Valentine’s Day on a backpacker budget

go4theglobe travel couple

If you’re backpacking on the road with your Valentine this February 14th, we’ve got you covered with the recipe for the perfect low cost, high romance Valentine’s day abroad!

Or if you’re saving money for an upcoming adventure (of course my mind of jumps to travel but maybe you’re saving for something more traditional like a wedding, house, or baby), then this blog can also apply to you (skip to step 3 and look out for the *)!

Last year we spent Valentine’s Day in the small hippy/surf town of Punta del Diablo, Uruguay. When you’re backpacking, it can be easy to let holidays pass without acknowledging them (especially if they aren’t celebrated where you are or if the usual consumerism that surrounds the holiday isn’t being shoved down your throat). But we decided to make a little effort – without straying from our tight travel budget, and the result was our most romantic and my personal favorite Valentine’s Day together.

Here are six steps we took to make our Valentine’s Day both memorable and romantic abroad, without going over our backpacker travel budget:

Spoiler alert: The last step is the most important!

1. Location, location, location!


Beach at Punta del Diablo, Uruguay
Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

Where will you be? This requires a little planning (but not too far in advance). Try to be somewhere you both love to be on Valentine’s Day (and avoid having it fall on a travel day, although you can have an honorary Valentine’s Day celebration on another day if travel plans won’t cooperate). Do you love being in a big city, in the countryside, on the coast? Obviously, there are parameters to what’s available to you depending on where you are in the world but look at your available options and choose the best option for you both.

Matt and I both love the beach, and we had heard great things about the chill beach town of Punta del Diablo. We were previously in the country’s capital (Montevideo) and decided to get out of the city (they have beaches too but not ones we would recommend or swim in). Matt’s birthday is the day after Valentine’s Day so was also the location we hunkered down for both celebrations.

2. Accommodation! Skip the hostel dorm room

Airbnb cabana we stayed in for Valentine’s Day in Punta del Diablo [Photo from Airbnb]
Ditch the hostel dorm room – go for an Airbnb. As a solo traveler, hostels are typically the cheapest way to find accommodation, but when you are traveling as a couple and paying for two beds, we found it was actually cheaper most of the time to get an Airbnb as opposed to paying for two hostel beds. Of course, there are always exceptions depending on where you are, so do your research. For example, in Thailand and the Philippines, we found hotels/inns/guest houses were actually cheaper than most Airbnbs. If you’re new to Airbnb, use our code for $40 off your first stay (put it towards V-day!).

Go for the privacy of your own place (as opposed to just a private room) – you may have to find an Airbnb a little off the beaten track stay within your budget. Typically, the farther you are from the most “desirable” areas (i.e. city center, hip neighborhood, beach, etc.) the cheaper you will find an Airbnb and the more bang you get for your buck!

We found a private cabana, which was charming but ended up being even farther from the beach than we anticipated. We actually hitchhiked (and were usually successful) to and from the beach because of how far it was (and how hot it was!). If we weren’t on a backpacker budget, this would’ve been a great time to splurge and get a beachfront room – but we were still happy with the alternate we found within our budget.

3. Spend the day doing something you love together


Head to the beach, explore a city, check out a free museum, go on a hike, whatever is your jam and accessible to you – just do it together!

For us, this meant heading to the beach and sunbathing/body surfing. We got acai bowls (my favorite) in the morning and also ate a Mexican restaurant for lunch with a view of the beach.

*Savers at home: Since Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday this year, allot time one day over the weekend (or when you are both have a day off) to spend this time together.

4. Ditch the expensive gifts

Punta del Diablo, Uruguay
Main street into Punta del Diablo with handmade jewelry stands on the way to the beach

When you’re on the road, you don’t have space for much else than what you’re already carrying on your back and you, of course, are on a budget. We agreed on no gifts, but Matt and I were persuaded into a cute little pair of earrings for me from a man selling jewelry on the street while we were walking back from the beach. They fit the parameter of being small and cheap! One fell down the sink drain shortly after but it was a sweet gesture (and hey, at least they were cheap – this is why backpackers shouldn’t have nice things to begin with).

A handwritten letter/card is always a great alternative to a present and can be so much more meaningful than material items.

*Savers at home: Eyes on the prize! Unless your gift is future travel/wedding/house/baby related, don’t waste your money on things you don’t need.

5. Cook and share a candlelit dinner

Homemade Valentine’s Day dinner – Local Uruguayan steak & wine with potatoes and veggies

As seasoned backpackers know, shopping for food at a local market and preparing your own meals is significantly cheaper than eating dinner out. There’s no need to stray from this logic on Valentine’s Day. But instead of making whatever your typical backpacker meal is (our go to is a combination of rice, eggs, sometimes chicken and a ton of veggies), make a local dish. Local cuisine is usually the cheapest option available. Plus, making something different will make it more memorable (hopefully in a good way haha). Pick up a bottle or two of the local adult beverage, if that’s something you’re into.

Back at your Airbnb, put on your favorite music, sip on your drinks and help prepare the meal together. Sit down to enjoy the fruits of your labor to a candlelit dinner (if your Airbnb doesn’t come with a candle, pick one up at the market). Yes, candles might be cliche, but there’s just something so romantic about them.

Lucky for us, Uruguay is known for its high-quality steaks and wine (although its larger neighbor Argentina usually steals most of the credit for this worldwide). Our budget-friendly and local meal of steaks and wine actually didn’t stray far from our past Valentine’s Day meals (which had been spent at expensive wine bars in the U.S. where we paid quadruple the cost). And our Airbnb came complete with a candle!

*Saver at home: Good news, you can do this at home!

6. LOVE! Share your love for each other

Valentine's Day dinner in our Airbnb
Valentine’s Day dinner in our Airbnb (Matt was roasting – there was no A/C and I was wearing my BugsAway top because I was trying to avoid more mosquito bites haha)

Even if you don’t follow any of the steps, you’ll still be fine as you follow this step as it is THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP!

At dinner (or really whenever you want as long you two are alone together & undistracted) take turns sharing with each other one reason why you love or what you love about your significant other. Look each other in the eyes when you share your reason. Take turns sharing back and forth.

Start every reason with “I love” –  “I love you because,” “I love how you,” “I love your,” “I love that you,” “I love the way you,” etc.

Who doesn’t love being showered with compliments? Sure, it might make you a little uncomfortable or blush, but it should also give you butterflies (which is what Valentine’s Day should be all about!). You might be pleasantly surprised about some of the nice things your partner says about you.

You can share lighthearted reasons “I love that you always help me close my backpack because it’s too full,” superficial reasons “I love your blue eyes,” and more personal reasons. It’s up to you, but a mix of all the reasons that mean something to you from silly to serious will make for a memorable evening.

The person receiving the compliments can’t combat them (‘but my eyes are ugly’ blah blah, none of that sh*t), their only option is to accept the reason, and then it is their turn to share one. And so it continues until you are both so filled with love, or are done with dinner, or whenever you want.

If you are into drinking games, you could always turn it into a drinking game and take a sip after your partner shares something about you. 😉 We didn’t do this, but we were drinking some delicious local wine with our meal. Drunk in looooooove (to quote Beyoncé). 😉


Viola! Now you have a full proof low budget high romance plan for Valentine’s Day on the road! Try out these steps and let us know how they worked for you in the comments below. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Our first Valentine’s Day together (pre-backpacker budget in 2015)


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