5 Secrets to Ballin’ on a Budget

World: “Hey Mac, I’m thinking about planning a luxury vacation. You down?”

Me: “Oh, you know I’m always ready for a quick getaway! But listen, I’ve got bills coming outta my ears, so I can’t be booking anything too expensive right now. We better be ballin’ on a budget or I’m out, ok?”

Sounds familiar? The pressures at home are driving you all kinds of crazy. At work, you find yourself stuck in that tiny cubicle trying to respond to client emails or make sense of the latest monthly report. And through it all, the thought of pampering yourself to a few days off at an upscale beach resort or a cliff-hugging hideaway is all you can think about. But over the tapping sound of the keyboard and the dull hum of the freezing air conditioning unit, your wallet is telepathically reminding you that its buying power is weak. Trust me, I know. That kind of mental torture can be daunting.

Well, what if I said you can take a nice vacation without breaking the bank? Ballin’ on a budget is definitely possible – if you know a few tricks of the trade.

Feel free to use these tips to get a taste of the luxury life without any accompanying slave-to-your-credit-card strife.

Shortlist countries with a favorable currency exchange rate

Other than flight and hotel costs, there are a ton of other expenses you’ll need to cover in the vacation budget. So, in order to take care of things like local transportation, food and drinks, attraction entrance fees, souvenir shopping and entertainment, it helps to select countries with an exchange rate that allows your dollar to stretch further. 

If you live in the US and budget is a consideration, you’ll get more bang for your buck by going to Mexico, Thailand or Jamaica, for example, because in those countries you can buy more with less. In contrast, flying to places like the UK or Cayman Islands where their currencies are stronger than the US dollar would significantly restrict your purchasing power. Don’t get me wrong. They’re both great places to visit; just not on a strict budget.

Useful tool: If you’re unsure where to start, the XE Currency Converter is a great site to check exchange rates before your next trip.

Travel in off-season

After you’ve shortlisted your possible destinations, the next step is comparing rates for airfare and accommodation in each. Time of year will make a difference, and at this point, your purchase decision will be impacted by demand and supply. Rates are always highest during peak season – the months when most people travel to a set location – and when demand falls, hotels and airlines have excess rooms and seats they need to discount to fill.  Because of that, you should aim to travel in off-season.

Useful Tool: Peak season and off-season vary by locale, so it can get confusing. However, an interactive map by LastMinute.com makes it easy to see monthly variations at-a-glance. Red indicates peak season, the blue-green color represents off-season, and yellow stands for shoulder season, which is in between. (A snapshot of January is shown below).

Go with your squad

There are some things solo trips can do for your psyche, but for everything having to do with finicky finances, there’s the squad. Without a doubt, sharing the costs of accommodation allows you to stay in a higher caliber property than you would be able to book on your own. This travel hack works for luxurious hotel suites that allow triple or quad occupancy, but it is particularly useful in high-end Airbnbs, villa or bungalow situations where you can bring friends or family and spread out comfortably in the space.

Useful tools: If you end up splitting more than the cost of accommodations, there is no need to quibble about who owes who. Splittr and Splitwise are two free apps that help you track and balance trip expenses, and they are available in multiple currencies.    

Keep it short and sweet

One of the best ways to curtail costs, is to go all out over a shorter time period. For example, if lodging costs $400-500 per night, a three- or four-day trip works out much cheaper than a week at the same price. You also end up spending less on attractions, taxis, meals and beverages.

A few luxury rental sites to consider: Boutique Homes, Villas of Distinction, Sunset Homes Anguilla.

Splurge wisely

Rather than blowing cash at posh boutiques, or on elaborate three-course meals, spa treatments and pretty, umbrella-garnished drinks every minute you are away, choose your splurges carefully. You see, the key to this Ballin’ On A Budget life is being able to travel and have a good time, with limited funds.  So, use that kitchen facility at the vacay crib to make daily breakfast, go shopping at the grocery store to have snacks for lunch, and then dress up and go all out on a dinner and/or fancy drinks at a ritzy venue. Sometimes you don’t even have to stay at a five-star to go eat or have drinks at the property.  And luvs, when you do, don’t forget to take the all-important fly photo for social proof!

