style. But there aren’t any real new tips here I haven’t heard a thousand times before, and often right here on GRS.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Kat

What Kat said. [proof here: https://www.getrichslowly.org/travel/ ] How about an article about getting health care/ health insurance when you make little money? That was a discussion that arose from the minimum wage article last week, and my impression is a lot of people have no idea. It would take some research, as laws vary from state to state, and it’s a bit of a narrow subject, but it’s something more central to PF than vacations, and it hasn’t been written about much in this blog (or anywhere I read for that matter). — PS- a little digging to make sure… Read more »

sarah
sarah
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Info about health insurance would be really helpful. I spent 2 different 3-month periods without it this year because of changing jobs and am about to have to go on COBRA (expensive!)

Andrew Hill
Andrew Hill
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

When I left my job in November of last year I began looking for health insurance because Cobra was expensive. I called up my insurance provider and told them I was looking for a family policy and I needed the number of an insurance broker they would recommend. The broker will have more than just that insurance company offers. They then recommended several carriers and told me which one was the best. I am using this policy as a stop gap for when my new insurance with my new employer kicks in. It covers major medical and enough so we… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

Damn! Would a high deductible policy work for you instead? I’m thinking if you can pay for your basic care, your premiums can go way down. And prescriptions can be expensive when there’s no generic alternative, but there usually is a generic that makes prescription plans moot. That is unless you need something pricey. Sorry I don’t know enough about this to help, but best wishes!

sarah
sarah
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

El Nerdo: I’m pregnant, so no one would sell me insurance. Fortunately, my current insurance is excellent with no copays or deductibles, so it’s worth the cost for now (at least until after the delivery). Hopefully I’ll be insured through my husband after that (who is currently job hunting). If not I’ll be going back to full time work right away for the insurance instead of part time which I prefer. Re: dental insurance – I’m convinced it’s a rip off. I have had 10 different kinds and none of them paid for much of anything. I had 2 molars… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

@Sarah, under Medicare, I have supplemental insurance though Healthnet, but fortunately it is free for me and so many doctors take it that I rarely have to ask. My co-payments are generally between $0 and $20.

I kind of know what you mean about the dental implants. My ex lost most of his teeth at a pretty young age and now facing paying out-of-pocket for full implants. Imagine how much that will be!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  sarah

Hey Sarah, I found this: Under a law known as HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, health insurers cannot consider pregnancy a preexisting condition. So, unlike illnesses such as diabetes, they can’t deny you coverage when you go from one job to another and switch health plans. Is that not true? Full article here: http://www.ivillage.com/pregnant-without-health-coverage/6-n-145593 — edit/p.s.- actually the article outlines many scenarios where one wouldn’t be covered by that law–what a nightmare! — re: implants-not sure if this is what you’re talking about, but my oral surgeon makes these titanium implants that are buried into… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I agree, El Nerdo. As someone who spent two years of her early 30s paying over $700/month in health care expenses, it would have been nice to have an article addressing that issue.

Thankfully Medicare kicked in Sept. 2011, but there are still left-over medical bills. I won’t even go into my dental debt…

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

700.00! That’s more than my friend pays to rent a one bedroom apartment. Life really is expensive.

An article about the implications of the new medicare system would be interesting. I’d like to know whether it is helping people.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Anne, life truly is expensive. I can think of a million things I could have done with that money, I mean, if I’m just going to throw it away anyway.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I’m getting some dental work right now and even working with some of the best guys in town it’s not that expensive when paying cash. For example, I was diagnosed with an impacted wisdom tooth that might need a bone graft– I read somewhere that wuld cost about $3,000, even considered a trip to Mexico to get that. When it was all said and done, it was a little less than $600 with a top-rated local oral surgeon, and I didn’t need the bone graft. I just saved up the money and paid with debit. No monthly premiums, no interest… Read more »

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

El Nerdo, its not Medicaid, its Medicare from being disabled, and unable to work for a period of time though I’m back in the game part-time now. Nothing to do with age or income – its disability. I’m on SSDI and once you’re on it, it takes two years for your Medicare to kick in. Its NOT something you want to qualify for before the age of 65, LOL.

In terms of my dental, I wasn’t offered any deals. Its good to know to shop around better for the next time around. Thanks for the heads up about that!

