11 Frugal 20-Somethings On How They Travel On A Budget

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We’re big fans of budget travel here at TFD, and we’ve written a number of articles about how you can travel more efficiently and cheaply. Personally, I feel that the biggest key to unlocking affordable travel is being flexible. When you open yourself up to different dates, locations, times, flights, etc., there’s nothing stopping you from seeing the world (without breaking the bank). Whether it be frequent and affordable weekend trips or actually living abroad without going broke, there are many strategies to make travel fit into your budget.

I’ve spoken to a lot of individuals with regard to how they travel, and I’ve found that a good deal of early twenty-somethings are still navigating how they want to travel, and are in the process of breaking away from the model set by their parents, family, or friends. Growing up, my parents were able to take us on frequent vacations by setting strict budgets for themselves, and they tried their best to show us new places and people. Sometimes, it meant renting a car to drive from New Jersey to Florida (with three small kids in the backseat), or taking us to Europe only after they had saved up enough points for free airfare. They managed their expenses to make it happen because it was a priority to show us the world was bigger than we could imagine. It has taught me to be frugal where I can/need to be, and to have a discerning eye when booking flights, hotels, or budgeting meals out.

Below, I’ve rounded up the way 11 other 20-somethings manage affordable travel. Depending on your preferences and priorities you, too, can make traveling part of your life. You don’t need to drop a grand on a European ticket if you see the world, as a whole, as something to be explored. Read on below!

1. “The biggest tip I’ve learned over the years is to be flexible with what city/place/area you fly into. I was going to Italy a few years back, and flying directly into Rome was inordinately expensive. I researched cheaper airports in Italy, and then just took trains around once I got there. It actually forced me to see places I otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s really beneficial to explore cheaper alternative cities nearby. Even if it’s one country over, don’t dismiss that airport as an option. Everything in Europe feels like a hop, skip, and a jump away anyway! (Be sure to check out cheap European cities to fly into here.)” — Laura

2. “When I travel, I try not to get married to the idea of going to one specific place. Usually, I’ll look at what the cheapest cities to fly into are, and start making travel plans around the best deal I can find. Kayak has this neat explore map feature which allows you to see the price to fly (nearly) anywhere based on the dates you put in. It looks like this.

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It’s a great visual tool that always helps my friends and I decide where we want to go. I also always set up fare alerts on flights I’m interested in, so I’m emailed as soon as a really good deal pops up.” — Eric

3. “This might sound like an obvious and/or silly tip, but the way I do affordable travel is to make sure I travel with people in similar financial situations as me. In college, my friends and I traveled in big groups, and everyone’s priorities and budgets were different. Now that I’m older, I only travel with small tight-knit groups of friends. I’ve lost a lot of tolerance for people who want to travel and settle on touristy crap I can’t stand because they’re too lazy to plan. Since I’m on a tighter budget, I want to make sure that every trip I go on is meaningful and special. That means going with people who share my values and travel style, and who want to explore well, and on a budget.” — Roseann

4. “Some people think I’m nuts, but I refuse to fly nonstop flights. It just eats up SO much of my travel budget, and I’m not at the point in my life where I can afford that luxury. I’m 22, have no kids, no boyfriend/husband, nothing holding me back from traveling the way I like. My friends and I suck it up, and book flights that have a stop over (sometimes multiple stops). If the layovers are long, we’ll try to venture out into the city for a few hours for a meal or a drink, so we can see something of the city. Some people think it’s a complete waste of time, but if it allows me to vacation for a longer amount of time (because I’m saving money), I feel like it evens out in the end. Maybe when I’m older I’ll think multiple-stop flights aren’t worth the money you save, but at this point in my life, I can deal with it. It’s all about perspective, and I view the journey to get to the final destination as an ~adventure~. Yes, I obviously have some horror stories, but nothing where I would say ‘I’m NEVER doing that again,’ so I’ve lucked out.”  — Julia

5. “I never knew that there were cheap days to fly on. Nowadays, I try not to book a flight unless I’m booking on a less expensive day, so I can get a cheaper flight. Also, holidays. Flying on holidays feels like you hit the jackpot because it’s insanely cheaper. It’s not for everyone, but it doesn’t bother me that much. I have every other day of the year to see my family!” — Marielle

6. “EAT STREET FOOD! It’s a great way to save money, stick to a budget, and try out a bunch of local cuisines. The first time I traveled abroad, I was totally unprepared to spend what I did on food and booze. (Speaking of booze, wait until you’re back home to resume long and expensive nights out at the bar if you can. Drinking at every turn will drain your funds faster than you can say ‘hangover.’) Now when I go away, I always research the local street food options, so I know what to expect. This helps me plan out how much money I’ll need per day with ease. Obviously, use your best judgment depending on the situation — I’ve seen some places which I’ve passed up because I didn’t want to chance a very upset stomach. Be sure to check out these online street-food guides here and here.” — Gabrielle

