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13 Ways to Experience a New City on a Budget

City breaks are a great way to explore all that a city has to offer. Staying in a big city, however, can be expensive. Therefore, you will need to consider your budget before packing your bags. If you would like a city break on a tight budget, then consider these money-saving ideas.

1. Consider Alternative Housing

City hotel rooms can be crammed and expensive. Therefore, if you are on a budget, think about staying in a hostel. If you pick this alternative, then chances are that you will meet travelers from around the world in a personal way. Other choices for alternative housing include home stays, swapping houses and being someone’s pet sitter. Airbnb is a great first stop to find inexpensive lodging opportunities.

Another great option is to find a rewards credit card and use points to pay for your hotel stay.

2. Time Your City Break Carefully

In order to travel on a budget, you should time your city break carefully. Avoiding the biggest tourist seasons often allows you to save money. Traveling during shoulder season often lets you save money, see attractions when fewer people are present and enjoy price breaks at many different locations.

Shoulder seasons vary by region, so consider this schedule:

Month Possible destination
January North Africa
February Southwest U.S.
March India
April Western Europe
May Japan
June Baja
July Northern Caribbean
August Riviera
September South Africa
October Southern Europe
November Southern France
December New Zealand


Even when you keep shoulder season in mind, it is essential to avoid major holidays occurring in the city you want to visit.

3. Save Money on Your Flight

There are many different ways to save money on your flight to the city of your dreams. The more flexibility that you can build into your dates and destinations, the easier time you will have finding a cheap flight. Budget carriers are usually cheaper than major airlines, but they still have to meet the same stringent safety regulations. Find possible airlines by visiting the airport site where you want to take your city break to see who flies there. Consider alternative airports and indirect flights. Checking out public transportation may expand the number of airports that you can choose from for your city break.

4. Buy Attraction Tickets Ahead of Time

Look for special prices on attraction tickets. You can often find deals on websites, even at the last minute. Find the largest grocery store in your destination city to see if they are giving away tickets to an event that you want to attend. Even if they are not, they may have tickets at a greatly reduced price for popular attractions.

5. Consider Buying Tickets in Groups

If you cannot find a cheap ticket for your city break through a local establishment, then consider buying tickets to the things you want to do together. Many cities have cards allowing you to do multiple activities at a cheaper rate. Check out these options for city breaks in these destinations:

Make sure to read the details, however, before purchasing a pass to make sure that the attractions you want to visit are included. Do the math to make sure you are actually saving money.

6. Eat Like a Local

In order to save money on food, make sure to look for the establishments where local residents eat. Use your mobile device to locate coupons saving you money when you eat out. Check where you are staying for free options in the morning. Then, eat out at lunch because most restaurants give lunchtime price breaks. Opt for a sandwich or other simple meals that you can prepare where you are staying in the evening.

7. Use Public Transportation

If you cannot walk to where you want to visit, then check your discount card to see if they offer a hop-on bus service at a discount. Do not be afraid, however, to use public transportation allowing you to get where you want to go at reasonable costs. Try to plan all your activities in one part of town on the same day, so that you minimize your need for public transportation.

8. Look for Free Days

Many museums and other attractions offer free days or evenings. Make a list with all the spots that you want to visit and go through their websites to see if they have reduced rates or free days while you’re in town.

9. Save Money on Souvenirs

Many people waste a lot of money on souvenirs. While taking home a t-shirt or a magnet can be a fun reminder of your city break, consider taking home things that you can pick up for free in the city. Rocks, sand and pinecones all make great souvenirs.

10. Shop Thrift Stores

It is natural to want to go shopping while you are on vacation. Use a map to locate an area of town where thrift shops are located. Shop in that area instead of high-end shopping locations. Do not be afraid to haggle on the price. Chances are that you will come home with items that you love at a fraction of the cost.

11. Pack in a Carry On

If you’ll be flying during your city break, then plan to take all your clothes in a carry on bag. This eliminates the cost of paying for a checked bag giving you more money to spend on vacation. You also eliminate the chance of the airline losing your bag.

12. Check Out Free Entertainment

Almost every city has an area of town where street performers entertain crowds. Locate one in the city where you are headed before arriving. Then, take advantage of this free entertainment to hear music with a local twist. Interacting with these entertainers can often result in great tips about other inexpensive things to do in the community.

13. Consider Volunteering

Numerous programs offer volunteer opportunities in cities around the world. Many travelers report that these vacations are their favorites because they are helping someone else. Travelers often report that they make a deeper cultural connection with the people living there. If this idea interests you, then you could check out:

There are many ways to save money on a city break. Start by planning your vacation for the right time of year. Book your flight to take advantage of the cheapest rates. Start planning your itinerary by looking at city pass options. Whether you’re keen on exploring new places or you’re thinking long term and scouting for places that your pension can guarantee a comfortable retirement retreat, looking for ways to budget is a wise and healthy choice.

Author bio: Kevin has been working in investment management for 25 years now. As the years went by, he realized more and more that a dollar that isn’t spent is a dollar earned. He is editor-in-chief at, a blog that aims to lead people on the path to early retirement.

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This post was written by a guest contributor. Money Nomad accepts high quality, informative, guest posts. If you have unique insight to share with the Money Nomad audience, then please email with your article idea.

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  1. New York City is VERY expensive, but we LOVE to go there! 🙂 We wind up going 1-2 times per year. We’ve hit the big times (NYE, Christmas, etc.) and have learned that going outside of peak visitor times is a much better time – for us at least.

    1. That’s awesome that you’ve experienced NY for so many different holidays. I definitely want to experience a New Year’s celebration in the city there. And it sounds like you’re the person to speak to when looking for great deals when visiting the city! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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