Affordable Travel: 10 Keys To A Frugal & Unforgettable Vacation

Traveling can be impossibly expensive or amazingly affordable, the degree only dependent on your behavior and tendencies. If you yearn after the latest five star hotel and only feel realized when ingesting a meal from a Michelin restaurant, then you’ll pay accordingly. But if you’re willing to be flexible and adventurous, then a world of possibility opens up and you’ll find your dollar (or national currency) stretching to the limit.

Always keep in mind that some of the finest and most enjoyable experiences in life are often the simplest; knowing this, let us explore ten ways to dramatically reduce your traveling costs. If you’d like to find out more about any of these, fret not, as I’ll eventually explore each item individually in future articles.

Collect & Use Miles


For me, collecting and using miles has been a lifesaver. If it were not for the advice of a good friend I would still be spending thousands of dollars in airfare. Instead, I only pay for airport fees which generally average around $250 for two people, depending on various factors. I recommend that you thoroughly explore your options, as some cards provide far more benefits than others. My personal favorite is the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select card, which offers throughout the year a signup bonus of anywhere between 30,000 and 50,000 miles; this can be enough to purchase a round-trip ticket to Europe. General expenses such as gas, groceries, and some bills will quickly accumulate and result in future free flights.

Airbnb Lodging


I’ve always found hotels to be antiquated and sterile, encasing you in a semi-permeable bubble that isolates you from the realities of whatever place you’re visiting. Instead, I prefer apartment rentals in quaint and iconic neighborhoods. The range of prices and flexibility offered by sites such as Airbnb is unmatched by the rigidity of hotel chains, plus you have the added benefit of your own kitchen. There is no better way to become acquainted with the rhythms and pulsations of a new city than to become totally immersed in it. If you live like a local and act like a local you’ll blend in and will derive immense pleasure from the experience; not only will you save a ton of money, but you may end up building long lasting relationships with the people that host you. If you’re on the adventurous side and highly social I recommend couchsurfing, a fantastic way to spend no money at all on your sleeping arrangements.

Be Your Own Guide

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We live in the information age. Every crucial detail about the country you are visiting is out there somewhere in the vastness of the internet. A guide is nothing more than a person that took the time to do research and is now charging you a pretty penny for the act of distilling this information. Remember that traveling is not about convenience; it is about adventure and expanding your horizon beyond the limit you have previously self-imposed. Do your own research and you’ll find all the shortcuts and tidbits you may want or need, absolutely free.

Utilize Public Transportation


Public transportation in most of the developed world (unlike the majority of the United States) is affordable and incredibly efficient. During our European escapades my wife and I have rarely had the need for a rental car. When a rental has been necessary, we’ve limited the transaction to a day or two. Using public transport will save you hundreds over a car rental and will save you the stress of traffic and the potential liability of being involved in an accident. Be on the lookout for passes and cards that grant you discounts when using the system for multiple days.

Avoid Gifts/Trinkets

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Focus on the experience: the stupefying smell of that baguette that just sauntered by you, the glamour of the daffodils in the adjacent garden, the warmth of the sun as it caresses your skin. If you’re traveling thousands of miles to purchase a cheap cup with your name on it or a worthless t-shirt for your 20th nephew then stay home and buy it online. These trinkets are made and placed strategically to leech your money and trust me when I tell you that the value of it never exceeds the price. If you’re desperate to bring back a memento, then focus your energy on a unique, off the beaten path piece that is representative of the nation and not sold in a tourist outlet.

Steer Free of Tourist Traps

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A coworker of mine once uttered these prophetic words: “If the menu is in multiple languages avoid at all costs”. Boy was he right! Food for tourists is generally mass produced in order to efficiently serve the excessive amount of paying customers; the result is terrible tasting fares that are typically overpriced. The best food you can eat, at the best price too, is the autochthonous kind, produced by locals for locals. If you’re afraid of the language barrier simply do your research beforehand and then point to the item on the menu. Better yet, take a shot at pronouncing the words and you’ll surely gain the appreciation and kindness of the server.


Speaking of food, I suggest you cue your inner Wolfgang Puck and get creative in the kitchen. If you followed my suggestion of renting an apartment instead of a hotel room you now have the advantage of a fully equipped kitchen where you can prepare quick recipes for dinner like sandwiches, salad, or spaghetti. Be conscious of local markets that often sell organic produce of the highest quality at affordable prices. Since you’ll be out and about during the entirety of the day, prepare a hearty snack for lunch the previous day and you’ll save yourself the time and money required to eat elsewhere. By following this regimen you can then focus your energy on one nice restaurant, or two. I assure you, the money saved will pile up like fat in your belly.

Be Wary of Fees

When abroad your bank and credit cards will often charge you fees for international transactions. These can be percentages of the actual amount or a fixed fee. You should do whatever you can to avoid these. Two common options are to carry cash or to utilize a credit card that does not charge international fees. I’ll go over some of these in the future.

Do Your Research

Speaking of research, make sure to learn about the places you’ll visit beforehand and jot down all the details. Our best friend when we travel is an Excel sheet (or sheets), where we break down every single expense and keep a list of links and critical details. By grouping all this information into one common repository we can spot inconsistencies and areas where we can be more effective or where we can employ a cheaper option. This exercise can also help with time management, which can translate to savings when you remove attractions that you’re unlikely to cover or thoroughly enjoy due to time constraints.

Drink Water/Beer/Wine

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Sodas and juices can be prohibitive in different areas of the world, primarily Europe. I’ve visited casual restaurants where the cost of one small glass of Coca Cola was almost $5. Considering the health benefits and the fact that in the United States you can buy a gallon of soda for next to nothing, do yourself the favor of avoiding these at all costs. Instead go for the house wine (which is generally delicious) or hydrate yourself and quench your thirst with a thoroughly satisfying glass of water.

I hope these nuggets will further optimize your traveling experience. I remember my first European trip costing somewhere between $6000 and $7000 and find it absolutely shocking that we can now do the same activities, or at least attain the same level of enjoyment, for approximately $4000. This is a testament to the incessant work that my wife puts forth, or what I like to refer to as her ‘wanderlust optimization’. With more money in the bank we can invest in our future while still enjoying our wonderful odysseys.

How about you? What do you do to keep you adventures affordable? Any tips or tricks to share?

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