How to Travel on Any Budget

travel, budget

Over the past two years at university, I’ve traveled to Peru and Guatemala, done an international internship, wandered parts of the U.S. and Canada, and now I’ve crossed the Atlantic to spend a year in Europe. I’ve done all of it on a total income of around 800 USD a month. Sounds pretty much impossible, doesn’t it? Yet here I am.

When it comes down to it, almost everyone can travel if they want to. There’s no secret method. It’s a combination of hard work, luck, intuition, and doing without. I’m a student with a homemade income stream. If I can do it on less than $1,000 a month, there’s a good chance that you could as well. Here are some tips I’ve used to make travel happen regardless of my tiny budget:

Commit to it.

Period. Seriously, this is the number one tip I have for you. If you want to make travel and adventure happen in your life, you have to want it and you have to work for it. I know – you were hoping I would tell you that it’ll be easy. It’s not. The gorgeous social media posts and dolphin dives are the cushy 5% of the experience. You can have those things, but first you have to put the 95% of work and effort in. My advice: set some goals for yourself and set completion dates to those goals. Then spend a little time every single day trying to achieve them.

Get rid of your extras.

Did I mention it’s not always easy? The good news here is that we have way more money than we think we do. The bad news is that we’re spending it on things we really like, but don’t need. To pay for a Transatlantic crossing, I:

  • stopped going out for coffee ($10 a week)
  • Researched cheap healthy meal plans, stuck to them ($15 a week)
  • Reduced the amount of meat I was eating (approx. $8 a week)
  • Cut my Netflix subscription ($2.5 a week)
  • Cut desserts *this was a serious sacrifice ($5 a week)
  • Cut my school gym subscription and worked out from home ($11 a week)
  • Cut alcohol out of my diet ($6 a week)
  • Sold clothes and household supplies I didn’t need anymore ($120)

Total saved in just a week: $177.50

I also busked on the streets a bit, usually putting away another $100 a week. At the same time, I took on extra work opportunities and actively sought out new ways to make an extra buck. Ask yourself, “What am I skilled in? How can I cash in on those skills in a new way?”

Sacrificing your extras can be difficult at first. It definitely tested my strength of will… Giving up ice cream almost broke me. ;) Often you can find cheaper alternatives rather than completely giving up your treats. I’m okay with going extreme because the thought of the adventures to come thrills me. I’ll eat veggies and sacrifice dessert and vodka for two weeks to get to go skydiving. Would you?

What 10 USD can buy you in local food, Guatemala

Find a Travel Buddy

Not strictly necessary, but it does help with sticking to your goals. Will and I do the same money-saving strategies at the same time. It can get a bit competitive sometimes. At the same time, we set travel goals and dream about future adventures together. It helps keep that motivation going strong.

Travel is better with a bestie.

Figure out your schedule:

We all have different demands on our time. As a student, I’m required to be at school 4-5 days of the week. I also have work commitments and social commitments and so on. I have to actively make time to travel. Again, with committing to making it happen. I schedule a time for myself almost every day to work on my travel goals. I do whatever I can to move my schedule around and make time to go on adventures. Some of us can travel more than others. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, create a system that works for you.

Get your shit under control.

Pardon my French. But seriously. Travel with less stuff and save yourself a ton of time, money, and stress. Invest in a high-quality carry on backpack (Tortuga Backpacks are my favorite) and limit yourself to that, no matter how long you’re going for. I spent 2 1/2 months in Guatemala – this was my luggage:

… and a fiddle.

Look for tips and tricks:

Find the optimal time to book your flights, take a bus if it’ll be cheaper and not too much more inconvenient, Couchsurf, look for hotel and hostel deals, shop for food locally instead of eating out all the time. It’s possible to enjoy quality travel on a budget, if you do your research in advance.

Save luxury travel for rare occasions:

Most people seem to think that travel has to mean taking a cruise, lounging in the best hotels in the world, hitting all the top museums, and doing all the crazy expensive tourists things. That’s all well and good, but travel doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank on dolphin excursions. I tend to travel in a much more day-to-day way. I live as much like a local as possible, usually finding a home base to stay at for at least a few months. This is a great way to get to know the local culture, to have a truly off-the-beaten-path experience, and to find the hidden local gems TripAdvisor knows nothing about. It’s also way, way cheaper. Because I’m living like I do at home, I can spend more time internationally than I would otherwise, while putting aside a budget for day trips and those occasional tourist splurges. Sometimes you just have to do a bucketlist adventure, am I right?

Traveling on a budget is simple in theory. In practice, it can be quite the test of willpower. Find a buddy, set yourself some goals, figure out what money you already have and how to make a little bit more, and finally… don’t give up. If adventure is worth it to you, dive in headfirst and don’t look back!


If you were given $20,000 for travel, would you rather spend it all on one short, luxury adventure; or would you slow-travel for a year?

2 Replies to “How to Travel on Any Budget”

  1. I would slow travel for a year. No question.

  2. I don’t know that 20k would last our family of 4 a year. But I think we could get 6 months out of it and that is what I would pick. :)

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