Travel

8 Tips for Budget Travelers

Wanderlust Kate Alvarez shares tidbits of travel wisdom.

| February 17, 2014

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Becoming a seasoned traveler or backpacker doesn’t always entail a big budget. All you need is practical know-how and a dash of frugality to get the best out of a destination without breaking the bank. Here’s how.

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It’s not just about booking months ahead to save on tickets and lodging expenses. Travelers who research about their destination—whether via guidebooks, travel blogs, or advice from jetsetter friends—are more knowledgeable about the practical places to dine, shop, and visit without falling prey to overpriced tourist traps.

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Jot down every little bitty thing you spend on—from the tips you give the waiters to the hoards of souvenirs you purchase at the flea market. Check your running travel bill every night and learn to control impulse splurges. Keep a small pen and notebook in your bag or download a free travel wallet app on your phone.

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Why spend $300 on a one-hour flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles when you can take a bus for only $20? Sure, it takes longer to get there, but if you’re traveling with friends, it gives you time to bond while enjoying the scenery. Take the plane when it’s the only practical way to get from point A to point B. Otherwise, travel by train or bus to cut your expenses down to more than half, and to experience the local ambiance. And by all means, stay away from daily car rentals.

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Split that triple-decker burger or salmon steak dinner with your buddy, especially if the portions are huge. Organize picnics at the local park with friends instead of restaurant lunches. Instead of booking separate hotel rooms for your group of four, bunk in a reputable hostel, B&B, or guesthouse.

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See where the locals go to eat and shop on a friendly budget, from hole-in-the-wall spots to flea markets. Buy from mom-and-pop groceries instead of 7-Eleven. Sample local street delicacies instead of fast food joints. Befriend the locals and ask them which sights are worth it and which ones you can skip. Sticking to highly sanitized malls, hotel-organized tours, and five-star restaurants will not only burn a hole in your pocket, but will also make you miss out on a more organic and cultural experience.

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In Europe, there are free walking tours. In the US, many parks offer free shows, parades and outdoor activities. Eco-friendly cities offer free bike rentals. New York and New Orleans have free water shuttles. If you have homesick friends and relatives who constantly invite you to visit them, now’s the time to go couch-hopping. Also sign up for coupon sites and cut out discount coupons from local papers and guidebooks.

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Unless you’re a student with a fixed vacation schedule, it’s best to take advantage of off-peak rates. For example, avoid Boracay and Baguio in April. It’s not only more costly to book tickets and lodging during that time, but the thought of running into the entire population of Metro Manila in your hotel or inn is not exactly R&R.

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Order what’s abundant at the moment, such as Philippine mangoes in the summer or Baguio strawberries in December. The prices of local produce go up when it’s off-peak, so be practical and ask the waiters or locals what’s good to indulge in at the moment.