The Joys and Pains of Traveling Cheap

“Travel is the only thing you buy that will make you richer.” (Quote courtesy of Chlohemian :))

I am a penny pincher. For the past few months, I’ve been obsessing over how to keep the cost of my upcoming (tomorrow!) trip to Europe as low as possible, since I am technically unemployed. Nothing says bohemian like backpacking on a dime, right?

Europe trip #1. I had one 6kg backpack, one purse, one pashmina scarf and one pair of sandals. I’ve never traveled lighter, but my toes were definitely cold 🙂

Except that I’m noticing that my desire to cut corners is running into conflict with my desire for little comforts, like beds. For example, on my first trip to Europe, I spent the night before my flight in the Prague airport so as to avoid paying another night in a hostel. It was fine, except that I was cold and uncomfortable and of course didn’t really sleep. I’m not sure I would do that again now.

That being said, the age of convenient, budget travel is upon us. More and more budget airlines are popping up, as are wonderful Airbnbs and hostels offering very affordable rates for accommodation. I spend a lot of time researching budget airlines and ways to “hack” my way into more affordable travel (to the point of obsession. I’m learning there is a limit.  ). Having friends or looking on travel forums for people who know the areas I’ll be travelling to helps a lot, too.

Even though there might be catches or hidden fees here and there, I’m grateful for the flexibility and possibility the age of budget travel has brought me and lots of travelers like me. Here are my favorite travel “hacks” for keeping costs low while being mobile.

1. Budget airlines. OK, OK, I know, you have to pay to choose a seat and you don’t get free food. While I admittedly love airplane food (all the palak paneer I can eat on Air India and free yain adom (red wine) on El Al? Yes, please), you know the cost of food is built into a higher priced ticket. For my trip from Boston to Berlin, I booked through and found a very cheap one-way ticket. However, food is not free, and it’s a seven hour flight. So I’ll be bringing tea bags and protein bars and hopefully sleeping through most of it, anyway. Also, on most budget airlines, you also have to pay to check a bag, which brings me to to hack #2…

2. Never check a bag. I know it’s hard. I’m going to be stuffing my backpack down to fit the 55 × 40 × 23 cm | 10 kg carry-on dimensions (roughly 22 by 16 by 9 inches and 22 pounds), but I am determined. It helps to wear your heaviest items on the flight and find clothing and toiletries that can pull double, triple, or quadruple duty (I like a pashmina for a scarf, a folded-up pillow, a blanket, a wrap skirt, a shawl, a head-covering, a sarong for the beach, and a towel in a pinch. I also love coconut oil for virtually every hygiene need.) I learned all my packing light tips from the genius behind I even down-sized my host gifts to fit into 100 ml containers:

A little taste of home that I’m bringing as a meager thank you to my friends and hosts overseas.

There’s a great adage that goes like this:

“When you’re planning a trip, lay all your clothes and all your money out in front of you. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

I’d add that you should bring a rubber sink stopper and some packets of laundry detergent 😉

3. Accommodation. I’m sure this one is really controversial, because everyone has different needs and levels of comfortability. I definitely think that the older I get, the more I gravitate towards private rooms where possible. But my first trip through Europe consisted entirely of budget, dorm-style hostels, and nine times out of ten they were lovely. Occasionally you get roomed with a severe snorer or a smelly alcoholic, but those are rare. You also tend to meet exciting people who are as eager to explore a new city as you and can serve as lovely travel companions. My best tips for surviving dorm-hopping: bring a sleep mask and good ear plugs. Trust me on this. People come in an out at all hours of the night, and while most people are quite polite, you just never know…

By the way, is typically my go-to sight for booking. Though recently I booked a private room through for a stay in Berlin, and it was cheaper than the listing on hostelworld. I suppose it’s always a good idea to check both places. I also just booked my first room through AirBnB for a one-night layover in Beauvais, France. It seems to be a more controllable, paid version of couchsurfing, which can be hit or miss. My host seems lovely and (bonus) I get to practice my French! More on that later.

4. I’m really going to challenge myself to eat simply. I know this is another area where costs can add up, and I tend to think that because I’m on “vacation” I should get the fancy wine or dessert or nice entree. But, nah. I was speaking with a friend recently about her time in Ireland, and she said this:

“I ate a full Irish breakfast every morning, which was included with my Bed and Breakfast. I’d take brown bread and butter from the spread with me for the afternoon. In the evening I’d have a bowl of fresh fish chowder and a Guinness, and I’d be full.”

Of course, everyone has different eating habits, and I’m not suggesting you go without. But personally I would rather fill up on the views and the scenery than the food. We’ll see how this goes!

Picture Highlights So Far, Again!!
Czech goulash with horseradish and potato dumplings. Another great tip is to eat and drink the local fares, which tend to be more affordable. Though this was before I swore off meat and became allergic to bread!

5. Read, and take advice. This is probably the most obvious “hack,” but it’s more so just common sense. Do your research and ask people who have been there, or who are still there. Personally, I find this kind of research so much more enjoyable than airfare hunting; it’s like my reward after all the other booking stuff is done. I just cracked open an old Fodor’s guide and became immersed in the excitement of my first visit to Paris. Paris! Take notes. Allow yourself to be excited. Then go, be flexible, and drink it all in.

My favorite part of the planning process: getting pro-tips from seasoned travelers. And yes, I know this book is six years old. Hey, I’m on a budget, remember?


At the end of the day, I think the most important tip is to relax and go with it. I woke up this morning remembering, “Whoah! I’m going to Europe tomorrow.” And suddenly, everything else seems like gravy.

Happy planning! What are some of your best tips?


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