27 Tips To Travel Cheaper
One of the biggest myths of traveling is that it’s expensive. Of course it CAN be expensive — especially if you want someone to bring frothy coconut drinks to your ocean-side lounge chair. But if you’re keen on bread and cool with hostels, traveling abroad can cost you less than $10 a day in some places in the world. There are a thousand tricks to keeping your trips to the ATM minimal. Here are 27 that I’ve learned:
1. Travel Off-Season
Traveling on June 15th will usually cost you about $200 more than traveling on June 14th. Why? Because mid-June marks the beginning of high traffic travel season. Travel off-season, and not only will your flight be cheaper, but so will your meal and accommodation rates (and you won’t have to make reservations weeks in advance).
2. Book Your Ticket Through Student Travel Agencies
If you’re a student, or under the age of 26, you are eligible for substantial discounts (hundreds of dollars) on both flights and Eurail Train Passes. Both STA Travel and Council Travel have extremely knowledgeable and friendly staff that have consistently and reliably assisted me in planning and purchasing multiple trips.
3. Buy Travel Insurance
Travel Insurance is special insurance you can buy to cover multiple emergency situations including, but not limited to: stolen luggage, accidents, trips to the doctor, cost of medicine, trip cancellation and emergency cash. The policies are actually quite affordable. The two plans that I purchased through STA Travel and Council Travel (on different trips) covered the full purchase prices of two of the three digital cameras that were stolen from me. After filling out my claim forms, I was sent checks (not even one week later) that covered the full price of the stolen cameras. If you’re traveling in countries with high rates of violent or petty crime, I HIGHLY recommend investing in travel insurance.
4. Travel to Countries Where the Cost of Living is Low
In Guatemala, it was easy to find hostels that charged $2-3 dollars per night. Now given, this price usually only includes four walls, a cot and a lamp (if you’re lucky), you can’t really complain when you’re paying less for a room than a sub sandwich. From my experiences, I’ve found Central and South American hostels to run in the $3-$12 dollar range. Europe was more in the $7-$20 dollar range. I suggest checking out HostelWorld.com to get an idea on the price of hostel accommodation in your destination country.
5. Buy an “Around the World Ticket”
A ticket to Australia, from the States, runs a little over a grand right now. That SAME ticket, stopping in Tahiti, Banhkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Auckland & Brisbane along the way, can cost you almost the SAME price. They are called “Around The World Tickets” or “ATW” tickets, and with movable dates and destinations can really be a fantastic deal. I haven’t purchased one yet, but I probably will for my next trip. You can learn more about ATW tickets on Airtreks.com.
6. Work While Abroad
The monetary benefits of this tip are pretty obvious. But what I have found MORE beneficial than the actual cash-in-hand I receive at the end of the night, is the PERSPECTIVE it gives me on the value of the local currency. By working abroad, you stop converting all prices to US dollars and start recognizing local prices as they relate to local value. For example, buying a souvenir t-shirt in Mexico might at first sound like a good deal when I covert the price to $10 US dollars, but if I instead covert the price to my 8-hour shift working at the bar (in Mexico) — purchasing that shirt suddenly isn’t so alluring. Get it? Finding work is also not as difficult as it may seem. In most countries, if you’re just working in some type of service position (waiting tables, bartending, working at a hostel) you can work under the table and don’t need a working permit or visa. The key to FINDING a job is taking initiative. Ask around, follow the leads people give you, and ask around some more. Eventually, if you’re really looking, you’ll find something — or something will find you.
7. Stay in Hostels
Hostels are hotels for the budget traveler. They differ widely in style, offerings, atmosphere and price. Check your guidebook (LonelyPlanet, RoughGuides) for short descriptions, prices and addresses or just ask around. Hostels usually range in price from $3-$25 dollars per night. They may include any range of amenities and/or services including; dorms, internet, laundry, TV, phones, bars, hammock decks, bathrooms, hot water, community kitchens, food, transportation, guided trips, camping space, information desks, bedding, libraries, lockers, bunks, activities, parties, lock boxes, etc. Or they may just include four walls and a bug-infested matt. Regardless, they are significantly cheaper than hotels, motels and other accommodation options.
