Traveling doesn’t always have to be expensive. Some places are certainly worth the splurge (Switzerland I’m talking about you), but sometimes you just don’t have excessive funds and still want to travel.
Like most college students, I generally travel on a smaller budget. If I wouldn’t have known these money saving tips, I wouldn’t have been able to make some trips happen. Below are my top tips for saving money on the road.
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BOOK CHEAP AIRLINE TICKETS.
I could write an entire blog post about finding cheap plane tickets, but my biggest suggestion is to use apps, specifically Hopper and Skyscanner.
Hopper allows you to put in a destination and will then show you what dates are the cheapest. You can choose to track specific dates or use flex dates (track for a month at a time) and Hopper will send you a notification when the price drops.
Skyscanner works similarly, and also allows you to put in an airport, dates, and/or a budget and can search destinations that match your criteria.
I like to use this when I know I have a specific weekend free and am just looking for a quick and cheap getaway.
If you’re looking for packages, I’ve found the best deals for all-inclusive deals as well as flight + hotel packages on booking.com.
Another option is to use Priceline.com, which I like to use specifically for their express deals.
I did this for a flight to Italy as well as hotels a few times but just beware that you could have long layovers (I had a 30ish hour layover in Paris) or hotels in an area that may be further from where you’re trying to be. However if you’re not in a hurry to get to your destination or you just need a cheap hotel for a night, I think this is a great option.
BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR DATES AND TRAVEL DURING THE OFFSEASON IF YOU CAN.
It’s cheaper to fly on a Tuesday than a Friday so if you can fly during the week you could save a ton of cash. Also, check your destination to see when the less popular months are.
Everyone wants to go to Spain in the summertime, but I went in September because my accommodation and flight were almost half the price than they were a few weeks prior. The weather was just as beautiful and the streets were way less crowded.
But make sure to do your research ahead of time, because some places have an offseason due to monsoon season or something similar, and you’re better off skipping that.
PICK A CHEAPER DESTINATION.
Your money goes a LOT further in Bali than it does in Switzerland. If you’re looking to stay in a destination longer or just don’t have as much saved up, travel where your money can stretch the most.
Look at travel guides for a destination and see what the average cost of living is. Look at how much hotels are, transportation, and food. See how much people suggest planning to spend per day.
This not only gives you an idea of what things cost, but helps you plan your budget as well.
GET AN AIRLINE CREDIT CARD, AND BUILD LOYALTY TO THAT AIRLINE.
This is so so important. I use and highly recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred card as well as the United Explorer card.
Chase has the best mileage/point offerings and United has great perks. You can earn points or miles even when you use the card at home, get free or discounted flights, free checked bags, free wifi or discounts on in-flight purchases, priority boarding, zero foreign transaction fees, etc. I’ve also gotten free upgrades to business class and access to airport lounges just due to my loyalty to United.
Notice how many times I said free in that paragraph?!
USE TRAVEL CARDS MORE THAN CASH.
It’s not a great idea to carry around a bunch of cash as a tourist. Getting pickpocketed can happen easily and getting mugged, while less common, is still possible and you don’t want to have hundreds of dollars of cash on your if it does.
Even if it is stashed in your hotel or hostel, it’s still not the safest idea.
It’s also just expensive to pull money out of the ATM in general (I’ve paid $10 on an ATM fee before), and foreign transaction fees on debit cards or non-airline credit cards can add up too.
Swiping a card gives you the live conversion rate as of the moment you swipe your card, whereas cash is not necessarily as accurate.
NEVER PULL OUT CASH OR EXCHANGE BILLS AT AN AIRPORT.
If you don’t have an airline credit card or just prefer to use cash in general, wait until you leave the airport to take out money. Airports have the worst conversion rate and the highest fees.
I like to bring about 20 euro home with me after a trip so that I can use that to buy a bus ticket to leave the airport when I first land in my destination on my next trip, and then I pull out money once I get to my accommodation.
FLY INTO A LARGER AIRPORT AND TAKE A TRAIN OR CAR TO A SMALLER CITY.
