Living With A Gypsy Heart: How To Solo Traveling Without Breaking The Bank

When you love to travel as I do, the most frustrating thing is waiting to have the money to hit the road again. What if you didn’t have to? In today’s post, I will share with my favorite ways to travel within a budget as well as how to save money when more expensive travel is necessary.

Traveling Within A Budget

One of the tricks I learned when I was a young, poor college student was to simply explore the new town I was in. I went to places I had never been to before, and I window shopped. When I wanted to spend money, I gave myself a reasonable limit. Sometimes, I even made myself go with cash only, so I couldn’t add debt with my spending.

Today, I still find this to be my favorite way to explore and travel on a regular basis, but I have expanded it. Now, I go to new towns I haven’t visited before, within a reasonable commute of my home. I will go almost anywhere as long as I can drive there and back in a day. If it takes longer than that or is too much mileage to drive, I have to consider flight cost, housing, and food. In those cases, I would probably refer to Nomadic Matt for advice on how to work my way through my travels.

When you compare the cost of gas to the cost of food and housing, day trips really do save money. I drove all the way across my state and back for a recent adventure and only spend $100 plus my shopping money.

Bonus: Daytrips are a great way to find new favorites. One day, I drove south the same distance I used to commute daily north, and this one little change helped me find a town I absolutely love now. I’ve been back multiple times to explore more locations and meet new people. Now it feels like home.

Saving Money On More Expensive Travel

Sometimes a day trip just can’t cut it, and you need to go somewhere for a couple days. Whether you are celebrating a special event or just getting away for a breather or purposefully seeing the wonders of the world beyond your commutable distance, longer travel is always something worthwhile to do, AND you can still save money doing it.

A 2018 article suggested many different ideas to save money while traveling. Here are some of my favorites and my take on them:

Bring your own food; don’t eat out all the time.

It is easy to spend money on food and not even realize how much you spent, but you can limit that running faucet of spending by bringing food from home. Pack simple groceries that you don’t have to refridgerate much, and consider a stay with free breakfast to cut down on more food cost. Let yourself slurge on a local lunch more than dinner because lunch is always cheaper.

If food is important to your experience, give yourself more room to splurge. If shopping and activities is more important, this is an easy place to cut costs and put the money where you really want to spend it. I can think of times when both shopping and food were important in my travels, but the older I get, the more I want mementos and good pictures more than great food at exorbitant prices. For my next adventure, I went to my favorite little international grocer, bought some special canned and refrigerated foods, and plan to pack them on ice to carry with me to my room. That should help cut at least a little of the food costs there.

Travel during off-season.

Believe it or not, even fancy resorts open up for less than $100 a night during off season. The trick to resort booking, however, is the extra fees for simply having resort amenities. To be able to stay in a historical site and get discounts to food and events, you can end up paying an extra $10-35 a night! For that price, I lose whatever deals I found online, and I am back to comparing a room to a hotel.

Resort or hotel, you almost always find the best prices during times of the year when few people frequent that location. For example, mountains are popular during the fall, and the beach is popular during the summer. If you want a deal on either location, go during seasons when they are not popular. Even last minute same day deals can be better booked online because locations would rather slash prices to fill rooms and make some profit than leave the rooms empty.

Research your stay options on Google and be flexible with your dates.

Google gives you real-time comparison data for prices, reviews, and reservations. Usually, staying during the week is cheaper than a weekend stay, but you really want to read reviews before you commit to a place. A lot of hotels trick you with good pictures, but the reality is far from them. Read the most recent reviews possible and watch, too, how the management responded to them. I read one property arguing with guests over their negative reviews, and that alone made me feel uncomfortable staying there as a guest.

If certain amenities are important to you, consider calling before you book to make sure they are available. Depending on the season and Covid restrictions, a lot of amenities are unavailable right now.

Consider alternative housing such as hostels, AirBnB, or VRBO.

You can find a cheap bed almost anywhere in the world at Hostels World. If you are not afraid of sharing bathrooms and living quarters with only your bed for privacy, you can sleep cheaply (even $20-30 a night) and save the difference for use in your travels for food, transportation, events, and more.

I know a world traveler that swears by this method of travel. She has been in over 80 countries and met a lot of people through hostels and never had a problem yet. It is a minimalist way of traveling, though. There really isn’t room for an entourage of luggage or your hogging the bathroom for hours.

If you want a unique experience, check our Airbnb or VRBO. You can still find cheap deals and stay cool places like treehouses or antique farms on Airbnb. However, the cleaning fees since Covid has made rooms on Airbnbs as much as hotels in most places. I prefer a lot more privacy and hotel amenities like a pool when I travel, so I find myself opting for hotels more.

How to determine what is too much to pay for a hotel room

I use Google, free rewards clubs with hotel chains, and discount programs available through my health insurance to help me find the best price on a hotel room in a location.

I have learned to follow customer reviews to see what is fair to expect for pricing. Generally speaking, $60 and below is often a budget motel with bug problems, odors, old furnishing, bad service, and cleanliness issues. $70-100 seems to be the average good deal price right now for a room in a hotel with a good clean room, fitness and business amenities, and breakfast. Don’t take for granted free parking and mini fridges either; some places charge extra for that.

If a stay is too expensive, I look somewhere else in a neighboring town or on Airbnb. Sometimes, hosts give discounts for longer stays on Airbnb. If it is still too expensive, I rethink the whole timing of the trip.

Concluding Thoughts

Don’t ever tell yourself that you have to wait to be rich to travel. If you have that wanderlust of a gypsy, that itch to move like a pioneer, scratch it! You don’t need much to go somewhere new. Somewhere new is probably just 30 minutes from your house. Start small, explore neighbor cities, and shop local. The more you explore, the more you learn, and the easier it is to stretch beyond those small beginnings.

Don’t ever be ashamed to share your rambling heart. Embrace who you are, and go share your love with the world. The world needs more light like you in it.