International phone plan comparisons for travelers on-the-go

Women on phone in hotel_international phone plans room_Tranquility Beach Anguilla

How much do you know about your international phone plan options? If you live in the United States and travel frequently for work or pleasure, it’s highly likely you might have already racked up unusually high charges for calls or data usage while you were overseas. That’s why it’s important to learn all you can about the costs and inclusions of the international phone plans that are available from various US carriers to better protect your pocket.


Based on feedback in online forums and groups among travelers, T-Mobile is, by far, the most US popular carrier for staying connected while abroad. According to the company’s website, their “Magenta®, Simple Choice™, New Classic, and Select Choice plans provide unlimited 2 gigabyte (GB) data, unlimited texting and calling at $0.25 per minute in 210+ countries and destinations.”  No international data-roaming charges show up on your bill, and there is no setup fee. All you need to do is land and turn on your phone. They also advertise an Essentials plan that includes unlimited text and calling at the same rate – $0.25 per minute (excluding data) – in the same number of countries. Basic costs start at $35 dollars per line for Magenta, and $43 per line for Magenta plus.

Google Fi

Never heard of Google Fi? Don’t worry. Until I started doing research for this article, I hadn’t either. It’s a relatively new phone service for Android users which Google introduced in 2015. For Google Fi to work, you need a special SIM card and specific software on your phone (if you don’t have a Pixel). With it, you get voice, SMS and mobile broadband services across Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular networks, and Google Fi intelligently switches between the three or to W-FI to make calls (whenever it’s available).  

The beauty of this service lies in simple billing. If you sign up, your out-of-pocket expense is $20 per month for unlimited talk and texts and $10 for every 1 GB of data used. If you require a lot of data for social media and operate in the 6 GB realm on a regular basis, that catapults you to Bill Protection status, where your charges are capped at $60 per month.


Verizon’s turn-key international plan, which is usable in over 185 countries, is called TravelPass. For $10 a day, per line, you can call, send or use data. To activate this international phone plan, all you need to do is text the word TRAVEL to 4004 or on My Verizon, and you’ll get a welcome message when you get to your destination. The fee begins when you use the phone. One important thing to note is that minutes, texts and data usage overseas also impacts your regular plan allowance, so if you exceed your limit, you will get pinged with overage charges. If you are going to be away for more than seven days, it makes sense to switch over to Verizon’s $70 monthly plan to save money.

Verizon customers traveling to Canada and Mexico need only pay $5 per line if those two countries aren’t already covered in their domestic plan. What’s more, the company also has pay-as-you-go rates that charge by the minute for message and data use. This option is available in Cuba and on more than 400 cruise ships.


AT&T’s phone plan is called International Day Pass and it costs $10 per day to get talk, text and data coverage in 100+ destinations in Europe, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Caribbean. For that daily fee, you get unlimited calls in the countries covered in the plan and unlimited texts to others at no additional charge. However, one thing to note is that you accrue data charges for apps that run in the background, so they advise you to “turn off your messaging apps, disable automatic updates and background refreshes to make your data go further.”

If you need lots of data, you can look at the AT&T Passport 2 GB plan for $70 per month or their AT&T Passport 6GB plan for $140 per month. Both are available for use in more than 200 countries. For persons not keen on buying a package, the company also has a pay-per-use rate of $2.05 per megabyte of data.


The international phone plan from Sprint is called Sprint Global Roaming, and all Sprint users with LTE/GSM capable smartphones have access to it within their regular plans. Customers get text and data included (up to 2G speeds) and calls for $0.25 cents per minute in more than 200 destinations worldwide.   

Other options

if none of these plans seem like a good fit, you can always buy an unlocked phone and get a local SIM card with a prepaid plan in the country you’re visiting. Alternatively, you can do what I do and just put your phone in airplane mode then hop onto Wi-Fi and call through the internet using WhatsApp. Facetime audio and Skype work well with as free as possible strategy too.  

Do you know of any other plans that help you stay connected abroad? If so, please drop the details below.