Lodging and airfare/transportation will probably be the two biggest costs eating up your travel budget, but luckily, you can cut expenses on both if you remain relatively flexible with your timing and location preferences. Unless you are traveling for a specific reason and have to be somewhere at a specific time and place, we encourage you to book your trip during off-peak seasons or during random dates when flights may be cheaper or heavily discounted. A simple Google search will help you narrow down the best times to visit in terms of weather and crowds, since peak seasons are not universal for every part of the world. Often times, prices heavily increase during major holidays and festivals, or for winter, summer and spring breaks, since most parents will take off during the days their children have off. However, some of the best deals out there are the ones that are unpredictable and sometimes last-minute, so if you can make yourself available at a moments' notice, definitely take advantage of the sweet deals you can find.
Since there is so much of the world left for us to see, we never have our hearts set on one specific country that we just have to visit during this year. Fortunately for us, our bucket list is pretty lengthy and we know we have plenty of time to eventually cover all of the places our hearts desire to visit.
On a related note, Skyscanner.com is our #1 spot for scoping out the best flight deals out there, and we admit we spend a bit too much time on this site than we would like to say. The best part about Skyscanner is how flexible you can be with your search. You can simply enter your "Travel From" location, choose the "Cheapest Month" to fly , and "Flexible" as your location, and the search engine will find you the best deals out there, starting with the lowest fares and destination combinations. Of course, you can be more specific with your search, but we love using this flexible feature to find great deals now that we are able to take off more time for work whenever we would like throughout the year for vacation. Trust us, it gets very addicting to try to scope out the best deals, and you'll be sending links left and right to all of your friends when you find those flights that are just too hard to pass up.
Stay in Hostels
Jess: When I did my extensive Europe travels, I often opted to stay in hostels and private Airbnbs with my friends, since they were the most economical and also allowed for some of the most memorable experiences I've had while traveling. I've met some of the most interesting people in shared hostel rooms and have formed genuine connections with globetrotters alike. From hours of chatting in a Brussels hostel lobby to clubbing and bar hopping in Berlin with new friends, I definitely have enjoyed my hostel experiences. The best part? I got to meet some of the most open-minded people, and barely spent an average of less than $30/night staying at very comfortable hostels throughout Europe!
Hostels.com was always my number one place to find affordable and safe hostels, and I recommend reading the reviews carefully to learn about others' personal experiences and to get feedback about the amenities the hostels provide. I've stayed in 2, 8, and 16 bedroom hostels, and let me tell you, they are all unique and fun experiences. The more beds to a room, the cheaper each night usually is, but I would stick with a number that you are comfortable with. Hostels are generally one of the cheapest forms of housing, and always seem to be my go-to option in Europe for younger and new travelers since it offers the best opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals.
I was always nervous about staying in a hostel before my first time in Salzburg, Austria, and I would have to say that many of the stereotypes about safety and cleanliness were definitely not true. Give it a try, and you'll probably opt for the hostel route for many of your next travel adventures!
Choose Airbnb Wisely
For those who feel uncomfortable staying in hostels and would like their own individual space, Airbnb is a great alternative and is one we use most often when we travel together. Over the past two years, we have stayed at countless Airbnbs and have definitely picked up some tips along the way. Similar to selecting a room at either a hotel or a hostel, always read the reviews on listings before booking to learn about previous guests' experiences. Most guests will share any complaints, as well as their general experiences with the amenities and overall interaction with the hosts. Since safety is always a concern of ours, we mainly rely on these reviews and are pretty selective when it comes to booking a room or apartment.
Location and amenities are two factors that you do not want to compromise on when it comes to booking your stay. Our first shared AirBnB experience was in Annecy, France, and while the town is absolutely gorgeous and is a must-visit, the housing options were a bit limited. By the time we got around to booking our room (it was still 3 months before our trip), Annecy Hostel had no available rooms and we had about 5 options on Airbnb. Ultimately, we booked an apartment with a lofted sleeping room that was about a 25 minute walk from the city center that had no Wi-Fi after another host had cancelled our reservation just a week before our arrival. Since we are early risers, walking around for nearly 30 minutes in a relatively quiet and secluded town at 7am in the morning is definitely not the safest situation, and coming back home after sunset was stressful to say the least. Now, we are willing to pay a few dollars extra to ensure that our room is in the heart of the city since not only is that the safest option, but also the most convenient when it comes to being walking distance from the popular tourist attractions to save time and transportation money. Airbnb includes a map on every listing that pinpoints the neighborhood of the available home or apartment. Be sure to use this feature to calculate the distance from the city center and the nearest public transportation (subways/busses). On top of paying close attention to the reviews and location of the listing, make sure you read the available amenities (Wi-Fi, cooking ware, shampoo, towels, etc.) before booking your stay as well.
