Traveling with a limited budget can be a daunting task. It takes so much researching, planning, and general travel knowledge that many people just ditch the idea all together.
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
I’ve searched the web for the best travel advice from the biggest financial bloggers to compile all of their tips for you, because no one knows more about saving money than these peeps! I’ve also sprinkled in some of my own travel tips (most of which I learned the hard way). Some of my hard-learned lessons might seem like “Yeah, Duhhh” kind of situations for the seasoned traveler, but to all you new globe-trotters out there, don’t worry. I made SO MANY dumb mistakes, and so does everyone else, and you probably will make a few as well. But I hope that you make less mistakes than me because then all of this will have been worth it.
Alright, on to the good stuff! Here are your top frugal traveling tips from the best money-saving bloggers.
Before You Go
Selecting a destination is probably one of the most important decisions prior to traveling. I mean, how can you even plan the rest of your trip without a destination?? But your destination can also majorly determine how much you’re going to spend. If you’re really trying to save money, sticking to countries where you can get more bang for your American buck is the best.
Countries in South America are always good choices for the frugal traveler, but so are places like India and China where the cost of living is low. But there are also some other countries “going on sale” this year, as I like to say. I was surprised to find out that Japan is going to be more affordable this year because of the upcoming 2020 Olympics. To read a quick blog post about why Japan is going to be so cheap in 2019, click here.
Besides South America and Japan, many other Countries are great picks for travel this year, including Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Morocco, Vietnam, and Costa Rica.
Finding the best flights can be tricky. I’ve also always found it super intimidating to the point where I get frustrated and then just buy the tickets because I’m sick of waiting. But let me tell you, it’s so worth it. When my fiance and I were planning our trip to England, I watched flights for 2 months! Granted, I was only watching one particular airline, but almost every day I would pull up Norwegian’s Low Fare calendar on my phone and take a screen shot of the month of May’s flights. This helped me know their tendencies and land a killer deal.
Just so you can see how much your hard work can pay off, I’ll share my experience with you all. When planning our trip to England, I knew I wanted to fly Norwegian. I stalked Norwegian for 2 months before biting the bullet in February 2018 for our trip in May. One-way tickets from L.A. to London were a little pricey, so we searched for lay-overs in other awesome cities. I ended up purchasing our 2 tickets from L.A. to London with a 48 hour layover in Barcelona for…. drum roll please….
$1,196! To this day, almost a year later, I still can’t believe it! The airline you fly matters, and hard work in this area will usually pay off.
**Bonus Tip: When looking for flights over any period of time, always clear your cookies! Airlines know when you’ve been visiting their page for a certain flight over and over, and they will make it so you are seeing higher prices. Clearing your cookies essentially wipes away that search history.
The time of year that you travel really matters. Researching the peak season for Countries, or just certain areas within a country, can save you a lot of money and time. Battling a crowd of tourists just isn’t fun no matter where you are, and sometimes its worth it to travel in the peak of summer or winter to avoid the crowds.
Avoid International Transactions/ATM Fees
Just like in the U.S., when you use an ATM for a bank that isn’t your own, you are charged a fee of about 2 bucks to use that ATM. The same goes for international transactions, except they are essentially your bank charging you for ANY transaction you make with you debit or credit card. The solution? Bring cash and use it!
** Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to let your bank or credit union know you’re going abroad or else you’ll end up stuck in Ireland with your debit card disabled. Yes, I’m speaking from experience…
Haggle, Haggle, Haggle… and Haggle
This tip really depends on where you go. For example, its not really appropriate to haggle with your cashier at Poundland in the UK, but all bets are off (or should I say on?) with street vendors in places like Cuba and China. Street vendors in third world countries have more control over what they are selling their products for, so take advantage of it. Knowing how much your stuff should cost you going into a negotiation really helps, so don’t be afraid to do some research. In some countries, you can even haggle with your taxi driver and tour guides!
This is no joke. Like Seriously. Remember how I told you that we spent about $1,200 on our plane tickets to Barcelona and England? Well, like $100 of that was a baggage fee for our one checked bag. Not checking a bag is always safer because you will be personally watching over your things, but it will also save you a lot of money, too. If you must check a bag, try to only take one. Sharing with your travel buddy is a great idea not only for the airline’s baggage fees, but also for once you start sight-seeing.
