Is budget travel still possible? 6 moneysaving tips


Forget the recession. Leisure travel just keeps getting less affordable.

Hotels rates, fuel charges, high food costs, and airline fees have had a drastic effect on the budget traveler’s bottom line. Travel is now all but out of reach for those of us on a shoestring budget.

For example, in July 2003, I took my first solo vacation, a four-night trip to San Francisco. I was a recent college graduate, and even with my job, I didn’t have a lot of money. Still, I wanted to go. After many online searches and phone calls I had my trip planned:

Roundtrip airfare on Northwest Airlines from Indianapolis to San Francisco: $200
Four nights at the Adelaide Hostel: $100
Food Budget: $150
MUNI Pass: $5
Airport Shuttles: $25
Total: $480

Now of course this doesn’t include spending money or other costs. The food costs were low because I used the kitchen at the hostel, and I could actually have leftovers.

It was an awesome trip and it was the start of my budget travel adventures. I was able to see the city, meet new friends, get out of town for a few days, and do it all without breaking the bank.

I fear I will never be able to do that again, and many young people will not have the opportunity I had. My curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see what budget travelers face today. I was surprised by what I found next.

Same trip, same days, five years later.

Airfare on Air Tran: $271
Four nights at Adelaide: $136
MUNI Pass: $18
Food Budget: $200
Bus Passes: $40
Total: $665

In five years, the cost has gone up $185. That is, if I want to take the Air Tran flight, and I do not accrue any more airline fees. Remember, that $200 flight on Northwest in 2003 had a meal, beverage service, and baggage service was included in the overall price. Today, there could be extra charges for all those items.

It is also contingent on me not getting to San Francisco until 11 p.m. and taking a red-eye flight back. If I want better flight times, and to avoid having to take another day of vacation, it’ll cost at least $750. That now means a $270 difference.

If hostels are no longer my thing, I would need to look for a budget hotel. This would make the price even higher. If I were traveling alone and staying in a decent Union Square budget hotel, like the Adante at Jones and Geary, the nightly rate would be $99 per night minus fees, and the cost of my trip would continue to climb — now around $450. may help you find a cheaper hotel, but you have to be careful. Their idea of “East Union Square” migrates into not-so-nice areas, so be careful before you book. Good neighborhood or not, $109 a night for a three-star hotel can still be steep after paying ever-rising airfare costs, and staying in a hotel will only add to your food costs. No grocery shopping or leftovers will be there to help with those expenses.

Once again, our expenses keep climbing, now up to at least $979. How is that on a budget?

While this is a dim prognosis, there are some things you can do to keep your traveling costs low:

Plan ahead. The earlier you book the better your chances are of finding a steal.

Use a multisite search engine. A site like Kayak will kick back the lowest prices it finds.

Try booking directly through the official site. This works for airlines or hotels. Sometimes you will find lower prices or they may be running exclusive specials.

Find free or cheap attractions. This can help cut fees off the overall bottom line.

Always read the fine print. Find out the airline’s fees BEFORE you book.

If you find a deal, take it. Last summer I went on a trip to Vegas with a group of friends. Every time we saw a good deal, the girls I was booking with kept telling me to wait for the deal to get better. It never did, and you never knew when it was going to jump again.

  • Hapgood

    A young traveler on a rock-bottom budget can still enjoy a great adventure by buying the appropriate guidebook and spending a week taking day trips from home. Even though you end each day in your own bed, if you can set your mind to the “vacation” and “adventure” mode that seems to come automatically with a distant trip, you can have both a wonderful vacation and money in your pocket.

    If you’re not an impecunious youngster, you can use the same approach to avoid the expense and unpleasantness of flying. Spend some of the money you’d have given an airline to treat you like rubbish on a good local hotel, and use the “staycation” as an opportunity to sample some of the nice restaurants in your area that you haven’t had time to try. A “staycation” is the perfect vacation for any budget in today’s travel environment. It’s really the only thing we can do about the effects of soaring oil prices.

    Most of us are so conditioned to thinking of “travel” only in terms of flying to distant places that we completely overlook all the fascinating attractions of our home towns. Given today’s environment, it’s time to get rid of that conditioning and discover the the treasure right in our own backyards.

  • Karen Fawcett

    There’s no question that traveling is expensive, most especially if you’re headed to the EU where US dollar is pitiful contrasted to the Euro.
    But there are tricks to saving money: Reserve an apartment rather than a hotel room.

    There are so many reasons:
    You may be able to find a less expensive room but you’ll have to eat all of your meals out and restaurants are expensive. Even sitting in a cafe sets you back a pretty penny.
    A Coke may cost $5 whereas if you buy a liter bottle at a grocery store. You won’t resent every sip you’ve imbibed when a waiter plunks the drink in front of you.
    Breakfasts can REALLY ADD up and fast when you’re staying in a hotel. If you want to eat out, confine your fine dining to lunch when restaurants generally offer less expensive pre-fix menus.

    Think picnic during the day. Buy wine and cheese to stock in the fridge. You don’t have to eat each and every meal out and often may eat better “at home” if you shop at certain markets.

    Look for an apartment with a washing machine and dryer. Sitting in a laundromat is a waste of precious time and handing your things over to the hotel’s laundry is usually another sticker shock. Pack clothes that do NOT require dry-cleaning.

    Do buy transport passes.

    And remember, there are many concerts and events in most cities that are free (or cost next to nothing). Enjoy them. Traveling takes more planning these days but isn’t exclusively for the VERY rich.

  • Rob Williams

    Budget travel is so possible now with the internet and enough advance time to do some planning. I can’t imagine going on a vacation without doing it on a budget haha. I’m an online ambassador for Hampton Inn, right now we’re running a great deal that I’m actually gonna take part in, haha, I thought I’d share it with you, and maybe you’d like to share it with your readers!

    Hampton Inn is offering 10% off the best available rate until September 1st of this year. We’ll also be giving away a bunch of other cool stuff like bikes, vacations all leading up to Team USA competing at the Olympic games!

    You can check it all out at:,HX,Dreams,Specials&it=Specials,Dreams

    Hope to hear from you soon, I hope I didn’t overstep any bounds by directly posting in here.

    Talk to you later,
    Rob Williams
    Official Hampton Inn Ambassador
    [email protected]

  • Karen Fawcett

    Surf the Internet for B&B’s. Many people are feeling the economic crunch and are willing to rent a room(s) to short-term guests. This is happening a lot in Paris.
    A few of my friends have gone this route and have enjoyed not only the financial bonus but being able to meet people from other countries. Some have developed real friendships.

    In addition, tourists have in-house hosts who are usually very generous when it comes to helping plan a bit or more. Most hosts offer breakfast. Some offer some wine or tea when people return from sightseeing. There may be some negatives such as having to share a bath. But more frequently, the positives outweigh the negatives. And it’s a way to save money and being able to stay put longer. And/or enjoy an extravagant meal; the best buys are the pre-fix lunch “menus.”