Tips and advice for traveling cheap
Everyone has a different idea of traveling. For some, it means changing their house for an exclusive resort, to eat and drink at a buffet and to swim in a warm ocean. For others, traveling is to know as much as they can, to explore other cultures and live as a local in a lost town. If you feel that you are more like the second kind and your budget is scarce, this article will help you.
Don’t plan your budget based on someone else’s
People usually plan their travel expenses with reference to vacations that someone they know took at a resort in Playa del Carmen or the budget that someone shared in a traveling blog about Southeast Asia. But both approaches are wrong, because those two people aren’t you. The first budget will make you feel that to travel is expensive and impossible, the second, will give you false hope.
The correct way to estimate how much you’re really going to spend is to research. To do that the keyword is to quoting. If you have a computer with internet connection, you can know the price of almost anything; in fact, the Precios Mundi website is very good helping you with that. However, that’s not the most difficult part. Be honest with yourself and don’t get carried away out of enthusiasm: Are you willing to sleep in a shared room? How much money do you usually spend on going out to eat? Do you prefer cooking? Do you like to walk a lot? If you like it, would you be happy to do it while carrying a heavy backpack?. Answering these will clarify several of your doubts and your research will be more in line with your reality.
Fly without paying too much
There are many tips to fly cheap that you can follow and really work:
- Quote with flight search engines like Kayak or Skyscanner.
- Buy your tickets as early as possible and try to make your dates flexible. If you want to know more about how these search engines work, read our article How to get your smartphone ready for a trip: Tips and essential apps.
- Fly at uncomfortable times, days and dates. Nobody likes to get to the airport at 5 am, that’s ok, but if you want to save money, early day hours are always the cheapest. If we talk about days or dates, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Christmas Eve or New Year are very economical options. And remember, low season is the best for a traveler who’s on a budget.
- Subscribe to the airlines’ newsletters, so you find out about any promotion first.
- For intercontinental flights, which usually include stopovers in different countries, a tip to keep costs low is to buy your tickets for each part of the journey, separately. For example, if you want to go from London to Lima, it might be much cheaper to buy the flight between London and New York apart from the one between New York and Lima. That way you not also save, but also take advantage of a new city.
- To move from city to city, always prefer low cost airlines. In Europe Vueling and Ryan Air are two the cheapest. In Asia, Air Asia has good offers, but there are many more.
- I know you see this a lot in our blog, but if you want to save, travel light. Carry only a suitcase or a backpack. It’s possible, that way you will save the amount airlines charged for checked-in luggage. If you already left your country with too many things, leave them with one of our keepairs in a city you have to return to, in order to avoid checking-in your luggage and know new places more comfortably.
Pay little for your accommodation
One of the big expenses while traveling is accommodation, but there are many ways to cut costs low. If you want to travel cheap, your last option should be to sleep in a hotel room, unless you are in Southeast Asia (where hotels and hostels cost almost the same) or found a super promotion in Booking.
If you travel alone, a dorm room in a hostel is way more convenient than a private room, but if you are a couple, always ask for the double rooms in hostels, because sometimes they cost the same than two spaces in a dorm, but you’ll have more privacy.
Renting a room in a local house is also a good idea. If you want to use Airbnb, you can include this option in your search. You’ll have all the benefits of a normal house, but without paying for all the space. Again, to check different prices is the keyword, because internet prices are generally equal to or lower than direct prices.
If your idea is not to spend all you have in accomodation, there are networks of travelers who host other travelers for free in exchange for cultural exchange, such as Couchsurfing. There are also websites that connect people with travelers who want to work in exchange for accommodation and/ or food, such as Wwoof International, HelpX and Staydu. Finally, there are websites with housesitting and petsitting options. That means to take care of a house, with or without pets, while their owners are traveling. The best ones are Trusted housesitters and Mind my house.
If any of the previous options doesn’t work and you don’t have money, a good alternative is to sleep in the airport or in bus terminals working 24 hours a day. With that you will have an extra adventure to tell.
Eat cheap good quality food
If you want to save, restaurants are almost a forbidden item (although you can always treat yourself once or twice). Follow these tips and you’ll be fine:
- Every time you see a «tourist restaurant», run. They tend to be the most expensive and rarely the best.
- Ask local people for information. Stop someone on the street and ask him or her where you can eat well and cheap. You will have first hand information that generally won’t disappoint you.
- Find out time for lunch or dinner specials. You’ll have that in almost every city, but the best ones are in Latin America.
- In Asia the best (and cheapest) food is street food. If you see a line of people follow their lead, that’s the place.
- Find out the prices before paying, don’t let them charge you more for being a foreigner. In doubt, ask someone on the next table what the real price is and go for it.
- Cook yourself. There is nothing better than going to the supermarket in a new country. You’ll be surprised by the amount of ingredients you don’t know. If you’re not very good at cooking, go to the ready meals section, hopefully just before closing time, which is when supermarkets lower their prices.
- Finally, drink water instead of soft drinks. It will keep you hydrated and is cheaper; free if tap water is drinkable.
Move around the city spending less
Remember, if you want to spend less you have to make an effort, that’s why the main idea is to move as a local. Forget taxis (and Uber) and get used to the public transport. Your first task is to leave the airport: by train, transfer van, taxi, subway, combi or bus. After that, everything is easier.
- To move within the city there’s nothing better than walking: It’s free and you will see places that are not on the tourist maps on the way
- Find out if the city you’re going to has an integrated public transportation system, that is a card that you can charge with money and lets you move within the urban area.
- In some big cities, in the subway system you can buy tickets that are valid for several days, instead of buying individual trips.
- In many cities you can also rent bicycles or subscribe to the urban bicycle system. A green and cheap alternative to move.
- For intercity trips, instead of having a transfer picking you up at your hostel, go directly to the bus terminal and quote with each company.
- If you want to use the train, especially in Europe, find out about valid packages for weeks or months, this is better to buy individual tickets.
- Travel during the night by train or bus, because if it’s a long journey, you can save the accommodation. You kill two birds with one stone.
- Finally, you can hitchhike. Put your best smile and ask for a lift, it’s free.
Get to know the city without spending much
In every city there are more free or almost free things than you think, you just need to research a little and enjoy.
- Walking is free. It’s not always necessary to enter every museum or go up every skyscraper to get the vibe of the city. Walk around, breathe and mix with people.
- Search for blogs or websites where you can find lists of free things to do in the city. To get inspiration visit our blog.
- In big cities there are always free events, especially in the Summer. Search the official websites of the government or culture organizations, there you’ll find free cultural activities for the month.
- Many museums have free entry days or times when you can enter without paying. Find out in their official websites and take advantage of this perk.
- If you have a student card, take it with you to take advantage of many discounts.
Now you know: traveling is as expensive as you want it to be. There are no perfect recipes, but the trick to know if you are on the right track is to have a clear budget and follow it. Travel slowly, spend less and enjoy more.