One of the main reasons why most people don’t end up travelling as much is because it can turn out to be pretty expensive and eat into ones savings. I’m here with some little tips and ideas of what I do to make sure I can travel often, on a budget!
Fair warning: some of these are more ‘rough it out’ than ‘relaxing vacay’ but they’re all worth it.
- Buy them in time. I know this is an oldie but so often still missed by most. Last minute vacations and plane tickets may be romantic in movies but in reality they burn a panda sized hole into your savings. Buy tickets for your next vacation about 2 months in advance. Getting them sooner isn’t usually helpful either and anything less than 45 days in advance is usually more expensive
- Play around with the dates. Most websites show you the different pricing on dates other than the ones you’re picked. I use Hopper to get an idea of the price to my destination before I book. It’s a great app to figure pricing trends and get alerts when the price starts to go up. Skyscanner & Google Flights are great as well
- Be flexible. Be open to moving the itinerary around a bit. Fly out of a Tuesday for example instead of a Friday night/Saturday. If you’re flying within a country as well, see which flights are cheaper on what dates and play with that. Staying open, where possible, can help you save big $$
- Private Browsing should be your best friend. When you’re playing around looking for flights and different options always go incognito or delete all your cookies. You are likely to get better rates than otherwise
- Airports! Most big cities have more than one airport and/or there are airports close by to the city you want to head to. Always pick the ‘close by’ options as well when looking for flights. You might just get a bargain at a different airport than the one you originally planned
- Travelling off peak season is usually the cheapest but something not worth the experience as it may be too hot/too cold & cafe’s etc may be shut. The best thing to do is to travel during shoulder season. It gets you cheap flights + cheap accommodation + lesser crowds and you still get to experience the place in all it’s glory!
- When you’re in a new country, you’re probably going to spend most of your time outdoors exploring. So, it’s best to pick a cheap (but clean) place to stay. One that gives you the night’s rest you need but doesn’t have the luxuries of a resort because, to be fair, you aren’t going to use a lot of those anyway
- Go for a hostel if you can. Read my post about how Hostelling can be for everyone!
- Look for AirBnBs especially if you’re travelling in a group or with family. These warm homes can be just what you need on your vacation
- Another great option for longer trips is housesitting. There are many websites offering housesitting jobs, try Nomador
- Couchsurf! To be honest, this one wasn’t for me and I had some not-so-pleasant surfers staying home. But, it may just be for you. Get an account on CouchSurfing and stay for free across the world
- Location is key. I mean it when I say that this is one of the most important things when looking for a place. When going for a bargain, we sometimes end up picking a stay option FAR from the city/in a not-so-great neighbourhood. This can be disastrous because the cost of travel to the city/places you want to see can slowly add up! Plus, if your neighbourhood isn’t great or if you’re too far, you’re going to end up taking way more taxis than public transport thereby adding those $$. Stay close to the places you want to see. Walkability of your accommodation makes your actual expense on vacation way lesser.
Currency & Exchange
- Almost everyone has a different formula to make the most of their home currency when exchanging. I usually don’t exchange a tonne at home and carry just about $500 in cash when I travel. Largely because I don’t like holding a lot of cash at a time while travelling and also because the exchange rate isn’t always the best. Also, I never exchange currency at airports! Ever
- My card charges me a fee each time I use it abroad so I try and minimise card swipes as much as I can and usually play it with cash
- I withdraw cash from ATMs in the local currency as and when needed. Usually for the week so that I don’t get charged ATM fee multiple times.
- Forex cards are great and I usually use these for longer trips (more than 1o days). Almost all banks have these and you can load them up before you go!
Food & Drinks
- Pick a place with breakfast included and tuck in! Most places offer breakfast along with accommodation or at a marginal cost, take it. A good breakfast goes a long way when you’re out exploring. If you’re at an airbnb, head to a grocery store on Day 1 and stock up
- Grocery stores are always one of the first few places I hit when I get to a city. Not only do they offer great options of food and snacks you can stock up on for the trip, they also give you an interesting glimpse into the day-to-day lives of the city you’re in & a chance to try local brands. Stock up on bread, spreads, water, snack bags, sandwiches and more. In most cities they also stock alcohol and a bottle (or two) of wine never hurt anyone + It’ll save you a lot of money!
- Street vendors are best when you want to try the local food & have it cheap. In my experience, almost 99% of times, the food is great and served with a side of great conversations. Grabbing lunch from a food truck/street vendor and picking a nice spot for picnic can be both fun & time saving
- Dinners and how to make the most of them. I’m all for budget travel but I’m also all for trying nice restaurants when I’m out
- Don’t over-order. Yes, everything looks so good on the menu! But you only got 1 tummy so make sure you only order what you will really be able to finish.
