Sure, there are some travel expenses that are hard to avoid entirely—airfare, lodging, and meals—but there are dozens of smart ways to get more bang for your proverbial buck.
We’ve collected 75 tips to help your travel budget stretch a little more so you can travel cheaply but still have an amazing trip. There are tips about finding cheap airfare, saving money on accommodation, taking advantage of free activities, and eating well for less cash. And even if you can only use a few of these budget travel tips on your next journey, your wallet will still thank you.
How to save money on flights
1. Be as flexible as you can when looking at travel dates. The cost of an airline ticket can change from minute to minute, so it shouldn’t be surprising that airfare can vary dramatically from day to day. If you don’t have to travel on specific days, start with the “flexible dates” tool when looking for flights. A much cheaper option may be a day or two before or after your target dates.
2. Try the “Greek Islands Trick.” We love this cheap flight hack, and we think once you get the hang of it you’ll love it, too. It involves flying across the ocean as cheaply as possible—i.e. finding the best deal to Europe from your home airport, even if it’s not where you actually want to be—and then hopping on a budget airline (or a train or bus ride) to get from your entry point to your vacation spot.
3. Use Google’s Explore map to decide where to go. Rather than setting your sights on a particular place and then looking for flights, try browsing for the cheaper flight options on Google’s Explore map first. The best deals may not be where you originally thought of going, but chances are good you’ll find something appealing and spend less money on an airline ticket in the process.
4. Book your flights early. Yes, every so often you can find super cheap last-minute flights, but usually the best bet to get a great deal on airfare is to book early. Check out our advice on the best time to book a cheap flight, broken down by region, for more details.
5. Set fare alerts for places you want to visit—or, better yet, become a Scott’s Cheap Flights member. Even if you like travel research, it can get tedious to plug the same information into a flight search every day to see if the prices have changed. Save time by setting a fare alert for whatever site you prefer and you’ll be notified when the price goes up or down. Of course, signing up for alerts from Scott’s Cheap Flights lets you learn about exceptional deals on airfare from your home airport to cities all over the world without having to set dozens of separate fare alerts.
>> This whole cheap flights thing is our sweet spot, so we’ve got many more tips about how to find cheap flights where these came from in our travel guides section!
How to save money on hotels and other accommodation
6. For last-minute accommodations, check out the HotelTonight app. While you can use HotelTonight to book 30 days out in select cities, the app truly excels at deep discounts on rooms closer to your travel date.
7. Look at Airbnb or VRBO for apartment rentals. Particularly if you’re traveling with multiple people or you plan to cook your own meals, apartments can offer big savings over more traditional accommodation. They’re also sometimes cheaper for couples or solo travelers who are eating out every meal, so it never hurts to check.
8. Try Priceline Express Deals or Hotwire Hot Rates. These opaque booking services show you some basics like the hotel’s general location, stars, and amenities, but you won’t know the exact hotel until after you book. In exchange for not knowing some advance details, you could save 30% or more.
9. Join the loyalty programs of chains you frequent. If you often stay at the same hotel chain (or chains within a larger group), join their loyalty program to earn points and perks like upgrades or free wifi.
10. Look at hostels with private rooms. Not all hostels are party dorms for young backpackers; some offer quiet private rooms (many with en suite bathrooms) for a fraction of the price of hotels.
11. Use an OTA to compare prices, then check the hotel website. If price is the most important factor, use an OTA like Kayak, Priceline, or Booking.com to find the cheapest price—and then go to the hotel’s official website to compare prices. Some hotels will match the price or offer perks if you book with them directly. It’s usually best to call the actual hotel to see what deals they can offer, not the centralized reservations number.
12. Combine car and hotel in one with a campervan. In some countries where camping is popular (Iceland or New Zealand, for example), you can combine your transport and accommodation in one with a campervan. While campers are more expensive than a regular rental and you’ll need to pay for space at a campground, you might still come out ahead if hotels in the area are pricey.