8. Be Flexible
Flexible with dates of travel. Flexible with modes of transportation. Flexible with food. Flexible with positions in bed (…just checkin’ to see if you’re really reading). Being flexible might allow you to catch a last minute flight that has extra space for half price or to hitch a ride with people that have an extra seat in their car instead of paying for a spendy train ticket. Flexibility with travel will always provide for cheaper travel options.
9. Eat on the Street
Albeit riskier, eating on the street is almost always cheaper. Opt for foods you can see being cooked at high temperatures on grills right in front of you instead of items that probably need refrigeration or look like they have traveled great distances to meet you.
10. Exchange Services & Trade
Try offering some service of yours in exchange for food, board or something you need. Ask a farm if you might be able to put in a few hours with the cows each morning in exchange for a bed. Or ask a hostel manager if you can work the front desk for a few weeks in exchange for accommodation. Trade your guidebook on Ecuador for someone else’s guidebook on Bolivia. Mend someone’s pants in exchange for giving you a guitar lesson. Lend your hammock to someone for the weekend and borrow their tent. You certainly aren’t the only one out there on a budget, and you may find that this exchange of goods and services is much more rewarding than passing cash.
11. Sleep in a Hammock or Sleep Sheet
Many hostels do NOT provide sheets on their beds and charge extra for the use of sheets/pillows. Bringing with you your own “sleep-sheet” (essentially just two sheets sewn together) will avoid these costs and also keep you safe from suspicious sleeping surfaces. On the coasts and islands of Central and South America (as well as many other places), hostels sometimes offer the option of using a “hammock deck” for a very minimal fee ($1-$3 US). But really, anywhere you can find two strategically placed palm trees can be called “home” for the night.
12. Cook Your Own Meals
Find some friends, hit the local market and have a dinner party in your hostel’s community kitchen. Stirfrys, pasta and rice dishes — with fresh veggies and simple spices — can make some fantastic meals. And in the company of great new friends, you might also cook up some of your favorite memories. Invest in a bottle of wine or liquor and you’re still guaranteed to come WAY under the total tab you would have otherwise spent at a restaurant.
13. Stay With a Local Family
Hit your local “I” booth (Tourist “Information” Booth) to see if the option to stay with a family is possible. Sometimes these “live-in” situations are unbeatable. You can get a taste of the real food, culture, language and life of the locals at costs even less than the hostels.
14. Avoid Guide Book Hot Spots
Since all the travelers are carrying around the same book (usually Lonely Planet), it only makes sense that the first hostel listed in any guidebook is also the most likely to be booked and to have raised its prices. Likewise, the first bar, disco, coffee shop and Internet cafe are ALSO most likely to have raised their prices in accordance to their new popularity. Also, in general, the farther away you get from the main square, plaza, parque or piazza — the lower the prices of food, drink and board.
15. Learn Low Maintenance Habits
If you’re on the road for longer than a week, you will quickly learn how to spot-wash clothing, shower quickly, dress with a limited wardrobe and primp sans hairspray and hairdryer. Scaling down to a more “simplified” life is always easy on the budget (and pretty much inevitable).
16. Bring a Flask
Alcohol is probably the #1 drain on the savings account for many travelers. Cuervo, in any bar, is just a budget-basher. Learn to take advantage of happy hour, ladies nights, student discounts and early bird specials. As mentioned before, get a group of friends together and find a bar that is NOT listed in Lonely Planet and you’ll find substantially marked down beverages. Or go in together on a big bottle of the hot stuff and share your firewater with friends BEFORE hitting the discoteca. Investing in a flask pre-trip can also save you cash.
17. Buy a Water Filter
Bottled water will always be expensive, especially because it is produced for and marketed to the tourist industry. They KNOW you, the “rich” tourist, can afford it — and price it accordingly. In many countries (throughout Central America for instance) it really IS necessary to drink cleaned water in order to avoid gut-wrenching-diseases like Giardiasis and Amoebic Dysentery. I have met travelers in such countries who invested in a water filter, a bulky but useful devise that you hook up to any tap to purify water into drinkable form. They can be a bit of an expensive up-front investment, but can save you piles of cash in the long run. I’m a big fan of the Steripen.
