Unless you are part of the small percentage of the population who has a very large disposable income or you have specifically saved for a worry-free vacation where you can splurge without tracking each penny spent, you would be more than happy to save some money wherever possible to stretch your travel budget to the max.
So many people think traveling is not even an option for them, but in most cases that is not true. With a few strategic ways to cut your unnecessary expenses and some planning, you CAN travel. If money is what is holding you back or if you are just looking for ways to get the most value out of your money, here are a few ways to reduce your traveling costs and still have a great time:
Book an Airbnb accommodation
Airbnb is my favorite site to book accommodations. There are options for any budget and you can immerse into the local culture of your destination if you are looking for something other than a hotel stay. Of course they also have options that may break the wallet, but from over 1 million properties listed with AirBnb from tree houses, to house boats, cottages, or luxurious beach condos, you are bound to find something budget friendly. Bonus: Sign up through this link to receive $25 dollars in free travel credit to spend on your first trip.
Depending on your destination of course, you may be limited by options or your stay may be overall more costly, but you should check Airbnb for your options – chances are you will find a less expensive great accommodation in comparison to available hotels in that area.
Generally, the longer you stay, the bigger your savings will be as most Airbnb properties have discounted pricing for weekly or monthly stays. In addition, you have the opportunity to be more emerged into the local culture and meet other budget travelers nearby who would be more than happy to share some tips on where to find the best and least expensive food and entertainment. To connect with other travelers locally, you can use the free Backpackr app, which you can learn more about on my Travel Resources page.
Buy local sim cards
International roaming fees can be very costly and can quickly rack up your phone bill. This is especially dangerous if you have a contract and you won’t actually see those charges until you return from your trip and the damage is done.
If you need to make calls home or would like to be able to make calls locally in the country you are visiting, you are much more likely to pay less for calling/texting fees if you buy a sim card locally. I would only recommend this if you are staying somewhere for at least 5 days. Otherwise the effort to get this done may not be worth your while.
However, if you are going somewhere for several weeks it is a no-brainer.
Let me tell you upfront that it will require you to have an unlocked phone that has a sim card slot. Most U.S. cell phone providers provide the unlocking of your phone at no cost starting February 11, 2015 due to a code that the Cellular Telephone Industries Association has released that will require most U.S. carriers to unlock their customer’s devices for free once you meet certain conditions:
On our trip to Tanzania, Boost Mobile’s roaming calling rates from Tanzania to the United States would have been $0.50 per minute. Instead, we took an unlocked phone with us and bought a Tanzanian Vodafone sim card for 1000 TSH (approximately $0.54), bought prepaid cards (which were available at every corner) to add money to our balance, and made international calls for roughly 3 cents per minute and less than half a cent for local calls.
Eat street food
Eating local foods is part of the travel experience and some of the most authentic local cuisine is the street food. For some inspiration, follow my Yummy Street Food Around The World Pinterest board.
In addition, you can save a lot of money on street food versus going out to eat at restaurants.
According to this site, some of the best street foods include:
Burek (Filo pastry is filled with aromatic minced meat, spinach (zeljanica), or cheese and herbs (sirnica), then rolled, glossed with butter or olive oil and baked till golden) in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Walkie-talkies (Grilled chicken feet and heads) in South Africa
To see the full list of some of the world’s best street foods around the world, visit TheGuardian.com.
Use Public transportation
Rental cars can get quite expensive over time in addition to the fluctuating and unpredictable gasoline prices (it’s difficult to budget for those). Taxis can be even more expensive; it is possible you will pay more for one taxi ride than renting a car for an entire day and using a half of a tank of gasoline.
You can save a significant amount of money by using public transportation. Some countries and parts of the world have an excellent infrastructure with train systems that you can quickly get from point A to point B with. If you are traveling longer distances, you might get a better deal getting there on a (group) bus.
Most countries have some sort of local and inexpensive transportation available, whether it’s a tuk-tuk in Thailand, a dala dala and boda boda in Tanzania, or a bajaj in India; these are all available for well under a dollar per ride (sometimes even as little as 5 cents). In Tanzania, we mostly used the dala dala when we had more than 3 miles to walk, which cost us 12 cents each way. It was also possible to get to a town about an hour away for under $1.
It is also a great opportunity to meet locals and observe and experience how the locals live, making your travel much more authentic and real. Don’t get me wrong, it can be fun to travel as a tourist sometimes, but I found that most “touristy” places are very similar all around the world and you don’t feel a significant difference on whether you are in a 5-star resort in a third world country or a developing country and you don’t actually get to know much about the country you are visiting.
