I love to travel, but the sad truth is that traveling can often be costly, no matter how much time you spend trying to do it as inexpensively as possible. It takes a lot of trial and error (including many costly mistakes), but I’ve learned that you can travel very nicely on a budget without having to stay in hostels or camp out in someone’s backyard to do so. I’m not made of money, therefore when I travel it usually takes most of my carefully saved earnings to do it and I have little left for wasting during my trips. However, with that caveat out of the way, I’m here to tell you that not only can you travel on a budget, you can do it without sacrificing the enjoyable things. There are little ways to save and there are big ways to save. I won’t bother telling you how to shop for cheap airfare (many have already done that, and very well) but I will share my frustrations and successes with hotels, restaurants, and packable items that are both nobby and within my budget
First, the items that will always travel with me. Please note that I do not believe in taking multiple bags on a trip. It is a money-waster unless you plan on being somewhere longer than a month. I take one carry-on and one personal bag wherever I go. You can easily pack enough into one bag if you know how. The key is in using items that serve multiple purposes. Clothing, toiletries, shoes – all must be usable and beneficial to your trip. (Quick side note: I tend to be an over-zealous packer and forcing myself to use only one bag keeps me focused and purposeful with my packing)
1. This water bottle. I bought it prior to a 2 week trip to Europe last year and now I wonder how I survived before I owned it. Not only has it saved me from having to purchase bottled water (it costs less than $10 and I saved at least $50 on my trip, and probably more than that because I.drink.lots.of.water), but it is helpful to have the extra hydration available during long flights. (Reality truth: because when you sit in coach, like I do, you have to wait an hour before the drink cart comes. Having water handy is helpful during the wait.)
2. A bar of soap. I like this one from J. Crew, but this L’Occitane one is lovely. Soft and gentle with a mild and pleasant scent, it is perfect for tossing into your toiletries bag. Bar soap is my friend because it’s one less liquid to pack and will do double duty on face and body.
3. This shave cream in a travel size (available at Target) or these shave cream sheets. Both stretch far and again, are one less liquid to pack into that little bag. Don’t forget, conditioner is also an all-purpose liquid. It can serve as shampoo and shave cream in addition to its more common usage.
4. Flat shoes. Or shoes that pack flat. Either way, you need to save space and look good. I have found that these J.Crew sandals are not only durable, but beautiful on the feet. Of course, I scored mine for less than $20. Also, Soludos espadrilles are amazing. I bought two different pairs last summer from Madewell (again, both on sale). I wore them to a Massachusetts beach last Fourth of July and also all over Europe last summer. They held up well and I never once got a blister. (Oh, and they look cute.) You can also benefit from the ugly shoes trend that is surging around the world. Travel with your Birkenstocks and you’ve never looked so fashionable and comfortable all at once. Score!
5. A summer scarf. Or two. Or four. They take up very little space in a bag and can add volumes of interest to an outfit. They also double up as scarves on chilly summer evenings or work as an extra layer of warmth on an airplane. I live by scarves. Don’t underestimate their usefulness! You can find inexpensive, attractive scarves anywhere.
6. Invest in a good suitcase. Mine is a Victorinox carry-on (similar one here) that was a hand-me-down from my sister, who had purchased it used on eBay and after a couple of uses decided to buy a newer bag. I took it off her hands and have never looked back. There is no overhead bin that will not hold it. It has pockets galore, inside and out, interior straps (which I never use, but hey, it’s a cool feature) and is so easy to wheel around. It is collapsible, expandable, durable. It has lasted for a gazillion years, passed through multiple owners, and still looks good and is wheeling strong. I don’t always recommend buying a brand name for the sake of having a certain brand, but in certain cases you get what you pay for. Cheap luggage will not hold up as well and you’ll just end up replacing it or being dissatisfied with it. Believe me, I know from experience. Splurge with the knowledge that with the right bag, you’ll never have to buy another one again. On the upside, you don’t have to pay full price. Ebay or places like TJ Maxx and Marshalls, or department store mega sales and outlets can provide you with a quality bag for less.
7. Pack a good reusable bag. One that folds flat and is lightweight, but durable enough so that you can use it to carry your items as you shop, or that can be turned into another bag should you buy too much while on your trip (um, yes, I know this from experience). This prevents the need to purchase an extra bag while on your trip. I took a collapsible, lightweight backpack to Europe last summer. It came in handy when I bought too many books and had to combine them with my purse in the backpack in order to stay within my two bag limit on the flights there.
If you are wondering how to fit all this and your clothing into one carry-on, here is the formula I use when traveling: take the days you’ll be gone and divide by two. That’s how many outfits you will need. Then, with that number, try to pick as many double-duty pieces as possible in order to keep your packing at a minimum. T-shirts that can be worn with a skirt or jeans. A simple black dress that can be worn when dining someplace nice, or paired with flip-flops when visiting museums. Be creative! And remember to save space for your amazing budget finds that you no-doubt will acquire while on your trip.
Next time: Sleeping and eating on a budget as you travel…