Traveling on a small budget never sounds easy or fun. Who wants to count dollars when you’re visiting a new city? However the further you flex your fund, the more you can experience.
Throughout our trip, we were over our estimated budget for each country. When we tallied the total amount, we were sure we had over spent. To our surprise, our total cost equaled $50/day per person! By the end of our trip, we had learned how far the value of a dollar could stretch.
Not sure if you can travel on a budget? Check out our practical tips below to learn how we were able to have a comfortable, once in a lifetime trip for $50/day.
1. Set a travel budget and keep track of your costs
Setting a target amount to spend for your trip will help you spend less once you start traveling. We updated our spreadsheet at least once a month and made spending adjustments as needed.
2. Buy essentials ahead of your trip
We started buying travel gear long before our first flight, keeping our eyes open for sales on our favorite brands and shops. Gear such as our backpacks, laptop, activewear, and external batteries could be used before and after our travels, so we got full usage out of them.
Don’t start your trip with debt – Spreading out these purchases prevented a large credit card bill that we’d need to pay off in the beginning of our trip. This reduced our stress, and allowed us to start fresh.
3. Look for budget accommodation
Typically, you won’t be spending too much time inside your hotel room, so this is an area where you can save. Now this does not mean you should sacrifice quality for price. We used Booking.com to easily find accommodations in our price range while avoiding any horror stories.
Here are a few tips to find the best place for your budget:
Filter for highest rated (9.0+), cheapest price, and best cleanliness
The app will first display an endless spread of room options across a map, which can be overwhelming. By filtering for the best rooms at the lowest prices, you’ll help narrow your search and book confidently.
Read the reviews! By focusing on the latest comments, you get the best up-to-date impression of the room you’re considering. Checking these reviews before booking helped us avoid unwanted construction noises, recently broken amenities, and everything else a numerical rating may not capture.
Pay a little extra for the right location. Finding a hotel in a central location will save you money and time on transportation. Look for places that are walking distances to restaurants, attractions, convenience stores and public transit.
4. Cut down on the alcohol….
We know, we know…. What’s a vacation without a cocktail in your hand? However, we quickly realized drinks would eat up our budget. While we did not completely cut drinking during our travel, we did:
Drink locally – We had the local beer or spirit which was significantly cheaper than trying to order your go-to cocktail. In Asia this meant the $2 beers (Pro tip, get the big bottle, and split into two!) and wine in New Zealand.
Prioritize happy hour and weekly specials – If there was a cool bar we wanted to check out we’d plan our itinerary around their happy hour. We’d also look out for nightly specials at restaurants. Often that included drinks with specific entrees – our favorite was a wine and pasta pairing.
5. Stock up on your own breakfast
We did not become breakfast people until we started traveling. Breakfast is cheap and easy to prep for, and you rarely need to turn on a burner! Stock up on fruit, cereal bars, or yogurt that will save you money at cafes.
Book your lodging based off complementary breakfast – Some hostels and homestays also offer free breakfast which is a huge plus! Our favorite was when they would even deliver it right to our doorstep! Not spending money on this meal will ease up your budget for a delicious dinner.
6. Book flights and transportation off-peak days and times
One of the biggest benefits of traveling full time, was having complete control and flexibility of our commute. Search for off-peak transportation on weekdays that are cheaper than weekends. You can also strategize to take red eye’s or overnight trains to save you on one night of lodging.
Book in advance – Even though we usually planned our days as we went, we found that booking flights two to three weeks before departure would guarantee lower than average fares. This helped us plan out our high-level itinerary while also giving us the mobility we wanted once at our destination.
7. Skip the ATM and Foreign Exchange fees
Get a checking account that reimburses your ATM fees – We opened an account with Charles Schwab specifically for this reason. Those fees add up quickly (we’d receive $50+ every couple of weeks), and it’s better to pull out small sums of money frequently vs carrying a large amount on you. This card also worked at the majority of the off the beaten path ATMs we used throughout Asia.
When possible, charge it to your credit card – Make sure to use a credit card that does not charge an additional fee for foreign transactions. We opened up a Chase Sapphire Reserve card for our trip because of their premium travel benefits. These spent dollars will turn into points that you can use to book future flights and hotels with!
Lounge it up – Some credit cards offer airport lounge access. You can also pay a one-time member fee for entry. We took full advantage of this and stopped at each airport lounge for a free meal or snack before our flights.
8. Find free attractions and activities
Even out your budget with free entertainment – Days spent walking, hiking, or hanging out at the beach balanced out the days we paid for guided tours or entrance fees. Look up local attractions that are free of charge, or waive fees during certain times of the month.
Hiking was probably our favorite free activity. We got to see so much natural beauty without spending a dime.
9. Choose your activity based on location
Pick the most cost effective place to enjoy – If you are traveling to multiple places, choose the location where your excursion may be cheaper. Example; if you want to get your PADI scuba certification, it’s much cheaper to do so in Asia than in Australia.
Compare prices of different tour companies – Do your research and compare local tour groups. You can often find excursion deals through your accommodation or online at a discount price vs booking in person. We used Backpackerdeals.com quite often.
10. Try to focus on the big picture.
We look back and laugh at the small things we penny counted and stressed over; getting into little arguments about buying coffees, or an extra $2 beer. At the end of the day, these purchases are not going to break the bank. While it’s good to keep to budget and save where you can, remember you are traveling! Who knows when you’ll visit this destination again or have the same opportunity and experience. Make sure to grab a drink to enjoy the sunset, or order the yummy dessert you’ve been craving. Sometimes, it was these small things that kept us going.