Financing a trip can be a barrier for many people when planning to travel. Some claim that it is too expansive to travel, even to various cities in their own country. While to an extent, traveling is a luxury expense and you need to have money to put down, it CAN be done with much less than you think. While planning our major trip, we had a definite budget in mind prior to planning anything. But throughout our trip, we learned a lot of different methods and tools that helped us save dough, especially in more expensive countries. While it’s not hard to find travel hacks on the internet, some people just aren’t sure where to start! We’ve compiled a list of strategies and sites that really helped us to keep our budget in check. Note: if you want a fancy resort, or to lay back and do-no-work on your vacation, these tips may be less helpful. But we found that most of them not only saved us money, but also enriched our experiences while traveling.
- Credit cards with extra services– If you are willing to open up a new credit card, initial offers can come with great perks! Matt and I both opened credit cards with 0% foreign transaction fees, $300 – $500 sign on bonus, and travel insurance included! If you have the ability to open a new credit card, sometimes finding the right deal at the right time can give you a jumpstart on your travel budget! Some we use are Barclay Arrival and Capitol One Venture, but there are many great ones out there!
- Be flexible with your time– the more flexibility you have, the better chance you can save some money. If you have a destination you really want to visit, check periodically for deals and timing. Of course, no one wants to go to the beach when it’s snowing, or Southeast Asia during monsoon season, but there are occasionally deals that can make your trip much cheaper, as long as you’re flexible with your time.
- Airbnb– Airbnb and smaller hotels are a great budget choice, especially in Europe. Hotels usually offer a lot of perks and services, but many that you may not use. With Airbnb, you can choose the amenities that you need it. We liked that Airbnbs offered laundry, kitchens where we could cook, and much more local flavor! And many times, our hosts were amazing people who gave us great insights to their city!
- Stay with Friends– It’s always great to catch up with friends and family, so why not use it to benefit your wallet? Check with friends who may live in cities you want to visit, and ask if you can stay. Maybe make them a nice dinner to repay the lovely favor.
- Go natural, go camping!– we did a lot of camping on our year long trip! Honestly, some of my favorite places we stayed were camping spots. You can bring your own gear, or buy gear at your destination. Even in major cities, like Amsterdam, camping was an extremely affordable choice and didn’t detract from our experience there. We also found a bunch of free camping spaces in Australia and New Zealand, which was a real budget saver! If you think you might go this way, Decathlon for gear is unbeatable! Also check out WikiCamps apps (available for Australia, New Zealand, UK, USA and Canada) which tell you what camping sites are near you, prices and amenities!
- Workaway– I thought more travelers would know about this, but apparently not. Workaway is a service where you can work in exchange for room and board. It is available world-wide and with a range of tasks that people need help with. Some are more manual labor – building homes, working on a farm, childcare. Others are more like a dream, for example the host that was asking for help taking care of their 50 sled-driving huskies in Austria! If you are willing to try something new and different, Workaway can be a great experience. Some of our most memorable weeks were during a work exchange and it really enriched our trip abroad.
- Skyscanner– Matt is a Skyscanner magician, and always finds amazingly cheap prices! You can play with locations, stop-overs, and compare times. You can also check “Everywhere” and compare flight prices world-wide! We’ve always found the best deals with this site, and if the times didn’t work, we at least knew which airlines were offering the cheapest flights. Definitely the place to start while planning a trip!
- Flixbus– super cheap bus service around major cities in Europe. It’s super easy to book trips on their app and the buses offer great amenities (wifi, bathroom, outlets for electronics, snacks and drinks for purchase onboard!)
- Bla Bla Car– also thought this would be less of a secret among travelers. Bla Bla Car is like Airbnb for transportation. For example, John is driving from Paris to Nice and he has 3 extra seats in his car. Bla Bla car allows people who are already travelling to bring others along! Like glorified hitchhiking! Prices are affordable and usually cheaper than other modes of transportation. And if you are lucky like us, you will get to meet some awesome people along the way!
- Find your own route– we are all about the road less travelled, so during our trip, we often took a route “our own way” in lieu of tourist buses/tours. Sometimes it was cheaper and faster, other times not so much. But we always felt more like a local, and we learned valuable lessons along the way. We used blogs to help us through some tricky bits, but it always made for a great adventure.
- Renting a car isn’t bad, buying isn’t either– renting a car can actually be pretty affordable, even more so if you can drive manual cars. We even bought a backpacker car with ALL needed camping gear, used it for 3 months and then sold it with only a $300 loss! If you feel comfortable driving, it’s definitely worth a look!
