Budget Travel Resources and Equipment
Thanks to my years of traveling the world and constantly learning valuable new lessons, I’ve finally been able to put together this list of the best budget travel resources, guides, and equipment that have helped me out. This list isn’t only about being able to stick to your travel budget, but a wide variety of resources that I’ve found invaluable in my journeys. Whether it’s been to help find discount travel deals, save time on the road, or just travel smarter through tips and travel hacks, these resources and products have completely changed my traveling life. I use all of these companies and equipment regularly, and I hope that these budget travel resources can help you as much as they’ve helped me!
Disclosure: Some (not all) of the links here are affiliate links, meaning I will get a commission if you purchase the products they link to at no additional cost to you. The products listed are all ones I actually use, and I only suggest products that I believe in and think my readers will find helpful.
How To Find Cheap Flights
Google Flights is always my first stop when shopping for airfare. They’re hands down the most feature rich and user friendly flight search engine around. The map view is fantastic for finding deals if you don’t have a location in mind, and they also give suggestions on different dates to help you save money.
One of my favorite flight search engines, Skyscanner has a great interface with map and calendar views like Google. They also feature open ended searches to everywhere if you’re just browsing for inspiration.Their App is also super easy to use and holds a top spot on my phone’s travel app section.
Although it doesn’t feature every airline out there, I still always run a scan through Kayak when I’m looking for flights just in case it finds something that the other sites miss. I’ve always found their site very intuitive with comprehensive filtering on their searches and it was one of my first flight searching loves.
My Favorite Travel Accommodation Resources
One of my go-to favorites. They have an incredibly thorough list of properties and an easy to use search engine. Most accommodations on their site also have TONS of photos so you can get a good idea of what you’re getting into, and a map view to give a great idea of where everything is located. Had it not been for them, I would never have found my favorite hotel of all time! They also do more than just hotels, you can find vacation rentals, B&Bs, hostels, and just about anything you could want through them! I honestly can’t say enough great stuff about Booking.com.
Although it should be taken with a grain of salt at times, Tripadvisor has led me to so many incredible travel experiences and wonderful places to stay that I would be remiss to not recommend it. Like it or not, they’ve changed the way most people travel and there isn’t a more comprehensive travel site out there. I find Tripadvisor particularly useful for finding great local restaurants and have also booked many an accommodation through them. When it comes to discovering activities, however, the blogs are still where it’s at!
Agoda is basically the Booking.com of Asian countries, and they’ve been expanding to cover more ground! I really like how easy to use their site is and they served me extremely well on my trip through China. I highly recommend them for any accommodation booking in Asia, and plan to use them for some upcoming trips as well.
Hostelworld is the best website out there to search for accommodation in (…wait for it…) hostels. I don’t stay in that many hostels any more, but there’s something amazing about the community that you meet there (not to mention saving some serious money!). Staying at hostels doesn’t mean you have to bunk with other people, either; many of them have gorgeous private rooms as well. If it’s good enough for my boy Fiddy, then it’s safe to say they’ve got some nice digs.
You can’t even mention accommodation anymore without bringing up Airbnb. If you’re traveling in a group, it’s practically mandatory. “But I’m just a single traveler, I don’t need a whole house,” you say? Not only can you also find shared classic B&Bs, but in some destinations it’s cheaper to rent a whole Airbnb house or apartment than it is to stay at a hotel! I always do as much price comparison as possible for any accommodation and Airbnb is an important part of that process.
Priceline holds a special spot in my heart as the birthplace of my travel hacking. Although their search engine isn’t as nice as some of the other places I’ve listed, it’s still hard to beat their “name your own price” feature for travel in the USA. I have saved hundreds of dollars over the years on hotels and especially rental cars with this feature. Do your research at www.betterbidding.com and use your newfound, powerful knowledge to save TONS of money!
Travel Planning Resources
Travel Insurance can be complicated and is a whole post on its own, but whenever I take a trip with any degree of risk to it I use World Nomads for my travel insurance. They allow you to tailor your policy to your exact needs and have the most reasonable prices I’ve found anywhere. I used them when I traveled to Antarctica (you don’t want to get saddled with a $1m airlift if you can help it!) and China, and have known more than one traveler who has gotten themselves out of deep trouble thanks to World Nomads!
