How to Vacation on a Budget

Maggie Germano • August 15, 2016

I’m in Iceland right this very second. (!!!!) So I thought a good topic this week would be travel. Specifically, how to travel when you’re on a budget.

I hear a lot of people say that they’d love to travel but they just can’t afford it. They think travel is only for the rich. I will mention the places I’ve been and they’ll say “lucky you, I wish I could do that”. Well, with some planning, you can.

Credit cards aren’t for everyone, and I definitely wouldn’t recommend this method to all of my clients. But rewards cards can actually be amazingly useful. Two years ago, I flew to the UK and back for only $106 thanks to my US Airways credit card miles. And this summer, my boyfriend and I are using American Airlines miles to get back from Spain for only $60 each. If you don’t want to be loyal to one airline by signing up for their credit card, there are other cards that get you points that you can convert to cash. Some sign up bonuses can get you up to $500 in rewards! (But be careful with these cards; interest rates tend to be very high, so make sure you pay them off every month!)

* If you don’t like to play the points game, use discount programs like,, or CheapAir. Sometimes you can find deals that you wouldn’t otherwise be aware of.

It’s pretty unrealistic for a lot of people to take advantage of last minute travel deals. It’s hard to take off from work and even if it’s an amazing price, you still might not have the money to pay for it. And as I said last week, a travel opportunity doesn’t count as an emergency expense. Start saving for travel before you even have plans. Set aside money every month in a travel savings account. This way, you won’t have to pass up wonderful opportunities, and you won’t put yourself in debt. My travel savings is one of my most important financial priorities.

Be flexible

Now that you’ve funded your travel savings account, there are other ways to save money. With some flexibility on travel dates (and even locations), you can manage to get some really great deals. Subscribe to newsletters like The Flight Deal or Airfarewatchdog to get notified about cheap flights as they are available.

Carry on only

This one can be tough, especially if you’re going on a long trip, but a simple way to save money is to only pack a carry-on bag. Depending on which airline you’re using, each checked bag costs at least $25. It’s getting harder and harder to fit bags into the overhead carrier since airlines started charging for checked bags, but I still try to do it. I also prefer this because you never have to worry about losing your luggage this way!

Eat like a local

Sometimes, depending on the country, no matter where you eat, you’ll be spending a bit of money (I’m looking at you, UK). But in other places, if you eat as the locals do, you can save a lot of cash. In Turkey, I could get amazing kebabs from street carts for 50 cents, but a meal at McDonald’s cost almost $10. Try to get out of your comfort zone — you might like what you find! An even more affordable option is to go to the grocery store and prepare your own meals.

Look for free days

Some museums or other attractions have weekly “free days”, where you don’t have to pay an entry fee. Do research ahead of time and find out if these exist in the cities that you’ll be visiting. Not only will you save money, but you might find amazing opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t know about.

Buy city passes

Similar to free days, another great way to save money while exploring is to buy a city pass. Many cities around the world offer cards like this and they get you either free or discounted entry to many attractions. Some passes even allow you to skip long lines! The price of this pass is often worth the perks, but you may want to do a little research and price comparing ahead of time.

Pack snacks

I don’t know about you, but I get hangry pretty easily. If you’re on an adventure and you go too long in between meals, it can be hard to find a place to get an affordable and decent snack. And once you’re to the hangry tipping point, it gets hard to make good food decisions. One of the top items on my packing list these days is “snacks”. In fact, my suitcase is lined with granola bars right now and I made homemade trail mix to carry throughout Iceland. This will save me money and heartache (I hope).

Happy travels!

Originally published at on August 15, 2016.