When done well, budget travel has little to do with sacrifice or compromise and a lot to do with inventiveness and flexibility. While budgets, regardless of size, do determine the variety of choices available during a journey, they don’t have to determine that journey’s scope. In reality, any trip is as wide as you can imagine it. Travel + Leisure knows that a little extra effort pays a lot in dividends when it comes to budget travel. Its editors and contributors look for the best values, the smartest splurges, and the easiest cost-saving measures.
When it comes to cutting down trip costs, housing alternatives can be a big source of savings. Research opportunities for farm stays (especially those that allow you to trade work for room and board), long- and short-term by-owner rentals, campgrounds (some of which rent rudimentary but comfortable lodging), or even spare rooms in convents or castles. When you do patronize a more upscale restaurant, go for lunch. Otherwise, try to eat in bars and taverns, where food is cheap but still reflects the area, or go for the local street food specialty. Check out grocery stores for delicious meal options you don’t have to cook: crusty bread, pungent cheese, salty cured meat, sweet fruit. Wine bought from the store by the bottle is cheaper than when drunk in a bar by the glass, and you’ll have a greater variety of places to drink it. Keep track of what churches and museums offer free admission and steer your travels there: it adds up. Free walking tours can be found in many cities, but budget a generous tip, which is expected. Try not to shop, and if you do—haggle.
For the best travel deals, match the right destination with the right (i.e. unpopular) time of year. Aim to travel around shoulder seasons, the transition time just before or just after the high season. Apps can help identify the cheapest plane tickets, from which airlines to book with to what dates are most affordable to fly on. Many hotels offer steep discounts after national holidays. In general, use aggregators, compare fares, and price out packages, but don’t discount them all together. Rail travel remains reliably cheap, but for long multi-hour journeys there’s no shame in a discount airline ticket.
Cheap travel often means living like “the Romans do”—more like a local. But that’s really the whole point of visiting Rome—right? Check back here often for T+L tips, updates, and detailed guides to getting the most out of your journey.