A Guide to Smart and Effective Budget Travel

Travel is enlightening, exciting, and eye-opening. While traveling the world has the potential to change your life, it can also be seen as a luxury. Many struggle to overcome the two hurdles preventing them from seeing new cities and countries: time and money.

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While we can’t help you master time travel, we can provide budget travel tips to alleviate your financial concerns when it comes to seeing the world. Through teaching you about the subtle art of smart budgeting, this guide will demonstrate how to simplify your travel needs to make financing your trip more accessible.

Ready to slash costs and make lifelong memories without draining your savings account? Let’s dive right in!

Why Budget Your Travel?

The purpose of a budget is to understand how much money you can realistically spend without sacrificing other financial goals. You’ll want to maintain enough savings for emergencies or other big purchases such as a house, a new computer, or more travel.

In other words, it’s “a plan you write down to decide how you will spend your money each month.”1 For our purposes, a travel budget is a plan you design to decide how much you can spend on each day of your trip.

If you’re going on an extended, months-long trip, you might be able to break your budget into weekly or even monthly spending limits, but for many travelers, it makes more sense to construct a daily budget for managing expenses. 

The Importance of a Travel Budget

You may wonder why we even budget travel. Realistically, aren’t many of the trips we save up for considered once-in-a-lifetime opportunities? Shouldn’t we spend freely for the best time possible, if it’s our only chance?

A cost-conscious budget traveler might want to know how to travel without maxing out their credit card for a number of reasons. First, traveling on a budget can relieve financial anxieties and the pressure of constantly checking your bank account balance while abroad. If you have a plan in mind for how much you want to spend ahead of time, you can spend confidently without second-guessing your financial decisions.

Second, traveling on a budget affords you more opportunities to travel in the future. For any natural adventurers, that’s a tradeoff they’re willing to make. 

For example, let’s say you have two trips planned for next year: a week-long vacation in New Zealand and your best friend’s wedding in Costa Rica. Establishing a smart travel budget can ensure you’re comfortable making both trips and will prevent you from overspending on one and missing the other.

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Travel Budget Building Blocks: Start With the Essentials

Budgeting can be complicated, especially if you aren’t used to doing it in other areas of your life. However, once you’ve mastered the art of travel budgeting, you can apply the same principles to budgeting your daily or weekly spending for improved future finances.

Budgeting for travel starts with where you want to go. A trip to Chiang Mai, for example, would likely be less expensive than a vacation in London, simply due to the generally lower costs of living in Southeast Asia compared to Western countries like the United Kingdom.

From there, you can figure out the most essential and unavoidable costs. which, for most travelers, involves transportation and lodging. Unless you can somehow fly for free or have a family member or friend you can stay with, there’s usually no avoiding these costs. Therefore, we start by calculating transportation and hotel, hostel, or rental property.

Sometimes, you can quickly tell if a trip is within budget based on the airfare or accommodation costs alone. As a general rule, international airfare is going to be significantly more expensive than flying domestically. Exploring options with budget airlines for a cheap flight can significantly lower your overall travel cost, making destinations more accessible regardless of their distance.

However, sometimes a more expensive flight is balanced out by more affordable accommodations. While international travel may be pricier, you can often find deals on hotels or hostels that result in cheaper prices than a typical vacation spent in the United States.

What Does the Average Traveler Spend on Accommodations and Transportation?

According to a recent review by Forbes Advisor, the average cost of an economy flight round-trip within the U.S. was $427.20 last year.2

For a mid-range hotel, the average daily rate last year was $167.16.2 When you draft your budget, compare the rates you find online from different vendors to ensure you secure the best deal and save as much money as possible for our following budget categories: food, activities, and shopping.

How to Budget Food, Activities, and Shopping While Traveling

With your transportation and accommodation costs calculated, think about your overall budget for the entire trip. When you subtract the airfare and hotel costs from your total budget, you can try dividing the remainder by the total amount of days you’ll be traveling. Do you have a comfortable amount of funds to spend per day?

The primary three considerations, in order of importance, are food, activities, and shopping. Here are some select travel tips to help you budget all three responsibly:

  • Food – At a minimum, you need to eat to survive, so food is an unavoidable spend while traveling. More realistically, food will fuel your exploration so you can sightsee comfortably on a full stomach, plus, trying new local foods is one of the joys of travel. However, be realistic about how much you can afford to spend on daily food—not every meal has to be Michelin Star-worthy.  Seeking out cheap places to eat, like local markets or street food vendors, can significantly reduce your daily food expenses without compromising on taste or experience.

