We all know that one friend who is so hungry for travel they always seem to be in a different part of the world. I am that friend.
I’ve been accused of running a drug empire, stowing away in cargo holds, and various other means to afford my over-the-top travel habit. While I am by no means the world’s best travel hacker, I can confidently say that I know my way around pricey fares and needless expenses.
Trip planning does not have to be scary or overwhelming . With the right advice and a little patience, traveling on a budget can be (relatively) stress-free. From my passport to yours, here are eight ways you can make your next trip a little more budget-friendly.
1. Hotels Are (Generally) Not Your Friend
While there are some exceptions to this rule, travel hacking hotel stays generally requires skill, practice, and commitment. If you are looking to easily travel on a budget, then your best friends are hostelsor even Airbnb and CouchSurfing.
The current average cost of a hotel in Paris, France is approximately 231.26 CAD (160 Euro/181.60USD) — this hostel, however, is 43.23 CAD per night (29.91Euro/33.95USD) for a dorm room. If privacy is more your thing, a double private room is 128.68 CAD/Night (89.05Euro/101.07USD), which is still considerably less than your standard hotel room. Many hostels also have free walking tours, restaurants/bars, security lockers, lounges, full/partial kitchens, and even breakfast, making them ideal for the budget-conscious traveler. For social travelers, they are also the ideal place to meet new friends.
While Airbnb can generally be a little closer to hotels in terms of pricing, the freedom and comfort they offer are generally worth it — especially if you get access to the full kitchen.
2. Trust Your Local Experts
If you live near a relatively large hub, there is a good chance your local travel experts have formed a community. In my case, this hub is Toronto and our community has Facebook groups, Discord servers, and even a handy website called YYZDeals.
Whether you are looking for advice or want to keep an eye out for last-minute deals, joining your local community is never a bad idea. Navigating the system and learning how to get the best flights can be a bit difficult at first — especially with major airlines — but there is a good chance one of your local experts is already doing it for you. Communities like YYZDeals are always on the hunt for deals and frequently post shockingly cheap flights.
At the very least, your community is full of like-minded locals and will be a resource for questions, tips, and general advice.
3. Some Countries Are More Budget Friendly
Whether your goal is Europe, South America, or even New Zealand, most countries can be travel hacked to some degree. However, there are some countries or regions that are more budget-friendly than others. Scandinavian destinations, for example, will almost always be the most expensive part of your Euro trip. Knowing where and how to travel is key if you want to regularly travel on a small budget.
4. Eat Out Strategically, And Cook When You Can
While eating out is definitely delicious, it often accounts for a large portion of my spending on trips, especially in countries with regional delicacies. In order to keep your budget down, and afford other luxuries, eating strategically is incredibly important.
Instead of eating at restaurants for every meal, try a combination of street food, cook for yourselfand taking advantage of free breakfasts where you can. This may look different depending on where you are traveling, but many hostels will have full or partial kitchens for you to use. In some cases, they will offer free breakfast as well, which is particularly useful if you want to save by only snacking for lunch.
If you plan to eat out, do some research beforehand, and be sure to ask other travelers, locals, and your resident expats where they recommend. I may have eaten way too many giant $2 street crepes in Prague, but it was certainly better than paying $20 per meal at popular restaurants.
5. Capitalize On Your Skills
Are you a skilled designer, writer, artist, or photographer? If you have a skill that is useful, chances are you can use it to your advantage. Often places like hostels and restaurants are open to trading work for services. In Edinburgh, some of my friends would clean in exchange for free rooms, for example. While it may take some calling around before somebody agrees to your proposal, with enough effort on your part it is feasible.
6. Network, Network, Network
Connections are your best friend, especially if you plan to do so frequently. Networking with your connections before a trip can net you more than a couch to sleep on . It can also mean free meals, advice from locals or travelers who know the area, and more. After years of travel, and being a little bit too outgoing with strangers, I have multiple people around the world in my corner. A good network starts with a hello, so don’t be afraid to reach out to friends/acquaintances if you’re thinking of planning a trip somewhere.
7. Sign Up For Rewards
There are many different travel reward programs out there nowadays, from Amex to Airmiles, and likely with your bank and credit card. Knowing which travel rewards are best for you can be overwhelming, but if you plan on flying regularly, learning is 100% worth the effort.
Travel points guru The Points Guy is an excellent resource for anybody just starting out, but you can also reach out to your local travel community for help. When deciding to sign up for any card or points program, research is very important, especially in terms of current promotions. Many programs will offer promotions and incentives for new members, including a large number of points to start out with.
Backpacking Influencer Nomadic Matt wrote an excellent guide on picking a travel credit card that is worth checking out.
8. Be Open To Transfers And Budget Airways
If you are willing to sacrifice some comfort and/or convenience, then you can save some serious money on airfare. Budget airlines such as RyanAir (Europe), EasyJet(Europe), Swoop (North America), Flair Air(North America), are just some examples of names you might recognize. To give you a better idea, my one-way flight from Paris to Rome in 2016 was $35 CAD($27USD) with RyanAir, and my one-way flight from Calgary to Toronto in 2021 was $120CAD($97USD) with Swoop.
While you will save some serious money with these airlines, it is important to understand what flying budget means: anything other than the basics is extra. Your checked bags are often not included, food on the flight is minimal or at an extra charge, you probably won’t have plugs, and your airplane is likely small.
If you can justify the extra cost of comfort, however, then accepting a longer flight with layovers and transfers is another way to get a cheaper fare. Other tips like booking in an incognito browser and flying in the middle of the week also apply.
Whatever your required comfort level, keeping these tips in mind when you plan will help your trip be more budget-friendly. It is easy to look at what other people are doing and compare yourself, but don’t forget that your trips don’t have to look like theirs.
Compromise where you feel comfortable doing so, but don’t compromise so much that it ruins your experience. It is important to push yourself outside of your comfort zone if you want to budget hack, but you don’t need to jump the entire staircase in one leap. Listen to more experienced travelers, and take your trip one step, or flight, at a time.
Feature Image by Mesut Kaya on Unsplash