13 Ways to Start Seeing the World on a Budget

Ok, it’s not free…

but you know that you can budget travel, right?


Psst…I spent less than $7,000 traveling through Central and South America for 5 months not working (and it so could’ve been cheaper). Seven grand may sound like a lot. But think of it this way… I have made around $20,000 annually for the past few years working in the restaurant industry. I was able to pay my rent and bills but *used to* have nothing else to show for it. Where did all that money outside of bills go? If you start crunching the numbers, budget travel is certainly possible, and here’s how.

1. Start Saving Today.

If you want to go see the world, you’ve got to quit spending $20 frivolously at the bar, Target, take-out, etc. Struggle through with Netflix. It’s worth it.

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Save that money from the bar. This view from my hostel in Caye Caulker, Belize was $7 / night.

2. Make a daily budget!

Where does that money outside of bills go? Write out your monthly bills and see what extra can be put in your new savings account for the big trip.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was one of our “splurges.” You want to see this, right?

3. Create a travel budget.

What area of the world are you going to? How much is accommodation and food for the day? The internet is an extension of your hand. Use it!!! I created a $30 / day spending budget for my trip via my information from the internet and travel blogs. They are the best resource you could ask for – by traveler for traveler. Check out WikiTravel, Lonely Planet, and Nomadic Matt.

Beautiful jungle of Costa Rica.

4. Use Hostelworld.com.

Yes, I’m saying stay in hostels. Hostels are not scary, sometimes dirty, generally awesome places to meet people from all over the world who have traveled the globe and somehow you are now part of their path. I never spent more than $15 / night in various hostels (of various qualities). Most times it was less than $10.

All this art was outside my $12 / night hostel in Valparaiso, Chile.

5. Use couchsurfer.org.

I never used it but have heard nothing but the best things. I intend on being a host when I’m grounded again!

6. Travel like the locals do.

Take the cheap, local bus. Use the budget airlines like Spirit. I traveled through all of Latin America by bus… even El Salvador and Colombia. Everyone takes the bus. And they know where to point the “gringas.”

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Travel like the locals do.

7. Be flexible with your flights.

Flights in and out of a foreign country are your biggest expense. Although one-way is logistically simpler, round trip tickets will save you money. I use Skyscanner.com, Kayak.com, and Studentuniverse.com (no you don’t have to be a student). Make sure your dates are as flexible as they can be. Mid day Tuesdays seem to be the best bet. It helps to be slightly flexible with where you’re going too. It may be significantly cheaper to fly into one place and bus to the next. (Ex: It costs almost double to fly to Belize versus Cancun when it’s a 8 hour bus ride away.)

8. Stay in one place longer.

My first trip I wanted to go everywhere, and, well, I did. But I missed some great places in order to travel greater distances. You can stay in one place for a lot longer and spend less money than you can bouncing around from country to country.

View from the bus through Guatemala. Every mile you travel costs. Spending more time in fewer places can save big money.

9. See what you can without a tour.

Many places you can see by taking a local bus. A lot of times, you don’t need a guide or a private ride. You can do it all by yourself and save tons in the process.

We skipped the tour and visited La Piedra independently!

10. Register with an online bank.

I spent over $200 on ATM fees over the course of my trip. Not cool. Also, check out a good rewards credit card without international fees. I love my Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

View over the Andes between Santiago and Buenos Aires. Free flight from my rewards program. Thanks, Chase.

11. Don’t book everything in advance.

Not only does this give you flexibility, it can also save you major dollars. For example, we took an Amazon tour while in Peru but waited until we were there to shop around. Others on our exact same tour booked online and paid, literally, double. Relax, and let the road decide…

I want you to save this much money!!

12. Learn some of the language.

If you’re leaving English speaking territory, learn a little of the dominant language. How do you know you aren’t getting ripped off if you don’t know the numbers?

Cooking your own food is always way cheaper than restaurants!!

13. Work or Voluntour Abroad!

Being an English speaker is a hot commodity. There are many jobs out there for you just because you speak English! There are also tons of work exchange options all over the world. I highly recommend Workaway.info. The site has everything from farms to hostels to housekeeping. Work for 20ish hours / week, free board. Sometimes free food too; rewards and conditions vary.

View from my HelpX host’s house!

I come from relatively low income and have student loan debt. I figured it out. If you want to travel, go!

Feel free to leave any questions in the comments below!

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6 Comments on “13 Ways to Start Seeing the World on a Budget

  1. VERY Cool…. Are you ever coming back to Lafayette? I’m in the middle of the end of Tax Season but keep up with your rants. Make a mention if you intend to swing by People’s or the area in general.

  2. Pingback: These 3 Facts Can Make or Break Your Travel Experience – and They’re All Out of Your Control | Infinite Geography

  3. My biggest worry about traveling frequently is what state do I declare a home base? How do I get mail? What state do I pay my taxes to if I work elsewhere? It’s stuff like that which stresses me out 😦

    • Frankly, these things definitely do stress me out! We are still Indiana residents and pay Indiana taxes though we don’t work and live here full time. It is tricky because there isn’t a clear guide for what travelers should do. That all being said, I hope you don’t let that stress hold you back. Traveling has taught me invaluable lessons about myself, my country, and the world at large. It’s been worth those stressors for sure 😊

      • Thanks for the honest answer! I follow a lot of travel blogs, and its hard to find the not-so-fun information

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