Budget-Friendly Entertainment and Exploration

If you’ve been following along, you might have noticed that this has been quite a busy year for me; I’ve made traveling and visiting new places one of my top priorities, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve been to so many places that I’ve always wanted to see, and that’s something I’ll remember forever.

But what’s one of the best parts about all of this? I’ve done this affordably (with a little help from my travel buddy, my husband), while still paying down my student debt and without sacrificing any of my savings. We’re both sticklers about saving money for emergencies and for future life events, but it’s also really important to us to enjoy life in the here-and-now, because you never know what tomorrow could bring. In light of this thinking, we’ve decided to plan a last-minute trip to Chicago, but since this was an unplanned idea, there wasn’t a whole lot of time to set much money aside for entertainment purposes. I set out to figure out how to make an unexpected weekend away work within our budget, and realized I had been following the same type of formula for each new city we explored this year. Check out a few of my go-to tips for enjoying and exploring a new place without spending a fortune.

Look for the best deals. We never book a hotel without checking deal sites first, whether it’s TravelZoo, Groupon, LivingSocial, or even Expedia. You’ll save significantly more money than you would by just booking a hotel regularly. We also make sure to check out all of the locations offered in or near where we plan on going; even if you find a really great, affordable place to stay, you might end up paying more for transportation to all of the places you’d like to get to. Scope out some things you’d like to do or see before settling on a location. *Tip to remember: Before booking through a deal site, remember to check for travel restrictions or blackout dates to make sure the offer is valid during the time you’re looking for.

Read the reviews. TripAdvisor has been my best friend this year! I was pretty used to vacationing in the same places over and over again, so I really didn’t know what to do when we went somewhere brand new. What did we want to see while we’re there? Where were the best places to eat? Is there a chance that I could bump into a celebrity? TripAdvisor provides the top suggestions for these things and more, reviews included, so you can get a better idea of what your options are, and what’s worth making time for. I would say positive reviews have steered us in the right direction 9 times out of 10, but to each their own. It can also a good idea to check with friends who have visited in the past – see what their experience was like, and what they would recommend doing.

Ask the locals. Sometimes you’ll run into more touristy suggestions when searching for things to do in a new place, but that can often be pricey. Ask people that live there what they do for fun. Chances are, if they do it frequently, it probably won’t break the bank, and you might get to experience something that not everyone else does.

Take advantage of free activities. You can almost always find interesting architecture or a park to explore, and those things won’t cost you a dime. Sometimes museums will offer discounts or free admission on certain days of the week, so that’s worth looking into, as well. My favorite thing to stumble across is a local festival or fair. This is a great way to get a taste of the place you’re visiting, and you can probably get away with spending less than $25.

While I certainly wouldn’t suggest taking a trip if it doesn’t fit in your budget, you should remember that there are still plenty of things to do without spending a ton of money. Investigate your options, and you never know what you might find! Do you have any other travel tips to share with us?