How to Travel For Cheap (Or Free): 9 Tips From a Budget Traveler

Jordan Tarver
April 2, 2021

My traveling journey started when I was fresh out of college, a time when my bank account wasn't glamorous. This meant to fulfill my solo backpacking dreams, I would need to learn how to travel for cheap. You may be in a similar boat (or I should say plane for the sake of this article). In my pursuit to travel for cheap, I relied the cheapest ways to travel and cheap travel tips like finding alternative housing options and scouring the web for cheap flights.

After years of traveling overseas, I've found places I've loved and places I won't return to. Some of my favorite places are those that don't break the bank but still offer an undeniably incredible experience. To get you headed toward the right destination, download my top seven places to travel below.

Here are nine tips to help you travel for cheap.

1. Consider Alternative Accommodation Options

Sure, lavish hotels tucked in the Positano hillside are gorgeous and out of this world, but they won't let you travel on a budget. Instead, to travel cheaply, you'll need to look toward alternative accommodation options, including:

  • Hostels: Hostels are essentially social hubs that accommodate a large group of travelers. These were my bread and butter when I traveled solo for three months across Europe on an extremely tight budget. You can score night stays between $10 and $35 depending on when and where you're staying; if you choose to travel in the off-season, you can find rates as low as $5. Hostel World is a great place to find the right hostel for you.
  • Airbnb: Airbnb is the new wave of accommodation, which offers different rooms and entire houses or apartments you can stay in. While it's a much more affordable option than a traditional hotel, it's not as cheap as staying at a hostel. However, if you want more privacy than a hostel, this is a great option. Use my referral link and get up to $65 off a qualifying booking.
  • Couchsurfing: Couchsurfing is a budget-friendly way to travel for free. Travelers are able to stay as a guest on a community members couch, bed, or even an extra room for free. While you may be hesitant about this option at first, residents of the Couchsurfing community are known to be open-minded and welcoming. Although you won't get a world-class accommodation like you may get with Airbnb, it's free, and that's hard to beat when you want to travel cheaply.
  • Housesitting: Believe it or not, you can volunteer to watch someone's house, pets, and/or plants in exchange for a place to sleep. Again, while you may not get tip-top accommodation, it takes the nightly accommodation rate out of the picture and helps slash your travel expenses drastically. If this sounds enticing for you, check out websites like TrustedHousesitters, Mind My House, and HouseCarers. You may have to pay an annual fee to contact homeowners.

2. Travel Out In the Off-season

When you first think of traveling, you may want to take flight during the hottest months of the year or in the midst of the holidays; however, more often than not, those are typically the most expensive times to travel. It's normal for airlines to hike their ticket prices up and accommodation, such as Airbnbs or hostels, to price their nightly rates through the roof; they know there are people willing to spend this kind of money.

However, I know that's not you because you're reading this article on how to travel cheaply. And that's okay, that's exactly how I traveled when I first started. If you want to travel for cheap, choose to travel in the off-season—the opposite of the most popular time. To do this, research your destination and learn about the most popular times to go. Then plan a trip before or after these dates.

3. Think About Your Budget When Choosing Your Destination

Different parts of the world are more expensive than others. So if you want to travel cheaply, you'll need to dig in and find areas that won't break your bank and put a massive dent in your wallet. For example, parts of Europe, like Switzerland, Barcelona, and Paris, aren't your budget-friendly locations. Sure you can be tight on spending while you're there, but your dollar won't go as far as other places.

Here are budget-friendly destinations and how much it would cost per day:

  • Vietnam: $30
  • Cambodia: $25
  • Northern Thailand: $30
  • Indonesia: $30
  • Romania: $33
  • Greece: $40
  • Czech Republic: $40
  • Ukraine: $26
  • Poland: $40
  • The Baltic States: $40

Now, don't be fooled by these low rates. Even though you won't be spending much, some of these destinations are the most beautiful places to travel in the world. Choose one of these spots and you'll have a happy wallet.

4. Look For Budget-friendly Flights

One of the largest expenses you'll have to face when planning a trip is your plane tickets. Being flexible with your travel dates and destinations is one way to be able to find cheap flights. But you can also use budget-friendly flight resources, including:

  • Scott's Cheap Flights: There's nothing like getting an email every day with insane flight deals, and Scott's Cheap Flights does exactly that. You're able to plug in your preferred airport and receive budget-friendly flight deals to help you score a cheap flight.
  • momondo: If you're tired of websites using your cookies and previous searches to mess up your hunt for the cheapest flight, momondo is the way to go. It doesn't use cookies to increase or change fares based on your past searches, ensuring you'll get the best price.
  • KayakThis is a popular site you may have seen TV commercials for. Kayak lets you set "Anywhere" as a destination, meaning you'll never miss a good deal.
  • SkyScanner: SkyScanner was the first budget-friendly flight resource I heard of and used. It's actually how I booked my flight home from my solo backpacking trip when I barely had any money. They work directly with the airlines and third parties to find the best deals.

