Saving Money

14 Ways to Travel More Without Breaking the Bank

Woman's hands holding credit card in front of laptop
Written by John Boitnott

From flights and hotels to food – save on everything you need to have more for what you want.

Traveling can be fun. But paying for it can be a drag.

What country or city have you always dreamed of exploring? So many people want to, but money makes it hard. A 2017 study from financial advice site LearnVest revealed 3 in 4 Americans have gone into debt to pay for a vacation.[1] The average amount? More than $1,100.

To see the world, you can change your priorities and spending habits. Check out these tactics that will help you pack your bags more often.

1. Pinpoint what’s stopping you

If you haven’t traveled as much as you’d like, ask yourself why. Is it a lack of money? Are you spending that money on unnecessary stuff when you could be saving it for a trip? Or perhaps you feel like you can’t take time off as a self-employed person with no vacation benefits.

Whatever the reason, take time to identify it now. From re-examining your spending habits and prioritizing what’s important to you for implementing a travel savings plan, the answers will help you find a way to travel more.

2. Get the best deals by planning in advance

Travel companies such as airlines, hotels and tour groups willingly dole out special prices and rewards for early reservations, saving you money. Moreover, you’ll feel mentally and physically committed to that trip by planning for it in advance.

Travel booking sites and hospitality brands often let you book up to one year in advance. Some apps provide a price tracker that lets you adjust to a lower price should a bargain pop up later.

Don’t have the money to go on a vacation? Make it easy to plan for one with this budgeting tool!

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3. Eliminate the tourist traps

While Disneyland, the Eiffel Tower and other tourist destinations might be fun, they are also overpriced – and that includes the lodging, restaurants and other travel amenities in their vicinity.

Instead, take a road trip through quaint small towns, camp in the woods, or lie on an uninhabited beach somewhere for a fraction of the price. Picking these off-the-beaten-path destinations can save considerable money so you can see and do more without breaking the bank.

4. Consider a travel credit card

Any rewards card can be handy for those who pay in plastic, but a travel card offers bigger rewards for travel spending. So if you’re going to be doing a lot of travel, begin by using the right card.

Travel cards come in three categories: Airline cards, hotel cards, and general travel cards. If you favor a certain airline or like to stay in a specific hotel chain, then the rewards are better on those branded cards. On the other hand, if you fly what’s most convenient that day and don’t stay in a chain – a general card is a better bet.

You are rewarded at a lower flat rate but can redeem those earnings through a variety of airline and hotel loyalty programs.

Last year, people who used travel rewards cards reported earning between $351 and $1,750, according to a U.S. News & World Report survey.[2] The most popular redemption’s include free domestic flights, followed by cash and free nights at a hotel.

5. Do a home exchange

Explore an exchange that lets you stay in someone else’s home while they come and enjoy yours. A home swap program can greatly reduce the cost of traveling by removing the expense of the accommodation. There are websites, apps and social media groups dedicated to home exchange options.

6. Use a vacation rental website

Hotels can get expensive – especially when you’re traveling with a crowd. One way you can cut costs is by using a vacation rental website. One of the more popular companies is Airbnb.

Data marketing firm Pricenomics released a study in 2013 that revealed it was 21% cheaper to rent an entire apartment on Airbnb than the average cost for one hotel room. Even more, its findings showed a single room through the company was 49% cheaper. recommends doing your research on the locations you choose to stay at. The company has recently been surrounded in controversy over an alleged scam where a host was exposed for posting fake profiles and photos of properties online, Vice News reports.[4]

There are many alternatives, though. Vrbo,[5] Couchsurfing,[6] Wimdu,[7] and many others provide cheaper lodging at typically lower rates than hotels.

7. Travel mid-week

Most people build their travel plans around being somewhere over the weekend – getting there Friday night and leaving Monday morning. So it’s no surprise that those arrangements cost more. The cheapest days to fly within the U.S. are usually Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.

Flying on those days can save you more than $100, or sometimes just $20 or $30.

Travel sites like are great if you are looking for last-minute flights and even hotel accommodations. If you have a little flexibility, you can often save big. Some sites, such as Priceline, will alert you if there are savings to be had on alternate dates.[8] In the same vein, you could let Priceline pick the flight for you – an option it offers as you begin a search.

8. Fly overnight

If you sleep on the plane anyway, red-eye or overnight flights may be the choice for you.

They are typically cheaper – quieter and less crowded. Time it right and save on hotel costs, too. To get the most out of an overnight flight, plan, wear comfortable clothes, book a window seat for less interruption and aim for a flight that departs about bedtime or a little later.

9. Be ready to leave at the last minute 

Subscribe to social media travel site profiles and pages to get alerts about last-minute specials. You can often find deep discounts offered by travel companies to fill empty airplane seats and hotel rooms.

If it’s not feasible to rearrange your life for extended last-minute trips, don’t rule out some of those surprise travel deals for weekends and holiday breaks. The more organized and productive you are, the greater chance you’ll have to free your calendar up for a last-minute adventure.

10. Rent the car off airport property

Rental companies have a captive audience at airports and charge accordingly. But most major destinations will have car rental lots in town as well. The question to ask: How much does it cost to get to the lot versus the savings? Let’s say the rental onsite cost you $130 more than the one down the road – you can take an Uber or Lyft from the airport to the car lot. It can save you $100 or more.

11. Find a hotel that serves breakfast

This will be one meal you won’t have to pay for. Typically, the fare runs from muffins and cereal to fruit and scrambled eggs. Many also have waffle makers and fresh coffee bars.

Also, if you’re staying a couple of days, get a room with a fridge and a microwave that can store and heat up leftovers from the restaurant dinner the night before.

12. Exchange buying stuff for joyful experiences

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can honestly tell you that buying gadgets and cars results in long-lasting joy. There may be a temporary excitement or surge of happiness, but these moments are fleeting.

The things we buy are often forgotten. We lose interest and seek out something to replace them. Kids can’t tell you what you bought them for their birthday, but they can recite when they went on an airplane, stayed in a hotel, or visited a castle. Travel creates memories you’ll never forget, and those experiences are priceless.

13. Give yourself a sabbatical (or ask for one)

Some companies offer sabbaticals, which provide a paid way to gain a skill or expand your knowledge through travel. Check your benefits package and sabbatical requirements.

For example, clothing company Patagonia offers a two-month sabbatical program that encourages employees to travel and do something good for the environment.[9]

If you are self-employed, it might be more complicated to take that much time off to travel. However, if you have colleagues or a team that can cover your work, it’s well worth considering.

14. Find programs that combine work or volunteerism with travel opportunities

The life of a digital nomad can open many travel opportunities. If you freelance already, think about taking your work with you. You might be in a different time zone, but you can keep your clients happy while exploring other parts of the world.

If you work in a traditional job, consider a work-travel or volunteer-travel program. While you take your paid vacation time to fund travel or pay bills, these travel programs can cover some of the other expenses. Sites like ProjectsAbroad and VolunteerForever offer a wide range of travel and work arrangements. Some gigs come with a stipend or paycheck, while others may include room and board.


About the author

John Boitnott