I’ve been a full-time student for almost all of the 23 years of my life. So it’s easy enough for me to say that everywhere I’ve travelled has always been on a tight budget. It’s also easy enough for me to admit that I’ve blown enough budgets to say I’ve learned a thing or two about budgeting. After blowing my whole student loan on a trip, I decided it was time to learn how to properly budget!
Here are 30 budget travel tips I’ve learned along the way!
Getting to your destination:
Always search INCOGNITO!!! (Private web browsing)
I cannot stress this enough. An incognito window does not save your internet searches. Ever notice pop-up ads on Facebook, Google, etc., for items that you were previously looking at on a web browser? The internet literally stalks your activity. It has been proven that after the first time you search for a flight on a non-private web browser, the next time you search the flight it may increase in price. For the longest time I didn’t know this and now that I search incognito I know I am getting the most accurate price for my flight.
Take the longest route possible
Basically the faster you get somewhere, the more expensive it will be. Speed and convenience come at a hefty price nowadays. When looking into transportation compare all the options available. I use the search engine Rome2Rio ( www.rome2rio.com ) which compares different options for getting places. However, it can be very useful to search through online blogs and forums to see if there is a local or lesser known way to get somewhere. For example, I was travelling in Costa Rice and needed to get from the coast to San Jose. I could have chosen to travel in an air conditioned spacious van that went directly there. After I spoke with some locals, I figured out the cheap and local way to get there. The van cost around $40 CAD and the bus which took more than double the time cost only $5 CAD.
Book flights with connections
Highlighting my previous point of taking the longest route: book flights with connections. Luckily, nowadays you can get cheap flights with only one layover. Just make sure that you have enough time to make your connections in between flights. I usually give myself at least two hours to catch another flight.
Compare one-way tickets to round-trip tickets
It’s depressing that one-way tickets can be more expensive than round-trip tickets; but, this is the sad truth. I had to book a one-way ticket to Europe for my exchange because I wasn’t able to determine my date home and now I’ll be paying close to $250 CAD more. If you are travelling for a long period of time, try booking your one-way flights when airline companies are having sales. However, I recommend buying round-trip tickets and scheduling your trip around it if you’re travelling for a shorter period of time.
Compare air travel VS. train travel VS. bus travel VS. car travel
Compare them all! Like I mentioned above, I use Rome2Rio ( www.rome2rio.com ) and it allows you to search actual dates for more accurate results. It will construct a list of all possible methods of transport to get you to where you need to go. The links will even direct you to the booking sites. You would be surprised at the differences ways to get to one destination.
If you are comfortable enough I also recommend comparing ridesharing websites. Ridesharing is the same as carpooling. You have a driver with empty seats in their car and for a predetermined price, they offer to take you the final destination or a destination along the way. However, always book through a reputable website and read the reviews of the drivers. These drivers are not employed by a company; they sign up, get verified and then are able to offer rides. There are many different ridesharing companies depending on the country you’re visiting and a quick search in Google will give you some good options.
Night trains and overnight flights become your best friend
I love night trains and overnight flights. Every budget traveller does! If you can travel during the night then you don’t have to pay for accommodation. It also gives you more free time to explore your destination. That’s a win-win situation in my eyes.
Search the cheapest currency to book in/ book through local websites
Depending on your destination, it may save you money if you book in the country’s currency or in another currency for that matter! A quick search online or through your bank’s website will tell you the exchange rate for the day. If you want to book in your destination’s currency, ensure that you book through their local website to get the best price. For instance, it is cheaper to purchase flight, bus or train tickets in Turkey from local websites compared to international websites. When looking on the international website for my flight to Turkey, I was quoted 200 Turkish lira for my flight; however, when I booked through the local Turkish Airlines website I purchased my flight for 148 Turkish lira. Usually this as easy as changing the .com domain to the ending country domain.
Flexible on your travel destination? Search the cheapest place to fly.
If the world is your oyster and you have the freedom to go anywhere, why not fly somewhere cheap! You can search flights to everywhere on these sites: Skyscanner and KAYAK Explore. They will generate a list with the cheapest flights available on your specific days or within the month or season you wish to travel. However, make sure the exchange rate and the country itself is thrifty enough for your predetermined budget. For instance, I almost booked flights to Iceland once because they were SO CHEAP! But, a quick search of the average daily spending and the exchange rate made me realize that I would not be able to stay within my daily budget. Just because it’s cheap to get there doesn’t mean it will be cheap when you get there. Iceland will have to wait!
Research the cheapest days to travel.
In my opinion, Skyscanner is by far the best site for comparing prices on different days. However, Google Flights and Hopper are reputable sources as well. Basically you choose the option of searching dates within the whole month and Skyscanner will generate a list with the cheapest days to fly. The difference saved could be enough to cover accommodation for a couple nights. It’s worth the search.
