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23 Ways to Travel the World on a Budget

As the saying goes, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”  Well rest assured, you can have your cake and eat it too.  I’ve found that traveling doesn’t have to break the bank, so here are 23 ways to travel the world on a budget.

1. Don’t be a tourist.  By all means, go to the the Eiffel Tower while in Paris and the Machu Picchu in Peru, but don’t sign up for tours! Most are just looking to take your money, and doing a little research can get you the same thing for far less money. One of the most satisfying things to do while traveling is to look at a tour’s itinerary, use it as a basis for creating your own plans, then comparing how much you saved!  Think of how many macroons you could buy with that saved money!

2. Save on exchange rates.  Don’t ever exchange your money at the airport, where you’ll incur a hefty charge to swap out your money.  Instead, get an ATM card that doesn’t charge ATM fees and has a low exchange rate.  Charles Schwab is a good one that reimburses all your ATM fees at the end of the month

3. Student discounts.  Most touristy places, especially in Europe, offer discounts for being a student.  You can get an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), which most establishmentsaccept. I’ve found that in many cases, however, simply showing my American univeristy card usually does the trick.

4. City Tourist Card.  If you plan on visiting many tourist attractions within a city, keep an eye out for a discount card offering reduced entrance fees to all the attractions.  You’ll find these in any city where there is a LOT to see (Athens, Rome, Paris etc.)

5. Barter.  Bartering is actually more common than you’d think, but it requires skill and confidence.  When can you barter?  Anytime there’s not a roof over your head.  How do you barter?  Take the price they’re giving you, cut it in half, and don’t let it go back above 75% of the original price.  And of course there’s a plethora of techniques.  In Florence, leather is the big thing and there are hundreds of street merchants selling leather bags and wallets and such.  I once saw a woman show a hint of interest in a bag.  Knowing she’d caught the merchant’s attention, she began to continue walking.  So he got up and chased her, “50 euros!” he yelled, “ok ok 35 euros!”.  She continued walking.  “20 euros!”  She turned around, with a gleam in her eye, and handed him 20 euros.  That’s technique right there!

6. Trade.  And then there’s bartering’s sneaky sister, trading.  I found this works best when you have something the vendor doesn’t.  In Ghana, a postcard from Alaska and a box of American granola cereal bought me a turquiose beaded necklace.  In Cuba, well everything from America was a hot commodity, so things like toiletries and American snacks could be traded for little souveniers.

7. Pack light.  Checking luggage is expensive and burdensome (especially when the airline loses it somewhere over Mexico), as is storing your luggage when you want to go off on an adventure.  Pack only enough for 1-2 weeks, regardless of the trip length (laundromats = your friend), and pack it tight enough to be a carry-on!

8. Free Walking Tours.  Each new city I go to, this is my first stop.  The idea behind these is that the tour guide only makes money from tips, giving them the incentive to make a killer good tour.  They tend to be 3-4 hours, an awesome time, and you pay what you want or can afford (5-20 euros).

9. Rick Steve Audio Tours.  Don’t like talking to people?  Well then let the voice of Rick Steve fill your ears with all of his touring wisdom.  You can download tours to your phone and listen as you walk through a city or museum.  In Rome, we skipped the cost of audio tours at the Vatican (5 euros) by downloading the tour Rick Steve version right to our phones!  Caaachiing.

10. Couchsurf.  Make a profile, fill it out completely, have your friends write a few good references, and check the references of potential hosts.  It’s an amazing experience, whether travelling in America our outside.  I’ve only ever used it in Baton Rouge (best day ever), but I have friends who have Couchsurfing experiences with Parisian choclatiers and Moroccan camel tour leaders and it’s essentially just the best so try it out.  You’ll not only get a free place to rest your head, but you’ll have a friend in the city to show you around (and more often than not, a good home cooked meal!)

11. Meal Sharing.  Similar to Couchsurfing, but with food (do I have your attention now?), is this Meal Sharing deal.  I’ve yet to try it, but it’s brilliant.  People around the world offer up their hospitality to cook you a home cooked meal.  Perfect for the weary, homesick traveller!  If you try it, please  let me know how it goes.

12. Airbnb.  Not quite ready for the deep end that is Couchsurfing?  Airbnb is the runner up when it comes to nice, inexpensive lodging.  A local will rent out their home / bungalow / oceanside villa / whatever, and the result for the traveller is usually a much better location than any hotel for a much better price.  This is especially great for large numbers of people.  For instance, when 5 of us were travelling southern Europe, we rented an apartment in central Rome and a beach-side villa in Santorini, each for less than $30/night per person.  Perfection.

