If you’ve hung out with me for more than 9 minutes, you’ll know I put the “cheap” beside the word “skate.” I have mastered the skill of how to travel on a budget, and I want to share my tips with you.
A few years ago (okay…the word “few” is relative) I decided to jet off to see the world with a goal of doing so by spending only $10 a day. Can you imagine? Full transparency, there is probably no way I could perform said task today, but many of the tactics are still solid strategies that would work today.
So I’m sharing.
And no, I’m not going to bore you with tips everybody talks about…
- Travel out of season
- Avoid tourist traps
- Book in advance
This article is budget travel tips 3.0
I’m not here to tell you what you already know. I’m here to give you my best money-saving travel tips that can really end up saving you hundreds of dollars – enough to extend your vacation by a few months at least.
No idea where this passion for finding a deal came from – obvi, my parents. My dad could make a roll of toilet paper last ‘til the pending apocalypse. My mom…she starts every recount of her latest shopping spree with…
“Guess how much this costs?”
And then we all rally around and shout out 20 bucks? 50 bucks? 150 bucks? Meanwhile, we can escape getting a sense of the inner zeal she feels, knowing she got the deal of the century and can’t wait to tell us about it.
It’s a whole thing.
I guess…no surprise that some of that penny-pinching lunacy has rubbed off on me. If you know me at all, you’ll know…I like a deal.
My goal today….is to get my mug shot listed in the Urban Dictionary under “Travel on a budget.” So buckle up, and let’s get to the list:
1. Save money on currency exchanges
I have a few tips that fall under this category, so buckle up.
- Don’t exchange money in advance of your trip. The exchange rate is terrible. Wait to pull some money out of the ATM once you get to the airport t your destination. But…
- Be sure to download XE Currency exchange app in advance and get the local exchange rate for the day before you arrive. Because you probably won’t have free wifi when you land. So having the most current exchange rates pre-loaded on the app will help out.
Nothing is worse than standing at an airport ATM after a long flight, with a queue forming behind you only to see this screen….
And you have no idea WTF is the value of a US dollar? Are you withdrawing enough to cover a taxi or to feed an entire family for a year? Best to have some basic reference points.
- Take note of the cost of withdrawing money. The best exchange rates are never going to be at the airport, so I typically don’t withdraw too much. And forget money exchanges at the hotels. That’s a solid ‘No.’
- And I always carry a few hundred bucks of USD in my wallet in smaller bills – enough to tip and pay for things in a pinch.
2. To travel on a budget – get a local SIM card
I know that there are services now like Airalo where you pre-purchased a SIM card, and it can save you a lot of hassle of having to hunt a local card down yourself. But this article isn’t entitled…how to travel hassle-free…it’s called how to save a buck so you can extend your stay.
There is no beating the price of finding a local mobile shop and getting a deal on data.
3. Locate the free WiFi hotspots near you
There’s an app for that.
Yep…you can download a free Wifi finder so that you don’t eat up your data unnecessarily. Apps like WiFi Finder, not only give you directions to local hotspots but also tells you the speed of the download for that hotspot as well.
4. Ask for a discount
Okay…I got this tip from Tim Ferriss a few years ago. I have no idea if Tim has ever backpacked in his life, but he offers this strategy to help people overcome their fear of hearing the word ‘no.’
Tim suggests that we should push ourselves every day to try and get a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s NOT about the discount.
But, I have found this strategy to work in a variety of circumstances and it is perfect for when you are trying to travel on a budget. Just don’t be a douchebag about it. You want to ask in a light-hearted manner with no expectation of anything in return – and if you take that approach, you might be surprised by the results
5. Stay at hotels where the backpackers stay
I’m not talking about hostels, not that there is anything wrong with that. But what I’m referring to are just good quality hotels that are clean and well-located.
For the first few hotels on my journey, I’ll scan Trip Advisor reviews like everyone does but only for the first few hotels. After that, I use recommendations from other travellers I meet.
