While the normal guidelines of avoiding peak season will always be beneficial for the budget conscious, there’s no shortage of ways to save money, no matter the time of year. Some may seem little or insignificant, but they all add up in helping you save money during your travels. Here’s what I try to remember when preparing for a trip to get more bang for my buck:
1. Always price compare!
Even if it’s a last minute decision on where you’re headed, always check out a few options to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Whether it means finding the best rate and negotiating directly with the hotel, booking a package deal, or booking with a 48 hour free cancellation policy (then looking for good last minute rates online), you have options. When it comes to flights, Skyscanner is my go-to research tool for both flights and accommodations. Remember, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are the cheapest days to fly!
2. “The best things in life are free!”
No matter where you are, some experiences are guaranteed to be free (or cheap) and worthwhile. Many festivals and museums have free entry and if that’s not you’re thing, try taking a walk through a local park, going on a day hike, grabbing a beer and people watching in the city center is a good way to get your lay of the land. If you really want an insiders perspective, why not try Couchsurfing? You save on accommodation, gain some local insight, and have the opportunity to make amazing friends while seeing how the locals live! Don’t forget, sunrises and sunsets are always free!
3. Pack accordingly
While I’ll be writing more at length about this in the future, it’s important to note that no matter your type of trip, there are things to bring no matter what that will be worth the space they take up in your luggage. And I get it, space in your pack is valuable. But things like a small sewing kit will come in handy when you’re living in the same three pairs of pants for 3 months straight, instead of buying new ones anytime you get holes. A reusable water bottle is a big must-have! This will save you money and help replace fluids you’re losing elsewhere. Or, if you’re anything like me, it’ll remind you to stay hydrated in countries where beer is cheaper than water!
4. Plan… even a little bit
I’ve learned from my own mistakes on this one and should have really take my own advice. After randomly running into a familiar face from home while I was in Prague (and then following him to Amsterdam over Easter and having that blow up in my face), I was left emotionally drained and mentally exhausted. When all I wanted was to get as far away from Amsterdam as possible, all of the trains out were full and 98% of the accommodations in the city were booked with prices as high as can be. The only available option was 10 miles (about 17km) out of the center and I made the decision to cab there as no busses could get me there, just to sleep for 5 hours in a shared room for €40 and cab all the way back to the train station by 6am. Long story short, I should’ve slept in the train station and saved myself €100, or taken a train without a reservation fee, which leads me to my next point…
When I purchased my Eurail pass before departing on my first solo trip, I was thrilled to find out that they have an app that works offline! What I didn’t know until halfway through my trip, however, is that there was an option in the settings to see routes without reservation fees. A few other connections in smaller towns and a few extra hours of travel would’ve saved me anywhere from 4-50 euros every time I boarded a train. Before you head out, researching your destinations (or possible destinations) is important, even if you don’t plan to make any solid plans. Knowing some basic facts ahead of time will provide knowledge that will save you money in the long run. It may be as simple as finding out that public transportation in a certain country are striking, so you can only fly into your destination. Having a Plan B is always important.
6. Get off the beaten path
Places like Paris, Bangkok and Tokyo are places you should visit. However, there’s plenty to see when it comes to smaller, lesser known cities and towns. Spend some time exploring the bigger cities, then head out to the real gems once you’ve got an idea of the history. If you’re heading to Prague, why not check out the city center UNESCO World Heritage Site of Český Krumlov? As well, Nicaragua is another spot that is beautiful and runs on the cheap end of the spectrum, while Vietnam is currently testing out a 15 day no-visa visit until July 2016. These experiences will give you a real big-picture experience of the country, culture and it’s people – which is what it’s all about.
7. Buy souvenirs you can use
Souvenirs are great to have around to remind you of your trips, but they can be costly or take up a lot of room. When I’m abroad, I try to gain things I can display in my home. Here are my favourite ways to bring my travels home.
8. Splurge on experiences
Saving on flights, hotels and daily food expenses will free up your budget to spend it on the things that matter. No one wants to fly across the world on an amazing trip just to say, “Hmm, I can’t really afford to do that”. Splurge where it counts – I promise you won’t regret it.
9. Eat local
Adding to the experiences, eating local is always a good bet. You really can’t go wrong. Head to the supermarket and try to navigate your way through the aisles. If you’re stuck, ask for help! If not, produce is easy to tell apart. Eat with the season and you’ll be saving cash and gaining real insight into the culture.
10. Invest in good gear
The dreaded talk about equipment. You’re little sewing kit may help with fixing straps that are coming loose, but that’ll be about all it can help you with when your bag starts to fall apart. There are ways to find deals on gear that will last (and if you take care of your backpack, it will). For example, I got my High Sierra backpack at Costco for a grand total of $50. I had read mostly good reviews before purchasing it, but I must admit I was a little worried about the price point. How could a $50 bag hold up?! Well, it held up wonderfully, even when I repeatedly fell over while trying to put it on at the beginning of my trip.
Over to you! What do you do to keep your costs down?