Your Ultimate Go-To List for Budget Travels

If I had a penny for every single time people have told me they can’t travel because traveling is so expensive – oh, well, I’d buy several plane tickets with that money. I’ve heard so many reactions to my weekend trips, holidays or really, just my instagram feed.

“I don’t have that kind of money laying around.”

“It’s harder when you’re married and/or have kids.”

“I have a mortgage or bills pay, I could never travel so much.”

“How do you cash out hundreds of euros so many times a year?”

As I eat popcorn in my corner – wait, that’s not true, more like as I eat carrots in my corner – I always give people who ask a proper answer because I really do think most of us can travel more if we want it badly enough.

So let’s see how you can score yourself some sweet deals and go places.

The first thing that you need to think about is your mindset about traveling. Do you really want to travel more? Are you willing to prioritize it over other activities or things you also want in your life? Are you ready to put in a little effort to figure things out?

If the answer to those 3 questions is No, then you don’t get to complain about how much you don’t travel and how hard it is to be you. If you don’t want to change your mindset, then you simply don’t want it enough. And while that’s absolutely fine, it’s time for you to get a glass of wine and bookmark this post for when you WILL want to see the world over other things in your life.

What I mostly see in my friends’ reactions is that they just want somebody to hand them over the perfect getaway. Uhm, that’s not really how it works.

I’ve found that there are several things that greatly influence the number of trips you go on during a year. I always count my trips at the end of the year and I’m always surprised. In 2014, I made it to 10 destinations, in 2015 I visited 11 countries, in 2016 I went on 25 flights. And a lot of those trips were very low budget. Most of them were them were organized during rainy evenings when I didn’t feel like doing anything and some of them were work-related. On an average I traveled once a month with plenty of exceptions when I would travel every weekend to meet up with friends, visit my boyfriend or go visit my family. I found that once my mindset shifted from “I need a vacation” to “I can’t wait to explore something new this weekend”, my false expectations went away.

So what can you improve to get to travel more?

1. Flexibility

Being flexible is what makes most things come together. Early flights and late flights are cheaper than Friday to Sunday flights. Last minute deals are sometimes cheaper than tickets you get a month in advance. Sometimes I’d fly back home on a Monday morning, work in the plane and go straight to the office with my weekend backpack. Other times I’d work late or work a weekend day to catch up on the Friday I took off to enjoy a weekend of sunshine in France. And yes, it is tiring and I do remember not being very happy about missing sleep or having dark circles around my eyes. But hey, you win some, you loose some.

If your job is not flexible enough to allow this or your boss is not understanding enough or you simply prefer more organized things, the second thing you need to get on board with to get more travel done is pretty simple:

2. Doing your research

That’s pretty self-explanatory yet I still have friends who don’t really grasp that I sometimes hunt for tickets for days or weeks at a time. I’m basically wired to look for trips anytime I get a moment and I can focus on it. Lunch break? Quick search for offers on Ryanair. Looking at my calendar for October? Oh, look, there’s no trip planned yet. Where shall I go? Newsletter just arrived and it seems to  have some sale going on? Taking the extra 5 minutes to browse through. When I was thinking about going to India I started looking at flights 5 months in advance and I monitored what airlines fly there, what are the most common layovers, figured out what was the maximum amount of money I was willing to pay and so on.

But I’m also cheap, so I eventually got the ticket 1 month and a half in advance and nailed it at 430 euros return ticket with decent flying times and a quick layover in Dubai.

And that takes me to another important thing:

3. Be cheap

It doesn’t mean you don’t have the money, it just means you want value for it. Evaluate things and see what matters for you. Is the 50 euros extra worth the 2 hours longer sleep? Then pay for it. Do you really need a checked-in luggage or are you overdoing it for a 3 days weekend getaway? I always think about it from a win-win perspective. The airline gets my money, what do I get instead?

Since my first flights and travels, I’ve definitely grown into a traveler who doesn’t want to take 6 am flights anymore. I can’t be bothered to get up at 3 am and take a taxi to the airport. Taxis are expensive in the Netherlands and when I add my discomfort, the taxi fare and the high risk of me not hearing my alarm, I’m now more likely to get a later flight, change my destination or wait a bit longer than book an early flight. Do what works for you, but understand that cheap means you might have to give something else up.

