Travel can be really expensive and when you’re in a new place you want to experience as much of the culture as possible. It can be really hard to keep your costs down while travelling and the temptation to say, “Stuff it, I’m on holidays! I got my money, let’s spend it up!” can be nearly irresistible. But there’s nothing worse than coming back from an amazing trip away, getting a bad case of the post-holiday blues and realising you overspent. Which is why it’s important to live and travel within your means.
When it comes to saving money on travel it’s really in the details, while each tip may save you a few dollars here and there they all really do add up at the end! There’s nothing embarrassing about being a smart traveller and getting the most for your hard-earned money.
Today I wanted to share with you some of my favourite tips and tricks for saving money on travel and saving money while you travel. If you have any great tips you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them so please share them in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.
1. Take public transport
Use public transport to your advantage wherever you can, countries like Singapore have pre-paid metro cards which save you money on your train fares and can be used on all public transport systems. In Tokyo you can catch the train from the airport to the city centre and, trust me, it saves you an absolute bundle! It can be a little tricky working out a new train system, but it’s worth it.
2. Switch between budget and luxury
This is my number one money-saving trick. We will book hostels and cheap hotels for the beginning of our trip, saving a few nights in absolute luxury to the very end. It’s a great way to save money without missing out and, usually, the cheap places are the ones we have the funniest memories of. Like the big fight we heard through paper-thin walls in a Japanese hotel, sparked by a boyfriend’s inability to take a good photo of his girlfriend who was really, really upset about it.
3. Set a daily budget and stick to it
Before you leave home, work out how much you can afford to spend each day, including shopping, food and all other expenses. Use this figure to come up with a per-day budget and stick to it! Really, really stick to it. If you go over your daily budget you’ll need to cut back the following day to get that money back. If you save money one day you’ll have extra for another day. It’s the best way to keep your spending on track.
4. Our ‘one a day’ rule
When we travel, Matt and I tend to stick to a rule of one restaurant meal a day. We eat breakfast, lunch or dinner at a restaurant, cafe or other place we really want to visit. The other meals we eat on a budget by picking up something from a local cafe, bakery, deli or grocery store takeaway. One of my favourite food travel memories is sitting in front of Sacre Couer in Paris, watching the sunset while we ate big bowls of takeaway pasta we got from a local deli and drinking a 4€ bottle of wine. If we had been inside a restaurant, we would’ve missed that beautiful sunset altogether.
5. Stay in a self-contained apartment or holiday rental
Try to find a fully self-contained apartment or do some research on a holiday rental. This saves you money as you can buy essential groceries, snacks and drinks to eat at home sometimes, you can also buy duty-free alcohol and have a few drinks at home before going out of an evening. Most self-contained apartments or holiday rentals should have a washer and/or dryer too so you’ll be able to keep on top of your laundry.
6. Look for ‘breakfast included’ deals
I love that breakfast is usually included at hotels and resorts in South-East Asian countries, it makes travel easy because you can roll out of bed in the morning, go to breakfast and plan your day over yummy food before heading out. It’s also a built-in money-saver! If your hotel doesn’t include breakfast and the cost to eat there is high, try heading out for a coffee and muffin at a local backstreet cafe or bakery instead.
7. Go off the beaten track
It can cost a lot to stay in the major tourist spots and major cities. Instead of deciding to stay right in the thick of it all take a look at nearby towns or places easily accessed by public transport (along the train line) or by hiring a bike. You can save quite a bit of money by staying places other people aren’t willing to and the chances are you’ll have a more authentic local experience. Similarly, restaurants and cafes right next to main tourist attractions are usually pretty pricey. Walk around the corner or a few streets back and you’re likely to find a place that sells the same items at half the price.
8. Look at home-stay options or volunteer arrangements
Lots of countries have safe and reliable home-stay options which can also save you money on travel and, again, you may just find yourself having an incredibly memorable and authentic travel experience with lovely locals. If you’re willing to trade your time and skills you may be able to work out a volunteer arrangement with a local business, school, orphanage or other organisation.
9. Travel off-peak
We took a 3 night trip to Ibiza from London in the low season and all-up, including flights and accommodation for the two of us, it cost us $300! Travelling in the off-season can be a lot of fun and can save you a bundle. Also, you get to see the quiet side of a destination and experience it in a way most others won’t.
10. Fly mid-week
Flying on a Tuesday or Wednesday can see you save a bit of cash on your flight prices, so try to be flexible with your days and times. If you catch a less-taken flight you’re also likely to catch a break in fares, try for red-eye flights and really early mornings.
11. Pack snacks and drinks for the day
Stop by a local grocery or convenience store or fresh food market and stock up on snacks. Even if you just put a bottle of water and a muesli bar or apple in your bag you’ll be saving money on snacks. Those daily coffees, blueberry muffins and bottles of water really do start to add up, especially when you’re paying top dollar for them at a cafe or other shop. I have so many great memories stopping for a pre-packed snack during my travels, sitting on a doorstep in a foreign country with Matt, watching the world go by. It’s a great way to stop and just take it all in.
