One of the most common questions I get about travelling is how I afford to travel as much as I do. And my short answer is always: I make travel a priority. And with compromise and sacrifice, you too can easily travel around the world on a budget.
For me, the compromise really starts at home. Sebastian and I live in a small apartment with affordable rent. We live in a city where you can get virtually everywhere by bike or foot, and therefore only own a 10-year-old Toyota that we rarely drive. We don’t often splurge on expensive material things and overall live a very minimalistic life (we don’t even own a tv which is something that often shocks our friends when they come over). We both have good jobs, make good money, and work hard for our vacation time. Luckily we live in a country where 25+ paid vacation days a year (which is just one of the many reasons I love living in Sweden).
As a result of these choices, we live well below our means. Which leaves extra money for travel. But, that doesn’t mean that we don’t travel around the world on a budget. Cheaper trips means that we can travel more places. And given the amount of vacation time we have, I rather do several vacations than one “splurge” vacation a year.
At the end of the day, it’s all about choices. And no choice is right or wrong. But the reality is, very few people can afford to have it all. So I’m dishing all the details about how I save money – and how you can too – this great big guide about how to travel the world on a budget.
ok, now onto the good stuff.
let's break down exactly how you can travel around the world on a budget.
TIPS FOR SAVING MONEY ON FLIGHTS
It’s no secret that flights are one of the biggest expenses of travel. Especially long distance flights. Here are my best tips for booking flights on a budget.
Flight price tracking. Tracking flights over time allows you to see if the price of your flight changes over time. Don’t forget to use incognito mode if you’re tracking flights to make sure these sites aren’t able to track your search history.
How to avoid baggage fees. The best way to avoid baggage fees? Don’t check in a bag, obviously. But if you’re a heavy packer and can’t travel without checked luggage, make sure you double check if baggage is included. Sometimes baggage can be more expensive than the flight itself (especially on low-cost airlines). Personally, I am a huge fan of carry-on travel and truly believe anyone can do it. This is coming from a former chronic over packer. Looking for the best travel backpack? I’ve added some tips below!
Search nearby airports for alternative options: Sometimes smaller nearby airports will have flight deals. Explore your options and ask yourself if it cheaper to take a bus or train, or even drive and park at a nearby airport. This also depends on how far the airport is, and how much you value your time.
Check which airports are home to budget airlines: For us, we can fly WOW air out of Malmö to many places in eastern Europe for cheap, but for cheaper flights to Western Europe, we often need to opt for budget airlines like RyanAir out of Copenhagen.
Flight on an off-day: Friday-Sunday flights will almost always be the most expensive. If you’re schedule allows it, opt for a less-popular day.
Looking for the cheapest countries to fly to: Oftentimes the biggest airport hubs – like London or Frankfurt – are the cheapest airports to fly into in Europe. If a flight seems overpriced, explore if there is a biggest airport nearby. For example, if you’re trying to get to Munich, look to see if it is cheaper to fly to Frankfurt instead (speaking from experience, flying from Toronto into Frankfurt vs. Munich and taking the train has saved me hundreds of dollars).
how to choose the best carry-on luggage
Investing in the best carry-on luggage is critical. When choosing the right luggage for you, there are a few questions you should ask yourself.
Traditional Luggage or Backpack? I suggest opting for an airline approved carry-on backpack instead of traditional luggage. A backpack has more flexible and you’ll be shocked at how much you can fit in there.
Front-loading backpack or top-loading backpack? I much prefer a front-loading backpack vs. a top-loading option because it opens up like a suitcase which makes your items more accessible. See the link below for the best front-loading backpack (that I use!).
How much space do you need? Many backpacks do not fit the the carry-on requirements. Make sure you research before you buy. My Osprey carryon backpack has fit most airline overhead bin requirements (with a few exceptions in Asia – but it has been the best backpack for Europe that I have been able to find).
HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON HOTELS
First Step: Establish your bare minimum requirements and priorities. Ask yourself questions like:
Do I want a private room?
How about a private bathroom?
How important is location?
Do I need an elevator (which trust me is something important to consider or else you might get stuck dragging you luggage to the top of a narrow, winding fifth-floor stairwell)?
It may be difficult to meet all your desired requirements on a budget, especially in popular tourism cities. But having a priority list will help you establish the best deal for you, based on your needs.
Looking for a private room? Hostels aren’t always cheaper. Unless, of course you’re staying in a shared room. In many cases private rooms in hostels are just as expensive as hotels – especially if they have a private bathroom. The added bonus of the hostel is that it is easy for solo travellers to meet up. And they often include amenities such as a kitchen to help you save on food costs.
Airbnb is a good option for longer stays. However, if you’re only in a city for a night or two, double check the cleaning fee. Since this is a one-time fee, you may feel the burden of it on a short stay at an Airbnb property.
Book directly on the property’s website (if possible). Search engines will almost always charge more, and sometimes hotel websites will even offer an incentive, like inclusive breakfast, if you book right on their site. You should use the search engines to look up hotels and compare prices, but then head over to the property’s website for (usually) the best deal. When you can’t book on the website directly, check out Hotels.com. Book 9 nights on this site and the 10th one is “free” (based on the average value of the 9 nights you paid for).
Feeling adventurous? Check out couch surfing! I have personally never tried couch surfing, but I know many people who have. Just be careful, and as with everything else, READ THE REVIEWS.
Stay as central as possible, but avoid the most touristy locations. These spots are always overpriced and rarely worth it. I’d recommend doing some research to find out where the locals like to hangout. Normally these are less-touristy neighborhoods with tons of great restaurants and things to do. However, if possible, try to stay as central as you can. If you stay in the suburbs, the money you save on accommodations will instead be spent on transportation to get to the city.
