A travel expert’s guide to exploring the world on a budget



Traveling is one of the most enriching experiences people can have. It introduces you to new places, cultures, and ways of life. It opens your world and changes your outlook on life. When you step out of your comfort zone, you not only learn about others, you learn about yourself.

Yet many miss out on these opportunities because they feel traveling isn’t affordable. But embarking on these adventures doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here are some budget traveling tips that have enabled me to visit more than 40 countries as a single parent and, for many years, on a teacher’s salary.


Airfare is one of the most expensive aspects of traveling, so I begin my search far in advance. I use Skyscanner and Google flights. On both websites, users can set alarms to be notified if prices for certain flights drop. If dates are flexible, users can also view an entire month of prices and plan a trip based on the cheapest travel days (mid-week is normally the cheapest).

Using the main international airports will cut the prices significantly. I normally fly in and out of O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. If traveling to Cambodia, for example, I’ll use Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh as my main airport and buy a secondary flight from there. If I’m visiting multiple places in Europe, I’ll search flights into several airports and fly into the cheapest one.

And because I’ve never visited a place I didn’t enjoy, I’ll sometimes just go where the flights are cheapest. One summer my kids and I flew to Belize (and traveled to Guatemala by bus) for no other reason than it was the cheapest flight.

Earning points on credit cards can also be a great way to fly for free.


Depending on the location, I stay in hotels or Airbnbs. I prefer Airbnbs because they typically give you more room and a more authentic feel for what it’s like to live in a certain location. They also enable me to save money on food. Airbnbs used to be the cheaper option, but with hosts’ charging additional cleaning fees and raising rates because of demand, that’s not always the case anymore. For hotels, I use Booking.com and Agoda.com.

If you book an entire week on Airbnb, you’ll receive a discount. If you book for a month, the discount will be more significant. Watch out for refund policies because they drastically differ on Airbnb. Some won’t give you a refund if you need to cancel, so that’s something to consider when booking.


You can spend a lot or very little on food. If I’m not staying at a hotel with a free breakfast, I tend to prepare breakfast in my room or Airbnb. It’s also easy to grab a yogurt and a banana at a convenience store on your way out for the day.

I love spending time in cafés, so I may eat breakfast in my room, but I’ll always go out for my coffee. On most days, I’ll only eat one other meal, usually a late lunch or early dinner. If I’m hungry later in the day, I’ll have a snack back in the room. Street food is also a great way to get excellent food at cheap prices. Of course, if I’m visiting a place where I’m excited about the food, I splurge. The key is knowing what you want to splurge on.


I used to run from monument to monument, checking them off my list as I conquered a city’s attractions. I now find that I can only handle about one tourist sight a day. Admission fees add up quickly, and I’m not interested in spending my days standing in lines with other tourists. I’d much rather wander the streets, watch people from a café, or stroll through a park.

For the must-see attractions, check to see if there are discount passes or free days. Most cities will have a day where the museums are free. If they do, go early.


Learn to love the metro. It’s often the quickest and cheapest way to get around a city. Uber or Lyft rides are often cheaper (and in many places safer) than taxis.

Do your research to see what the best mode of transportation is in a particular area because it varies depending on the location. In Europe, trains used to be the cheapest option, but now budget airlines are sometimes cheaper (just make sure to consider luggage fees into the cost).

If you’re driving a car into major U.S. cities, use spothero.com to find cheap parking. I use this every time I drive to Chicago and find parking that is significantly cheaper than what it would cost at the hotel.

Other money-saving rules of thumb

  • Travel with a carry-on to avoid luggage fees.
  • Don’t shop. (We know, this one might be challenging.)
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Bring your own water bottle so you’re not buying water. (This also helps the environment.)
  • Travel off-season.
  • Get a debit or credit card that doesn’t charge international fees.


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