13. Look at homestays, couchsurfing, WWOOFing, or house sitting for nontraditional accommodations. There are so many great lodging options besides hotels these days, and many of them offer big savings, too. House sitting gigs often come with free accommodation in return for maintaining someone’s home (and possibly pets) while they’re traveling. Homestay and Couchsurfing are both incredibly affordable (sometimes free), and good options for travelers who want to meet locals. WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, takes the homestay concept to another level—in exchange for offering you free room and board, you’ll volunteer on one of the thousands of organic farms all over the world.
14. Outdoorsy? Try camping. Local stores often rent camping gear (so you don’t need to schlep it all from home), and the cost of that rental plus campground fees combined can still make a significantly smaller impact on your wallet than a hotel. Plus? Nature.
15. Don’t forget about resort fees. In some areas (Las Vegas, for example), it’s common for hotels to charge “resort fees” that cover things like parking and wifi—and whether or not you use them, you’ll be charged a nightly fee on top of the room rate. When comparing hotels, be sure to compare the total cost—including these fees.
16. Ask for an upgrade. Sometimes if there are unsold rooms in a higher category, you can upgrade at check-in for less money than it would have cost to book the upgraded room originally. As with many things in life, it never hurts to (politely) ask.
17. Look for free night deals. Many hotels offer discounts or even free nights if you stay more than a certain number of days. Particularly in places where the average stay is only a night or two, you may get a great deal if you’re staying closer to a week.
18. Bundle with another travel service and save. OTAs like Orbitz and Priceline often offer discounts if you bundle your hotel with your flight and/or car rental. Before you assume it’s a better deal, though, price out each individual component of the bundle separately to make sure you’re saving money.
>> Read our tips on how to book the cheapest hotel rooms.
How to save money on car rentals
19. Use an OTA to compare prices. OTAs like Kayak and Priceline aggregate prices from a number of companies so you can easily find the best deal.
20. Drive a stick shift if you can. In many countries, rental of a manual shift car can be much cheaper than an automatic (though if you can’t drive a manual transmission car, paying extra for the automatic is well worth it).
21. Decline insurance if you’re already covered. Many credit cards offer car insurance protection if you book a car rental with that card, so if you’re covered under a card (or through your own auto insurance), you can decline coverage through the rental agency. Just make sure you’re totally clear on what is and is not covered—you don’t want to be hit with a big bill at the end of your trip.
22. Rent a car that takes diesel. Depending on where you travel, diesel fuel may be a bit cheaper than unleaded gas—and if you’re driving a lot, the savings can add up.
23. Only have the car when you need it. If your trip involves some time in the country and some time in a big city, return the car when you get back in the city so that you’re not paying rental fees (and possibly parking fees, too) when you don’t need it. Many rental companies allow you to pick up the car in one place and return in another.
24. Return the car with a full tank. You’ll be offered the option to have the rental agency fill up the car’s fuel tank for you, but they’ll do so at astronomically higher prices than if you just stop off at a gas station on your way back to the rental lot.
25. Consider picking up the car at a non-airport location. It’s hard to beat the convenience of going straight to the rental counter in the airport terminal, but in most cities it’s actually cheaper to rent a car from another location in the area. Just make sure your transportation costs to get from the airport to the rental office doesn’t eat up any car rental savings you’re getting.
>> See more tips for saving money on car rentals.
How to save money on other transportation
26. Use Rome2Rio to compare costs and timing on ground transport. Enter your starting and ending locations and this handy site will show you all your options for getting between the two, including estimates on things like ticket prices or fuel/toll costs.
27. Book train tickets in advance. If you’re planning to take the train, book in advance as prices on popular routes (like the Eurostar between London and Paris) tend to rise as the travel date approaches.
28. Compare train passes vs point-to-point tickets. Train passes (like Eurail passes in Europe and JR passes in Japan) can save you money, but only if you’ll be riding the rails frequently. Be sure to compare the cost of passes to buying each leg individually.
29. Book second class train seats. Unlike the difference between economy and business on planes, there’s typically less difference between classes on trains. Second class (or coach/economy) seats are much cheaper and in most countries they’re nearly as nice as first class.
