Here you have it: a full, complete guide for budget travel and how to travel on the cheap. I’ve been a budget traveler for as long as I can remember, and have learned a lot in 7+ years worth of trips. I love traveling on a shoestring, as it means that my money last longer: I can travel for longer, and travel further, when I cut costs on the road. Over the years, I have been able to save a lot of money in order to travel. But how do you actually travel cheap?!
I’ve compiled as many tips as I could think of, and put them all into this post. I want YOU to be able to travel cheaper, for longer, and further afield with these money-saving tips. Here is your Budget Travel Bible: 101 Tips for Cheap Travel!
Let’s start off with one of the best ways to cut your travel costs. Ditch hotels, and opt for staying in hostels instead—hostel dorm rooms will be a fraction of the cost of hotels. Book hostel private rooms, as sometimes they can be cheaper than dorms for 2 people! Try staying somewhere through Airbnb, and get a local experience (and generally access to a kitchen!) by renting someone’s spare room, or even an entire apartment. Sign up here and get £25 (or US Dollars equivalent) off your stay! Consider Couchsurfing, where you can crash for absolutely free.
Stay somewhere with a fully-equipped kitchen, so you can cook your own food. Stay somewhere with laundry, so that you won’t have to pay pricey laundromat fees. Stay somewhere with free wifi. Stay somewhere with free breakfast, so you can eat one of your meals at no cost. Stay somewhere central so you can walk everywhere, and avoid pricey transportation costs. Stay with friends or people you know in a new city, so that you’re not paying for accommodation. Or even stay with friends of friends for free—just posting on Facebook can get you a couch to crash on with friends or family!
When it comes to food and drink, the Budget Travel Bible has you covered. Buy street food to snack on the go so you’re not paying for expensive meals out. Take it one further, and buy food from supermarkets to snack on the go. Try buying food from supermarkets and cooking it in the kitchen. If you’re staying in a hostel, raid the free box in the hostel kitchen—generally someone will leave some extra pasta, rice, or something easy that you can cook. Eat with the season, and cut your costs even more. Save extra food from your accommodation’s breakfast for lunch later in the day—you can get two meals for the cost of none! Be okay with eating sandwiches, and you’ll see your food costs evaporate.
Go out to eat for lunch instead of dinner, since lunch menus are generally cheaper. Don’t eat/drink close to main tourist sites—those places will always be more expensive. Avoid coffee shops/cafes at tourist sites as well—they will also be more expensive. Give up your morning coffee at a café, and instead try the instant coffee at your accommodation in the morning. Nearly everywhere I’ve stayed at has free tea/coffee. Give up coffee altogether if you really want to save some money!
Bring your own reusable water bottle, so you’re not paying for pricey bottled water (and saving the environment in the meantime!). If you’re in a country where bottled water is the only water that’s safe to drink, buy bottled water in bulk and use your reusable water bottle. Remember that beer can sometimes be cheaper than water! If you want to drink a lot without spending a ton of money, buy booze cheap at a store and pregame before going out. If you’re coming from the airport, try buying booze duty-free (where it’s already cheap!) and pregame upon arrival.
If you’re going from a cheap country to an expensive one, stock up on essentials like snacks, food, booze, water, etc. before leaving. Be aware of the destination’s tipping culture—in some places (like the US), you must tip which means the cost of a meal will be higher than you might anticipate. In some countries, it is considered offensive to tip. Research bar crawls beforehand—sometimes they can be a good deal, some are just ripoffs. If you’re staying at a hostel, see if they do communal meals, which can have excellent value (I once paid 10€ for a 3-course meal and unlimited booze in Lisbon!). Drink in hostel bars, since sometimes they can have the cheapest prices in the city as they aim to attract backpackers. Look out for happy hour deals for both food and drinks to cut costs. And if you’re really desperate, busy shopping streets will sometimes have people handing out free Coke/Pepsi as a promo!
There are loads of ways to save money on transportation. First of all, try to book transportation in advance—it’ll almost always be more expensive on the day. If traveling in Europe, considering flying budget airlines between European cities, which can sometimes be cheaper than trains. Take trains, and always try to buy second-class tickets instead of first-class. Or you can take it one step further and take coach buses for your transportation.
