A group of friends posing on the waterfront with a docked boat in Greece, saving money with McKenna's budget travel tips

27 Budget Travel Tips (That Everyone Should Know)

Inflation got you thinking you can’t afford a vacation or trip abroad? Well, travel on a budget is my expertise. And if you read until the end of this article, you’ll be able to travel for months on the cheap with these savvy budget travel tips! 

I backpacked for a consecutive year with only $5,000 in my bank account. I’ve explored almost thirty countries without ever spending more than $100 on accommodation. And, I’ve always returned home with change in my pocket.

Let my first-hand budget travel experience serve as a guide to help kickstart your travel career as a budget adventurer!

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Table of Contents

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27 Budget Travel Tips

#1 – Travel with a Tent and Stay in Campgrounds When Possible 

A camping tent on Chiloé Island, Chile at sunset
Tent camping on Chiloé Island, Chile

I promise traveling with a tent isn’t just extra baggage and weight, especially when traveling long term. Hundreds of thousands of free campsites are dispersed throughout North America. Plus, many hostels around the world offer a discounted stay if travelers provide their own tent.

I’ve personally stayed on hostel lawns in my own tent, on public beaches, and in forests in foreign countries — either for free or for a heavily discounted price. Don’t forget to bring the top camping essentials!

#2 – Exchange Most of Your Money at Your Destination

View of the tourists falling in line outside the tiny Kilimanjaro Airport
Tourists in line at the tiny Kilimanjaro Airport

Don’t make the beginner traveler mistake of exchanging all your cash before your trip. I don’t recommend getting to a foreign country empty-handed, but you don’t want to pay the crazy expensive foreign exchange fees in your hometown. 

I usually exchange about $50-100 at the airport so I can pay for transportation when I touch down in a new location. I exchange the rest of my USD once I’ve checked out the prices of a few different exchange places at my destination.

👉 Bonus Tip: Some remote destinations don’t have an ATM, so be sure to always get to isolated places with plenty of exchanged cash.

#3 – Stay in a Shared Hostel Dorm Room

Man at the rooftop of an Oaxacan Hostel
The rooftop of my Oaxacan Hostel

Hostels are a budget traveler’s best friend. The cheapest shared dorm room I’ve stayed in was $3 per night, though $5-15 is standard these days.

Mixed-gender dorm rooms are typically cheaper than gender-specific dorm rooms. Though, I highly recommend that females stay in female-only dorms, especially at party hostels. This is one of several safety measures and solo travel tips for women

#4 – Cook Your Own Food

Closeup view of the three vegetarian tacos on a red plate
Vegetarian tacos I made in a hostel in Mexico
A plate with homemade tacos with a slice of avocado and a bowl of different fruits
Homemade dinner in Puerto Escondido, Mexico

Utilize the included kitchen at your hostel to save some big bucks on food while abroad. Most hostels and home rentals have kitchens but double-check if your hotel room includes a place to cook.

Buy your ingredients from the local market instead of the supermarket to save even more money on food. 

#5 – Eat Street Food

A street vendor making Tlayuda on a stand in Oaxaca
A delicious Tlayuda stand in Oaxaca
A stand with creative breads in Mexico
I love finding street vendors with pan dulce for breakfast in Mexico 

Take advantage of affordable street food instead of sitting down at a nice restaurant. You can usually find hot prepared meals at local markets for as low as $1 per meal in more affordable countries.

Be cautious when eating street food, however, and don’t eat something that looks like it’s been sitting for a while. Additionally, I highly advise that you always travel with Imodium; it may save you in a pinch. 

#6 – Take Public Transportation over Private Rideshares and Taxis

McKenna with a group transporting on a boat along Louangphabang River in Laos
Transporting in style on the Louangphabang River in Laos

Take local buses, trains, and even boats instead of paying for expensive, private rideshares. It may take longer to get to your destination but the money you’ll be saving makes it well worth your while.

👉 Bonus Tip: Download the offline Maps.me app to always have your whereabouts in a foreign setting. Maps.me has saved me countless times when getting off at the wrong bus stop or taking a wrong turn in a new town.

#7 – Choose Free Activities like Hiking over Paid Excursions

The author McKenna Mobley, standing on a cliff while admiring the magnificent view from the trail in Laos
On a hiking trail in Laos

Paid excursions can quickly become one of your biggest travel expenses. Stick to free activities while on your trip like hiking and free walking tours and swimming to save big time. I usually find hidden gems by asking locals about their favorite free activities.  

