It doesn’t matter whether you’re a big earner or live off a part-time student job with a moutain of debt, saving money while travelling is desirable for all. It means you can afford a nice souvenir or maybe that you’ll be able to get out and about again sooner 😉 My case is pretty clear and straightforward. I am a student, no time for a part-time job (at least, not for more than one month during summer), living in one of the most expensive cities for students and with a relatively high cost of food and daily things due to allergies. Does it sound like I can afford an annual (or even every six months) trip to far-away corners of the world? Not really. Yet I did. I will write a more elaborate post on how I tackle the practical and financial side of travel planning/budgeting, but here are some tips that should get you started!
1. Know where you’re going
Timbuktu won’t be as expensive as NYC for the same amount of comfort. Don’t let your trip be ruined by false expectations!
2. Preparation is half the work (and saves half the expense)
I cannot emphasize enough how much easier it is (and this is against general travelers’ opinion) to book accommodation beforehand. Websites like booking.com often give you free cancellation til the day before, making it easy to just book something and cancel it when you see a better offer. By just ‘picking a place as you go’, you risk paying last-minute extras or settling for the first thing you find because you’re just TOO tired from the journey.
3. Travel during the night
If you’re like me and you can fall asleep on the edge of a cliff with sirens blasting around you, ground trembling and rain falling on your face (although I’d recommend against doing that), then consider making long journeys at night. Most bigger countries have night buses or overnight trains crossing the territory on which you can sleep soundly. It saves on accommodation for the night, you’ll probably meet a grumpy grandma asking for your blanket and these forms of transport are often cheaper than their daytime counterpart.
4. DO NOT dress to impress
Especially in non-Western countries, prices tend to suddenly rise in restaurants when someone with a nice purse, necklace or shoes enters. The same goes for markets and taxis. It’s not bad to pay a bit more sometimes, but don’t get ripped off just because you’re wearing your good pair of jeans when all you wanted was a kebab.
5. Talk to people
This probably sounds like the most simple and obvious piece of advice, but I cannot keep count of the amount of times a nice conversation I had with people turned into an invitation for lunch, dinner, shower and overnight stay at their house. You’ll be surprised how friendly and welcoming people are if you show genuine interest in their lifestyle, country, culture, family etc. Not only does it give you all the free things, it also makes you get to know a country much better and gives you insight into why some things are the way they are now.
6. Pretend you’re stupid
No joke! I once met a corrupt police officer who wanted to charge me extra because I “didn’t have the correct form or documents”, which was obvious bullshit on his side. I pretended I didn’t speak English (he spoke some words only) and I obviously couldn’t speak Thai. After a few “puzzled” looks on my side and annoyed ones on his, he just walked away – probably thinking it was too much of an effort – and later I discovered I indeed had all the documents I needed 😉
7. Good food is not expensive
It’s one thing to read your Lonely Planet for restaurant recommendations, but it’s something else to find truly good stuff in places that are not even remotely like a restaurant. On my most recent trip to Uzbekistan, I asked a random woman at a market where I could get the best plov. She took me somewhere in a basement, made me pay the people there before receiving the food, made me sit down in a super hot, humid and dirty room with a few plastic chairs and tables and a few other people eating in a corner. 5 minutes later I got served an awesome plov with more than awesome bread, tea and a fresh salad, for half the price of just the plov in a nearby restaurant. Sure, I got some looks from the people around (turns out this was the lunch break place for market vendors only) but I was extraordinarily happy all day long :p
8. Tea or coffee?
There’s such a thing as tea countries and coffee countries. If you’re an avid coffee drinker, but you’re in China, be prepared to have to pay for it! I found that adapting eating/drinking style to that one of locals really reduced my overall costs. A pot of tea (good for 4-5 cups) often cost me less than a single soluble coffee or a small water bottle.
9. Consider tourist deals
If you’re citytripping, have a look at what the city offers to tourists. Often you can get a 3-day transport card or a ticket for all museums and attractions combined for a relatively low price. Way too often do I hear “be a traveller, not a tourist”, when being a ‘stereotypical ‘tourist can actually save you loads on these kind of things. It is but a name, after all. (Note: there is nothing wrong with being either a traveller or a tourist, what’s the defined difference anyway?)
10. The importance of internet
Make sure your hotel has WiFi! There is nothing just as annoying as having to go to a coffee place, restaurant or bar just because you have to use their WiFi. It costs you extra money, but also a lot of valuable time you could be spending visiting monuments, walking around or exploring a new neighbourhood. Use internet before bed to catch up with your mum or to check out what to do the next day.
11. Beware of alcohol
Not because of the effect is has, that’s pleasant in any case, but rather because of how sneaky they can be with it. If a restaurant has relatively cheap food, they’re likely to heavily overcharge you on beers, wine, spirits etc (even on water, but to a lesser extent). If you really want alcohol, get a house wine, draft beer and get a national brand as there are often incredibly high import taxes on alcoholic beverages. We once had a place where a single can of beer cost as much as the main course!
12. Walk it out
If you’re not in a rush, don’t automatically take the taxi or the bus to your next spot on the map. Walking there is not only good for your wallet or your health, it elevates the mood and gives you more time to look around streets you’d otherwise never consider walking around. Who knows, maybe you find a place where they have the EXACT piece of embroidery you wanted to buy for your aunt or maybe you catch a smell of some eating place and decide where you’ll have dinner tonight? Or maybe you find a small back alley that leads to a little square with a beautiful church/mosque/synagogue/temple/whatever you would’ve otherwise missed out on. Get on your feet and walk!
13. Flying like a boss
There’s tons of low-cost airlines in continental Europe, but for long-haul flights it can become very difficult to get a good deal. Various channels like Google Flights, ItaSoftware and Flyertalk.com can help you on the way to getting the deal you want. Secondly, start saving up Airmiles. They might enable you to get a free upgrade or even a free trip! There will be a post about mastering the art of finding cheap flights in the near future, stay tuned for sure! I flew from Amsterdam to Kazakhstan for only 200 euros return ticket in high season with a few minor tweaks only!
14. Pack a lunch when flying
I know I sound like your mum right now, but airport food is one of the most unnecessarily expensive ones around. 10 euros for a sandwich (which is clearly already a day old) or 15 minutes extra work in the morning before you leave, what’s your choice? Also, take an empty bottle with you to refill once you are through customs. It has saved my life many times, airplane air makes my throat dry up! Only refill in countries where tap water is safe to drink.
Do you have some travelling tips you’d like to share? How do you save on travelling without saving on comfort? I’d love to hear your recommendations! Next up will be a post about my latest adventure: Uzbekistan! Stay tuned 🙂