Today, with the economy the way it is, more and more people must be increasingly conscious of their spending habits. Of course, one of the first things that gets pushed out of someone’s budget is traveling. This is so unfortunate because (1) we were not made to work, pay bills, and die, and (2) you can still travel cheaply as long as you are willing to make some sacrifices. Here I have created 21 tips for you to still be able to travel the world AND stay within a budget!
- Be flexible! This is probably the most important one. Don’t search for flights or hotels on specific dates. The price for a flight on a Saturday could be hundreds of dollars different than the same flight on a Tuesday. Use sites like Kayak that have a “flexible date” or “search the whole month” option to see when the cheapest day is to fly. You can also be flexible with your destination! Skyscanner is a really cool website because you can enter the dates you wish to travel and instead of inserting a destination, you type “Anywhere” and it will give you the cheapest destinations around the world on those dates. On the flip side of that you can also enter a destination and type “Anytime” and it will tell you the cheapest days of the year to fly there. Pretty amazing and also highly addictive!
- Forget the luxury! You don’t have to live like sewer rats, but if you want to save money, be prepared to stay in places that are not 5 star resorts. Try some hostels or AirBnb. I know they can sound frightening sometimes, especially for people with kids, but you can find some amazing ones that are really no different from a hotel. If you are still wary of hostels, just remember you don’t have to get a 10-person dorm room! You can get private rooms that are STILL cheaper than a hotel. AirBnb’s are great because you (usually) get access to a kitchen and multiple bedrooms depending on how many people you have. You also get access to the “landlord” who is most likely a local. They are usually very helpful and can give you great (FREE) tips about what to do in the area, how to get places on the public transportation, and sometimes even show you around. AirBnb and Hostel World are great sites to get started for your search!
- Use the public transportation systems! Buses, metros, and your good ‘ole feet are A LOT cheaper than taxis or hired cars! You can see more of the local environment this way too. Wherever you stay… hostels, AirBnb, hotels… the staff will be able to help you figure out how to get where you want to go using public transports. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, even from a stranger on the street.
- Don’t eat out all the time! Go to a grocery store and buy food for your stay. Get some muffins for breakfast, some peanut butter and bread for lunch, and stuff to make salads for dinner. If you have access to a kitchen then make good use of it! You will save, literally, hundreds of dollars if you stick to making your own food for a week or two.
- Stop buying bottled water everyday! Bring a reusable water bottle with you and drink from the tap. If you are in a location where the tap is not suitable to drink, then get a large gallon of water to refill your bottle. Two dollars a pop for 12 oz bottles of water adds up! Especially if you are drinking more than one everyday, which you probably are!
- If you are planning on staying in the area for a month or so you could consider working in exchange for room/board. There are many sites that connect you to people looking for laborers. WWOOF, Help Exchange, and Dave’s ESL Cafe are some great examples. There are also places that offer free accommodation to you in exchange for a gift, some light housework, your company, or a promise of accommodation to them in the future. Hospitality Exchange and Couchsurfing are great examples of this.
- Pack lightly! This makes it easier to carry and you can avoid those hefty “overweight” fees at the airports. Beyond that, if you can get away with all of your belongings in a carry-on, you can fly on most budget airlines without having to pay their checked luggage fees. Most budget airlines charge for checked baggage by the kilogram, so it can get quite expensive and defeat the purpose of using a “budget” airline. If you can do it then budget airlines can be your best friend. One of the really good sites is Which Budget.
- This seems obvious but try to avoid buying a bunch of souvenirs. I know it’s hard, believe me! Try to think about if you really need or it or if you would actually use it.
- Travel in the off seasons! This can actually be a better experience than peak seasons! The sights will be less crowded and everything will be cheaper! Just make sure you’re being safe about your off-season travels. Don’t go somewhere in the middle of typhoon season.
- Go to as many free activities and sights as possible. If you have kids, don’t go to that fancy children’s play center. Find a playground or park they can enjoy instead.
- Many large cities also have free walking tours. Ask your hostel, hotel, or AirBnb if there are any available in your area… or simply Google it. Great way to see the sites, get some exercise and save some money!
- Invest in savings cards, especially if you are going to be somewhere longer than a few days. Rail passes, metro passes, and bus passes are all so useful and pay for themselves after just a few uses. City passes offer you free or discounted admission to almost any sight or museum in the city. They typically also give you discounts at various activities and restaurants.
- Research your destination! Bring a guidebook, join an online community or group, or download some E-readers. Ask people who live there what is good to see in the area and when/how you should go there. You can avoid unnecessary expenses by avoiding places you would not find interesting or by learning how the locals would go to that place. Girls Love Travel is a great community on Facebook with nearly 275,000 members. People are always asking for opinions from locals. If you want to go somewhere, chances are, there are locals in that group willing to give advice.
- Don’t bother buying SIM cards or calling cards. It is so much easier (and cheaper!) nowadays to just download WhatsApp, Skype, WeChat, or any other communications app. Use wifi to go online and stay in touch with people.
- Overnight buses or trains! If you have to go a long distance from one city to another you can skip paying an extra night at a hotel and just sleep on the bus or train! These are SO much cheaper than a hotel. You can still get fairly comfortable if they have the flat bed-style seating, which most overnight ones do.
- Use all the discounts that apply to you! Anywhere you go, ask if they have student, senior, military, AAA, or family discounts! Every penny counts, right?
- Haggle like a mad woman (or man)! If you are in flea markets in Europe, you should definitely be doing this. In most of Asia it is expected and a way of life, so don’t be shy! Just remember to be reasonable and not insulting with your price offers.
- Don’t tip unless you know you’re supposed to. If it’s included on your bill, then you probably don’t need to. When in doubt, ask your server! In some Asian countries tipping can actually be considered rude. They think of it as if you see the waiter as a poor beggar who needs your extra change to survive, therefore it’s not considered a ‘nice’ thing to do, since they are not actually destitute.
- If you can, use miles to pay for your flight! You can use rewards cards or airline credit cards to rack up miles. You can also buy merchandise from the online Skymall of any airline. You can get electronics, pens, alcohol, makeup, perfumes, etc. Just for buying it on their website, the airlines will give you miles for every dollar you spend.
- Set aside a certain amount of money for each day and only bring that amount out with you! Leave the rest in the hotel safe. This way, there is no temptation to go over budget. If you have kids, do the same thing. Give them their daily allowance for food, drinks, souvenirs. In my experience, kids tend to be more frugal when they can physically see their own money dwindling.
- Pack your own snacks for the flights, trains, or bus/car rides. Snacks can be so expensive so it’s better to bring some with you from the grocery store.
Let me know in the comments below, what tricks do you use to save money when traveling?
I hope you enjoyed this list! Travel can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. I wouldn’t want anyone to look back on their life and say “well, I wanted to travel but… it was too expensive.” It doesn’t matter if you spontaneously go trekking through Patagonia for months or you save up for 2 years for a week-long trip to Miami. The point of travel is not how many stamps are in your passport. It’s about the number of amazing experiences you have along the way. Hopefully these tips can help you to plan a frugal and fun vacation for yourself or your family! Happy travels!