Basking in the luxury of all-inclusive resorts, indulging in Michelin-starred restaurants, and flying first class all sound great — downright fantastic, even — but the reality is that luxury travel is not always accessible to the masses. Most of us are, sadly, doing our balling on a budget. While The White Lotus-worthy hotels may not be the location of your next big trip, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out on valuable travel opportunities.
In fact, some of the most memorable adventures require the least amount of money. Just ask all the travel writers out there who started in the industry by bumming around in vans and sleeping at hostels.
Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to save a buck while on the road. So we turned to our own team of travel writers and influencers to get their take on the best ways to travel on a budget. Read on for their best money-saving hacks, from cost-friendly meals to unexpected hotel tips.
CHLOE CALDWELL (@chloeicaldwell) — TRAVEL IN THE OFF-SEASON
One of my favorite budget hacks is traveling to a destination during its off-season. Hotels and flights are usually more affordable in the shoulder season (just before or after high season), so you can get better deals on your whole trip. I personally like traveling during this time anyway. While you may not have perfect weather throughout your stay, there are often fewer crowds of tourists and therefore more opportunities to experience the local offerings, reserve the best restaurants in town, and get those vacation snapshots without people in the background of your photos.
BONUS: The locals are much friendlier when they’re not inundated with guests.
STEVE BRAMUCCI — (@steve_bramucci) — “CAMP” AT THE HOSTEL
Back when I was really a full-on budget backpacker, I used to always travel with my tent. And while I’ve camped in plenty of open fields and along roads, the best setup was often camping at a hostel. It was always a situation where whoever was behind the desk had seen it done a few times — so they knew it was okay — but the hostels never really knew what to charge.
I remember camping on the roof of a hostel in Jerusalem’s Old City for $3. I had access to their wifi, bathrooms, shared spaces, and woke up to some of the best sunrises of my entire life. The week before I’d been reviewing a 5-Star hotel that I could see from my “campsite” and I promise: I liked the latter scenario better.
BONUS: Your innovative situation will make it fun and easy to meet other travelers.
EMILY HART (@emilyventures) — MAKE A CAR SLEEPING PLATFORM
Social media has romanticized van life as a way to travel the country in a simple and free manner. But with converted sprinter vans regularly costing upwards of 100k, the “simple” life isn’t quite budget friendly for most of us. So when I decided to travel the west on my own I decided to convert my SUV instead. A simple sleeping platform in an SUV can cost just around $100 for supplies –- a few YouTube videos later and you have your own adventure mobile.
With my own sleeping platform, I was able to travel thousands of miles without worrying about where I would sleep for the night or if I had the energy to pitch a tent. I made window covers with inexpensive sun shades and velcro and added some mattress pads and storage under the platform –- creating an incredibly budget-friendly way to explore.
BONUS: You don’t have the constant “what if my $100K van gets broken into” fear that so many van lifers grapple with.
ALI WUNDERMAN (@aliwunderman) — BOOK A PRIVATE ROOM AT A HOSTEL
My favorite budget travel hack is booking a private room at a hostel. You get the perk of privacy, space, and most of all a quiet(er) atmosphere, with all the benefits of a hostel. You can enjoy a communal kitchen, connect with fellow adventurers, and spend minimal bucks on a place to stay all without having to pretend no one is having sex in a bunk above you.
That’s why I always stay at Old House Hostel in San Ignacio, Belize!
BONUS: You’re hanging with the cool kids but you have space to spread out.
ZACH JOHNSTON (@ztpwhiskey) — EAT FALAFEL
The falafel is the best budget meal for every traveler. It’s always under $5. It’s plant-based, filling, and a one-hander. Falafel is almost everywhere budget travelers go. Plus, it’s good for a “recovery” meal.
BONUS: Street food is generally the cleanest, safest food you can get in a city. The food under warmers at tourist traps is far more likely to be bacteria-ridden.
If you’ve ever visited wine country anywhere, then you know that the best bottles aren’t at duty-free shops. Sure, you’ll find the Ouzo you couldn’t stop drinking in Mykonos at the Athens airport, but those bottles of Assyrtiko and Xinomavro you enjoyed at that cute little taverna in Santorini won’t be found there. So how do you get those delicious wines home? Simple: stow the bottles away in your checked bag by rolling them up in your jeans. Denim is an incredibly durable fabric and can make for heavy-duty wrapping paper when transporting your favorite wines back home. The sturdy material keeps bottles from moving around and ruining the sweet juice inside while also acting as a barrier between everything else that may clash in your bag during travel. Just don’t do this with sparkling wine. Even denim can’t protect your suitcase from the explosive aftermath of bubbles interacting with air pressure.
BONUS: Feeling bold? Roll that carry-on up to the desk without divulging that you have wine (liquid) inside. Then say you have no bags to check “unless you want to check my carryon for free to save cabin space.” In my experience, people will agree to this 9/10 times.
MIKALA LUGAN (@miklugen) — BRING YOUR OWN SNACK
If you’re a snacker like me, then food is everything while traveling. While we all know you can’t bring drinks through TSA, many people don’t know that you can bring your own snacks. I always bring a couple of small bags of chips, candy, and protein bars, anything non-perishable through security with me. You’ll often pay twice or three times as much for snacks in the airport, so this saves you quite a bit of money to combat those hungry feelings on your flight.
BONUS: If those snacks are from your most recent destination and supported a street vendor or local while giving you one more chance to savor food from the place you visited… well, that’s really next level.