18. Be Prepared & Be Rational
Some of my most budget-crushing moments stemmed directly from “I’m desperate and deserve…” situations. For example, coming off a 14-hour train/bus ride, you want nothing more — and (convince yourself that you) DESERVE nothing less — than a fine three-course meal, a bottle of wine and a cushy hotel room with private bath. You slap down the plastic, sign on the dotted line, and don’t give it a second thought… until the VISA bill comes in the mail a month later. Indulge every once in awhile (especially if you’re sick) but try to be prepared the rest of the time. Pack a bag of peanuts or some energy bars so you can appease those food-pleas before they get desperate. Think twice before buying a round of drinks for the bar. And make sure you’ll be able to justify that Prada knock-off next month when you get the bill.
19. Buddy Up
When you arrive at a hostel, ask if there is a dorm room that you can stay in. Dorms are always significantly cheaper than private rooms and a sure way to meet new interesting folk. Or ask around and see if anyone would be interested in buddy-ing up to share a double room. When looking into guided tours or adventure activities, you always get cheaper rates as the number of participants increases. If you want to go horseback riding or skydiving, get a group together and then hit a travel agency with a total group number and haggle down to a discounted group rate. If you’re at a hot tourist spot and see an “already-formed” tour group, pull the tour guide aside and ask him/her if you can join the group for a special tip. The guide has to give the tour regardless of how many people are going, and often times will be happy to accept the tip to accommodate “just one more” follower. Likewise with transport from hot tourist destinations; The tour busses have to return regardless. Pull the bus driver aside and give him a price. If he has the extra seat, he’s likely to give it to you for any price. Also, if you bring a large group of people to a restaurant, ask the manager for a discount or free meal for “bringing” the business to his establishment.
Hitchhiking is a very legit means of transportation in many countries. I don’t recommend it for single females for safety reasons, but if you’re in a small group, hold a black belt, or are particularly fearless, hitchhiking can be a really exciting way of seeing the land (especially in the back of a pick-up truck). OR if you’re thumb-shy, find four people you get along with and rent a car. Splitting the cost of car and gas can be much more economical AND more adventure-full than a tour bus, train ride or flight.
You can sort out a special deal with almost anyone; tour operators, hostel managers, shop keepers, ice cream vendors, adventure-activity directors, and certainly those selling goods in the local market. Ask for student discounts, group discounts and youth discounts. Shop around and get different estimates so you know what range is really appropriate. Walk away from your haggle session for the most immediate and price-dropping results.
22. Follow the Locals
Follow the locals to find the best markets, restaurants, events and bars. Or better yet, just ask! Just as you know your own hometown best, so do they know theirs. Ask them for advice or directions to the best places in town. If you ask respectfully, they will usually happily comply. You might even make a new friend.
23. Avoid Pre-packaged Tours
Pre-packaged tours have to turn profits and they do this by selling a complete, pre-arranged package of events and activities at a significantly marked-up price. Great, if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of figuring out those details yourself. However, IF you ARE comfortable with arranging your own adventures, I suggest just going to the travel agency and talking personally with one of the guides. Get an idea of the trip of what it entails and then make those arrangements (transport, meals, lodging, activity) directly yourself (beforehand, or as you go) for half the price and twice the thrill.
24. Go Digital
Avoid super expensive international phone calls by doing all your communication online. Internet cafes are virtually everywhere these days, and service is relatively (to phones & snail mail) cheap. A digital camera can also be financially advantageous in the long run. Although there is a higher up-front investment, money saved in terms of the cost of film, development and scanning can amount to more in the long run.
25. Make Friends — Both Local & International
Local friends know all the best things a place has to offer. Take advantage of their knowledge of area and activities. Take up opportunities to spend holidays with their families and accept invitations to stay at their houses. Just be sure to express your deepest gratitude and make it clear that their kindness would be happily reciprocated should they ever journey into your own land. Likewise, your friendships with fellow international travelers could provide fantastic opportunities to exchange invitations to each other’s homelands.
26. Restrain Your Urges to Purchase Silly Souvenirs
Have you ever walked into an American Souvenir shop in the airport and wondered, “Who actually buys this crap?!”. Remember this when you’re abroad; That souvenir shops are NOT necessarily reflective of the culture of a country, and are more likely to just be full of over-priced and outrageously stereotypical and useless gadgets made in Taiwan.
Be nice. Be respectful. Smile. And be kind. You’ll be amazed at what offers of hospitality will arise, and the monetary advantages of such acts of kindness, will be the LEAST of the rewards.