Money. The unfortunate part of modern life is that everything somehow revolves around it. Travel is no different. In fact, travel can be one of the most expensive activities you can do. This is why being able to save money while travelling can be such an important part of the trip itself.
Whether you’re on a road trip across North America or backpacking across Asia, you’re going to want to stretch your money as far as possible. We’ve spent a ton of time on the road over the years and are always picking up new tricks along the way.
Although there are dozens of ways to make travel as affordable as possible, we’re going to lay out a few of our favourites. These are all very simple things that you can easily incorporate into your travel plans without sacrificing the experience!
Some Great Ways to Save Money While Travelling
Find a Travel Buddy
Solo travel is great, it’s so important to be able to experience the world and discover something about yourself while travelling alone. That being said, travelling with two can definitely help keep costs down.
I don’t necessarily mean with your significant other, whether you have one or not, this could be as simple as a comrade you meet on the road. Say you’re hanging out at the hostel bar and meet another traveller who you vibe with and happens to be headed in the same direction as you. Ask if this person wants to split some costs along the way.
Accommodation is easily one of the most expensive parts of travel. Dorm beds will almost always be a little cheaper than a private room, but private rooms are so much better! If you have someone to share the cost of a simple twin or double room, you can have the luxury (and peace of mind) of a private room, without breaking the budget.
And don’t worry if it’s just a travel friend either, a lot of double rooms are actually two single beds.
Eat Less… And More
Another bonus to having a travel companion of sorts, even if temporarily, is to share meals. Sharing food is one of our biggest money savers. Most of the food we encounter around the world in nothing short of amazing, and as food people we eat a lot of it.
Instead of eating three square meals a day, each to ourselves, we’ll just eat as we need – only ordering one item at a time. Overall, depending on how active we are on any given day, we’ll share three or four decent sized meals, spread throughout the day.
See, the thing is, sharing meals doesn’t mean eating less; you just eat more often. As a result, you’ll not only save money (and food waste!) by not ordering more than you need; but you’ll also have a wider variety of foods by eating more often!
Save By Booking Transportation in Advance
Alright, I know what you’re thinking: “But I though last minute tickets were cheap!” This can be true, sometimes, though it’s not often the case. While showing up at the airport last minute can occasionally end up working to your advantage, it’s not something I’d bank on.
It’s almost always cheaper, especially when it comes to buses and trains, to book in advance. In Mexico for example, the closer to the date the bus left, the higher the prices went; one ride they actually doubled in price by the date of departure. Thankfully we purchased ours a week in advance.
The same goes for most trains in Europe, the sooner you know your date of travel, the better. We all love a bit of spontaneity, but it’s not always great for the wallet!
Back to flying for a second. When you are booking flights ahead of time, always clear your cookies and browser cache. If possible, use a different browser or device when the time comes to book. Prices often will be much higher on repeat visits for the same searches. The website already knows you’re interested in that flight…
Take Advantage of Free Admission
Many museums and art galleries around the world have no entrance fees on certain days of the week. This is true for almost every city we’ve ever visited. If you only have a few days in a given destination, you’ll have to hope for the best that your choices fall into the days of your visit, but even if you can save on one or two entrance fees, you can probably justify spending on the rest.
Just to be clear, this isn’t limited to smaller galleries and obscure museums. Some of the most popular, such as the famed V&A in London, are completely free to visit!
Occasionally, your accommodation will include breakfast with the room, this is always something to look for. Especially considering that first thing in the morning, most of us don’t want to do anything on an empty stomach, let alone track down somewhere to eat!
The real trick though, is knowing what is offered – we’ve encountered it all.
While you’ll likely not spend much time in proper hotels, these will almost always have some sort of breakfast. Though the breakfasts are typically incredible, especially in Europe, they’re not always included in the room cost.
Some guesthouses will offer basic cereal, typically stale cornflakes or another bland equivalent – often they’ll accidentally “run out” of milk. At the same time, some of the best breakfasts have been from complete dive hostels!
We stayed in one in Nicaragua, it was a bare-bones budget hostel, it was the cheapest place we could find in town. And for the price, we were more then skeptical about the free meal. However, the breakfast was stellar! There were several options that included huge portions of meat, beans, rice and salsa.
Coffee and tea are another thing to look for. Even if breakfast isn’t included, a quick jolt of caffeine can be a nice start!
Expert Advice for Free
We only really discovered these this past year and they’re one of our favourite activities in any city we arrive in. There’s no better way to get a crash-course in relevant history while getting your bearings in a new city than a walking tour with a local guide. Not only can you familiarize yourself with new surroundings without getting lost, but if you’re travelling solo, it’s a great way to meet fellow travellers.
The majority of tour guides are volunteers who earn their pay by donation, and as such, they’re almost always fantastic at their job. So while there is no mandatory cost to you, it’s always nice to give a little back – just don’t feel you need to give more than you can actually afford. Also worth noting is that a portion of the donations often go back into the community.
