Nomad Life

7 Best Strategies for How to Travel on a Budget, the Ultimate Guide

These days, travel seems elusive and always out of the budget. At this point in my life, I’ve never traveled worry-free of expenses, but that has not stopped me. While it can feel overwhelming to travel cheaply throughout the U.S., I’m here to teach you how to travel on a budget without much fuss. These simple travel tips and tricks are nothing fancy, but instead tried and true in my experience. 

What Does it Mean to Travel on a Budget? 

To me, learning how to travel on a budget means learning how to responsibly travel within the confines of your disposable income or savings for a trip. With that definition, traveling on a budget can look very different for everyone. As the average person with an average salary, my budget travel is, well, average. I’ve learned where it is worth it to splurge and where I can save a buck or two. Learning how to travel on a budget doesn’t necessarily mean learning how to travel cheaply. It’s always a balancing act, but there is most likely a sweet spot for every traveler. The budget-travel sweet spot ensures that you’re both financially comfortable and physically comfortable in your accommodations while crossing off those bucket-list experiences. 

When learning how to travel on a budget, know your non-negotiables. For example, as long as I am somewhere warm, I typically don’t mind rustic accommodations or camping. However, sleeping outside is not for everyone and your non-negotiable may be no hotels under 4 stars. Many have non-negotiable airlines and their loyalty runs deep. Some might have a list of non-negotiable bucket list attractions while others have a list of things they will NOT do on a trip. To help you think of some non-negotiables try using travel categories like; “getting there”, “accommodations”, “packing”, “things to do”, “things not to do”, “when I will travel”, and “who I’ll travel with” etc. Once you have a list, you can start using some of these travel tips and tricks to help you stay within the confines of your budget.

1. Monitor Flight Prices

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This sounds obvious, but if you’re looking for cheap flights for the USA, it’s your first line of defense. And sure there are rumors about the cheapest days to fly and buy, but I’m skeptical and not so sure it’s an exact science. Monitoring flight trends using airline apps, apps like Hopper or Skyscanner, or by signing up for Google price alerts can help you make the best decisions for your budget and timeline. This article from Award Wallet lists many options for flight monitoring. 

Other quick hacks for finding cheap flights in the United States are to be flexible about your travel dates (if possible), travel in the “off-season” (see below), use travel sites, and be loyal to an airline using their points and perks systems.

2. Drive Instead

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Road Trips probably made some non-negotiable lists. However, all in all, it’s a cheaper and sometimes more efficient way to travel. Sure, you could argue that it’s possible to spend just as much money on gas as you would on a flight, but that’s usually not the case. Not to mention, think about the costs of renting a car or Uber once you arrive at your destination. Road trips also allow you to pack as much stuff as you want at no extra cost while airlines nickel and dime you for bags. If you’re worried about your road trip, become an expert using my suggestions for the best road trip apps, the best things to do on a road trip, and my favorite podcasts for road trips. Not sure where to travel on a road trip? How about an epic trip to Colorado or a gorgeous East Coast road trip?

3. Travel in the Off-Season

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This is the ultimate hack for cheap travel destinations in the USA. It’s simple economics. There’s less demand for stays and flights therefore prices tend to drop. The downside to this plan is that attractions and restaurants can close during the slow seasons and you may be dealing with more touchy weather. It’s important to consider things like hurricane season and snowy roads. Besides lower prices, the upside to traveling this way is fewer crowds and more unique or local experiences. Colorado is a fabulous place to visit in the spring and fall. Both seasons offer sunshine and perfect temperatures, and tourist attractions are typically still accessible. However, you miss the ski and RV crowds that come with the winter and summer months. 

4. Use Travel Credit Cards

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Okay Iied, we all know this is the ultimate hack for traveling on a budget. Want cheap flights in the United States? Use your well-deserved credit card points and purchase a flight, hotel stay, and/or rental car for free. I use the Capital One Venture card and Sam loves the Chase Sapphire Preferred. I encourage you to do your research on which travel card is right for you. I love using Nerd Wallet for some financial guidance. Here are their travel card recommendations. We essentially booked a free trip to Hawaii using exclusively our credit card points. Be sure to pay attention to each cards unique system and spend accordingly for the best results.

5. Take Advantage of the Outdoors

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Hot take: you don’t have to be a backpacker who eats dehydrated meals and hikes in the wilderness for 3 days to take advantage of the outdoors. From RV rentals to glamping havens and National Park Lodges the outdoors has become accessible and acceptable to a wider variety of travellers. Of course, one of my favorite and the absolute cheapest way to travel is to camp. Whether you decide to invest in an RV, travel trailer, or tent you can see a lot of the country on a budget. 

Besides accommodations, the outdoors offers free and cheap experiences that can take your breath away. Our great national parks can be accessed for around $25 per vehicle. Beyond that, state parks are even cheaper and more abundant throughout the country. Drive to see natural wonders, hike around, watch sunsets, get out on the water, stick your toes in the sand, and go thrill-seeking in the outdoors. 

Interested in learning how to camp?: Beginner’s Guide to Camping & My Camping Packing Checklist

6. Travel in Groups

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Not a requirement, but traveling in a small group tends to lower costs. Of course, if you all get your own hotel room then that’s not very cost-effective, but splitting accommodations like Airbnb, campsites, or getting larger hotel rooms can be a nice way to save. You can also split bills for food, other essentials, and experiences. Also, group travel typically means Airbnb which gives you the freedom to skip dining out to stay in and cook. So, call up your friends and plan some cheap travel in the USA. 

7. Stick to Budget-Friendly Activities

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I believe that any major city can be a cheap travel destination in the USA. How is that possible? Stick to budget-friendly activities that you can find in almost every city. Activities like farmer’s markets, exploring city parks and beaches, browsing shopping districts or art districts, enjoying happy hours, finding free live music, and attending baseball games. Baseball has a long season and is the last professional sport with cheap tickets. You could also use tried and true methods of saving like Groupon or book travel tours with travel sites like Viator.  

It takes patience and persistence when learning how to travel on a budget. I truly believe that any destination can be made to fit your budget as long as you’re willing to sacrifice…while sticking to your non-negotiables of course. It also takes trial and error to nail the perfect budget travel experience. Over time you will discover the ideal balance and what you’re willing to spend on while saving in other areas. Eventually, with these tips and tricks, you will become a budget travel extraordinaire. So get to it and let me know about all of your budget-friendly adventures!

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