I typically prefer to travel on my own terms, but some places require guidance. Trips on G Adventures are authentic and responsible, and not afraid to provide some seriously adventurous experiences! When I was Gorilla Trekking in Uganda I met up with a group of people on this bonkers 40 day trip, and it completely changed my perception of guided tours! Good friends of mine have also gone hang gliding in Nepal and camel trekking in Jordan through them!
Auto Europe is a great one-stop shop to compare prices and book rental cars all across Europe and most of the rest of the world. They were able to find me the best rate on my Isle of Skye road trip and it wasn’t a problem to pick up at one airport and drop off at another! The only other competition I could recommend is doing price research and naming your own price via Priceline, although that doesn’t work out every time.
CityPass is the perfect way to get quick and easy access to all of the biggest attractions in major cities for SERIOUS discounts (up to 50%!). If you’re heading to a major city and planning to see the top sights there, it would be silly not to see what Citypass has to offer first!
This is THE BEST train travel website in the world. Mark is a career railwayman who provides comprehensive guides to train travel all over the world. His instructions are easy to follow and will have you train traveling like a pro with almost no effort. His guides have saved me so much time and stress in my travels to China and all over Europe. If I’m planning to set foot on any train while I’m abroad, I always consult this site first. A mandatory bookmark in any traveler’s web browser.
Seat Guru is the best way to plan for a comfortable flight. They provide detailed maps for every flight, complete with color-coded guides on where to sit and, more importantly, where not to sit. Had I consulted Seat Guru before my 13.5 hour flight to Beijing, I probably wouldn’t have been stuck with a non-reclining seat for that painfully long flight.
Project Visa is one of the best travel resources for planning your visa requirements to any destination, no matter what country you are a resident of. They include links to applications where available and the site is super easy to navigate. If you’re a citizen of the United States, it’s also worth checking the US Dept of State Visa pages to double check the requirements. If it were around earlier, Project Visa would have saved college-aged Tim a major headache when he arrived in Australia without realizing they required a visa!
This is a great tool for anyone looking to either get discounts on planned trips or be on the lookout for a last minute spontaneous getaway. You can also sign up for daily email alerts with discounted destinations from the airport of your choice. Although Google Flights has made Airfare Watchdog less relevant, I still enjoy the email alerts to stay on top of airfare pricing and get ideas for destinations.
Travel Hacking Resources
Alright, now we’re talking! Travel hacking is one of my favorite subjects and it has completely changed the way I have traveled over the last several years. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of travel hacking resources out there while getting started, but here are the ones I use the most along with my favorite travel reward cards.
This is the first place anybody should start if they’re interested in travel hacking. Their blog keeps readers up to date on industry news and their forums in particular are a GOLDMINE of information about how to earn miles and redeem them for travel. The shorthand language can take some time to get used to but it’s such a ridiculously valuable resource that I consider it mandatory reading for anyone even considering travel hacking.
Award Hacker is my favorite place to visit when evaluating points redemptions. You can search any route and it will spit out an easy to digest guide of which types of points offer the best redemptions and what points transfer to others. Points redemption can be an incredibly complex topic but Award Hacker is a spectacularly good starting point to simplify the redemption process.
Forget The Points Guy, DoC is my favorite travel hacking blog. Not only is he one of the first on the scene when it comes to changes in industry news, but he is also one of the most creative ones I’ve seen when it comes to points redemptions. Doc’s recommendations are based on honest, transparent data and not what credit card will give him the best commission for its referral. His website is also a treasure trove of neatly presented and comprehensive information on Travel Hacking.
This may be a bit unconventional for a travel blog to recommend, but part of being able to afford travel is building fiscally responsible lifestyle. Being financially independent is a top priority goal in my life and I love all of the resources that ChooseFI provides. I listen to their podcast religiously and check the posts in their Facebook group every day. Not only do they promote financial responsibility, they also emphasize leading a fulfilling life and how to find happiness independent of money. On top of all of this, they also discuss Travel Hacking on a regular basis! Who would have thought cheap travel could be linked with being fulfilled in life?
