People ask me all the time how I can afford to travel so much.
Though the biggest reason is that I prioritize travel over nearly everything else, I also owe it to the fact I know a lot of tricks that help me stretch my dollars while traveling. These are little tricks I’ve learned from years of scraping together money for trips near and far.
If you’ve resolved to travel more this year, they should help you do so without blowing your budget.
Here are 16 budget travel tips that will help you see more of the world in 2016.
How to Save Money on Flights
When people say travel is too expensive, they’re often referring to the cost of getting there. How are you supposed to go somewhere when you can’t even afford the plane ticket?
These strategies should help you save money on your next flight:
1. Start Collecting Miles and Points
Don’t wait another second; start collecting travel rewards right now. Not doing so is throwing money away.
It’s not as intimidating as you think: You just need to sign up for one airline in each of the major alliances, and start linking your number whenever you fly.
For a full primer, here’s my guide to getting started with travel hacking.
2. Step up Your Search Game
If you’re only searching Expedia to find flights, you’re making a big mistake. These days, there are many other tools that make finding cheap flights easier than ever.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Google ITA Flight Matrix: This site allows you to search multiple airports and multiple dates. It doesn’t have the prettiest interface, but its search capabilities are unparalleled.
- Skiplagged: This website is a travel hacker’s dream. It puts together one-way flights and weird stopovers to find you rock-bottom prices.
- momondo: This search engine scans more than 700 travel sites to find you the best deal. It even includes independent carriers, like Southwest, which other search engines omit.
When it comes time to purchase your flight, book directly through the airline’s website. Doing so gives you easier recourse in case your flight is cancelled or delayed, and also makes it less likely you’ll be bumped, as airlines give preference to their own customers.
3. Follow Airlines and Blogs on Social Media
Have you heard of mistake fares? After accidentally being published by the airlines, these low fares are scooped up very quickly — so you have to act fast if you want one.
The best way to find out about mistake fares and other airfare sales is by following airlines, travel sites and travel bloggers through social media and email.
4. Don’t Buy Tickets on a Friday
When it comes to low fares, you might only think about your travel dates, but it’s also important to consider your booking date.
When you book the ticket can have a huge effect on your fare, and new research has shown Fridays are the worst day to buy flights.
The best day to book? Sunday, followed closely by Saturday.
As for how far in advance to buy, it varies from 57 days out for domestic tickets to 176 days out for flights to Europe.
How to Save Money on Lodging
Another big travel expense is a place to lay your head at night. Luckily, there are lots of ways to save money on lodging.
I’ve written in detail about money-saving alternative accommodations before, but here are some of my favorite options:
5. Try Airbnb or Couchsurfing
The sharing economy has significantly brought down the cost of travel accommodations; with sites like Airbnb, you can rent a whole house for a fraction of what a hotel room would cost.
For example, a group of fellow Penny Hoarder staffers and I are heading to Nashville at the end of January, and we’re each paying under $200 for three nights in a gorgeous apartment in the heart of the city!
Many people believe you have to share a living space with your Airbnb host, which is not true; like us, you can rent an entire apartment (or castle, even!) through the platform.
Alternatively, Couchsurfing is a totally free option, though you’re encouraged to reciprocally host people when you’re back home.
6. Consider a Work Exchange
Have you heard of work exchanges? With these opportunities, you work a half- or full-day in exchange for room and board.
Duties include everything from milking goats (one of my personal favorites) to restoring old buildings.
Intrigued? Read more about work exchanges here.
7. Check Hotel Discount Sites
New hotel discount sites pop up all the time; it’s hard to keep track of them all. Some of my favorites include HotelTonight, a last-minute booking app; Trivago, a hotel aggregator; and Priceline, which allows you to get low rates by bidding on unnamed hotels.
Just like with flights, though, call the hotel first to see if it is willing to match the lower rate. It often will, because it would rather not pay a commission to a third party.
Booking directly gives you a leg up over other customers when it comes to things like upgrades or scheduling conflicts.
8. Apply to Be a Housesitter
Did you know there are people who will let you stay in their house for free, in exchange for watching their pets or watering their plants? It sounds too good to be true, but it’s not.
How to Save Money on Food
A girl’s gotta eat, but restaurants can quickly take a big bite out of your budget.
That’s another reason I like staying in Airbnbs; since you have a kitchen, it’s easy to save money by cooking your own food.
If you want to go out, though, here are a few ways you can save money on food while traveling:
9. Check Online Food Deals
Want to enjoy restaurants without the high price tag? Check online.
You can often find deals for restaurants (and attractions!) on Groupon. Or check Restaurant.com, whose gift certificates are almost always deeply discounted — both on its site and Raise. Before buying, make sure you like your destination’s participating restaurants.
If you’re on the go, check Yelp; some restaurants offer discounts if you “check in” on the app. You can even use Yelp’s search filter to only show restaurants with deals, helping you get straight to the good stuff.
10. Hit up Happy Hours
Even though you’re on vacation, you and your wallet still deserve happy hours — one of my favorite ways to try a new city’s cuisine and drinks without spending a ton.
They’re also a great way to meet people, as you’ll usually find lots of locals taking advantage of the deals.
11. Eat Where the Locals Do
I generally avoid eating at any restaurants listed in a guidebook; as soon as an establishment makes it in there, it jacks up its prices and starts worrying less about food quality.
Instead, I check Yelp and Chowhound to see which restaurants the locals like, and I also ask for recommendations from everyone I meet. For me, finding good cheap eats is key to a successful trip!
How to Save Money on Everything Else
What about all the other little travel expenses? They add up, too.
Here are a few ideas for saving on everything else:
12. Travel During the Shoulder Season
This tip is basic, yet many people ignore it.
Unless you have specific work or personal demands that restrict your schedule, you should try to travel in the shoulder season, when you’ll find lower prices and fewer people.
Shoulder season often occurs during the spring and fall, but it’s different for every destination. To figure out when it is, simply Google your destination plus “shoulder season.”
13. Look Into City-Wide Passes
Many tourism boards promote city-wide passes that include discounted transportation, sightseeing or both.
To find these, try using search terms like “tourist pass” or “city discount pass,” or visit the city’s tourist office.
14. Get a Travel-Friendly Credit Card
Foreign transaction and ATM fees can quickly add up, so be sure to sign up for a travel-friendly debit and credit card.
15. Research Activities and Attractions Ahead of Time
If you’re going to see the Sagrada Familia, a famous church in Barcelona, you can either pay 15 euros to buy tickets online and skip the line, or you can wait for hours and pay the same amount in person. You can guess which option my poorly prepared self experienced.
I learned my lesson, though: Do your research ahead of time.
Don’t schedule your activities down to the minute — but if there are things you must see or do, spend a few minutes looking for discount codes or advance tickets. You’ll save time, and maybe money.
16. Check the Local Newspaper
If you can read the local language, or if your destination has an English newspaper, grab a copy!
Not only will you get to know the city’s news and residents, you may also spot free events or restaurant specials. I’ve found lots of cool happenings by browsing through the newspaper like a local person would do.
Will You Travel More in 2016?
Even if you’re on a limited budget, you CAN travel this year. Take small steps to save up, and then follow these tips to keep your costs low.
Trust me: You won’t regret it!
Your Turn: What’s your best tip for saving money on travel?
Disclosure: We appreciate you letting us include affiliate links in this post. It helps keep the beer fridge stocked in the Penny Hoarder break room.
Susan Shain, senior writer for The Penny Hoarder, is always seeking adventure on a budget. Visit her blog at susanshain.com, or say hi on Twitter @susan_shain.