Sight see for free or get multi-attraction passes
All over the world, there are tons of wonderful things to see that are open to the public and free. Once you choose your destination, do a quick Google search for some of these search terms and you are likely to find some great and free options:
- Free Museum [destination]
- Free Historical Site [destination]
- Free Event [destination]
- Free Festival [destination]
- Free Walking Tour [destination]
Sometimes, the greatest things to see and witness are the simplest ones:
- Attend a local market
- Visit a local religious site
- Volunteer at a local orphanage
- Observe the local flaura and fauna (if available)
- Visit the beach or a nearby lake
- Admire the local architecture
- Get to know some locals or other travelers and build quality relationships
However, it is completely understandable if you didn’t want to miss out on other/paid attractions. In this case, you can always look for coupon books, which can save you a few dollars per attraction. If you are traveling within the United States, this is a great option:
Smart Destinations offers multi-attraction passes with the goal of saving travelers money when on vacation. Their attraction cards offer included admission to over 400 top attractions, activities, tours and museums for one flat price and is available in some popular vacation destinations including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Hawaii, Orlando, San Diego, and San Francisco. If you have a budget set for sightseeing, then Smart Destinations can save you up to 55% versus buying separate tickets at the attractions and you receive a free full-color guide book with your purchase.
Travel hack 😉
As I mentioned in my post All about My First Hacked Travel Trip and how I saved $1,023.88, there is no official definition for the term “travel hacking”, but I would describe travel hacking to be a series of actions one takes to reduce the cost of travel as much as possible (the closer to zero the better ) while traveling above your means.
This can be achieved for example by finding ways to collect travel miles or points and then redeeming those to book accommodations or activities or get free flights. You can read here how I spent only $199.78 on a 3 night/ 4 day vacation in Las Vegas with my husband (including a round-trip from Fort Lauderdale to Las Vegas, accommodation, some food and activities).
I am currently working on a detailed guide on how to start travel hacking and I will link to it here once it is complete. Here are the basic steps to start travel hacking:
Step 1: Sign up for any frequent flier programs
Sign up for any frequent flier programs with airlines that you would be likely to fly with. If you don’t know where to start, here are the top programs I would recommend you sign up for:
- American Airlines AAdvantage
- Delta SkyMiles
- Frontier Airlines EarlyReturns
- JetBlue TrueBlue
- Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards
- United Airlines MileagePlus
- U.S. Airways Dividend Miles
Step 2: Sign up for AwardWallet
Once you start signing up for frequent flyer programs, it can get really overwhelming and you can quickly let some of your award miles/points go to waste. AwardWallet helps keeps track of your reward programs such as your frequent flyer miles, hotel and credit card points – it has helped me save some of my miles from expiring in more than one instance.
Step 3: Start earning miles/points
Find a travel credit card that has a great sign-up bonus offer that will fit your travel plans and goals. There are many factors you should consider when choosing the best travel credit card including the minimum spending requirement to each the bonus. The lower the minimum spending requirement, the quicker you will be able to reach it. Some travel credit cards offer a bonus after the first transaction, others require you to spend a certain amount (for example $1,000) within a certain period of time (for example 60 days).
Don’t worry, there are many “manufactured spending” techniques to reach the minimum spending requirement, and you don’t actually have to spend your hard earned cash with pressure to reach that amount to qualify for the bonus. Another factor you should consider is the annual fee for any particular credit card. Many travel credit cards waive the first year’s annual fee, but sometimes it can be worth paying the annual fee even for the first year, if the sign-up bonus will earn you free travel and save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
To make the most targeted and best choice based on your needs, you could first plan your trip or choose a destination and then look for a card that would give you the best value and biggest savings.
Avoid bank fees
There are so many travel credit cards and bank cards that have no international transaction fees as one of their perks that there really is no reason or excuse that you should have to budget for any bank or transaction fees.
Here are a few travel credit cards that do not have any foreign transaction fees:
- Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®
- Any of these 4 United Mileage Plus Cards
- Citi ThankYou® Premier Card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred
- VentureOne From Capital One
Even with debit cards, you should choose your bank wisely. In addition to foreign transaction fees that could be charged by your financial institution, you may also get charged additional ATM withdrawal fees.
The last thing you should take into account when deciding on which debit or credit card you will be using while traveling is the exchange rate that will be effective when you use your card in a foreign country to either withdraw money at an ATM or make purchases.
What are some ways that you have been able to reduce your costs while you travel?
Disclosure: Some of the above links are affiliate links, which at no additional cost to you, will earn me a small commission and help me cover the expenses of running this site. I have had a great experience with each of these companies and genuinely recommend them. If you have any questions about any of these companies or products, let me know and I would be more than happy to answer them.