Budget Travel Tips: Save money on your next vacation

Sunset out plane window

One of my most popular posts so far is “How we afford to travel even though we’re broke” (see it here!). When I was writing that post, one of the things that I wanted to include more of were budget travel tips.


Given that we don’t have a lot of money, but love to travel frequently, we have to do our best to save money on travel. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t go to amazing places, miss out on incredible activities, or sacrifice our comfort.


I want you to see that you can have a wonderful travel experience without spending a ton of money. So here is a post full of all of my budget travel tips and tricks! I call it:


My Guide to Comfortable, yet Affordable Travel

This means we travel on a budget, but don’t stay in dingy motels or sketchy hostels. Here are my favorite budget travel tricks!


Disclosure: Some of the links in the following post are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase a product through one of these links, we may earn a small commission on the sale at no extra cost to you. We promise to only promote products that we believe in and will always give our honest opinion of the products, good or bad. In addition, some of the links are referral links, in which we may be compensated if you sign up for something through one of the links. For more information see our disclosure page.


1. Airbnb

I know, I know, I literally talk about Airbnb (referral link) in almost every post I do! But that’s because we use it almost every time we travel!

(Check out our trip to the Philippines using mostly Airbnb, here!)


We’ve stayed in a condo overlooking the ocean in Mexico for ~$70/ night (see photo below of us on our private rooftop patio). A bamboo hut in the Philippines ~$25/ night (including airport pickup and hot breakfast).  A quiet private room in San Antonio, TX ~$30/ night. And so many more amazing and comfortable, yet affordable places.

How we travel even though we're broke - Us in Cancun

My husband and I on our private rooftop patio at

our Airbnb in Mexico (~$70/night)


If you’re worried about staying in someone else’s home, you don’t need to be! We’ve stayed with Airbnb over 15 times now and have never had a bad experience. And to be honest I’m pretty picky about sleeping somewhere comfortable.


Of course there are some poor listings, but if you look for a place with good reviews from previous guests, it’s hard to go wrong. If you’ve never used Airbnb and are hesitant, take a look at my Airbnb Newbie Tips below:


Airbnb Newbie Tips:


Many homes on Airbnb have tons of reviews from previous guests so you’ll know exactly what to expect. For at least your first couple times using Airbnb, stay somewhere that is rated 5 stars and has plenty of reviews. I’m hesitant to stay at places without at least 5 previous reviews.


2. Amenities

Each Airbnb has a thorough list of the amenities that the home does and does not have. You can filter your search by what amenities you need/ want including washer/dryer, wifi, swimming pool, etc. For international travel, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND filtering to places that have A/C if that’s something you need (I know it’s a must for me!). In many developing countries (which tend to be cheaper places to travel to) A/C is not the standard and many rooms will come with only a fan or nothing at all.


3. Room Types

If you are worried about staying in someone’s guest room and sharing the house with them, you can simply filter to “Entire Home” room type. There are three types of rooms on Airbnb: private room, shared room, and entire home.


We usually prefer the “Entire Home” option because we like to have our own space. Though we have had some great experiences with “Private Rooms” as well as the host usually only interacts as much as you’d like them to.


We have never tried a “Shared Room” and we aren’t really interested in sharing a room with others. But that’s the beauty of Airbnb. You can select which type of accommodation you’re interested in.

If you’re interested in signing up for Airbnb use this referral link to get $40 off your first stay of $75 or more!

Airbnb is the number one way we save money on our travel. It’s hard to come by a decent hotel for less than $100/ night these days. We often cut that in half while still staying in a quiet, comfortable place by using Airbnb.

I know it sounds like I’m trying to sell you on it. And that’s because I am! My whole goal is for you (yes you, sitting on your couch thinking that you can’t afford to travel) to be able to travel more! Airbnb can help you do that!


