Top 5 Hacks for Traveling on a Budget

For many people seeing the world means compromising savings, but you shouldn’t have to choose between your bank account and Bali. While you may get your fix trawling Instagram for beautifully curated photos of places you’ll visit “someday,” when your sense of adventure (or boss) calls one time too many, find the budget and go.

If you’re itching to get away and off the grid, here are Planning to Wealth's top five financial tips for traveling on a budget, and PTO willing, travel more often—savings intact.

1.    Finding the cheapest flights means being flexible about where and when you go.

Budget Travel Hacks

Make perusing affordable flights a part of your daily routine. Staying flexible with your travel dates means being able to land a once in a lifetime deal. The best resources for affordable flights are Skyscanner and Adioso which allow you to search a destination without specifying dates so you can easily browse flights throughout the year by price.

Feeling spontaneous? The Flight Deal is the best resource for affordable flights if you are willing to book at a moment’s notice. The site features daily deals that you can search by departure destination. Some example deals include round-trip from New York to Lisbon for $436 or round-trip from Philadelphia to Beijing for $635. Domestic flights are even more of a steal with deals such as round-trip from New York to New Orleans for $156. The catch? These deals are only available for limited dates and they sell out fast. You can book by using the Matrix by ITA Software (typically used by travel agents) to research what dates are available for the round-trip price and then book the dates through Priceline.

Finally, whatever you do, don’t miss a deal. Be sure to sign up for email alerts for these top resources, and if you really mean business, bookmark them in your browser for easy access.

2.    Forget the status-quo destinations.

Focus on places with unparalleled, scenic landscapes where the US dollar stretches far. Destinations like Thailand, Nepal, India, Vietnam, and Latin America are a far cry from a $10 latte with so much to discover and do. Even Europe boasts some stunning and affordable destinations such as Croatia, Estonia, Prague, Budapest, and many others.

Travel hacks and strategies on a budget

Some of the most beautiful destinations you can explore for as little as $50 a day including Morocco, Thailand, Bosnia, Bolivia, Belize, El Salvador, Turkey and more.

3.    Take a different approach to accommodations.

Finding a great hotel or unique accommodations doesn’t have to be expensive. Last-minute booking resources like Hotel Tonight are a great way to book an affordable hotel room at 30%-40% off the hotel’s average daily rate. When it gets closer to your trip, you can set up alerts for hotel searches in specific destinations so you know when a hotel’s rate drops. Expedia has a last-minute deals section as well that has great steals on accommodations and flights.

If booking last-minute isn’t your thing, searching advanced purchase rates for hotels in a destination you are considering is a good idea.  Most hotels will offer an advanced purchase rate 20%-30% lower than their average daily rate and have flexible cancellation policies if you end up changing your mind.

Alternative accommodations to hotels such as Airbnb are another great way to save and have more room to sprawl out. Finally, if you’re feeling social and adventurous, take advantage of the sharing economy and find accommodations on sites like Couchsurfing where you can essentially sleep on someone’s couch (and if you get lucky a spare bedroom) for free. This is an open, fun community that shares a passion for travel. You can also consider house sitting while you travel using resources like Nomador,  Trusted House Sitters, or Luxury Housesitting that allow you to search travel dates and view house sitting opportunities by destination.

4.    Make earning travel points a priority.

Racking up travel points is one of the best ways to save money on travel. Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the best credit cards for travel perks including 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Benefits also include $300 cashback on travel expenses, up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck, and 3X points on travel and dining. If frequent travel and culinary adventures are at the top of your to-do list, this is the card for you.

Another great travel credit card is the Venture from Capital One card which allows you to earn 50,000 bonus miles once you spend just $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening and 2x the points on every purchase.

Travel Financial Planning

And let’s not forget the Platinum Card from American Express designed for frequent travelers. The card offers five points per dollar spent on flights directly booked with airlines or with American Express Travel. While the $550 annual fee is a bit of a hefty price tag, the perks are worth it. Aside from the 60,000 bonus points when you spend $5,000 within the first three months of opening an account, you get access to no foreign transaction fees, a $200 annual airline fee credit for incidental purchases, up to $200 in Uber rides annually, and a $100 credit toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck expedited screening.

5.    Pack light and visit a destination in the shoulder season.

Repeat after me: “I will not check a bag.” Checking a bag is not only a hassle, if you’re embarking on a multi-destination trip, baggage fees can add up. The trick to packing light is bringing only the essentials and being able to mix and match clothing.

And last, but not least, beat the droves of tourists and consider traveling to a destination in the shoulder season when both flights and accommodations are cheaper. For example, you can visit Croatia and Greece in September or the South of France in May. While you may need to brave a little rain or chillier temperatures, you gain a more unique, local experience.

David Flores Wilson, CFP®, CFA, CDFA®, CCFC is a New York City-based CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Practitioner & Wealth Advisor at Watts Capital.  He can be reached at