Use the best search engines for flights!
Certain search engines will inflate ticket prices much higher than others. I want you to avoid those monsters. Every traveller has their favourite booking sites and mine are: Skyscanner, Cheapoair, Azair (Europe), and Google Flights.
Travel the local way
Locals know best. Always ask locals the best way to get to your next destination. They may know a local bus, have a friend that can offer a ride or even offer to take you there! It will always be cheaper than the tourist transport. Furthermore, I always search online when figuring out how to get places. There are so many amazing blogs and online forums at your fingertips. Thanks to a handy blog, I made it to Alcatraz even though the next available ticket was two months after my trip!
Considering that budget travelling takes much more transit time, your back will thank you if you travel light. But, more importantly, your wallet will also thank you. Budget airlines may have cheaper airfare but they don’t have cheap luggage prices. If you want to make the most of your cheap ticket, travel light so you don’t end up paying the hefty price for luggage.
First of all, make sure it’s legal where you are leaving from, to where you are going, and all countries in-between. However, please realize this is not a very safe mode of transportation and do not hitch hike EVER in dangerous countries. There are many online articles that provide tips about hitch hiking, include information about specific countries to hitch hike to and warn of the countries not to hitch a ride. First research the country before deciding to hitch hike. I highly recommend hitch hiking in groups of two or three and always have a man with you. Don’t dress western or touristy and try to blend in like a local. Lastly, it’s usually better to start at a petrol station on the highway when you are hitch hiking longer distances. But, please be careful hitch hiking!
Walking is how I stayed the same weight in Europe despite eating and drinking all the European food and beer I could get my hands on. But, more notably, it’s also free! All you need is a map with the major tourist sites and you can start your hike! It is surprising at how quickly all the metro rides, taxi fares and bike rentals eventually start to add up and empty your wallet. Walking is one of the best ways to see a city, given you have sufficient time to see the sites. And trust me, at the end of the day you deserved all of those gelato stops you made along the way!
Metro instead of taxi
Be welcoming to public transit! Unmistakably, transit is cheaper than the latter option of a taxi. Rest assured that most major cities have great public transit routes. If you’ve situated yourself centrally then you probably don’t have to face very long trips on the bus or metro anyways. Navigate your way with the free public transit maps available in most cities.
Choose wisely where you stay
Ever try to book accommodation in a city center and curse over paying higher prices? I have numerous times! Unfortunately, it’s rational that it cost more to stay where it’s convenient. Usually it can be more convenient to stay slightly out of the center and walk or buy a metro pass to get around. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes you end up paying the difference in the hostel costs by travelling into the center or to wherever you need to go. For instance, I was recently in Amsterdam and my friend and I found that staying in the center was way out of our price range. The only hostel we could find that was in our price range was quite far from everything we wanted to see (5km away). While we were going to book it, we realized we would be spending more money taking the tram or renting bikes to get into the center.
Use reputable booking sites
I love Hostelworld for my budget accommodations! Hostelworld offers a great platform for booking hostels and budget rooms. I have always found the reviews, hostel information and maps accurate. Another search engine I love is Booking.com for hotel accommodations. However, since my field of work is hotels, I always recommend booking through the hotel directly. This can be a godsend. If you have ANY problems with your hotel booking, it will be 100% easier to deal with the hotel directly than a 3rd party booking site such as Booking.com or Expedia.
Food & Drinks:
Book hostels that include a free breakfast
And LOAD up on that free breakfast. This is a trick I always use when travelling. You can skip lunch if you load up enough on breakfast. So save your lunch money!
Don’t always eat out at restaurants
Food is one of the easiest ways to break your budget. This is especially true in certain countries where eating out is more expensive. You have to be mindful of what area you choose to eat in. Dining at a restaurant in the center of a city will be more expensive than eating out of the city center limits.
After a long day of exploring I know it can be difficult to find the energy to cook your own meal but it has its benefits. I try to make it a shared experience. If you’re at a hostel, find a group of people and ask if they want to cook together! Grab a bottle of vino (or whatever alcohol is cheapest) and you’ll have a great time making friends and saving yourself some money! However, you don’t always have to cook your own meals to save money! While Asia has perfected street food, many other countries are close to catching up! Opt for a quick meal from a street vendor and you’ll be satisfied in no time.
Pack a lunch
Whether you’re headed to the beach, out to explore a city or hiking in the mountains, packing a lunch will save you time and money. And you can make a picnic of it! I’ll be honest, I’m usually lazy and always bring sandwiches, but a quick stop at the grocery store will give you abundant picnic options. I recommend bringing snacks like granola bars or protein bars because they keep you full throughout the day.