The Best Travel Credit Cards
Below are my favorite travel credit card recommendations. I’ll get a few extra points if you use the links to sign up, and as you can tell I’m a firm believer in Chase Ultimate Rewards. I have yet to find a program that’s more flexible and offers better redemption values, and I’ve run through many programs. I absolutely do not, however, recommend going into credit card debt EVER or using your cards irresponsibly. Travel hacking is absolutely not for people who carry credit card debt or have a low credit score. I highly recommend you do extensive reading on this subject before you start applying for any credit cards. Using these cards has changed my life for the better, but it requires a certain level of responsibility.
How can you spot a group of travel hackers? When everyone pulls out this card to pay for their meal in a group. While the $450 annual fee is nothing to scoff at, the perks make this well worth it and hands down the best travel credit card out there. The steep fee is offset with a $300 yearly travel credit, free Global Entry enrollment (a $100 value), no foreign transaction fees, 3 points per dollar spent on travel and dining, 1.5 cent per point redemptions, and free travel and rental car insurance. Oh and did I mention the 50,000 point sign up bonus that can redeemed for a minimum of $750 (and realistically a few thousand dollars worth) in travel? I could go on and on but if you choose one card for travel and travel awards, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is it.
The perfect compliment to the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Freedom unlimited earns 1.5 ultimate rewards for any purchase you make regardless of category. It’s trivially easy to transfer the points earned on this card to your Sapphire Reserve for the extra 1.5 cent per point redemption bonus, and the Freedom Unlimited is a perfect catch-all card for any purchase that doesn’t fit in other bonus categories. Plus, there’s no annual fee! I use this card for many of my grocery purchases, at drugstores, and anything else that doesn’t get bonuses from my other cards. The Chase Freedom Unlimited is easily my most frequently used card for purchases.
If you have a business (or anything remotely resembling a business, like selling things on eBay), the Chase Ink Preferred is the best travel business credit card. It’s also a great alternative to the Chase Sapphire Reserve with only a $95 annual fee but no travel credit and only a 1.25 cent per point redemption bonus. The Ink Preferred earns bonus points in the same categories as the Sapphire Reserve and is currently offering the best signup bonus of any card in the world at 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points if you meet the $5000 spending requirement in 3 months.
While the Chase Ink Business Cash doesn’t carry any huge sign up bonuses, it is one of the most powerful cards available to travel hackers thanks to its 5 points per dollar spent bonus on office supply stores and internet, cable & phone. Do you know what office supply stores carry? Gift cards for practically every merchant in existence! With a tiny bit of legwork you can use this card to earn 5 points per dollar on almost any purchase. It also sports no annual fee and many of the same great perks and customer service that Chase offers on their other cards. Depending on how involved you decide to get with travel hacking, this could be the most valuable card you own.
Travel Blogging Resources
Siteground is my favorite hosting company by FAR. I’ve used Bluehost and Godaddy in the past and have torn my hair out dealing with each of them, but SiteGround’s customer service has absolutely blown me away. Not only do they offer great pricing and free SSL, but their customer service has quickly solved just about every technical problem I’ve ever encountered, whether the problems were caused by them or not (and it hasn’t been their fault yet)! I can’t recommend them highly enough and Siteground is one of the few companies that I just can’t stop gushing about once I get started. If you’re looking for a cheap domain name to go with your Siteground hosting plan, NameCheap is a great place to get one, but go with Siteground for the hosting without a doubt.
Pinterest might be the most powerful tool in the travel blogger’s arsenal, but it can also quickly suck up your entire day before you know it. Enter: BoardBooster. This is one of my favorite tools that allows you to automate many of your Pinterest activities. Its looping feature is practically the entire reason I subscribe to it, and it is highly customizeable. I still do plenty of manual pinning work, but BoardBooster gives me a great head start so that I don’t feel the need to spend hours per day pinning things. In addition to its looping, you can also schedule your pins to post throughout the day and get great analytics into your account!
