*Edited September 22, 2016
Because the cheaper you travel, the more you can travel. Duh.
While my first post was more aimed at long-term travel and moving to a new country, this will be a more general list of ways to travel cheap on any trip. A few of these might be a bit similar to my previous post, but updated and more elaborate! Times have changed in just 2 years so here are my best tips for traveling on a budget in 2015! Make sure to check out the old post HERE as well!
1. Book Your Flights the Right Way
Check flight prices over multiple sites (Kayak and Skyscanner are my faves!) Be flexible if possible, make sure you know how much checking luggage will cost and always look at multiple dates to be sure you’re getting the best rate possible. I list the exact steps I take HERE.
2. Always Look For Discounts
Especially if you’re young or a student. Transportation cards usually have a student/youth version that can be half the price or better (you should be taking public transport rather than cabs, if that wasn’t clear). Teachers/educators often get discounts as well. You may qualify for cheaper entry into amusement parks, museums, etc.
3. Utilize Facebook
As much as we all pretend to hate Facebook, it has some benefits. Facebook groups are insanely helpful for when you’re moving to a new country – you can get tips on how to get your residence card, find a place to live, buy furniture and household goods secondhand, etc. When visiting a country, I usually like to take advantage of the fitness/yoga groups to meet up for hikes, acro yoga jams or other activities (that are usually free!)
4. Booking Accommodation
My go-to in Southeast Asia is Agoda. I’ll usually search a city/date and sort by “Review Score”, then scroll through to find good prices. This filters out the really bad/poorly-reviewed places (we’ll usually cross reference reviews on Tripadvisor as well. Agoda tends to have better ratings, probably having to do with users earning points by reviewing. Tripadvisor has more accurate [and lower rated] reviews, in my experience). If location is most important to you – filter by “Area/Location” or use the map. *In Europe or if you’re looking at a longer stay, Airbnb is your best bet. If you’re solo or on a really tight budget – use Couchsurfers! Great way to meet people, integrate yourself into the culture and it’s free!
5. Use a Travel-Friendly Bank Account
I mentioned the Charles Schwab card in my last post, but I can’t stress enough how important this is! Withdrawing money from ATMs around the world will rack up a LOT of fees. The best way to aquire currency from your destination country is to get a card that will allow you to withdraw money from ANY ATM in the world for FREE like Charles Schwab in the States! Once you get to the airport of your destination, you can withdraw money there (try to go to an ATM that’s associated with a specific bank. Airport ATMs will sometimes have more expensive exchange rates). Almost everywhere in the world has ATMs (research beforehand to be sure!) so only withdraw how much you need (DON’T withdraw large quantities in case the unspeakable happens. Also, the less money you withdraw, the less you’re likely to spend).
6. Food & Drinks
As I said before, eat the local food! And also – drink the local drinks! Drink Chang in Thailand, San Miguel in the Philippines, soju in Korea, order a Tinto de Verano in Spain. These will be way cheaper than your usual gin & tonic. And you’re being cultural so there’s that.
7. Car Share
Research if your destination has services like Über or Lyft. Many countries have banned them but some have alternatives. A friend recently told me about “Bla Bla Car” in Europe, which is another car sharing service on this part of the world where you can catch rides across borders!
8. Overland Versus Flying
Depending on the continent you’re traveling around, one might be cheaper than the other. Make sure you research which one might be cheaper! In Europe, the Europass might not be worth it if you’re only traveling to a few different places over a long span of time. In this case, Ryanair would probably be a cheaper option. Around Southeast Asia, airlines like Air Asia and Tiger will sometimes have flights as low as $50, but a bus ticket to the same place might be $12. Of course, this will all depend on how much time you have and how well you can withstand 26 hour bus rides.
