Summary. Traveling on a budget does not always mean staying in a hostel or watching for flash sales. We have made traveling less expensive, and more budget friendly, by always following these 5 travel tips: (1) Choose free activities like hiking; (2) Book lodging that has a kitchen; (3) Book lodging early; (4) Pack healthy snacks from home; (5) Pack light and avoid baggage fees.
Tip 1: Choose free activities. This one seems obvious but it's easy to feel compelled to spend money on tours and costly activities when you are vacationing. For us, it's a balance. We choose a mix of free activity days and in return, our budget can handle the days where we want to splurge. It also forces us to be more mindful of the expensive activities we end up choosing.
Hiking. Our favorite, no cost activity, is hiking. Some parks have entrance fees or parking fees, but generally speaking, this is a very budget-friendly activity.
City Walking. Within cities, there are many options to "hike" the City streets for free as well. Larger cities have companies that offer great free walking tours which provide the history of the area. Payment is tip-based. Cities are also usually the home of great outdoor markets. Finally, take a stroll through a city-center and enjoy the area's architecture and possibly window shop while you are at it.
Tip 2: Book Lodging with a Kitchen. Stay in an AirBnB, Booking.com VRBO, or other similar lodging that has a kitchen. Our general rule of thumb to save money on a trip, but still enjoy our time away, is to cook breakfast in our lodging, pack a sack lunch to-go, and eat dinner out at a restaurant. This formula saves a ton on food costs but also provides an opportunity to visit neighborhood markets in the place you are staying. Side benefit: it encourages overall better eating habits on our trips. We stick to healthy a healthy breakfast and lunch and then by dinner - especially after all that walking - some indulgence is fine.
Photo below: Our Air BnB in Como, Italy.
Tip 3: Book Lodging Early. The best houses, apartments, and flats, all book early. We typically book one full year or more in advance if possible to get the best rates as well. That does, of course, mean some advance planning and a little leap of faith on airfare since, by contrast, the best airfare is not available that far in advance.
Tip 4: Bring Snacks From Home. This tip is especially helpful when traveling in foreign countries but it can apply even when traveling domestically. Being unprepared out on the town seems to inevitably lead to buying expensive meals and/or snacks, often unhealthy or unsatisfying given the cost. What's that saying? Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry? The same holds true for sightseeing. Our travel bags always include a Ziploc bag full of snacks that we can pull from, whether we are waiting in the airport, out on a hike, or taking a rest between museums. Items are bought in bulk at home to save even more. Snack ideas include protein bars (a variety so they don't get boring), nut packs, trail mix, jerky, and pretzels.
Tip 5: Pack Light. After you make room for snacks, further lighten the load to be sure you do not go over baggage weight. Check your specific airline for weight limits and weigh them at home before you leave to avoid unexpected costs at the gate. Almost all airlines we have traveled on allow for backpacks, like those shown below, to be placed in an overhead bin and a second bag (like a day pack) down below. Between these two bags, if packed judiciously, you should be able to have all you need for your trip. Pro tip: always book lodging that has a washer/dryer. The other added benefit to travel with back packs is never losing your luggage and the ease with which you can navigate airports, trains, etc.