It’s no secret that BL and I love to travel. Whether we are heading abroad or exploring a town an hour away, our motto is go often. Of course, the downside to travel usually comes down to the expense (and getting time off). After talking with several friends, there seems to be a myth that traveling, especially internationally, must mean blowing the budget, but it’s actually incredibly doable. Today I’m sharing my tried-and-true tips for traveling abroad on a budget.
Bookmark these travel websites
I know it sounds simple, but the first key in budget traveling is finding an affordable air-fare. Even with inflation, it seems that flights are only getting cheaper. Thanks to the introduction of budget airlines to the US (like Wow Air, Ryan Air), getting abroad is often the same price as a cross-country trip. Sure, it’s not always the most comfortable ride, but if you’re reading an article on traveling on a budget, I’m guessing that first class travel isn’t an option anyways.
Case in point, BL and I booked our Christmas flights to Austria for roughly $400 per person, non-stop from Chicago to Vienna. $400! That’s cheaper than what I used to pay to fly home from California. We’re heading overseas again this summer and our flights are roughly the same: $400ish to Portugal this May and $350 to Copenhagen in June. When deals are this good, it’s almost impossible to pass up.
These deals are rarely found on traditional travel sites and since they are so good, they need to be snatched up fairly quickly. BL and I have a list of places that we both are interested in going to, so we’ll bookmark any results there. Then, if we see a deal, we immediately check and see if the dates will work. If all the stars align, we take it as a sign to #yolo and go.
Travel Pirates and Secret Flying are both bookmarked on my computer and I visit them at least once every few days. These sites rely on error fares (when the airlines enter a wrong fare), last-minute deals and flexible itineraries. Sign up for their email alerts to get news about reduced fares as they come up. If you’re looking to get out of dodge soon, I recommend downloading Travel Pirate‘s phone app and then sign up for their notifications.
Another obvious thought, but worth hashing out. When BL and I first planned our big trip almost 5 years ago, we were sold on exactly what cities we wanted to see. London, Paris, Venice, Florence and Barcelona were non-negotiable for us, as we envisioned this trip as a bucket-list, not knowing if we’d ever return back. That plan was great, but also expensive. We were at the mercy of finding limited flight options on specific dates.
Now that we go abroad at least once a year, we’ve learned to be much more flexible in our plans. Sure, we might not get to that one city that we planned on, but since we know we’ll be back often, it’s a compromise we are willing to take. Especially if you rely on hot travel deals from the websites mentioned above, you often aren’t able to choose your exact dates.
For instance, when my mom and I booked our tickets to Italy last Fall, we used a Travel Pirate deal. We had the option for either going for 10 days or 17 days, without any flexibility in between. Choosing an itinerary of 13 days would have doubled the price. Which, worked out for the best. 10 days in Italy is still magical, with enough budget leftover to travel again in a few months time.
Multiple City Stops
If you’ve ever searched for International flights before, you may have been put off by flight itineraries with 30+ hours of travel. Sadly, these are often the cheapest flights as depending on where you live, non-stop can be a lot more expensive. (Though- not always! We used to fly out of LAX and SFO all the time living in California, easily worth the drive to the airport. In St. Louis, we’ll often fly out of Chicago, it’s hundreds less than St. Louis and often direct).
We look at these very long itineraries as a good thing. Often, you can design a layover to be 15-24 hours long, meaning you’ve got time to hop off in a new city and explore for a day. We’re heading to Copenhagen this summer and taking day stop-offs in both Toronto and Brussels. It’s a fun way to add a few new cities to a trip and can be cheaper that just a single flight.
If you’re flying to Europe, check out deals from Icelandic Air first. They always have stopovers in Reijavik and you can extend your layover for free for up to 7 days. My mom and I stopped over in Iceland for two days on our Italy trip and BL and I have stopped there on the way to Paris. If you can’t find a flight that connects the cities that you want, consider getting two separate flights. For instance, on one trip we booked our flight into Reijavik for roughly $150 bucks, then booked a separate flight into London after that. Since you’re already in Europe, the connecting flights are a lot cheaper than from the states.
We did the same thing on the way to Auckland, flying Air Tahiti which afforded us a 3-night stopover in Tahiti without any additional cost.
Air BnB (but not always)
Yes, AirBnB has completely revolutionized the idea of inexpensive travel. It’s a great way to feel like you are actually living in a new city, in the exact neighborhood that you want. We usually AirBnB when we travel and have met some incredible friends along the way. The hosts are usually very welcoming and can make a brand-new, intimidating city feel comfortable. In Prague, we bonded so quickly with our host that we joined them and their friends for dinner that night, the perfect way to say HI! half-way across the world.
However, don’t just look at AirBnB. Sometimes it’s a deal, sometimes it’s not. We relied on hotels almost exclusively in Austria, New Zealand and Budapest. While we looked at AirBnB’s there, it made more financial sense to book a hotel instead.
Go slightly off-season
I mentioned this in my ‘Why You Should Travel to Europe in the Winter‘ post, but it’s important to mention again. For most locations, the most expensive time to travel is when kids are traditionally off-school, June, July and August. Since most Europeans also take holiday during this time, the vibe of a city can completely change from April to June.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no shame in being a tourist, but I don’t want to visit a city with mostly other tourists. Plus, going slightly off season usually results in better rates. If you’re not interested in a Winter vacation, I find that the best months to travel are April, May, September and October. The temperature is still nice, though not sweltering (many old places in Europe don’t have air-conditioning) and the crowds are significantly less.
Take advantage of food markets
We do meals like this: breakfast in a cafe (usually espresso/quick pastry or sandwich), lunch at a stall or market, then dinner at a nice restaurant. This schedule not only allows us maximum site-seeing time, but also helps stretch our spending budget.
Cafe’s and markets can be great places to get a cheap, yet delicious meals. Some of my favorite food memories include splitting a sandwich or pizza in a park in the middle of the city. For less than $10, we can dine well and still have enough money left-over for a nice dinner (and plenty of wine).
For friends who love food as much as I do, it’s a yummy way to eat how the locals do. The markets, especially in Europe, are incredible- lined with fresh produce, local specialities and snacks galore. Man, my mouth is watering just remembering all of the incredible, inexpensive options.
This is not only my tip for eating inexpensive, it’s also my tip for eating vegetarian. Just like in the States, ethnic restaurants are often less-expensive than traditional fare and more vegetarian-friendly. After a week of eating European food, I’m often dying for curry or falafel.
Check out the various ethnic neighborhoods for incredible food, or ask around. When we were in New Zealand over Christmas, most of the restaurants in the town we stayed in were offering prix-fix meals, a pricey 3 course meal of foods that neither one of us were that excited about eating. We called over to an Indian restaurant and made reservations instead. I will forever remember that meal, a tiny-hole-in-the wall serving some of the best chana masala that I’ve ever had. And, a quarter of the price that we would have paid at another place.
Let’s learn from each other! What tips to you have to travel abroad on a budget?