Be Smart, Not Cheap: How To Travel Right On A Budget

Let’s face it, traveling can be cost prohibitive for many people, and for those privileged enough to travel it is still not cheap. We all want to get the best value for our travel dollar and be able to maximize our time and get as many experiences as possible. This is great, but there are ways to be able to do this without causing a negative impact on the places you go. When we skimp and barter and count every penny we run the risk of taking away what is great about tourism from the communities where we visit. There are ways to lower costs but at the end of the day millions of people around the world rely on tourism to support themselves and their communities and we can’t short change them. Travel is a privilege and can also be a tool for good, whether overseas or in your own back yard.

The main point to take away from this is that as travel consumers we dictate the market. Things cost a certain amount of money to provide. A guided trek has an associated cost to be executed in a responsible, safe, and quality matter. But when we as consumers demand a lower and lower price, providers of activities have to compete so they cut corners to give us the price we want. Maybe they don’t provide their workers proper gear. Maybe they cut wages. Maybe they hire inexperienced people who will put you as the client in danger. It then also takes those providers who are doing things responsibly out of the market. They won’t cut corners to give you that unrealistic price so they go out of business. This is the ripple effect we have to think about when we budget for a trip. Bottom line is this: The cheapest is not always best for you or for the place you visit.

Here are some simple and non-damaging ways to budget your travel funds while still participating in tourism in a healthy and sustainable way for all involved.


Before you set out to your destination do your research. Not only on what to do and not do or where to stay, but what free and interesting activities might exist there. What is the most cost effective form of transportation there? Can you use the bus for most of your trip or can you walk instead of taking a taxi or renting a car? Get off the beaten path and get to know the locals, after all this is their home and they will know where the coolest and best places are to visit, and will likely know how to get the best deal as well.

Be realistic with your budget

When you are planning a trip it is important to do #1 above and then be realistic on what this trip will cost. Often travelers get into trouble and end up hurting local people when they make a budget that is at the very bottom of what things cost. Thinking your going to head to Paris for a 2 week trip and only want to spend $400 for accommodations, activities and food is probably not going to happen. Then you end up cutting corners, bargaining too much, and not really getting to do what you want. So set a realistic budget depending on your plans, and then add a little more to it, just to be safe.

Travel  during Shoulder Season

One of the best ways we are able to go places and cut costs is we travel during shoulder season. Out last trip to Patagonia we chose to go in April which is right on the border between summer and winter in Chile. We ended up having great weather but spent half as much on accommodations and activities as we would have spent in peak season. Not only does this help your pocketbook, but you get to really experience a place with less crowds and be more free to partake in the more popular activities with lower chance of being crowded.

Save on Transportation

Transportation is often one of the bigger expenses on any trip. Getting from one place to another is a necessity and can often make up 50% or more of a travel budget. There are a few simple ways to mitigate this. In cities you can walk all over town instead of using taxis or Uber. For longer trips utilizing buses and trains instead of private cars will be a significant savings and be way more fun. Using local transport like a Tuk Tuk or motorbike is an adventure and much cheaper than a car. Not only will you save money but you will see the place you are visiting in a much more authentic and up close way, giving you a better sense of the place than you would get otherwise.

Stay away from all inclusive hotels

I think the base motivation for all inclusive resorts is about ease of use and convenience, which makes sense. You get all your stuff in one place. But instead of $10 bottled water and uninspiring meals, doing a homestay experience accomplishes the same thing for much less cost and in a much more interesting way. Even outside the all included model, something like an Airbnb or House Swap is a cool way to save money and feel more connected to the local culture. You can make meals, go to the market and buy food, and get to know the people who call this place home and give them a chance to show you the place they are so proud of.

Be frugal, not  cheap

There is a difference between being smart and saving money and just being plain cheap. For people working in tourism this is how they make a living, feed their families and help themselves get on their feet. When we cut corners we force people to make choices that negatively impact the people who need it the most. If we have no problem paying $6 for a coffee at home, we should not be arguing about $1 for a cup of tea. Being able to travel is a privilege and we can make choices to use that privilege to improve the lives of those we meet and with whom we share our travel experiences.

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