The best hotels are the ones with busy public areas that make it easy to interact with other travellers. You’re never going to learn anything reading those welcome brochures that line the nightstand in your room.
6. Get the best rates on hotels and don’t forget the upgrade
Like asking for a discount, don’t be afraid to ask for a hotel upgrade. Again…a smile goes a long way, and a joke…but only if it’s a good one. Dark jokes can sometimes take a turn for the worst, so keep ‘em clean.
And while you are asking for an upgrade, also ask if there are any other secrets to share. Is there a Happy Hour? Free Tai Chi lessons?
Also, when it comes to getting a great deal on hotels, find the best discounted rate online and then call the hotel directly and ask if they’ll do a price match. Most times…they will, because anything booked through the discounted sites costs a commission. This way, you get all the benefits of booking directly which include (cancel at any time without penalty).
Pro Tip: Search Google for “Best hotel in [add your location],” which will crawl all the hotel booking websites and then will up bring up a map of all the hotels in the area along with their price tags. You don’t have to Google each hotel booking website individually but be sure to scroll down below the AD section to ensure you are getting the cheapest rate available.
Final tip when it comes to scoring the best hotel rates, check out Hotel Tonight a last minute site to use when you don’t have time to pre-plan your travel. As the name suggests, this site is for last minute bookings but I’ve seen deep discounts up to 50% so it’s worth a look.
7. Get out and Talk to People – like seriously!
This is my personal favourite tip for those who want to travel on a budget. Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in a small town in southern Ontario. I will never understand why people are so afraid to talk to others. Everybody you meet is somebody’s bestie or daughter or granny. Get out and talk to people.
Grab a coffee at a nearby cafe. Find someone who doesn’t have a nervous tic and looks suspiciously like they might keep a freezer full of backpackers’ organs. Stay away from that red flag but to the rest of the world…walk up, introduce yourself and get to know the city from a resident denizen.
The locals always know the best places to dine and who has the best Taco Tuesday in town.
8. Save money on food and drink in order to travel on a budget
Have your heard? Intermittent fasting is all the rage these days. If you haven’t tried it, now’s the time.
When I travel, my daily diet consists of having a big buffet breakfast that’s covered under the room cost. Then, if I’m feeling peckish during the day, I’ll stop by a local supermarket and wander the aisles looking for new snacks to try. And/or I’ll grab a bite at a street vendor to take the edge off.
This strategy holds me over nicely until dinner, where I’ll focus on finding a highly recommended (see tip 7) restaurant where I’ll reflect on the day’s activities.
Pro tip: I also carry one of those 12-hour thermos containers wherever I go. I’ll fill it up with cold water from the morning buffet, and it lasts the day. Also, if your hotel includes a gym, they often offer up free water bottles for gym visitors to take too.
I break out in hives at the thought of buying plastic bottled water.
9. Travel light
It’s time to Maria Kondo your luggage. A big advantage of being a nomad is you rarely see the same people from day to day. Who cares if you wear the same Blue Jays T-shirt? NO ONE CARES, so don’t waste valuable backpack space trying to impress nobody.
Bring some laundry detergent in a storable container and wash as you go.
The benefit of travelling light is two-fold. You can take advantage of some super affordable domestic flights if you don’t have to check baggage …AND, if you ever have to run to catch a train – lugging less weight keeps you nimble and increases your odds of making the connection.
Let’s not forget…if you only travel with a small backpack of essentials, you are less likely to be lured into buying those senseless tchotchkes that almost every traveller deeply regrets once they return State-side.
10. Rules are meant to be broken
I’ve kept my best piece of advice ‘til the last. We get one shot at this life, as far as I know.
Never get so wrapped up trying to keep within a budget that you allow life’s juicy opportunities to pass you by. It’s good to have financial plans, but like rules, budgets are meant to be broken — for the right occasion and the right reason.
Live abundantly. You’ll never get back a lost moment in time, but money can always be found in the future.
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