Here's a phrase I often here people say when I talk about travel, "I'd like to go somewhere, but I just don't have the money." While this may be true in some cases (for example, if your bank account is under $100, you definitely shouldn't be traveling at the moment), this is often said by people who have significantly more than I do. And when I say this, I'm not being accusatory. Many people have the perception that it'll cost thousands of dollars to go anywhere, and that travelling is just a luxury for the wealthy. And while this can be the case, it doesn't have to be. So, therefore, I decided to write this article to share money-saving tips I've learned along the way in order to break the notion that travelling has to be a huge financial burden. I'll start with some biggest things to focus on if you want to cut costs.
This is one of the most common places where people lose money, but it's one of the easiest things to change. When it comes to big travel, like to another country for example, the best thing you can do is a little research and price comparing either on your own or with a friend (not a travel agent). I say this because it happened to me personally. Just a month ago, my mom was trying to purchase a plane ticket to come and visit me in Russia, but because it had been a long time since she last traveled, she decided to contact a travel agent for help. When she did, the agent said the cheapest ticket she could find was $1300 round trip. Instantly, this didn't seem right to me, seeing as I had flown for significantly less, so I decided to do a quick internet check and found many non-stop, round trip tickets for $700 total.
For this, I can recommend using the flight websites either Kayak or Skyscanner. They usually have the best prices and largest variety of flights. Also, if your schedule is flexible, search on several different days because prices can vary by nearly 30% from one day to another. Usually Mondays-Wednesdays are the cheapest option, but occasionally you can find a bargain or discount on the weekends.
This is pretty specific, but if you are traveling from country to country within Europe, I advise against using trains as much as possible. Since inter-railing is popular and trendy, it is often the most expensive option (and usually the slowest) to get from place to place. In most circumstances a bus will be less than half the price while getting you there just as fast, in not faster (less stops in between). And sometimes, even, flights from discount airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air can even be the most affordable option. For example, when I flew Romania to Hungary, I found a Wizz Air flight for about $25. Granted the flight was uncomfortable, and cramped, but it still got me from point A to point B in one piece.
But if you're feeling particularly adventurous, you can always hitchhike and you're entire journey will be free. This may be hard in places like North America and Western Europe where there is a bit of a stigma against the activity, but the further east you go, it actually becomes a pretty common practice and everyone is far more relaxed about it. Like Georgia, for example, where even police officers frequently pick up hitchhikers and help them get to their desired destination (I can confirm, I have seen this happen). Just keep in mind that sometimes you may have to wait a long time for someone to stop and often whoever does will only be able to take you part of the way. That being said, it's still the cheapest way to travel (costing a grand total of $0). Be patient, it can be worth it.
So, to break it down:
- Search for travel tickets yourself/beware of agents
- Flights during the week are often cheaper
- Use discount airlines for the best deals
- Buses are cheaper and often get you to your destination just as fast as trains
- Use public transportation whenever possible
- If you do use a taxi, agree on a price before hand to avoid getting ripped off.
- Hitchhiking is a pretty standard practice in certain countries. Your thumb may just get you to your destination for free.
Lodging (No hotels or resorts)
Another major area where people end up spending a lot of unnecessary money is when it comes to booking a place to stay. So I'll start by saying this: hotels are highly overrated. Often times they cost you a hefty sum of money and you remain locked up in a room on your own, adding to the overall feeling of separation. Choose a hostel or a guesthouse instead. Even if you want a room to yourself, hostels often offer private rooms for just a fraction of a hotel price and will almost certainly be in better condition. On top of that, there's a good chance you'll get a free breakfast and meet some interesting people as well.
When it comes to booking the right one, the two things I recommend looking into is the place's location in the town/city you'll be staying, and the overall atmosphere. Read reviews, and read what people both like and dislike about it in order to get a general understanding. This is all pretty much common sense, but the one thing I would definitely add is to look at the place's policies. Do they have 24 hour reception? That could be important, especially if you arrive at an odd hour. What are the noise and alcohol policies? Depending on what you're looking for, this could be important too.