And the last little thing to have in mind:

4. Add everything up.

That’s a mistake I did a lot in the beginning. I would think “Well, my flight was only 30 euros so I can totally afford doing this activity”. And that makes sense except you also have to take the bus/shuttle to the airport and back, sometimes you also get a snack and I always get a coffee in the airport and that cheap hostel bed I booked didn’t include the 4 euros/night city tax I now have to pay in cash. Little things add up quickly. *Insert sad face*

Overall, I always book my own flights and accommodation, I can’t remember using an agency for personal travels. I subscribed to all the major low-cost airlines in Europe and I have a few platforms I use to check out deals from over the world. I’ve found that there were times when I was overdoing it and I was simply getting too many newsletter and updates. So I’ve now narrowed it down to this list:

  • Ryanair – use the website in Dutch if you want to pay with iDeal
  • Wizzair – it actually does pay off to get their membership subscription for 30 euros/year as you’ll get a 10-20 euros discount on each flight. They also have tons of offers for all their app users that you won’t see on the website.
  • Easyjet – I don’t use it much but if you’re based in Amsterdam or another Easyjet hub I’ve seen some good prices on their website
  • Skyscanner – the holy grail of all flight search engines, you probably already know about it. Using the “fly to everywhere option” is my favorite function and I mostly use it to screen where I could fly to for cheap. I always check the airline websites as well as Skyscanner doesn’t include special offers or discounts. If I’m fishing for a bigger trip then I also use their alert system so I get notifications on how the prices go up and down.
  • Vakantiepiranten – I use them quite a bit for destination inspiration and they have some good trips planned out as well. The link is to the Dutch platform, but they also have the same website for 9 other countries including the UK, Italy, USA, Spain and France.
  • Ticketspy – This one kind of scans the web for deals and I find it useful to browse through when I’m just looking to go somewhere new but don’t have any idea where to. So for example today I found out that Ryanair flies from Eindhoven to Edinburgh for 25 euros next weekend. Not bad, eh? No international alternatives to this website, it’s a Dutch one so it’s useful if you live in Holland or close-by.
  • Paperflies – this is one of my favorites, I particularly like the big map option where you can basically put in a departure point and it will link to most destinations in the world and give you the cheapest price they can find for you. I found very useful when I was looking for my return ticket from South America, I couldn’t figure out which one is the cheapest country so I used Paperflies to narrow it down. The link takes you to the English website for the European market, but you can choose your country in the upper right corner.
  • groupon – knock yourself out, they’re known for deals, including travel deals. However, always read carefully the fine print, can’t say you weren’t warned. Also, use the platform available in your country so you get better deals.
  • Cheaptickets.nl – it never disappointed me for long-haul flights. I’ve scored a 550 euros return flight to Buenos Aires and returning from Panama City on their website and the good deal on a ticket to India I was mentioning in the beginning. Somehow their algorithm just works better and even with their 25 euros booking fee it’s still worth checking out.

I don’t really care about accommodation to be completely honest, so here I use the basics:

  • Booking – once you’ve booked enough with them (i think it’s 10 bookings), you become a member of the Genius program which gives you a 10% discount on selected accommodation options. If you’re not there yet, you can use this link to book and get 15 euros off.
  • Airbnb – I often choose cute and full of character private rooms instead of entire homes as the price is usually half of what a full apartment would cost. Use this link to get 30 euros off your first booking on Airbnb.
  • Couchsurfing – I’m not that keen on Couchsurfing these days, but I’ve used it extensively in South America and a few times in Europe. I always say everything is worth trying once. If you’re curious I wrote about couchsurfing in SA here, the good, the bad and the ugly.
  • Friends or friends of friends – I’ve met or reconnected with amazing people just by asking for a recommendation on Facebook. It’s really amazing how many of us are willing to offer a sofa and a night out based on a common friend. Some of my best days and nights traveling started with me crashing on somebody’s sofa
  • Hostels – Again, not my favorite way of traveling anymore. However, if you really really really want to visit London or Paris or Barcelona or any other expensive, hip or crowded destination and the price of the accommodation is in the way, then screw it and stay in a hostel. If the goal of your trips is to see a new place, experience it first-hand, try out new foods and drink wine with random strangers, if you really wanna get the perfect instagram shot – then why let a small thing like accommodation stop you from making all of it happen? And a tip – look up your hostels on Hostelworld, but book them on Booking or better yet, email the hostel directly. Most of the times you’ll get a better price and you don’t have to pay a deposit.

Does this help? I’d love to hear about other things that are in your way and stop you from traveling. I just love debunking travel myths, yay!

Leave a Reply