Interested in traveling but worried about your budget? Let me show you how to save money while traveling!
One of the biggest challenges that many people face when they want to travel more is the cost of travel, and budgets can quickly balloon if you’re not careful.
The good news is that there are many tried and true techniques that you can use to save on your next trip, from the planning stages to choosing affordable local restaurants to avoiding hidden fees.
Think of saving money on travel as a cumulative process where you have the opportunity to save at each step in the process. You’ll be making dozens, if not hundreds, of monetary decisions over the course of your trip, so build a habit of thinking each purchase through.
It’s perfectly fine to splurge on things that are important to you, but you can save a lot of money over the course of your trip if you can avoid accidentally overspending.
How To Save Money While Traveling
The key to saving money while traveling is to set yourself up to succeed by researching ahead of time, leveraging your existing resources, and avoiding common travelers’ pitfalls.
As a traveler, you always want to be wary of anything that seems tailored, especially to visitors near major attractions. These ‘tourist traps’ are often overpriced, lower quality restaurants and stands that sell the same things that you can buy cheaper a little further in town.
1. Choose Inexpensive Destinations
No matter how thrifty of a traveler you are, the budget of your trip will be determined in part by the local costs at your destination.
Whenever possible, choose destinations that generally fit your budget to be able to travel as comfortably as possible. For example, if you’re living and traveling on a shoestring budget, consider a trip to Spain or Portugal instead of traveling through Switzerland.
2. Travel With Friends
When you travel with others, you have the opportunity to cut some of your costs, like transportation and accommodations, in half. For the best experience, choose people who have a similar budget to yours.
If you travel with someone with a higher budget than yours, you’ll almost inevitably end up spending more than you would have if you traveled alone.
3. Take the Long Way Around
Some of the biggest expenses that will add up while you’re traveling are really just the costs of convenience. So, to save money on your next trip, try taking the long way around, both literally and figuratively.
Instead of hailing a taxi to the airport, choose public transit. Pick the cheaper tickets if you’re choosing between a bullet train and a standard train.
There’s a caveat with this one: always weigh these decisions with the additional joy you might get from choosing the convenient option. Sometimes, having some more time in your destination city or simply being less tired is the right choice.
4. Pack Light
The lighter you pack for your trip, the less you’ll spend on luggage and the more agile you’ll be when you arrive.
Having a small bag will keep you from paying exorbitant fees to check your bags while you travel, and you’ll be less likely to choose a more expensive transit option (like a taxi) when public transit would do.
5. If You Want To Try an Expensive Restaurant, Don’t Go For Dinner
At almost any restaurant in the world, dinner will be the most expensive meal they serve. If there’s a restaurant that you’d love to try and they have another seating option, it will almost always be cheaper than sitting down for dinner.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a reservation for dessert, after-dinner drinks, lunch, or even breakfast. All of these options will give you a chance to try the restaurant without paying the markup that they charge for dining at dinnertime.
6. Order the House Wine
If you ever go to a restaurant with a wine list and want to order the cheapest one, always ask the waiter for “house red” or “house white.” Sometimes the prices for the house wines aren’t listed on the wine menu, but they should always be the cheapest wines on the menu.
There’s nothing wrong with ordering a house wine, and at nicer restaurants, it is usually selected to be a versatile wine that will pair with most of the dishes.
7. Ask for Prices
One of the ways that different businesses will trick you into spending more money than you’d planned is by not clearly listing the prices of the items or services. If this happens, just be forthcoming and ask for the prices before you decide if you’d like to purchase anything. In the event you don’t get a straightforward answer, the prices may be negotiable.
This goes for taxis, too – you can always ask for an estimated cost before you get into the taxi. In some countries, taxi drivers will quote a price and drive you without turning on the meter.
8. Stay With Friends or Family
If you’re able to stay with friends or family during your travels, the price of your accommodations will drop precipitously, sometimes all the way to $0. There are added benefits to staying with friends, too. You’ll have a chance to catch up with people you may not see often, and you’ll get the inside scoop on the best things to do in the area!
Whenever you choose to stay with friends or family, be a gracious guest and always bring a thoughtful gift. Be sure to leave the space sparkling clean, and graciously thank your host for having you in their home before you leave.
9. Cook Your Own Meals
You can save a tremendous amount of money on your trip if you cook your own meals while you’re traveling. If you enjoy cooking, you can even challenge yourself to use local ingredients you buy from local markets or grocery stores. Those who aren’t great cooks or who don’t have access to a kitchen can still make easy pantry staples like mac and cheese, ramen, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to save money for a few nights on their trip.
10. Try Not To Get Robbed
Although you never want to argue or fight with someone who is trying to rob you, it’s usually possible to deter theft by remaining aware of your surroundings at all times.
In popular cities like Paris and New York, people who seem unaware are usually the easiest targets for petty crime. So, stay off of your phone, minimize visible valuables, and stay alert while you’re traveling.
11. Withdraw Cash Directly From an ATM
If you’re traveling internationally to a country that uses a different currency, try to always withdraw cash from a bank or ATM.
Currency exchange booths usually have very poor exchange rates, and they might even charge fees on top of those inflated rates. Assuming you have a decent international debit card, you could save significantly by withdrawing cash after you arrive.
Further, you always want to limit the amount of cash you’re carrying while traveling in case it is lost or stolen.
12. Use Credit and Debit Cards Designed for Travel
Not only will you accrue points and receive better rates, but decent credit cards will also offer protection in the event that your card is stolen or used fraudulently while you’re away from home.
You’ll also want to choose a card that has quality international customer service and, ideally, insurance to cover rental cars and other purchases. Before signing up for a travel card, check several reputable sites like The Points Guy and the New York Times to be sure that you’re making a decision using quality information.
13. Don’t Assume Prices
As people, we are fallible and often assume that we know how much something costs from the information we hear from friends or in the news. When you’re traveling, try not to make decisions based on what you think you know. Instead, verify your assumptions with some quick research.
If you think you know that it’s cheaper to stay in an Airbnb, just double check by doing a quick search on a website for a hotel. You will almost certainly be right some of the time, but you can save some serious money by verifying the prices before you enter your credit card information.
14. Eat Like a Local
Whenever you’re visiting a new city or town, try to eat like a local. Meaning, look for restaurants and eateries with long lines where people are speaking to each other in the local language.
If you avoid restaurants located in the immediate vicinity of large tourist attractions and those with menus in multiple languages, you’re more likely to save money and have a better meal.
When in doubt, you can always ask a few locals if they know of a great place to grab a bite to eat. Many people are happy to suggest a restaurant they love if you ask nicely.
15. Always Carry Snacks
You can prevent a lot of impulse purchases while traveling by making sure that you have snacks in your bag at all times. Not only can “hanger” cause interpersonal issues for travelers, but it can also make you feel desperate to eat at a restaurant simply because it’s there (and not because you were otherwise excited to try the food).
Bring some granola bars or other favorite snacks from home, and be sure to replenish your supplies at the grocery stores as you travel.
How To Save Money While Traveling
The key to saving money while traveling is to treat each purchase like it is important. You don’t have to agonize over it, but it is worth being mindful of anytime you hand over cash or swipe your credit card.
If you’re hungry, take a moment and consider all of your options. It might be worth walking a few extra blocks to try a legendary local spot, or a few extra minutes on the metro to stay in a nicer hotel 10 minutes further from the center.
Remember, you’ll almost always pay extra for convenience. There’s nothing wrong with choosing comfort or convenience, but it will definitely add up in your budget over time.
So long as you bring mindfulness and awareness to your spending, you’ll have a better shot at balancing having all of the experiences that are important to you with the demands of your bank account.