11 Easy Ways to Put Your Health First While Traveling on a Budget
May 25, 2021
By Jess Hopper

I have a secret for you: Travel doesn’t have to be expensive and it doesn’t have to be unhealthy.

Sure, it can be both of those things if you’re not careful about planning. But there is no rule saying that the only good travel experiences come at the expense of your entire savings account and waistline. In fact, some of the best simple-yet-satisfying things about exploring a new place are as easy on your health and budget as they are good for your spirit.

If you’re looking to plan a trip that prioritizes both your well-being and your bottom dollar, read on to hear more about our 11 tips and tricks for putting your health first while on a budget-friendly break.

1. Explore on foot or by bike

Whether you’re heading to a bustling city in Southeast Asia, a laidback beach town in South America or anywhere else around the globe, you’re going to need a way to get around your destination once you’re there. And while I’m all for taking the bus, train, subway, or taxi to get from the airport to your accommodation, an easy, affordable health-conscious way to approach sightseeing is to stick to walking and biking as your main way of exploring.

Walking is entirely free (although I do recommend investing in a comfortable and supportive pair of walking shoes or insoles), and renting a bike for the day can be incredibly easy and affordable, especially if you’re in a bike-friendly city.

2. Get active with your activities

Museums are great and lounging poolside is what we dream about when stuck at home behind our desks, but if you’re looking for a way to enjoy your time away while staying active, be more thoughtful about the activities you include on your schedule.

Things like hiking, kayaking, canoeing, surfing, snorkeling and countless others are often among the more affordable activities to take part in while traveling, and they engage your body as much as they do your mind.

3. Limit your alcohol

When faced with the temptations you might find traveling in places like Argentina’s wine country, Belgiums famous quaint and brewery-filled cities or the seaside Italian towns offering countless versions of local liquors, it can be hard to turn down a drink, especially one that feels like a cultural experience as much as it does a culinary one.

I’m not telling you to abstain completely—balance is key to both physical and financial health, after all. But if you’re trying to keep an eye on your purse strings and your waistline, a good approach is to cap your nightcaps after one drink, which is just enough to get the taste and experience without going overboard on cost or calories.

4. Choose a different splurge meal each day

Food is undoubtedly one of the best parts of traveling. Trying new dishes, ingredients and cuisines can be as memorable and mind-opening as seeing breathtaking views of nature, artistic masterpieces or facets of local life. But it can be easy to overdo it when faced with a new country’s delicious cuisine. Before you know it, you might be choosing tacos over fresh fruit for breakfast or having a pastry after every meal, and the cost to your health and your wallet can add up quickly.

To combat this, consider choosing a different meal for your local authentic splurge; say breakfast on Saturday, lunch on Sunday, dinner on Monday, and so on. For the other meals, you can choose more affordable or home-cooked options to make room in your budget for the day’s indulgence. This will let you sample a local version of each course so you won’t feel deprived of experience while also making that day’s chosen meal even more special by casting the spotlight on whatever you’ve chosen to splurge on that day.

5. Cook for yourself with local groceries

Just because you’re only splurging on one meal each day doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the local, authentic experience entirely. If you have access to a kitchen in your accommodations, why not make an experience out of trying your hand at a new recipe made from local ingredients from a grocery store or farmers market? Sure, it might not be pho prepared by a local Vietnamese chef from his grandmother’s recipe, but it is an affordable way to challenge yourself while getting to know a different side of your destination’s culture. And when you’re cooking with fresh, local ingredients, you’re choosing an affordable option while also staying aware of exactly what’s going into your body.

6. Choose a health-conscious destination

When it comes to health-focused and budget-friendly travel, your chosen destination will have a huge impact on your options. Start by choosing a destination that has healthy and affordable options built into its experience—try looking for places that allow hiking, sightseeing on foot, surfing or the like.

It might be hard to find ways to meet your spending and health goals if, for example, you’re traveling to a Nordic country where winter gear and activities can be pricey, the cost of living is expensive, you’ll want to eat warm heavy meals to compensate for the freezing climate and you’ll do everything you can to spend your time inside. Alternatively, many countries in South America, Southeast Asia and even parts of Europe offer relative affordability, abundant outdoor activity and light local fare that will make it beyond easy to focus on budget and health-friendly options.

7. Practice new language skills with a local

Learning a new local language—even just enough to ask for directions, order from a restaurant or thank a shop owner—is a great way to dig a little deeper into a new destination. And with free apps like Babbel and Duolingo, it’s never been easier or more affordable to start picking up the basics before you take off. And whether your idea of practicing language skills means striking up a conversation with locals as you explore or using a site like Meetup to find a free conversation exchange group, it’s a free activity once you’ve landed as well. What’s more, studies have shown that learning a new language is good for your brain, so it’s a healthy activity too!

8. Read a book about the local culture

Much like learning a new language, reading is an activity with proven health benefits. And since reading can be a great and cost-effective way to deep dive into a new world, why not use it to explore your new destination by finding a book based in the place you’re headed or by a local author?

If you’re not convinced, or if you don’t know where to start, check out this viral TED Talk from an author who challenged herself to read a book from every country, and use her interactive map for inspiration for what to read on your next trip.

9. Catch up on sleep

Sure, it can be hard to make sleep a priority on vacation when there are so many fun things to see and do. But vacation is also a time when we are stepping away from the rigors of our everyday lives and routines to refocus on ourselves, our family, our friends and our experiences in the name of fulfillment and well-being. And an important element of well-being is sleep. As noted earlier, balance is key, so while I’m not suggesting you spend your whole European vacation behind your eyemask, catching even an hour more sleep than what you’re used to getting at home can leave you feeling rested and ready to take on the busy day you have planned.

10. Don’t ditch your self-care routine

Much like making time for sleep, making time to keep up with your regular at-home self-care routines like exercise, meditation and journaling can be a challenge when you’ve got a must-see list calling your name. But the benefits of sticking to a routine are that you’ll be less likely to fall out of the habits once you return home after your trip, you’ll continue to maintain the mental and physical health these routines afford you and they might even make your trip a little better or more memorable without a huge added cost. Journaling and meditation are great ways to maintain that feeling of presence that lets you fully enjoy and remember your trip, and finding fun local versions of your favorite workout routines like exercise classes or going for a run can help you see a less touristy side of your destination.

11. Give yourself a break

Mental health is an important aspect of overall health. Man travelers attest to the mental health benefits of taking time to explore the world and escape the pressures of everyday life for a time. And anyone who has felt those daily pressure, including stress related to financial plans and health habits, can attest to the fact that being overly concerned with the minutia of budgeting and fitness—particularly weight loss—can have negative side effects on your mental and emotional well-being. So while it might seem antithetical, it’s important for your health to give yourself a break from the tracking and budgeting that might ultimately distract you from fully enjoying your experience. If you feel the need, don’t be afraid to let yourself spend a few extra dollars on that unnecessary pastry. It might just be good for your health.

If you’re looking for even more tips on how to stay healthy while traveling, check out our recent blog on items every health-conscious traveler has in their bag.