A tight budget can often be the main thing standing in-between you and your wanderlust. While travel currently looks a little different, there are still ways to travel across the U.S. or around the world both safely and affordably.
In fact, there are a wealth of resources, tips and tricks you can take advantage of to save on everything from transportation to activities and lodging.
Save Money on Lodging
There are more options than ever when it comes to places to stay while on vacation. In addition to traditional hotels, there are vacation rentals, home exchanges, campsites, hostels or even housesitting opportunities that can provide a place to stay when away from home.
Whether you want to stay at a traditional hotel or opt for a vacation rental, home exchange, campsite, hostel or housesitting opportunity, there are plenty of websites and apps available that can score you budget travel deals — with some even providing free accommodations. Click through to find out how to save on your next hotel stay.
The best-known hotel alternative, Airbnb is a go-to site for finding various vacation rentals and homes around the world for almost every price range. It also allows for locals to provide you with experiences to help familiarize yourself with the city’s culture, and can even help find nearby restaurants.
AllTheRooms bills itself as the largest analytics network for places to stay on vacation. The site scans deals at hotels, vacation rentals and hostels on over 400 travel sites and shows you the best prices based on your travel destination and dates.
A tourism directory for all camping and ‘glamping’ needs (which is like regular camping with a little bit of luxury), this site helps travelers book things like tents, cabins, treehouses, and caravans, in addition to the campsites themselves.
Four million couch surfers and 400,000 hosts use Couchsurfing.com to connect each year. While the stays are technically free, the platform requests that those who end up on a host’s couch do something nice, like take them out to dinner or bring them a gift for their hospitality.
With over 450,000 homes listed across 187 countries, this site helps connect renters and homeowners to arrange their exchange. Coordinate easily with the site’s live-chat capability. Although a 12-month membership costs $150, the site states that members can save up to 58 percent on typical travel costs.
Another site that connects homeowners with guests, Homestay.com allows you to get to know your prospective host family ahead of your visit through a video call or instant messaging. The site offers more than 63,000 accommodations in over 176 countries.
Horizon aims to take some of the uncertainty out of staying with a stranger, as it uses Facebook to connect vetted travelers and hosts through mutual friends and groups to hosts. Plus, as a way to thank your host, you can choose to donate any amount to a charity via the Horizon app, known as their Stay a Night, Give a Night campaign.
Much like a hotel booking site, HostelWorld helps travelers compare deals and accommodations at various hostels across the globe. Use the site to read reviews, book a stay at one of over 36,000 properties in 178 countries, as well as gain access to 24/7 customer service.
If you’re planning a last-minute trip, the HotelTonight app scans for unsold hotel rooms, starting the night of your search through the following week. The app also screens every hotel it features to help ensure customer satisfaction.
You can save even more by taking advantage of all the things these hotels might offer up for free, such as bike rentals, travel guides and maps.
As its name suggests, HouseCarers matches up potential house sitters for people or families that are leaving town themselves. Homeowners can list their properties for free, with sitters paying a $50 annual fee.
Luxury House Sitting
Like HouseCarers, sitters pay $25 annually and homeowners can join the platform for free. Boasting the largest online community of its kind, Luxury House Sitting also ranks the sitters based on feedback from homeowners, helping people searching for house sitters have peace of mind and information in advance.
Operating since 2005, MindMyHouse costs sitters $20 and imposes no charge for homeowners. This allows people who are going out of town find someone to watch their place while travelers can find comfortable, larger properties to stay in via housesitting opportunities.
TalkTalkBnB is a combination of hospitality and language-learning, which offers free lodging in exchange for helping your hosts practice their language skills. Hosts provide a traditional bed and breakfast experience, which includes not only a bed but supper and breakfast as well. It’s a great way to meet locals while you travel, as well.
Tripping compares prices at over 12 million vacation rentals in 190 countries by aggregating prices from HomeAway, VRBO, TripAdvisor, Booking.com and more. Simply select your dates and destination and filter by bedrooms, rate, location and any amenities you might want. Once you’ve made your choice, Tripping links you directly to the partner site for the booking.
Trivago searches 400 booking sites around the world to find you the best hotel deals. Simply choose your destination and the dates you want to travel, and Trivago does the rest. The site also provides aggregated hotel ratings and reviews sourced from other travel sites, so you know what you’re getting when you book.
Focusing on pet care, this site connects pet lovers with people who have pets and homes that need care while they’re away. A $119 annual fee gives you access to homes that need sitters around the world; your stay is free in exchange for pet care, and you can find stays that last just a weekend or a few months.
Save Money on Airfare and Transportation
With lodging out of the way, you’ll likely need a cost-efficient way to get from point A to point B wherever you’re vacationing. Click through to see the best options that could help you save on airfare and transportation.
BlaBlaCar is an on-demand carpool app with 90 million members spread across 22 countries. The service connects drivers who have an empty seat with people who need rides, which can be especially handy if you’re traveling long distances.
