Saving for a big trip can seem daunting. Figuring out how to budget while you’re actually on the road can be just as overwhelming! Unfortunately, there’s no one formula for every person because we each have differing tastes in food, drink, entertainment and activities. With that being said, there are still some basic strategies that every traveler can use to save a few bucks here and there. Whether you’re on a budget or ready to splurge on certain things, here are some standard ways to save while on the road
Of course my number one piece of advice is to PLAN! I promise, I’m really working on spontaneity, but it’s a work in progress! I’m not suggesting that you have every minute of your trip planned out, but having a general idea of where you’re staying, how to get around, what you want to see/do, etc. will save you money. My first time to Paris I met up with a girl who had just spent 110 euros on a taxi from the airport. Considering I had spent less than 5 euros by taking the train, I was astonished.
Moral of the story: Consider the essential aspects of travel before landing in a new place.
2. Get a good travel credit card
I’ve read up a little on travel hacking, but I am certainly no expert. One of the best perks of having a good travel credit card is building points for future travel, which will ultimately save you money in the long run. I signed up for one recently that offered 50,000 points after spending $4,000 within three months. We used the card on things we would normally spend money on and we were rewarded with $650 in travel credit. Another perk to a good travel card is not having to deal with foreign transaction fees, which are fees your bank will slap on your purchases in foreign countries. If you’re looking to get a new card, check out Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Disclaimer: By signing up through this link I will earn a referral bonus.
Alternative: If you’re not keen on opening a credit card, I would encourage you to look into getting a Charles Schwab checking account. This is what I used on my first two trips abroad. Charles Schwab doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees and they also don’t charge any fees for taking money out of ATMs around the world.
3. Book hostels/hotels that offer free breakfast
This one is big! One of the largest expenses on the road is food. Food also happens to be one of the best components of travel! I love food and I certainly love trying traditional dishes wherever I’m at. With that being said, if you eat every meal out, you’re going to run low on funds fast. I got into the habit of staying at hostels that offer free breakfast not only for free breakfast, but I also grabbed a little extra to snack on later in the day. I always allowed myself one full meal out each day to ensure I was still dabbling in the deliciousness of wherever I was at at the time.
Additional Tip: If you’re staying in an AirBnb, consider cooking one to two meals per day at home. This is kind of like a double whammy: You get to shop for and cook local food AND save money.
4. Take advantage of the local transportation
I can’t begin to tell you how much money I saved by navigating the local transportation systems. One time, during a long layover in Sri Lanka, I decided to wander into the city center. I asked the hotel staff how to get there and they told me they would hire a taxi service for me for about $30. Knowing I had just seen multiple buses pass by, I asked which bus goes to the city center. He reluctantly advised me to hop on bus number 240, which passes by the hotel entrance every few minutes. It was sketchy and scary and made me question my sanity for a few moments, but it was an adventure! I was able to experience Negombo from the vantage point of a local and to me, that is priceless. Did I mention this bus ride was less than $1?
Traveling to new places is so exhilarating. Taking in the scenery, trying new food and checking out the sites are just a few things you’ll start to ponder when exploring new places. It’s actually so exciting I’m getting giddy just sitting here writing about it! However, it’s important to focus on what’s most important to you. Would you rather pay the admission fee at the Coliseum in Rome or take a train ride to Tuscany? Would you rather spend $30 on drinks at a bar or go the Louvre in Paris?
Ultimately: You can’t do it all so instead of trying to squeeze it all in, decide what’s most important to you and go do that.
6. Eat the local food
This one kind of seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people I’ve met on the road who preferred eating pizza in Thailand or chips from a gas station instead of the local fare. Diet restrictions often hinder your ability to eat whatever you want, but if possible I would encourage all travelers to eat the local cuisine. You’re not only stepping out of your comfort zone and getting to know the culture up close and personal, you’re also likely saving money. I can tell you right now a pizza in Thailand is going to be a whole lot more expensive that some delicious pad thai off the street.
7. Make friends
Whether you’re traveling solo or with a group of people, it’s always rewarding to meet new folks. I remember sitting at a table during my first hostel stay and thinking to myself, “Man, how lucky am I to be spending time with five other people who all speak different languages?” It’s very humbling to surround yourself with people who are different than you. It can also save you money (obvi)! Having the ability to split taxi rides, meals, hotel rooms and other travel-related expenses helps out immensely.
8. Allot yourself a set amount of money each day
The amount that you set aside will depend on your personal budget, how long you’re traveling for, what you want to do, etc. If you set aside a specific amount of money to spend per day, you will prevent yourself from overspending while also ensuring you don’t go through what you do have before the end of the trip. When I backpacked around Europe I would take out $50 per day in cash. I would pay for my hostel first and use the rest for food, transportation and activities. Once the money was gone, I went back to my hostel. Sometimes it was upsetting, but in the end having this mindset kept me on track to visit all the places on my list for that trip.
9. Find the free!
Yes, free does exist out there! Pinterest is a great starting point for finding free or inexpensive things to do in various places around the world. Almost every city offers free walking tours (remember to tip!). A lot of parks are free and most museums offer significant student discounts and/or free entry on certain days of the month. If you’re having a tough time finding free stuff to do, start thinking outside the box. In Prague I saw a Philharmonic Orchestra perform for less than $10 and in Munich I saw a beautiful ballet for about $12.
Side note: People watching is free and that’s really entertaining!
Volunteering abroad is what made most of my trips possible. There are a lot of companies out there that will actually ask you to pay money to hook you up with volunteer opportunities. Don’t fall for it. Doesn’t that defeat the whole idea behind volunteering in the first place?
Anyway, there are amazing organizations out there like HelpX and WWOOF that allow you to get connected with people needing volunteers for free. Apart from a $25 fee to open a new account, I never paid any money to volunteer. Through HelpX I was able to be an Au Pair in Ireland, help at a B&B in France and volunteer at a Buddhist mediation center in England.