To save some extra money, try to stay in 1 AirBnB for the entire length of your trip if you are not hopping around multiple cities. Since the fees you often pay on top of the nightly rate is a fixed expense, the longer you stay, the lower your cost should be per night!
If you are looking for a truly, one-of-a-kind lodging experience, consider searching for openings on Couchsurfer.com. You’ll find locals from all over the world who love to open up their homes to tourists and travelers, often for free. You’d be surprised how warm people are toward strangers, and simply enjoy the company of others and showing them around town. We personally have never done this ourselves, but have plenty of friends who have had positive experiences using Couchsurfer. The number one concern here is safety, so make sure you also read other guests’ experiences and reach out to the host to ensure you don’t enter into a sketchy or dangerous situation. Who knows? You might very well leave having made a new friend in a foreign city.
Apply for Travel Reward Credit Cards
When it comes to spending money, it's nice to know that you can can rack up some rewards and points to help subsidize future travels without having to do much more than opening a credit card with great benefits. We both currently have the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, and earned 50,000 points (equivalent to $625) toward travel expenses after spending $4,000 the first three months of opening our accounts. We also accumulate points for all the purchases we make on the card, which can later be redeemed for travel, which is valued higher than straight cash-back rewards.
Many of our friends rave about the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, which offers even better benefits and an annual $300 travel credit, which negates a good amount of the hefty annual fee. Don't forget about all the other perks of having this baby in your wallet (read the details in the link above).
Of course, plan ahead and open your account when you know that you will be making a couple of big purchases within the next few months so you can meet the any minimum threshold you need to spend to redeem special offers, like Chase's 50,000 bonus points. You can easily get a free round trip ticket to Europe or a couple of free night stays at a hotel by strategically applying for credit cards that you qualify for and spending as you normally do!
Check out some of the best travel reward credit cards here.
Budget for Transportation Costs
When it comes to getting from point A to B, considering all your transportation options is essential when it comes to budgeting for your trip. You'll often find that you have more than one option when it comes to getting somewhere, unless you're in secluded areas where you may have to settle for an expensive flight or private car ride. For many other destinations, you'll find yourself in a position to take a local train, bus, or subway, allowing you to also experience how locals get around on a daily basis.
Rent a Car. We've done plenty of road trips in our day with friends and family, mostly to nearby states and cities (Newport, Washington D.C, Philly, etc. ) and to Canada (Montreal, Toronto, and Niagara Falls). Driving is perhaps one of the best ways to really explore a new city because it offers you the most flexibility and convenience. Do a quick calculation of how much it would cost to rent a car (including gas expenses) versus flying, or taking public transportation. You may find that the cost per person is much less, and it may even be a better experience because you are not bound to tight schedules.
Also, who doesn't love a good car ride where you can roll the windows down and sing along to your favorite songs on Spotify at the top of your lungs?
Trains / Buses / Metro. We pretty much feel like NYC natives these days, and are no strangers when it comes to using public transportation here or in other cities around the world. Trams, buses, subways, metros, ferries – we’ve experienced it all, and actually have grown to appreciate how easy it can be to get from one destination to another. Better yet, public transportation is by far the cheapest method of getting around, especially in large cities and towns. Always make sure to do your research on the best way to get to where you need to go, and download offline maps since you may not have the luxury of cell phone service when you need to find out bus routes and train times. Pro Tip: Look into daily or weekly pass prices, and calculate whether it would be a better deal to pay for individual rides or to buy special passes.
Pro Tip: If you’re traveling within Europe, EuroRail may be a good financial option and offers great travel flexibility to visit multiple countries. However, keep in mind that you may be able to book transportation individually for cheaper than the packaged deal, so explore all of your options and do the math before you book!
Ubers / Taxis
Let’s face it. These days, we are lazier than ever and resort to calling Ubers and taxis in NYC whenever the weather is a smidge too cold to walk or after late nights out at the bars. Ubers are now used universally, although there are a few cities that have banned the use of car-hailing and sharing services. Definitely take advantage of strong Wi-Fi at airports, restaurants, and shopping malls, and request Ubers to your next location if you prefer not to use public transportation. Taxis are also an easier option, especially when you don’t have any cell service or internet to request a ride. However, we recommend researching reputable cab companies in the cities you are planning to visit to make sure you don’t get ripped off. Always negotiate the price with the cab driver before taking off, and as an extra safety precaution, consider jotting down the cab’s license plate number in case anything happens and you need to report the driver after. Cabs should usually have a drivers’ photo with a registered taxi license clearly visible to passengers. If you don’t see it immediately, you may want to ask them. Trust us, you can never be too careful. When we traveled together, safety was our number one priority, given that we traveled alone as two young girls in a foreign city. We’d rather take the proper precautions than regret not being more careful later!
