8 Great Ways to Creatively Stick to a Cheap Travel Budget

In the late 1980s, I began taking extended sabbaticals to travel around the United States and then, in the 1990s, the world. My longest break was from June 1993 through October 1994. My goal was to stick to a budget of $25 a day. Whether my budget was defined or not, $25 or more or less, or just fly by the seats of my pants, I discovered and learned countless travel tips along the way.

8 great ways to stick to a cheap travel budget

1. Barter

I had a great arrangement with a former travel partner (now my wife). I “paid” for our flights with my frequent flyer awards and she covered other expenses until we were even. Essentially spending $0 a day for a few weeks allowed me to stick to my $25 a day budget and travel for a longer amount of time. Perhaps you will be able to sublet your residence, have an everything-must-go-so-I-can-travel sale, or find other ways to barter goods or services. You can speak English to Spanish business people in exchange for free room and board.

2. Change Jar

Psychologically, if I use $4 in coins, I do not count it toward my $25 a day. Yeah, I know, money is money but I am trying to be creative. How about starting a long road trip with a large jar of coins?

3. Cheap Sleeps

The longer your trip, the larger percentage of your budget will be taken up by lodging. Now is the time to tap your network and cash in favors. Don’t be shy, try friends of friends. Any place with a spare bed, sofa, floor space, or lawn will do. I spent the night before one birthday parked on a golf course in British Columbia (intentionally!). If you are in a position to house swap, you will essentially have free lodging and perhaps a car. On my longest sabbatical, we would often camp or car camp for a few days before staying in a hotel, effectively lowering our average daily lodging cost to about $12 (per person). Please see our article #1 tip for cheaper lodging.

4. Cheap Meals

Longer trips also increase the percentage of budget eaten up by meals. Please see previous McCool Travel articles about ways to slash dining costs and alternatives to fast food. Just make sure you avoid buffets.

5. Sponsorship

In the early 1990s, I envied the Mad Monks. They solicited sponsorships from family, friends, and followers to finance a 47,000 mile road trip. If you are a modern day mad monk, travel blogger, travel writer, or other go-getter, you may be able to stick to a cheap travel budget by soliciting free or discounted trips from travel suppliers, visitor centers, and other groups.

6. Be Local

You will save money by acting like or becoming a local. Markets and produce stands are much cheaper than restaurant meals. Independently owned motels charge less than chain hotels. Even better are destinations where people rent rooms in their homes. In northern Australia I stayed in a private room with shared bath for $4 a night.

7. Travel Cheaper

This is just a catch-all category for overall travel cost cutting. McCool Travel has hundreds of posts with tips to save money on every trip while having more fun. If you have a finite amount of funds, then the less you spend overall every day means the longer amount of time you can travel. Right?

8. Your turn

Let me know your most creative way to stick to a cheap travel budget. Thank you.

Happy travels!

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4 thoughts on “8 Great Ways to Creatively Stick to a Cheap Travel Budget”

  1. These are creative ways to travel cheaply! My biggest tip would be planning ahead. I’m so bad at booking trips really far in advance, but when I do, I always save more.

  2. That English-speaking town in Spain sounds incredible! What a great idea. Very tempted to pursue that some day.

    When I drove from DC to San Antonio and back, my little travel cooler was a good companion for storing fruit and perishable healthy food plus a few drinks. I’d get a big ziplock baggie and fill it with ice from the hotel or my friend’s fridge, and everything would stay cold for about 16 hours. Less messy than some of those re-freezable gel packs.

    • Thank you for the note, Laura. Oh, yeah, a cooler is wonderful for road trips. No doubt. Especially when you end up backcountry camping for a couple of days hundreds of miles from any type of store.

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