30. Don’t forget about buses. Particularly in Europe, don’t forget to compare the cost of taking a bus to that of the train. Sometimes buses are cheaper—and they’ll serve places that don’t have a train station.
31. Compare ferry to flying. While ferry transport conjures up romantic images of the wind in your hair and the sun setting over the ocean, ferries can eat up a lot of time, and often they don’t save you much money. It could be cheaper and much faster to fly to your island destination.
32. Take public transport. Public buses, trains, cable cars, trams, ferries, water taxis, and metros are nearly always cheaper than private transportation.
33. If you plan to ride public transport often, look at a day/week pass. Multi-ride passes or passes good for a set amount of time can be a considerable savings over paying per ride.
34. For routes without convenient public transport, look at car sharing or ride-sharing. Companies like Lyft and Uber are in cities all over the world these days, and there are some similar companies that are more localized—like BlaBlaCar (serving 21 countries, including most of Europe) or Cabify (covering many Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries).
35. Take the night train or ferry. For longer distances, travelers who don’t have trouble sleeping should consider an overnight train and ferry that saves the cost of one hotel night.
36. Ride a bike or walk. Many cities around the world now have the budget-friendly option of bike sharing, which visitors can use just as easily as residents. If you’ll be in one place for several days, it may also be worth looking into renting a bike for your whole stay. And to really save money on getting around, there’s nothing like walking.
>> Read our tips for cheaply city hopping in Europe or check out our guide to Europe train travel.
How to save money on food and drink
37. Avoid tourist menus. If you see a menu with lots of pictures and translated into several languages, chances are very good that the food will be (at best) mediocre and the prices will be too high. Also, be cautious about any restaurant that seems to have one waiter permanently stationed on the sidewalk imploring passers-by to eat there.
38. Look for set menus. Particularly in Europe, set menus (typically a drink, entree, and one other course like a salad, soup, or desert) can be a great value. Plus, they often feature dishes typical of the local cuisine.
39. Search out happy hour deals. Even if you’re not a big drinker, happy hour can help you save as many include heavily discounted (if not free) appetizers or snacks.
40. Drink the house wine. In countries with a strong wine culture, such as France and Italy, the house wine served in a large jug or carafe tastes as good as what comes in a bottle from the local winery. Not only that, you can order it in smaller quantities than a full bottle if you like, saving even more money.
41. Eat the free breakfast. If you’re staying in a hotel with free breakfast, take advantage of the perk and load up in the morning so you can spend less on lunch.
42. If there’s no free breakfast, eat outside the hotel. Paying for breakfast at your hotel is rarely a good deal, so if it’s not already included in the room rate, join the locals at the corner cafe instead.
43. Make lunch your big meal of the day. Between lunch and dinner, lunch is generally a much cheaper affair, so if you can only afford to eat out once per day, go out for lunch (see the aforementioned set menus on how to save).
44. Eat street food or have a picnic. An easy way to eat frugally for any meal is with a picnic. Pick up provisions at the local outdoor market or grocery store (like cheese, bread, cold cuts, and fruit) and find a sunny spot in a park—or enjoy a hotel room repast. And if you’re visiting a city with a noteworthy street food scene, that’s an excellent way to eat well without spending too much.
45. Cook your own meals. If you’re staying in an apartment, you can take it one step further and cook some of your own meals. Even if you want to sample all the local delicacies, cooking one or two meals per day can save you quite a bit of cash.
46. Bring your own alcohol or shop at duty free. In countries where alcohol is very expensive (e.g. much of Scandinavia), BYO—or stop by the duty-free store in the airport before departure or upon arrival.
47. Bring snacks. Humans don’t usually make very good decisions when we’re hungry. Avoid the perils of stopping at a tourist-trap restaurant out of desperation by bringing snacks with you when sightseeing. A handful of nuts or a granola bar helps tide you over until you can find a better dining option.
48. Eat what and how the locals do. Local food and drink is almost always cheaper, and restaurants that cater to locals typically have lower prices than those built for tourists. For example, in France, a croissant and simple coffee is a lot cheaper than eggs and OJ for breakfast, and a glass of the local wine is much cheaper than a cocktail.