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

Oh, sorry! See how ignorant I am about the subject? That’s why I need a place to read about it. I know all about couchsurfing and redeeming miles and the benefits of exercise though 😛 About dental, I did a lot of research for my procedure and event went to low-cost clinics, but those clinics don’t offer oral surgery. So when I ponied up for the oral surgeon’s exam I asked for a budget for the full procedure, and surprise, it was a ton less than anticipated, so I paid it with a side job to my side job (ha).… Read more »

csdx
csdx
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

I’d just note that dental and medical insurance is really apples and oranges in the US. Dental plans are usually at best a kind of ‘prepayment’ plan because they have very low per year caps on payout. Versus medical insurance doesn’t usually have such, and is actually designed to cover catastrophic issues. Plus dental prices tend to be far cheaper than medical services for the rest of your body. One of the things to try to negotiate for if you don’t have insurance is to pay at the rate they’d be reinbursed as an ‘in-network’ plan. The difference between their… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Carla

@ csdx

You’re absolutely correct, but I was under the delusion that I couln’t afford dental care without a “dental plan” like I had with a previous employer.

Now the delusion has been corrected in my case–but how many people out there neglect themselves until it’s too late because they think they can’t afford it “without insurance”? Not everyone, of course, but I’m going to guess a lot of people.

Jacq
Jacq
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I think El Nerdo should write a post on health insurance. I’d read it – despite being Canadian…

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Jacq

LOL, I’m not writing anything that requires serious work without getting paid for it, but thanks for the vote of confidence.

Also, I checked your website and found a link to this:

http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-things-nobody-tells-you-about-being-poor/

I laughed so hard! Thanks for that.

Megan
Megan
8 years ago
Reply to  Kat

AGREED!

For myself, I get annoyed with these articles as traveling with kids is rarely mentioned (it came across as an afterthought in this article), if at all.

Like El Nerdo, I think I’d like to see more of the no-fun articles, like saving on medical expenses.

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago
Reply to  Megan

I think the main reason these travel articles have the particular slant they do is because the staff writers here are basically unattached. They don’t have nine to five jobs with a mere two weeks’ vacation and most of the writers here don’t have kids at home. Sarah Gilbert does but her kids are used to living far out of the mainstream and and I have the impression that they would be fine riding chicken buses for the duration of a Central American vacation (unlike my own kids). I would enjoy seeing a cheap travel article from someone who spends… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

That’s the problem of blogging vs. journalism. Blogging mostly follows the fallacious dictum of “write what you know,” which produces engaging heartfelt prose at first, but it has its limitations. Journalism on the other hand is about writing what you don’t know, meaning: maybe it’s not in your immediate personal experience but you research and learn about it, make phone calls, interview people, and check facts, and respond to a public need for information. I’m not saying a blog should be like a regular publication necessarily, but I’d like to find a place where there’s journalistic skill applied to the… Read more »

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Sure, bloggers tend to write what they know. But why then not just hire more parents? But the point of multi author blogs is to cultivate variety. There are TONS of mother bloggers who have normal family arrangements and ordinary mainstream lives. Any one of them would probably more than happy to do a few posts here about raising families and its costs. As well as personal finance and planning from a family perspective. It seems that GRS picks those who want to write about certain subjects instead of choosing writers based on demographic holes. Ordinary families with children is… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

“Huh”:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24620063/ns/travel-family/t/backpacking-whole-family/#.T4c6ho5Gx40

etc.

ps- oh look!

http://www.travelswithbaby.com/

anyway, yeah. more variety please. i’ve read enough “i quit my job to be a blogger and now i backpack the world with airline miles while living on a dollar a day” to last me a lifetime. i think it’s nearly impossible to find an ad-hoc person for every subject though, the logistics would be insane, and that’s where research and journalistic skills would come in handy.

Carla
Carla
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

This is a very inserting dialogue here because I come here to escape the world of “mommy bloggers” that sometimes infiltrate PF blogs – especially ones written by women. I don’t have kids and its nice to be able to escape articles on how to cloth diaper and how much breast feeding (exclusively) saves money.

I guess if you’re in one camp, blogs are biased in one direction and if you’re in another, they are biased in the opposite.

Barb
Barb
8 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

Does tripping around Europe with two teenagers on a single income apply (lol). Of course we were already there so air fare doesnt apply.