#8 – Buy Your Flight at Least 6 Months in Advance

View of the plane's wing from the window seat with the moon in the background
Photo taken from my flight to Tanzania

The best airline deals are found when booking a trip several months in advance. Save on your biggest travel expense by booking your flight at least six months in advance, especially if traveling during peak tourist season.

#9 – Use Work Exchange Programs to Trade Work for a Place to Stay

Panoramic view of the lush landscape of a flower farm near Palmer, Alaska
My sister and I worked on a flower farm near Palmer, Alaska in exchange for accommodation

Work exchange programs are the best way to maintain a small travel budget long term. Getting a hostel job is one solution. Personally, I’ve used both WorkAway and WWOOF and typically only worked 4-5 hours a day for 4-5 days a week in exchange for accommodation and sometimes food. 

#10 – Hitchhike in Safe Areas like Patagonia and Island Towns

The author McKenna Mobley, posing on the side of the road of Patagonia
Hitchhiking on the Argentinian side of Patagonia

Hitchhiking is by far the best way to travel on a budget. Hitchhike at your own risk, however, and be wary of who picks you up and where you strike out your thumb. Do plenty of research on hitching in a specific country beforehand to avoid possible danger.

👉 Bonus Tip: Purchasing travel insurance helps cover the cost of lost luggage and canceled flights. I personally use World Nomads travel insurance and highly recommend them.

#11 – Skip or Limit the Amount of Tourist Tours

View of the ruins of Athens Acropolis in Greece
The Athens Acropolis
View of the crowd wandering around Athens Acropolis
The acropolis is doable without a tour guide, contrary to popular belief

You may want to pay for as many tours as possible if it’s your first time out of the country but I promise that it’s not necessary. I successfully visited the Valley of the Kings in Egypt without a guide as a solo female and had no issues.

Arranged tours also typically limit the amount of time you have at a site, rushing your once-in-a-lifetime moment. Forgo the guide and spend as much time as you want at Chichen Itza or the Vatican.

#12 – Refrain from Buying Souvenirs

A souvenir stall of oils in Rome, Italy
Rome is, in my opinion, one of the top souvenir cities in the world
The author McKenna Mobley, looking at the Roman Colosseum
At the Roman Colosseum

Souvenirs add up quickly. Refrain from overspending on vacation by limiting yourself to only one or two trip mementos. Spend what would be souvenir money on a nice meal or a tour you’ve had your eye on.

#13 – Shop from the Local Market

View of the crowd inside the local Oaxacan market
A packed local Oaxacan market
A market vendor dressed in traditional dress in Oaxaca
An Indigenous market vendor in Oaxaca

Get what you need from a local market at a fraction of the retail price. All bargain travel shoppers find the cheapest prices at local markets instead of major stores. This travel hack alone can save you upwards of hundreds of dollars on your trip.

#14 – Ask a Local About Local Prices to Avoid Getting Ripped Off

A tourist group with guide in the side of the street in Italy
A tourist group in Italy

Knowing what local prices are before you buy anything is one of the most important travel tips. For example, I typically ask my accommodation host/receptionist how much the typical price of a taxi from the airport to my hotel should be. That way, I know whether or not I’m getting ripped off.

#15 – Split Accommodation, Food, and Tour Prices with Fellow Budget Travelers

A group of friends posing on the waterfront with a docked boat in Greece
With friends, I met in a hostel in Greece

Odds are, most other travelers in your hostel are on a tight budget, too. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be staying in a 12-person shared dorm room.

In my experience, I’ve found that most other travelers are more than happy to split travel costs, including tours and meals.

📚 Related Reading: Solo Travel Destinations 

#16 – Only Drink During Happy Hour

View of the people at the pink beach bar in Mykonos
A beach bar in Mykonos

Spending too much money on happy juice is one of the quickest ways to run out of money in your travels. Good news for you, almost every country around the world has a happy hour. Drink during this discounted time to save money while partying at your destination.

#17 – Skip the Bar, Buy from the Local Store

The author McKenna Mobley with a man drinking with bottle of beer on a ferry in Greece
BYOB on a ferry in Greece

Save as much money on alcohol as you can by purchasing it from the local market or grocery store. I always buy beer from small convenience stores in Mexico because they’re tasty and it supports local businesses.

#18 – Avoid Buying Overpriced Hostel Food and Drinks

A plate full of green healthy food
Hostel food is usually double the price of local food (and half as delicious)

In my experience, I’ve found that hostel food is overpriced and not as tasty as the local food. This stands for nearly every hostel I’ve stayed at around the world. You’ll find the best deals on tastier food at a local market or a close restaurant instead of spending double the price on bland hostel food.