Anyway, if you want to bypass this whole system of paying for a place to stay, you can always use couch surfing, or, depending on the country, just ask locals if they'll let you stay with them. Surprisingly, this actually works in many countries (although not the US or Western Europe), but especially in places that don't get a lot of visitors, locals will often be very excited to host and get to know a foreigner.
I'll be blunt. Tour companies exploit the fact that most people do not know or want to organize something for themselves. It is very likely you'll be staying in an overpriced hotel, traveling by fairly expensive methods of transportation, and will be saddled with fees and expenses that allow the company to continue operating. Try to avoid this all together. I know they may make it seem a whole lot easier by dealing with the organization and bookings for you, but with just a couple of hours of internet research, you can find better options for fractions of the price. So just put in the effort, it'll be worth it, and you'll have significantly more freedom to do as you please during the trip.
Also, some tour companies offer to exchange money for you in advance. NEVER DO THIS! They will rip you off tremendously. Instead, either bring cash and exchange it at any local currency exchange yourself, or just withdraw local money from an ATM (just remember to contact your bank and let them know where you'll be traveling to).
Food and Drink
First, and most obvious, if you want to save money of food and drinks, but from a supermarket and make your own food. And yes, I know that often times when you're traveling, you'll want to treat yourself and go out somewhere, but even just substituting one meal a day by preparing your own meal can save you a substantial sum of money. If you happen to be staying at a hostel too, this can actually be pretty fun as well. For example, one of my favorite nights in Tbilisi was when I helped prepare a dinner with a group of friends at our hostel for everyone to eat together.
The same can be said with drinks too. If you get a drink or two from a liquor store or a supermarket, it'll like be 1/5 what it would cost at a bar. And if you're with other people, it could be a much better atmosphere to hang out and get to know each other than a loud and packed bar.
But let's say you do want to go out somewhere. Here is what I can advise: try to find a relaxed, local place. The food will likely be better, more affordable, and significantly more authentic than touristy places. If you're not sure how to tell, these points may help:
- Anything written/named in English (unless you're in an English speaking country) will be overpriced and low quality.
- Anything written/named in French or Italian (unless you're in France or Italy) will be incredibly, outrageously overpriced.
- If it isn't too flashy but draws a good crowd of people, that's a good sign.
- Check to see if most of the people there are tourists or locals.
- Make sure they don't have different menus for foreigners and locals. If they do, they are absolutely charging foreigners more. (This is pretty common in southeast Asia).
- If you meet/get to know some local people, ask for recommendations. Usually nothing beats the inside word.
Making some Money
Did someone say you have to lose money when you travel? Fool of a Took! It doesn't need to be so. In fact, you can, in many cases either work for a free stay or even bring in a little extra as you move about from place to place. This one is pretty interesting because there are a variety of different ways to make it happen, so you can use your creativity. For example, if you know a musical instrument (and I personally know several people who do this) play it on a street corner for a few hours and you'll probably make enough to cover a night at a hostel/bed an breakfast. It may sound a bit crazy, but it does actually work.
Likewise, if you know how to cook well and happen to be staying at a crowded hostel, ask around if several people want to pitch in for a group dinner so you make something for everyone. For example, during my stay in Dublin, there was one guy who knew how to make a drink just like Bailey's (using some combination of cream, condensed milk whiskey and cocoa powder) and did so for all of us for a fraction of the store price.
However, the most common, and probably easiest, way I've seen people make an income while traveling is by working at hostels and guest houses. For this, you can check websites like Workaway and helpX where many will put up postings asking for work help. Or, if you want to cut out the middleman, just look up all the hostels in the place you happen to be going (using hostelworld, for example), go to their websites, email them directly, and ask if they would be willing to provide accommodations in exchange for work. Often times they'll say no, but if you keep at it, there will definitely be some that absolutely need extra help. You may not necessarily make any direct money from this, but you should get a free stay and free meals at the very least. So...
- Be creative
- Think of skills you know (i.e. music, cooking, photography)
- Freelance writing can be done from just about anywhere
- Many hostels and guest houses are looking for extra help. It could be you!