There are many easy ways to save money while traveling. Some people might take it to the extreme, but there are really simple methods for us mortals to keep our wallets in check on a trip.
Let’s start with the number one golden rule, which we are sure sounds obvious, but makes a world of difference:
Less Tourists = Cheaper
The fewer tourists there are at that moment, the cheaper prices will be and the better experience you will have!
Avoid high season at all costs:
Traveling off-season is one of the best ways to save money when traveling. Different countries have different high seasons, but in many places, for example, the low season comes right after vacations, such as September after summer, or April after Spring break, January after Christmas. However, this can vary because January, for example, is plain summer break for Brazilians and is definitely high season for local tourism. Prices usually drop between 20-50% or more in the low season.
If you only have a summer break, it is worth noting that there are high seasons in destinations and then there are high high seasons. Europe’s high season is summer, but Northern Europe’s high high season is June-July, while Southern Europe’s tends to be July-August. This makes a difference!
Be flexible in your destination:
Another really great way to save money is on the destination. If you do not have a set destination and are flexible, try going to more alternative places. So, rather than Costa Rica, you might choose Nicaragua for a similar experience, rather than Paris, you might choose Prague or Budapest, and rather than Thailand, maybe Sri Lanka. Prices will for sure be better and you will get a similar, yet more alternative and perhaps more authentic experience!
Saving Money on Flights:
The more flexible you are with your dates and times, the easier it will be to find cheap flights. Flights midweek tend to be cheaper than Friday or weekend flights, for example. Tickets with multiple stops are also usually cheaper, though not always. Also, sometimes it is less expensive to book two one-way tickets rather than a round trip. This option really depends on many circumstances, but it is something you should always check out. Finally, do not wait until the last minute to book, because that is where you find the absurdly expensive flights!
Some neat tricks to saving money on flights :
When you are looking for in-country flights, sometimes it can help to change your computer’s IP address to a local one, which will occasionally show you local prices (often cheaper).
There are a number of companies that check for mistake fares from airlines. You can sign up for these and receive emails about impossibly cheap flights. They usually get fixed quickly, so you must be ready to book.
Always compare different means of transportation:
It is generally assumed that Eurorail or different railpasses are the cheapest way to move around Europe. This is not really true. If you are completely set on only traveling by train because of the romantic factor and flexibility, then yes, it is cheaper than buying individual train tickets. However, there are much cheaper ways to move around Europe. Buses and airplanes, for example can be extremely cheap. I once took a bus from Amsterdam to Brussels for 1 Euro (the bus even had WIFI!). The budget airlines in Europe and in many countries are also sometimes extremely cheap. Many days you can fly from Madrid to Paris for less than 20 dollars!
About budget airlines:
Budget Airlines, however, do have a catch. They charge you for everything else. If you want to pick a seat, you’ll pay extra. If you are ok with being in any seat for an hour or two, then it is worth it. Checking bags on these airlines usually costs more than the ticket itself, so my recommendation is you either take a backpack that works as a handbag, or, if you are in a group, you have one larger shared bag, and split the cost of checking it. If everyone is going to check bags, it may not be more economical than the train. Certain budget airlines are also infamous for hefty delays. It has never happened to me, but is something to definitely keep in mind.
Rent a car:
Also, renting a car can really be one of the cheapest ways to travel around, particularly if you are traveling with other people If you are under 25, car rental is more expensive, but might still be cheaper if you have a group. A car also gives you so much more liberty and flexibility to go wherever you want on a whim!
Another useful tip:
It is always a good idea to take night buses or trains, because that way you do not need to pay for accommodation that night!
Saving on Accommodation:
There are so many options for accommodation nowadays, and there are tons of ways to save money - some more extreme than others.
Most people assume that hostels are always cheaper. When you are a solo traveller, that is usually the case, yet when you have travel companions, it is sometimes much cheaper to go to a budget hotel and share the cost of a room. In a Eurotrip I did with my partner, we only stayed at a hostel in one destination -- in all the others, it was considerably cheaper to share a room at a budget hotel. Always compare prices!
About budget hotels
One useful tip for finding well-priced, yet decent, budget hotels is to read the bad reviews. Sometimes, a cheaper 3-star hotel on trip advisor may only complaints about things that you really don't care about. If many people complain about rats or bed bugs, by all means, stay away! But if people complain that there is no TV or that there is no elevator, these things might not be important to you as a traveler and will not bother you. If that’s the case, go for the cheaper lower-rated hotel.
Also, sometimes you will be torn between two similarly priced hotels. Check if one of them has breakfast included, if it does, choose that one because it will save you money on a meal.
Airbnb and apartment sharing
If you are in a group, Airbnb or similar services can save you a lot of money. Always check it out! Airbnb will especially save you money on food, because you will have a kitchen and will not have to eat out that many times a day!
