If money is no issue, we’d probably find ourselves swimming in infinity pools overlooking epic panoramas, dining at the most expensive Michelin star restaurants, de-stressing at the most luxurious resorts, and going on the most epic adventures. But the hard truth is money is almost always an issue… unless you’re in the 1% of the population.
Just because we’re on a budget though, it doesn’t mean we can’t still have an amazing vacation. It just means we have to skip or cut back on the not so important things so we can splurge a little on the important ones when we’re traveling. Here are some tips on how you can save money and stay on your budget when traveling:
Pack a sandwich. Eating out while traveling is one of the biggest money drainers, but you don’t have to do it all the time. Stay at B&Bs, hostels and hotels that offer free breakfast. Pack a sandwich for lunch as well as some snacks—I spent several days in London having only a sandwich and a bottle of water for lunch, which actually turned out nicely because I got to enjoy them while people watching and relaxing along the Thames. Use your dine out funds mostly for dinner. And if you really have to eat out for lunch—there are, after all, some local fares that are only meant for daytime consumption—then find places that are cheap. There are a lot of food spots out there that serve amazing food at very affordable prices.
Take the public transportation. If you’re visiting a big city, chances are you can easily get around just taking the public transportation. Yeah, you need to do a bit of research and it’ll take some time to figure out the system, but it’ll be totally worth it, especially considering the money you’ll save not paying for cab rides. In busier cities like New York and London, taking the trains will even save you a lot of time. I’ve once spent an hour in a car trying to get to a restaurant in London due to heavy traffic… it would have only taken me half that time or less in the Tube.
Haggle when you can. I was one of those people who couldn’t bring themselves to haggle because I felt like I was cheating vendors out of their hard earned money. I’ve since realized that these vendors can usually afford to sell their wares at much cheaper prices than initially advertised. Proof: a merchant at a souk in Marrakesh once sold me a pouf for 40 MAD cheaper than we initially agreed because he didn’t have enough change to break my 200. In fact, in many places vendors actually expect their customers to haggle. So don’t be afraid to haggle—start at one third of the original price and work your way from there—and don’t hesitate to walk away if you can’t get it for the price you’re willing to pay.
Take advantage of free tours. Many hostels and hotels offer complimentary walking or bike tours that you must take advantage of when you’re on a tight budget. They might not be as comprehensive as those tours run by actual tour companies, but they’re usually informative and very useful for familiarizing yourself with the destination you’re visiting. It’s also a great way to meet fellow travelers and a perfect chance to ask a local—your tour guide—some questions you might have about the area.
Stay at hostels. Nothing beats the deliciousness of a luxurious hotel room and a plush queen sized bed that you have all to yourself. I personally prefer private hotel rooms myself, and if you can afford it, I would tell you to go for it. But if you’re on a tight budget, paying for a hotel room that will cost you $100 or more a day is simply impossible. Opt to stay at a hostel instead, where a comfortable bed will cost you anywhere from $15 to $75, if it’s really busy. Just make sure to do your research, as there are a number of crappy ones out there. The amazing ones—like Smart City Hostels by Safestay in Edinburgh, which has really good amenities like free reliable WiFi, complimentary hot breakfast and free walking tours; a cool pub; and very friendly staff—are worth every single penny.
Buy a pay as you go SIM card. You’re better off getting a pay as you go SIM card at your destination than paying for a 30-day international data plan from your service provider. When you get your SIM, simply purchase a cheap bundle that meets your minutes, text and data needs during your trip. You’ll save a lot of money and still enjoy good enough mobile privileges.
Travel with someone. Traveling alone can be such a liberating and unforgettable experience, but traveling with someone has its perks as well. Going on a vacation with your partner or a couple of your friends will let you split some of the bills and expenses on hotel rooms, meals, tips and even toiletries, saving you money that you can later use for some souvenir shopping.
Buy a city pass. Some of the bigger cities offer city passes that will give you free access to some or most of their main attractions. Some, like the London Pass and the Paris Pass, even include huge discounts to other sights as well as offer fast track entries. These city passes are usually very affordable and cheaper than paying for all those attractions individually. And they’re very convenient too.
Eat your leftovers. If you’re anything like me, you’re likely going to end up with plenty of leftovers when dining out. Take leftovers with you if you have any; they’re another meal or snack that you won’t have to pay for, saving you some cash. In some countries, it’s not customary to take your leftovers home. In fact, many restaurants in these countries like the UK don’t even carry leftover containers. Don’t sweat it; just carry around an empty container with you!
Pack light. These days, airlines will try and charge you for everything. That includes things that you think should be like choosing your seat and checking in your luggage. Check-in baggage usually costs anywhere from $25 to $100 depending on the weight. Save some money with careful planning, packing only the clothes that you’re going to need with just a couple of just-in-case pieces. This way, you can pack everything in a carry-on and you won’t have to pay for checked bags. Just make sure you have space in there for souvenirs.
Rack up the miles. Racking up travel miles in your airline or regular credit card, simply by making necessary, everyday purchases, is one of the best ways you can save money while traveling. You can use the miles you’ve earned to pay for travel-related expenses like airline tickets, hotel rooms, room service, some purchases and even cab rides. My favorite is Discover it as it doesn’t have an annual fee and it doubles your earned miles in the first year.
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