Traveling on a Budget: Save Money and See the World

You’re sitting at your desk and thinking of that perfect vacation…. Or like we were, you’re sitting at your desk and thinking of making the move abroad. Sounds like an adventure! (And a little scary). Whether your trip is ten days or ten months, let’s talk about some serious ways how you can start traveling on a budget. Yes, it is possible! And yes, it is possible to actually enjoy yourself sticking to a budget.

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Prepare Your Own Meals

Ok, let’s start with most basic and maybe the most lame of our tips for traveling on a budget. This mostly applies to those traveling abroad for the long term. We’re talking about something longer than just your regular vacation. If you’re going to, let’s say Tokyo, for 7 days then ignore this tip! We recommend experiencing the food at your temporary destination to the fullest!

For those wandering backpackers, digital nomads and students studying abroad for months at a time, your money needs to last you for quite a while, making traveling on a budget very important! We’ve found the best (and most boring) way to save money is to prepare 1-2 meals a day.

This is especially great for long-term stays. If you have a kitchen and like eggs, they’re a great way to get that important protein your body needs. Boiled, scrambled, fried, if your kitchen has a hot plate then you’re good to go. We like to pair milk and bread and fruit with eggs, especially in the morning. If your host or hostel has a tea kettle or French press, well your trip just got a whole lot better. Coffee can do that.

Making breakfast is a good way to save money while traveling on a budget

If you don’t have a kitchen then consider buying a loaf of bread and making PB&J or, our favorite, ham and cream cheese sandwiches (if you’re lucky enough to have a mini-fridge). Eating these sandwiches kind of sucks. Okay, after some time, it can really suck. But these are recommendations. You don’t have to adhere to just these sandwiches every day. Explore your local market or grocery store and play around with some ideas. Find a way to mix in some local cuisine (like tea eggs or cheap dumplings in Taiwan) to spice up a boring but budget saving meal.

In the long run, eating these cheap meals adds up to a lot of extra money in your wallet, making traveling on a budget worth it. Then you can do it big at an attraction, a flight to another destination, or as we prefer, spend big on a scrumptious local dinner and some wine. Yum!

Have a No-Fee ATM Card

It wasn’t until we were having troubles with our own bank while in Bali that we discovered no-fee ATM debit cards. We feel stupid now. I mean, duh, why wouldn’t you want to open a new bank account that allows you to withdraw at ATM’s around the world and not pay foreign transaction or ATM fees?

Common sense, right?

Well, it’s just another one of those many things we’ve learned after the fact. Our credit card already had no foreign transaction fees and honestly the idea never occurred to us to think about ATM fees. Well, now we know.

Chase watched our debit card like a hawk and kept freezing it at ATMs while we were in Bali. Apparently, fraud is a BIG deal in Indonesia. Our frustration with Chase kept growing as we were having to pay to use a hotel phone to call them and say for the millionth time, “WE’RE IN BALI, stop freezing our card!” That moment was a blessing in disguise because that’s when we decided to switch banks and discovered there are some checking accounts that are way better for travelers.

We found Charles Schwab and we’re so happy we did! Not only do they waive foreign exchange fees but they also refund all ATM fees, even internationally! Nerdwallet, as usual, has great articles comparing the best bank accounts for travelers. They compare Schwab and Capital One as well as other banks. Do your research!

Charles Schwab offers no foreign transaction fees and no ATM fees so we signed up. If you’re already abroad like we were then you must use a VPN to open the bank account.

Use Charles Schwab checking account for traveling on a budget

Travel Rewards Credit Card

You might be asking how do you save money with a travel rewards credit card? Well, it’s more about the benefits you get from the card. We want to be upfront here and say to please be cautious when swiping a credit card! Yes, we get some awesome benefits from our credit card, but we only use it when we know we can pay it off! Credit card interest can lead to a very bad place very quickly. Be smart when swiping!

We have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card and have racked up more than $1800 in travel rewards in 2 years. We still haven’t used a dime from our rewards. We’re not sure what we’re saving it for. A big trip somewhere or if we’re stranded one day maybe it’ll be our lifeline to get home!

Use Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card for traveling on a budget while abroad

With no foreign transaction fees, double points on dining and travel, and awesome customer service, we highly recommend this card! Interested in which travel rewards credit card is best for you? We’ve compared 5 of the best travel credit cards in a concise and viewer-friendly table. Check it out on our best credit card post! The benefits from some of these travel credit cards can lighten some of the load when you’re traveling on a budget.

Buy a CityPASS or Explorer Pass

This varies from city to city so be sure to do a lot of research before purchasing one. We bought an Explorer Pass for our Chicago trip and saved a lot of money on attractions throughout the city. Some cities, like London and Amsterdam, even include a public transportation card with their passes. We talk a little bit more about city passes in our Chicago and NYC posts, as well as awesome things to do there! There’s a definite difference between the CityPASS or Explorer pass so be sure to read up on what is best for your destination. For instance, if you’re going to NYC, we recommend getting the Explorer pass. You can see more and save more!