Besides Pinterest, being savvy about Google Search Engine Optimization is the other crucial traffic generating skill to hone as a blogger. There are many resources about learning SEO, and one of the best research tools is Moz.com. Not only do they provide a ton of utilities for researching what keywords to use, but they can also analyze your site to help you figure out how much authority Google sees it as having. This Domain Authority tool is a fantastic way to see if your efforts have been working, and the search tools have fundamentally changed how I approach my keywords. They offer free services and paid subscriptions if you are a more prolific poster than I am.
Circling back to the almighty Pinterest, Tailwind is a service that helps users optimize the perfect time to pin, and schedules their pins to be spread out throughout the day. Tailwind’s tools are highly customizable to suit your exact needs, and it provides deep insights into your Pinterest account to help you learn how to become a better pinner. Beyond the scheduling, Tailwind’s Tribes feature is full of amazing communities that help build one another up by pinning reciprocal relevant content. I use Tailwind several times a week and it is also officially endorsed by Pinterest, so you can rest easy.
The Best Travel Photography Gear
Ok, I know this is the expensive section, but hear me out. While I’m a bit fanatic about my travel photography equipment, I am the first to admit that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get similar results to mine. For that reason I’ve included budget alternatives to the equipment that I personally carry, but have still done my best to list alternative equipment that is still near the top tier of image quality.
When you purchase quality equipment, it will last you for years. My former camera body lasted me 8 years before I replaced it, and it could have probably gone 8 more! Has your camera phone or point and shoot given you that kind of lifespan? If you’re comfortable with purchasing used equipment, you can save even more by searching for my budget alternatives on www.KEH.com. I’ve used them many times and the equipment I’ve gotten from them has typically arrived in even better condition than the listing would suggest.
Now that you’ve heard my personal justifications for spending as much as I have on camera gear, below is the actual travel camera equipment I carry with me on every trip!
I admit I am very much in the minority of travel photographers by using my canon DSLR as opposed to a mirrorless camera, but I haven’t been able to find anything that compares favorably to my Canon 5D Mk iv. I take this camera everywhere I go and it is responsible for many of the images you see on this site, with my old 5d mk ii being responsible for the rest. Not only does it take incredible photos, but it’s tough as nails, too. It has easily stood up to anything I’ve thrown at it, from sea spray in Antarctica to banging against cliffs in China.
Budget Friendly Alternative: The Canon 6D is a full frame camera with great resolution for a fraction of the price!
This is my favorite all-purpose carry around lens. Like all Canon L series lenses, it’s tack sharp, tough, and fast-focusing. The focal length range on this lens is perfect for most situations where you could need to go from a longer lens to a wide shot quickly. This lens stays attached to my camera by default unless I find the need for another specific focal length, just like its predecessor did for me as well. If you’re only looking for one lens to do everything, choose this one.
Budget Friendly Alternative: The Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS provides 90% of the performance of the above lens for 50% of the price!
If the 24-70 is my favorite all-purpose lens, the 70-200 is my favorite lens, period. Although not every situation calls for it, the image quality that this lens provides is among the highest in Canon’s entire zoom range regardless of price. The image stabilizer is a life saver for low light situations and it becomes a bit addicting framing things up at the full zoom range and observing that beautiful bokeh! I couldn’t have made it through my African Safari without this lens.
Budget Friendly Alternative: If I were working with a tighter budget, I would purchase the 70-200 f/4 USM in a heartbeat. It is super sharp, weighs less than half of the above lens, and is less than one third of the cost!
Oh hey, a lens where I didn’t get the most expensive option! While it looks like I spend my life savings on camera gear I’m actually quite budget conscious, and this lens is a perfect compromise. I use it mostly for landscapes where I’ll be shooting in daylight, so I have little need for a wider aperture. And in addition to the savings, I’ve read that the f/4 version of this lens is actually sharper than the 2.8! What a win-win!
Budget Friendly Alternative: The Canon 17-40 f/4 L is 25% cheaper than the 16-35, and only slightly less sharp.