Skip the hotel room and book an overnight bus or train. Overnight trains or buses from one city to another are a great way to kill two birds with one stone. They may not be the most comfortable mode of transportation, but they are a cheap sleeping option.
HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON FOOD WHILE TRAVELLING
I love to try new restaurants, so food can easily be the most expensive portion of my trip. Before I go on a trip, I arguably do more research on restaurants than anything else. But, I still have come up with a list of money-saving tips that even foodies like myself will find useful.
Go to the grocery store and get lots of snacks! When we travel we will often have one big breakfast, and then a big dinner later – with snacks in between. Cutting out an expensive lunch, and having snacks on the go, can save you time and money. Also, going to a local shop or market can be a tourist experience in itself! Grab a local snack and give it a try for a truly local experience.
Alternatively, have a big lunch. If there is a dinner spot that we want to try that is a bit out of the budget, I always check the lunch menu. Oftentimes you can have a similar meal at a fraction of the price. And then you can pick up something quick for dinner later.
Bring your own water bottle (if the tap water is safe to drink). In many countries, water is more expensive than beer. So, if you’re ballin’ on a budget, you may also the perfect excuse to drink all the beer you want. But if you’re keen on staying hydrated bring a refillable water bottle. Just make sure you do your research on the local tap water quality.
Avoid main squares or touristy areas. AT ALL COSTS. Sure, the big patio with views of the cathedral may seem beautiful, but it is likely expensive. And honestly, the food probably isn’t that good either. Nomadic Matt calls this the “Five-Block-Rule,” where you must walk five blocks away from a major tourist site to get cheap local food. Not sure if a place is a tourist trap restaurant? These restaurants most easily identified by waiters haggling you out front and they are all likely to have same 100-option menu with over-priced dishes that range from Italian to Thai to American. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Free hotel breakfast! I wouldn’t overpay on a hotel for this perk, because obviously that defeats the purpose. But if it’s actually a deal – all the better! Although I must admit, this is something I rarely go for because brunch is basically my favourite meal of the day, and hotel breakfasts are normally quite simple.
Stay somewhere with a kitchen. This could be an Airbnb or a hostel, and is especially helpful if you’re travelling for a long period of time and are tired of eating at restaurants every night.
My go-to move: Ask a local their favourite spots! I always do this and I’ve found so many hidden gems this way. If you’re on a tour or sitting at a bar, ask the staff member where they go. These places are often cheaper, too! While they may require you to wander a bit off-the-beaten-path, they are almost always worth the trek.
HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON OTHER TRANSPORTATION WHILE TRAVELLING
Holiday transportation is often viewed as expensive. But it doesn’t have to be! Here’s a few tips to help you save on transportation while travelling.
Use Rome2rio to search for the best options. This search engine is amazing for seeing a variety of transportation options all in one place. You can view train, bus, and drive times – as well as prices – and figure out the option that best works for you.
Use your feet. Not only is walking a free way to get around, but it is also the best way to see the city! It is not unusual for me to walk 20-30K steps on foot in a new city and I’ve stumbled upon some of my favourite travel finds ever by foot.
If the city is bike-friendly, rent a bike! I love exploring cities by bikes. It is more efficient than walking, but has the same effect. Some of my favourite bike-friendly cities include Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and my hometown Malmö!
Opt for ride-sharing apps instead of a taxi. Apps like Uber, Lyft or Grab can be an affordable option in many cities (specifically in Eastern Europe and Asia). Just do a quick search to see the name of the ride share app in the city you’re visiting.
Consider your options when travelling between different cities. Here’s a few suggestions:
Normally a flight is quickest, but often can be most expensive. Even if the flight seems cheap, the process of flying can be very time consuming depending on how far the city is. So make sure to factor in total travel time, as well as cost to/from the airport to determine if it is really the best deal.
Trains are normally an affordable option and are comfortable. You can often save money by choosing the slow train instead of the fast train, when the option is available. Make sue to buy train tickets online directly from the railway site instead of third party search engines to ensure you are getting the cheapest price.
Buses are often the most affordable public transit option, but not always the most comfortable. They also often have the longest travel time.
BlaBla Car is a great carpooling service that allows you to safely carpool with others going to the same destination as
OTHER WAYS TO SAVE ON TRAVEL
Free walking tours. Free tours normally operate in many cities and you aren’t obligated to pay anything. However, if you liked the tour, “giving what you can” to the tour guide is the right thing to do. You can learn a whole lot about a city by taking a short walking tour. This is typically my favourite way to get all the key highlights.
Free or discounted attractions. Many cities offer free attractions (sometimes they are only free on certain days of the week). A quick google of “Free Things to Do in _____” will help you find these spots. Also, many cities offer student, under 25, and senior discounts. So make sure to bring a piece of ID with you showing your age.
Buy a City Pass or City Card. Some cities will have a pass that you can use to visit multiple attractions at a discounted price.
Travel in the off-season! I have wrote an entire blog post here about why I love off-season travel. Not only can you avoid crowds, but it is also stimulates the tourism sector year round, and is a more sustainable way to travel. Read about why I love off-peak travel and about some of my favourite off-season destinations here.
Establish a budget and stick to it. If you want to splurge on something, know this means you may have to compromise something else. The “it’s just a couple more euros/dollars” attitude will add up quickly. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way. So, if you splurged on an afternoon activity, hit up a local street food vendor for dinner. It’s all about balance.
Get a local sim card. Want to stay connected on the go. A local sim card can be an affordable way to have full access to your phone on the road without worrying about huge travel overage fees. While this may not be a viable option in all countries, it is worth checking out.
Nature is (normally) free. Looking to save money? The outdoors is normally free. And why spend money when you can explore beautiful places like this for absolutely no cost.