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  Megan

Also, I travelled with my eldest. It just wasn’t as fun as I expected. I know I CAN travel. Lots of people apparently like it. But we both thrived on a semi-routine with consistent naps. It worked out better for everyone. What I missed in not travelling as much (when we had the opportunity), I gained in a calm and happy daily life. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my son needed time in calm, safe and familiar environments to move around. That kind of time and place wasn’t easy to find when we were travelling in certain types… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Kat

Yes, absolutely.

This one really seems phoned in.

Kat
Kat
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Exactly. It seems like a softball fluff article to fill up the blog’s quota. There’s been a lot of those lately.

DB
DB
8 years ago
Reply to  Kat

Have a 16 m/o and it’s really hard to figure out how to squeeze in a vacation. What do you do that is reasonably relaxing (b/c trust me, you really can’t handle too many “adventures” with a toddler who still has a major need for 2-3 hour naps every afternoon) but not too ridiculously pricey? What about when kids are slightly older? Would love some more information geared to those who have kids.

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago
Reply to  Kat

Agreed! I lived in Russia and in Costa Rica and I know what poverty is like, and when my family moved to the U.S. we moved because of the high quality of life. So when we travel we prefer to travel with convenience. I don’t want to travel like a poor person. There’s this company that I like called “Go Ahead Tours” and they have affordable travel packages. Usually between $3,000-7,000. http://www.goaheadtours.com/ No I don’t work for them, but it would have been nice if April had mentioned agencies like them, I’m tired of reading about staying in hostels, stay-cations,… Read more »

TB
TB
8 years ago

To be honest, I don’t like traveling! So I find a great way to save money is to continue my dislike of travel. 🙂

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  TB

You have just committed GRS heresy!

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  TB

Yep, yep, yep, yep, yep. A 10-day vacation is 9 days too many away from home.

Get Rich Point
Get Rich Point
8 years ago

I know that I am not going to win many fans here by saying that I really don’t like budget travel, but the truth is that a budget travel robs me out of my comfort and happiness. It makes the travelling hectic. As many times I have tried the budget travel, I have fallen sick for five days. One has to compromise a lot during the travel. You have forget comfort and privacy if you are planning for a budget travel. I save money all year round so that when I travel, I make myself comfortable and happy. I love… Read more »

Tom
Tom
8 years ago

One of my favorite “budget travel” experiences was during a business trip to Copenhagen. I was the only one staying overnight, and my boss told me to do some sight-seeing on the company dime. Since I had not prepared for this, I hopped in a taxi at my hotel, told the driver of my plight, and asked to be taken to the little mermaid. The driver pointed out the various sites along the way. After checking out the statue, I walked back to my hotel, revisiting the areas the driver had called out. After crossing the river, I noticed a… Read more »

Brian
Brian
8 years ago
Reply to  Tom

My wife and I just returned on 4/8 from a trip to Helsinki, Stockholm, and Copenhagen. We spent 4 nights in Copenhagen and saw the little mermaid and Christiania as well (although i didn’t partake in the local ‘delicacies offered). I partially agree with the budget travel, it’s nice to walk to enjoy the local scenery but you need to factor in the amount of time spent in the city. For instance, the hotel we stayed at (Copenhagen Marriott) is far from the Little Mermaid if you walked so we rented bikes for the day to get there in less… Read more »

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  Brian

Yeah, I did not partake of the ‘delicacies’, either, only enjoyed the environment and a hamburger (from a place that seemed to do a lot of business, for some reason…)

Lisa
Lisa
8 years ago

Budget travel would be so much easier for me if I wasn’t such a princess about where I am lodging. I don’t want to share a bathroom or a room with strangers. Hostels seem like a good idea, but in practice, for me? Not so much. I am getting back into camping (car camping) and that might be a better alternative for me. Especially since, 1) my car was made for sleeping in, 2) I like to bike a lot so I can bring my bike with me and explore both that way and on foot. Still, not going to… Read more »

sarah
sarah
8 years ago
Reply to  Lisa

I don’t think budget travel means hostels per se. It just means planning your own trip and paying for the things you really want and not the things you don’t. I spent 3 weeks in Europe on a budget and never shared a bathroom, but had many picnic lunches and walked over a hundred miles (and never got on a tour bus).

