Top 10 Budget Travel Myths

Forbes March 18, 2024


Top 10 Budget Travel Myths

Whether it’s a long weekend getaway or a much-deserved multi-week vacation, travel can be an amazing way to relax and reset from the daily grind. Wanting to be able to afford such an adventure can be a struggle. Many myths about budget travel persist as a sort of “received wisdom” passed down from parents, friends, and across the internet.

Some of these myths might actually cost you money. Others might prevent you from considering travel since it’s “too expensive.” So lets take a look at some of the most persistent myths about budget travel, with the hope that you’ll be able to save enough money to afford more travel now and in the future.

Myth 1: All travel is expensive

It’d be great if all travel was free, but unfortunately no one has invented transporters yet. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a common mindset that all travel is expensive. The truth is somewhere in the middle. I’ve lived on $50 a day or less in cities all over the world. It’s possible to get cheaper flights and cheaper accommodations that make a trip anywhere far more affordable than it seems at first. Two weeks just about anywhere for $2,000 all in is certainly a lot more reasonable than the $5,000+ I’ve seen mentioned in endless travel blogs.

Myth 2: Airfare is always expensive

Flights are almost always the single largest cost of any trip. That said, there are ways to get less expensive flights. It might mean changing your schedule or plans slightly, but it could be the difference of hundreds of dollars saved per ticket. Booking months in advance might save you a little, but this is less true than is widely believed.

Myth 3: Skip lagging, or “hidden city” ticketing, is a great way to save money

Skip lagging is the “hack” of buying a ticket to a cheap destination with a layover in an expensive destination, and then just getting off the plane at the layover. For instance, booking an $800 flight to Amsterdam that stops in London instead of a $1,000 ticket direct to London. This only works if you book one-way and have carry-on luggage.

Could this save you money? Yes, but it’s also a great way to get in trouble with the airline. Airlines have sued people and have canceled frequent flier programs for people who do it. It’s not a good idea.

Myth 4: Hotels are the only places to stay

When looking for places to stay, most people only consider hotels (and Air BnB, but we’ll discuss that next). In most places there are a lot more places to stay that can save you lots of money. Homestays, couch surfing, and hostels all offer unique experiences for far less money than hotels. Maybe you’re only looking for a luxurious getaway, in which case a hotel or resort is fine, but if you’re looking to save money there are a lot of fantastic options.

Myth 5: Air BnB (and similar) are cheaper than hotels

Sites/apps like Air BnB, Vrbo, and others promise to save you money by letting you rent from people instead of staying in a hotel. The truth here is less clear. When these services first appeared they often had excellent deals all over the world. Unfortunately, these are all big businesses now. Often you’re not renting from a person, but through someone’s rental company. Tacked-on fees can easily drive the price up well above the cost of a hotel. Is it possible to still find a deal? Yes, but extensive research and price comparisons are vital.

Myth 6: Hostels are only for young adults (or they’re gross, unsafe, whatever)

Hostels, at least to most Americans, are wildly misunderstood. They’re a fantastic way to save money on accommodations all over the world. Are there bad hostels? Sure, but there are bad hotels and AirBnBs too. There are review sites like that help you get an idea about where you’re staying. Most hostels are for anyone over 18 and many have private rooms that are cheaper than hotels. I’ve stayed in hostels all over the world and had an amazing time as well as meeting incredible and fascinating fellow travelers people.

Myth 7: “Points” cards save you money

Airline and hotel reward cards are everywhere, and all promise to help you pay for your next vacation. Theoretically, this is accurate. It is possible to get enough use out of these cards’ perks to justify their annual fees. The problem is, for most people that only travel once a year or so, they’re paying far more for the fees than the card’s benefits are worth. That’s why banks (and airlines and hotels) love these cards. They’re making more in fees than your perks cost them.

Myth 8: Paying in your home currency will save you money

When purchasing an item or service while traveling you’ll often get a choice to pay in the local currency or convert it right then to your home currency. This is not a scam per se but it is VERY close. I wrote about this for Forbes many years ago and it’s still a huge issue. The problem is when you choose your home currency you’re charged a fee and given the worst possible exchange rate. The only time you’re better off paying in your home currency is if your credit card charges you foreign transaction fees. Most cards don’t, so this is worth checking before you go.

In other words, for most people, pay in the local currency.

Myth 9: Cash is king

I rarely travel with cash. Never more than the equivalent of $50 USD. Depending where you’re going, you might not need it. That said, some countries and services are still cash based. Regardless, it’s unwise and unsafe to carry tons of your home currency to convert at your destination. You’re better off finding a local bank and using an ATM, even if there’s a fee. It’s far safer than having hundreds of dollars on you (or in your luggage). Certain debit cards even reimburse you for ATM fees, so you can use any machine in the world for free.

Myth 10: There’s a “best” time to travel

Nope. The best time to travel is when you have the time… and the money of course (gratuitous plug for my book!). While some locations are better at certain times than others, there’s a fantastic adventure to be had whenever you have the free time.

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