I am a lifelong travel fanatic. No matter how interesting my work is, eventually I find myself yearning to set sail and experience something new. But because I’m not wealthy I have to consider how I can travel on a budget, well before planning my next big adventure.
I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of the world’s best hotels and spas. I’ve also emerged weeping from the biggest dives imaginable. I’m talking winter in Nepal with no insulation, no power, billing “mistakes” and bugs!
It’s safe to say that I’ve survived the whole range of travel experiences and through the years I’ve become a much better vacationer. Now I know what I want and I know how to get it without breaking the bank.
In this article I compare my favorite three ways to travel on a budget without sacrificing an amazing vacation experience.
The 3 Best Ways to Travel on a Budget
1. The All Inclusive Resort Vacation
The Value of All Inclusive Resorts:
It’s probably sacrilege for a former backpacker to suggest an all inclusive resort as a viable travel option. I know I used to think so. However, that was before I actually visited one and realized how much easier it is.
With one upfront payment you can get plane tickets, airport transfers, unlimited food and alcohol and miles of sandy tropical beaches. That price can be as low as $600 per person, per week, or as high as $6000+. If you plan ahead and do your research you can limit your costs without sacrificing much quality. My wife and I now visit all inclusive resorts often and we typically spend between $1,400 – $1,700 for six days at 4 star resorts.
- Upfront costs: One and done; no more budgeting and no more arguments about money during the vacation.
- “All” inclusive: Get your money’s worth by drinking like Nick Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, and eating as much steak and seafood as you can stomach.
- A base for further travels: Although not eating and drinking at the resort you paid for is a waste of money, taking planned day-trips into surrounding towns will allow you to experience some of the best aspects of backpacking.
- The feel-good atmosphere: We have found that the service at these resorts is almost always excellent and the other vacationers are happy.
- Beautiful scenery: These resorts are multi-million dollar investments, typically situated on the most beautiful coastal beaches in the world.
- Kids activities to give you a break
- Time share touts: Presentations that typically go on for hours and involve high pressure sales tactics.
- Inconsistent food quality
- Boredom: Even eating drinking and laying on the beach has limitations.
Tips to Get the Best Value:
- Make sure its “all” included: Check and double check what you’re getting. At some places, food and drinks are not included.
- Avoid time shares: Both the presentation and the unnecessary expense. Are you really going to use your timeshare? You’ll certainly pay for it. I recommend purchasing the vacation at the normal price and avoiding these presentations altogether.
- Get good food: Visit the buffet as soon as it opens, not four hours later, and be selective. Look for stations where you can have fresh meals prepared to your liking. Reserve a place at the included “ala carte” restaurants as much possible.
- Combat boredom: Breaking up the day with meaningful activities does wonders for boredom. Take a camera and go for a walk, hit up the gym and check out the local town.
2. Backpacking and Couch Surfing
The Value of Backpacking on a Budget:
I’m convinced that there is no better way to totally immerse yourself in another culture than by backpacking across a foreign country. You will meet new people every day, share unique experiences and see what daily life is really like.
Veteran backpackers are usually a scrappy, street-smart group, used to less than perfect traveling conditions. They’re willing to sacrifice comfort to experience the world on foot. Backpacking is also one of the best ways to travel on a budget. I once backpacked across Nepal for around $400.
- The experience of total cultural immersion
- Learning a new language: The best way to learn a new language is to practice every day while backpacking.
- Probably the cheapest way to travel internationally: Hostels and beer are cheaper than hotels and wine. Backpackers usually stay in city centers with cheap accommodations and quick access to trains, buses and city life.
- Every decision seems vital: The questions you ask yourself while backpacking are endless- Where am I? Where will I sleep tonight? Why did everyone just leave the train at the same time? – This actually happened to me in France when the train broke down.
- Loneliness and burnout: Constantly utilizing your survival instinct can be exhausting after a while. The rewards of accomplishing these routine tasks, however, will hone skills that you will thank yourself for.
- Scams: Single backpackers are constant targets of scams and bait-and-switch schemes. Avoid people on the street trying to get your attention, even if they say, “I just want to practice my English with you!” 9/10 times this supposed student will eventually ask for cash for his “guide service” you weren’t aware you had purchased.
Tips to Get the Best Value:
- Use frequent flyer miles to get there: Don’t make the mistake of not using credit cards, use your rewards credit cards for everything! Sign up for new cards with loyalty bonuses.
- Backpack in Asia: Throughout Asia food and accommodations are relatively inexpensive. Of course you can splurge anywhere but Asia has been a #1 backpacker’s paradise for decades due to its low costs and the unique cultural experiences.
- Take advantage of hostels/couch surfing: I have had nothing but positive experiences with couch surfing while backpacking in India and Nepal. It will force you to meet new people and venture out more. The best part is, its totally free.
3. Road Trips
The Value of Road Trips:
Ah road trips- the oldest, easiest, cheapest and sometimes most fun way to travel. Traditionally a road trip is an extended car ride with two to three of your closest friends, some camping gear and the spirit of adventure. However, as long as you can walk, bike, drive or jump on a bus you can take a road trip and the experience can be just as rewarding.
- Affordability: Gas and food are the biggest expenses. If you camp and cook its very cheap to travel by road.
- Getting to know your home country better
- Driving with friends is a lot of fun
- Extended, close proximity to your friends: Even the best of friends can become insufferable when you’re constantly two feet from them.
- Too much driving, biking, walking etc.: Just being in the car for long periods can be exhausting.
Tips to Get the Best Value:
- Combine taking road trips with camping to cut your costs to the bare minimum
- Get out of the car (or off the bike) often. Explore, take a solo walk, listen to your favorite music.
- Have each friend pay a portion of the gas or joint food costs.
However you decide to travel you will always find the best value by prioritizing what’s most important to you and limiting the expense of everything else.
What are your favorite ways to save money without sacrificing a great vacation?