5. Capitalize On Travel Reward Programs

What if I said you could earn free travel on money you're already spending? Well, I'm here to tell you exactly that. Thanks to travel credit cards and travel reward programs, you can earn points or miles on everyday expenses, like your groceries, that you can redeem for travel expenses, such as flights, hotels, or even vacation packages.

For example, I use the Capital One Venture card. You’ll earn:

  • 2x points on every single dollar
  • 60,000 bonus miles (or $600 in travel) once you spend at least $3,000 on purchases within the first three

On average, one point is worth one cent. Plus, you'll not only enjoy rewards you can redeem for travel, but this card also charges no foreign transaction fees, which will help keep your trip expenses to a minimum. Get your Capital One card to earn free travel.

6. Work As You Travel

If you're not looking to travel the world purely as a long vacation or holiday, and instead want to create a more sustainable plan, it may be in your best interest to work as you travel the world. This way you can continue to travel without worrying about running out of money or having to abide by a tight budget that may keep you from doing everything on your itinerary.

There are a few different ways you can do this:

  1. Work as a freelancer: If you already have a service you're able to offer, like marketing, social media, writing, or translating documents, you can use sites like Fiverr or Upwork to look for remote work. This is a handy way to leverage your skills and make money while away from home.
  2. Teach english abroad: You don't need to have teaching experience for this job. As a native English speaker, your knowledge is a huge asset in classrooms (in-person or online) around the world. You could also become a private tutor or translator.
  3. Become an au pair: As an au pair you'll work for, and live as part of, a host family. Families will typically pay for your visa, travel, and accommodation in exchange for childcare.

These are just a few of the most common types of jobs people get while traveling. There are many more. Check out sites like GoOverseas, GoAbroad, and Get Up & Go Global to help you find a digital nomad job.

7. Plan Your Public Transportation Strategically

Once you're overseas, you'll have different options to get around depending on your destination. You may have access to taxis, ride sharing apps, city busses, subways, or trains; some options will be more affordable than others. Planning your public transportation strategically can help you access one of the cheapest ways to travel. For example, subways may be easier on your wallet than taxis.

When I travel the world, I have a rule of thumb I follow that helps me save money. If I need to go somewhere, such as dinner or an attraction, and it's within a 30 to 45 min walk, I will choose to walk over public transportation. Not only does walking save you money, but it's the best way to experience and see the city. If it's longer than 30 to 45 minutes, I typically choose to use the local subway or metro system.

Be careful using taxis. Sometimes the drivers will try to take longer routes to earn more money because they know you don't know the city as a tourist.

8. Cook a Majority of Your Meals

Half of the fun of traveling is eating and experiencing all the local food and restaurants. However, eating out for every single meal can really rack up an expensive travel bill. I'm not saying don't go out and eat all the incredible food; I'm saying if traveling on a budget is a priority, then cooking a majority of your meals should also be one.

However, if you have chosen a budget travel destination, like the ones I listed above, this won't have to be a worry of yours. This applies to places like Europe, Japan, and Australia that tend to run a bit more expensive.

9. Only Spend On Things You Need

When you're traveling on a budget, you should only spend your money on necessities. This includes like food, drinks, transportation, attractions, and the occasional souvenir. If you're looking for the cheapest way to travel, your intention shouldn't be to buy a souvenir for every single person back home and do some retail therapy for yourself.

Here's a good rule of thumb for spending: If you're going to spend money, invest that money into experiences rather than tangible goods. It's the experiences you'll tell stories about in years to come, not the leather wallet you bought at a market.

Bottom Line

Learning how to travel for free or cheaply doesn't have to be difficult. Traveling the world without denting your wallet is totally doable if you follow these nine cheap travel tips I learned through my own experience. Sure, you may have to make sacrifices and compromises, but at the end of the day, you're still traveling the world and not many people get to do that.

Have any questions on how to travel for cheap? Let me know in the comments below.


Jordan Tarver is a lead editor at Forbes, a keynote speaker, and the bestselling author of You Deserve This Sh!t.
He’s transformed over 30,000 lives through his book, amassed more than 200,000 devoted followers, and garnered over 60 million views online. Jordan is on a mission to empower people and organizations to unlock exponential growth and expansive possibilities.

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