Only rent a car if there’s several people to split costs, and if you want to go to places that aren’t accessible with public transport. Don’t get gas near airports, as they generally have higher prices because of rental cars needing to be returned with a full tank. Learn how to drive a manual (stick shift) so that you don’t have to pay more for a rental car with automatic transmission. Don’t rent a car if you’re under 25, as young drivers fees can be insanely expensive. If you do rent a car, be aware of mileage caps so you don’t drive more than you’re allowed and charged for it. Consider taking BlaBla Car (or other ridesharing opportunities) to cut costs.
Utilize the city public transportation system and get around like locals do: on the metro, trams, and buses. If you’re taking the metro a lot, buy metro passes in bulk. Take buses instead of the metro as they tend to be cheaper. Don’t forget, it’s always free to walk! Get Uber or Lyft instead of taxis. If you use taxis, make sure they use a meter (or decide on a price before getting in) to avoid getting scammed. Try to travel as light as possible to save on checked bag fees (multifunctional, neutral-colored clothing is always good!). Set price alerts for plane/train tickets, monitor ticket prices, and pounce on them when they go down.
Any budget traveler can decrease their sightseeing costs with a bit of research. Look up which museums/attractions are free. Many places (such as the Louvre in Paris, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, etc.) have free entry on certain days, so try to time your visit right. Bring your student card and take advantage of the ubiquitous student discount on entry prices.
Visit churches for services, as they are always free then. Explore parks, as they also are always free. Book tickets online for major attractions, as there is generally an online discount, and you may be able to save time waiting in line. Join free walking tours—there’s one in almost every city in the world. They are free, but remember that guides generally earn their money from tips. Choose only the attractions you want to go to—and don’t feel pressured to go to expensive places just because others recommend them.
Shop around for souvenirs, and resist impulse buys. Always try to buy souvenirs away from tourist spots. Or even cheaper, don’t buy souvenirs in the first place! Instead, invest your money in making new memories (or purchase fewer, but more meaningful, souvenirs). If it’s appropriate, barter/haggle prices down, especially when buying in a market.
Sometimes the smallest things, like internet and money, can cause the most trouble. When you travel internationally, don’t pay for data and find the free wifi. Use McDonalds and Starbucks (or other big chains) for free wifi. Especially in Europe, many public squares will have free wifi. Buy a local SIM card upon arrival if you need access to a phone number—especially in Europe, as it’ll work in every country (there are no roaming charges within the EU).
Invest in a good travel credit card. Get savvy and hack points for free flights/hotels. Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (I recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred! Sign up here!). Get a debit card with no cash withdrawal fees (living in the UK? Get in touch with me to switch banks and get £100!). Do NOT exchange money at the airport! Use ATMs instead of currency exchanges, as your bank will generally give you a better rate. Always convert in the local currency, even if the ATM offers you the option to pay in your home currency. Be aware of exchange rates and know how much you’re spending. Save your leftover currency for when you go back to a country, or for snacks before you leave. Count your change to make sure you’re not being ripped off. Spend coins instead of notes because currency exchanges won’t take coins. Need to transfer money between international bank accounts? Use Transferwise, as it’s a much better deal than PayPal—sign up here!
When it comes to budget travel, consider long-term travel and how to make that cheaper. Use HelpX to facilitate long-term travel and find volunteer gigs to save on accommodation and food. Use WWOOF if you’re interested in doing volunteering on a farm. Use Workaway to find paid jobs abroad. Consider being an au pair in another country. Get a working holiday visa to be able to work on the road and boost your travel funds. Teach English and earn/save money while you’re traveling.
Always check in advance if you need a visa—it is usually cheaper to organize in advance than upon arrival (you also don’t want to have to pay fines for any violations). Get travel insurance—it’ll save you peace of mind if nothing else. Travel to cheaper countries/regions like Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central America. Stay longer in cheaper places. Choose more inconvenient travel/flight times to save money. Travel in shoulder season or off-season to save big.
There are always little random tips for budget travel. Only use toilets when they’re free, and don’t pay to pee. Go to free museums to use their free toilets. Never pay for toilets at the station, and instead wait until you’re on transport (toilets will be free on trains/coach buses). Get free books while you travel by utilizing the “take a book/leave a book” library at many hostels. Take leaflets for promotions and discounts. Don’t pay to work out, and instead exercise for free at the hotel gym, running outside, or by using YouTube videos.
And most importantly: remember to treat yo’self and invest in the things you really want to do. You didn’t come all the way here to not do something. It’ll cost more money for you to get back there and do it another time, so spend money on the things you really want to see. And of course, enjoy your travels!
Over to you! Which tips do you use? What are your top tips for traveling on a budget?! Share away in the comments!