For whatever reason, one of the prevailing, persistent misconceptions about traveling is that it’s expensive. While money is an important necessary ingredient in the equation, you don’t need as much as you might think. Many people feel that travel is financially out of their reach because they believe that the best way (or even the only way) to travel is by sparing no expense: flying first-class, staying in luxury resorts, eating in fancy restaurants, and shelling out big bucks for the all-inclusive package.
Not only is that not an authentic way to travel, it can break the bank! How can you enjoy your trip to the fullest if you can’t stop thinking about how much you spent to make it happen? There’s gotta be a better way, folks.
Enter the world of budget travel. The Internet has made it several orders of magnitude easier to learn ways to save money on travel, whether it’s general budget travel wisdom or location-specific advice. The best advice can help anybody who travels; even casual backpackers who are likely already working with a tighter budget can stretch their dollars even further by thinking creatively and exercising self-control.
Where should we start? The most useful budget travel tips are those that focus on the four major expense categories – transportation, food, accommodation, and activities/excursions – so let’s look at those.
Moving from one location to the next is the very essence of travel, but transportation can be a difficult category to save a few dollars in. Here are a few ideas:
1. If you’re traveling by air, flight tickets are pretty much a given when it comes to necessary travel expenses. But you can still minimize financial heartache by flying during low seasons, taking advantage of promo fares, flying on no-frills budget airlines, and utilizing travel hacks like credit card points or miles bonuses.
2. Take the scenic route! Slower transportation methods like buses and trains are not only cheaper, they can also be a great way to make new friends or, if you’re traveling overnight, save on a night’s accommodation.
3. Hitchhike. It’s definitely not for everybody, and it requires common sense (and some bravery), but hitchhiking is one of the best ways to get to your destination (or at least closer to it) for free.
I don’t care how long you’ve been traveling, everybody’s gotta eat. It’s easy to go for the most convenient option, especially after an exhausting day of exploration, but a little effort can go a long way towards reducing food costs:
4. Cook your own meals at least occasionally. Eating out every time can become an expensive affair. Make a run to a nearby supermarket to pick up the necessary ingredients, then head back to the hostel kitchen or AirBnb and bring out your inner chef.
5. If you must eat out, do it during breakfast, brunch, or lunchtime, when dishes are cheaper and many places have specials.
6. Stock up on a few cheap snacks at a convenience store before starting the day’s activities so you’re not tempted to eat everything in sight come dinnertime.
7. Try looking for accommodation that offers complimentary breakfast or the like. Then knock out both lunch and dinner with a well-timed trip to a buffet. Boom.
8. Dumpster diving could be the food equivalent of hitchhiking; you rely on others’ kindness in the hope of getting something free. While actually rummaging through commercial dumpsters is cleaner than most people imagine, sometimes all you need to do is ask grocery stores or restaurants if they have any leftover unsold produce/food.
Pricey hotel stays are usually an unnecessary rarity in today’s budget travel realm, replaced by a host of cheap or even free alternatives. Since everybody already knows about hostels, here are a few other great ways to rest your head for free or cheap:
Quite possibly the biggest player in this game, Couchsurfing is built on the principle of exchanging hospitality; locals in cities across the world open their homes to travelers, where they can stay for free. It’s technically free, but nobody likes a mooch; if you’re hosted, try to give back somehow.
Why not take your bed with you? Bringing a tent along means that not only can you set up shelter and sleep virtually anywhere for free (or the usually cheap campsite fee), you can also wake up to some stunning views of Mother Nature.
Often considered the pinnacle of free travel accommodations by many of the travel pros, housesitting combines the appeal of a free place to stay with the comfortable, home-y vibe of an AirBnb rental. Sometimes, when homeowners travel, they ask for volunteers who can come and watch/take care of their house and/or animals while they’re gone. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship in which the homeowner has peace of mind while they’re away and the lucky housesitter gets a free nice place to stay in return.
Finally, what you do while you’re traveling in a new country also affects how much you’ll spend. Here are some suggestions:
12. Get cheap hobbies. Walking, hiking, swimming, sightseeing, and photographing are all usually free or really cheap ways to enjoy a new location.
13. You can’t do some things, like visiting North Korea, without a guided tour, but 99% of the time, you can save money by skipping the tour group and instead making the necessary preparations and going it alone.
14. Tourist traps are also a thing. You can often find alternative restaurants/attractions/excursions that are cheaper than their touristy counterparts by getting away from the crowds.
15. Other ways to save money could include: drinking in before hitting the bars, hand-washing laundry whenever possible, and using Wi-Fi instead of spending money for a SIM card.
Traveling on a budget takes a little imagination and a lot of discipline, but implementing some of these tips can be a great way to extend your time on the road and likely have more adventurous trips. What other money-saving budget travel tips can you think of?