I didn’t start traveling until I was about 30 years old, so I never experienced the gap year/party hostel mode of travel. But I have always been a budget traveler, so I’ve had to learn how to balance budget strategies with making decisions that felt age and comfort-appropriate. I don’t think budget and comfort are mutually exclusive concepts, but I do think you have to know the tips and tricks that will give you a happy medium while on the road.
Read on to find out my best tips to travel on a budget as a “grown-up.”
There are so many ways to find great deals on flights.
Diving into the world of frequent flyer miles can be a great way to travel very cheaply and very comfortably. In fact, many point junkies end up flying first or business class while only spending a few dollars on taxes and fees.
Learning how to accumulate and use airline miles is a bit like learning a new language, so I highly recommend you start with a few of the best blogs out there. Travis from Extra Pack of Peanuts gives, in my opinion, the clearest and easiest explanations in blog and podcast format. Other great points blogs include The Points Guy, Million Mile Secrets, and Travel is Free.
The Flight Deal posts about 10 flight deals every day from major US cities. All the flights are great prices, and some are extremely cheap. They also post mistake fares (when an airline accidentally prices a flight too low), so you can sometimes find unheard of prices. Subscribe to the email, and check the website throughout the day to catch a mistake fare before it gets taken down.
The Ita Matrix is a great way to search for the best fares, as it aggregates all major airlines. It’s also a great resource to check prices over a month period, with variable lengths of stay (or example, you can check for a trip length of 5-7 nights, over the whole month of May, to see what dates and what length of time will give you the best deal).
Google Flights Explore is a great tool if you’re not sure where you’d like to go yet. You can look over a month’s period in various regions and countries to see where you can find the best deals.
I think accommodation is the most important factor to get right as a grown-up budget traveler. If you end up in a party hostel, you’ll most likely feel alienated, and be miserable when the noise keeps you up all night. Be sure to put time into finding a place where you will be comfortable and happy, while still staying within budget.
Airbnb is a great resource for the mature traveler. Staying in an apartment with all the amenities that come with it (kitchen, living room, etc) is probably the best case scenario for comfort. Choose the “entire apartment” option if you prefer to have all areas of the apartment to yourself.
Yes these do exist, I’ve stayed in them! Lots of well designed, “boutique hostels” are popping up around the world. And there are many other hostels that are just nice, simple, family-run operations.
So how do you find them? Reviews! I rely on Tripadvisor to weed out places that aren’t for me. Their reviews are the most up-to-date of any platform, so you should be able to tell the atmosphere and state of cleanliness from the most recent postings. Look for information about the common areas and the social nature of the hostel. Being social can be great, but hostels that run bar specials with jello shots probably won’t have a tranquil atmosphere. Also, look for information about the cleanliness of the rooms, the bathrooms, etc..
Lastly, look through the Tripadvisor photos, especially those added by guests. You should quickly be able to tell if the atmosphere and demographic is up your alley.
Another fantastic and comfortable way for “grown-ups” to travel cheaply is via housesitting. Housesitting is an exchange between homeowners who need care for their home and/or pets while they are away, and sitters who stay in the home free of charge in exchange for their services.
Many homeowners who look for sitters have great, comfortable homes with lots of amenities. If you’re able to find a housesit that matches your available dates and preferred location – this can be an amazing option. Just keep in mind that there is responsibility involved here – if you want to travel quickly, or be away from the home for a lot of the day, this might not be for you.
Check out my post on how to get started housesitting for more info!
Similar to accommodation, you don’t want to book a tour that is full of 22 year olds who are more interested in drinking beer, than learning about the culture. Where you book the tour is important.
Don’t Book a Tour Through a Party Hostel
Yes they may have great prices, but they will most likely have many of their guests on the tour.
Book Through a Budget Hotel or Family Run Hostel
You should be able to find great prices, with a mix of different age groups and demographics on a tour booked through a budget hotel or family run hostel.
Look Up Local Tour Companies Online
You can see information about a tour company’s target audience on their “About” page.
You can also check out photos on their Tripadvisor page to see what age groups are usually on their tours. This will give you a good feel for a tour company’s main demographic.
My best advice for eating great and affordable food while traveling is to go where the locals eat! Some of the best hotspots to find traditional food or budget friendly meals are:
- Near or inside local markets
- Outside bus or transit stations
- Around commercial hubs
- Outside of big office buildings
So how do you meet other travelers if you’re not staying in an ultra-social hostel?
Your hotel or hostel doesn’t have to be a party hostel to allow you to meet others. Most travelers are happy to share stories and meet others. Spend some time in the common areas of your hotel or hostel and strike up a conversation.
If you’re staying in an Airbnb, your host might be a great way for you to get to know the local culture and community. Consider asking them to get a coffee or a drink during your stay.
Meetup is a great online resource for meeting people all over the world. When we travel and want to make some new friends, we just check out the local groups on Meetup and see if we find something that sounds interesting. There are usually lots of events – everything from taking a hike outside the city, to bar crawls, to language exchanges.
If you take any organized tours, strike up a conversation with your fellow travelers. You might find a new friend! You can celebrate the end of a fun day with a dinner or drink together on the town.
What better way to find out about great travel tips than from travel experts! Besides the Travel Beyond Excuse blog, there are many other great travel blogs run by mature adults (i.e. not college aged backpackers).
Here are a few of my favorites:
Hecktic Travels – run by Dalene & Pete Heck
The Cheapest Destinations Blog – run by Tim Leffel
The Professional Hobo – run by Nora Dunn
Zero to Travel – run by Jason Moore
Brooklyn Tropicali – run by me!
Don’t be afraid of budget travel if you’re past the “gap year” travel age. There are so many great opportunities to see the world on a shoestring, while using comfortable and age appropriate strategies!