#19 – Download the iOverlander App for Information on Free Campsites

A campervan in the middle of a campsite in Arizona with beautiful sunset view
A free campsite in Arizona I found from the app

iOverlander is a roadie’s lifesaver! I recommend this app to everyone and honestly can’t remember how I camped in the United States without it.

iOverlander shows you where free campsites are in relation to your moving vehicle and it’s completely free! Read comments and view photos from past campers to see if there’s cell service or if the camp spot has closed. 

#20 – Couchsurf in Safe Countries with a Host Who Has Many Reviews

The author McKenna Mobley, posing at the colorful mural in Valparaíso, Chile
I stayed with a Couchsurfing host in Valparaíso, Chile

I’ve Couchsurfed many a’times to save money on my travels. I highly recommend only staying with hosts who have many photos and many reviews from past guests to ensure safety. I especially pay close attention to what the female reviewers say because I mostly Couchsurf as a solo female. 

Check out the Couchsurfing app to get started.

#21 – Rent and Sleep in a Car in Easy Going Places Like Hawaii

The author McKenna Mobley, preparing to sleep at the back of the car in Sierra Nevada mountains
Sleeping in my car in the Sierra Nevada mountains

Make your money stretch as thin as possible by sleeping in your rental car. I rented a spacious SUV in Hawaii and slept in the back seat for a few days sans issues. 

#22 – Always Haggle for Cheaper Prices

The author McKenna Mobley, drinking on a huge glass at the local market
You can even haggle the price of food and drinks in places like Latin American markets
A man emptying the plate with nopales tacos in Coyoacan, Mexico market
Eating the last of delicious nopales tacos in a local Coyoacan, Mexico market

You will always pay full price if you don’t haggle. Most prices are negotiable in most countries around the world outside of retail chain stores. Haggle at local markets, mom-and-pop shops, street fairs, and for souvenirs to win the best price possible.

#23 – Bring a Reusable Water Bottle and Water Filter

The author McKenna Mobley, resting with the other hikers on Mount Kilimanjaro
Pictured with my trustee Nalgene water bottle on Mount Kilimanjaro

Save money and simultaneously save the environment by bringing your own reusable water bottle on your trip. It’s highly advised not to drink tap water in many countries around the world. So, I recommend also bringing your own water filter with you on budget vacations.

Filter from any natural water source with a quick and easy water filter like the LifeStraw.

#24 – Check Out Hostel Book and Clothing Swaps

The author McKenna Mobley with a group of People at a hostel in Cusco, Peru
My hostel in Cusco, Peru always had fun events going on

I’ve encountered quite a few hostels that offered free book and clothing swaps. This is usually manifested as a box or library marked with a “free” sign and really comes in handy in a pinch. 

#25 – Bring a Backpack Instead of a Suitcase to Curb Checked Baggage Fees

The author McKenna Mobley, posing at the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu
Hiking the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu

Backpacks stuffed with a month’s worth of clothes and gear aren’t necessarily the lightest, but they sure do come in handy. Never pay a checked baggage fee again by stuffing your backpack overhead on your flight. 

Get started with our guide to the best backpacks.

👉 Read Next: 30 Cheap Family Vacations

#26 – Visit More Affordable Countries

While it is possible to do London on a budget, your budget is going to go a lot further if you travel to more affordable destinations.

Visiting countries with more affordable cost of living is a great way to save on travel. You will save big money on flights, food, accommodation, tours, souvenirs, and more.

Big money-saving backpacker destinations include South and Central America, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. Some countries in these areas even make our list of the best gap year destinations!

👉 Read Next: Puerto Rico Budget Travel Guide

#27 – Travel During the Off-Season

Aerial view of the scenic Semuc Champey surrounded by greenery in Guatemala
Semuc Champey, Guatemala
View of the cascading down water surrounded by greenery in Semuc Champey
Semuc Champey is so overcrowded in the peak season, it takes away from the beauty

Research when not to visit your intended destination and travel during that time if saving money is your biggest priority when traveling. Most prices are cut in half during off-seasons to attract more tourists to the location.

👉 Want More? Sign up for our budget travel newsletter and get even more money-saving tips in your inbox now!

FAQs About Travel on a Budget 

What are some tips for traveling cheaply?

Some tips for traveling cheaply include sleeping in rental cars, taking a free walking tour, and traveling during the off-season. Also, skip expensive destinations, find cheap flights on Google Flights, visit national parks after hours, and shop from the local markets.

What is the cheapest way to travel long distances?

Buses are by far the cheapest way to travel long distances without a car rental. This is if you rule out hitchhiking due to safety reasons. 


Thanks for reading my top budget travel tips!

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