49. Order at the bar. In Europe, the very same menu item will often cost far more if you order from a table than if you consume it standing at the bar. This goes for coffee as well as cocktails.
50. Ask for tap water. In places where it’s safe to drink the water, skip the fancy bottles and opt for the tap.
51. Bring a refillable water bottle. Similarly, bring your own water bottle so you can fill up from the tap instead of buying bottles every day. Bonus: It’s much better for the environment, too.
52. Avoid restaurants closest to main attractions. They cater to tourists too hungry to look elsewhere for a better, cheaper meal, which means they are often overpriced and not very good. Walk a few more blocks and you’ll likely find something better and cheaper. Your table won’t necessarily have a view of a major sight, but your money will go much further.
How to save money on cruises
53. Talk to a travel agent. Cruises are one area where doing it yourself isn’t always the best course. Travel agents can help you save money or get you extras (like onboard credit or room upgrades) not available to those booking individually.
54. Be a repeat cruiser. When it comes to cruises, loyalty pays. On your second (third, ninth, etc.) cruise with the same line, you’ll likely get rewarded with onboard credits, discounts, or other perks.
55. Book early...or very late. Booking very early sometimes means a better chance of getting a few extra goodies thrown in, while booking closer to departure can sometimes mean deep discounts on cruises that are typically more expensive. For example, Galapagos and Antarctica cruises booked at the last-minute (typically in-person in a tour office at the departure location) can be half off the regular rate.
How to save money on travel activities
56. Get a City Pass. Many tourist destinations have passes that visitors can buy. These typically offer discounted (or even free) entry to a variety of the most popular attractions, as well as many lesser-known sights. If your itinerary includes lots of stops that are covered by a pass, you’ll likely save money by purchasing a pass instead of buying individual attraction tickets. Bonus: Some passes also have a public transportation discount.
57. Take a commuter tour. Any city on the water is bound to have some version of a sightseeing cruise for visitors. But it’s also likely that there are commuter vessels serving the same routes without the high price tag. For instance, New York’s Staten Island Ferry—principally meant for Staten Island residents who commute to work in Manhattan—offers views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, just like the tourist cruises do. The difference? The Staten Island Ferry is free.
58. Look for free/reduced museum admission. Some museums have one day a week or month when admission is free or greatly reduced. In some cases, free entry may be at certain times (like free admission for the last hour a museum is open). Yes, this usually means the museum will be more crowded, but that may be worth it for the overall savings.
59. Get a student (or senior) discount. When you see a ticket price advertised for a museum or attraction, don’t forget to read the fine print. There is often a discounted admission fee for students and seniors.
60. Look for free tours. Popular tourist destinations typically have a plethora of tour companies to choose from. In order to entice travelers, some offer free guided tours of certain sights (to advertise for their other tours). Keep in mind that even though the tour is free, it’s always a good idea to tip your guide if you enjoyed the tour.
61. Check the local paper for free classes, free activities, festivals and free events. Every community has a busy calendar of activities going on year-round. The fact that most of these activities are intended for local residents doesn’t mean tourists can’t enjoy them, too.
62. Shop in flea markets for souvenirs. When a trinket is designed to be a souvenir and not meant to be marketed to residents, chances are good it’ll cost more. Skip the usual souvenir shops and browse a local flea market or outdoor market—somewhere the locals also shop—and you might just find a budget-friendly treasure.
How to save money on how you handle your money
63. Get a credit/debit card that doesn't charge for foreign transactions. Not all credit cards are created equally. There are some that don’t add a foreign transaction charge every single time you use the card outside your home country—and those can really add up. It’s worth finding out what each transaction would cost you (either with your credit card or your bank’s debit card) before you sign on the dotted line for new plastic.
