travel the world on a budget

Everyone has that one friend. She graduated college, sold everything she could, dropped off her remaining belongings at her parents’, and left. Now she’s backpacking across Europe, and her Instagram pics are to die for.

Let’s be honest. We’re all incredibly jealous of that friend.

But traveling the world can put serious strain on your finances. It’s important to plan to travel the world on a budget, one that’s strict enough to discourage overspending while still allowing some leeway for unexpected expenses.

How to Travel the World on a Budget

With some forethought, it’s easy to map out exactly what you’re prepared to spend during your global excursion. Follow these 10 budget travel tips while you’re planning so you don’t have to worry about money while you’re exploring the great wide world!

1. Create an Accessible Schedule and Budget

If you write your budget down in a notebook and then leave it in the bottom of your suitcase, it won’t be very useful. Create a travel schedule and budget you can take with you, so you’re never surprised by your financial boundaries.

There are a number of budgeting apps out there, and many are geared toward travelers specifically. An electronic budget is easier to adjust than the pen-and-paper version. You’re much less likely to lose your phone than you are a piece of paper, too!

2. Avoid the Busy Season

Most cities and countries have a high-traffic season when special events take place or the weather is most hospitable. Though good weather and exciting attractions can make a trip memorable, costs often rise during these busy times.

To avoid inflated prices, schedule your trip for a time when your destination is less popular with the tourists. Attractions and lodgings may even offer special deals to attract customers!

3. Find Alternative Accommodation

Hotels are great for a short stay. But if you’re looking for ways to travel cheap during a longer trip, cut your costs by reserving space in a hostel or a vacation rental.

Base rates are cheaper at these lodging alternatives, but they also offer other saving opportunities. Many hostels have communal kitchens where you can store snack food or prepare your own meals instead of spending extra money at restaurants. Vacation rentals like Airbnb and VRBO usually come with kitchen facilities, too.

4. Watch Plane Ticket Prices

A plane ride will get more expensive the closer you come to your departure date. To avoid sticker shock, book your flights as far in advance as you can — many airlines let you buy tickets up to a year in advance.

Watch prices for a week or two before buying. Flights may not be cheaper on Tuesdays, but prices will fluctuate throughout the week! Also, check with travel sites or your friendly neighborhood travel agent for news of any upcoming fare sales or insider tips on securing budget-friendly flights.

5. Pack Light

Checked bags cost money you could spend on better pursuits, like a leisurely lunch at a sidewalk cafe in Rome or a piece of art from a vendor on the Charles Bridge in Prague. Pack a carry-on and avoid the charge, along with the chance the airline might lose your luggage!

Pack a few changes of clothes and plan to do laundry in a hotel/hostel/AirBnB sink. Many brands of detergent offer travel laundry soaps, but they can be pricey. Make your own dissolving laundry sheets out of your favorite laundry detergent (you probably have some at home already) or hand-washing soap.

6. Make Friends

You’ll find fellow travelers in your hostel or around the city who know a lot more than you do about finding deals. Follow them to inexpensive or free activities, or that hole-in-the-wall cafe with great prices.

Locals are also a great resource. If you do plan to travel somewhere during a busy season, you’ll want to know where you can go for a cold drink or a hot meal without encountering those tourist-inflated prices.

7. Sing for Your Supper

If the idea of going out into the world without any plans whatsoever intimidates you, think about finding employment abroad. It’s a great way to make extra pocket money and can provide structure to your day.

Several programs exist to connect travelers and companies looking for short-term hires. These programs can often assist you in finding budget accommodations, too! And if you want to get a long-term job abroad, your new employer may even pay some of your travel expenses.

8. Research Discount Opportunities

Even in another country, you can get a student, military, senior discounts and more! Carry the applicable ID with you and always ask if special pricing is available.

Students may want to look at the International Student Identity Card, just in case your ID isn’t enough proof on its own. (Some student IDs don’t have dates of enrollment, which can complicate things.) Members of organizations like AAA and AARP should also keep their cards handy.

9. Not Just Planes, But Trains and Automobiles

Always compare the cost of a plane trip to other transportation methods before making your choice. Trains are especially affordable in continental Europe and bypass the hassle of long airport security lines and uncomfortably cramped planes.

Or consider renting a car for a road trip! Just be sure to secure an International Driver’s Permit before leaving your home country if one is required in any of your destination countries. Give your car insurance company a call, too, to make sure you’re covered for international rentals.

10. Fill Out that VAT Refund Form

If you’re making purchases abroad, the shop owner may participate in a VAT refund program. Always ask the salesperson, especially if you’re spending a large amount of money. They’ll have paperwork to fill out, and you may receive that refund on the spot.

If the store doesn’t give you the refund immediately, take the paperwork to the airport with you on your flight home. Customs officials can assist you in getting the documents filed correctly. Be sure to have your purchases and receipts on hand — officials may check your items against your forms and receipts before approving the VAT refund.

Don’t Let Your Budget Get In the Way of a Good Time

As long as you plan well, nothing can ruin your chance to travel the world on a budget! Just be sure to leave room for surprises — travel never goes exactly the way you expect. And, honestly, that’s part of the fun.

Check out some of our other posts for more information on how to make the most out of your international excursion. Bon voyage!

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