2. Groupon

Groupon Estes Park Screenshot

Groupon is how we are still able to do awesome activities without breaking the bank. Museum admissions, kayak rentals, wine tasting. These can all be expensive especially if you’re interested in packing every day of your trip with something. Activities can really add up.


You’ll likely have to be a little bit flexible about what activities you do, since Groupon doesn’t have everything. But they usually have some great offers!


On our road trip from California to Georgia this summer one of our stops was Rocky Mountain National Park. I found out you could do a horseback trail ride and it was a must for me! I checked Groupon and was lucky enough to find a coupon for a 2-hr trail ride for $75/ 2 people when the original price was $120/ 2 people. Check it out:


horseback riding in estes park, co

Horseback riding in Estes Park, CO using a Groupon


If there’s something we’re really interested in and there isn’t a Groupon for it, we might still do it. But we always check Groupon when we can because it can save a lot of money.

Groupon Pro Tip:

Use Ebates (referral link) to find promo codes and get cashback on your Groupon. I recently started using Ebates and it has saved me even more money on Groupon! Right now Ebates is offering 3% cashback on Groupon purchases. Sometimes they also have promo codes. For example, one time I was able to get 20% off a local Groupon. That means that on top of saving money by using Groupon, I saved even more money by using Ebates and Groupon together.

3. IHG Rewards Club Credit Card

This card has saved us an insane amount of money on travel. Like I said, we often stay at Airbnbs for our trips. But when we don’t, we’re probably staying at an IHG hotel.


We aren’t the people who sign up for tons of credit cards to get the bonuses and free trips with points. I only have two credit cards: the IHG Rewards Club Credit Card and my Discover It Card.


But I highly recommend the IHG Rewards Club Credit Card. It comes with a $49 Annual Fee BUT HEAR ME OUT! Each year that you pay the annual fee, you get one free hotel night at any IHG hotel. That means you can get a free night at a hotel that might normally go for $350+ per night! (See our free stay at a Holiday Inn Resort overlooking the ocean here!)


The annual fee more than pays for itself in the free night, but you also have the opportunity to earn points and thus more free nights!


4. Flexible Dates

Fare Calendar Example Screenshot

Another way that we save money on travel is to have flexible travel dates. This goes for finding both cheaper plane tickets and accommodations.


This isn’t always possible depending on your work schedule or school schedule. But even adjusting your travel schedule by one or two days can make a huge difference.


For example, flying on a Thursday rather than Friday is usually significantly cheaper. Sometimes it can save you as much as 50% on your plane ticket.


The most expensive times to go anywhere are during school holidays: near Christmas, spring break, Thanksgiving, and during summer. If your schedule allows, try to avoid traveling during these busy times.


Most airlines have some type of fare calendar. This allows you to see the price of a flight for the whole month (see an example above). These are especially useful for trying to save money on flights.



5. Bid on Priceline

Priceline bidding

I haven’t tried this option much, but I have done it a couple times. This is usually my third choice for looking at accommodations.


First I use Airbnb and/or an IHG Hotel. Then if I can’t find anything I like, I’ll try Priceline.


When bidding on Priceline there is a lot of variation based on multiple factors, so please only read the following as my personal experience. It is not definitive advice or a tell-all guide.


If you’re going to use the Priceline Name Your Own Price tool, you’ll definitely want to put in a good amount of research. When you bid, you don’t know exactly what hotel you’ll get, just certain amenities and ratings.


For example, I could bid on a 3-star hotel in Destin, FL with 7/10 or higher guest ratings, free parking, and free Internet. But I don’t know anything else about the hotel.


In order to make sure that I’ll be happy with any of the hotels I could potentially get, I need to research the options. I’ll look on Priceline for all the 3-star hotels in Destin with these ratings and amenities.


If I like all the potential options and would be happy staying in any of them, then I’ll go ahead and bid.


In order to get an idea of what bid might be accepted, you can look at what Priceline calls “Express Deals”. These are similar to the Name Your Own Price tool in that you get a better discount, but you still don’t know what exact hotel you’re getting. But these are easier since you don’t have to do any bidding.


