How to Travel on a Budget in 2021

As vaccinations increase and testing becomes easier, many parts of the world will be open to travel again soon.

After over a year of restrictions and lockdowns due to COVID, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

It won’t happen everywhere all at once and, what does happen, will be limited at first. But, as the year progresses, more and more of the world will open up and we’ll be able to do that thing that brings us so much joy: travel.

But, even with travel happening again, when you are starved for time or money (or both), travel can seem like a pipe dream. A wish that might never be fulfilled, no matter what the world looks like.

Luckily, there has been a wave of positive developments for those who want to travel more: cheaper airfare, more deal-finding websites (and other information) online, free walking tours in more cities, and more opportunities to bypass the traditional travel infrastructure and connect directly into the local way of life via the sharing economy.

Most of that infrastructure will return in a post-COVID travel world. And, due to travel companies needing cash, there’s also a lot of money-saving deals right now, helping to make future trips affordable.

So, as the world starts to ever so slowly reopen, I want to share some tips and tricks on how to travel on a budget this year!

1. Change Your Mindset

Changing your mindset might not be a traditional budget tip, but it’s important nonetheless. Constantly remind yourself that travel is possible while taking concrete steps to make it a reality. Action begets action — even if it’s just baby steps.

Start with a “yes, I can” mindset. Don’t think “I can’t travel” — think “What’s one thing I can do today to make my trip closer to reality?”

Life is a mental game. Do one thing every day that gets you closer to your trip and you’ll find yourself building unstoppable momentum.

2. Come Up with a Savings Plans

Unless you’re Bill Gates, we all need to save more money. But how do you do that? While life is expensive, I do believe there are always ways to save a little more. There’s always something you can cut. A little bit of savings adds up a lot over time.

Get into the habit of putting money into your travel fund regularly — even if it’s just a few dollars a week. Every little penny will help. The more you save, the more you want to save. It sort of becomes a game. It’s no longer a chore.

3. Score a Flight Deal

One of the things that people always tell me holds them back from traveling more is the cost of flights. But, let me tell you, there’s a lot of deals right now.

All the airlines are trying to fill planes and are offering a lot of deals for summer and fall travel right now. After all, they need to make up for a lost year and are desperate to get people on planes.

The key to finding a cheap flight is to be flexible with your dates and your destination. If you have your heart set on “Paris in June” you’ll be forced to pay whatever the flight costs. But, if you open that up to “France in the summer” — or even “Europe in the summer” you’ll be able to find much cheaper flights since you’ll have a lot more wiggle room to test dates and destinations.

I like to use Google Flights and Skyscanner to browse my options. I type in my home city and then pick “everywhere” as my destination. I then base my plans around where I can fly to for the least amount of money.

However, if you don’t want to do that (I think it’s a perfect Friday night activity), you can check out some of the following websites that search for deals and email them to you:

  • Scott’s Cheap Flights – The best website for finding flight deals from the US
  • The Flight Deal – Incredible deals for flights all around the world
  • Secret Flying – Another site with amazing flight deals from around the globe (they find a lot of Asia/Africa/South America deals not found elsewhere)

4. Get Points!

Travel hacking, the art of collecting points and miles, is a great way to travel on a budget. By getting point-yielding credit cards and using a few simple techniques, you can get hundreds of thousands of miles — without any additional spending. These points can then be cashed in for free flights, free hotel stays, and other travel rewards.

I’ve earned countless free flights, upgrades, and hotel stays from travel hacking. By optimizing my spending and paying attention to which cards earn the most points where, I’ve saved thousands of dollars — and you can too!

5. Use the Sharing Economy

A group of budget backpackers relaxing at a pool in a hostel in Central America
The sharing economy has led to a plethora of new money-saving and community-building platforms that have made travel even more affordable, personal, and accessible. It’s never been easier to get off the tourist trail, connect with locals, and experience their pace of life. I live by these websites when I travel! You should too.

Here are some of the best sharing economy sites to help you get started:

  • Airbnb – The best platform for finding rooms, apartments, and homes for rent by locals.
  • Couchsurfing – Great for finding free accommodation (often on people’s couches) and meeting travelers/locals. The hangout feature on the app is my favorite, as you can see who is around to meet up.
  • Trusted Housesitters – The most comprehensive website to find house-sitting gigs. You watch a place on vacation while the homeowner is on vacation.
  • EatWith – Allows you to eat home-cooked meals with locals (it’s the Airbnb of food). It always leads to interesting encounters, so it’s one of my favorite things to do.
  • BlaBlaCar – A ridesharing app that pairs riders with verified locals who have a spare seat in their car.
  • RVShare – Allows you to rent RVs and campervans directly from locals.

