Traveling might be a luxury, but for many people, it’s a necessary way to take a break from the monotony and claustrophobia of the office. For me, thinking about taking a trip makes me cringe a little when I start to add up the costs of flights, hotels, food, and activities. But it doesn’t have to be that way, I promise! Although traveling can often be expensive, it’s not nearly as pricey as you might think. In this post, I’ve outlined the best ways to save money while traveling and cut down the costs of your trip.
17 Clever Hacks to Save Money While Traveling
1. Choose cheap destinations
Part of saving money while traveling starts before you’ve even planned your trip. Yes, where you go plays a HUGE role in how much a trip will cost.
In places like Central America, parts of South America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa, you can easily travel on less than $50 a day. (Yes, seriously!) However, if you head to Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, or parts of Africa, it’s difficult to get by on less than $150 a day. If you’re on a budget, choose destinations that fit your budget and avoid ones that you know will blow up your bank account.
2. Choose accommodations with a kitchen
Restaurant bills vary greatly when you’re abroad, but especially in expensive locations, cooking one meal a day or more can help cut costs substantially. The only way to cook, though, is to stay in a place with a kitchen that has basic cookware (like pots and pans) and basic condiments (like salt, oil, and sugar). The accommodations more likely to have these kinds of accommodations include hostels, long-term stay hotels, and Airbnbs. (Click here to save $40 off your first stay with Airbnb!)
In many places, supermarkets and outdoor city markets offer local produce at cheap (and often negotiable) rates. Paired with a few staples like rice, pasta, bread, or grains, cooking is a quick and easy way to stay healthy on the road and save money.
3. Bring collapsible tupperware
As a solo traveler, I usually get a little too hunger-happy and order a little more than I can actually eat in one sitting. But I never fear, because I always have my travel-friendly collapsible tupperware to take home leftovers. The best part is that this silicone container collapses to the size of a small paperback and fits into my handbag quite easily.
While taking leftovers might be seen as weird in some cultures, I suffer the shame to extend my restaurant outings into multiple meals.
4. Forget buying drinks
You’d be surprised, but one of the undercover expenses that adds up super quickly while traveling is drinks. Nowadays, I rarely pay for beverages of any kind (including water) when I travel. Instead, I bring a reusable thermal water bottle (I like my water COLD AF) and a Sawyer mini water filter and/or a SteriPen.
Unless I’m having a downright unbearable craving (like after a long hike), I don’t buy soft drinks or novelty beverages when I travel, either. And forget about alcohol – as a solo female traveler, I feel like alcohol consumption could lead to too many risky situations in unfamiliar environments.
5. Use Google Maps to take public transportation
Taxis, Ubers, Lyfts, and other private car services are all super convenient ways to get around an unfamiliar city. However, they can be over 10x the price of a bus or metro ride. In a lot of cities around the world, public transportation is cheap and efficient, and is a great way to get a feel for the local culture.
A great example of this is in my home, Washington DC:
- Cost of Uber from DCA airport to downtown DC = Pool: ~$10 + tip; UberX: ~$15-20 + tip
- Cost of metro ride from DCA airport to downtown DC = $2.35 one-way
Laid out side by side, it’s definitely a no-brainer about which one is the best value for your dollar.
6. Get money out of the ATM whenever possible
You can lose a lot of money to high commissions or low rates (or both) by exchanging cash. It can also be tricky to find cash exchange booths at the exact moment you might need them. Instead, sign up for a checking account with an online bank like Charles Schwab or USAA, and you can withdraw money from any ATM, absolutely free!
*Some countries’ ATM systems do not work with American cards, so you may need to disregard this advice and exchange cash in these situations. Do your research beforehand, and always have backup cash with you just in case.
7. Travel in groups
While I’m a HUGE advocate of solo travel for personal growth and freedom, it’s admittedly not the best way to have a cost-effective vacation. A better way to travel and save some money is to go with a similarly frugal travel companion. This way, you can have better bargaining power for tours (see below), you can share rides and meals as needed, and you can walk around and take public transportation as a group in the evenings when it may not be as safe to do so alone.
If you have no choice but to travel alone, don’t just cancel your trip altogether! You can find other solo travelers in hostels or guesthouses to team up with, which serves the exact same purpose as traveling in a group from the get-go.
8. Negotiate (politely)
Don’t be afraid to negotiate, especially when you know you’re being up-charged (or, as we like to say, paying the “tourist tax”). The best way to do this is to think of the price you’d like to pay, quote a price 10-20% less than that, and then bargain from there. Don’t be afraid to walk away, either, if the price is not what you’re looking for or what you expected based on friends’ recommendations.
However, a word of caution on this: DON’T BE AN A$$H*LE. I have seen WAY too many tourists try to take advantage of locals or act downright rude and condescending toward them because they didn’t lower the price to an expected dirt cheap value. Please treat everyone (especially local vendors) with respect.