I don’t totally know the Priceline Algorithms and can’t say for certain where the Express Deals stand in comparison to bidding. But from my experience, it seems that you can usually get a slightly better deal than whatever the Express Deal is.


For example, if the Express Deal is $120 for a 3-star hotel with certain amenities, you might be able to get the same star level in bidding for somewhere around $100. It varies places to place and time to time though.


I like to start my bidding extremely low. Priceline says you can save “up to 60%” by bidding. So I like to start my bid around 50-60% off.


Usually they don’t accept a bid this low, but worth a shot, right?


Using Priceline for the first time is a little tricky, but not bad once you get the hang of it. You can get better deals in some places than others.


I like to keep Priceline in my arsenal of money saving tricks, but I don’t use it too often.


6. Search for Flights in an Incognito or Private Browsing Window

incognito window

Have you ever been searching for a flight and the airline says it costs one amount. Then you come back a few hours later to look at the same flight and it costs more?


It’s possible that the price of the flight changed. But it’s also possible that the airline stored data on your computer and increased the price for just you when you came back to the website.


It’s up for debate on whether or not this makes any difference. I feel like sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.


On Southwest.com I don’t feel like it makes any difference. It seems like the flight prices stay the same from day to day, unless a sale starts or ends.


When using a travel site, like Expedia, I sometimes feel like the prices change if I’m not using a private browser.


To err on the safe side of trying to get the best deal, I usually use an incognito or private window when searching for travel stuff.


7. Luggage: Carry-on only and/or luggage scale

Carry on only luggage

Most airlines charge you $25-100 for a checked bag. You can save money by traveling carry-on only.


It’s easier to fit everything in a carry-on than you might think.


If you know you need a checked bag, find an airline that includes free checked bags, like Southwest.


Also, invest in a luggage scale. A good one will run you about $10. Check out this one on Amazon.com. It’s worth it to not have to guess if your bag is in the weight limit. It also allows you to pack as much as you can right up to the limit!


8. Flexible Destination

circling places on map

Being flexible with your destination can also save you a significant amount of money. Instead of thinking of a certain place you want to go, think of the kind of vacation you want to have.


Do you want a white sand beach vacation? A ski trip to the mountains? A cultural foodie type experience? Look for multiple locations that offer the type of vacation you’re looking for.


There are two things to consider when looking for a budget destination:

  1. The cost to get there
  2. The cost once you arrive


For example, from Northern California a ticket to Hawaii on good sale costs about $350. A ticket to Puerto Vallarta, MX on sale costs about $400.


While the cost of a plane ticket to both locations is relatively similar. The cost of accommodations, food, and activities in the two locations is significantly different.


In Mexico, we could find a nice place to stay for ~$50/night. We could eat well on about $30/ day. For a 7 day vacation, this adds up to about $560.


In Hawaii, we could find a nice place to stay for ~$100/ night. To eat well, it would probably be closer to $50/ day. For a 7 day vacation, this adds up to about $1,050.


By choosing a different beach location, we could save somewhere around $500.


Of course sometimes you want to splurge and go to your dream destination, but for budget travel, changing your destination can make a huge difference in price!



Bonus Tip: Starbucks App


If you’re a frequent or even semi-frequent Starbucks-er, this tip is for you! When you use the Starbucks App to pay for your drinks you get points, which add up to a free beverage or food item.


Then save your free one for using at the airport! Everything is more expensive in airports including Starbucks.


Final Thoughts:


Thanks for reading my budget travel tips! Let me know what you think by commenting below or sending me a message!


If you’re looking for more money saving ideas related to travel check out these two articles:

How we afford to travel even though we’re broke

5 ways to make extra money for travel

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Forget dingy motels and sketchy hostels - Travel in comfort without breaking the bank Budget Travel Tips from a frequent traveler with low incomeSave money so you can travel more


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