The question that I get the most, by far, is “how do you afford to travel?”. Contrary to popular belief, and to what you might think from Instagram, I don’t get paid to travel. I fund it all myself.
I grew up being taught that travel was expensive; that only people who were older could afford it. But I’m here to show you that it doesn’t have to break the bank. Right now, I’m an average 20-something. I work a normal job with average income, that I use to pay bills and student loans. And I still travel.
I afford to travel because I make it my priority to do so, but also because I have a few simple tricks up my sleeve to save some money in the process – and I want to share those with you. And even if budgeting isn’t your priority, everyone likes to save money where they can, right?
So, without further ado, I present to you a comprehensive list of my favorite tips that will help you stick to your travel budget:
11. Get off the beaten path:
Tourist traps can be an absolute nightmare for your wallet. Sure, there’s a reason why they’re so popular, but literally everywhere you visit will have loads of amazing places to see, things to do, and food to eat.
Take the opportunity to find the beauty in avoiding overpriced tourist traps, by venturing off the beaten path and connecting authentically with the culture around you. Explore. Take a self guided walk. Go hiking. You’re guaranteed to avoid the crowds, uncover some hidden gems, and save money in the process. #winning.
10. Research tour packages:
Don’t be hasty when it comes to booking tours. To make sure you get the best price:
- Read blog posts, shop around, talk with other travelers, read reviews.
- Book directly with the company offering the tour. Third parties, tour reps, and online travel company sites are often more expensive since they tack on commission fees.
- Wait until you get there. Depending on the tour, booking in advance might be more expensive than waiting until you arrive. And you might be able to haggle with the excursion seller if you’re booking a last minute spot. Or you might discover a local company offering better prices that aren’t advertised online. You also get the added benefit of waiting to assess the weather before committing yourself to anything.
9. Skip the souvenirs:
Do you really need that magnet? The overpriced shot glass? The sweatshirt that you’ll probably only wear around the house? Souvenirs are overrated. Instead of bringing back a suitcase full of stuff you’ll never use again, focus on collecting memories. Make your memories that much happier by having stories to tell, instead of stuff to show.
But I get it…sometimes you just need to treat yo’self. So when you do, don’t shop at cliché souvenir hubs. Ask around for the best local shops. Support small local businesses and artisans. You’ll end up with a way better product of better quality, that’s super unique, and way less expensive than anything you’d buy in a tourist shop.
The cost of food usually takes a backseat to the cost of planes, hotels, and transportation, so it’s sometimes something people overlook when planning their trip. But if you’re someone with expensive taste (pun intended), you know that food adds up fast. Here are some tips to save some cash without going hungry:
8. Eat local:
- Look for farmer’s markets, street fairs, and road side stands to buy seasonal produce and local products.
- Eat street food – its the cheapest way to eat. Quell your fear of street food by finding vendors who prepare the food in front of you (sometimes its better than it being hidden away in the back of a kitchen). Go for stands that have a steady line and freshly prepared food.
- Instead of eating out for all of your meals, pack snacks from home and stop at the grocery store and buy food to prepare. Sandwiches, instant oatmeal, granola, and fruit make great snacks/meal options with minimal prep time and for a fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal.
And when you do go out to eat…
7. Dine out strategically:
- Focus on lunch: If you decide to splurge at a more expensive place, go out for lunch, which is usually less expensive than dinner
- Go for happy hour: At the least you’ll save a few bucks, but at most you might score 2 for 1 drinks and appetizer specials. Compare happy hour deals in the area to find the best ones before you go.
You’ve scored a great deal on your car rental by checking discount codes and diligently comparing rates. Don’t pat yourself on the back just yet though. As many people find out at the rental counter, getting a good rate may be only half the battle.
6. Download offline maps:
Not familiar with the local area? A GPS system might be important and it’s a compelling add-on offered by the rental car company… for $10-20 per day.
The good news is that you can turn it down. If you have a tablet or smart phone, Google maps has a nifty little feature that allows you to download maps in any area of the world and access them offline.
