10 Wallet-Friendly Tips for Traveling in Your 20s

There’s nothing better than taking a few weeks off work for a vacation, but what starts as a fun adventure can quickly turn into an all-out spending spree. Forbes reported that an American Express release found the average American spent $1,145 on vacation expenses during the summer of 2013, and that’s unthinkable for 20-somethings with tiny budgets. Everything from the food you eat to the hotel you choose can have a huge impact on your wallet, and it’s easy to rack up tons of added fees if you aren’t careful.

But those worries shouldn’t keep you from jetting off to some awesome locales — after all, there’s no better time than your 20s to get out and see the world. With a little bit of planning and some easy strategies, sticking to a shoestring budget is completely possible.

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1. Travel light

It might sound difficult, but keeping your luggage as minimal as possible is the way to go. That means think carry-ons and skip checking one, or more, bags. Airlines charge fees for each checked bag, and the prices go up for each additional piece of luggage. Things get even worse for overweight bags, which can run you $75.

Worried about having enough clothes for a trip that’ll last a couple of weeks? Don’t be. Many hotels offer free or inexpensive washers and dryers so you can do your laundry while away. It also means you won’t be left with a huge pile of stinky clothes halfway through. About has a number of tips to help you out.

If you absolutely must check a bag, just be sure to pick something modestly sized. It’s easier to manage, and leaving a little bit of extra space means there will be room for souvenirs later on.

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2. Take the long route

Getting out of work on Friday afternoon before heading out of town is a complete rush, and it’s normal to want to get to that final destination now. Instead of going with the fastest option, consider connecting flights with layovers.

There are also some more unexpected ways to save on airfare. The Wall Street Journal found that purchasing two tickets can actually be less expensive than one. The article goes on to say “doing it right can save hundreds of dollars a ticket.” That extra seat can simply go unused, but why not invite a friend to come along? Additionally, one clever traveler told Lifehacker he books flights past his final destination as a way to save money. But be aware this method doesn’t always pay off.

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3. Use ATMs sparingly

Keeping cash on hand is always a good idea when traveling, since you never know when you’ll stumble upon a restaurant or shop that doesn’t accept credit cards. While stopping periodically at ATMs is a pretty standard practice, consider making larger withdrawals less frequently when on vacation. Traveling, especially abroad, means that you’ll likely have to use an out-of-network machine instead of one affiliated with your bank or lender. Those fees are getting more expensive, according to USA Today. Each withdrawal will set you back at least a few bucks, so keep the transactions to a minimum.

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4. Take public transportation

Taking cabs is pretty tempting when traveling. There’s something kind of glamorous about having someone drive you exactly to your final destination. Unfortunately, it’ll also cost you. It’s not uncommon for a mid-length ride to cost somewhere between $20 and $30 in the U.S., according to Taxi Fare Finder.

Taking the subway, bus, or train is always a better option. And consider purchasing multiday passes to save even more.

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5. Or take a stroll

Many restaurants, museums, parks and other attractions are closely clustered in urban cities. When it comes to transportation, there’s no better way to save money than by walking. It’s free and also a great way to get to know your way around.

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6. Try the local cuisine

Using review websites and apps is a great way to find good restaurants, especially when traveling somewhere unfamiliar. They’re not always the most reliable way to go, though. The L.A. Times found that Yelp isn’t always the best tool. Star ratings vary based on what individuals value the most, and that’s different for every person. A great, inexpensive restaurant might score low because they don’t offer parking, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t have a car.

Do some research ahead of time to scope out restaurants and, more importantly, ask locals for their tips. It’s pretty likely that Italians will have the best advice about places to eat in Italy. Budget Travel uses this method to score some great finds as part of its Eat Your Way Across Italy series.

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7. Eat up in the morning

Breakfast is definitely the most important meal of the day when on vacation. It’ll give you energy to tackle as much as possible, but it can also be the best way to keep food costs down. Reader’s Digest lists hotels that offer complimentary breakfast as part of your stay.

Prefer to stay in locally owned places? Just check the website or call to ask.

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8. Consider alternative accommodations

Booking a hotel is a no-brainer when traveling, but it can add up quickly. Travel + Leisure found that the average nightly rate is a staggering $244 in New York, and even a more modest $119 in Chicago is still pretty expensive. Consider staying in a hostel to save some serious dough. If you’re a people person, it could be the best way to connect with fellow travelers. Just remember that there are downsides, as this Huffington Post piece points out.

Other options to consider include staying in a neighboring town or connecting with different travel networks, such as Couchsurfing.

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9. Avoid tourist souvenir shops

This almost goes without saying, but avoid vendors outside of large tourist destinations. No friend is going to want a beaded bracelet that cost $20.

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10. Surf the Web at cafés

Using the Internet is an absolute necessity for most folks in their 20s, who spend about 18 hours a day consuming media, according to Entrepreneur. Not all hotels offer free Internet, and paying by the minute is a surefire way to waste money.

Make use of local cafés and coffee shops that offer free Wi-Fi, and enjoy a nice cup of coffee while you surf the Web.

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