- Don’t drink with your meal. In many restaurants, it’s the alcohol that spikes your bill up and not so much the food
- Try what they are ‘most famous’ for. If you can’t afford a full meal, it’s still great to head to that place and try their famous dish and make the most of it
- All nights don’t need to be fancy dinner nights! Some of them can be slummed with grocery store dishes & wine
- Drinks If you enjoy your drinks, you will need to keep some bit of a budget for this. It’s one thing to try the local libations and another to drink through your trip’s budget on one night out! One great way is to get some beers at a grocery store and enjoy them with friends (old & new) in your accommodation (Best nights start in hostel kitchens) before you head out. Another trick is to only carry the amount of cash you intend to spend with you & keep that card in your wallet (no matter what)!
- City Passes. I have a love hate relationship with city passes. They are absolutely the best if you’re someone who intends on seeing all (or most) of the attractions in a city. They can help save you big bucks and offer additional discounts to restaurants and shops. If, like me, you aren’t someone who ticks all boxes then they may actually be a little more expensive. I usually tend to stay clear and do the math before I purchase one
- Public Transport is my best friend and it should be yours if you want to stick to a budget. Figuring the local transport system is also one of the most fun things I’ve done in cities. Sure, I got lost in Amsterdam and ended up outside the city but it was still worth it! Take a metro/bus card if you can as they are usually cheaper than buying single tickets and also way more convenient that trying to pull out change each time. Most cities now have streamlined systems where 1 card works across all modes of transport. Even in cities without a robust metro/tram line there are always options like shared Tuk-tuks or colectivos. Make the most of them and try to take as few taxi cabs as you can because those 3$ Uber trips add up
- Walking gives you the best of everything. You get some (much needed) exercise, really experience the city at your own pace and find hidden gems that aren’t on a tourist map. It you aren’t averaging 30,000 steps a day while travelling, are you even travelling?
- Rent a bike in cities that are biking friendly. They are great for getting some exercise, you can stop where you want and are also quick enough that you can see more places in a day! Large cities across the world have bike shares which you can use, see the list here
- When travelling within a country or within different countries in a place like Europe, plan to travel at night. Odd hour flights/trains etc usually cost less + you save accommodation cost for the night
- DIY > tours Where possible, try to avoid a tour and plan the trip yourself. Whether is heading out of town for a few hours to see tulips in Amsterdam or a day trip to Chichen Itza, you always have the option of roughing it out and planning the trip yourself. It may involve taking a local bus/train or even waking up earlier than planned but it will be worth the $$ you’ll save and also the time you’ll have to enjoy these places at your own pace! Of course, in some cases, tours are unavoidable and you just have to find the right one
- Picking tours Know that the most expensive may not be the best! Read reviews on trip advisor before you take the plunge and book a tour. Your hostel front desk may be a great place to shop around for tours as well
- Free walking tours are my favourite! Usually run by local students/ enthusiasts, these tours give you a great insight into the city, it’s culture, cool places to eat at and more. They run on tips and are way cheaper & usually more authentic than the pricier paid tours. Again, look at trip advisor to see which ones are worth it
- Museums I’m a sucker for them. Usually pricey, I pick one or two museums of all those available and take my time going through these. Make sure you explore all the options available as the most famous ones may not always be the ones that give you the most bang for your buck. Musee d’Orsay for example is cheaper than the Louvre and usually less crowded and more fun to explore. Plus, most museums have ‘free hours’ every other week. Check it out on their website and try to plan your visit so your entry is totally free.
Make a budget sheet
- I know there is no joy in finances during a vacation but it’s really important to make a budget sheet prior to a trip to really know how much you’re likely to spend. Here is one I started making for my (now cancelled) trip to S.America
- I like to put in ball park figures under different heads and then start to see where I can skim and save some
- Keep adding real numbers to this sheet before your trip as you keep booking stuff like your flight ticket, visa fees, insurance cost, any pre booked activities and your accommodation costs
- I also like to add my pre trip shopping to this budget as it helps keep me in check
- If you feel you’re going overboard, see where you can cut down. Maybe stay in cheaper accommodation alternated with nicer ones or pick one of the 5 activities you listed you wanted to do. It’s important to get a real sense of the expense before you head out
- Keep a Miscellaneous budget per day in your budget which will cover costs like phone sim cards, forgotten converter plug, impromptu purchases, those extra beers etc
- Lastly, stick to your planed budget. Don’t give in and extend it! I like to play a game with myself called ‘where could I go?’ Basically anytime I want to add another $1,000 to my trip budget, I think of where I could go in those $1,000 and well, the prospect of seeing another city/country always makes me NOT spend that money in one single trip.
- When you’re on your trip, record your expenses daily. It’ll take you 5 minutes and will save you from a tonne of anxiety. I use splitwise and it’s worked so well for me.
Lastly, know your pleases and thank yous. You have no idea how far you’ll get by with these. I have gotten out of sticky situations, flight rebookings, accommodation changes and more by just being nice and asking for what I needed.
Hope these little ideas help you travel often and explore more while sticking to that budget. Tell me what great money saving tips and tricks you use and let the planning begin!