9. Overnight Buses/Trains
To add onto #8, overnight buses/trains are your best friend. They’re often pretty comfortable (beds as opposed to chairs!), way cheaper than flying, and they’re also your accommodation for the night. Planning ahead of time also isn’t necessary. For countries around Southeast Asia, you can ask your hotel/hostel to organize a bus to the next country over, or even just walk down the street where dozens of places will be advertising transportation. Look around to find the best prices and don’t be afraid to bargain! We always book these the day before or day of.
10. Sleeping at Airports
I will definitely stand by this one, even though I’m getting older. Check out sleepinginairports.net for details about the airport you might be crashing at. Some airports have super nice lounge areas with free showers, chair-beds, a movie theater and an ice rink (I’m looking at you, Incheon!) Some airports aren’t even open all night and will kick you out, so researching is important!
Technology is your friend:)
11. Track Your Expenses
Use expense applications on your phone to help you keep track of your expenditures. I used “Expense” on my iPhone (←left image) and would track every single hotel, beer, trinket and pork bun I purchased. This will help you maintain your budget.
12. Make a Budget
I had a daily spending allowance of $30 (accommodation included!) and a monthly budget of $1000 while traveling around Southeast Asia for 5 months. Obviously buying a $20 train ticket or paying the $35 tourist visa will put you over every so often, which is what the extra $100 was for a month. This was doable in countries like Thailand and Vietnam, but was difficult in more Westernized places like Bali. Adjust your budget accordingly but try to stick to it! If you go over one day, try to make up for it by spending less the next day. Your Expense app will help you with this, but I like to also make a more elaborate budget sheet on Excel, which helps cross reference totals in different countries and months. Okay yeah, I’m a little OCD.
13. Use Instagram
When going to seasonal types of places (rice terraces, waterfalls, etc), I’ll quickly check Instagram beforehand to see what it’s like real time. For example, rice terraces are brown for a lot of the year so before spending money to make the 3 hour trek there, check it out on Instagram first and see what it looked like yesterday. If nobody’s posting anything, that might be a sign. This can also give you a better taste of reality (and possibly avoid tourist traps) so you can see through those super Photoshopped, professional photos.
14. Get a SIM Card for Your Phone
Your UNLOCKED phone, that is (most carriers will allow you to unlock it after a year, you just have to call and ask them about it! Don’t even bother trying to get a plan at home that lets you use your phone abroad, it’s so much cheaper to just get a SIM once you’ve arrived). Most countries will sell you pre-paid/pay-as-you-go SIM cards for $10-$30 a month, depending on how much data you want. In Southeast Asia, they’ll sell them at all 7/11 types of convenience stores. In the US, they’ll sell them at Walmart and Target. Sure, it’s nice to be “disconnected” while you’re on vacation, but it’s also nice to not be lost for 7 hours and waste an entire day of siteseeing. *You can also look up the country you’re going to over at Prepaid Data SIM Card Wiki to get a general idea before getting there!
A cheaper option would be to go without a SIM card (although it’s helpful for many other things than just Google Maps) and download this amazing app called Maps.Me. This app enables you to download specific country maps (while you’re on wifi – plan ahead) to use while offline. Even the GPS will still work and routing also (if you download the extra MBs). This thing is a LIFESAVER.
16. Google Maps
An alternative to #15 *and what I now always do, is to download Google Maps “Offline”. You can choose an area to download while you’re in wifi that will work when you’re offline. Also, use Google Maps to find public transportation routes. This surprisingly works in many countries around the world (or research the best local app to download to find the train/metro/bus times). It’s cheaper than cabs and better for the environment. (14-16 aren’t necessarily “money savers”, but it’ll save you time, and you know what they say.)
17. DON’T Book Scammy Group Tours
Explore on your own, people. These tours usually don’t give you enough time in each place to really appreciate them. And who wants to wander around a new and exciting city like cattle while your tour guide waves a flag for your matching-neon-green-shirt-wearing-selfie-stick-weilding group to follow. Don’t be that group! They’re often overpriced anyway.