Sure, it’s marketed as a bag for women (which is awesome for female travelers!), but that also doesn’t stop it from being the perfect sized bag for tiny me to carry all my photo gear around with room left over for a water bladder and some hiking gear! I LOVE my Kashmir UL backpack, it goes everywhere I do and I’ve had no problems hiking 20+ miles in a day with all of the weight of my camera gear strapped to me. Don’t forget to pick up an ICU to organize your gear as well!
Polarizers are almost like cheating when it comes to landscape photography because they instantly improve your image so drastically. Got annoying reflections? Pola’s got your covered. Want a blue sky and vibrant colors? Pola can do that too! Trip and fall while crossing a river in the Faroe Islands and smash your lens against a rock? …better get a UV filter while you’re at it (and yes my UV filter totally committed suicide to successfully save my lens in that incident).
Joby completely revolutionized the travel tripod game when they invented the GorillaPod. Not only can you set it up on just about any rough terrain, you can wrap it around a light pole or guardrail to get that perfect composition! Mine always resides in my camera backpack just in case I don’t have a friend to snap my photo, and I have successfully used it wrapped around a pole with my heavy 5D mk iv and 70-200mm 2.8L lens attached. Nerve wracking? Yes! Successful? Also yes!
When the GorillaPod just can’t get high enough or you need something more stable, the Feisol CT-3441S is my other travel tripod. Even with the ball head it only weighs about 3 lbs and folds down to 17 inches, perfect for easy carry-on stowage. If I’m really pressed for space, I’ll leave this guy at home, but there’s really no substitute for a proper tripod if you want decent stability or need to do long exposures.
A must-have for any adventure traveler, there’s a reason the GoPro is the gold standard for adventure cameras. The Hero 6 is basically plug and play, waterproof to 33 ft without a housing and has incredible 4K image quality with built in image stabilizing. There’s no better way to chronicle your adventures on high quality video.
Taking great travel photos is more than just snapping a picture and calling it a day. Post processing is where photos come to life, and the Adobe Photography Plan includes both Lightroom and Photoshop for the ideal 1-2 punch to get the best out of your photos. I use both programs for most of my post processing, and the photos on this site would look a lot more dull without these tools. If you’re serious about photography, you have to get these programs.
If you take anywhere near as many photos as I do, you’ll need a place to keep them. Portable hard drives are much more cost effective than memory cards (but seriously, bring extra memory cards!), and are also a great redundant backup in addition to your laptop’s hard drive. I’ve had several of these over the years for various purposes and (knocks on wood) have never had one fail on me to date. They’re also wonderfully compact and easy to fit into any packing plan.
Here’s another way that I’m a bit of a contrarian. I know Macbook Airs are the darlings of the travel laptop world, and I almost bought one myself, but dammit I need my ports! I really enjoy my Surface Book along with its detachable touchscreen, although I’m slightly annoyed at the size of the power brick that it comes with. If you REALLY want compact computing power for a reasonable price, check out the Microsoft Surface Pro. And if you’re a Mac person, by all means, stick with what works for you!
The Best General Travel Gear
Detailing all of my travel gear would be an entire post in itself, but here are a few objects that I consider particularly important and useful.
I have sung the praises of these boots time and time again, but I’ve had them for over 10 years and there’s a good reason I can’t stop raving about them. The traction is great, they’re super comfortable, water resistant and obviously durable. I have a few medical issues that lead to me having extraordinarily picky feet, and these are one of the few boots that cause me no pain and are just fantastic all around. When it comes time to replace them I’ll probably take a long, hard look at Redwing Iron Rangers (get the lug version), but they’ll be a tough sell against my trusty Lowas. Also, I recommend getting shoes from Zappos for their amazing customer service and incredible return policy.
I had such a mind blowing moment when I first began using packing cubes. Never could I have imagined that having these small compartments would have made such a difference, but now I can pack more efficiently and stay more organized on the road. Typically, I’ll store my socks and underwear in one cube, shirts in another, and mash all of my squishable outer layers into a third. Consider rolling your clothes instead of folding them for bonus space!
