10 tips for traveling on a budget

It’s no secret that Jon and I love to travel. From living abroad for the last year to traveling with our families or just us two, we’ve traveled quite a bit. Some of our best memories have been on trips we have taken together. Being able to travel both domestically and abroad has become much more accessible to more people, and it’s totally possible to plan a great trip on a budget. So here is a list of 10 tips for traveling on a budget that we’ve learned through trial and error.

1. Do your research before you leave.

Jon and I have found that the more research we do, the more smoothly our trip goes. We also tend to save money when we know how we are getting there, where we are staying, and how we will get around once we are there.

One of my favorite examples of this was when we went to Oaxaca. On the way there, we had our trip planned out very well. We took a shuttle from Panajachel, Guatemala to Tapachula, Mexico, and then an overnight bus from Tapachula to Oaxaca City. While it took us a long time to get there (about 25 hours total), it all went very smoothly.

In contrast, when we came back from the Oaxaca coast, we had NOT planned it out at all. Because we didn’t plan our transportation back very well, we ended up having to take an overnight bus, a shuttle, a taxi, a chicken bus, and then a boat across the Lake Atitlán to get back home. Needless to say, we hadn’t done our research on how to get back, and it ended up costing us time and more money than if we had planned it out. Moral of the story–do your research, and plan out (or at least roughly plan out) how you will be getting to and from your destination.

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2. Use sites such as www.hoteltonight.com.

Hoteltonight is a great resource because it helps you find cheap hotels for the night you arrive at your destination. You can download the app to your phone or use their website. I would recommend this to the traveler who is on a tight budget and who doesn’t mind “winging” their trip a bit. Hoteltonight scans local last-minute deals when hotels are trying to sell out rooms. This is why you have to wait until the day of to book, but also why you may get a great deal on a hotel room.

Hoteltonight also has great variety of locations that they cover, both domestically in the US and abroad. They have a list on their website of where they look for deals, so it’s worth looking at before you plan your next trip.

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3. Take public transportation!

This is one of the biggest recommendations I can make for traveling on a budget. Everywhere I’ve gone, from London to Paris to Mexico City, I’ve always taken the public transportation. This is not only a great way to save money, but also a less touristy way to see the city. It’s more fun to travel like a local and actually see how people in that place live.

If you’re not in a city and can’t take a subway/metro system, check out the local bus schedule. This will almost always be less expensive than taking a taxi. And if you are in Asia, consider taking a tuk tuk/rickshaw. I’ve done this in China, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, India, and now in Guatemala. Tuk tuks are a really fun way to see wherever it is you are, and a great way to practice talking to locals as well.

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4. Consider taking a shuttle, bus, or train instead of a plane.

This obviously depends on where you are traveling to. For example, if you are traveling around Europe, you can buy a plane ticket there and then take trains to travel to different countries to save on money.

Since we live in Guatemala, we have lot of opportunities to take shuttles and buses to other countries. This usually takes longer, but it saves us a ton of money to travel this way. A really popular destination for expatriates to travel to from Guatemala is San Cristóbal, Mexico, and all of us take the local shuttle there. It takes about 10 hours, is around $30 USD, and is obviously much cheaper than taking a flight there.

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5. Use Airbnb to book your stay instead of a hotel (or hostel).

We love using Airbnb. Jon and I have used it on our own, and my family has used it for traveling as well. The great thing about using Airbnb is that you can set the location, price range, and size of the place you would like to stay. They have completely revolutionized the way people travel and rent out space. This is a great resource if you want to stay in more of an apartment-style location as opposed to a hotel. In some of the Airbnbs we have stayed at there are full or half kitchens. This allows you to buy your own food and cook, which saves on money, especially if you are traveling with a family.

Plus, you get to meet the people that rent out the space. We have typically had great experiences with this, as people who rent out their space to Airbnb are generally very friendly. It definitely adds a more personal touch to the place you are staying than a hotel.

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6. Eat the street food!

Okay, I know everyone says not to eat the street food where you travel, but I have eaten street food in many places all over the world. My favorite street food is in Thailand and Mexico. Europe (I’m looking at you, France) also has really great street food. Local street food is typically less expensive than eating at a restaurant and oftentimes has better food.

Buying from a local street vendor also allows you to find a bench/park/tourist attraction and enjoy the ambiance of the area, weather permitting. One of my favorite things we did in Oaxaca and Mexico City was eat the street food. I’m talking elote (corn with mayo, cheese, chili, salt and lime), quesadillas, chicharrones, and tacos. Yum. This also allows you to walk around the city and grab food as you please. Say yes to the street food!

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Jon’s favorite face to make at me.

7. Buy food from the local market instead of a restaurant.

This is particularly useful if you have an Airbnb or are staying in a place with at least a half-kitchen. Buying food from the market can also allow you to see more of what local life is like, as well interact with the people that live there. Many places also have food stalls where you can sit and eat market food. This will save you a ton of money so that you are not stuck eating out for breakfast/lunch/dinner.

Something that has worked well for me and Jon is buying something cheap (like bread) at a local market the day before, eating that for breakfast/lunch, and then eating an early dinner out. This way, we save money on 1-2 meals per day, and we still get to eat out and enjoy our vacation. Win, win!

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8. Learn some phrases in the local language.

This will definitely be more difficult in a place like India or Thailand, but even attempting to learn a few words in the local language goes a long way when trying to communicate. It is easy for us to travel around Latin America because we speak Spanish, and this goes a long way when talking with people and trying to work out logistics/get information.

If you are traveling to a place that has a difficult language, buy a pocket-sized dictionary, download an app like SpanishDict, or watch a few YouTube channels with key phrases you may use while traveling. Even if you mess up and end up sounding like a fool, at least you are making an effort to communicate in the host country’s language. I can’t stress enough how far this goes while traveling abroad. It also gets you out of your comfort zone. Remember, you are a visitor there, so be as respectful as possible. You may end up making more friends than you thought you would.

I would also add to this–learn how the locals barter. When you can master the local bartering system, you can pick up souvenirs wherever you are traveling at a fair price (both for you and the person selling to you). Don’t get ripped off like an average tourist! Learn how it is that locals barter and agree on a fair price, and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel that they are charging you too much. Most of the time, if someone really wants to sell you something, they will drop their price so that it is fair (and not inflated for tourists).

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Photos from when my family came to visit us in Guatemala in December!

9. Pack as lightly as possible.

This is especially important if you are flying. Packing solely carry-ons will help you save money in baggage fees. Think about what you really need, pack clothes you can re-use, and pack layers so that you take up less room in your suitcase. Buy liquid containers at CVS or Target so that you can pack as little products as possible. This will not only help with the baggage fees, but also when you are traveling around (for example, if you are going to multiple locations at the same destination).

I have found that when I overpack, I hardly end up using what I packed anyway. It is always much easier to pack and travel light!

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10. Use www.tripadvisor.com.

I have saved the best for last–Trip Advisor. This is my go-to for learning about local food, attractions, restaurants, museums, tours, etc. It is an incredible resource and many people contribute reviews to it. We love checking Trip Advisor and generally plan vacations around recommendations made on their website. I can’t stress enough how useful of a resource it is! You can search by location, price, and desired activity. You just can’t beat Trip Advisor!

We also use Lonely Planet which has great resources for budget traveling as well.

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So here it is, my top 10 tips for traveling on a budget.

Happy travels!

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Always ruining my photos… 😉

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