Fun fact: Our personal favorite mode of transportation was probably the 5 Euro donkey rides we had in Oia, Santorini, Greece when we both went last June!
Check out Cheap Eats
When we aren’t sharing links with each other of fashion inspiration and scenic travel photos, it’s safe to assume that the rest of the time is spent talking about food and where we will eat next on our long bucket list of restaurants and cheap eats. When we travel abroad, we make it a priority to be open-minded and try all the local foods and famous dishes that we hear and read about on travel sites and blogs, and what we find through Yelp and TripAdvisors’ food sections. What we’ve learned throughout the last couple of years of traveling is that you can definitely experience the cuisine of a city or country without having to spend a fortune or large portion of your budget of your trip on just eating and food costs.
Plan a street food tour! Do a little research before your trip and scope out some of the best cheap eat spots for every meal of the day. You’ll get to snack all day long and spend a fraction of what it would cost to dine out at a nicer restaurant every day of your trip. Both of us definitely can have big appetites, but we also love trying everything when we’re out and about. We often will order 1 thing and share, or order different items so we can both sample something. Luckily, we have pretty similar tastes when it comes to food, so it’s never really a problem for us to split food. This way, we get to try more without feeling constantly stuffed.
Check out regional fast food. We're both not the biggest fans when it comes to eating fast food, but we find it so interesting to see regional items on menus in foreign McDonald's, KFC's and other global joints. From matcha ice cream in Hong Kong, to Tom Yum flavored fried chicken in Singapore, we've found some very interesting (and delicious) food that we would not be able to find easily back here in the states. Challenge: Pick a chain, and try to visit it in every country you go to so you can do a comparison as you eat your way throughout the world!
Stretching your dollar. Eat out at pricey restaurants or dine at Michelin Star restaurants in countries and cities where you can stretch your dollar because of favorable exchange rates. From personal experience, dining at nice restaurants in Southeast Asian and Eastern European countries were much more luxurious experiences, since the cost of living and eating out is much lower than comparable restaurants in Central Europe and South Africa.
Budgeting for food is a very important step of travel planning, so make sure you have an estimate of how much you can spend each day on eating out, getting groceries to cook, and other miscellaneous snacking throughout the day. If you plan to check out more expensive restaurants on your trip (which we totally suggest to diversify your experience and to treat yourself), make sure to adjust your daily budget or be conscious of how you will meal average to make up for more expensive food days
Check out online menus! Whether we travel out of NYC or not, we always check out any available menus a restaurant or dining establishment has to get a feel for not only the food on the menu, but also the range of prices for food and drinks. By knowing what an average meal may cost you, you can decide whether you’d still want to eat there or find an alternate place with equally as good food but less expensive.
Favorite Cheap Eats (Jess): The best pasta I have ever had in my life was in Venice, Italy and cost 5 Euros for the delicious, creamy bowl of heaven. It was quite difficult to find it given the crazy canals and winding walkways, but the struggle was so worth it. I found this little hole in the wall pasta shop on Yelp, and to this day, I still have not found something that even comes close to satisfying the fettuccine pesto cravings.
Our excitement for the food on our next trip can’t even be contained because it is one of our top 3 favorite cuisines of all time. Unfortunately, food here can definitely get super pricey, but we’re excited to scope out everything from inexpensive street food to top-rated restaurants! (still can’t guess where we are headed? You’ll just have to stay tuned!)
Stick to your Budget
This tip is really a no brainer, but if you are going to spend the time to budget your finances carefully and know what money you have available to use on your trip, don't make yourself regret poor money decisions later for impulsive purchases and spur of the moment splurges. Breaking down your day by day "allowance" is very helpful when it comes to knowing what you should aim to spend each day on your trip, but it is definitely okay to go over the budget on some days as long as you make up for it on other days, so that your total trip still averages out to what you anticipated to spend. Budgeting should make yourself less stressful, not more and you'll be thanking yourself later for the careful planning.
Curious where we've been? Check out our travel posts from a bunch of our recent trips by clicking below!
JESS: Slovakia, Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Iceland, Netherlands, Greece, Italy, France (2017, 2015), Switzerland, Poland, UK, Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Mexico, Peru, Bahamas, Canada
MEL: China, Dubai, Maldives, South Africa, France, Greece, Austria, Czech Republic, Mexico, UK, Monaco, Hungary, Bahamas, Grand Cayman Islands, Puerto Rico Where else would we love to visit in the near future? - Havana, Cuba - Costa Rica
- Thailand and Bali