Couchsurfing is probably one of the more extreme ways of saving money on a trip, and you really save a lot of money doing this. These services allow you to crash on locals’ couches for little to no money. The fun part? You meet locals interested in showing foreigners around.
Working at hostels
The trend of working at hostels in exchange for accommodation is becoming increasingly popular. It is a great option if you are doing a longer trip. Many hostels will let you live for free for a few hours of work a day if you ask them. There are also some hostel companies that focus on such a business model.
Saving $ At Your Destination
Moving around your destination:
There are a number of ways to save money at your destination. Many cities now offer city bikes, which are an excellent, cheap, and healthy way of moving around and covering a lot of ground.
Although common sense, you can save money by using public transportation. Just make sure to stay safe. Perhaps you do not want to be taking the metro or bus at 3am in the morning as a foreigner in some parts of the world.
Also, surprisingly so, in many countries and large cities, Uber is cheaper than taxis. Oftentimes Uber is also considered safer. It is a good idea to compare, since in some countries you might be able to haggle and get the taxi driver to drive you cheaper than the Uber.
Save money Tourisiting:
Avoid paid tours/guides
A good way to save money is to do it yourself. If you can drive to a national park and not go with a guide, you will save a lot of money. Of course, some places require that you have a guide, but if it isn’t necessary, do it yourself!
If there are activities that require a tour or guide, it is sometimes cheaper to book these directly at the agency rather than at the hotel. If, for example, you need a boat ride to some island, a great idea is to go to the docks and find a local fisherman willing to take you for half the price!
Free Walking Tours
Many cities around the world offer free walking tours, and they are known to be really good in general. Just don’t forget to tip the guide at the end!
Free museum days/nights
Many cities and countries offer free museum entry once in a while, and most museums have a free night/day once a week or month. In Paris, for example, all museums are free on the last Sunday of the month. In Mexico City, all museums are free every Sunday of the year! These are great ways to save money, just keep in mind that there will be more people at those times.
Many museums around the world offer discounts to students, so if you are a student, never leave your Student ID at home! Also, in many parts of Europe, prices are cheaper for 18-25 year olds, so take your ID and do a Eurotrip before you’re 25 if you can!
Furthermore, many destinations sell city passes which include entry to many museums, tour bus tickets, etc. If you want to see multiple museums and do specific tours, the city passes may in fact be worth it and save you money. Always check it out!
Saving Money on Food and Drinks
Of all the ways to save money while traveling, rethinking what and where you eat and drink can be one of the easiest and most effective. It’s also the easiest way for money to disappear quickly, if you are not careful.
Save on breakfast.
Even if you are a self-proclaimed foodie, there are ways to save money on food. Unless you are in a country where breakfast or brunch is key - Mexico and Southern United States come to mind - then breakfast tends to be redundant and quite dull. A continental breakfast at a hotel really is not very exciting. Save that money and don’t eat out for breakfast. Go to a grocery store and buy yourself food.
If you are staying in a hotel for many days with a mini fridge, you can buy whatever you feel like, but if you are on the road and will not be able to keep your food in the fridge, I recommend you buy bread and a cheese that does not need to be refrigerated like gouda, brie, blue cheese, etc. Although you usually buy these cheeses in the fridge section, they actually don’t have to be kept cold. Don’t buy cream cheese or fresh mozzarella for example, because those do have to be refrigerated. Buy salami, chorizo, or prosciutto, and don’t buy ham for the same reason.
Have a kitchen
If you rent an apartment, you will end up saving a lot of money by cooking at home. You can go buy your produce at supermarkets or at local markets, where prices will be cheaper. When I travel, I like to eat two meals of the day at home, and then one meal out, where I allow myself to eat good local food.
Street food is great!
Street food is delicious, cheap and great! Eating from food trucks, food stalls, and farmer’s markets will let you try real local food, and at the same time will save you a lot of money. Just be careful where you are eating street food, because it is easy for foreigners to get sick from it in certain places.
Buying water bottles and sodas becomes really expensive!
Buying water and drinks is, surprisingly, one of the things people don’t usually think about saving money on, but buying many drinks a day really adds up. If you are in a country where tap water is potable, carry water bottles and never buy. Go to any bathroom and fill your bottle up! If you don’t like the taste, buy one of those water bottles with a filter for purified water.
If you are in a country with non-potable tap water, things get more tricky. Buying water bottles all of the time becomes really expensive, not to mention environmentally unfriendly. If you are on a road trip or staying plenty of days in the same hotel, a good tip is to buy bigger gallon bottles or the 5 liter bottles and constantly refill your own water bottles. You will save quite a bit of money this way.
Pre-gaming saves you money!
Alcohol in general is expensive. Alcohol in bars is much more expensive, especially in certain countries. A good way to save money is buying alcohol in stores and pre-gaming at your hotel room before leaving. This will save you from even pricier nights out
These are just some of the many easy ways to save money while traveling. Some may go to further extremes like hitchhiking and couchsurfing, but these are just some easy methods of keeping costs low.
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