If you’re going to a smaller city, such as Lugano, Switzerland for example, it’s going to be much cheaper to fly into either Zurich or Milan and take the train than try to fly direct there.
If you’re going to Nice, France it’s cheapest to fly to Paris or Milan and take a small flight or bus to Nice.
Take a look at the surrounding cities and explore your options before booking flights.
USE PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION WHENEVER POSSIBLE.
Most bigger cities have great public transportation systems so take advantage of them, especially when you’re leaving the airport.
NEVER take a cab from the airport. Most larger cities have an express bus or train that can take you directly from the airport to the main city center or train station for less than $10 whereas taking a cab can cost you anywhere from $40 up to $100.
If you’re traveling with a group sometimes it can be relatively inexpensive to split an Uber or cab, but if you’re trying to save the most money public transportation is the way to go.
STAY IN HOSTELS.
Hostels are always going to be much cheaper than hotels. I’ve stayed in hostels for less than $10 a night before!
Usually you can get a good deal on an airbnb and that can be a good option for a group, but when you’re alone or looking to save the most money, hostels are the way to go. If you don’t like sharing dorm rooms, you can opt to stay in a private room for still cheaper than most hotels. You’ll still get access to the amenities, which generally include a kitchen (and even free breakfast), laundry, wifi, and social spaces.
CONSIDER DOING A WORK EXCHANGE FOR FREE ACCOMMODATION.
You can find plenty of these on Worldpackers or other similar apps. Many offer free accommodation for just a few days of work per week and often have meals included as well.
I’ve been offered jobs on Worldpackers for camps and hostels and wish I would’ve been able to take them. It is definitely a bucket list item for 2020!
Doing a work exchange is a great idea for the summer because traveling is more expensive in the summertime and there are plenty of summer camps hiring.
I personally was staying in a hostel in Amsterdam and wanted to extend my trip by a couple of days so just asked if I could bartend for a couple of nights for free accommodation and they said yes.
Many hostels need seasonal workers so keep your eyes peeled at that time of year to save big money on a place to stay.
BOOK THINGS IN ADVANCE.
Normally I say don’t plan too far in advance, but if you know you’re going to be in a certain city in advance and you’re trying to go to a specific attraction where tickets are limited, such as the Anne Frank House for example, book that as soon as you can.
You’ll not only save money but potentially hours waiting in line and you can just plan the rest of your activities around that visit. This is also a great tip for concerts, activities such as paragliding or skydiving, and other special events.
LIMIT EATING OUT.
We all know eating out is more expensive and in some cases time consuming than cooking your own food. That’s why I generally only eat out 1 meal every day or two when I’m on vacation, and it’s usually lunch.
It’s much easier to stay on track with my diet that way and as long as I have one pasta meal for example in Italy I don’t feel like I’m missing anything if I don’t have another.
If you love trying out new restaurants, eat out as much as you want, but if you’re trying to save money while still enjoying the local cuisine, try to limit your spending to no more than one meal per day.
Most restaurants also offer great lunch deals, but brunches and dinners are generally more expensive.
EAT LIKE THE LOCALS.
Don’t eat on the main tourist strip, because it’s often more than twice the price and half the quality of venturing just a few streets away.
Ask a local where their favorite place to eat is. It’s going to be better food at a lower price.
Also, take advantage of lunch deals and happy hour deals. It’s easy to find these on google or yelp, or just ask a local!
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE ACTIVITIES.
Museums, churches and art galleries often have free days so keep an eye out for those.
Most cities also offer free walking tours, just give a donation of a few bucks to the guide.
Hiking can be either free or cheap. Other great options are laying on the beach, wine tastings, and street festivals.
If you’re staying in a hostel, you can generally find specific free activities posted on a bulletin board or just ask the front desk, or you can search for things to do on websites such as TripAdvisor.
I hope you find these tips to be useful on your next trip! Whether you’re trying to travel for cheap or not, it’s always nice to save money when you can so you can splurge on other things.
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