Most people would love to travel more but feel they can’t because of the costs. There is often the assumption that if you’re going to travel, especially for longer periods of time, you will end up broke after or you’ll have to make extreme sacrifices on the trip in order to do everything you want to.But actually, there’s a middle ground. You can have the incredible experiences you’re seeking while still traveling within your budget.
Here are 10 tips on how to save money while traveling:
1. Be Flexible
It’s good to have an idea of when you want to be somewhere and for how long, but if you’re open to several destinations or times, you can pick the best deals when they become available.
Flexibility doesn’t mean you’re missing out on the best experience. In fact, it can often be the reverse. Sometimes more expensive places have last-minute deals because they need to fill up spaces. Or you may end up in a city you may not have discovered based on a cheaper route/accommodation.
It’s all about having an open mind, being able to go with the flow, and trusting it’ll take you where you need to go. Skyscanner is one of the sites that allows you to compare the cheapest flights available and you can even select “everywhere” as a destination if you’re really open to any possibility.
2. Pack Smart
Pack in a way that allows you to use and reuse. For example, always have a 5-star water bottle and filter instead of buying water when out – it saves money and is good for the environment. Bring ways to take food with you: Ziploc bags, Tupperware, a light folding canvas cooler, for example. These allow you to carry snacks with you instead of buying food at the attraction or in the middle of a city, which can often be much more expensive.
When you’ve had a long day doing tours and sightseeing, it can be easy to “give in” and eat at the first place you come to. But if you’ve planned ahead, you can easily save those 20-30 dollars.
Another key tip for packing smart while traveling on a budget is to pack a universal adaptor rather than buying single ones for all the countries you to go to. More space and less money spent on five different adaptors.
It’s also worth investing in a vacuum pack bag (you just roll the bag to push out the air). It saves so much space. Each bag can be packed with different "outfits” so you only ever need to open one bag in any location.
3. Eat Smart
Always book an Airbnb with a kitchen and hit up local markets, which is so much cheaper than eating out all the time or going to supermarkets. It’s nice to enjoy one meal out, typically dinner, and make your own food for breakfast and lunch.
If the Airbnb is nice enough, it’s a really great way to start your day by making your own coffee and breakfast and sit out on a balcony people-watching or getting a head start on your work if you’re a digital nomad (link that article).
Also, you can sometimes ask Airbnb hosts (once you’ve been there for a while) if they'll let you extend your stay if you pay in cash. They get to keep the Airbnb fee and you often get a lower negotiated price.
4. Do Cool Free Stuff
Walking tour apps, national parks, and museums can all be free! They can often be better than the paid, “tourist trap” options because they’re government-run or by the people, for the people.
If you’re not into organized activities, you can pre-plan your own walking tour or pub crawl of iconic places in the city and read along on your phone to learn the history of each destination. This is a great list of free things you can do in every city.
But, keep in mind: sometimes free or cheap is not always worth it. Let’s say you’re in Vietnam, instead of a cheap, jam-packed boat trip around Halong Bay (known as “the tourist trap”), book a slightly more expensive trip out to Bai Tu Long Bay (exactly the same landscape but a bit further out and not as touristy). There are stretches of time where you don't see another boat and you can canoe around the small, limestone islands and experience its incredible beauty.
If you’re saving money in other aspects (i.e. on food, clothes, accommodation), splurging every once and a while could be worth it.
5. Go to Small Towns
There are so many reasons to go to places off the beaten track, but one of the biggest perks is the price tag. Small towns are often cheaper and more accommodating to travelers than their big-city counterparts. Often, the locals there are more representative of a country’s culture, simply because the main city can be overrun by tourists.
Less traveled can mean more affordable. The prices aren’t as jacked up because it’s only the locals there who are paying for it.
Some of the best stories come from unexpected places. Google search the cheapest/most convenient train or bus from the main city out somewhere less central and go there. You’ll never know where that adventure may take you.
6. Always Ask
Flight upgrade, room upgrade, seat upgrade, complimentary wine or snack – you don’t get what you don’t ask for.Though we like to assume people don’t judge us on our appearance, dressing the part here is key. The flight company is less likely to offer a business class upgrade to an un-showered, greasy-haired backpacker – so “dressing up” can help the money in your bank stay down. Kindness, punctuality, and presentability can go a long way.
7. Off-Season Travel
Go to countries during shoulder season or off-season. Places like the Canary Islands (in Europe) still average around 60 degrees even in the winter, but are much cheaper during this off-peak season. You also avoid the madness of tourist seasons that way and can have a much more enjoyable trip doing all of the same activities well within your budget.
Often, you meet the more interesting people on these trips too. You avoid the post-university backpacker mass, meet more long-term travelers, digital nomads, and the locals are often friendlier when the crowds are less busy.
You’re also much more likely to get deals on those main tourist attractions. Especially if you ask (see #5 of this budget travel blog).
8. Accommodation Location
Sometimes, booking cheaper accommodation outside of the center is more hassle than it's worth. You spend way too much time, effort, and money trying to get into the city center to see the place, and if you end up going out at night, the cost of taxis might mean you don't actually save much.
You can still avoid the city center but book somewhere within a 15-20-minute walking distance so you’re still in the heart of things while not paying the same prices.
9. Live Like the Locals
Go to the bars and restaurants where the locals eat and avoid most restaurants on the main strips of a city center. The local spots are more authentic too and you’ll get a richer experience of the city.
If you’re going to a local market, it can be really helpful to learn basic phrases like “more,” “less,” “please and thank you” in the local language and use it. The locals are so appreciative and sometimes give relatively local prices rather than tourist ones because of your effort.
10. Go Off-the-Beaten-Track
Trying to do things on the fringe of tourism is almost always cheaper. For example, you may want to avoid the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, which can be jam-packed with tourists, but instead, go to the Myvatn Nature Baths in the north. Both are cool experiences; one is just not as overrun as the other.
A great way to find these places is to search local blogs for the city you’re in or ask around. A good tip is to ask your waiter at the end of your meal what they recommend as “must-dos” as a local and plan your next day based on that.
At the end of the day, what’s important is your why. What is it that you want to get out of your travel experience? Evaluate your priorities and figure out what you care least about – then, spend less on that so you can spend more on the things that you do care about.
This is your trip, your life, and you have the capabilities to make it exactly what you want it to be. Though sometimes these options can seem like minimal budget adjustments, they can really go a long way and enable you to travel the way you really want. It’s not about sacrifices, but about optimizing your time, money, and energy to experience even more.