If you’re anything like me then the idea of spontaneously packing a bag and boarding a flight to a destination far away from your every day is exhilarating and exciting. That said, your bank balance may not always agree with such a flight of fancy and your plans are soon upended by the realisation that your financial position is more aligned to a weekend in bed watching Netflix and snacking on popcorn.
Don’t be disheartened, here are 10 of my top tips for saving money whilst travelling on a budget:
1. Stay & Fly Mid-Week
It’s no big secret that travelling on weekends is going to take more cash from your pocket. The majority of people work throughout the week and as their only opportunity to escape is on the weekend, many hotels and airlines take advantage of that demand by charging much higher prices over those couple of days.
If you’re able to schedule your travel for mid week, do it! In some cases the prices can be halved in comparison to what you will pay on the weekend which also makes it a lot easier to do and see all the activities and sights without the large weekend crowds!
If you’re planning a longer stay over 1 or more weekends, then I would highly recommend booking your return flights on either a Tuesday or Wednesday, as the deals are generally cheaper on these days.
2. Stay in a Hostel
Now, I must admit that prior to setting off on my travels I had never stepped foot in a hostel! The thought of having to share a bedroom and bathroom with a group of strangers completely turned me off the idea. It wasn’t until my travel plans collided with my budget that I knew I had to cut costs somewhere and staying in hostels became slightly more of a reality than 5 star hotels.
And the reality? Hostels are great! I can’t count on all of my fingers & toes just how many wonderful people I have met in my travels by staying in hostels. The reality is that majority of people staying there are doing the same thing as you are, making it a fantastic place to meet like-minded people who can share their experiences and knowledge with you. I met a lovely girl from America in a hostel on one of my recent trips to Berlin who was also traveling solo and we ended up spending the rest of my time there together exploring.
Most hostels have free Wifi access available, making it easy to research and plan your day ahead and of course unwind at night with a Skype/Facetime with friends & family back home. The hostel staff are fantastic to talk to for advice and recommendations on the best places to eat, visit and experience.
3. Eat In
That mouth watering 3 course menu at the beautiful Italian restaurant positioned by the water may seem like a wonderful idea to complete your day, however the bill you receive at the end of your meal may very quickly wash the taste of that decadent chocolate mousse from your mouth.
Eat like a local! Ask the receptionist at your hostel, the guy at the bar, or your tour guide for the day where you can find the best value meal in town to suit your budget. There’s a good chance that these people are locals themselves and don’t go eating out at 5 star restaurants every night, therefore they can usually recommend the best burger or pasta joint in town.
If you want to be even more savvy with your money then buy your food at the supermarket! A packet of dry pasta & a jar of sauce will only set you back about $5 and is guaranteed to cover your dinner for the next couple of nights. Buy a loaf of bread and some cream cheese and make/pack your own sandwiches for your outings over your stay, and if your hostel offers a buffet breakfast, take advantage of it and fill yourself up for the day ahead.
Try and look for a hostel that incudes a kitchen facility for cooking your own food. It’s not nice eating out of a can of cold spaghetti!
4. Free Walking Tours
In most big cities you will find advertisements for “Free Walking Tours”. These tours are a fantastic way to experience and explore the city for, well, FREE! Tours usually run 2 or 3 times throughout the day depending on which company you decide to go with. I will usually opt for the early morning tour to begin with allowing me the rest of the day free to explore/relax on my own, or in the case that I’ve been out and partied a little too hard the night before then the afternoon tour usually allows me enough time to recover in the morning before I head off to explore.
Free Walking Tours generally cover all of the main, popular attractions, however if there is something extra you would like to see/do that is not included or you would like to go back and spend more time at a place, then after the tour has finished the Guides are usually fantastic for advice on how to get there, the best times to go etc.
Once your tour has completed and although you are not obliged to tip, bring along some cash with you just in case. Chances are that if you’ve been really impressed with the tour and the Guide, you will gladly reach for your pockets for a tip. A lot of the time their incomes are based purely on the tips they make at the end.