Or grab a free paper map of the area from the rental car counter and have fun mapping out your route the old fashioned way (bonus: it makes a great souvenir later)
5. Use a shuttle bus:
Did you know that by renting a car in the airport terminal, not only are you paying the rental company fees, but you’re also paying the airport fees too? The price of airport car rentals include a host of fees that off-airport rentals don’t have to pass along, such as additional taxes and the cost of doing business on airport property.
Instead of renting from the terminal, opt for an off-site rental with the option of a free shuttle bus service from the airport. You can often narrow down car options by “shuttle-bus” on rental websites. Or rent off-site and just take an uber there and ask if the company offers an option to drop the car back off at the airport before your departure.
Either way, you’ll be spending way less than you would be spending for the convenience of picking your car up in the terminal.
4. Decline rental company insurance:
To buy or not to buy their insurance. Sand storms, crazy drivers, tornadoes, the apocalypse…you name it – rental car companies are well versed in pitching their outrageously overpriced insurance. And you know its overpriced when it commonly runs up to $30 extra per day, which is sometimes even more than the price of the rental itself.
But the good news is that your credit card most likely provides free auto rental coverage. Note that most credit card coverage is secondary for rentals in the U.S., which means that you’ll first have to make your claim through your regular insurance. If you prefer third-party collision coverage, you can purchase less expensive coverage from private sellers or online travel agencies, such as Expedia or Priceline, or you can convert your card coverage to primary coverage for one low cost per rental.
Call your credit card company to find out what kind of coverage they offer.
3. Stay at a hostel or AirBnB
Aside from the obvious perk of saving a lot of money, here are other reasons why you should skip hotels:
- The best source of money saving knowledge is experience, and the best source of that knowledge is other travelers! One of the advantages of staying at a hostel (especially if you’re a solo traveler) is that they often have common areas where you can meet people, and find people to share transportation and adventures with.
- Hostels, AirBnB’s and guesthouses are the best way to get to know the locals. And you want to know the locals because they know their home the best! They can educate you on the area/culture, point you in the direction of hidden gems, and help you find the best tour dealsBonus: they might even cook for you
New to Airbnb? CLICK HERE to SAVE $40 on your first stay
2. Be flexible
Sign up for a cheap flight notification service, like Scott’s Cheap Flights. Or use the explore feature on Google Flights and Kayak to search for cheap flight deals based on location, time of year, and trip duration.
1. Travel during off season:
Everyone knows there’s a “best time” to visit every place, but have you ever tried traveling in the off season? I saved this one for last because its my all time favorite way to save money while traveling.
Yes, you’ll have to brave the possibility of less-than-ideal weather, but it comes in exchange for saving loads of money on basically everything AND avoiding the crowds.
The most popular times to visit places are usually summer, “dry seasons”, and the weeks surrounding major holidays and school vacations. A quick google search (or flight search) will reveal the exact months that are most popular for a given destination.
Opt for times outside of that. And, if you’ve made it this far, then you deserve to be let in on my best travel hack yet: aim to find the first few weeks that mark the end of the major peak season. You’ll know you found them when the price of flights/cars/accommodation suddenly drops off. That way you’ll still be traveling during the “off season”, but still catch the tail end of the best weather. It’s a win-win.
Expect to pay significantly less on flights, car rentals, accommodation, tours, and entrance fees. And then take all that money you just saved and use it to splurge on fancier dining, fancier accommodations, a bigger car (because have you ever road-tripped in an economy car..?), more adventures, or – my personal choice – another trip.
And if you just skipped to the bottom, I gotchu. Here’s what you missed:
HOW TO SAVE MONEY: Recap:
- Travel during the off season
- Be flexible
- Stay at a hostel or AirBnB
- Rent cars outside of the airport
- Use free rental car insurance coverage on your credit card
- Download offline GPS
- Eat local
- Dine out for lunch and happy hour
- Skip the souvenirs
- Get off the beaten path
- Do your research
Anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!
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