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How to Travel for Cheap without Sacrificing Adventure

Becky Hart | Aug 8, 2022

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Woman watching the sunrise over the Atlantic.

Maybe you think you don't have time. It could be that you’re lacking motivation to plan a trip. For a lot of wannabe travelers right now, money is tight, keeping you from taking a dream vacation. If that sounds like you, Seven Corners has some tips and destination inspiration that will let you travel on a budget without feeling like you’re sacrificing the adventure of an epic or exotic getaway.

What's the Cheapest Way to Travel?

Getting away without actually going anywhere is a growing — and sad, if you ask us — trend. There are companies you can pay to create fake photos of you in front of the Eiffel Tower. Faux indoor ski resorts are popping up in the desert. All so you can pretend to have a vacation. But there’s no benefit and not much fun in that.

Don’t lie to your friends and skip the fake tan. Instead, enjoy a real escape with these five ways to get the “far away” feeling without breaking the budget for a long trip.

1.  Go someplace totally new.

Mountains in the distance covered in light fog.

Sometimes we get stuck in a routine, even with travel. If you’re used to vacationing in the same place every year, shake things up a bit and go somewhere you’ve never been. You have to hop on a transatlantic flight. Find somewhere relatively close to home that you’ve yet to explore. Even if it’s only a few hours’ drive away, it will still carry a sense of novelty.

2. Focus on slow travel.

Vacations that are jam-packed with activity — excursions and amusement parks and tours all crammed into one week — are not only exhausting but can also get expensive. Adopt a slow travel mentality, where you establish a home base and a leisurely attitude toward movement. Instead of rushing to multiple cities and seeing as many sites as you can, dive deep into exploring just one or two. Experience how the locals live. Read a book at a nature park with a view. You’ll get a richer experience, and chances are that you’ll save some cash simply by not doing as much as humanly possible in a short time.

3. Get the inside scoop.

When we explore hidden gems, we can often bypass the dreaded tourist upcharge, those destinations and activities that cost more merely because they know people will pay for it. Ask locals where they go to eat, relax, and play. They should be able to point you to some authentic places you’d never find on your own and that fit a more modest, everyday budget.

You can find similar tips online. TikTok has become a popular place for people to show off their hometowns and recommend local haunts not listed in the guidebooks.

4. Focus on food and accommodations.

Lavender with a strawberry pastry.

ValuePenguin reported that transportation, food, and lodging take up the vast majority of our travel budget. Lodging makes up about a quarter of the cost for Americans’ domestic trips, and food plus alcohol is another 27%. Transportation — to, from, and around our destination — accounts for almost 45% of travel expenditure. If you want to travel on the cheap, these are good places to start when reducing costs.

  • Choose less expensive transportation options. The cost of gas in 2022 has been climbing, but it’s still generally cheaper than flying. In a survey conducted by Seven Corners this summer, 31% said that, because of inflation, they would alter their vacation plans by choosing more cost-efficient transportation.
  • Take advantage of your frequent flyer miles. Now’s the perfect time to cash in those miles for a reduced-price or free flight.
  • Prepare your own meals. You might want a break from the kitchen on your vacation, but ValuePenguin found that of the money we spend on food during vacation, more than 80% is spent in restaurants. You don’t have to skip the local fare entirely. Just sample it more moderately. You might pack a lunch for your day of sightseeing and enjoy dinner out. Or have lunch at the cute café nearby and prepare a leisurely dinner at your rental in the evening.
  • Cook like a “local.” If you want to fake an exotic vacation without the price tag of flying halfway across the world, try booking an Airbnb near your own home and re-creating an atmosphere of the far-away. One way to do that is to prepare dishes from your dream destination. You might be renting a home in Iowa, but you can roll sushi like you’re in Japan, learn to make French pastries à la Avignon, or attempt curry as if you’d trekked to India.
  • Work for it. Some organizations will let you work for your room and board. Workaway, for example, helps you find places where you can put in a few hours of labor each day in exchange for a free place to stay. Of course, it’s not technically free since you’re paying with your own time and effort, but it can be a great way to save money while meeting locals and other like-minded travelers.

5. Go in the off-season.

We’ve written a lot about the benefits of traveling outside of peak season. By traveling during the fall, rainy, or shoulder seasons when demand is low, you’re more likely to find good deals on hotels and activities.

What Are the Best Budget Travel Destinations?

Another way to travel internationally on a budget is to stay closer to home base and seek out new cultural experiences as if you were abroad. While we don’t recommend photoshopping yourself on the Great Wall of China, we’re fully on board with getting creative in your choice of destinations.

1. Make a destination swap.

Bourbon barrels.

There’s only one Sydney, one Budapest, one Rio de Janeiro. To truly know a place, you have to go there. Until you have the budget and time, though, consider alternative locations that give you plenty of flavor for less money. These are three of our favorites, especially for off-season travel.