5. Hire a Bike
Although the weather may not always allow the option of hiring a bike, if the sun is out then this is a wonderful option to take for exploring all of the ins and outs of a city.
Most big cities will have bike hire shops scattered about and now days on the corners of a lot of big parks & lakes. You can generally choose how long you wish to hire a bike whether it be for an hour or the entire day. For the small price you pay for a bike you are able to navigate your way around all of the little streets & alleys of the city you’re exploring at your own pace in comparison to paying a much higher price for a tour bus and only being able to admire the sites from a distance before you’re quickly moved on to the next attraction.
A lot of places, and in particular in Europe, have bike lanes which are generally marked out in a different colour along the footpaths for you to follow. Just as cars are driven on either the left or right side of the road (depending on where in the world you are), so are bikes! Ensure that you stay to the correct side at all times as I have unfortunately learnt the hard way…. other riders will not stop for you!
When hiring a bike you may be asked to pay a holding deposit until you return the bikes, or otherwise given the option to leave behind your passport. Ensure that you enquire about this first and prepare to have enough money in your wallet to put down as a deposit.
6. Travel During the Off Season
Not only is travelling during the off season a great way to avoid the crazy Summer crowds, you will also avoid the peak season prices!
I have been living in Europe for a few months now and the prices for both accommodation & flights when I first arrived in comparison to the current prices (It’s now Summer here) were ridiculously cheaper! Sure, travelling in Summer has it’s perks, but if you’re planning to see & do as much as you can on a tight budget, the reality is you’re going to be able to spend a longer time exploring on the same amount of money in the off season than you are in the peak season.
7. Night Travel
Night transportation is a wonderful way to save money. Whether you’re flying, catching a bus or train, by travelling overnight you save yourself on the cost of accommodation. Once you’ve arrived at your destination the following morning, you’ve got plenty of time to drop your bags off at a hostel and spend the whole day ahead to explore. Lets face it, it’s not always the most comfortable position to be in when trying to sleep whilst cramped into a seat, but if you’re on a tight budget then desperate times may call for desperate measures!
8. Pack Light
There is nothing worst than going to check in your luggage for a flight and being told that you’ve exceeded the weight requirement, only to then be hit with the excess fees! To avoid this from happening or having to pay for the cost of excess baggage to begin with, pack light!
If you’re going away for a week or less try your best to take only Carry On luggage with you on your flight, this way you pay no extra for check-in luggage. Pack your basics and try to avoid heavy or bulky clothing from taking up room. For example, pack only one pair of jeans or/and shorts along with a neutral coloured jacket to match all outfits, and then light tops or tanks to alternate throughout the days ahead. A scarf or a hat is always a great accessory to have for jazzing up a basic outfit and doesn’t take up too much room.
9. Public Transport
Say goodbye to taxis and hello to public transport! Most cities have a good public transport system in place, with busses and/or trains coming and going on a regular basis. By opting to travel via train or bus you will save yourself an arm and a leg in taxi fares! Chances are that if you’re visiting a large city then the price you pay for a taxi will be quite expensive, and by using this form of transportation both to & from the airport/station and in between sightseeing and activities, the costs will add up very quickly.
Go to an information centre upon arrival at the train or bus station and ask to purchase a multi-day ticket. If you’re planning on spending a lot of time commuting to and from places during your stay then generally speaking by purchasing a pass upfront you will save on costs rather than purchasing one-way tickets at each stop.
It may seem obvious but by doing your research before you leave for a destination can save you hundreds! Research exactly what places you want to visit and if you have to purchase tickets for any attractions whether it is cheaper to purchase them online, prior at a ticket booth or at the gate. A lot of ticket booths will have on offer deals for sightseeing, tours, pub crawls and more, so do your research and look around for the best deal.
Websites such as Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet have a range of forums where both previous and future travellers share their opinions, advice and recommendations on the best places to stay, to eat, activities to do and much, much more. These forums are fantastic reading material prior to setting off on your travels, giving you an insight into what to expect at your destination and how to get the best value out of your trip. If you have any questions or concerns about anything on your upcoming trip, forums are a great way to obtain advice from people who have already experienced it.