Tom
Tom
8 years ago

Another thing I appreciated about budget travel was the ability to see and do so much more than I might have afforded, otherwise. Not many an American can say he and his spouse spent six weeks in Europe and experienced Hamburg, Leipzig, Prague, Zurich, Geneva, Rome, Tuscany, London, Stonehenge, Morocco, Madrid, Spain’s southern coast, and the Alhambra – let alone that it cost less than a couple thousand dollars in total.

teresa
teresa
8 years ago
Reply to  Tom

Tom,
That is soooooooooooo awesome. How did you do that? Seriously, we’d really appreciate knowing how you did that so cheaply. Thanks much.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

I meant to quickly type the highlights of the trip and how we did it inexpensively, but it’s gotten pretty long… Would probably be good for a user story – except for the fact that many are sick of travel-related stories! In case any want to comment on specific parts, I’ll post as a series of replies.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

I took advantage of presentations I needed to give for work in the two cities that book-ended the trip (Leipzig & London), which gave me company-paid airfare to/from Europe, plus a few nights hotel stay. I also spent a couple days in our European office in Switzerland in the middle of the trip, and took a train from there to another Swiss city, where we stayed overnight with a friend of my wife.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

Rented a car from Sixt for a couple of days for a side trip from Germany to Prague. Stayed in a private room at a hostel (an unused university dormitory). They sold vouchers for inexpensive food at the cafeteria, and the city center was a short public bus ride away. The Hostel manager cheerfully waited up for us to arrive at 2 am when we called ahead. Had some trouble navigating the city in the dark, as every street name had about 20 characters and had lots of c’s, z’s and k’s.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

Flew Ryanair, whenever appropriate. I think my average airfare was $25. Often, this required additional transportation (train or bus), but the net result was under $50 and at least half of the fare to fly other airlines.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

Visited my company’s European office for a couple of days (some more free travel and hotel), then took a train to another city in that country to stay with friends for one night.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

Mother-in-law lived in Northern Italy, so we stayed a few days with her and saw Tuscany and Umbria.

Took the train from there down to Rome, where we stayed for two nights in a private cabin at a hostel/campground across the river Tiber. They had free shuttles to/from the city center and the (Ryanair) airport. The city center was highly-walkable, so we saw all the ancient monuments for $20 a night, plus food.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

Stayed with friends of the family in Cadiz, Spain, which we used as a travel hub. We saw the local sights in a 100 mile radius with them, and generally took it easy (though I was telecommuting to keep up with things at work).

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

Rented a car ($25-$30/day) to do a big circle tour of southern Spain. First day was a drive along the southern coast, a visit to the beach, a tour of the Alhambra, and finally a night spent in the car under the stars on a mountaintop. Then we drove up to Madrid, where we spent half a day at the Museo del Prado, saw the rest of the sights, and spent another night in the car at a campground outside of the city. On the way back to Cadiz, we took side-trips to visit various historic sites.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

Booked an inexpensive tour of Morocco that included a ferry ride across the strait, two nights hotel lodging on the Mediterranean in Tangier, a walking tour of Tangier with traditional evening meal, a bus ride down the Atlantic coast to Asilah for another walking tour, and another bus trip to a remote mountain town for another walking tour. I think the total cost for Morocco was $125 per person (as long as you don’t get suckered into buying an expensive rug…)

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

Also spent a few days in Paris. Rented an inexpensive hotel near the subway, which we used to get around the city. Spent most of a day at the Louvre, took a train out to the Palace at Versailles, and saw the rest of the sites. Had dinner with a friend who lives in the city.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

In London, I borrowed a rental car a co-worker had rented, and drive out to see Stonehenge. We arrived there right at dawn for one of the most magical, mystical moments of my life.

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  teresa

I may have forgotten a few things (I forgot about Paris when I first wrote!), but that’s the gist of it. Other than the flights to and from Europe and our first lodging, we only planned a few days in advance, as we went – though there was a rough, overall itinerary. This allowed us to be fairly flexible, spend more or less time at each location as it was warranted, and actually saved us when one of our longer-term plans fell through. Taking advantage of business travel was obviously a big savings. Staying with friends and relatives another. If… Read more »

jim
jim
8 years ago
Reply to  Tom

Tom,
They keep saying my inquiry is a duplicate -which it is not. We’d appreciate knowing how you did that so cheaply.

jim
jim
8 years ago
Reply to  jim

Tom,
Thanks for the details. Really appreciate it.

Tracey+H
Tracey+H
8 years ago

The older we get, the more budget we go! Not hostels, but cheap, clean accommodations, especially with kitchen facilities. I love grocery shopping in foreign countries. And if you only go to a few restaurants on a vacation, they’re each special.