13. Hostels.  Please eliminate the image of that awful horror movie, and replace it with tons of young backpackers, interesting conversations, oppotunities for cheap excursions, and a little bit of alcohol.  This is the hostel life.  There are varying degrees of privacy in these, obviously the least amount of privacy costing the least, typically being a 12-20 person co-ed dorm.  These run about 25-30 euros in Europe, and $10-20 in South America.  And while many Americans don’t seem to know, the U.S. has a fair amount of these as well, costing around $30.  These are great for meeting people with whom to travel, and talking to people about where to go next!  And everyone is on a budget.  I love hostels.

14. Win a trip.  I realize this is not the most viable option, but you never know!  When two friends and I learned that Red Bull would send us to Europe if we won a video contest, we took them up on it and won!  You never know what could happen until you try.

15. Busses.  These are pretty underrated in Europe, home to the super fast train system.  Busses, though they may take a bit longer, are a lot cheaper.  Check out And if you’re in South America, busses are everything.  For $20 you can get a 15 hour overnight bus with meal included.

16. Eurail.  But I do also love trains.  Which is where the Eurail pass comes in.  There are a number of options depending on how many countries you want to go to and how many days you want to travel, but this pass gives you unlimited train travel for the number of days and countries you specify.  So for instance, for $250 I could ride as much as I want for 4 days (within 2 months), anywhere in Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg.  Play around with it and you can really make this thing pay for itself.

17. Public Transportation.  Jumping in a taxi when you could hop on a city bus is gonna cost you a lot more.  Public transportation is usually inexpensive, as it is meant for the locals.  Do some research on the system before you get to see whether to expect busses (like in Greece), metros (like in Paris), or trams (like in Amsterdam).  You’ll save a chunk of change and feel so savvy as you wind through the busy streets squeezed next to locals.

18. Ryan Air.  If you’re willing to let go of the idea of “high-class flying”, or even “medium class flying”, then Ryan Air is the European airline for you.  Sure they only fly from bizarre airports, and sure you can only have one small carry on and HEAVEN FORBID that bag not fit in the carry-on-bag-checker, and sure you’ll be birrated with advertisements the whole way, but they sure are cheap.

19. Hitchhike.  Undoubtedly the cheapest way to travel!  Be familiar with the language and customs, have a buddy, and have some persitence!  You don’t know how great it is til ya try. Learn how here.

20. Go where the locals go.  You might not have a choice if you choose the hitchhiking route, ha!  But really, going to the areas of town where the locals go generally saves you on paying the hefty price of being a tourist when it comes to food and drinks.

21. Work/volunteer.  If you’ve got some time, find a job or volunteer in country.  This will often, at the very least, put a free roof over your head.  When I was in Peru, travelers who cliqued with the hostel staff could come on as bartenders, working a few hours per day to get a free room and food.  If you’re ever in Peru, check out the Loki Hostels.

WWOOFing is another option for those looking to work.  I haven’t tried this, but the idea is like Couchsurfing, but more long term and with work.  Okay maybe it’s not like CS.  Basically, you work on a farm, 4-6 hours per day, in exchange for a accomadation.

22. Make your own meals.  Hostels and Airbnbs usually have kitchens, so do your own cooking!

23. Sky Miles.  Sign up for an account with every airline you fly.  Even better, get a credit card that gives you miles for signing up and spending money.  These things accumulate over time!  I got a first class ticket to Peru this way.

Traveling the world does NOT have to break the bank or cost a lot of money! Here are 23 revolutionary ways to experience the world on a small budget. From planning your trip to getting around to sightseeing to lodging, this guide covers it all. Life is meant for living, so get out there and live!

Remember, travelling is about the experience.  You don’t need to spend $1000 to have a perfect trip. Experience the culture, the people, and the food, and still have money to come back again.

Hi, I’m Sarah!

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  1. Marc says:

    Great list and This would have been great when I was single now its a little harder since I travel with two babies. will pass this on to my friends. 🙂

    1. Sarah says:

      I can imagine! Perhaps when I reach that chapter in life I’ll figure it all out and write another guide 🙂 But yes, this is probably very single person oriented! Thanks for dropping by Marc!

  2. Tel says:

    My wife and I have just turned 50, we have sold our house and are setting off to travel for an unspecified length of time as our youngest child is now over 20. These tips are a good start on helping us extend our finite budget and in so doing make our travel period go for longer.

    1. Sarah says:

      That sounds AMAZING, Tel! Do you know around where you’ll be traveling? You can definitely travel so affordably if you’re not on a tight time schedule. Best of luck to you on your adventure!

  3. Kari says:

    These are great tips! I always rely on my miles and packing light too!

    1. Sarah says:

      Thanks Kari! Yea, it just takes one trip of packing too much to realize you NEVER want to pack that much again! Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  4. Alex S says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more especially #9 on the visual list and #20 on your written list – “Go where the locals go.” That’s the reason I started Local Freshies to give everyone an opportunity to be a local where ever they go in ski-towns throughout North America. It’s incredibly frustrating to see visitors go to an IHOP in a ski-town when there are sooooo many great places to eat.