Let me explain. When my fiance and I went to England, we went from city to town and only stayed in the same Airbnb 2 nights in a row once. So each morning, we would pack up our suitcase, get on the train, bus, etc., arrive at our new destination, and we would be stuck with our bag until our Airbnb host allowed us to enter their property, which was usually around 4 pm. We seriously didn’t think this part of our trip through. What we ended up doing most days was finding a bag drop off somewhere near the train station so we could wander around town all day luggage free. This cost us anywhere from 2 to 20 pounds a day!
To avoid the 20 pounds a day luggage storage fee, DO NOT leave your luggage with the train station itself. We made that mistake in London on our first or second day. Instead, look around town near the station or google the area to see if anyone takes luggage. In Bath, a barber shop held our bags for us for only 2 pounds a piece. In Oxford, we dropped them off at a hostel. In Battle, a lady at a hotel was kind enough to hang on to them for us. What I’m getting at is if you do decide to check a bag, just make sure you think about the fact that you will have that bag the entire trip. So while those 5 inch heels are soooo cute, do you want to literally carry them on your back all through England? I wish current me could go back in time and ask that exact question to past me…
Getting Cash and Using it
This is the part I’m bad at. I usually don’t watch money conversion info for months before a trip like I watch flight info, but I really should. If your bank does this for you, I would highly recommend taking that route. It’s just so easy and convenient to let them handle all that for you, but make sure you let them know well in advance so they can get a good exchange rate.
I would also not recommend doing this at the airport. This is just my Security and Intelligence major speaking, but if someone sees you exchanging money, and then they have a whole 12 hours or something with you on a plane, plus arriving at the destination airport, you can easily become a target of pick-pocketing. It’s always better to do any transaction requiring large sums of money as privately as possible.
Don’t Always Go Direct
Flying direct, while convenient, is not always the most cost effective choice. Earlier I mentioned how I flew from L.A. to England with a 48 hour layover in Barcelona. This saved me a couple hundred dollars on plane tickets. Since my lay over in Barcelona was for 2 nights, I did have to book an Airbnb, eat several meals, pay for transportation to and from the airport, and pay to do a few sight-seeing things. In the end, I probably spent the same amount of money in Barcelona (if not more) than I would have spent flying directly to London, but it was so worth it because I got to see a whole other city and step foot in a new country.
Depending on the time of year and the airline you are flying, it might be cheaper for you to fly midweek than on a weekend. This is because mid-week flights are not as desirable, and therefore cheaper. If flying in the middle of the week is an option for you, and it is cheaper than a weekend flight, go for it!
Fly at Unpopular Times
This is the same concept as flying mid-week. Not many people want to take the red-eye, so in order to save money, make 12:00am your new bff and hop on those cheap flights!
As with all products, there are cheaper versions of airlines, but you should always be aware of what you are getting in to. For example, on my trip to England I knew I wanted to fly Norwegian. Why? Because they have some of the cheapest flights EVER. The downside to Norwegian, however, is that they only fly to certain cities on certain days. If you are able to be flexible with your travel schedule, then Norwegian is a great option.
Be aware that a lot of these airlines will charge you an arm and a leg for things like food and checked baggage. And if you do fly Norwegian make sure you bring plenty of water unless you are willing to pay for it on the flight. I was quite nieve and I figured there had to be some airline law that said you HAD to provide at least free water to your guests. I was very wrong and I’m so stubbornly frugal that I refused to buy more water after my fiance and I had drank my entire hydro in the first few hours of our flight.
Taxis, Buses, Trains, and Uber
Before paying for any form of public transportation, I always ask myself 1) Can I walk there? 2) If I walk to my destination, will it significantly reduce the enjoyment of the activities I have today? 3) Can I afford to buy this transportation and still get dinner tonight?
Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and take the train, which isn’t going to be the end of the world. After all, you’re in this foreign country to see as much as possible and you won’t be able to see that much if you limit yourself to places that are only within walking distance. Just make sure you adequately plan for where you are going. I must admit that I planned our activities and schedule in England a little last minute and it cost me a pretty penny. I had picked all of these amazing cities and towns to see in Southern England without thinking about the fact that I would 1) have to pay for transportation in between those cities and 2) that a train ticket between cities can be up to 50 pounds! (And times that by 2 because it was my fiance and I traveling together)
I am a big fan of Uber though. If you need to get to one end of downtown to the other, Uber is a great tool to use when you just can’t stand the idea of walking anymore. But please, please, please be cautious. This could just be the security side of my brain, but please try to always travel with a buddy after dark, and if that’s not possible, at least send someone a text that you’re getting in an Uber and where. You can never be too cautious.
Where to Stay
Consider All Inclusive Stays Via Groupon
Groupon is a great place to look for all inclusive trips. I’ve never personally done an all inclusive trip (outside of a study abroad in college), but I really want to try one. All inclusive trips are great because you don’t have to worry about buying so many things or managing your time or planning every minute of your trip when you don’t even know where Si Chuan, China is. I get tons of emails from Groupon with great deals on trips in all kinds of places like China, Paris, and even places really close to home in the Pacific Northwest.
Airbnb is Your Best Friend
Airbnb is one of the greatest inventions of our generation. Without it, I would not be able to afford traveling across my state, let alone across the world. Some people hate the idea of staying in someone else’s home, but I have had nothing but great experiences. The kind of people that open their homes up to strangers are usually pretty awesome people. Plus, when you’re out sightseeing all day, you usually don’t get back to your Airbnb until after dinner, and by that time all you want to do is fall asleep. You don’t have to have a lot of interaction with you host if you won’t want to (usually).
For some people this option is still a little strange, but Airbnb does offer homes that are completely private. They are usually a little more, but sometimes it can be worth it. As with Uber, I don’t know if I would stay at an Airbnb alone. I don’t say this because I don’t think it is safe; it is more just a personal preference. Call me paranoid, but that’s just me. I also tend to get sleep anxiety when I’m alone no matter where I’m sleeping and I feel like it would just be way worse in an unfamiliar place.
Set a Limit
Meals are probably one of the areas where you can spend the most money without realizing it. Meal management is one of the best skills you can have when traveling. I usually set a meal budget for each day, like $40, and everything I eat for the day must be under $40.
One of my tricks is to pick up something on my way back to my Airbnb for the night, like a fresh bagel, loaf of bread, or a cup of yogurt. That way I can have something for breakfast the next morning that barely cost me anything. Plus, I can spend extra money on a nice, authentic dinner.
Make Meals at Home
If you are staying somewhere similar to an Airbnb, you can always make meals at home. This is a great option if you are staying at the same Airbnb for a few nights because you can stalk up on a few ingredients, like a carton of eggs and bagels. With just a few simple items, you can be good to go for breakfast for a few days.
Sight-Seeing and Things to Do
Narrow Down Your Activity List
This one is really hard for me. I have this mind set that if I paid all this money to fly across the world, then I should see as many things as I possibly can because I may never come back. While seeing the sights is important, you have to keep in mind that spending money on something that you aren’t passionate about is just a waste.
For example, I really wanted to see Stonehenge when I was in southern England, but it was a whole day trip from London and was going to cost me about 150 USD for just me to go. I thought about it long and hard, and decided that I would probably enjoy spending that day in London saving money and doing something that I loved. We ended up going to a huge antique shopping center and it was one of the best days because we spent time doing something that we love.
While Stonehenge would have been cool, and I do hope that some day I can go, I think it was smarter to save that adventure for another trip when I have the money to spend on it.
Take Advantage of Free Things
Try to always do a quick Pinterest or google search of any free activities in your area when traveling. You might be surprised at what you find. In London, the museum that houses the Rosetta Stone is completely free! And it has SO MANY other cool artifacts; I could have spent a whole two days in this museum if given the opportunity. We also found a super cool museum on the Oxford campus that was completely free! For nerds like us, getting to visit huge and beautiful museums like those was such a treat, especially because we didn’t have to pay at all.
I hope this post helps you in your travels! Feel free to leave any questions or comments below. I love hearing what you guys have to say.