Although they’re offered in cities around the world, one of our all-time favourites is the Comuna 13 tour, in Medellin, Colombia.
Save Money and the Planet
This combination has not only saved us hundreds of dollars since their purchase, but also countless amounts of plastic waste. Throughout much of the backpacking world, whether Central America, Central and Southeast Asia, tap water is unsafe to drink. The only option until recently has been to buy bottled water.
Unfortunately, in many of these regions, recycling programs are essentially non-existent. When they are in place, only a fraction of the plastic waste is actually recycled.
The Steri-pen is a small wand that uses ultraviolet light to kill all the nasty stuff that might flow from taps in questionable areas. There are different models available, though we chose this one as it uses a simple USB connection to charge – no need to waste batteries either!
Laundry Every Day
Depending on where you are in the world, you’re unlikely to have a washing machine in your accommodation. Laundry services are occasionally available, and though they can often be cheap, those costs add up.
Washing your clothes in the sink to save money is no new secret for budget travellers. However, that day of the week when you have to sit and scrub all your clothes in a tiny bathroom sink is always a pain. Hunched over for an hour, scrubbing and wringing everything out until you almost have blisters, there are many reasons to put this seemingly simple task off.
What we find makes this so much easier, is to do a handful of items every evening. Wash a couple pairs of socks, a couple underwear, and a shirt. Maybe wash a pair of shorts and some socks. Doing this only takes a few short minutes so you won’t feel the need to procrastinate the full workload. As well, if by chance they aren’t completely dry by the time you need to leave, you only have to worry about tucking away a few damp items rather than your whole pack.
Plus, you’ll always have clean clothes to wear. There’s nothing worse than when a long day of travel arrives and you need to go through it smelling like a dirty gym bag.
These clotheslines are really cheap and are great to carry around with you. They can be hung up almost anywhere!
Cook For Yourself
Look, as former chefs we can totally understand why you might want to eat in interesting restaurants whenever you can. Though you totally should, if you eat every single meal out you’re going to run out of money fast.
If you’re on the road for any significant period of time, make sure your accommodation has a kitchen. Whether it’s a shared kitchen in a hostel or a rented apartment, just be able to prepare food. Cook for yourself at least one meal a day, even two; and make something simple and cheap.
You’ll still be able to eat out every day, trying something new and unique, perhaps a local specialty. This will save you heaps of cash in the long-term and you’ll be able to treat yourself to a few fancier meals along the way.
Utilize Farmer’s Markets
While we’re talking about food, where you purchase your goods matters as well. While big chain supermarkets may be your go-to for the basics such as canned goods and other processed stuff, when it comes to produce, head to the market.
Most cities around the world have daily markets, some larger cities have several. Produce is often much cheaper and of higher quality than what you’ll find in the big stores. Not only that, but what money you do spend typically goes straight to the people who grew the product.
You will also often find dairy and meat at these markets. The dairy – especially the cheeses – are far superior to what you’ll get elsewhere, without going to a specialty shop. We often buy meat from local markets aswell, but the atmosphere can sometimes be a little less than sanitary. Use your best judgement when it comes to meat.
Another bonus tip for markets is that they often have food stalls selling grilled meats, breads, pastries and other delicious snacks for really cheap prices!
Pick your location carefully. It’s always nice to be near the centre of the action, everyone wants to be as close to the sights as possible. Of course, the prices reflect this. The further away from the popular area you stay, the cheaper your accommodation will be. If you have a little extra time, most cities have well-connected transit systems that can get you where you need to be.
Something to consider, however, is that transit costs can add up as well. In a city like Medellín for example, getting around is inexpensive, quick and very simple to navigate. You can easily stay a little further away to save a few dollars on your room. London on the other hand, a one-way ride on the tube can cost you $3-5 dollars. Sure, your accommodation will be a bit cheaper, but will your costs in and out of the centre counter that?
Doing that little bit of math before arriving can make a huge difference in the long-term. Also, if you do have to walk a little more to reach the sights, you get a little exercise which in turn can justify that frosty beer!
Having a few cold beers after a hike in the mountains or a long day in transit is always a nice treat. Perhaps you’ve just met some new friends on the bus and want to have a little shindig! Alcohol can be very cheap in some countries, but it’s still another cost.
If we feel like having a few cold ones, we almost always buy the cheap stuff – within reason of course. While it definitely saves us a few dollars here and there, it’s not the tastiest stuff in the world. Two tricks we use if the local stuff isn’t exactly Guinness or Hoegaarden, is to squeeze a splash of lime into your glass. It’s surprising how well that little bit of freshness can bring new life into an otherwise questionable drink!
Don’t Forget to Treat Yourself
Now that we have all these nifty saving tips out of the way, we just need to remind you to splurge a little sometimes. We make the mistake ourselves all too often, where we get into such a habit of saving money that we forget to live a little!
If you really want to go to that Broadway show, or eat at a really great restaurant, or do some really awesome activity – do it! There’s no sense in putting all the effort into saving while on the road if you don’t get to enjoy yourself once in a while.