If you don’t need luxury, it’s fairly easy to travel pretty much anywhere in comfort for $1000 per person or less a week, flights included!
I choose to travel economically in order to travel more. Fortunately, there are many ways to enjoy a budget trip without sacrificing comfort and enjoyment, even if you travel solo. The tips and tricks below assume that you’re traveling independently, and not with a tour group. Prices are in US dollars.
Finding cheap flights
When it comes to finding cheap flights, flexibility is key. Typically, tickets are cheaper mid-week (Tuesday to Thursday) and possibly Saturday. Holiday periods are very expensive, but if you fly on the holiday itself (Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Easter) you will find much cheaper prices.
Start with a flight aggregator like Skyscanner, Kayak, or Momondo. Select ±3 days in the calendar for both departure and return dates to see results that span a week. Skyscanner allows you to see the lowest fares over an entire month. If you must select a specific date, choose a Tuesday or Wednesday to see how low prices get.
Often, you will find the best prices on flights that depart very early or late, have a long layover, or multiple connections. Decide what you are willing to put up with. I personally don’t mind red-eye flights. I may even select a flight with a long layover and turn it into a stopover. And of course, I always fly economy.
The pricier the flight, the longer your trip should be in order to amortize the cost over several weeks. Since far-away destinations are usually more costly to reach, this also gives you more time to recover from jetlag!
For example, from Canada I may consider flying to Mexico for a week, but usually allocate at least two weeks for Europe, three weeks for South America, and four weeks or more for Asia, Australia or Africa. This way, I manage to keep my weekly flight cost to $350 or less.
My accommodation strategy these days consists of renting a room or apartment through AirBnB, which often comes out cheaper than a hotel room. Using the filters to see only listings from “superhosts” ensures a good experience. Start searching two to three months in advance for the best selection.
Another site I use is Booking.com. Once registered, you get savings of 10% off various properties (called “genius deals”). In most cases, you can cancel for free up until a few days before your stay. And you don’t have to make payments in advance as with AirBnB.
I can usually find a good room or even an apartment for $45 a day or less, using the above websites. Two people traveling together can double this amount.
Planning your meals
Renting an apartment or a room in someone’s house, instead of a hotel room, allows you to self-cater, greatly reducing your food costs. At a minimum, it’s easy to buy a few items at a nearby grocery store and prepare your own breakfast.
If spending time in a costly destination, eating either lunch or dinner at “home” will also help save money. Fortunately, expensive regions like Northern Europe and North America have grocery stores that provide decent prepared sandwiches, salads, and even meals that you can reheat in the microwave, if you’re not keen on cooking.
Of course, sampling the local cuisine is part of the fun of visiting a new destination. Having at least one meal out every day should still fit within the $1000/week budget. Local markets and small eateries offering set meals (usually lunch) are cheap options. Stay away from overpriced tourist restaurants near heavily trafficked areas, and instead use your guidebook to find something off the beaten path.
I try to limit my food expenses to $20-25 a day. This may not seem like much, but it’s easy to do in countries like Mexico, Thailand, or Serbia, even if you eat out for every meal. Iceland and Japan are more challenging of course.
Also remember that tipping at restaurants is mostly a North American custom. In much of the world, 5 to 10%, or just rounding up the check, is sufficient. In Japan, tipping is considered an insult!
In order to save money, focus on free attractions. It’s surprising the number of things you can do for free (or almost free) in a given city: walking tours, markets, exhibits, wine tastings, beaches, music performances, churches and other public buildings.
Walking around parks and other green spaces is always free and a good way to relax. Most museums have a free day or evening, while some never charge admission. Check their website in advance.
Take along a good guidebook (I always use Lonely Planet), and search the web for “free things to do in [destination]”. Drop by the Tourist Office to find out about free walking tours and upcoming cultural events. While there, also look for discount coupons on restaurants and activities.
Choosing transportation at your destination
Avoid taxis as much as possible and learn to use public transit. Besides being more expensive than other options, cars posing as official taxis are sometimes unsafe at worst, or a ripoff at best. If you must use a taxi, look for a taxi counter at the airport and only take licensed cabs.
Many cities have good public transit, including trains or shuttle buses that go directly to the town center from the airport. Every country has buses or trains linking its main cities. In developing nations, even small towns and villages are served by buses as few people have cars. When safety is an issue with public transport, tourist shuttles usually exist.
Traveling slowly helps save on transportation costs, so consider staying in each location three or more days. If traveling with a few others, renting a car may be an option worth considering.
Here is how I would allocate a budget of $1000 a week:
- $350 on flights ($50 a day)
- $315 on accommodation ($45 a day) per person
- $175 on food and drink ($25 a day)
- $70 on sightseeing ($10 a day)
- $70 on public transportation ($10 a day)
- $20 on miscellaneous (souvenirs, gifts, etc.)
Marie-France Roy is a Canadian freelance writer based in Toronto, who has been exploring the world mostly solo over the last 27 years. She has traveled to 65 countries on every continent and is especially fond of sunny destinations with good coffee. Her blog bigtravelnut.com focuses on affordable solo travel for the 40+ crowd.