  • Montreal, Canada, instead of Paris, France: The province of Quebec is a unique mix of Canadian and French heritage, resulting in its own unique culture. However, Montreal is described as modern, stylish, and cosmopolitan, three words that could also encapsulate Paris. Leaf peeping is a favorite North American fall pastime, and it doesn’t get much better than in Montreal. Just remember that because of its northern location, the trees change colors earlier in the year, so you’ll want to book this trip for September. When you’re done exploring Montreal, don’t forget these five must-see places in Canada.
  • Leavenworth, Washington, instead of Bavaria, Germany: About two hours east of Seattle is an Alpine-style village that dares you to dream of Deutschland. It’s a fun place to visit year-round, but in the fall, you’ll have your choice of events to soak in the local ambiance. The Salmon Festival and free Autumn Leaf Festival take place in September, followed by Oktoberfest and Summit to Sea Filmfest in October. As they say in Leavenworth, “Holy Schnitzel!”
  • St. Augustine, Florida, instead of Madrid, Spain: The Spanish founded this U.S. city in the 1500s, making it the oldest city in the nation. Five-hundred years haven’t dulled the Spanish influence. Located on Florida’s east coast between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach, St. Augustine is steeped in architecture, history, and natural beauty. Exploring it in the fall is extra nice as the summertime heat and humidity have dropped to much more comfortable levels.

2. Immerse yourself in a new neighborhood.

Many large U.S. cities have neighborhoods rich in immigrant culture. Take Chicago's Little Italy or New York City’s Chinatown for example. Visiting can be a budget-friendly way to immerse yourself in a new community and learn about diversity in your own backyard.

  • Filipinotown in Los Angeles, California: All five Asian Pacific Islander ethnic neighborhoods in LA have earned the designation of Preserve America Communities, and civic groups continue to promote cultural heritage tourism to Historic Filipinotown, also known as HiFi. A new gateway was unveiled in May 2022, drawing you into a vibrant community that boasts the United States’ largest Filipino-themed mural — called Gintong Kasaysayan, Gintong Pamana — located in Unidad Park. You won’t want to miss Dollar Hits serving up authentic Filipino street food, either.
  • Little Ethiopia in Washington, D.C.: Search “things to do in” for Little Ethiopia, and it’s all about food tours. While cuisine isn’t the only thing Ethiopian immigrants bring to this growing community, it is one of the most enticing to visitors. Don’t be surprised to dine family style, without utensils, when you go for an authentic experience.
  • Cuban community in Louisville, Kentucky: Kentucky is better known for its bourbon and horses, but Jefferson County, where Louisville is located, has a strong Cuban diaspora. Only counties in Florida, Texas, New Jersey, and Nevada have larger Cuban populations. Explore Louisville's Cuban community, and you’ll find mint juleps become mojitos and bluegrass music becomes the rumba.

3. Find a festival.

Ferris wheel in the fall.

Many cities pay homage to the ancestry that helped found them. Look in your own hometown or somewhere close by to get a taste of somewhere new without the big price tag. Here are some of our favorite fall festivals in the U.S. to spark some inspiration.

  • Oktoberfest Zinzinnati: Cincinnati, Ohio, isn’t the only city in the U.S. to have a German-style festival in the fall. But because of the Queen City’s history — you can take heritage tours in English or German — you will find authentic food and drink to help carry you to destinations farther afield, at least in your mind. Oktoberfest Zinzinnati also has a wiener dog race. It’s not exactly “authentic” to the original German festival, but it is pretty adorable.
  • Día de los Muertos: San Antonio, Texas, has one of the largest Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos celebrations in the U.S. The Mexican holiday honors loved ones who have passed away. In San Antonio, several events in October and November let you see traditional alters celebrating those late loved ones. You’ll also find live music, an arts market with local crafts, and more. It’s kid-friendly, making it one of our favorite fall break destinations for families.
  • Oregon Shakespeare Festival: If you can’t make it to the Globe Theatre in London, how about a shorter trip to Ashland, Oregon, for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival? The play season begins in the summer and runs through early fall. Catch classics like The Tempest as well as innovative productions and musicals. In between shows, explore this town near the Oregon-California border where fall temperatures are mild and ideal for taking in nature’s autumn colors.

How Do You Travel Safely on a Budget?

Seven Corners’ 2022 travel surveys found that inflation and the rising cost of travel were some of the biggest concerns among those planning to hit the road this year. Thirty-nine percent said they expected to spend more on their vacations in the summer, and 26% of those said it was because of the cost of travel.

ValuePenguin reported similar findings on travel costs, with the average international trip costing $3,250 in 2013, an increase from $2,000 in 2005. “Rising costs,” they said, “are just one other reason that you might consider travel insurance to reduce the impact of financial losses on the road.”

No matter where you’re going, or how extravagant your plans, travel insurance can help protect the money you spend for your trip. Visit SevenCorners.com or talk to one of our licensed experts to find the right coverage for you and your budget.

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