Raise your hand if you’ve wanted to go on a pilgrimage, but your jaw dropped when you saw the price tag! I’m talking north of $5K+ all-in for one person! I really wish price wasn’t such a deterrent to making a pilgrimage. After all, Catholic means “universal.” Some of the sticker shock for these trips, though, make it anything but universal.

So, I’ve compiled my best tips on how to afford a pilgrimage. I’m currently planning my first pilgrimage for this fall, and it’s actually a domestic one (which is cheaper). As I’m getting ready for it, I want to help others get to go on their own pilgrimage.

Now, before I go into how to afford a pilgrimage, I want to say that I don’t believe that a pilgrimage is essential to grow in your relationship with Christ. You could never set foot outside of your home for the rest of your life and still grow in holiness. I don’t want to induce FOMO in anyone! If you have no desire to do a pilgrimage, that’s fine. If you want to do one, take it to prayer to see if now is the best time.

I believe a pilgrimage is a privilege – we are to be reminded that we are pilgrims on Earth. This is not our forever home. Which tour company to use, where to go, when to go — it can feel overwhelming to plan for something that’s supposed to be prayerful. These are the same tips I’m using as I try to afford an upcoming pilgrimage for myself.


Catholic pilgrimage

Have a discussion with God about your desire to go on a pilgrimage. Tell Him why you want to go and where you’re thinking about going. Pray, sleep on it and don’t rush into it.

I learned this the hard way last year when I was insistent that I go on a pilgrimage to Italy. I booked it without much thought (partly because there was a deal going on that I didn’t want to miss) and ended up losing $300 to forfeit my deposit when the dates just didn’t work out. I was too busy trying to add another stamp to my passport that I didn’t even ask God if this was a good time to go.

Spend time in Adoration, pray the Rosary, talk with your spiritual director – use your spiritual tools of choice to discern if this is where God is calling you. But don’t obsess over this decision or overcomplicate it. If you have the time, the means and the desire to go on a pilgrimage, it’s likely that when you pray about it, you will feel a peace about it.

Don’t forget to talk to people who’ve been on pilgrimages. They can can give you the low-down on which tour companies are the best and what they wish they’d known before.

Before You Book: Logistics

How Much?

Pilgrimages usually last 5-14 days, which means the trip itself without airfare will cost around $900-$5000. There’s a big range because it depends on the length, location, level of service, and time of year you’re traveling. For example, pilgrimages to Mexico tend to be cheaper than those to Greece, Italy or the Holy Land.

Air-Inclusive or Land-Only?

It depends. Sometimes the difference between a pilgrimage + flight and a land-only trip is $400; other times, it’s $1000. In either case, you should go on a website like Kayak.com or Momondo.com and see how much it would cost you to pay for the flight on your own. If the total cost of land-only plus the flight on your own is cheaper than the air-inclusive option, then go with the land-only option.

Most pilgrimages will still provide transportation from the airport to your destination even if you don’t pay for airfare through them. You just have to make sure that you land before or at the same time as most of the passengers on the trip so that you can hop on the shuttle bus!

Advantages of Land-Only

  • use frequent flier miles to book
  • use credit card rewards (more below) to book your flight
  • pick which airline you fly

Location, location, location

Your location will play a big role in the price of your pilgrimage and flight. All of the choices can be overwhelming.

One way to narrow it down is to choose an area of the world you’re interested in – e.g., Europe – and then narrow down from there. You could also choose based on price. Pick a budget and then filter the locations that meet that limit.


You can also save money on the more expensive locations by going in the off-season. For example, Italy’s unofficial off-season is November through April. One tour company I was looking into was selling a 7-day pilgrimage Rome for $1898 in October. In November, the price dropped down to $1398.

Solo vs. With Someone

The advertised prices of pilgrimages are usually for a double room. Paying for a private room is often times hundreds of dollars more expensive. If you don’t have someone to go with and don’t want a private room, call the tour company and ask for a roommate. Often times, they keep lists of people looking for someone to share a room with. 

Be aware, though, that some tour companies will charge you the amount for a private room if you don’t have a roommate’s name when you sign up. In that case, they’ll refund you the private-room fee if they find you someone to room with. If you’re counting on the price of a double room, then make sure you ask the tour company if you can be refunded if they don’t find you a roommate.

Find Out What’s Included

Does the advertised price include the following? Each tour company differs in what it covers.

  • transportation to/from airport
  • meals
  • drinks
  • tips/gratuities
  • admission to sites

You’ll have to budget for anything the tour doesn’t cover, like lunches or souvenirs. Most tour companies can give you an estimate of how much “spending money” you should bring.

Before You Book: Paying

Credit Card Rewards

Credit card rewards have helped me to fly more than a dozen times for free. If you have a good credit score, you can apply for credit cards with a big sign-up bonus.

Let’s say XYZ TravelCard (fictional) is offering 50,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. The strategy is to use this card to pay all of your bills over the next 90 days so you “hit” that $3,000. You don’t want to spend on non-essentials that you otherwise wouldn’t buy to earn the 50K miles because that would defeat the purpose. You want to buy only what you had already planned on spending. Once you get there, 50,000 miles is deposited into your travel bank. You can then use those “miles” as a travel statement credit when you purchase airfare or a hotel room.