7. “While it doesn’t work every time, calling hotels and accommodations on the phone might land you a better deal. I’ve been able to knock room rates down a bit by calling up and asking to speak to a manager or supervisor.  Sometimes, the rates you’ll see online won’t be the absolute best a place can do, and they might be willing to work with you. Obviously, it’s helpful if you’re trying to book during the low or off season because they have more of an incentive to cut you a deal. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth trying. I think a lot of people underestimate the power of getting a real person on the phone when they need something.” — Rachel

8. “I’ve been able to make affordable travel part of my life because I rarely fly abroad. I live on the East Coast, and there are so many domestic cities and places I want to see first. I have my life to travel, and with the salary and discretionary income I have available at the moment, I’m perfectly content to do frequent weekend trips. I’m thrilled to explore the museums of D.C., the rocky cliffs of Newport, R.I., the harbors of Maine, etc. Traveling smart means knowing my limits and embracing what I’m able to afford at this juncture in my life.”  — Emily

9. “Try and snag a place that has a nook to eat in or a small kitchen, so you can shop at grocery stores/bakeries/markets and make some of your meals at home. This will significantly cut down on the amount you need to eat out, and will allow for things like an aperitif and drinks at your place before you head out. The bar tab goes way down when you already have a buzz on. At the very least, you can try and organize picnics in place of sit-down meals at restaurants, but it’s also very cheap if you are able to grab breakfast and lunch supplies to have at the place you’re staying.”  — Ryan

10. “Airbnbs all the way. I’ve stayed in some truly amazing and unique places, and I have experienced traveling abroad in a way I would never have been able to otherwise. Make sure you give yourself enough time to research different options, and make sure you have all your host’s details before booking. There are some great articles here, here, and here that will help you navigate the world of booking an Airbnb. The platform has been a lifesaver!” –Lia

11. “When possible, travel with a small group of friends, another couple, etc. You can save a ton on lodging and divide expenses among more people, which is always a win-win. Plus, the more the merrier!” — Katie

Travel Be sure to check out these helpful articles from around TFD that will help you travel on a budget.

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  • Sindhoo

    Also if you’re going to open a credit card, make SURE it’s a travel/airlines one where you get a sweet sign up bonus – I’m talking 50,000 miles or more. The Points Guy is a good resource for this.

    Opening up credit cards is obviously dangerous but I made the mistake of having a credit card for years that got me no benefits whatsoever…that’s just a risky waste. Don’t open up a card without getting something out of it!

    • To add on that, as long as you are responsible with your card spending, pay them off in full each month, and have a good credit score to begin with, opening up new credit cards to dabble in “travel hacking” and take advantage of the numerous bonus sign on rewards doesn’t really do to much to your credit score.

  • alyjarrett

    Definitely agree with #3 and #10. I’m so excited to go to Europe in the spring because I have a great travel partner in a similar financial situation as myself, so we’re frugal, but can afford to splurge here and there without penny-pinching. We’re staying in Greece and Italy for two weeks, and flights + lodging only cost us $2,000 per person! I highly recommend Kayak and Hopper to monitor flight deals as well.

    • Lauren Ver Hage

      Yes, I’d highly recommend Hopper. It’s great, and I actually used it when I took a trip to Greece/Turkey a few years back!

  • srenee213

    Love this article! I also love Kayak, but I’m still afraid of AirBnB after hearing some horror stories of people being scammed and suddenly having no place to stay in a foreign country. Some other tips:

    – Try hostels. My boyfriend and I have used only hostels and budget hotels during our recent trips to Europe and New York. You can get private rooms for a good price. No, they won’t be fancy, but you’re only there to sleep, so who really cares? As long as it is safe, clean, affordable, and in a good location, you’re set. We also typically look for rooms with private bathrooms.

    – Consider spending more time exploring the streets and less time at museums and attractions. I loved wandering the streets when we visited Florence and Venice. I’d much rather wander and explore than spend all my time in museums (but of course, this all depends on your priorities!).

    – Travel with people who are similar to you (like the article said). When I studied abroad, I really got to see the different types of travelers within our group. For example, some kids spent lots of money drinking and partying. Some kids rarely ate out (even during a week-long trip to Italy!). Some kids spend most of their weekend trips in museums. Some kids spent a lot of time shopping. I quickly realized what my own priorities were: lots of walking and exploring, eating at least one good meal a day (local cuisine, of course), exploring the major attractions and museums, relaxing and picnicking in parks, and a tiny bit of shopping. If you don’t travel with people who are similar to you, you might spend a lot of money on things you don’t care about.

