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Looking to travel without breaking the bank? These great tips for traveling on a budget will help you plan a memorable trip at a fraction of the cost of an expensive vacation, allowing you to travel smarter, for longer.
Tips for Traveling on a Budget
Planning and Booking
1 – Travel in the fall
Depending on where you are planning to go, taking a trip during the ‘high season’ can quickly double your accommodation prices and increase your airfare by over 30%. As a result, budget travelers usually look for low season rates first.
There are two issues to be mindful of. First, this has caused prices for off-season long weekends to increase. Second, some locations are just not fun in the during the fall – or when there is no snow around.
However, if you do your research and plan well, fall travel can take advantage of the lull between the summer’s peak rates and the December holiday rush.
2 – Have an itinerary
As much as we may want to escape tomorrow, last-minute bookings are hard to fit on a tight budget. Naturally, an overly packed itinerary rarely feels like a vacation, and it may cause you to miss out on any unexpected freebies that chance may throw your way.
The ideal sweet spot lies in the middle: try reserving any flights ahead of time, but keep your day-to-day open. This will allow you to compare prices, or to choose the cheapest day of the week. If you want to take any side trips or run across an unexpectedly cheap guided excursion, you can then take full advantage.
3 – Get travel medical insurance
It may sound contradictory to spend more before the trip to keep costs low. Many of us routinely question whether travel insurance is truly necessary, as ideally, you won’t need to use it.
However, the consequences of accidents and injuries abroad when uninsured are not worth entertaining, and not just financially.
Find a travel medical insurance that works for you, and just don’t take the risk. Most travel medical insurance fees these days is not too expensive. Get covered, and give yourself peace of mind.
At Nomad Paradise, we generally use SafetyWing travel medical insurance when traveling. They have travel medical insurance options for short-term trips as well as long-term full-time nomad travel.
4 – Check your bank card’s terms and conditions
If you are planning an extended or multi-city trip, it may make sense to open a new bank account for the journey – or at least, to upgrade the existing one.
Why? Some banks charge additional and rather hefty fees for international cash withdrawals or transactions. In addition, some banks routinely set higher commissions for currency conversion.
Again, not all banks do this – but it doesn’t hurt to check and research the options. For a weekend getaway, fees and commissions may come to almost nothing. However, if you are gone for a month or more, even small commissions will add up.
Look for an account that offers a higher ATM withdrawal limit per month. If possible, check if any banks in your destination country have existing partnerships with a local bank.
Top-up cards like Revolut or Monzo, that can be used via an app, are a great choice if your conventional bank doesn’t have good options. They are generally free or inexpensive to order, and once you’ve signed up, can be used straight away.
5 – Look outside the ‘big apps’ when booking
Over the last decade, a handful of renowned websites and portals have become synonymous with flight searches and hotel bookings.
While these websites can offer good deals and discounts, they don’t cater to a specific type of traveler, and generally cover the more popular tourist destinations. It’s always good to shop around and see what else you can find.
Two key strategies you can try are:
Always double check your itineraries with the airline before booking through a third-party website. Sometimes, the airline itself may be cheaper when booking directly through them.
You can use flight deal websites or e-mail subscriptions such as Scott’s Cheap Flights, Jack’s Flight Club, Hopper, Secret Flying, and others. If you have a lot of flexibility in your itinerary, you can get low fares (up to 90% off regular prices).
6 – Consider CouchSurfing and dorms
Alternative accommodation provides the most significant opportunity to cut costs while traveling. If you are a people person, try to find a couch or dorm room spot instead.
A dorm room at a backpacker’s hostel makes up for the lack of privacy by presenting many opportunities for socialization. If you are traveling solo, this is an excellent opportunity to join a larger group for an excursion out of the city.
HostelWorld allows you to search for hostels and dorms around the world. They allow you to search by dorm size, amenities, and even hostel ‘character’ (eco-friendly, party hostel, and many other options).
Couchsurfing, on the other hand, is simultaneously more personal and less noisy. You’ll be hosted by a local in their home. Most hosts are also willing to show you around or help you book side trips – under the promise that you will do the same for them in the future.
7 – Get access to a kitchenette
During any trip, the cost of eating out at least 2-3 times a day can quickly add up. If you can, source self-catering accommodation or a place to stay with a kitchenette.
Even if you only use the kitchenette to cover, say, breakfast every day, or store some food in the fridge, the money you can save will be noticeable.
8 – Steer clear from bilingual menus
If you are visiting any country where the native language is not English, you will likely find that restaurants in touristy areas usually offer ‘bilingual menus’ or may keep separate menus in English.
This is a surefire way to identify a tourist trap. In general, restaurants with bilingual menus don’t cater to locals at all. They will be significantly more expensive, and the food may not even be as good (or as tasty) as an authentic, local eatery.
9 – Ask the locals the right questions
If you have the chance to befriend a local, you will be untapping a wealth of information that is not on any travel guide – mainly about food.
However, you should make sure you ask any local friends the right questions. Often (especially in less developed countries, or those with very different cuisines to Western food), locals will assume that tourists are not interested in eating where regular people do.
This is why asking ‘where should I go for lunch?’ will yield a very different answer than ‘where will you go for lunch?’ The first question may not lead directly to a tourist trap – but at best, you will be pointed somewhere that caters more to tourists, and is pricier, than average.
10 – Look for local supermarkets
If you have access to a kitchenette and want to cook (or even just prepare a basic picnic basket), be sure to go to a local supermarket. Avoid the convenience stores and ‘specialty food marts’ abundant in tourist hot spots. Instead, look for the regular big chain supermarket where the locals buy their food.
How do you know if you are in the right place? Look for the moms. If there are ladies with small children, and there’s milk or other staples in their carts, you’ve found the right place.
