10 tips for traveling abroad on a budget

Many people think they don’t have enough money to travel overseas. But even with limited funds, you can travel abroad without breaking the bank. If you plan ahead and take a few steps to keep your costs down, traveling on a limited budget can actually make the experience that much more enjoyable.

To get the most out of your international trip (and stay on budget), consider taking advantage of some of these ideas:

1) Travel in the off-season

Most destinations have a high season. (For example, Americans love to head to Europe in the summer.) But, flights tend to be less expensive in the off-season. It can also be easier to find affordable accommodations, and you’ll spend less time waiting in line at popular sites.

2) Shop for low-price airfare

Airfare may be the single largest expense of your trip. Travel and airfare “watch” websites offer discounted flights, flight alerts, last-minute trip deals, and tools that can help you track the best deals for international flights. Look for a site that lets you bookmark flights and be alerted when ticket prices change. The weekend is the most popular time to fly, so consider departing in the middle of the week.

3) Pack light

Some railways, airlines, and buses limit travelers to a single piece of luggage without having to pay a fee, so make sure your suitcase fits the size requirements for free-bag service. Rather than packing a different outfit for every day, plan on wearing things twice. If you get sweaty or dirty, do some laundry by hand in your apartment or hotel sink. Tip: Consider packing castile soap, which can clean just about anything: your face, body, hair, dishes, laundry, and more.

4) Rent an apartment

Renting is usually cheaper than staying in a hotel. For more affordable accommodations, avoid the heart of a city and stay away from major tourist spots. An even cheaper option is to use a couch-surfing website that connects travelers with locals who will let you stay with them for free. If you want to stay in a hotel, you may be able to get a better deal by waiting to book a room. Hotels often lower their rates at the last minute.

5) Take advantage of the sharing economy

The ever-growing sharing economy can help you save money by connecting you with tour guides, rideshare options, train tickets, home-cooked meals, and much more. It’s a great way to vacation less like a tourist and more like a local.

6) Ask the locals

No one knows a city or region better than a local. Talk to your hosts and get to know the locals. They can tell you where to shop for groceries, which stores offer the best prices, and where to dine out on a budget. They might even give you the inside scoop on free events not listed in tourist guides.

7) Cook some meals

Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you have to eat all of your meals in a restaurant. Eating out is fun but also expensive. One of the best ways to save money when traveling abroad is to cook your own meals. Even just making coffee and toast in the morning can cut down on expenses. If you don’t have a kitchen, pack a box of breakfast bars and buy fresh fruit from a local market.

8) Look for free activities

Every city offers free things to do—street festivals, outdoor concerts, public parks, and more. In many places around the world there are days when the museums are free. Visit the city’s tourism website and search online for calendars that list free and low-cost events. Many major cities also offer free walking tours that let you see more than just the most popular sites.

9) Take public transportation

Using taxis can get expensive. And it’s easy to miss out on things when you’re stuck inside a car. If you're looking to save money, public transportation is the way to go. Learn how to navigate the metro or bus system at your destination before you leave home. If you want to experience more of the culture, rent a bike or walk. The best sightseeing is done on foot.

10) Get travel medical insurance

Don’t forget to plan for the unexpected. Travel medical insurance may seem counterintuitive for budget travelers, but a good plan can help take care of clinic and hospital charges so you don't have to pay while you’re still traveling. A SafeTrip Travel Protection from UnitedHealthcare Global* offers 24/7 connection to an Emergency Response Center, along with worldwide accident and sickness medical expense coverage.

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