BusBud and Wanderu
When you’re planning to travel by bus from one city to another but unsure about your options and pricing, BusBud and Wanderu have you covered.
Both sites connect commuters to bus and train operators, helping make the process of comparing costs and options as simple as possible. Wanderu’s network boasts 800,000 bus routes and more than 1.3 million train routes. BusBud focuses specifically on bus transportation and helps you find deals to get to over 21,000 cities in over 80 countries.
Easily compare flight prices with Google Flights, which allows you to search for airfare by date, location and interest. To make sure you’re really getting a good deal, opt for one of the airlines with the lowest baggage fees, such as Air China or Emirates.
KAYAK, Momondo and SkyScanner
While these sites are primarily known for flight deals, they also offer car rental bookings, offering up multiple comparisons to help you get the best deal.
If how you get somewhere isn’t an issue, Rome2rio compares the costs of a car, airplane, bus, ferry or train between any two locations.
Secret Flying posts links to third-party sites offering plane trips at often steep discounts. It also claims that you can save up to 80 percent on flights around the world, and doesn’t require any signup or membership fees.
The Flight Deal
Guaranteeing a baseline cost of 6 cents a mile or less, The Flight Deal works to maximize frequent flyer miles, web promotions, and customer rewards points.
Resources for Frequent Flyers
Speaking of frequent flyer miles: for robust travelers who tend to travel by air, there are no shortage of sites that offer great flight deals, insider savings tips and forums to communicate with other travelers about the best offers available.
FlyerTalk is an online forum that helps connect readers to the most up-to-date information for other travelers. You can browse queries and find out about specific issues you might not have considered otherwise. It’s also a wealth of money-saving info, such as how to make the most of your flyer miles and travel points.
The Points Guy
A blog focusing on hands-on advice that covers deals, the best credit cards for travelers and topics based on destination. It’s a helpful resource for anyone who’s looking to plan a cheap vacation.
Save Money on Food
The cost of food can add up quickly. And for foodies on vacation, dining out will likely be on the itinerary. Conversely, for travelers staying in hostels, cooking might not be an option. Click through for suggestions on how to save money on food and dining costs while traveling.
Stick With Food Trucks and Markets
Compared to restaurants, street food bought from food trucks and open markets will offer all the local fare often at a lower cost. While there isn’t a comprehensive online platform that aggregates these, it’s worth looking around on the internet to find a list of recommendations wherever you’re traveling.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms
If your travel plans consist of backpacking through remote areas, WWOOFing could be an option worth exploring. Organizations associated with WWOOF help volunteers connect with opportunities to work on organic and sustainable farms. Volunteers receive food, accommodations and lessons in agriculture in exchange for their help.
Use TripAdvisor to Find Restaurants
Like Yelp and Google Reviews, TripAdvisor offers a restaurant guide of its own, which can help you find food at a cost you can afford. Of course, you can also read the latest reviews of each dining spot to help you decide if it’s worth your time to visit.
Save Money on Tours and Activities
Once you arrive at your destination, it might be difficult to get the most out of your time there without a tour or prearranged events to attend. To enjoy planned outings with other travelers, check out these sites for tour and activity bookings.
Field Trip lets everyone be their own tour guide. The location-based app notifies you about points of interest along your travels based on different interest and has various streams you can subscribe to, like “Historic Places and Events,” “Lifestyle,” “Food, Drinks and Fun,” “Cool and Unique” and more.
Focusing on ‘Community Tours’ since 1990, G Adventures emphasizes forming meaningful relationships with local communities while traveling. It also emphasizes diversity and inclusion, as well as using travel to help marginalized communities across the globe.
Trip by Skyscanner
If your travel dates, and destination, are flexible, TRIP by Skyscanner will find the absolute cheapest flights available out of more info from more than 1,200 airlines and travel agents.
Founded in 2003 and currently available in 60 cities across six contents, Context Travel is a self-described group of “scholars, nerds, and curious traveler” aiming to help make the most out of a place. While roughly 80 percent of their guides have a master’s level education or a Ph.D, all are committed to the idea of lifelong learning, and helping travelers have a deeper experience with an emphasis on sustainability.
A TripAdvisor company, Viator lets users search over 60,000 activities across the U.S. and abroad with Viator, which guarantees it will help you find the lowest prices for a variety of experiences. Viator offers immense flexibility, no-cost cancellation, and 24/7 support if you hit a snag.
Budget Your Trip
Upfront costs are easy enough to navigate when in the planning stages, but it can be easy to get ahead of yourself and your savings once you’re actually on vacation. Between souvenirs, food and other miscellaneous costs, things can add up quickly.
A good resource to try and stay on top of this is Budget Your Trip, which keeps track of your expenses once you reach your destination. It also helps visitors plan their trips and factor in all costs, which can often be vague or intangible until your arrival.
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Christian Long contributed to the reporting for this article.
Disclaimer: Some of the photos in this article are representational and do not necessarily depict the company or tip described.