11 – Buy large and divide
Eating out for lunch is usually cheaper than for dinner: it’s less about entertaining. and often geared towards the local workers’ needs.
If you have the necessary self-control, you can halve your food bill by buying the large version of any lunch special that comes your way. Then, just eat half of it, and pack the rest for your dinner.
If you are around a busy or commercial area around lunchtime, just follow the office suits: they will probably lead you to an everyday eatery.
12 – Travel by land
Thanks to discount airlines, flying has become the default mode of transport between two cities. However, it is not necessarily the cheapest – especially if you travel for a festival or a long weekend.
In many countries, buses and trains still offer a more affordable option to enjoy more of the local scenery.
Trains, in particular, are a great way to get away from the big city circuit.
Intercity high-speed lines are almost always more expensive than flying. Instead, opt for regional lines (the kind that stops in every hamlet and suburb) and spend a couple of days off the beaten path.
13 – Explore carpooling options
Carpooling apps such as BlaBlaCar also offer a cheap alternative to move between nearby cities. This app allows you to search for other people driving to the same destination on the same day. Each driver sets a price for a spot in their car, which includes contributions to gas money.
A ride can cost even less than a bus ticket, and if you are lucky, you can get a knowledgeable driver who knows the area and its free sights.
Make sure you check the driver’s ratings and past reviews and look for one who has been named as a ‘good conversationalist’ or a ‘local expert’.
14 – Take overnight bus rides
If you are touring several nearby cities, an overnight bus ride can help you skip on a night or two of accommodation. In most countries outside Western Europe, buses are significantly cheaper than flying.
Even when prices appear similar, the other expenses attached to flying can quickly add up: for example, whereas airports tend to be located away from city centers, central bus stations are in the middle of the city.
This means that you can usually arrive at the bus station using public transport in no time at all. In contrast, an Uber to the airport, the associated taxes, and a snack after passing security can cost as much as the ticket itself.
15 – Use public transport
Once you are inside the city, the most budget-friendly choice for transport is unambiguous: just take public transportation whenever you can’t walk.
Depending on the country, urban transport may be significantly different from what you are used to. This can be especially noticeable across South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa: most capitals will usually offer a Metro or bus network, but in smaller cities, expect a combination of small vans, shared cabs, and rickshaws.
In such scenarios, befriending a local or speaking the local language will make this much more accessible. If the mass transit options feel too chaotic, walking will be your best bet.
16 – Invest in your walking gear
A small umbrella that fits in a rucksack or handbag, thick socks, and sturdier shoes or sneakers are all great choices for vacations where you plan to save money by walking.
Inexpensive shoes or flip-flips will wear or break easily and be very uncomfortable. Invest in some walking gear that might cost a little more initially, but should be able to manage hours of walking, every day, without hurting your feet or needing to be replaced.
17 – Take the lead at the hostel
Sightseeing, walking, and even hiking are easy enough to do on your own. On the other hand, anything involving boats or extra gear, such as river rafting or scuba diving, will usually need to be booked in advance.
These expeditions are usually pretty pricey, especially if you are forced to hire a guide or instructor for just one or two people. If you stay at a hostel, try recruiting fellow travelers to join you and access a group discount.
Most of the time, you will need to take the initiative and start asking others at breakfast. However, if anybody else asks you to join their group, you should jump at the opportunity.
18 – Put a 12-hour moratorium on your shopping
Small comforts such as travel pillows, souvenirs, or even a fancy flashlight can easily catch our eye while traveling – mainly if they are being sold as part of the ‘experience’ of the trip. However, even the most inventive gadgets can end up unused at the bottom of your carry on while derailing your planned budget.
To prevent these impulsive purchases, commit to a 12-hour moratorium on any major purchase you want to make during your trip. If you still want it or need it after 12 hours, then it’s more likely to be a worthwhile purchase.
19 – Don’t buy anything with the country’s name on it
Avoid spending on shot glasses, pens, notepads, and fridge magnets spelling the name of the city you just visited. These are usually mass-produced and vastly overpriced. You will likely find an identical one (maybe with different colors) in the next city you visit.
If you need a few souvenirs, get a few meaningful pieces that remind you of something you saw, felt, or tasted during the trip.
Working holidays and extended travel
20 – Research volunteering opportunities
Sometimes, our savings accounts can only provide for three to four months’ worth of wandering. If you want to stay semi-rooted for longer, try looking for a volunteering opportunity, online work, or a part-time gig that can help you stretch your funds.
Farms, aid organizations, and party hostel bars are a great place to start looking if you’re already abroad. With a little courage, you may be able to negotiate room and board in exchange for your work.
If you are still planning your trip, Workaway is a good website to seek out such opportunities.
You can also check out our list of work from home jobs, some or many of which will also allow you to travel as a digital nomad.
21 – Get a local SIM card or portable wifi
Roaming charges or frequent café outings are not the most efficient way to access wifi on the go. If you will be touring the same country for a week or more, it’s best to get a local SIM card and access a prepaid data plan.
If you telecommute or hold frequent video calls, invest in a portable wifi router or ‘wifi on the go’. Many local phone companies also allow you to rent them for the week or the month. They usually provide enough bandwidth to hold a not-so-choppy video call without running back to the hotel.
Tips for Traveling on a Budget Summary
Travel comes in many forms, shapes, and experiences. Not everyone needs rooftop pools and bucket list excursions to have an amazing time and make lifelong memories along the way.
From befriending locals, to volunteering your services, there are so many ways you can help your travel budget, no matter how small, work harder for you.
Use these top tips to help you budget smarter. That way, you can spend more time on the road, enjoy more experiences, and make more memories while you’re at it.
You Might Also Like to Read
- Best Tools for Booking Flights While Saving Time and Money
- Best Tools for Booking Accommodations to Save Time and Money
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