Grocery store shopping
Shop at actual grocery stores! They will be cheaper than convenience stores or quick-stop shops. You can easily load up on items such as fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, bread, sandwich meat, etc., and it’ll be better quality than shopping at a smaller convenience store.
Predrink, predrink, predrink!
We learn this method of binge drinking as poor students; however, lucky for you, as a poor traveller you are able to relive those moments! Predrinking will always save money. And for people who party A LOT, predrinking will save a lot of money! But, it’s also fun! It allows you to meet people, play numerous drinking games and bond over being drunk before staggering to a bar where you can strengthen those newly made friendships.
Bring a filtered water bottle
Filtered water bottles can be a godsend in countries where drinking the tap water isn’t safe. Buying bottled water everyday adds up and let’s not forget that we want to explore the world, not contribute to ruining it. Filtered water bottles usually last two to six months depending on the type of water bottle. I recommend Clearly Filtered water bottles. They last six months or up to 100+ gallons and are designed for mountaineers and avid hikers. This means that they provide clean drinking water not only from taps but from rivers, streams and lakes. It’s a great investment for travellers!
Student Rates and Group discounts
Always bring your student card because you never know when you’ll find a student discount. Sometimes activities can end up being half the price with a student card!
Always ask about group discounts if you’re travelling with a group. Sometimes group discounts won’t be listed in the price list but they can be offered if you simply ask! Group discounts are especially useful for tours or excursions. So round up a group from your hostel and go have fun!
Bargain when you can! Why pay the tourist price for something if you don’t have to. Bargain to get closer to the local price. It can be uncomfortable for some people but just realize that it’s completely normal in certain countries. They consider it a normal dialogue between two people. When haggling always let the seller first state their price and make sure you always counteroffer with the lowest price you would pay. It’s usually advantageous to start with a lower price than what you would actually pay for the item. Just remember it’s not an argument! Smile, show respect and have fun while you’re at it.
Don’t ever book a tour from street sellers!
You know when you’re walking down the street and people approach you about city tours, opera tickets, etc. Well, ignore them. If you are interested in what they have to offer, the best bet is that you can find the same tour from a more legitimate source and pay less. For example, I was in Vienna and looking to go to the Opera. I did my research and knew they had student tickets. My group and I was approached by ticket sellers on the street promising to give us the best price for the Opera. They even lied and said there were no more student tickets. If we bought tickets from them we would have paid 20 to 30 euros. Our student standing tickets cost 3 euros. Yes, I really meant 3 euros. Don’t trust what you hear from a guy on the street!
Take a free tour!
I LOVE FREE TOURS! What’s great about them is that they are offered almost everywhere now! They are easy to find and most hostels will have the contact of companies giving free tours. I never took free tours until my exchange trip this year and I want to slap myself because of it. For example, I recently took a free tour in Sarajevo and it captivated the city perfectly. Our tour guide lived through the Siege of Sarajevo and told the story of the war from her perspective as a seven to ten year old girl at the time. I would not have had the same experience if I didn’t take the tour. So, take the free tours! BUT, please do tip the tour guides as they need to make a living as well.
Don’t travel in peak tourist season
Honestly, just don’t do it. If you can avoid it, avoid it at all costs. Everything is more expensive, there are three times more tourists, and you can’t capture the same experience sightseeing. Your experience really won’t be the same. More importantly, you will save BIG when you travel in off season as everything is less expensive! I recommend travelling in fall and spring. It’s still lovely in most places and the prices are lower by then.
Don’t buy useless souvenirs
Shot glasses, t-shirts, mugs, etc. Don’t do it. First of all, when travelling for long periods of time these souvenirs add up in your suitcase and take up way too much room. This can add to excessive luggage costs. But, more notably, these souvenir shops exist to rip you off! Make memories instead. However… if you are a diehard shot glass collector, then buy your souvenir shot glass! Basically what I’m saying is, don’t go crazy on souvenirs that you won’t use or appreciate.
Be prepared to make sacrifices
I included this tip because it’s the honest truth. Budget travelling means making a lot of sacrifices. You need to have strong willpower at times. There will be times you curse at yourself for choosing to take a bus for 24 hours without air conditioning, or times you fight with yourself about eating at a nice restaurant, or times you wish you opted for the bus sightseeing tour because you’re tired as f**k and didn’t want to walk another kilometer. But, you’ll feel accomplished by the end of it all. I swear. I felt like I deserved a gold medal after I completed my first trip within my budget. It contributes to a type of personal growth. You begin to realize your travel inspirations and what truly motivates you. You become a better traveller. A smarter traveller.