9. Take free walking tours
One of my absolute favorite activities in a new place is to take a free walking tour (if they have one). If you’ve never tried a free walking tour before, the premise is this: you show up at a designated meeting point to join the group, you take the free tour, and at the end, you tip the guide however much you think the tour was worth.
Typically, I leave a tip of anywhere from $5 USD to $20 USD, depending on how informative and fun I thought the tour guide was. It’s really bad form to leave no tip. This is by far the best and cheapest way to orient yourself to a new city with an expert guide at your disposal.
10. Pack as light as possible
While having a small suitcase doesn’t directly affect money expenditures, it can have a lot of cost implications. You’ll spend less on airline baggage fees, tips for hotel bellhops, additional checked items on buses, etc. Plus, packing light will make things a lot easier on you while you’re on the move, which may make you less likely to spend money stress eating or drowning your luggage annoyances in alcohol.
11. Fly domestically on budget airlines
If you’ve followed my instructions above and packed light, flying on budget airlines should be a breeze. I actually love flying on budget airlines. Sometimes, you can find domestic or short international flights for less than $20 USD one way! That’s CRAZY!
This is a strategy you should only use if you are willing to read the fine print. Otherwise, you can get find a LOT of money for dumb things like not printing your boarding pass.
12. …Or travel overland
But, the method of travel that is typically even cheaper than flying on a domestic airlines is overland travel, namely buses. Buses are economical methods of transportation and, especially abroad, they’re almost always cheaper than flights.
However, sometimes it’s not worth taking a bus over a flight. Here’s an example of a situation where’d take a plane:
Bus – 20 hour trip, $40
- Flight – 2 hour trip, $65
There’s no exact formula or math I use to figure this out, it’s just an overall feeling of whether paying extra money is worth saving the extra time. And for me, the answer is usually yes if the bus takes more than double the time of the flight.
13. Stay in locally owned accommodations
During your travels, you can help out the local economy and opt to stay in a local hotel or bed and breakfast. The best places to find locally owned guesthouses and accommodations are on Airbnb and Booking.com.
While staying in a local guesthouse, the service will generally be better, you may have the opportunity to eat the local cuisine for breakfast, and the local owners can give you suggestions on the nearby attractions. Although language barriers can sometimes make communication with hosts more difficult, meeting locals and immersing yourself in the culture is a perfect way to simultaneously lower your costs and have a unique travel experience.
14. Learn the tipping culture
While you may be used to adding on an extra 18% to your dinner receipt, many countries don’t share the same tipping culture as in the US. In fact, in some places it can even be considered rude to leave cash on a table when you leave; other countries, like Italy, usually include the service charge within the prices of the meal. Some countries do not practice tipping at all. Do some research beforehand on the countries you plan to visit so you don’t inadvertently overpay for your meals out.
15. Try out free activities FIRST
Some of the best experiences you can have abroad may not even cost you a penny. Fill up the schedule of your first few days in a new place by wandering the streets in an interesting neighborhood or research the free local attractions near your accommodations. If you are the guest of a social hostel, take advantage of the common area to meet other budget-minded travelers and plan out an activity. Some ideas for common free activities include visiting the local art or history museums, the nearby city parks, and famous viewpoints around the city. Parks, museums, street art, viewpoints, etc.
16. Choose free souvenirs
When you think about it, that cheap keychain you plan to buy from a street stall in Paris may be appreciated by your friend, but what is the likelihood they will actually use it? Opt instead for some free souvenirs to save your wallet.
Going on the Inca trail? Gift your sibling that map of the trail given to you at the start of the trek. Heading to the black sand beaches of Iceland? Collect some sand in a small jar and give it to your best friend. Avoiding the cheap, low-quality souvenirs found in your local tourist trap shops will both save you money and help you be a more sustainable traveler.
17. Make a budget and track every travel expense
Although this one sounds obvious the importance of a proper budget cannot be stressed enough. Not only does it allow you to plan ahead and set maximum spending goals, you’ll find that keeping track of your ongoing expenses will prevent you from spending more. Tracking your expenses provides increased awareness and mindfulness about spending, and enables you to track which categories you are spending the most money on.
One great app to use while traveling is TrailWallet. It enables you to see your daily spending so you can follow your budget while traveling.
Other Money-Saving Travel Tips
- Get WorldNomads Insurance, because having travel insurance is worth the cost and can save you thousands of dollars in the event of an emergency abroad
- Cross-check flight prices on Google Flights, Skyscanner, and CheapoAir to find the best rates
- Use HotelsCombined to compare hotel/hostel prices, then book hotels/accommodation on Booking.com
- …Or use Airbnb, which is our go-to for cheap accommodations around the world (Save $40 off your first Airbnb booking here!)
- Download TrailWallet to track your expenses
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