I can’t possibly express how excited I am to wander into our first travel-centered episode. (See what I did there? 😏) If you’re here, odds are that you love to travel. Or maybe you’re hoping to travel, but just haven’t had an opportunity yet. Or you could even be looking for tips on how to make the most out of your time and money while adventuring. As a full-time elopement and intimate elopement photographer, I’ve had a blast learning how to travel on a tight budget. So if you’re in the position where you are young, dumb, and broke, you’re in the right place. And yes, I am quoting Khalid.
I will be the first to say that I am cheap. Hmm, maybe frugal is a better word? I typically do not splurge on trips, and my fiancé, Ethan, and I make it a goal to travel to dream destinations while sticking to a budget. We always have a list of places that we want to visit, and it is fun to look at that list and decide which ones we should splurge on, and which ones we can realistically go cheap on and still get the full experience.
This podcast is for you if: you are struggling with wanting to travel but not having the money. You’re young and don’t know where to start. You are just itching to get out there without breaking the bank. You’re looking for tips on how to get started with traveling cheap. You are in the right place.
Now disclaimer, I am not a pro by any means. I just have a passion for travel and find myself in new places many times a year. My job does contribute to this wanderlust, but I truly do have a love for exploring. However, I don’t have an unlimited budget. From college to now, I have been on endless trips, both cheap and expensive (mostly cheap)…and have picked up some handy tips along the way.
This is not going to be the kind of of podcast where I talk about travel hacking with credit cards or using points. (Although I do have a rewards based credit card.) I am just here to tell you what we do to travel to the incredible places we do on a budget. We are not high-class people, and we do choose to spend more time outside exploring than in our lodging or eating at nice restaurants.
So before I give too much away, I have my first guest today! My one and only, my lover, my fiancé Ethan. He loves to travel and adventure as much as I do, and he REALLY loves not spending money when we travel. So I thought he was the perfect guest for this podcast, and we can just chat more about what we do and where we have been.
But first, a little background on Ethan. Ethan is a software engineer through his day to day, but is also a fisherman, hunter, podcaster, adventurer, and dreamer. He is a cohost on his own podcast, Hunt Fish Conserve, where they chat about obviously hunting, fishing, conservation, and outdoor adventures. He is also the producer of this podcast, so I am excited to have him on today, because we don’t get to do this together often.
One of our top holy grails when it comes to traveling on a tight budget. Schedule your trips MONTHS in advance so that you can watch flight prices, save up, compare areas, and do research, etc. If you can’t plan well in advance or you just like to be spontaneous, have a few destinations in mind, and be okay with plan Bs. When you start your booking process, if things are more expensive than you would like them to be, you can pivot to your backup location or area of that state, park, etc.
Plan around holidays. We are lucky enough to have a lot of time for vacations, but if you are a student or working without tons of vacation days, utilize those weekends and plan some quick weekend trips. Time is truly money. Maximize your time by booking around holidays so you get a few free days.
This is one of our favorite tips!! You might not be familiar with shoulder season, so here’s a brief overview. Shoulder season is the time between the location’s peak season and tourist season. It’s frequently when there are changes in weather.
When traveling during shoulder season, there are a few things to look for when planning. Try to seek out decent weather (it’ll be tricky when planning wayyy in advance, but do your best to look at averages). See if your favorite activities are still accessible, scenic drives are open, if there are any festivals or events, outdoor places for recreation. And of course, look for deals on flights, hotels, and rental cars.
Ethan and I have been to several places during shoulder season. To name a few: Montana, Washington, Colorado, California, Idaho, Wyoming, and the list goes on. We love traveling on shoulder season because 1) we like mild weather and 2) we like being alone 🤣. Sometimes we do feel like we miss out on some must-do or see things when it’s peak summertime, but that just means we have to go back! Luckily, there’s usually something to do at these destinations year round. It just depends on if you are willing to deal with extra logistics and planning, or if you can sacrifice the perfect summer weather.
Book red-eye flights or flights with long connections. We love to utilize alllll the travel apps. Expedia, Google Flights, Scott’s cheap flights, Going, and Hopper are some of our favorites.
Ethan hates booking flights and doing the logistic side of traveling, so usually I am the one doing all the booking and planning. But one thing he hates even more is wasting a full day traveling. He would much rather fly on a red-eye or drive through the night and still be able to explore when we land or arrive compared to wasting a full day of vacation on travel.
One of the biggest “hacks” when it comes to how to travel on a tight budget is by driving. If we can drive, we will. Both of us kind of hate the hustle and bustle of airports and will only fly if we have to (or if it just makes sense with schedules). But we love road trips, and it does save quite a bit of money. Gas is usually cheaper than a flight and baggage. PLUS, you won’t need to rent a car when you get to your destination! We also really love that we get to see more parts of the country than we would if we were flying. (Oh, and we love the bonding!)
There are more options than just to Airbnb’s or hotels. There’s always the option of camping, buying a van, or staying in a hostel.
So we are obviously big outdoorsman, so usually you will find us road-tripping and camping when we go on trips, which saves a ton of money. Think about how much a hotel is, $100-$200 per night? We typically camp for free on public land. If we can’t camp for free, most KOA’s and campgrounds near national parks run $35 or less per night.