    – When you do go to museums, check their websites ahead of time to see if they have free or discounted days. For example, we visited the Louvre for free on a Friday evening.

    – Look for free attractions ahead of time. In some places, like London, you’d be shocked how many museums and sites are absolutely free!

    – Plan ahead of time. Even if you aren’t a big planner (I ADORE it), try to plan your vacations a bit to maximize your time and prevent needless spending. This is especially important with transportation, attractions, and food. Look up great restaurants in your price range, check for weekly public transportation passes, etc. If you haven’t planned, you might end up spending money needlessly because you’re desperate (for example, spending more at a restaurant because you can’t find another, getting a cab because you don’t know how the metro system works, etc).

    – Use public transportation. It’s obviously a lot cheaper than taking taxis everywhere, it’s typically easy to use, and you’ll get to see/meet more local people. You’ll probably end up with a story or two as well! If you’re in a smaller city, however, you might not even need transportation. Just walk!

    • Aida Rosalia

      Absolute yes to the exploring on your own/traveling with the like minded. I went to Costa Rica for a study abroad and while I was too poor to spend much time with the party/drinking folks, I occasionally ventured into the tourist shops with others who were looking for souvenirs and bought a few things i really didn’t need. It’s not terrible, but it’s nice to have a friend who understands and agrees with your budget so that way you never have to walk into those places that’ll cost you.

    • Lauren Ver Hage

      THANK YOU for writing out all those additional tips here! Very helpful =)

  • I definitely used the same strategy as Julia (#4) when I was younger and booked cheap flights with layovers because I could — no boyfriend, no kids, etc. On one trip, I ended up spending the night in the San Juan airport next to the creepiest man imaginable, but the flight was dirt cheap! Best tip I have when doing that is to try to get a direct flight home because dealing with layovers when you’re en route to your own bed is the worst.

    Now at 28, with (slightly) more discretionary income and the need to balance my boyfriend’s schedule and our vacation time with our employers, I’m much more likely to splurge on direct flights. But you better believe I’m going to do as much research as possible to find the *cheapest* direct flight!

    • Lauren Ver Hage

      Definitely agree, Jen! When work schedules are tight (and you don’t have a lot of time to vacation as it is) a shorter flight time is preferable

      • I did a cool & helpful thing by moving across the country and extremely far away from all my friends & family (lol) so I usually have to spend at least half a day traveling to/fro. It’s going to be lots of fun flying from Portland to a wedding in Miami!

    • Bridget

      I used this tactic for a few international flights and was happy with how much I saved, but I have such a bad fear of flying that I learned it’s worth paying more for direct flights so I only have to take off once.

  • Skyscanner is another good site for cheap flights (although they updated recently and I’m not as much a fan as I was before).

  • Sabrina

    My friend and I took a trip to Costa Rica last year and stayed in hostels the whole time. We both agreed the trip would not have been the same had we not done that. We met so many awesome people and for a one week trip spent about $100 each on lodging and stayed in some really fun places.
    Also, this isn’t for everyone but I got a Chase sapphire preferred credit card and if you spend $4000 with it in the first 3 months you get 40,000 points (at least when I signed up that was the deal) and then every dollar you spend after that is 1 point (I don’t work for Chase or anything). There’s a yearly fee but the first year it’s waived. I’m going to Panama this year and my airfare is free because I used my points from the card for the ticket (and I still have enough points left over to go again). You could always get it and cancel it after the first year even if you don’t wanna pay the fee but I’m keeping it because it’s so worth it!

  • Aryn Hill

    I work at a hotel so I can confirm that number 7 really does work. If you see a good price on Expedia or Priceline, call the hotel directly and ask them to match it. It’s a win-win for both of us!

    My own personal tip for travel is to consider alternative sleeping arrangements. I almost always use couch surfing (which is free!) or sleep in the airport. In Japan, I also used internet cafes as hotels. They’re open 24-7 and charge just a small member’s fee to use.

  • Seagrape

    If you or your S.O. travel for work, tacking on a vacation to the trip is a good way to avoid having to pay airfare for one. Also, if you stay in a B&B, take advantage of the breakfast. Some of them even do an afternoon snack, which will allow for a lighter dinner.

  • AN

    I love everything about this.

  • Caitlin

    Could not agree more with #9! Eating out is part of the fun of travel, but I also have a weird love for going to grocery stores that aren’t my local ones and I genuinely enjoy cooking. Even if you don’t have access to a full kitchen, at least grabbing some easy snacks or pb&j fixings has saved me a lot of money on trips.

  • Megan Stacey

    I hate long flights and love airports, so I actually prefer having one (or two!) connecting flights!

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