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Cheap Travel Tip - Start where you're at with with you have.

Let’s talk about budgeting for travel when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. It is possible to travel and have those epic adventures. Reasearching, planning and saving will help you travel cheap. 

When your plan is to travel cheap the first step is to start where you are with what you have. This is true even if your goal isn’t necessarily cheap. If you want to have new experiences, see new places and immerse yourself in different cultures, you should do it. Letting finances get in the way is a silly reason to deny yourself of those epic moments in life. Although the most cost effective way to have this is to bring the world to you, there are also ways to go sightseeing on any budget.

Even if you are living paycheck to paycheck and barely making ends meet, you can still save for travel. If traveling is your passion and you want to make those memories you can start small. The easiest way to get started is to decided on an amount that you can afford and start setting aside money weekly. That money is designated as your travel fund and it should only be used for traveling. You can start with any amount, I had a friend that started with $5.00 per week.

Person holding money saving for travel

How Long Will It Take To Start Traveling After You Start Saving?

I know at $5.00 per week it seems like it’ll take forever to save for any type of traveling, even when you’re going to travel cheap. Just know that there are many ways to travel, explore and see amazing things on a shoestring budget. I know this because I have been there. Taken vacations that included indulging in every experience available to my most recent endeavor where we watched every penny. Most likely the “cheapest” vacation I’ve ever taken, and I still felt like I was indulging, just in a different way.

Some of the best memories I have of traveling come from the least expensive vacations I have ever had. Cheap travel vacations allow me to be intentional and creative leaving room for some of the most fun.

Recently a friend of mine and I traveled to or through 21 states in 28 days. We had an epic experience on this trip and I want to show you how you can do that too. This was all done on the insanely low budget of $49.95 per day. That comes to $24.98 per person per day. 

This was an extended trip but on this type travel budget you can start with a weekend adventure for around $100. Even saving just $5.00 per week would get you out of town to see something new 2 times per year. What a great start to your own (cheap) travel adventures!

Now let’s break down how we were able to take this entire trip for $1,398.69 which will give you some great tips so you can plan your own cheap travel adventures.

• Gas – $588.64
• Groceries and food – $534.88
• Attractions and entertainment – $99.78
• Everything else – $175.39

1. Gas

Starting with the gas budget, let’s dive in to each of these a little more fully. We did not travel long distances every day. Some days we didn’t drive anywhere. Still, if we were going to drive for several hours in one day, we tried to stay at around 250 miles per day or less. We did this for a couple of reasons. 

  • The first and reason and driving factor behind this excellent choice is that 250 Miles is approximately 3/4 tank of gas in my Toyota RAV 4. My goal was to average 1 tank of gas per day, and I like to fill up at 1/4 tank. One tank of gas per day gave me a good gauge of how much of our budget we should designate for gas when planning. (Keep in mind when you are creating your budget that gas is cheaper on the east coast than the west coast).
  • The other reason is that 250 Miles put us in the car for less than 6 hours per day, even when we were not traveling via interstate. Given that we were on a budget, we certainly didn’t want to be spending money on toll roads. Especially from Chicago to Niagara Falls, much of I-90 had tolls. There were also other areas that we ran into that the interstates and higher speed highways had tolls. Sticking to our 250 miles eased the stress of worrying about how long we’d have to spend in the car in any given day and allowed us to maximize our time at each location.

2. Groceries and Food

The food budget may seem a bit stringent but it was actually one of the most flexible budgets on the trip. The total includes all of our dining out experiences, and there were a few, as well as groceries and ice for the cooler. An important note here, in order to maximize the budget, we did meal prep before we left for our adventure. We emptied the cupboards and brought everything we could with us.

This included condiments, spices, snacks, and ingredients for the recipes that we planned ahead of time. One of the reasons that we were successful in meeting our budget goal was meal planning before we left. Although Brandee is a foodie and meal prep is her thing, I am not.  The meal prep ahead of time served a couple of different purposes. It was a much bigger part of the success of this trip than I anticipated. If you only take one thing away from this post on budgeting, I would say meal prep for road tripping is the biggest part of staying on budget.

3. Attractions and Entertainment

I didn’t research attractions and entertainment ahead of time. The hope and pray method is actually what this portion of the budget was based on. I had an idea in my head of what would be left over after gas and food but without an actual plan we were just winging it. While that may seem frivolous it worked out nicely. Given that we changed our route at least 4 times along the way, it was less stressful for me to play it by ear rather then attempt to plan things out ahead of time.

I will say though, off-season travel was a blessing. Many of the attractions were lower in price due to the time of year that we were traveling. Places like museums, national parks and state parks were all lower priced due to the time of year that we chose for this adventure.

4. Everything Else

The last category of our budget was for “everything else”. Everything else included gifts for our hosts, car maintenance, and other misc. expenditures. We ended up on a couple of toll roads, stopped for an oil change, washed the car, and helped a homeless man among other things. Since I didn’t have a category for any of those types of events, they all fell into the everything else bucket.

You may be asking about accommodations. When you are road tripping, this is typically one of the most expensive parts of traveling. On this particular trip, we used a website called couchsurfing for the entire trip. It was not without effort and isn’t a guarantee but for this trip it worked out. Keeping in mind that we did budget an extra $700 that could have been used for accommodations if needed along the way. There were a couple of times when we almost broke into the reserves so even if you are using something like couchsurfing or warm showers in your travels, you should always be prepared for whatever comes your way.

Along the way I’ll be showing you exactly what we did to stay on budget, how it works and how you can do it too. Make sure to subscribe to stay up to date and learn all the travel hacks you need to know to make amazing memories on a shoestring budget.

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This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. Great tips! I am excited to start saving for travels!

    1. This was so much fun and this budget was traveling for 2 so you don’t even have to go solo to make this work!

  2. Amazing budget travel tips! We try to be frugal too (that way we can take more vacations) but this is all great advice!

    1. What’s your favorite frugal traveling tip?

  3. This is great – 21 states in 28 days and under $50 per day? This definitely sounds like an epic adventure!

    1. Thanks. Taking a trip like this has been a dream of mine for a long time. It was definitely epic!

  4. This was a great read and super helpful. We are thinking of doing something similar in the future and it provided great insight .

    1. Good luck. You’ll have so much fun!

  5. Great tips. It starts with a budget. I have started many savings plans with just $5. People need to learn the value of savings. It is not always the amount but the discipline to stay the course. Thanks for the affirmation.

    1. Taking one small step can lead to huge accomplishments. Thanks for confirming that this has worked for you in the past.

  6. Great tips, especially on the gas! It’s a good way to limit time spent in the car, poor food choices, SO MUCH snacking, extra caffeine purchases, etc. I find myself “treating” myself at gas stations because we’ve been in the car for so long- eliminating that is another way to save!

    1. It absolutely is. Planning for snacking and preparing them ahead of time in single serve containers is something we did that helped with all of that. Although we did indulge a couple of times along the way. You can’t take all the fun out of it. 🙂

  7. You are so right, research can help you save so much off season travel helps soooo much. Great tips.

  8. Great ideas for budget travel! I’m all about stretching that dollar!

  9. I’m impressed! And what a fun adventure!

  10. Impressive ideas to travel on a budget! We are planning a one month trip to the northeastern states and can start using your tips to plan! Thank you!

  11. I believe in planning and traveling on a budget. We do this for each vacation as well. You have hit the nail on the head with this post. Plan,plan,plan.

  12. Hello, fellow frugal traveler! Love the budget tips, certainly right up my alley as well. Safe travels!

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