Usually when we travel, we book a hotel for the first night so that we can get settled in our location and get our bearings, and then usually the last night so we can have a good night sleep before heading home. It seriously takes our lodging bill from $1000+ to less than $350.
If you’re not yet 25 and have tried to rent a car, you know how quickly you get slammed with fees. We are not 25 yet so we always get those underage fees with regular rental car companies, or we are not even allowed to rent them, so our way around it has been Turo!
Turo has lower underage rental fees, and the cars seem to run cheaper than regular companies. It’s been the easiest way we’ve found to travel on a tight budget (if we have to rent a car). We have used it a few times and have loved it, but again, plan ahead. Keep your eye on a few companies and compare prices. There are also AAA and other memberships have deals on rental cars, so check out what you have and see if you can get any deals!
We have an Alaska Air card that we put pretty much everything on. A few benefits we’ve had are an annual companion fair, free baggage, discounts on pre-check (and lounge access), and lots of miles to get free flights!
I would also highly recommend getting some type of travel rewards card. Instead of just spending $50, you can spend that money and get a reward for spending that money. It is really making your money go further. Other cards I know people have are the Capital One Venture card, Delta cards, and the Chase Sapphire cards. I just think there are so many benefits, so look into it and make the best decision for you!
I love to cook, but I don’t love cooking as much on vacation. However, I do love a good camp meal and I do love saving money. Sometimes we will buy groceries when we get to our destination. Other times, we will bring enough snacks to work for our breakfast and lunch, and then just go out for dinner!
I feel like we are not big foodies so we are not searching out awesome restaurants, but we do like a good hole in the wall local cafe or brewery, so we will still splurge on a few meals here and there. You also cannot beat a solid picnic with an epic view!
Food is expensive, and it is especially expensive when you eat out for every meal, so if you are trying to save some cash, just make a few more meals when you are out and about, or pack snacks so you don’t need to spend money on three big meals.
This is kind of a weird tip because we both drink (and love a good whiskey sour). But when we travel, we don’t really drink. We aren’t saying not to drink at all. If there is a fun local brew or cocktail you want to try, do it. Want to cut costs? You can cut your restaurant bill down $20+ if you don’t get a drink at every meal when you eat out. Psst! A good alternative is buying a pack of beer keeping it in a cooler for nights around the fire. OR just splurge on that drink or two at those when you go out for your 1 meal (if you cook the rest of your meals/have snacks).
Not only does it save money, but the worst thing is feeling groggy or hungover on vacation. We just tend to stay away from it and it ends up saving us a lot of money!
This kind of goes with travel during the shoulder season, but the main point of this one is to look for locations that are not as popular or off the beaten path. Even within a popular location, there are other areas or locations that are lesser known and there won’t be as many tourists. Less tourists means less expensive tourist traps. For example, instead of staying in Jackson Hole, Wyoming where the lodging and shops are expensive, visit it for a day and opt to stay in smaller town. Not only do you get the same views and you can still visit the area, but the lesser-known towns will still have awesome restaurants that will be cheaper.
Just do lots of research on the location you are traveling to, and see if there is anything to do outside of the main location that may not be as well known. Some of our best memories are in places that we didn’t really necessarily plan on going, or the places that turned into our Plan B because the main location was too packed or busy.
Let me state the obvious: it’s cheaper! If you are traveling to a nature-centered destination like a national park or forest, you don’t have to spend any money if you don’t want to (besides the entrance fee). If you plan your hikes, viewpoints or overlooks, swimming, fishing, etc, most of that does not cost money.
Fun fact: We hate souvenirs. In order to travel on a tight budget, we do our best to avoid unnecessary purchases. You will catch us in the tourists shops a couple times just to look around or look at the fun maps and books they have. However, we rarely (if ever) buy souvenirs. We take a ton of pictures, and I even keep a travel journal. I don’t really feel the need to buy a t-shirt, postcard, or mug.
When you have a plan, you are more likely to stick to it and not splurge on random shopping days, tours, or restaurants. Create a plan or have a list of things you want to see, but know that you don’t have to do them in any certain order.
If you really want to save money, sticking to a plan helps, but also we are the ones who love to be more spontaneous. So be flexible, but don’t splurge unless it is a must-do. There are plenty of things to do in every location. If you do your research beforehand, you will know what you want to do and where you want to go. A big part of saving money when traveling is just doing research!
The list could go on. We love traveling for cheap, and we love camping, so they really go hand in hand. We just think these tips could help a few people out who are itching to get started traveling and don’t know where to begin, or if you are struggling finding places to go on a budget or what to do if you don’t have the money to do what you want.
We are here to tell you to just get out there and go. There are plenty of locations to go and see and lots to do with little cash. We hope these tips helped, and we can’t wait to chat more about traveling cheap and maybe answering some of your questions in the future! This was really just the tip of the iceberg.
Thanks for tuning into the third episode of Ready to Wander Podcast: How to Travel on a Tight Budget. Are you ready to implement some of these tips to save money on your next trip? I hope this podcast inspired you or got you thinking about that next bucket list location. Are you ready to wander?