Steve
Steve
8 years ago
Reply to  Tracey+H

I love grocery shopping in foreign countries. Interestingly, sometimes that’s the only place you can find the smallest coins.

Jill
Jill
8 years ago

I think any post about budget travelling should include mention of airbnb.com!!! So much better than hostels! You can find anything from a couch for a weekend to an island for a wedding 🙂

Becka
Becka
8 years ago

I would love budget travel in theory, except for one gigantic problem: it’s hard enough for me to get a good night’s sleep even at home in my incredibly comfortable bed. Stick me in a tent or a crap hotel bed, and you can guarantee I’ll be grumpy. I have actually cut vacations short because of the sleep situation. Other parts of it I love. I have definitely walked many miles to avoid a $2 CTA charge, and even when Chicago was the city I lived in, I loved exploring it this way. The food I’m probably most interested in… Read more »

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  Becka

This is why I bring my memory foam pillow with me wherever I go, which goes a fair way toward accommodating different mattress situations.

Christine, Random Hangers blog
Christine, Random Hangers blog
8 years ago

I think April’s trying to say that budget travel is what you make of it. B&Bs aren’t guaranteed cheaper than a hotel, but it’s a nice way to meet some locals (and get good recommendations for things to do in an unfamiliar city) and usually get free breakfast to boot. That’s a far cry from assuming budget travel = hostels.

Mom of five
Mom of five
8 years ago

Our family enjoys camping and one of these summers we are hoping to spend a few weeks in our National Parks. However, the days of genuine budget travel (particularly international) are loooooong over for my husband and me. Kids, middle age, and our natural (admittedly boring) tendencies to prefer the familiar makes us seek out comfortable situations. We don’t need luxury, but if we’re going to voluntarily go out and see the world, we’d like a safe, clean, private room and bath where we can find familiar (read bland) food. Honestly, if we can’t afford to travel the way we… Read more »

John @ Married (with Debt)
John @ Married (with Debt)
8 years ago

Couchsurfing is definitely the way to go. Without it I wouldn’t have enjoyed an awesome until-dawn party with locals and expats in Budapest, or wouldn’t have enjoyed a midnight bbq and swim in Malta.

Budget travel is all I know, which is why I’m going to try to do it a bit nicer this summer. Mainly because my wife said “no hostels!”

WorkSaveLive
WorkSaveLive
8 years ago

I love traveling but when I do stay at places I enjoy for them to be nice. We don’t stay in hotels much but definitely use VRBO quite a bit.

We don’t blow the budget though. Last year we (2 of us) went to Breckenridge for 7 days and spent $1700. That included travel, food, cabin, white water rafting, and golfing.

I love eating at mom and pop restaurants – those are DEFINITELY the way to go!

Jeff @ Digital Nomad Journey
Jeff @ Digital Nomad Journey
8 years ago

It’s all a matter of what’s important to you.
Budget travel is way better than no travel at all. Maybe you can stay in cheap hostels, but eat fancy meals if that’s your thing.

Or sacrifice some other part of the trip. I much prefer local hostels as well, and meeting all of the travelers, a bit more than couchsurfing.

Paula
Paula
8 years ago

Recently, we traveled by car and used a national chain and earned 2 free night vouchers for 6 stays. Our rooms were clean w/ comfortable beds, a microwave, a fridge and had exercise rooms/pools for our use. I got discounts on all the rooms we booked and was able to workout (a necessity for my health conditions). We eat in most of the time and I was able to buy mainly organic foods from local markets. We ate out a few times for lunch in budget places. Another source of cheap rooms is to search the internet for upscale timeshare… Read more »

Barb
Barb
8 years ago

As someone who doesnt necessarily love budget travel, Im simply going to observe that none of the things you have listed require being on a firm budget. travelers with money do not always take all inclusive spa vacations – as someone who enjoys her comfort level and lived over seas for many years. I toook the train often (always the most comfortable class I could afford and always with reservations). We met lots of people by staying at mainly three star non tourist hotels-the kind with the good beds and full comfort. Cheap hotels are not the only way to… Read more »

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Barb

The like button just wasn’t enough on this one. The assumption that if your staying in cheap accomadations you somehow magically know a place better than someone who stays in a nice hotel is utterly ridiculous! I’ve done budget travel and I’ve done all inclusives. In both cases we got out from the tourist areas and saw the country and ate at local spots. This is more than I can say for a MAJORITY of other American students who were just there for the cheap drinks and too hung over to actually go see anything during the day. Honestly, if… Read more »

