TikTokers spill the tea to less expensive vacays (minus the #sponcon).
It’s practically a rite of passage to plan a trip after you graduate. You’ve got the main character energy, you’ve got the time, plus your besties are in the same post-college boat, so you’re all free to globetrot together. Your bank account, on the other hand, may not be as glowed up as you will be once you receive your diploma. If you’re looking to travel after college on a budget, that’s where the pros (aka TikTokers) come in.
When you’re scrolling past videos of overwater bungalows in the Maldives one moment and scenic hikes in New Zealand the next, similar luxe excursions can feel within reach because the world is literally at your fingertips. So it can be a major letdown to realize that your current finances don’t lend themselves to your dream vacay. But apart from the influencers who get #sponsored vacations free of charge, a lot of your faves across social media also have to set budget boundaries.
“From a financial standpoint, traveling has become much more attainable,” says Nina Zadeh, founder of Sidewalker Daily, which works with both TikTok influencers and tourism bureaus, adding that TikTok accounts that share travel hacks to save money — like using points to book flights and hotels — have exploded in popularity. In turn, hotels and other parts of the travel industry are beginning to turn their focus to attracting Gen Z travelers and making it more financially enticing to plan their next trip.
If you’re ready to book your next vacation while staying within your financial goals, here are 11 ways to make your post-college travel dreams a reality on a budget.
Learn The Flight-Booking Sweet Spot
They say, “The earlier you book your trip, the better” — but that’s not always true. According to Expedia’s 2023 air travel hacks report, you should book around 28 to 35 days before departure to domestic locations and about six months ahead of any international travel plans to save about 10%.
While finding last-minute flight deals isn’t a given, you can sign up for apps and services like Hopper, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and the Expedia app to get notified when prices are at their lowest and also potentially score on spontaneous flight sales. For international flights, checking the Skyscanner flight tracker and searching “cheapest month” is also a great way for gauging budget-friendly times to visit your dream destination.
If you’re looking for more low-key hacks, TikTokers swear by turning on “incognito mode” or using a private browser to score cheaper flights (though some experts have debunked this). And if you can, be flexible with departure dates and times and where you’re flying from; TikTokers say that sometimes choosing an airport that’s a little farther away can save you *hundreds* of dollars.
Try “Slower Travel” At Your Destination
Thrifty travelers may want to consider a destination where it’s easy and affordable to get around, like the capital of Spain. “The city has wonderfully cheap public transportation and is extremely walkable, so you can avoid taxis if you’re staying downtown,” says Marissa Strang, a travel blogger who quit her 9-to-5 to travel the world. “You can truly experience Madrid on a budget without a second thought.”
Checking out TikTokers’ transportation experiences can also alleviate some of the anxiety you may feel about getting around your destination before you book. TikTok travel expert Gabby Beckford, who quit her engineering job two weeks before lockdown, encourages embracing “slower travel” as a way to save money while also seeing a different side of your destination. Citing a recent trip to Mexico, she says, “I booked four to six months in advance and traveled by bus instead of plane, which was more eco-friendly but just as convenient and safe.”
Research The Value Of Your Money At The Moment
Thanks to the current strength of the U.S. dollar compared to the euro, 2023 could be a great time to visit all that the continent has to offer, especially since many countries are within driving distance of one another.
“It is so easy to visit several destinations in just a few weeks,” says Lindsay Paige Stein, a travel writer and publicist who founded the Round Trip Collective — a company that helps young people break into the travel industry. Her favorite post-college destinations in Europe include Florence, Prague, Paris, Switzerland, and Budapest.
Visit Popular Destinations During The Off-Season
For bucket list destinations that might be surging in popularity or are on the more expensive side, Strang suggests traveling during a less popping time when there are fewer crowds, better photo opportunities, and much lower prices.
“Greece is on everyone’s bucket list, and for a good reason: It’s a dream,” she says, which means it can be mega expensive during the peak months. She suggests visiting during the off-season (September through November), and booking ferries between islands far in advance to save more money.
Consider An Off-The-Beaten-Path Location Instead
Some of your dream destination’s nearby hidden gems could be a much better vibe for you and your wallet. Strang says of Greece, “Although many people flock to the expensive islands of Santorini and Mykonos, you can find more budget-friendly accommodations and activities in Crete and Naxos.”
A post-college trip doesn’t have to be international to be on your bucket list. Beckford’s top tip for grads is to venture closer to home. "If you’re tight on a budget after graduating, start by traveling locally,” she says. “There’s a lot of FOMO on social media from people jetting around the world, but there are incredible places to explore in your own country.”
Beckford suggests the #vanlife trend as one option for domestic travel that will also make it easy to see a lot of different states at once. Recent grads might also want to check out travel grants and scholarships and “cool programs like AmeriCorps and the Environmental Corps that will pay you to travel the U.S.”
Save Money On Food & Activities
If flights or transportation take up most of your travel budget, there are still plenty of tricks that can help you experience your destination for free or at a low cost. “One of my biggest hacks for saving money in any destination is to take free walking tours, and you can find them in almost any major city,” Strang says, adding that this is also a great way to see parts of a city that you might not be able to by car.
She also emphasizes that every city has local eateries that are cheaper than the ones in the guidebooks and an array of free or cheap activities. Before you arrive, take some time to map out your activities, dining, and more to make the most of your time and your money.
Don’t Automatically Rule Out Hotels
Post-grad travelers often consider looking into local Airbnbs, hostels, and short-term rentals, which can prove to be the most cost efficient. “In the UAE, I stayed in short-term rentals instead of hotels,” Beckford says. “Having a kitchen to make meals in and save leftovers from meals saved me a lot of money in a destination that can be expensive.”
But sometimes, a hotel could actually be your cheapest lodging option, especially when you factor in vacation rental site fees. Many hotels offer deals on multi-night stays or you can sometimes save a lot of money on your room with last-minute hotel websites like Hotel Tonight. Plus, there are a number of free hotel loyalty programs that you can sign up for and enjoy perks like free breakfast, parking, and Wi-Fi.
Take Advantage Of Travel Credit Cards & Perks
Travel TikTok is full of hacks for using credit card points and perks to save on travel, but it’s important to take this with a grain of salt, especially if you’re on a tight budget for your trip.
“I’ve seen friends go credit card happy and be left with more stress and problems afterward for the sake of a big graduation trip,” Strang says. She suggests opening up a travel credit card that rewards you with points for your regular day-to-day spending, saying, “That’s how I booked a $400 round-trip flight to Iceland and a $550 round-trip flight to Greece without spending a dime.”
Strang’s two golden rules: 1) If you can’t afford to pay it off within a month, wait to purchase; and 2) Look for a card with zero interest for the first year, travel benefits, and low-interest rates after that.
Follow Travel TikTokers For Money-Saving Hacks
There’s a reason #TravelTok is a popular tag on the platform, and Beckford says TikTok is one of the best planning resources for post-grads looking to save money on their travels and learn more about a destination before they get there.
“By using the search bar intentionally, following your favorite travel creators, and engaging with travel content that pops up in your feed, the algorithm knows to recommend you more content that can inspire your future travels,” she says.
Some options include:
Sources (and other #TravelTokers worth following):