50,000 miles translates into $500 for most reward credit cards, though it does vary slightly among cards (a good rule of thumb is to just slash off the last 2 digits to get the dollar amount). So if you buy a $400 round-trip plane ticket, you would log onto your credit card website afterward and apply 40,000 miles to that purchase, thereby deducting that $400 from your statement balance. I’ve flown for free close to a dozen times using this method with credit cards.

If you’re planning to go with your spouse or someone else, you can each apply for your own credit card so that you have your own rewards to use.

Another thing to be aware of — if you’re getting close to the 90 days and haven’t spent the $3,000 (or whatever the minimum spend is), you can buy gift cards for places where you know you’ll be spending money soon, like the grocery store or gas station.

Side note: I understand that not everyone wants to use credit cards and sometimes they get a bad rap. I recognize that they can be dangerous if they’re used irresponsibly. I only recommend using credit cards if you’re living below your means and can pay the credit card off in FULL every month. 

Cash Discount

Some companies charge a fee on top of the advertised price to pay by credit card (it’s usually 2 or 3%). In this case, cash or check is usually a better option. However, if you’re someone who has hundreds or thousands of dollars in cash rewards on your credit card, it may make more sense to use them to pay for the trip so that the out-of-pocket cost is lower to you.

Discount Codes

Some Catholic pilgrimage websites offer discount codes at various times of the year. 206 Tours often runs promotions of $100 or $150 off in honor of certain holidays or feast days.

I’ve also seen various specials on Globus Cosmos faith-based tours throughout the year. Your best bet, if you don’t see any discount codes, is to email the tour company and ask if they’re running any specials.

Cheaper Options

Some cheaper pilgrimage options include tours without a priest, like Globus Cosmos does for its Catholic faith-based tours. So it’s up to you whether having a spiritual director is a deal breaker. Personally, I really value having a priest in the group.

Before You Go: Saving

Unless you have all the dispensable cash ready to go right now, you’ll have to save. The simplest thing to do is to divide the total trip amount (pilgrimage + flight price + spending money) by the weeks leading up until the money is due. If you’re paying by credit card, you’re buying yourself a few extra weeks until the bill comes.

Savings Account

Setting up a travel savings fund from now until you plan to depart can give you an honest look at how close you are to your goal. I suggest opening up a high-yield online savings account. You can set up automatic savings each week from your checking and/or from your paycheck. Aim for a savings account with 1.85% or higher with no fees. A good place to compare savings rates is BankRate or NerdWallet.


You can do the old stash-cash-in-an-envelope process. Put any extra cash you have at the end of the day or any tips/cash you’re paid for your job in there.


I don’t know why I’m hesitant to say this, but paying for a pilgrimage will most likely require sacrifice to reach your savings goal. Here are some ideas for sacrifice:

  • eat out 2-4x less each month
  • ditch all take-out food for a month
  • make your coffee/tea/morning drink at home
  • cancel subscriptions you don’t use (magazines, monthly boxes)
  • commit to not buying any new clothes, shoes, or accessories until after the trip
  • commit to a “no-spend” day

You can also sacrifice by working more hours to earn the money for your trip:

  • babysitting
  • dog-sitting or dog-walking
  • sell old stuff online, on apps (like Poshmark), or at a consignment shop
  • picking up some work with a temp agency
  • picking up extra hours at your current job

Before You Go: Packing

Pack Lightly

Most international flights come with a free checked bag and/or carry-on, but some do not (as I learned the hard way). If yours doesn’t, then try to pack lightly and pay for whichever baggage option is cheaper. With some airlines, paying for a checked bag is cheaper than a carry-on. Let’s be honest, you rarely need everything you pack, so pack lightly by rolling your clothes.

Most airline credit cards offer free checked bags on all of your flights for being a cardmember. That’s another reason I’m a big fan of credit card rewards. Some of these airline cards are free and some come with annual fees around $95. You’ll have to do the math to see if the annual fee pays for itself based on how often you fly. Of course, you have nothing to lose if there’s no annual fee and you get free checked bags!

Pack Snacks

You’re going to get hungry while you travel. It’s almost guaranteed that you will pay a premium at airports, ferries, train terminals, etc to get snacks. Packing your own snacks will save you money! Some things I’ve packed that come in handy are nuts, protein bars, dried fruit, nut butter packets, and oatmeal.

While You’re There

Remember that the point of the pilgrimage isn’t to accumulate stuff. It’s about an experience. So I’d keep your souvenir/gift budget low. My favorite thing is to buy postcards and stamps and write notes to friends and family back home. It’s cheap and quick way to share the experience with your loved ones.

If you didn’t pack snacks, see if there’s a local grocery store. It’ll likely be much cheaper to buy food there than to eat out for your meals that aren’t covered on the trip.

If you’re traveling internationally, I would suggest getting the cheapest international data/cell phone plan or not getting a plan at all. WiFi is accessible in most, if not all, of the place you’ll visit, so you can put your plane on airplane mode and communicate with people on WhatsApp or through iMessage.

Don’t Go Into Debt

I highly highly discourage going into debt to go on a pilgrimage. If you have to go into debt to travel, then it’s probably not the right time to go. That said, God works in His own ways, so it’s entirely possible that He may call you to go even when you’re not in a good financial position.

I hope these tips help you afford the pilgrimage you want to go on! If you have any other questions or tips, let me know.

Bon voyage!

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