Ted Hessing
Ted Hessing
8 years ago

I absolutely love budget travel. The whole game of seeking out non-tourist, local places is phenomenal. My favorite tactics are: Meet up with locals (old friends are the best but you’d be surprised at how many people in your extended network would love to be your guide), hub & spoke travel (fly to one main city and do multiple day trips out of it), and take advantage of frequent flier miles and hotel points – they really add up! One last note on the all-inclusive comments. I was previously against them but when I did finally cave, I saw the… Read more »

EMH
EMH
8 years ago

I hope that no matter what trip you plan, it is within your budget! One person’s budget trip may include couch surfing and food carts while another person’s budget may afford a hot air balloon ride over Paris at sunset and a 12 course tasting menu with a private chef. There is no right or wrong way to travel as long as you aren’t going into debt. I appreciate the tips and ones that i would like to add: Airbnb: You can spend a lot or a little but it is something to look into. Ryan Air and Easy Jet:… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  EMH

Ryanair treats its employees like dirt and its customers like slightly better quality dirt.

Lucille
Lucille
8 years ago

My ex was a avid budget traveller and I’ve stayed in some dives on his behalf. He very nearly put me off travelling completely but I saved myself by booking a luxury package…aah..heavenly. Am not against budget travel but you’ve gotta have the right companion..not one who thinks cockroaches in your bed are cute!!

Betsy Talbot
Betsy Talbot
8 years ago

My husband and I have been budget traveling for 18 months now. You can do it without sleeping in hostel dorm rooms or hammocks (though hostel private rooms are surprisingly nice – I’m in one right now in Dali, China with a view of the mountains and a really nice bathroom). Our best tip, however, is to try housesitting. We’ve stayed in a houseboat in Amsterdam, a manor house in the English countryside, a top-floor condo in Europe, and a beautiful cabin in the Andes Mountains of South America, among others. Our favorite site for housesitting gigs is http://www.trustedhousesitters.com (and… Read more »

PawPrint
PawPrint
8 years ago
Reply to  Betsy Talbot

Thanks for the great tip!

Erica
Erica
8 years ago

You can stay in a hostel and still get your privacy. Many hostels offer small rooms for 2 or 3 people, so you can book a private room. It’s more expensive than a bed, but cheaper than a hotel. I stayed in hostels when I visited Germany and Dublin.

They each had a private bath in the room. The first place was a cesspit, but the others were very nice and clean.

SolidGreenLLC
SolidGreenLLC
8 years ago

This is an absolutely fantastic article! I, too, will choose to travel on a budget, regardless of income, for all of the reasons mentioned in this post and so many more. Traveling is absolutely one of my favorite things to spend money on. I love to explore! This past summer, my husband and I spent 2 weeks in Italy and our budget travel made the trip so much more enjoyable! We always stayed in B&Bs to get to know the locals and their culture better. We shopped the local markets, made packed lunches, and snacked on delicious local, fresh fruits.… Read more »

Lori Blatzheim
Lori Blatzheim
8 years ago

Ah April, You brought back so many memories. We have always been frugal on our trips and, we have always traveled. If planning a trip to Europe I would strongly suggest the following: Do a search and see if any relatives or friends of the family are living there. If you find anyone start corresponding with them. Meeting them really adds to the expeerience. Check out low cost European airlines. Flying is no frills but often costs less than the trains. That’s not to limit secondary train travel, but to consider what will work best for you. Consider Hostels. This… Read more »

Frugal Chick in Indiana
Frugal Chick in Indiana
8 years ago

6 days until I embark on the longest vacation I have ever taken- 11 days. I will be paying for two places at the same time- a condo in Gulf Shores where my kids will be staying with my parents for 3 of the 11 days and a bed-n-breakfast in New Orleans where my husband and I will be spending the weekend before going back to the condo in Gulf Shores for the next week.
It will be worth every penny and I am going to spend my money and enjoy every moment of it~!

