Travelling isn’t always cheap. Between transportation, accommodation, food, site seeing and souvenirs, your holiday spending can add up. It’s no wonder that some people consider travel a luxury with the typical “I don’t have the money” reason holding them back. But I’m here to tell you that making those dream destinations a reality is within reach. Two years ago I set out on a long-term backpacking trip. At the time, I had budgeted for 6 months of travel but in the end I managed to stretch that budget and stayed on the road for an additional 2 months. Below are my tried, tested and true tips and tricks on how you too can travel for less.
Book Early, Pack Lightly and Take the Next Flight
In order to get to a destination you likely have to fly and no matter how you cut it, air travel isn’t cheap. Gone are the days when you could get a great last minute deal on flights. These days, booking sooner rather than later, especially for long-haul flights, will save you money in the end. Start your initial search for flights at least 2-3 months in advance and then monitor the prices periodically. If flights are going to go on sale, airlines will do this 1-2 months before the departure date. Let your Travel Agent know what you have your sights on, and if a seat sale pops up, they will let you know.
Once you have your ticket, save yourself even more money by avoiding those pesky baggage fees ($50 for a single checked bag to Europe alone!) and pack lightly. I understand that for some, packing ‘lightly’ is the equivalent of making a pig fly, but it’s totally doable! Don’t believe me? Check out this video on how to fit a month’s worth of clothes into a single, carry-on bag. Not only will you save money by packing lightly, you’ll also avoid the risk of your luggage getting lost. Plus you can give a cheerful wave to all those people waiting for their luggage as you breeze past them.
Bonus tip: Airlines usually over sell a flight. Why? Because there’s a small percentage of passengers who don’t make their flights. But you can take advantage of this risky move. If the flight is full, offer to be bumped to the next flight. In exchange, you’ll be given a credit (sometimes worth hundreds of dollars) for your next flight with the airline. This only works best if you’re flying solo, direct to your destination, and your travel itinerary is flexible.
Travel at Night
To save yourself a night’s cost for accommodation, consider travelling at night. This is particularly effective if you have a far distance to cover whether it be an overnight flight, train or bus ride of 8 hours or more. Considering you’re essentially stuck in a single vehicle during transit for hours on end, why not do it during the night hours when you can’t be out exploring a destination anyways? The downside to this practice is the lack of comfortable, REM-filled sleep you’re going to get. Bumpy roads, frequent stops, noisy neighbours, and cramped seats make getting a good night’s rest difficult. It could lead to your first day in your destination being a complete right-off as you catch up on some sleep.
Find the Free Attractions at Your Destination
Not everything to do in a destination costs money. In fact, some of the best things to do are usually free. A quick Google search of “Free Things to Do in______” will bring up hundreds of hits and as you go through the various sites, take note of what interests you the most. In addition, some museums also offer discounted entrance fees or even free nights between certain times. It’s worth checking out their websites before hand to see if the dates and times align with your schedule.
Embrace Your Student Card
Are you a student travelling during summer vacation, reading week, or even taking a Gap Year vacation? Make sure to bring your student card on your travels and reap the rewards. From train travel in Europe to entrance fees at museums, that little piece of plastic will reduce the cost from the regular adult price (sometimes even by half!). Bring it, use it, love it.
Two Words: Street Food
Another area where a lot of your travel money will be spent is food. You can cut down costs by shopping for and cooking your own food, if your accommodations allow you the opportunity. But half the fun of traveling is eating your way through a destination. It’s one of the best ways to get to know a culture. My fellow Flight Centre Bloggers, A Cook Not Mad, wrote a detailed post on ‘How to Eat For Less When Travelling’ with some excellent cost-saving tips. My personal favourite strategy is to eat the street-food. Now, not all destinations have a vibrant street-food scene, but the ones that do (specifically Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America) are simply incredible. There are a variety of foods to choose from, it’s exceptionally easy on your wallet, and if you’re concerned about health standards, think about the fact that you can literally watch your food being prepared in front of you, compared to being cooked away from sight if you sit down in a restaurant.
Keep Track of Your Spending
My last tip on how to travel for less may not show immediate savings but it will help you avoid overspending. Before you set out on your travels, give yourself a budget and be realistic about it. Then break this budget down into a daily spending limit. As you travel, write down everything you’re spending money on, on a daily basis. I prefer a little pocket-sized notebook to keep track of my spending, but there are apps such as Trail Wallet that you can download onto your smart phone that will do all the calculations for you. By keeping track of your expenditures you’ll get an immediate look into your spending habits, how closely you’re staying on budget, where you can trim some spending, or better yet, when you have room to splurge.