Thursday, May 28, 2015

10 Tips for Traveling on a Budget

Over the last few years I've received a lot of emails from people asking how I have been able to travel as much as I have and whether I have any tips for traveling on a budget. I decided finally to post on this topic and share with you ten tricks I use for traveling abroad as inexpensively as possible.

Throughout my 20s I was able to see a lot of the world. This was not because I had a lot of money. I was able to do this, in part, because rather than buy things I bought experiences. I never had nice stuff and usually lived pretty basically. I also worked a lot while going to school and every time I could scrape together some money, I would do what I could to see how far it could take me in the world, which got me to be pretty creative in my traveling.

Now that I'm no longer a poor college student, my lifestyle has changed, but I still generally travel on a pretty tight budget. Because CHEAP. Below are the main ways I save big bucks while out and about:

1. Don't Do Hotels:

There are plenty of cheaper options available than hotels. If you want to save money while traveling, cutting out hotel costs is the fastest way to do it. For the bravest folks, is your best friend. Couchsurfing is a service where people from all over the world sign up and offer to allow travelers to stay in their homes for free. You search profiles in the city you want to visit, read reviews on the person, and contact them if you want to try to stay with them. My friend Matt and I couchsurfed for three weeks in Eastern and Central Europe once and didn't have to pay a penny for boarding almost the entire time. When I returned from that trip, I paid it forward and hosted travelers of my own. Not only did this save on costs, but I have also made wonderful friends all over the world through this. There's a risk, too, of course. Like murder. But so far that hasn't happened to me.

Even if you're not willing to couchsurf, there are other more affordable boarding options. People rent out apartments on sites like for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. Communal hostels are available everywhere as well.

(Here's a video of one story I told on The Porch about a particularly strange couchsurfing experience)

2. Be flexible on travel dates and destinations:

If you have the travel bug and you are interested in seeing lots of different places, use that to your advantage. Go where the fares are inexpensive. Hop on a site like and start searching for tickets to every city you could possibly want to see and make note of any that appear to be a particularly good bargain. Use flexible travel dates. Keep in mind that flying mid-week is often much cheaper than flying on a Saturday or Sunday. Most places in the northern hemisphere are much more expensive in August than they are in May. It might be hundreds of dollars cheaper to fly into a city that is only a few hundred miles away from the one you want to see. Search far and wide and you will be surprised at the difference in cost you are able to discover.

3. Overnight trains:

Especially if you are in Europe, taking overnight trains is a great way to combine the costs of travel and boarding.

Cramped on an overnight train with Kimberly in 2009 in Russia during truly the worst hair phase of my life.

4. Pack food and use local grocery stores:

Many years ago on one long trip through Europe, a friend and I packed two large Ziploc bags of protein bars. We ate these for a lot of meals (usually breakfast) and found that we saved a surprising amount of money this way.

5. Let guidebooks be your best friend:

If you are in a city or country that has any kind of tourism presence, there is probably an amazing guidebook that can take you on a tour of everything you would want to see. Don't feel the need to pay someone to show you around. You will probably see and experience more (and appreciate what you see more) if you go at it on your own with a guidebook.

6. But don't take restaurant or hotel advice from the guidebook:

It has been recommended in a highly-read book so the places are now crowded and the prices are inflated. Find the restaurant it recommends and go to the one next door. The food is probably just as good and half as expensive.

7. Find taxis on less touristy streets:

A taxi that picks you up in front of Red Square is going to be absurdly more expensive than one that picks you up down the street in a quiet alley.

8. Meet locals:

When you get to a new city, find places where locals hang out and befriend them. They can show you where to go to avoid expensive tourist traps. Plus, it is so much more enjoyable to explore a city with a new local friend. Couchsurfing is another great way to meet people, even if you aren't looking to stay with them. You can search for people through couchsurfing and request just to meet up for lunch. Couchsurfers use the site because they love meeting people from all over the world and they are anxious to show travelers why their city is so wonderful. It's a shame not to take advantage of this.