INSTEAD of Booking a Tour, Do These Things:
Rent a motorbike or bicycle and explore on your own! Seriously the best way to get to know a city, and a usually pretty cheap way as well.
Research real people’s blogs to find the best places to go (they’re not as biased like many travel/tourism sites are!)
20. Ask Around
Ask other travelers at your hotel/hostel/bus/train for advice. They probably just went on that hike you’re planning on doing tomorrow and can give you excellent tips about what to pack and what bus to take.
21. Be organized, yet flexible:
When I’m planning a trip, I like to first make a list of the places I really want to see (or make a Board on Pinterest!) I’ll research a bit like the best way to get there, how much entry will cost, best time of day to go, etc. When I arrive, I try to be as flexible and low maintenance as possible. Will you be able to see every single little thing you wanted in the 4 days you’re there? Probably not. Go to your top picks and just go with the flow. The weather might make it impossible, it might be closed for renovation, or your bus might break down, causing you to lose a day and a half. Make sure you still enjoy your time there. It might not go as planned but that’s often when you have the most adventurous and spontaneous experiences.
22. Don’t Rush
You will NOT be able to see an entire country in a week. Or even a month or two. Don’t jam your schedule with activities, tours and siteseeing down to the minute. Be reasonable and choose one or two main activities a day. Allow yourself the rest of the time to do normal exploring. Wander the streets. Eat weird food. My favorite memories from traveling are usually the ones where I’m sitting at a random café or hole-in-the-wall bar with friends or locals sipping on whatever they had behind the bar.
(While 21 & 22 aren’t necessarily “money-saving” tips either, it will make your experience more relaxed and enjoyable, while avoiding expensive touristy things that are often more stressful than they’re worth.)
Practice Sustainable and Ethical Travel
23. Buy/Bring a Water Bottle
(Preferably an aluminum eco-friendly one) instead of purchasing plastic water bottles every day. Fill up at your hotel, research/ask if the tap water is drinkable or spend a few cents at those amazing reverse-osmosis water machines they have in some countries! Why not save a couple bucks a day while helping save the world ;).
(and while you’re at it, bring along a reusable bag when you go shopping!)
24. Be Nice to Animals
DON’T give money to inhumane organizations – i.e. tiger temples where they drug the animals or elephant camps where you ride them or they’re performing tricks. These places are keeping wild animals in captivity and training them for entertainment purposes. Spend your money elsewhere. (For a good alternative to elephant camps, go to the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. Read more about it HERE.)
25. Research Before “Donating”
Be wary before giving kids on the street money or going to “orphanages”. Many of these children are begging for money on the streets when they should be in school. Continuing to give them money will encourage them to stay out of school (and will also undo a lot of the work social workers have done to help them). Before “volunteering” at that orphanage in Cambodia, realize that so many of these places are exploiting and abusing these children and very little money is actually contributing to their welfare. (Read more about orphanage tourism here.)
Instead, go to organizations that are legitimate and actually help (if what you’re doing in that 3rd world country wouldn’t be allowed in a westernized country – i.e. invading children’s privacy with dozens of strange visitors every day – then it’s probably not ethical or safe for the children). For example, Daughters of Cambodia is an organization that employs girls that have been in the sex trade. They’re paid better wages than they would on the street and offer them another chance at education.
Because I Don’t Want to End on Such a Dismal Note – Some Bonus Tips:
26. Just Be Smart
• Don’t get robbed – always be conscious of your bag! Wear purses across your chest and keep a hand on it at all times if you’re in a sketchy area. People won’t try to rob you [as much] if you look like you’re aware.
• Keep your things organized – put your passport in the same [SAFE] place. Don’t bring it out to bars (most countries outside the US don’t ID anyway). Don’t ever leave your phone vulnerable (I’ve heard stories of people in Ho Chi Minh literally grabbing people’s phones while they’re using it and running away).
• Know the currency – vendors WILL try to short change you in some countries and a lot of people won’t notice because the 10,000 and 100,000 rupiah bill look almost identical.