How to travel on a budget?

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Answered by: Gabriela, An Expert in the Travel - How to Be a Budget Traveler Category
I sat on the balcony of my 5-star-priced hotel gazing upon the horizon and taking in the beauty of the caribbean. Water bluer than the sky, crisp and salty wisps of fresh air filling my lungs, and the constant singing of pelicans adorning the soothing voice of the crashing waves. It was a moment of zen unlike anything I had experienced for ages. Then suddenly, like a black cloud plowing through a sunny day, a disturbing voice echoed in my mind.

"This is going to take a while to pay off."

I swallowed back the lump of debt in my throat and tried to focus instead on the sea foam below. This was going to be a long vacation.

Fast forward a year and I did finally pay that vacation off. Yes, it was magical, but the months I spent paying it off really took away from the magic of that one week in paradise. However, the months of work didn't make me kick my newly acquired habit. I was officially addicted to the white sandy beaches. I decided that I would do things differently and figure out a way to travel on a budget. So, I sat in front of my computer, popped my fingers, stretched my neck, and dove right into the abyss, otherwise known as Google.

First I wrote down all the expenses I had during my trip: Airfare, hotel, food, transportation, and excursions.

Airfare was simple. During my first vacation I decided to go in December which was basically like begging to pay double for my flights. The summer months showed much lower rates, and in many cases they were literally half the price.. I was so focused on spending Christmas abroad that I accepted paying hundreds more for not only airfare but everything else as well. Armed with this new knowledge and desire to save, I chose a week during summer.

What else could save me hundreds of dollars, I wandered. Aha! Not staying in hotels, period. I found so many sites with much cheaper accommodations that it felt almost criminal I hadn't looked through them before. I decided to go with Airbnb. Although, I loved the ocean-facing balcony that my past hotel boasted, I only enjoyed it on first day upon arrival. I was barely in the hotel room the rest of my trip. With that in mind, I lowered my standards and chose one of the cheaper places that met my needs and was centrally located. My eyes popped when I saw the nightly price was less than half of what my hotel room had cost. And to top it off, the tiny little condo came equipped with a kitchen.

Indulging in ten dollar frozen drinks and even more expensive entrees three times a day added up faster than you can say Piña Colada. I knew something had to give this time around. That's why I decided on a place with a kitchen. Instead of eating out 3 times a day I could eat out as little as I wanted since I could even pack my own lunches. I made a meal plan and grocery list for the week and calculated savings of almost $1000 in food and booze alone. Truly wallet-life-changing.

What else was wallet-life-changing? Renting a car. In the past I had forgone this option because it seemed rather expensive. I added up the amount of money I spent on taxis and came to the conclusion that it would have been much cheaper to rent a car. I found so many great deals online and was converted to car-renting immediately. This is ideal if the place you are traveling to has no public transportation. If they do, then you could save even more!

Finally, what is a vacation without something fun to do? I went on forums and reached out to some of the locals and expats living on island. They were an invaluable source of advice and information. I got the names and contact info of family-owned and operated businesses who could take me on adventures that were much cheaper than the big name companies but just as amazing. Sometimes it's as easy as simply connecting with locals.

After all my research was done I booked everything and marked my calendar. When the date finally came I set off on my adventure and despite not going out to eat every meal, forgoing a fancy hotel, and not going during the holidays, I had even more fun than I did during my first stay and got to know the island much more intimately. I have since visited dozens of other islands and have not once broken the bank.

It truly is easy to travel on a budget. All it takes is some flexibility, research, and a sense of adventure!

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