The Ultimate Guide to Travel Hacks: How to Explore the World Safely on a Budget

Angela W on Jul 26, 2023 10:16:14 AM


I was 24 years old when I traveled outside of my home country for the first time. On a whim, I decided to travel to Europe with another young woman, a girl I barely knew—mutual friends, studying abroad in Malta was the catalyst for our decision to book a flight to Europe (and visit them along the way). 

Europe was the first continent I got to scratch off of the map. It was this trip that spurred my love of travel and although it has been almost 20 years since I stepped on the plane that carried me there, it remains the trip that brings about the most sensory memory to me when I think back on it. Sometimes I can still smell the hint of perfume that lingered in the air, hear the rush of the small cars, trains, and Vespas as they moved past, and feel the Vencian air. Out of the three countries we visited, Italy remains the most vivid in my memory. 

In the years since, I have visited countries across the globe. As of now, I have visited 4 of the 7 continents with tentative plans to visit a 5th later this year. I have traveled with friends, my significant other, and alone. While my disposable income has drastically changed in the 2 decades I have been traveling, one thing remains constant; my desire to travel as affordably as possible. Below I will share my budget travel tips. Please feel free to leave your own tips in the comments. 

Safety first: 

Before we get into the fine details of budget travel, let’s first discuss safety. As a female who has traveled abroad alone, I am inherently aware of the desire to travel to destinations and areas that are safe. 

The United States State Department classifies travel advisories into 4 levels. Level 1 countries are countries that require normal precautions and Level 4 countries the State Department recommends NOT traveling to. As of the writing of this blog, Iceland and Zambia are classified as level 1 countries while Afghanistan and North Korea are level 4 countries. You can check the travel advisory on the State Department website.

I often travel by bus and train. Mass transit is typically the cheapest option but in the event you need a taxi, make sure you take the right one. Countries such as Costa Rica and Ecuador have official cab colors and registration systems in place for their cabs while in countries like Vietnam, it is recommended to use an app such as Grab (their version of Uber) instead of taxis (as Grab monitors your ride and has an option for the rider to mark that they were dropped off safely). 

  • Always, Always check the safety of the country/region/neighborhood you plan to visit. The State Department website can be found here. 
  • Research official cabs for the country you plan to visit. 
  • Carry paper copies of reservations with you.
  • Give a copy of your itinerary to someone back home so they have a record of where you are traveling and when you are expected to be home. 


Before you travel:

Make sure your passport will remain valid for the duration required by the country you intend to visit. Many countries require at least 6 months validity past your RETURN date. Also, make sure you have any required documents such as vaccination records and/or visas. 

  • Check the US State Department for any requirements/documents you need. The site is the same site listed above but it is linked here again for convince. Requirements for entry can be found below the country advisory level. 
  • Get travel insurance. It isn't that expensive and you may need it. I have used World Nomad and Berkshire Hathaway.


Planning your trip with a budget:

Traveling off-season will often give you the best deals on flights and hotels. I use tools such as Google Fight Explore to search for affordable tickets using my nearest international airport as a starting point. To use this feature simply go to Google Flights and input the airport you will be departing from (I use the closest international airport). Do not put a destination in, and hit the blue explore button just below and to the right of your departure airport. This will bring up a map of the cheapest tickets across the globe. In order to obtain that ticket price you must go on the dates it sets but you can set a certain month. If you do have a destination in mind, the calendar view on google flights will let you know what the cheapest tickets are on certain dates. 

  • Use explore features on flight apps such as Google Flights to procure cheap tickets and see off-season discounts. 
  • Reverse search your intended destination. You may save money by booking an international and domestic(ish) flight. 

It is insanely cheap to fly from country to country in Europe and from city to city in smaller countries. I will give you an example of reverse-searching your destination to make this a bit more clear. 

In 2016 I went to the Galapagos Islands.  A round-trip ticket to the Galapagos from my home international airport was well over a thousand dollars. Tickets to mainland South America, however, were affordable. In Google Flights, I entered airports in the Galapagos as my departure airport and hit “Explore” so I could see the flight prices to and from all other countries in the region. A flight to mainland Ecuador (the Galapagos' home country) was cheap. Instead of booking a round-trip ticket to the Galapagos, I booked a round-trip international ticket to Quito, Ecuador and then another round-trip domestic flight to the Galapagos. It saved me over $400. 

Do NOT skip lag. Don't do it. Airlines are cracking down on this. It can void all of your remaining plane tickets. 

Stay in locally owned hotels/hostels/homestays:

Before you book a chain hotel, look into locally owned hotels, hostels, and homestays. They are often cheaper ( I went to Vietnam for two weeks and my average cost per night for a private room was $25/night). Staying at locally owned accommodations can save you money and ensure that your money supports family-owned businesses. You CAN book private rooms in many hostels. I stayed in homestays in Vietnam. Homestays are much like hotels or Airbnb where the owner/family lives on-site. I use and other similar sites to book and search. 

  • Stay local and save money

Enjoy the local restaurants but save money by making a few meals:

This is my final tip for you. I visited a local grocery store with a fellow traveler in Costa Rica and bought a pineapple to eat. We asked the butcher at the store if he would cut it up for us (which he gladly did). It was the best pineapple I have ever eaten. 

  • Visit a local grocery store to buy items for some of your lunches/dinners or/and snacks. 

Have fun, stay safe, and make memories.

When you travel, you will eventually find that place that holds a special place in your heart (mine was Vietnam) but your first trip abroad will be the one that etches itself into you. Be safe, have fun, and explore somewhere new!



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