64. Get a tax refunds on shopping when/where applicable. Some countries offer tax refunds to visitors on purchases over a certain amount they make while traveling. The idea is that non-residents can’t benefit from anything those taxes might pay for, so the government will reimburse them. The Value-Added Tax (VAT) in the European Union is probably the best-known example of this. If you plan to do a lot of shopping in Europe, be sure to learn about getting a VAT Refund—because you need to file the paperwork before you leave Europe.
65. Make fewer withdrawals of larger sums on international bank machines. If your bank charges a flat transaction fee for every withdrawal, then your best bet is to limit the number of withdrawals you’re making. In other words, rather than withdrawing small amounts of currency every time you need it, try to withdraw money only once or twice during your whole trip—and take out larger sums each time. Stash the excess cash safely, in a hotel safe or a money belt. Charles Schwab debit cards don’t charge fees—and will reimburse your account for any fees charged by international banks.
How to save money on communication when traveling
66. Get a local SIM card for your phone. Anyone who has an unlocked phone can pick up a local SIM card on the cheap no matter where you travel. Having a local SIM card means you have a local phone number (handy if you need to make lots of calls to in-country numbers) and pay the same rates that residents do.
67. Get T-Mobile or Google Fi. If you’re a US resident who likes to travel and you’re in the market for a new cell phone carrier, look into T-Mobile’s Magenta plan or check out Google Fit, which offers unlimited data with no data roaming charges or fees for international use.
68. Keep your phone in airplane mode and use WiFi only. If you can’t get a local SIM card and you don’t have T-Mobile or Google Fi, your best money-saving bet with your phone is to keep it in airplane mode for the whole trip with the WiFi on. This way, you’ll still be able to log into free WiFi networks anywhere you are and you won’t get hit with an unexpectedly enormous phone bill when you get home. If you want a more guaranteed connection, you can rent a mobile WiFi hotspot; prices vary but can be as low as $5 per day.
69. Download Google Maps to use offline. Google Maps makes navigating an unfamiliar place much easier, but it also eats a lot of data. Before you leave a free WiFi connection, download a Google Map to your phone so you can use it offline. Note that you won’t have the helpful blue dot to track where you’re going, but you’ll have the benefits of a street map without needing to fuss with a big paper version.
General travel tips to travel cheaply
70. Travel in the off season. Peak season trips are popular for a reason (usually weather), but they also cost more. Traveling during the off season may mean you need to pack more rain gear or warmer layers, but that might be an acceptable trade-off for lower prices and smaller crowds. And if the off season isn’t ideal for your trip, consider the shoulder season.
71. Go where the deals are. Choosing your next vacation destination based on finding a killer deal can also add a bit of spontaneous fun to travel planning. You can browse Google’s Explore map (see tip number three) or become a Scott’s Cheap Flights member to get fantastic airfare deals delivered right to your inbox.
72. Browse coupon sites for your destination. You might already have an account with Groupon or Living Social, but chances are good you’re only looking at coupons for where you live. Switch your location to the place you’re visiting to see discounts and special offers for activities, meals, and more in your vacation destination. These sites also have travel-specific deals, too, like weekend getaways or package deals.
73. Make a budget. We know, making a budget isn’t the most fun activity. And yet there’s a reason so many financial experts tell us to do it—because it works. Whether you’re someone who makes budgets regularly or not, making one for an upcoming trip can be a huge help in figuring out how much the trip will cost (and, sometimes, where you can cut costs). Having a budget gives you the chance to save up before you leave, too, instead of paying off the debts when you get back.
74. Get a credit card that gives you travel extras. Airline-specific credit cards typically have extra benefits that might otherwise cost you money. For instance, you might get a free pass to an airport lounge, a free checked bag, or reimbursement of your Global Entry application fee.
75. Play the points game. Savvy travelers can reap the rewards of earning points, but it does sometimes require a bit of juggling. Some cards offer signup bonuses (if you spend a certain amount within a set time frame), but they often charge a larger annual fee. Earning points for purchases is also fantastic (and easy), but if you don’t pay off your credit card every month the interest you’ll pay on the balance may wipe out any savings you’d get from the travel points. In other words, there’s much to be gained by playing the points or miles game—as long as you’re reading the fine print and paying attention.