Buying some of your food from the local grocery store and preparing it yourself may be a more cost-effective alternative to dining out. If you plan to seriously slash expenses in the food category by cooking regularly, you’ll want to look at rental homes and hostels with kitchen spaces instead of most hotels.

  • Activities – Popular tourist attractions often come with hefty price tags, especially if you’re traveling during a holiday or local event. To mitigate your spending on activities, it may help to budget for a few select experiences that are most important to you rather than trying to visit every attraction in the city. There are plenty of free alternatives, such as museums, walking tours, and public parks. This way, you can enjoy the laidback spots the locals frequent, too.
  • Shopping – Check the weather, consider your itinerary, and pack accordingly to avoid last-minute expenses like a new raincoat, a bathing suit, or hiking boots. To save money on souvenirs, consider buying unique items from local craftspeople rather than the gift shop at the big tourist attraction. Frequently, these gifts are more special and more affordable than the tourist-targeting stores.

Determining ahead of time how many activities you want to partake in, how many people you want to buy souvenirs for, and how much you want to spend on food per day will save you headaches and stress amid your travels.

Additional Budget Considerations

Now that you’re plotting how to allot each dollar on your trip, here are some final words of wisdom to guide you as you devise and edit your ultimate travel budget.

  • Leave room for spontaneity – No matter how elaborate your itinerary is, things won’t always go entirely to plan. But that’s a good thing. Sometimes, the best memories we make while traveling are from the people we meet and the places they introduce us to. To that end, you may find it more helpful to see your travel budget as a guide rather than the law and keep yourself open to deviating from it—within reason.
  • Have an emergency planSome surprises are welcome; others, not so much. Anything can happen while traveling abroad or domestically, and difficult situations can be more stressful while traveling than when we’re in our comfort zones. Set aside a travel emergency fund to relieve stress and provide peace of mind throughout your trip, even if nothing goes wrong.
  • Purchase travel insurance – While this does add to your total trip cost, it can also save you from blowing your budget in the event of a missed flight, lost baggage, or medical expense. Based on your itinerary and needs, check out travel insurance policies that cover the most common possible incidents.

Smart budgeters consider every possibility while traveling and build a flexible budget to meet those expectations. That said, there are plenty of opportunities to save money in the travel planning process.

Smart Travel Budgeting: Tips to Save

According to a recent analysis, travel prices have risen as high as 12% above their pre-pandemic levels3. While airline and hotel prices can fluctuate, we don’t always have the luxury to pause our plans or wait months for another window of travel opportunity to open up. Fortunately, these travel budgeting hacks can save money despite rising prices:

  • Travel during the offseason – If you don’t mind cooler weather, traveling during a hot spot’s “cold” season can yield cheaper hotel rates, thinner crowds, and more deals on local attractions. Flexibility on which dates you fly can also save you hundreds of dollars on airfare costs—mid-week, rather than Friday night or Saturday morning, for example.
  • Utilize public transportation – Instead of constantly Ubering or renting a car, it might be more financially friendly to familiarize yourself with the local public transportation system. Better yet, walking whenever you can is a great way to immerse yourself in the small, easily missable details of a travel destination while getting great exercise.
  • Equip your phone with an eSIM international plan – Phone bills can quickly rack up while traveling abroad thanks to hefty roaming fees. An affordable international phone plan is easy to install directly onto your phone, saving you from hunting down a new SIM card or phone to travel with.

If you’re all about saving as much as you can while traveling, Maya Mobile has an affordable, secure, and convenient travel plan to keep your phone bills low during travel.

Maya Mobile: Budget-Friendly Convenience for the International Traveler

Don’t spend unnecessary funds on a new phone or sky-high roaming fees when you can purchase a travel eSIM from Maya Mobile. With prepaid and unlimited plans to fit your travel budget, Maya Mobile’s eSIMs are quickly and virtually installed, saving you time and money that you could put toward your other travel expenses.

Check out how Maya Mobile’s eSIMs work and the impressive list of 194 covered locations before you budget your next big trip.


  1. Consumer.gov. Making a Budget. https://consumer.gov/managing-your-money/making-budget
  2. Forbes Advisor. Average Cost Of Travel Statistics For 2023. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/credit-cards/travel-rewards/average-travel-vacation-costs/
  3. Nerdwallet. Travel Inflation Report: February 2024. https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/travel/travel-price-tracker