Buy a city pass while traveling on a budget and see more for less

Free Housing

Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean your accommodation has to suck. Why not just stay in free housing?

Wait, what?

Yes! House-sitting, pet-sitting, working on a farm, or sleeping on someone’s couch in exchange for some culture share, there are a plethora of ways to travel on a serious budget! Not technically “free” since you’re giving back some of your time through work or dog sitting, but these options make traveling on a budget way easier and can also provide some cool experiences!

Traveling on a budget: join TrustedHousesitters

If you love pets and love to travel, then we recommend TrustedHousesitters. The annual fee is $119, but you get a discount if you buy your membership soon after creating an account. We will be participating in TrustedHousesitters in the UK next spring and we’re super excited! Very popular in the USA, Australia, and the UK, TrustedHousesitters matches pet-loving travelers to care for someone’s pets while receiving FREE HOUSING. Can’t beat that! If you’re not a pet lover then there are stays that are strictly house sitting.

There are other options out there for house sitting. If TrustedHousesitters is too pricey for your liking, take a look at MindMyHouse and House Carers as alternatives. They offer more affordable yearly fees and are lesser known so your chances of getting a house sit are higher but your options will be fewer.

WWOOF and Workaway
WWOOF is one of the best ways to save money while traveling on a budget

Into organic farming or working with your hands? WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and Workaway are both great options to get started on your working and traveling adventure. Whether it’s a vineyard in Italy, a dairy farm in France, or a rice farm in Taiwan, WWOOF and Workaway have opportunities all over the world. We will be doing this next summer/fall so keep an eye out for updates!

Sign up for Workaway and save money while traveling on a budget

The only downside to WWOOF is that each country has its own membership. That could get expensive if you’re hopping from country to country. Workaway, however, offers a membership that works wherever and is only $38/person if a single traveler or $48 per couple/2 friends.

Couchsurfing is a great way to save money while traveling on a budget

Finally, there’s Couchsurfing. For the extrovert in you, stay with someone kind enough to open up their home to travelers. You pick a city, check out some hosts, find the right fit and then you’re all set! Of course, Couchsurfing is a sort of social networking hospitality site, so it’s best to do deep research on who you’d be bunking with. We recommend to always go with someone who’s verified and has good reviews. We’re looking into Couchsurfing for when we’re in Europe, especially in the more expensive countries like Belgium and the Netherlands. We’ll have to see!

Cheap Housing

What if house sitting or farming doesn’t sound good to you? No worries! There are great cheap options out there for accommodation, they just require some research!

We found that the best way for traveling on a budget if you’re a couple is to use Airbnb. A great part about Airbnb is you can negotiate the price with hosts well in advance and most hosts offer discounts for long term stays. That’s the main reason we like to book a month’s stay at a time. If you’re traveling with friends, Airbnb has included a feature where you can split the payments with your fellow group members.

Traveling on a budget: book with Airbnb

If Airbnb isn’t for you or your destination is cracking down on homestays (NYC, Bangkok, Singapore), you might want to stay in a Hostel. They can be very affordable, especially for you solo travelers out there, but the downside is you typically are in a dorm and have to share a bathroom with other guests BUT hostels are a great way to meet fellow travelers and make new friends! Hostel World is a good place to start looking for your cheap stay. Explore your options!

Traveling on a budget: stay in a hostel

Find Cheap Flights

Flights are one of the biggest challenges for traveling on a budget but they’ve become easier to tackle thanks to great tools like Google Flights or Skyscanner and subscription emails like Next Vacay or Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights).

You’ll usually find the cheapest flights during non-tourist season, but it’s possible to find great flights during peak times. Going and Next Vacay are e-mail subscription services that do the searching for you. They send out almost daily emails informing you about cheap flight deals they found. If you pay for a subscription then you see more deals and can even tell them what cities you want to see deals out of. The free email subscription is just a crapshoot of great deals that may or may not be a good departure city for you. Either way, someone is doing the hard work for you!

Traveling on a budget: Subscribe to Scott's Cheap Flights to get emails about great flight deals.

If you’re using Google Flights then you can enter your destination and search by the month. Google will show you the prices for each day on a calendar and you can figure out the cheapest and best time for you to go. If you use Skyscanner then you can even ask them to find the cheapest month for you to travel.

Traveling on a budget: search for flights on Google Flights

Planning ahead is key to getting that sweet flight deal so make sure to try some of these awesome tools!

Phone Plans

Since we upped and left our jobs in the USA, we left our phone plans behind as well. If you’re traveling abroad for a while but less than three months, then suspending your number is a great option (depending on your carrier!). You’ll have your US number when you return!

Data and phone plans while traveling abroad

If going abroad for the really long term, then leave your plan behind and research the traveler plans offered in your destinations. WiFi is practically everywhere in Europe and most of Asia. And the best part about going from country to country like we are is that we just get a phone plan on a monthly basis. For instance, in Taiwan we can get unlimited data for 30 days for $30 USD per person. Phone plans are typically cheap for travelers, especially in Asia.