12. Pack light but smart
Think through what you’re taking with you, is there a chance you’ll need a raincoat or a warm jumper? It’s not going to be budget-friendly if you have to shell out for new clothes once you get to your destination because of chilly autumn evenings or an overlooked monsoon season. Think about what you’ll need carefully and be sure to pack it!
13. Find free entertainment
Stop by a local hostel and check out the noticeboard to see what’s happening around town or ask the local visitor information or concierge of your hotel for the inside scoop. There could be a great local band playing at a nearby pub or a food festival happening somewhere close by.
14. Eat where the locals eat
Avoid getting caught in the snare of high-end hotel restaurants or fancy spots aimed solely at tourists! Ask the locals where they eat, what’s their favourite restaurant? Be sure to tell them you’re after authentic food and not expensive food. One of the best meals Matt and I have ever had was at an easily-missed local restaurant in Ibiza, the kind of place you’d walk straight past if you didn’t know it was a restaurant. It was cheap, delicious and incredibly memorable.
15. Choose more affordable destinations
Rather than planning a holiday to somewhere you know is out-of-reach, find a cheaper alternative. If you’re after a beach break try visiting Long Set Beach in Koh Rong, a tiny island in Cambodia. Head to a remote Indonesian island and stay in a simple shack on the beach for a fraction of the cost! You’ll find yourself visiting somewhere most people haven’t been before and being blown away by the simple beauty of the place.
16. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount
When we were travelling on our honeymoon I contacted the hotels in advance, directly, and asked them if they could offer us a special rate or discounted upgrade. In each case, the hotel said yes. At the end of the day, hotels don’t like to have empty rooms so they’re usually open to helping you out where they can. Don’t be afraid to call up and ask for a discount for a last minute booking or longer stay.
17. Split cabs to the airport
If you’re taking a trip to the airport or catching a cab from the airport into the centre of town, ask around and see if anyone wants to split it with you. Of course, safety is a priority here so don’t ask anyone that gives you the creeps.
18. Use the night to your advantage
Travel at night, where possible, so you can sleep on the plane or train and save money on a night at a hotel. If you’re arriving at a ridiculous time, like 2am, and just need somewhere to rest your head for a few hours, stay at a hostel. Matt and I have done this a few times and we’re usually so exhausted we don’t care what the room we’re sleeping in looks like… we just need rest.
While we’re on the subject of them, hostels can be great. I don’t like to stay in dorm rooms, so we usually stay in a private room if we’re booking a hostel. We spent quite a few days in one of these in Lisbon, Portugal, and it was a fantastic stay. We were out most of the day exploring anyway, so all that mattered to us was that we had somewhere quiet and clean to sleep at night or retreat to for a wi-fi session and some chillout time.
20. Get your head around exchange rates
Don’t be flippant with your money, make sure you have a really good understanding of what things cost and what your money is worth. How much does a bottle of water cost you at home? Keep that number in mind and work out how much you’re paying for water in your holiday spot. Is it worth it? Are you being ripped off? Money doesn’t lose its value just because you’re on holidays, so be as discerning as you would be if you were at home.
21. Travel as a group or pair
Solo travel is great in terms of character building and discovering yourself, it’s not so great when it comes to cost. If you have friends or a loved one or partner you can travel with, do it. Even if you make a friend along the way, someone you completely trust, team up with them to split costs where possible. You can save a lot on hotel or hostel rooms, group discounts for activities and transport as well as chipping in for food costs etc.
22. Check out travel booking companies
Get a loose travel itinerary in your mind or an idea of where you want to go then check out travel booking companies to see what they have on offer. While it can feel like the best way to save money is to book each piece of your journey yourself, it can pay to go with a booking company in some instances. They often have deals or established relationships with hotels and airlines that mean discounts for you! On our honeymoon Matt and I got a one-night layover stay at a Singapore hotel for $40au including airport transfers, thanks to Flight Centre. If you’re lucky enough to travel for business, a company like Corporate Traveller can be really useful too.
23. Use free days at Museums and Art Galleries
Lots of places have free days, find out when they are and come back to take advantage of them.
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24. Don’t pay for things you don’t need
You can save money on flights by not choosing your seats, taking carry-on luggage only or not ordering a meal. Matt and I have done over a week in Bali with just a backpack each, so trust me, carry-on only is possible. You could also share one suitcase between two, meaning you only pay for one person’s checked luggage.
Be aware of the add-ons airlines try to sell you and what they really mean. I’ve seen airlines try to sell you baggage insurance for an additional cost at the end of the booking, but in the case of some airlines, baggage insurance is already included in the price of the ticket! Read the fine print to understand what you’re already covered for before you go adding more onto.
Other resources for saving money on travel:
- Y Travel Blog have an excellent guide of ’52 idea on how to save money on travel’
- The brilliant Brooke Saward of World of Wanderlust has put together ‘Hacks to save money on Europe Travel’
- The UK Telegraph have a budget travel guide on ’50 ways to save money on your holiday’
- Moneyning also have ’50 Budget Travel Tips and Save Money on Vacations’
Phoebe Lee is a travel writer and award-winning blogger with a love for storytelling. Phoebe creates practical, fun and engaging written content designed to inspire and energise travel-lovers and dreamers. Follow her and Matt’s adventures at home and around the world, right here on Little Grey Box and through Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.