What Is the Cheapest Way to Travel?

FT Contributor
Two passports laying on a table with change sprinkled on top of them.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

There are plenty of places to spend your money, but most people enjoy putting their hard-earned cash towards travel. Unfortunately, one of the most common excuses people have for not traveling is a lack of funds. While it’s true that travel can be an ultimate expense, especially with the rising costs of airfare and lodging, there are plenty of inexpensive ways you can plan a trip. Discover some of the best ways to minimize spending and save money on your next vacation.

Is It Cheaper to Fly or Drive?

Depending on your destination, it may be easy to fly. In case you’re able to drive, it’s almost always more affordable to do so. However, your method of travel depends on a number of factors, like who is traveling and how much baggage you have to bring along.

Below, we’ll compare and contrast the costs of flying versus driving for your next vacation.

Cost of Flying

Most people think that flying is more expensive, but that isn’t always the case. Determining whether flying is more expensive than driving requires you to assess the costs of flying. This cost is based on a number of factors, including:

  • The cost of airfare and any associated fees: Websites like Travelocity or KAYAK can help you estimate airfare costs.
  • Meal costs: If you’re planning a transcontinental flight or one that lasts for a long period of time, you’ll need room in the budget to purchase food along the way.
  • Rental car fees: You’ll be left without access to your vehicle, which may necessitate rental car or rideshare fees. Depending on your final destination and what your plans are during your stay, one may be more cost-friendly than the other.
  • Time spent flying: When you’re considering flying versus driving, part of the value assessment should include the time required to travel to your destination. If your trip is a short one, flying will get you there as soon as possible and allow you to take full advantage of your trip.

Cost of Driving

Flying may appear to have a higher cost at first blush, but a true comparison requires assessing all the costs associated with reaching your destination. Driving offers a wealth of benefits, depending on the kind of vacation you have in mind. Consider things like the sites you may want to see along the way, as well as:

  • Cost of accommodations and meals: Driving to your final destination can require long hours, sometimes even days. You’ll need to plan out places to rest and eat during your travels. This added cost should be factored into your comparison.
  • Gas: The cost of gas can greatly impact your overall price comparison. Check gas prices at various locations along your route, then use those prices and your vehicle’s average gas mileage per hour to estimate the cost of fuel for your trip.  
  • Associated vehicle maintenance: Driving long distances puts wear and tear on your vehicle, which can increase maintenance costs and potentially decrease your vehicle’s lifespan.
  • Time spent driving: Your time is valuable, and driving generally takes a considerably higher amount of time than flying. Consider how long your drive will take and how that will impact the time you spend enjoying your vacation.

A Comparison

Truly knowing which is cheaper requires doing a little research on your own. Generally speaking, air travel is a better investment if you’ll be traveling a very long distance, such as across the country. However, if you’ll be traveling for fewer than eight hours, driving may be a better choice. It comes down to the amount of time you have to vacation and the type of trip you’re looking to take. Use travel cost estimators when you compare and contrast driving versus flying.

How to Travel for Free

You can’t get cheaper than free. While a few of the following methods are not necessarily advisable when it comes to  convenience and safety, these travel options do not cost anything. Below are examples of truly cheap travel options, organized in terms of advisability and reliability.

Find a Job That Requires Travel

You can be reimbursed while working a job that requires frequent business trips. Working for a cruise line or airline will allow you to spend a lot of time traveling the seas or skies. Teaching English overseas can often involve free housing and travel stipends. Other careers that allow plenty of travel include flight attendants, travel agents, and travel blogging. There are also less conventional careers that offer travel perks, like au pairs, foreign service officers, and telemedicine.

Cash in Your Airline Loyalty Rewards Points

If you’ve traveled a lot and saved enough points, you’ll be able to travel for free. There is a wealth of airline loyalty programs out there that offer more perks the more you fly.  When you’re booking a trip, it’s important to remember to use your rewards points or miles, as this is an easy way of reducing travel expenses.


If you have legs of steel, you can travel considerable distances on your bike. It’s important to understand the training required to go great distances on a bike, as well as the food and hydration your body will need, depending on the total distance. Note that biking is great for short distances in lieu of rideshare services or rental cars because it lowers travel costs; some bike-friendly cities even have free or low-cost bikes available. Research your destination to see if they offer this sort of ride-share.

Walking Tours

In addition to health benefits, walking is a great way to travel for free. If you’d like to travel around a city, check if there are any free walking tours available. Sites like Free Tours By Foot and Free Tour provide many options for cities around the globe. Instead of taking public transportation, walking allows you to take advantage of sightseeing during your vacation. Research the city to find the safest walking paths and public transportation routes and make the best plan of action.

Social Networking

You can request help getting from point A to B on social media. Connect with friends or join a travel group to reach out to people planning to travel to your destination, or those who are taking a similar route. If you can connect with people who are already planning on traveling, you may be able to discuss joining them. It’s important to make these arrangements with extreme caution so as to avoid getting yourself into unsafe situations.


Hitchhiking was extremely common in the 1960s and 70s when car ownership was significantly less common than today. Despite the negative connotations surrounding hitchhiking, a 1974 study conducted by the California Highway Patrol found that hitchhiking crime was overrepresented. Hitchhiking is certainly less common today, but it does still occur.

Hitchhiking is a free way to travel, but it is not recommended due to the many safety hazards it presents. Holding your thumb out on the side of the road can be dangerous, as you run the risk of getting struck by a vehicle. If you’re lucky enough to score a ride, you can never be sure who you’re getting into the car with. Ultimately, despite it being the most budget-friendly way of travel, hitchhiking should be avoided unless it’s absolutely necessary.

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