I met one local my first day in Sarajevo who showed me parts of the city I never would have found on my own. Hi Anel!

9. Follow the crisis:

People think I'm crazy for this one. And maybe I am. But if some sort of crisis has recently happened in a country I want to see, I immediately start looking at plane tickets to that country. Crisis causes travelers to stay away, which drives down airfare, hotel, local currency, etc., so that everything is much less expensive. And in many many cases, the place is really not more dangerous or less wonderful. Last year I traveled through Ukraine at a fraction of the cost of normal years and felt every bit as safe as I ever have there (not to mention, seeing a country in crisis was one of the most educational and memorable experiences of my life). Bonus: if you go to an area in crisis, there will usually be ample opportunity for humanitarian service, a phenomenal way to make your travels more worthwhile by helping people in need.

Wandering the devastation in Ukraine, 2014.

10. Be willing to leave the beaten path:

Places that attract a lot of tourists like Paris and London and Rome tend to be a lot more expensive than other wonderful destinations that people don't think about as often, like Krakow and Kyiv and, as I recently discovered, the Balkans. It gets even cheaper if you are willing to really go off the beaten path to cities and countries most people have never heard of. And the thing is, these lesser-known places are often a lot more fun to explore because they aren't swarming with tourists, the locals aren't burned out with visitors, American fast food joints don't cover every sacred corner of once quaint historic section, and there is a feeling of intimacy you don't get in the world-famous locales.

I knew nothing about Mostar Bosnia before visiting it. As it turned out, it was one of the most majestic and beautiful places I have ever seen.

Any other tips out there?

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. What if you really really want to go to Tokyo, London, Paris, Sydney, etc? I mean all those off the path places do sound and look amazing, but I still really want to go to the world capitals.. But I'm in non profit and it shows... :-/

    1. Use some of the other tips Eli shared. Specifically flying into surrounding cities and then using trains or over night trains to get to the larger cities you want to see. Also take advantage of couchsurfing or hostels that will keep your boarding super cheap.

  2. And......Tip #11... Give your mother your itinerary and ask her to pray for you....especially while you are flying and getting taxis in dark quiet alleys and staying on stranger's couches or visiting countries in crisis. ✈️❤️💙❤️😊❤️💙❤️😞✈️

    Cathie. XoxoxoooooxxOx

    1. The most important tip of all. 😉 xoXOXoO

  3. These are some really great tips. Another one I have kind of dovetails on what you said about humanitarian service. Voluntourism can be an affordable and rewarding experience. I've done it twice and loved it!

  4. Don't be afraid to go somewhere twice! I once accidentally had two trips, just three months apart, overlap parts of Turkey. I assumed I was paying twice for the same thing, but not at all! I still saw different things, some same things but in different seasons. It made the experiences all the richer.

  5. Ok. That video is amazing. Laughing so hard.

  6. WOW! that's really good that you have a educational and memorable experiences of my life.
    Nice post and Nice Thoughts
    Keep Sharing
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  7. Related to #2: In addition to flying on weekdays, it can also be less expensive if you *book* your flight on a weekday, especially Tuesday-Thursday. Since people are more likely to book flights when they have free time to spend on it (which is weekends for most people), prices seem to rise on weekends, in my experience.

  8. Don't be scared to travel alone or with one or two other!

    But also, traveling as part of a group is amazing. When I was in high school I went to Australia with a People to People group and had the most amazing trip. And this past year I studied Spanish in Granada, Spain with the school language department.

    LITERALLY the best decision of my life.

  9. I disagree. I like your hair in that picture.

  10. Thank you so much for mentioning the public transport (trains).Next month I am going on a san francisco sightseeing tour so these tips will come in very handy. Thanks for sharing.

  11. If you are planning for a vacation, search for a cheap flight that has a family package and book your flight ahead of time.