How to travel when you’re broke

woman walking through shopping street

Everybody wants to travel – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody is able to. Traveling the world is an absolute privilege and one that we should never take for granted. Travel has opened me up and changed me as a human being and I will be eternally grateful for that blessing.
Travel is expensive, but there are ways to make it more achievable. Hell, I’ve been a broke college student for 6 years now and I still managed to travel A LOT – and without the help of my parents. If you don’t have the money, you have to be good at saving and planning.

To help you in your quest to travel more, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks I use to afford traveling the world. I hope you’ll find these suggestions helpful! xx

1. Pick the right destination for your budget

Being broke will put more than one constraint on your travel plans. This is the first of them: choosing a location. I, for example, would love to visit Iceland. I’ve been dreaming of road tripping through this beautiful country for many years. But for now, it’s way out of my price range.
That’s a bummer but hey, I’m pretty sure my budget won’t be this restricted forever. So I focus on places I can afford easily or places where I can balance the scales, so to speak.
That means I can either travel somewhere that’s cheap in general or pick a destination where one part of the trip may be expensive, but the majority of it will be cheap. For example: I’m planning a Vietnam roundtrip for next year. The flight will definitely put a hole in my budget (costing about 600 EUR). But Vietnam is a very affordable country to travel when it comes to accommodation, living and travel expenses. I’ve calculated that for a 30-day trip, I’ll only spend around 1500-1800 EUR ALL INCLUSIVE, in addition to a generous buffer. That’s pretty good, if I may say so myself.
If you’re not sure where to start looking for affordable destinations – Forbes has released a helpful list of affordable places to visit this year. You can check it out here.

2. Use incognito mode

Always, always use incognito mode when browsing accommodations or flights. If you search for something, that search will be saved in your cookies. The websites you visit now know that you’ve been looking for a specific thing multiple times. As a response, they hike up prices because they know you’re interested. This not only makes your trip more expensive, but it pressures you into booking quickly because you’re afraid the prices will increase even more. Save yourself the money and anxiety and use incognito mode.

3. Compare prices

Being on a budget means not taking the first offer. Think of searching for flights and hotels as shopping at the travel supermarket. If you’re broke, you’re not going to pick the first item you find and move on. You’ll pick out the cheapest one that’s most appropriate for your purposes. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do here as well.
Book your flights and hotel/hostel rooms as soon as possible. Most of us know: the sooner you book a flight or hotel, the cheaper the price. Depending on the weekday, the fares can also differ dramatically. Typically, Tuesday is a great day for cheap travel, while Friday through Sunday is much pricier. Use the monthly forecast on Skyscanner to find out which months and specific dates are cheapest to travel. It’s always smart to travel off-season, but be careful to get familiar with the country you’re visiting. Japan, for example, experiences dramatic heat spikes between May and August. You may find cheap flights and accommodation for that time period, but you should ask yourself – is it worth it?
Also be mindful of last minute and user deals on websites like Booking.com. Try to book your travels, your hotel rooms especially, as refundable. That way, you can pick a great last-minute offer and save on both ends. hotel bedroom

4. Contact hotels directly

If you want something, all you have to do is ask. If you find an accommodation online that you like but don’t want to pay full price for, call the accommodation directly and ask for room prices. More often than not, they’ll give you a better offer than brokers like Booking.com.
Alternately, book off a broker for a few nights (ideally with free cancellation) and then find a local accommodation when you’re there. Not only will they usually offer you a better price when you visit personally, but you’ll also be able to look at the rooms – that way you won’t have any nasty surprises.

5. Find free entertainment

Big cities especially offer all kinds of free entertainment. All you have to do is know where to look. Most museums offer free entry or are free on certain days of the week. Visit parks. Find free workout classes. My personal favorite thing to do in a new city is a free walking tour. Not only will it help you see the city in a new light, but you’ll likely make friends and get to know many interesting people from all over the world. Save your money on overpriced and crowded sightseeing “attractions” and instead see this new destination with the eyes of a local.

6. Skip restaurants

Eating out is a huge expense when traveling. You don’t have to have three full restaurant meals a day. I mean, who can afford that? When I traveled through Japan, I usually only ate at a restaurant once a day, for lunch. For breakfast, I’d grab a savory bun and rice cake at a local convenience store. For dinner, I’d take advantage of the many yummy packaged meals you can buy for a few euros at a 7-Eleven or pick and choose my favorite snacks at Maruetsu. It’s so much cheaper than eating out and having a little hotel bed picknick is a lot of fun.breakfast

7. Use overnight transport

On my first trip to Japan, I couldn’t take advantage of the Shinkansen ticket. So I had to find another way of getting to Osaka for cheap. Night buses can be intimidating, but they are the budget-friendliest as well as the most comfortable way to travel great distances. I picked the Willer Express Bus that departed from Tokyo at 8 in the evening and took about 8 hours to arrive in Osaka. I had a very tiring day sightseeing, which was perfect because I fell asleep pretty much immediately after the lights went out on the bus at 10 pm.  The ride only cost me about 30 EUR, I saved money on a hotel that night and I had a lovely, comfortable time. You can book a seat up to 3 months in advance and I suggest you do.

8. Take advantage of discounts

My student card is probably my most valuable possession when I’m home.
But it’s also a kind and helpful companion while traveling. Students are broke everywhere you go – which means discounts, discounts, discounts. Next to obvious discounts like reduced train and bus fare or museum entrance fees, you can also save a little off your next meal. I was very surprised – and delighted! – when I visited an adorable little sandwich shop in Copenhagen and got a 20% discount on my meal off my student card.
Another personal item to always keep close is your passport. Many destinations will offer tax refunds to tourists. There are many tax-free shops in South Korea (an amazing shopping destination by the way!) where tourists save on taxes off purchases from 30,000 Won (about 23 EUR) or more. Even if the shop isn’t tax-free, keep your receipts and get a tax refund at the airport on your way home. Depending on your shopping capacity, it can save you quite a bit of cash!italy pisa

9. Get a local sim card

No home data plan will save you as much money as investing in a local sim card. Period. Since I basically can’t handle life without Google Maps, I’m desperate for internet wherever I am. Getting a time and data-capped sim card is the best way to stay connected with your loved ones without coming home to an enormous bill.

10. Get a local transport card

Similarly to the local sim card, a transport card will save you money, time and worries. You can get one at the airport for free or very cheap and load it up with as much money as you need for the trip. In Portugal, I got the Carris card – a rechargeable metro card that saves me 15 cent off every single ride. That may not sound like much, but it really adds up and hey, who says no even to the littlest reduction?dock nature

11. Pay with your talent

This may be out of the typical range of travel suggestions, but my mind was blown when I first heard this tip in a Skillshare class: Pay with your talent.
If you want to travel like a local, why not put yourself to work to cover for your travel expenses? Hostels and Airbnbs especially are happy to exchange services for accommodations. Are you a photographer? Suggest taking pictures of the place! Are you a writer? Update their online presence. Are you bilingual? Translate their content! Are you a teacher of any kind? Offer classes! This will take away some free time, but if you honestly don’t have the money to “just” travel, there’s no shame in going an alternative route. You might even pick up a useful skill, improve those you already have and meet people from all around the world!
Visit workaway.info to look into opportunities to exchange work for accommodation. Some even offer additional pay!


These were my tips and tricks on how to travel when you’re broke. I hope you found it helpful! Leave me a comment below if I missed any useful suggestions and share your own! xx