Creating Memories Not Bills: Traveling on a Small Budget

Are you planning an extended trip? Maybe you're a recent university grad and before you settle down, you want to take a gap year and travel with a friend. Traveling is a great way to see what the world has to offer, and with some prior planning you don't have to skimp on the experience by eating only one meal a day.

How to Plan with a Tight Travel Budget

When your travel budget is tight, it's important to plan your priorities carefully so that you don't end up reaching for a credit card to make up the shortfall. Here are some things to keep in mind so that you come home with memories instead of bills:

Identify Your Biggest Expenses

Focus your biggest savings efforts on your biggest expenses—flights, accommodations, meals and transportation.Purchase flights with points, watch for seat sales or travel at non-peak times.​

Maximize Your Accommodation Funds

When you arrive, plan to share a room with your friend or travel companion, stay at a hostel, rent an apartment or volunteer with an organization in exchange for accommodation. Aim for clean, comfortable and affordable. If you save money when your eyes are closed, you'll have more to spend on what's worth seeing!

Eat Like a Local

Eating local fare can enhance your travel experience. Ask the locals where they like to eat—it may be off the beaten path but is usually more authentic and often cheaper. 

Buy groceries at the local market, eat breakfast at your hotel if that's included and keep some snacks in your room for later.

Save on Transportation and See More Sights at the Same Time

Public transportation can be the quickest and cheapest way to navigate around town. Also consider renting a bicycle or scooter, sharing a cab, finding a deal on a rental car or booking a train ticket.

How to Create a Realistic Travel Budget

After you have identified your biggest travel expenses and as many of the smaller ones as possible, work backwards in terms of your budget.

Take the total cost of the trip, divide by the number of pay cheques you have before you leave and then set up a separate savings account to save up what you need. Share your plans with family and friends, and allow them to contribute, instead of buying you gifts before you go.

The sooner you start your planning, the sooner you can let others know how they can help. It also give you time to look for ways to increase your income, decrease your expenses or generate some lump sums of cash to set aside for your trip.

What to Do if Your Budget is Just Too Tight 

If once you've done all of your planning the trip seems out of reach, consider a shorter trip or a work-travel experience instead. A year is a long time to be away from home, so maybe a shorter trip can serve as the experience you want and the glimpse you need to see where your next travels will take you.