Michael
Michael
8 years ago

I’ve been to Brazil several times, around Europe and through the US on both 1st class/organized/expensive and on a shoestring. Both have their merits, but the strong anti-money travel is almost making me noxious. Budget-friendly accommodations are a great way to make new friends. Traveling on a budget lets you meet other budget travelers. Budget travelers can be interesting, yes, but you’re also likely to only run into budget travelers. You’re not going to meet the CEOs of companies traveling for business and hear about how they built up their company from scratch, or the sellers for international organizations describing… Read more »

Anne
Anne
8 years ago
Reply to  Michael

It seems strange to spend more and expect to network. What if you don’t find this guiding business man to spend time with? What if you just find people who want to rest and relax and not talk about work? What if you find successful men or women who want to spend time with their travel partners and not strangers, as many busy professionals want to do on their vacations? If you want to network, that’s great. Go to it. Attend conferences. Join lunch groups and meet ups. I certainly wouldn’t spend more for the random chance of meeting someone… Read more »

stellamarina
stellamarina
8 years ago

On a tight retirement budget, my yearly trip to a foreign country that I have not yet visited must not cost more than US$3000 total. Hostels and cheap guest houses are the way to extend this money into a one to two month trip rather than one big splurge at a spa resort for a week. Last year the $3000 got me a month in Tahiti/French Polynesia. In two weeks time I leave for two months in Malaysia on it.

Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
8 years ago

Couldn’t agree more. My travel style is mixed, when I’m alone (or with friends) we are definitely on a budget. But when I’m traveling with my parents, they definitely step the game up.

Brenton
Brenton
8 years ago

I am currently planning my summer vacation, and none of the “advice” in this article is useful to me at all. None of it. If you are going to write about travel every other week, at least diversify a little bit. Its not just that there are lots of travel articles, its that all of them involve travelling to foreign countries, staying at craphole hostels, etc… Lets say you are travelling to Yosemite, or Las Vegas, or Orlando… you know places lots of people go to every year. How would any of the advice in this article help you? Sure,… Read more »

EMH
EMH
8 years ago
Reply to  Brenton

Some things that I do or look for when travelling that may assist you: I always check Hotels.com for rates. Sometimes it is the cheapest but not always. If you book 10 nights with them (doesn’t have to be all at once, can be accumulated over years) you get the 11th night free. This has saved me money in the past but I travel a lot and accumulate 10 nights within a few months. I check online for people selling gift cards/Groupons/etc at locations I am visiting. DealsGoRound has helped me numerous times. I use OpenTable.com to make restaurant reservations… Read more »

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Brenton

when we’re traveling we frequently use the review on trip advisor – I have an app for it on my phone. You get more suggestions for mom and pop places than for chains like in your gps…

Babs
Babs
8 years ago
Reply to  Brenton

We used to stay at KOAs in cabins all the time. Especially around National Parks. The rates are really good and the kids loved staying in them. They are all independently owned and have different levels of accomodations & activities but there is plenty of information on the websites about each one. all the ones we stayed in were clean as a whistle and the staff were always friendly.

BWrites
BWrites
8 years ago
Reply to  Brenton

If you’re going to Orlando, I recommend the MouseSavers website and newsletter. Even if you’re avoiding the Mouse they’re full of good reviews and advice.

Young Professional Finances
Young Professional Finances
8 years ago

I actually LOVE all inclusive vacations. I’m able to relax so much more when it’s all inclusive. When it’s not and I have to think about where to eat and how much money I can spend – and then how much money am I spending TOTAL on the vacation, I just get so stressed out. Buying all inclusive enables me to be able to actually stick to a budget when I’m on vacation and allows me to completely relax.

Drew C.
Drew C.
8 years ago

Great post. I’m traveling to Italy this next month with three other friends and I’ve found that renting a car is the best option because we can split the costs 4 ways. Renting a car for 11 days ends up being only $200 a person (including gas). I am so stoked about it, and we’re keeping a 2-week trip to under $2000 (and that’s everything).

Heather
Heather
8 years ago

I think one reason I like budget, adventure style travel is that it forces me to have a different experience than I do every day at home. Even incredibly luxurious hotels will not be as big or comfortable as my 4 bedroom home. And I have plenty of time to relax at home and read, so I don’t need to go to a beach for that reason. I live a comfortable life 48 weeks a year, so I can afford to rough it a bit when traveling. Public transit, getting lost in a quaint neighborhood, and even encountering language barriers… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago
Reply to  Heather

Hehe. Incredibly luxurious hotels are bigger and probably more comfortable than my 725 sq ft apartment back home 🙂

I’ll pay for some nicer things on the road, particularly because I can’t afford them back home.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Heather

I guess it goes both ways 🙂 I know people who cut down on the housing so they can afford to travel (and live a little better when they travel sometimes). I also know people who would rather put money into their home than spend it on international travel. (The thinking there is that travel provides a couple of weeks of happiness, whereas their home provides ongoing happiness.)

