See More for Less: Budget Travel 101

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A limited budget need not keep you from seeing the world's most fabulous sites.

It doesn’t take more than one incredible trip to start wondering how you can see as much of the world as possible. But even well-off travelers have financial limits. We all want to get the best deal we can without having to stress too much over every expense while on the road.

Here are some of the basic things to consider when budgeting for your world travel dreams.


If you’ve recently caught the travel bug and are open to whatever wonderful sights the world has to offer, consider visiting some of the planet’s more affordable destinations in order to fully stretch your vacation dollars. Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and South America are all much more affordable than downtown Paris, Rome or London, and allow you to hone your travel skills with a reduced risk of budget overload.


There are more ways to reduce your accommodation overhead than you might think, particularly if you aren’t married to the idea of luxury hotels being the only way to go. Higher-end hostels and vacation rentals are a start for shorter getaways, but it is possible to virtually eliminate hotel costs altogether. lets you sign up to provide house-sitting services to homeowners traveling for extended periods, and provides a platform for homeowners around the world to swap domiciles for predetermined periods of vacation time.


It’s OK to splurge on a few dream activities during a trip, but scheduling multiple $80 excursions per day will put you on the fast track to broke. Pick a limited number of expensive splurges to intersperse with the location’s freebies and cheapies.

For example, the cities of Quito, Ecuador; Cartagena, Colombia; and Florence, Italy, offer world-class walking tours you can enjoy free. Similarly, many museums have free days or discount evenings that you can plan your visit around in order to reduce your overall vacation cost. If you’ve picked a beach location where the drinks are cheap, then finding an inexpensive way to unwind every afternoon should be a breeze.


Even if you aren’t staying somewhere with kitchen facilities, it’s still possible to keep your food budget frugal. Choosing a place where breakfast is part of the package, for instance, will eliminate that cost completely. Lunch is typically much more affordable than dinner, so as a rule it makes more sense to make that your meal out for the day.

Prevention is a large part of the penny-pinching equation as well. Packing a few power bars in your daypack will help you ward off hunger pangs if an outing takes longer than expected. This in turn will keep you from over-ordering when the only food option is an outside-the-budget cafe near the bus station. Of course, booking a house-sit or swap will provide you with kitchen access for even greater savings.


Being prepared with budget vacation items can help you stay on the road longer. There are a number of places to purchase inexpensive travel gear. For example, labeled key tags at Ace Hardware are available for pennies at a pop and make a dirt-cheap alternative to expensive luggage tags. Simply put your email address on the label to avoid the security concerns that come with advertising your home address.

Similarly, round rubber discs sold as drain stoppers work around the world. They pack flat, and allow you to hand wash your laundry on the road. This is one of the cornerstones of long-term independent travel, because it permits you to pack light and travel with a single backpack. When your only quick-access transportation option is the back of a small motorcycle, lugging a large suitcase along for the ride isn’t an option.

Budget travel doesn’t have to be boring. There are plenty of ways to extend your time on the road while seeing the iconic sights the world has to offer. Once you get accommodation and food costs under control, your largest remaining cost is ground transportation, which I’ll be covering soon in an upcoming article.

Stacy Johnson

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