- Local train passes– a few times we encountered discounted train tickets specifically for tourist. And in countries where transportation was expensive, they were a life saver. For example, in Switzerland, our Airbnb host told us that if we go to the local tourist center, we can purchase all day passes for unlimited rides on the trains! We bought them for a fraction of the price of a short trip, and rode the train across the whole country to Zurich for a day trip (and then back to the Italian border)! You’ll need to ask at a tourist center if they have them, you can also check with the local train station to see if they deals for tourist there.
- Grocery store picnics!– honestly, local grocery stores can have some great food. If you don’t need to be wined and dined for every meal, try breakfast and/or lunch from a local grocery store. We were big fans of getting prosciutto and brie from the store, and bringing it to a nearby park for a picnic. Really, the views (and sometimes the meals) were much better and much cheaper!
- Avoid touristy areas– right outside the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican, the Angkor Wat is NOT the place to find good or cheap food. Most restaurants know that tourist won’t wonder far from tourist spots, so they jack up the prices for terrible food. Many times, if you walk just a street or two over from the main areas, you’ll find a meal that’s worth the bang for your buck. And if someone is outside trying to get you to come in, it’s because no one is going their willingly, so just keep on walking.
- Down play the alcohol and snacks– when we first started traveling, we’d have a beer at lunch, or an ice cream after dinner. We were still in vacation mode, but over a longer time, those little things add up! Of course, you’ll want to enjoy the cuisine, but if you can minimize the snacks and alcohol, you’ll save a lot. You can save your alcohol money for a lit night out, instead of a small beer with every meal.
- Look for the free stuff– many major cities, especially in Europe, offer Free and discount days. For example, tour the Royal Palace in Madrid for free from 4:00 – 6:00 each day. Just a simple google search might help you find a free or discounted time to visit big attractions! Also, we always took free walking tours in major cities. It’s not exactly free, but you just pay the tip you feel the guide deserves (or what you can afford) at the end. They’ll hit major areas, tell you history and great stories, and it always gave us a good lay of the land to further explore during our remaining time there.
- Splurge on the once in a lifetime experiences– this is a judgment call, and differs for each person. But think about the items that you want to splurge on, and things that you can do without/do cheaper. For Matt, his favorite beer is Guinness, so while visiting the Guinness factory in Dublin, we splurged on the full Guinness experience! For me, going into every church is Florence wasn’t necessary, so I just saw the Duomo and the free ones. When we were in 1 of 5 places in the world to go great white sharks diving…well you get the picture! Spend the money when it’s something once in a lifetime or meaningful to you. But things that are not a big deal, don’t spend a ton of money if you don’t need. The big adventures will matter, missing the little ones won’t.
- If you think it’s something you’ll want to see, just do it! Yes it’ll impact the budget– a word from the regretful…if you want to do it, just do it. We didn’t end up seeing the Sagrada Familia because of the entry price and we were really watching our budget. But in the end, we regretted not seeing it. So again, if it’s worth it to you, just spend the money and see it. But make sure that means you cut back on the things that you don’t really care about to make up the difference.
- Check local groups on Facebook– sometimes there are local groups or forums that give great insight to what you should do in the city you are visiting. We didn’t use them so much on our big trip, but we did hear about a handy group called Smartinsiders when we moved to Madrid. Not sure they do much outside of Spain, but they host social, culture and travel events for cheap/free! If you are in Spain, check it out.
- Souvenirs you can use– we all like to have a souvenir from our awesome travels. But to save space in your bag and money, think of souvenirs you can use! I have clothes, jewelry and the most handy sarong from our travels. Not only do they remind me of our trips, but they served multiple purposes and didn’t add room in my bag!
- If you want to collect something from every place, pick something small– some people also like to collect specific items from each country; ash trays, key chains, etc. If you are going to this, and you have many stops to hit, pick something small. Matt picked up flag patches from each country we visited, and it took up the same room as a deck of cards. Think about that when planning to collect items from multiple counties!
- Paper isn’t just for anniversaries– my favorite souvenirs were paper – ticket stubs, flyers, menus, newspaper clippings. They reminded me of specific places we visited, and were so easy to pack! Best part – they were all free!
- Haggle when you can– you’d be surprised how many places in the world you can haggle! While it’s a common practice in Asia, that doesn’t mean it’s the only place you can do it. If you feel comfortable haggling for shopping items, food, even rooms sometimes, don’t be afraid to try. We arrived at 2:00 am into a hostel and haggled for a bed for 6 hours of sleep and a shower, much cheaper than paying for the whole night that we couldn’t even use!
We hope that these tips get you thinking about how to save and budget for your travels! Bon voyage!