If you're a recent graduate who's just starting out, traveling might not be on the list of your priorities. With an entry-level salary and new financial obligations, traveling might seem like a luxury.
While travel may seem indulgent, you don't have to avoid it altogether. There are still ways to have fantastic experiences, meet interesting people, and enjoy unforgettable moments — without breaking the bank. Read these tips for traveling on a budget to find out how.
Travel Off-Season for Bigger Savings and Smaller Crowds
If there is anything most travel experts agree on, it's that off-season traveling is better for both your wallet and your sanity.
"Tourism is all about supply and demand, and when there is less demand, the prices on everything tend to fall," says Vlad Tyschuk, co-founder of RewardExpert, a web portal featuring financial tools and data research for travelers. "Not only can you save money on flights and accommodations, you're also going to enjoy crowdless beaches, museums, and other attractions."
If you decide on off-season travel, though, make sure to check the local weather since, not surprisingly, it can be less than ideal. It's not always the case, though, so do some research to find off-season destinations you'll still enjoy.
Another option is traveling during the shoulder seasons, which are the periods between high and low tourist seasons. For example, in late spring and early fall, Europe is still likely to be warm and pleasant, and you won't have to spend most of your vacation time indoors (unless you want to).
Take Hype out of Your Travel Planning
You know what might separate a top destination from a less popular one? Clever marketing! Some of the most popular vacation spots around the world may be enticing, but they're often overpriced and sometimes even overrated. Before embarking on your journey, check the web for ideas. You can find suggestions on the most underrated, as well as overhyped, tourist destinations in the world.
To find cheap places to travel internationally, decide on merit and costs rather than popularity. "Prague is historic and beautiful," says Tyschuk, "but so is Budapest, which is less touristy and less expensive."
Join Hotel Loyalty Programs
You don't have to be an elite hotel member to enjoy the benefits. At the very least, joining a hotel loyalty program can often get you free internet, and, in some cases, member-only special rates. But check to make sure these rates beat the ones offered by online travel sites or on the hotel's own website.
Some online travel sites have their own loyalty programs that might offer a free night after you've completed a certain amount of stays.
Consider Vacation Rentals
Hotels aren't your only accommodation option. Renting an apartment from a vacation rental site can slash your accommodation budget in half or even more.
In addition to lower rates, you can typically get a bigger space and your own kitchen, which means you can save money on food. Keep in mind, however, that in terms of customer service, your vacation rental experience may or may not be as smooth as a hotel. Short-term rental hosts might not be as quick and efficient as a hotel's housekeeping staff. Always make sure to read reviews from other travelers and check the host's policy terms before booking, especially the house rules and cancellations.
Use Public Transportation
If you're exploring a city with an excellent public transportation network, it can be a lifesaver for your budget compared to expensive taxis or ridesharing services – especially for travel to and from airports.
"The cost of ground transportation can add up when traveling to all of the hot spots in a town," says Andria Towne, vice president of marketing & technology, ATL Airport District Convention and Visitors Bureau. Instead, travel like a local and whenever possible use bus and rail systems. In fact, riding the rails can also save you some precious vacation time by avoiding traffic jams.
Consider a City Pass
It's often a good investment to buy a City Pass, which combines free admission to city attractions with the use of city transport (or in some places, hop-on/hop-off buses). To decide if it's worth the money, make a list of attractions you want to visit, then see if a City Pass would save you money compared to paying for individual rides and tickets.
If that's not enough, there is still another reason to consider a City Pass. "A City Pass," says Tyschuk, "might save you a lot of time by allowing you to skip the long lines to the most popular attractions."
Look for Free Walking Tours
Sightseeing doesn't have to cost a fortune. Free walking tours are tip-based, and you can find them in many, if not most, touristy cities around the world. Some major destinations like Paris offer multiple free walking tours — there's a lot to cover in the City of Lights!
If you're concerned your free guides won't be as eager and enthusiastic as guides from regular tour companies, you shouldn't be. If anything, they might work even harder, since they completely depend on your tips. When in doubt, check online reviews for the tours you're interested in.
Don't Overthink It — Plan and Enjoy!
Using the above tips, you can build your own dream itinerary. While it might be wise to avoid five-star resorts and the most popular vacation spots during peak travel seasons, you don't have to give up on your dream destination completely. When you figure out how to travel on a budget, you can spend your vacation fully focused on memorable travel experiences, whether you have just a few days or some serious time to kill.