As long as their financial houses are in order, it’s great they can do what makes them happy.

Betsy
Betsy
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

Thank you.

Martin
Martin
8 years ago

Once before we were married my wife stayed at a hostel in GB and in spite of inspection came away riddled with bedbug bites. The whole thing was a disaster. Needless to say following that, we do not skimp on accommodations. Hostels are for people that are younger and with better constitutions and a flare for risk that I have lost since I left University.

Laura
Laura
8 years ago
Reply to  Martin

Trust me, bedbugs are NOT limited to budget accommodations. And on the subject of “critters,” here’s one for you…I just got back from a conference at a 4-star luxury resort at Stone Mountain in Atlanta. On our last night, my roommate pulled back her bedcovers to find a LIVE scorpion in her bed!

Martin
Martin
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Yikes!

Yeah, I know bedbugs don’t discriminate, but I bet they’re a high instance in hostels than hotels. That, and hotels are probably more apt to take quick action.

Amy F
Amy F
8 years ago

I’m heading to Switzerland this summer for my 5th trip to Europe. Everyone has been planned with the help of my boy, Rick Steves. I’ve NEVER stayed in a hostel, and I’ve NEVER shared a bathroom. I tend to go mid-level, and his recommendations offer the basic to the luxurious. I like my world to be shaken up when I travel, but I also don’t have kids or a husband to take into consideration. To me, there’s nothing better than a local’s recommendation for a place to eat or a site to visit. These experiences have taken me out of… Read more »

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

I collect miles and points like crazy. My wife and I have business class airfare to Asia/Europe/South America covered for the next three or four years or so. In addition, points allow us to stay in some pretty nice accommodations, so we can mix it up between nicer chain hotels and local budget places. Because of this, I can’t say we’re true budget travelers, but I can guarantee you that we pay far less for a given level of overall comfort than one would ever think. Our vacations are rarely cheap, but that’s because I can take off from work… Read more »

jim
jim
8 years ago

Tom,
I’m not sure you’re getting my email responses, so here’s another THANK YOU for the tips. YOU ought to do a “how to travel abroad cheap, but with class”. Thanks much

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  jim

Jim, thanks for your interest. It was quite an experience, with both its ups and downs. I figured I’d post all the parts in one place, under the first request – so it may have only looked like I wasn’t getting your responses.

Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey
Cherleen @ My Personal Finance Journey
8 years ago

I have tried couch surfing three years ago and I loved it! My hosts do not have similar amenities offered by hotels but they were very friendly and accomodating.

KP
KP
8 years ago

My Husband and I both work more than full time. When we travel for extended periods of time, we have found that a good travel agent more than pays for itself. Our travel agent knows our like and dislikes and has provided us with great trips with our budget and when we could go.

We have also never had the issues with changing plans with the agent that we have had with trips that we booked using Travelocity or Hotels.com

Carl Lassegue
Carl Lassegue
8 years ago

I don’t think I could do couch surfing but I think it would be awesome to stay in locally owned bed and breaksfasts.

Zorica
Zorica
8 years ago

I totally agree with everything said in the article! 🙂 Love budget travel!

Jaime
Jaime
8 years ago

I know this isn’t popular but I actually like packaged American tours, I like seeing other Americans on our tour group. What’s wrong with that? When I go overseas with tour groups it makes me feel a little at home with other Americans. While I do want to appreciate the beauty of each country in every trip, I don’t need to see the gritty details and the poverty of each country. I’ve already been poor in Russia and then Costa Rica before moving to the U.S. I don’t need to see that on every trip I go to. I guess… Read more »

lulu
lulu
8 years ago

I prefer a combination of both. I like to experience different types of lodging in a foreign place. I love to experience at least one night in a fancy hotel, a night in a local inn, and the rest of the time in a modest hotel or B&B.

It’s about the experience of staying there, and having choices.

Pete Molloy
Pete Molloy
6 years ago

The quickest and most affordable option for great cross country train travel, is to buy the cheapest possible train tickets online. Your can save considerable money on train tickets when planning a train vacation and can book well in advance, this approach to booking, often allows you to get superior, with more wonderful benefits to enjoy. So, get the most out of your upcoming train journey, get some great deals and jump onboard a train soon!

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