We work so hard to save money for a trip, and as budget-minded travelers, we also want to make sure our dollars stretch as far as possible once we are on that trip.
This ultimate list of 21 budget travel tips and extra resources will help you do just that, no matter where in the world you are headed.
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Listen to a podcast episode about this topic that takes these tips even further!
1. Research accommodations before you get to town.
On the street, you won’t see comparisons, prices, amenities, or know what a good deal is, but online you can see all these things and more with just the click of a button.
2. Use a credit card that has 0% foreign transaction fees as often as possible.
This saves on ATM fees and conversion rates, and it also gives you the bonus of earning miles or cashback.
If you don’t have one yet, consider getting a credit card through your favorite airline (I use the United Chase Explorer Visa). Usually, these will come with 0% foreign transaction fees, as well as mile bonuses and other benefits.
3. Travel in the offseason.
If you can be flexible with your dates, traveling in the off-season will make it possible for you to see those touristy places without such a price tag. Hotels are often marked down greatly during these times.
4. Know your budget limits and stick to them.
It is easy to give in to pressure on the spot, but if you’re tight on spending, stand your ground, even if that means going to another hotel, another restaurant, or another tour company for a better price.
5. Use your smartphone to get free WiFi.
You can book your entire trip on the go by knowing how to use your smartphone without incurring data charges. Of course, you’ll need to learn how to use your smartphone with WiFi and Airplane Mode so it doesn’t cost you anything.
6. Be smart about taxis.
Never get into a taxi without first agreeing on a price or making sure the driver will turn on the meter.
7. Bargain with street sellers.
You can often start with half the price and work your way up from there. (Make sure you have exact change when you do this).
8. Avoid big, fancy restaurants.
The number one rule for finding the best, cheapest food while traveling is to go where the locals go. The best places are on the side streets and back alleys. A good way to test a restaurant is to look inside: if you see tourists, move on, if you see locals, you’re in the right place.
9. Take care of your bills at home, in advance.
Be sure your bills are on auto-pay and that your accounts have enough funds to cover these bills without over-drafting. This will save on bank charges and put your mind at ease on the road.
10. Avoid unnecessary ATM fees.
When you take foreign currency out of an ATM, either take out exactly what you know you will spend, or take out the maximum amount that you can, which you can stash and use over a period of time.
ATM fees can add up very quickly. (Better yet, get an online checking account with Charles Schwab, which reimburses all ATM fees, local or abroad).
11. Opt to walk through cities instead of taking public transportation.
Not only will you get a good work out while you see more of the city than you would in a vehicle, but you also won’t spend money on public transportation, which can add up quickly and is often forgotten or miscalculated when planning trip budgets.
12. Put your monthly bills on hold if you can.
If you will be gone for a month or longer, freeze your cell phone account, your gym account, perhaps your car insurance, and anything else you can possibly put on hold while you’re not using it.
13. Take advantage of free accommodations.
14. Don’t be a victim of bad or unknown exchange rates.
Don’t exchange money if possible, and get the XE Currency App so you always know what the current exchange rates are.
It will always be a better deal to take cash out of an ATM rather than exchange bills or use a credit card to pay for something (especially one with 0% foreign transaction fees).
Get the XE Currency app and be sure to update it with the appropriate currencies before you land in your destination country. This app does the math of currency exchange rates for you, so you know what kind of deal you are getting before you mess up the numbers and end up pulling $8 out of an ATM when you meant to get $300 (hate to admit this has happened to me).
15. Eat the traditional foods of your destination country.
This will give you a chance to let your taste buds experience travel, and it will give your wallet a break.
Generally, the traditional dishes in each country will be the cheapest. Think about it, there is a reason they are so common, probably because they have plenty of available, local resources to create these dishes, which keep costs down.
For example, a casado in Costa Rica might cost you $2 when a burger and fries at the same restaurant will cost you $6. A pad thai in Thailand might cost you $1 (see video below) when a pasta carbonara will cost you $5.
Allow yourself to seek out not only local restaurants but the local foods that are the cheapest on the menu, even if they are found on the street.
16. Don’t rule out hostels.
Even if you are past the hostel dorm stage in your life, don’t rule them out altogether.
Very often, hostels will offer private rooms at decent rates (in other words, cheaper than hotels) which can still save you a lot of money.
The added benefit to this is that you still get all the amenities that hostels provide (tours, maps, info, kitchens, and community), without having to share a bunk with anyone.
17. Meet locals and ask them for recommendations.
Whether you meet people through Couchsurfing, Airbnb, local tours, or simply striking up a conversation in public, you never know who might invite you to dinner or to stay at their house (both have happened to me). At the very least, they can point you to the best, cheapest places to eat and things to do!
18. Seek out free walking tours.
These are very popular in cities, especially in Europe. One company I’ve had great success with is Sandeman’s New Europe, which offers detailed, 2-3 hour walking tours throughout Europe (my absolute favorite is the tour of “East Berlin”).
These tours, no matter who provides them, are by donation only and are a great way to get to know where you are and learn about the history, often from local guides.
An added bonus to these tours is that the guides are available to offer recommendations for places to eat or other activities to do as well.
19. Get off the beaten path.
If you make an effort to go to places that aren’t crowded with tourists, you will be rewarded with lower prices for just about everything. Don’t be afraid to explore something completely new and different, travel is what YOU make of it!
20. Communicate in the local language.
If you’re in a country with a foreign language, proving that you can communicate (or at least attempt to communicate) in the local language can immediately drop the price for a lot of things.
It makes you appear much more travel-savvy, comfortable in your host country, and much less touristy, ignorant, or able to be taken advantage of.
21. Be kind.
Lastly, don’t act like you’re entitled to anything when you are in a new culture. A little bit of kindness goes a long way, and it may literally save you money when dealing with vendors of all kinds.
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