Budget Travel Tips from a Travel Pro

by Contributor

Most people don’t get a lot of time off and when they do, they tend not to go away. I always ask my friends and former co-workers why they this is and, almost uniformly, they always say it’s because they simply can’t afford to do so. Like most people, they see images of vacations on TV and internalize the commercials to believe that travel must be like it is on TV and therefore must be expensive. The only alternative is backpacking around in twenty bed hostels with shared showers and eating pasta.

But that is not true. Travel can be very cheap. You can easily travel far and wide without breaking the bank. Since this is a finance blog and we all want to see the numbers, I will use my recent trip to New York City as an example.

Transportation: If you live in the Northeast, you can take the Megabus or Boltbus (free wifi) for cheap. If you book early enough, you can even get $1 dollar fares. For my trip from Boston, it cost me $17 dollars to bus down to New York. If you have to fly, fly into LaGuardia or Newark. They are cheaper airports.

Since flying constitutes one of the largest portions of someone’s budget, I’d like to explain this a bit more. One important tip is that you should always look into secondary airports. Most cities have a smaller airport nearby (LA has Burbank, Long Beach, John Wayne and Ontario, Chicago has Midway, New York has the two above) with lower landing fees. Cheaper discount airlines fly there because of lower gate fees.

Moreover, book your flight 6-8 weeks in advance or look for last minute special deals. Buying your flight 6-8 weeks early ensures that airlines don’t have you over a barrel and gives you enough time to wait until the price is just right.

Hotels: I never stay in hotels unless Priceline can get me a rock bottom price. Why? They are never the cheapest (and sometimes the cleanest) option. When I was in NYC, I stayed at the Jazz Hostel. For $90 per night, I had my own private room with a double bed, free wi-fi, a TV, my own shower, clean sheets everyday while two blocks away from Times Square. Not a bad deal! Hostels cater to all ranges of travelers and are not simply for backpackers in 20 bed dorm rooms. Don’t over look them if you can’t find a hotel deal.

Sightseeing: Whenever I sightsee I do two things: Lots of research and visit the local tourist office. I never consult my guidebook. Guidebook information is outdated and doesn’t give you any tips on current deals. I go to travel blogs, city tourism websites, yelp, and tripadvisor to find out good places to eat, things to do, and places to see. Travel blogs are especially good to find little tips that normally get glossed over in the big guidebooks. Tourist offices also know the latest special events and usually have a few discounts available.

Eating: Eating out every meal is expensive, especially in major tourist cities like New York City. Remember that locals don’t eat out every meal and neither should you. For starters, always eat out at big restaurants during lunch time. Lunch specials offer much better values. Secondly, never eat in touristy areas as the food is always double the cost and half as good. Third, head to the supermarket and pick up some sandwiches. Picking up some sandwiches or stuff to make your own and heading outside is a great way to people watch. Go sit, eat, and enjoy watching the pulse of the city.

Saving money while you travel just requires you to break away from the normal thought of hotels, expensive meals, long lines, and expensive flights. If you think about what the locals do, then you’ll think about how to save money. Yes, traveling is more expensive than everyday living but it doesn’t have to break the bank. A few simple changes in how you travel can result in big savings. Next time you are on the road, think outside the box.

This is a guest article by Matthew Kepnes, who has been traveling around the world on a budget for over three years. He’s been to Europe, Asia, Australia, and Central America. You can find out more at his website, Nomadic Matt. If you want more travel tips, photos, and stories from his upcoming 3 month trip to Europe, you can also subscribe to his RSS feed.

Published or updated December 5, 2011.
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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Craig

The bus system are great, I use it all the time to travel to and from DC – NY. Very cheap. Site seeing you can do just by walking around. I think the best way to see a city is to just walk around and get a sense of it. Find a hole in the wall place to eat, you don’t need anything fancy.


2 AmandaLP

One thing to watch for with alternative airports is transportation costs. if you are renting a car, and/or have someone to drive you around, it might just be a time inconvenience. For places like NYC, you might save money flying into Newark, but taking a cab is far more expensive. LaGuardia and JFK are accessible by public transportation as long as you do not have a lot of luggage.


3 Nomadic Matt

That’s a good point. Sometimes the cab or bus to the destination can be more expensive. You need to weight in all the costs.


4 RB @ RichBy30RetireBy40

“Think as the locals do” That’s spot on. Learn the public transportation system and you’ll save tons. Also befriend people on similar journey. More than likely they’ve done their homework, and you guys can combine forces. It’s fun that way too.




5 dima

Another pitch for “do like the locals do” – check out couchsurfing.org. It allows travelers to find a couch they can surf for free and/or meet up with people to hang out/have lunch/go sightseeing/etc. I love it! I went to Europe by myself and met with locals in every city that showed me cool places and I always had a great time. Even now when I go somewhere new on a business trip (ie hotel and everything is paid), I would still look for some locals to meet up with in the evening and it is ALWAYS a great time! Beats sitting at the hotel any day or night.


6 Nomadic Matt

I’m a huge fan of couchsurfing. It’s a great way to meet people. Takes a lot of emails to get a response though, especially if you are like me- a single male traveler!


7 Curious Cat Investing Blog

Another tip is hotwire.com for car rentals. I used them on my last trip and saved 30% on the cheapest fare I could find elsewhere. You can see photos from my travels to Yellowstone, Glacier, Olympic national parks and much more at Curious Cat Travels.


8 Ryan

I just plug in all the top travel outlets – Hotwire, Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, etc. Kayak does them all at once. You can also check for membership points if you have a certain credit card or belong to certain clubs. 🙂


9 DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

Solid tips.

I have seen the Bolt buses on the turnpike and wondered about the $1 fares . . .


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