In reality, if you don’t teach or work online, then you don’t need a phone plan. You could use all the free WiFi around you, download google maps ahead of time, and go with the flow. But if staying connected is important to you, you don’t want to lose your U.S. number or you’ve used up all of your plan suspension days in a year, then consider switching carriers with a good international plan like Google’s Project Fi or T-Mobile.

It’s All About That Fun Money!

You planned your trip far in advance. More or less, you know where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. But sometimes there’s a surprise and the unexpected happens. No matter what your plans are, you’re on a trip and making memories. Some of the best travel memories are made on accident. That’s why you save money on planned things, so when the unexpected greets you, there’s enough fun money to say yes and have a new experience! Who said traveling on a budget can’t be fun?!

Money isn’t everything, but it’s what gets your butt around the world. We hope this post has helped spark the money-saver in you so you can plan your next big adventure!

Tells us about your favorite money saving tips for travel! We’d love to hear from you.

Happy travels!

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Darah and Garrett in Spain

Where Food Takes Us

We’re Darah and Garrett. Our life has been an adventure ever since we eloped in a pink Cadillac in Las Vegas. Now we’re running around the world, working online, and eating everything we can.

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5 years ago

Great tips and advice. I love my bank because it reimburses local and international ATM fees. It is a local bank so if I move, I am definitely looking into to Charles Schwab.

5 years ago
Reply to  Lara Dunning

It’s nice that your local bank reimburses you! Charles Schwab is great so far! It’s nice to be able to use an ATM without worrying about losing our money to fees.

5 years ago

I’m definitely going to learn more about the ATM card from Charles Schwab with the no international fees. They certainly rack up when we are traveling to and from our house in Panama. Thanks for the great tips. Many I’ve never read about before.

5 years ago

We got it after realizing one fee from one withdrawal in Thailand was $20 USD!

Astrid Vinje
5 years ago

You’ve got some great trips for traveling on a budget. As someone who travels with kids, we have to be quite thrifty with our spending, if we want to travel as much as we do. For us, our biggest way to save money is to simply stay longer at a destination. This cuts down our transportation and airfare costs, and allows us to explore a place more in depth.

5 years ago
Reply to  Astrid Vinje

We love longer stays! Plus if you stay in an Airbnb the hosts usually offer discounts for longer terms stays or even negotiate the price, which is awesome!

5 years ago

What a great list! We are in staying in timeshares right now so they are condos with full kitchens and it is a life saver as far as staying healthy and saving money. We also utilize a no-fee ATM card and travel cards. It’s a little hard to keep track of them all when you start opening a bunch but we are managing. I love booking on points so if we need to cancel or change dates, it is really easy.

5 years ago
Reply to  Dang Travelers

We would be in over our heads if we opened a bunch of cards. That’s why we like our Chase Sapphire Preferred. We can use them through Chase’s travel portal or we can transfer them point for point to our favorite airline!

How do you go about finding timeshares to stay in? Is it like Airbnb?

5 years ago

Some great tips here. The phone issue is particularly tricky. We typically buy a sim card for the country we are visiting, but when in the US recently, I had organised a package with my data provider so I could use it in the US at UK local rates. The problem came when I wanted to blog. I had loads of data, but what I had not realised was that my plan did not allow me to set up a hotspot when I was abroad! I love the idea of house sitting, but have not tried this yet (except for… Read more »

5 years ago

Thanks for reading! Phone plans are definitely super tricky. We have to do a lot of research before going to any country. We’re hoping to not need phone plans when we go to Europe and just rely on wifi.

5 years ago

I am pleased that I have already Do some of your tips: no-fee credit card, city pass and AirBnB. I can wholeheartedly agree with those and swear by them when travelling. I recently bought a Omnia Card and Roma Pass before I visited Rome and it was so easy to use. I’d like to try house sitting as I think it’s would be a great and cheap way to experience a destination like a local.

5 years ago

Yes! Thanks for mentioning the Omnia Card and Roma Pass. We’ll definitely look into those ourselves. Also, you should definitely try out housesitting!

Lola La Paz
5 years ago

Do you know if the Chase credit card is also available for European based travelers? It surely has some nice benefits and to keep it as a lifeline for unexpected expenses is never a bad idea.

5 years ago
Reply to  Lola La Paz

If you’re a US citizen living in Europe then I don’t see why not. You’ll most likely need to use a VPN to apply and you will need to apply with a US address and have a US bank account. If you’re not a US citizen then I don’t think it’s possible. You need a social security number and a good credit score to apply for it.

5 years ago

Good tips. My biggest downfall is food. I always blow my budget eating out :/

5 years ago
Reply to  Erin

Haha that’s our biggest downfall as well! We’ve created a decent breakfast and lunch and have limited eating out to just dinner but it can be hard to keep it up!