This blog post was updated on September 28, 2020.

Traveling on a budget can be tough, especially if you don’t plan out your trip months in advance. By taking your time, you’ll be able to keep your eye on cheap flights, hotel deals, and other vacation savings. But sometimes, wanderlust might strike suddenly. When you get the urge to jump on a plane and take off to parts unknown, you may think you’ll have to pay an arm and a leg to even secure a seat or a hotel room. While planning ahead can certainly help you get the best prices when flying internationally, booking a room, or seeing the sights, it’s not always a requirement.

It might not seem like traveling on a budget is conducive to last-minute trips, but it’s actually easier to save than you’d think. Here are 10 tips to help you to travel wherever and whenever the wind takes you, without breaking the bank.

Travel in the Middle of the Week

Couple At Airport Check In Desk Leaving On Business Trip

In 2016, commercial airlines carried more than 3.8 billion passengers to their destinations all across the world. But even when travelers use flight comparison tools, last-minute airfare can be incredibly pricey. Don’t let those steep prices get you down. In general, try to avoid booking a flight within 48 hours of departure when you can. If you have some flexibility with your travel dates, aim for a mid-week flight. These middle-of-the-week days aren’t nearly as popular for business travelers so prices will typically be lower. Play around with your dates and see how big a difference a day or two will make in the final price.

Be Flexible on Your Destination

Have the urge to get up and go but aren’t sure where you actually want to end up? This could actually work to your financial advantage. Many airlines will offer last-minute deals when they have empty seats on less popular routes. Leaving your possibilities open as far as destination (and even on your choice of airport) can allow you to experience a whole new city for a steal.

Fly During “Off” Times

A female passenger sleeping on neck cushion in airplane.

We mentioned flying on certain days of the week, but you can also save on last-minute flights by being choosy about the time of day you depart. Booking a red-eye flight or one that leaves at dawn will usually help you when traveling on a budget simply because most people would rather opt for something at a more reasonable hour. You could potentially save hundreds of dollars if you can board your plane at midnight or at 5 AM rather than taking a sensible 1 PM flight.

Consider Flying One Way (Twice)

In some cases, a round trip ticket on a single airline may not provide the best savings. You might end up scoring a deal if you book a one-way ticket each way on two separate airlines. This isn’t always the case, so you’ll want to be sure to compare scenarios before you book.

Travel Light

Young woman traveler in international airport with backpack holding suitcase or baggage in her hand

You probably won’t have excess time to pack if you’re impulse traveling, but just in case: resist the urge to over pack. This is especially true if you’ve booked a flight on a budget-friendly airline that charges for anything more than a small personal item. Even if your carrier allows a carry-on, that checked baggage can set you back. Bringing as little as possible can help keep your costs low and can keep you more comfortable throughout your journey. After all, no one wants to lug around a 50-pound duffel bag through a busy airport!

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Avoid Any and All Add-Ons/Extra Fees

Most travel businesses, from the airlines to the hotels to the attractions, make their best money through add ons and extra fees. Low prices are often used to get you to buy a ticket in the first place, but once you add on all the fees and add ons, that ticket isn’t so budget friendly after all.

Traveling on a budget makes it necessary to avoid any and all add ons and extra fees through planning and restraint, even when everything is planned last minute. When flying, print out your ticket, avoid pre-selecting a seat, and pack your own meals to avoid additional fees. At attractions, enjoy the main show and avoid any addition ticket costs that can double or triple the general admission price. Purchase snacks and water to keep in your hotel room in order to prevent yourself from diving into the expensive snack bar that might otherwise tempt you in the middle of the night when you get the munchies.

Use Public Transport

Once you’ve actually made it to your destination, don’t waste money on expensive transportation options. Using public transportation can feel intimidating, especially if you don’t speak the language. Use the extra time you have on your flight to read up on the local transportation options and costs. Ride-hailing apps can be convenient, but they’re going to be a lot pricier than taking a bus or a subway — and those costs add up quickly when traveling on a budget.

Stay at Non-Traditional/Non-Hotel Accommodations

Traveling on a budget is hard to do with hotel costs are on the rise, and can make or break a trip when the accommodations you choose are less than ideal. Everything from location to amenities to comfort need to be considered in the price point of the accommodations you choose in order to create a trip to remember.

But, there are plenty of non-traditional accommodations to choose from outside of hotels. Sites like Airbnb offer overnight accommodations with locals that include everything from a single room to an entire apartment rental. This is just one example of a non-traditional option, but there are so many additional places to look for a bed on a budget.

Universities and convents are a favorite budget friendly travel option, offering clean beds to travelers. Hostels are popular across Europe and can be booked for as cheap as twenty dollars a night. Campsites and outdoor accommodations off the beaten path are another option that backpackers and other long term travelers are often in search of.

Eat More Like a Local & Buy Groceries

After your ticket and hotel fees, food is often the next big expense that a traveler has to cover. Be smart about your food choices and try to eat like a local to help you funnel the bulk of your travel budget towards attractions and things to do.

Try to plan out your meals at the start of each day, option for one dine out meal per day, and buying groceries and cooking the other two meals of the day on your own. This will significantly reduce your food costs and can even save you time. Get creative with it and enjoy an easy breakfast of fruit and bagels out on the balcony people watching, or a picnic lunch in the park where you can watch the city go by.

Do Free (or Reduced Cost) Tourist Attractions

So many destinations offer free tours and attractions that are easy to take advantage of and do a great job of introducing tourists to a place. The local visitor center is a great resource for free attractions and tours, and they might even offer a few free guided tours themselves. Download local tourist apps, walking tours, and travel guides onto your phone before a trip so that you can take advantage of perks or free admission offers on the go.

Find out if your destination offers free museum days, if any memberships you already purchased back home entitle you to perks in another city museum, or if there are any perks for services you subscribe to. All of these options are there for the taking, but you need to do a little research, asking around, and be flexible with your time in order to take advantage of them.

Are you an experienced last-minute traveler with some advice for saving money on trip? Leave it in the comments section below!

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