two friends walking in the mountains

How to Travel on a Budget

How to Travel on a Budget

If you frequently daydream of boarding a plane for far-flung destinations but don’t have the salary of a CEO, you may think that a vacation is simply out of the question. However, traveling doesn’t have to cost a fortune and in fact, planning an incredible trip that’s also affordable is easy with a bit of planning, flexibility and open-mindedness.

Here are some tips for planning the best vacation while staying true to your budget.

writing out budget

Set a Budget

No matter how flush with cash you are, it’s wise to create — and stick to — a travel budget to reduce the chance of overspending, or a feeling of remorse. Whether you haven’t chosen a destination or you’re almost finished packing, a budget can help you pick the best affordable places to travel, set a savings goal, and make smart spending choices while you’re traveling. We recommend starting with the most expensive parts of the trip so you can budget accordingly. Typically, this will be the cost of transportation to your destination, whether that be a flight, rental car or fuel for a road trip, or cruise ship accommodations. Most importantly, be sure to comparison shop before booking!

As you create your budget, be flexible and build a cushion into it for spending money and emergencies like unexpected travel changes. Don’t forget about incidentals like gratuity and transportation around the city, including ridesharing, refueling a rental car, local tolls and parking charges.

Prioritize & Plan Ahead

Defining expectations and priorities will help you get the most out of a vacation. Once you’ve determined the best places to visit on a budget, decide what’s most important to see or do. Is there a specific landmark you want to visit, a restaurant or food that is an absolute must, or is your top priority relaxing on a beach or getting pampered at a spa? Whatever you most want to experience on your trip, having it clearly planned out ahead of time makes it far more likely to happen.

In order to have one of the best relaxing vacations on a budget, be flexible and willing to compromise. If you have your heart set on eating at a legendary five-star restaurant, splurge on that and eat at budget restaurants or bring your own food for the remainder of the trip.

someone with a pen over a map planning a vacation

Avoid Peak Seasons

One of the best ways to travel economically is by having flexible travel dates. Airfare, hotel, and rental car prices increase significantly around major holidays and common school breaks, so avoid traveling during these times. If at all possible, travel just before or after a holiday weekend to enjoy one of the best budget vacations. Hotels and airlines tend to offer greater discounts and promotions in these “shoulder seasons” to attract more visitors. In addition to prices being considerably lower than at peak times, traveling during an off-peak time usually means fewer crowds.

Pack With Purpose

To avoid unnecessarily spending extra money during your trip, we recommend creating a packing list so you don’t forget something important. Write out everything you’ll need, including essentials like your passport and toothpaste. Consider creating categories such as “Essential” and “Luxury” to easily decide what to leave behind if you don’t have enough room. Almost all airlines charge to check luggage, so pack lightly and only bring a carry-on if possible.

Remember to pack a light jacket and an extra pair of shoes no matter what the weather is at your destination to avoid having to buy these items in the event you need them. Along the same lines, pack snacks for traveling to your destination so you don’t have to buy these items at inflated prices at the airport.

packing list

Know When to Go

A single day can make a world of difference in both when you book accommodations and when you actually travel. You may find that it’s significantly cheaper to fly into some of the best budget travel destinations midweek versus on the weekends. Set up travel alerts on sites like Google Flights or Hopper to monitor airfares and alert you if prices drop. 

Insider tip: When searching for flights, use the private or incognito browsing mode. Airlines use browser cookies to determine whether you’ve previously researched a particular route and may adjust prices to encourage your booking sooner than later.

Alternatively, look into whether driving to your destination makes more sense than flying. For shorter trips, a road trip is often more economical and as an added bonus, you’ll have access to a car during the entire vacation.

Splurge Strategically

Dining out during vacation adds up quickly, quite literally eating up your budget. Once you arrive, find a grocery store and purchase snacks to carry in your bag or staple items to make a simple breakfast or lunch on the go, then decide on which meals a day to splurge on. When you do decide to eat out, ask around to find local hidden gems as opposed to pricey restaurants in tourist areas. Particularly in off-seasons or during the week, you can also save money by looking for hotels that offer packages that may include complimentary breakfast, transportation or local excursions.

Insider Tip: Many higher-end restaurants have separate bar menus with the same food as the restaurant. If you’re willing to forgo the sit-down experience you can usually dine on the same food in the bar at a much lower price.

shadows of a family walking through an airport

Book Direct

The best strategy for budget hotel booking is to book accommodations directly. Properties such as Coast Hotels offer the best rates on their websites, and there are frequently additional perks or discounts exclusively for those who book direct.

Joining a hotel’s loyalty program, like Coast Rewards, often comes with many additional benefits, such as early check-in or room upgrades. With properties located throughout Canada, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, California and Hawaii, you’re sure to find one of the best places to travel — all while honouring your budget — with Coast Hotels.

If travel is one of your priorities, use these tips to plan and book your next trip like a pro. Remember, it should be a fun adventure — not stressful — so be flexible and willing to compromise. Safe travels!