One of those things you never consider you’ll need until you’re trying to pack during a power outage or get stuck on the side of a mountain after the sun sets. The ability to have both hands available and see what you’re doing in the dark is seriously underrated. LED Headlamps are cheap, easy to pack, and potential life savers (or, at the very least, convenience-bringers). It doesn’t really matter what brand you get, but look for one that has adjustable beam angles, multiple intensities and an around the head strap (instead of an annoying third over the top of the head strap).
These are a lifesaver on hikes and so much easier to carry around than bottles of water. I made the mistake of buying a Camelbak before and spent the next few months trying every trick on the internet to prevent horrible taste that it infused in my water. Save yourself the trouble and find one that has plenty of reviews that specifically mention no bad taste! Thankfully, this brand is tasteless and well priced!
I used to go through socks like crazy. The day I found Darn Tough Socks was the day my sock woes ended for good. These socks come with a LIFETIME WARRANTY! Yes, you can get them replaced for life at no charge! They’re made of wool and come in a huge assortment of lengths and weights. These socks have served me well both in hot climates and freezing cold, and I’ve taken advantage of the warranty multiple times. There’s no going back to any other sock brand for me.
Another “I can’t go back” purchase, these underwear are so unbelievably comfortable and breathable that I now shudder to think of how barbarically I was treating my under goods for so many years. These boxer briefs are great for any athletic activity or for just lounging around if you aren’t the modest type. They are also extremely breathable and fast drying, so if you’re really worried about packing light, they’re a great candidate for a hotel sink wash and overnight line drying.
No matter where you’re traveling, you’re going to need at least a few layers. My Marmot Ramble jacket has a built in, removable fleece layer that has been a god-send in colder climates, and its outer shell is waterproof as well. I also almost perpetually carry around a somewhat heavier down jacket to wear underneath the Marmot when it gets really cold or by itself for cool nights.
If you can get by with just a backpack, that’s great, but when you’re me and your backpack is filled with 20 pounds of photo gear, it’s nice to have a lightweight roller bag to store the rest of your stuff in. I LOVE my Eagle Creek Expanse, and the Load Warrior weighs in even lighter at under 5 lbs to keep those luggage fees away! Plus if you buy from Zappos you get automatic free shipping and a 1 year free return guarantee (can you tell I’m a Zappos fan?).
Possibly the single most important travel accessory in the insufferable coffee snob’s arsenal. Pair it with a Hario Slim Hand Mill and you can bring your own beans and be happily caffeinated in even the most coffee-deprived environments. I may be a little special in my needs, but coffee is important!
So simple. So effective. It’s hard to imagine going back to a bag of tangled cords or twist ties to keep things organized. Cord clips make me happy, and even more so for their stylishness and cheapness!
An easily overlooked item. Everyone remembers to bring their travel adaptors, but what happens when you only have one adaptor and need to charge your cell phone, laptop, and the half dozen batteries for your assorted devices? Power strip to the rescue! I always bring one with me, and as a bonus it’s super slim and easy to fit into even the most overstuffed luggage.
Ok so I’m half joking with this one but in some countries you are going to WISH you brought toilet paper with you! China, I’m looking at you. On a serious note, just take this gag item as my advice to perform proper due diligence for any trip you take and arrive prepared for whatever the road might throw at you. And if you bring toilet paper, just get it from home, don’t buy this fancy RV toilet paper on Amazon.
Helpful Budget Travel Resource Posts
A collection of every travel itinerary that I’ve published so far and some of my most valuable travel resources. I consistently get incredibly humbling feedback about the usefulness of these posts, and I hope they help you, too!
While this post concentrates on safety in one particular country, its advice can be applied to travel in many less developed destinations. Don’t let scary news articles deter you until you’ve done your proper research (but do keep safety at the front of your mind).
A broader approach to the last subject concentrating on physical health, here are some general tips for how to ensure that your trip is a happy and healthy one.
The title pretty much speaks for itself, my quick guide on how to improve your travel photography. This is one of my most frequently asked questions, and this post is the perfect place to start learning!