6. Find the Free!

The world is awash with amazing free travel resources (like this website) that can help you travel on a budget. No matter where you are going, there’s probably a blog post on what to do and see there for free or cheaply. Someone has been there and they’ve written about it! Make the best use of all of them to help you plan your trip.

My favorite search term is “free things to do in X.” You’ll always get a result!

Additionally, don’t be afraid to walk into a hostel — even if you aren’t staying there — and ask them what to do for cheap. Their clientele is budget sensitive, so they always know what to do and where to go for little money.

Local tourism boards will also have tons of info on free things to do as well (more on that below).

7. Stick to Public Transportation

Old tuk-tuks parked together in Sri Lanka
If you’re on a budget, skip the taxis and rideshares like Lyft or Uber. Unless you can lower your cost by sharing a ride with other passengers, public transportation is going to be the most cost-effective way to get around. Not only will it save you money but you’ll get to see how the locals travel too.

Google Maps usually can give you a basic overview of the public transportation options and prices available. You can find information about day passes and/or multiday passes from your local hostel/hotel staff (as well as from local tourism offices). For cheap intercity travel information, check out Rome2Rio.

8. Use Local Tourism Offices

Local tourist offices are a wealth of knowledge. They exist solely to provide you with information on what to see and do. They often have tons of discounts not found anywhere else and can also keep you updated on local events, free tours, and the best spots to eat. They can help you find public transportation discounts and/or multiday passes too.

Don’t skip the local tourist office! They are a severely underutilized resource.

9. Get Cheap Accommodation

Cozy bunk beds in a hostel dorm room in Europe
Accommodation is one of the biggest fixed costs travelers have, so reducing that cost can lead to big savings on the road. I’m sure many backpackers would sleep in a barn if it were the cheapest accommodation they could find! Heck, I’ve slept in hammocks in national parks to save a buck!

Since you have to stay somewhere every night, reducing this expense can save you a lot of money off the total cost of your trip. Stay in hostels, use Couchsurfing, stay in empty university dorms, camp, or try an Airbnb.

Since there’s a lot of ways to cut your accommodation costs, here are my posts on how to get accommodation deals:

And here are the websites I use to book cheap places to stay:

  • – For finding budget hotels and guesthouses.
  • Hostelworld – The best site for finding hostels.
  • Agoda – Another great hotel website, specifically for Asia.
  • Hotel Tonight – Offers discounted last-minute hotel stays.
  • Airbnb – For finding private rooms, entire apartments, and homes for rent by locals.

10. Eat Cheap

Other than accommodation, food is one of the biggest travel costs. After all, everyone needs to eat. But there are lots of ways to eat on the cheap:

Also, use the five-block rule. There seems to be this magical wall that surrounds tourist areas. Most people don’t go past it. It’s been my experience that if you walk five blocks in any direction from a major tourist area, you end up losing the crowds and finding the local restaurants.

In my experience, tourist restaurants don’t care about quality since those tourists aren’t coming back. Residents do care so places catering to them need to be better — and more affordable – or they go out of business. Those are the places you want to eat at. Use the above resources to find where the locals eat and avoid crappy food!

Check out these articles for tips on eating cheap around the world:

11. Travel Like You Live

The majority of people in your destinations don’t spend lots of money per day like tourists do. Neither do you in your day-to-day life. So take that mentality with you. Walk, take public transportation, grocery shop, spend a day in a park, and look for deals. Do the things you do at home every day to keep your costs down.

Too many people get into this mindset that when they go on the road, they just have to spend, spend, spend, spend. That’s not true at all. There’s no law that says you have to spend more. Be smart with your budget — just like you are at home. That will help you save money and prevent you from going home early broke.

12. Work & Volunteer to Lower Your Expenses

If you’re a long-term traveler, consider volunteering or doing a work exchange to lower your costs. There are tons of options out there such as farm stays, working in hostels, teaching in schools, and more.

You’ll usually need to commit for a week or more, however, these opportunities enable you to get a much deeper and more nuanced travel experience. Here are some websites to help you find suitable opportunities:

  • WWOOF – WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) is a program that connects you with farms all around the world where you can work in exchange for room and board.
  • Worldpackers – Worldpackers offers travelers a chance to find volunteer experiences overseas. In addition to hostels, they can help you find experiences with NGOs, homestays, and eco-projects all over the world!
  • Helpx – Like Worldpackers, Helpx offers exchanges such as farmstays, homestays, B&Bs, hostels, and sail boats.
  • Workaway – Workaway is a lot like HelpX except it has more paid job opportunities (though it has volunteer opportunities too).


In the world before COVID, the world was full of different ways to travel on a budget. In the world post-COVID, these ways will all eventually come back. Some might not right away due to social distancing rules and consumer comfort but they will be there.

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