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25 Frugal Travel Tips Learned From 7 Years On The Road

There are more ways to save money while you travel than you might think

I always think it’s funny when people ask us if we have won the lottery.  It’s as if the only way we could afford to travel the world is if we had some sort of enormous financial windfall. Travelling doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think and there are many ways to save money while you travel. Depending on the country, you may be spending less than you would if you lived in one place.

Yes, if you stay in luxury hotels every night, dine in fine restaurants, hire taxis and do expensive tours, then traveling will cost you a fortune. But that’s not the only way to travel. You can also travel in a budget-conscious way and have as much fun.

Lee and I have been travelling full time since 2011 and during this long term stint on the road we have learned a few ways to save money. These tips and tricks have served us well over the years and hope they help you to go further for less.

Here are 25 ways to save money while you travel so that you can afford to keep exploring for longer.

Check Out Bank Fees Before You Go

Thai Baht notes
It’s all about the money….

Does your bank ding you with big fees every time you withdraw money from an ATM? Those charges add up. Instead you could be spending that cash on plates of Pad Thai in Bangkok or cups of coffee in Colombia.

Before you go, find out what your bank charges for international transactions. If the answer seems steep, look around and see if you can switch your account to one without high fees.

Tips:

  • Avoid using ATMS in hotels or 7-11s or at major tourist sites. You’ll pay extra fees for the convenient location. Instead, avoid those ATMs and look for a major bank.
  • There are some bank accounts out there that charge lower international fees, or do not charge fees at all. Take a look at your options – you might save money by switching.
  • Look into the Global ATM Network.  This is a massive network of banks around the world that waive fees for ATM withdrawals from any bank in their network. The only disadvantage is that they have high fees for banks outside their network. If you are sure that a bank in the network exists in your location this is worth looking into.
  • Keep in mind that the ATM at the location might also charge you a fee. This will usually pop up on screen and you can choose to accept.
  • Also, consider using your credit card for most of your purchases. Credit card companies get the best currency exchange rates.

Get a Local Sim Card

One of the first things that Lee does when we arrive in a city is to sort out local SIM cards for us. They usually only cost a small amount and it means that we can make calls and use data on our phones.

This has saved us money in a lot of different ways. Google maps is a big one. We know if taxi driver is trying to take us the long way around, or is claiming that our destination is farther away than it is.

In cities around the world Google Maps works with the public transit system. This makes it easier for us to use buses, trains and trams – the most cost efficient forms of transportation. Also, sometimes we can see via Google Maps that the destination is only a 20 minute walk away.

Another aspect of having a local SIM card is that it helps us to choose restaurants and bars while we are out and about. We rarely walk into a restaurant blind – we can read Tripadvisor reviews and even see a menu online. That helps us to choose the best value when we are looking around for somewhere to eat.

Tips:

  • If something sounds dodgy, you can Google the business right there and then to check if it is a scam.
  • Sometimes being able to call the hotel rather than booking online can get you a better deal.
  • When you get a local SIM card your number will change, so let people know if this if they want to stay in touch with you.
  • You’ll need to unlock your phone. You can find instructions on how to do this online.
  • Find out what size of SIM card your phone takes. Some will take the regular size while some will only fit the micro-SIM.

Download XE Currency Converter

When you are using a new currency, the numbers feel a bit meaningless – making it easier to overspend. One of the most helpful travel apps I have on my phone is a simple free one called XE Currency Converter. Input the amount in one currency and it converts it into other currencies.

Converting into your own currency helps you understand how much things cost so you can make better purchasing decisions.

Tips:

  • When your phone is offline you can see the conversions for the currencies that you have already added. Although, you will not be able to add new currencies. Keep this in mind and if you are going off the grid make sure to add the currencies you will need first.
  • You can also look at the “currency profile” of your destination’s currency. This contains information about slang terms, nicknames for money and frequently used denominations.
  • XE also offers competitive rates on international money transfers all over the world. I haven’t used this service yet so I can’t comment on it – but it’s worth checking out if you need to send money.

Do What The Locals Do

Me in Penang, Malaysia slurping up some delicious noodles.

Often the things the locals do (especially when it comes to food and drink) will be the cheapest option. So, shop at the local markets, drink at the local bars and hang out in the local areas. Restaurants and bars that target tourists will almost always cost more.

In Sucre, Bolivia I would walk to the local market every morning and buy fresh bread, eggs and fruit for a handful of spare change. This was much cheaper than having an expensive breakfast in a restaurant. In Penang, Malaysia the cheapest (and best) things to eat were the fried noodles, curries and samosas prepared fresh in the street stalls. We avoided the more expensive food in the air conditioned shopping centre. Watch where the locals are eating and drinking and spending their time – that is where you are likely to find the best value.

Tips:

  • A local market is usually a great place to start. Go early in the morning for the best selection. Or, if you go towards the end of the market you’ll get cheaper deals as the vendors try to sell the last of their produce.
  • There are several apps designed to help you find cheap local thing to do. MappyHour maps out drink specials and DiscountYeti finds free museums and attractions. Cheap-Ass Food helps you find – well, cheap food of course.
  • Like a Local is also an interesting app to check out. It offers recommendations curated by locals for cafes, restaurants, shopping and more.

Take a Night Bus

On a night bus in Vietnam.

Lee and I have been on a lot of night buses on our travels. They don’t always offer the best sleep, but they have a lot of advantages.  When you take an overnight bus (or train) you will not have to pay for a hotel or hostel that night. You’ll sleep on the way and wake up in your destination the next morning, saving the cost of a night of accommodation.

Another perk is that you will not have to spend an entire day of your travels sitting on a bus or a train. If you have a 12 hour journey and you do it during daylight hours, you’ll waste a full day of your travels. A night bus means that you get your travel time out of the way while you are sleeping.

Some night buses around the world are pretty cosy and you can actually get a decent sleep. For example, the overnight buses in India have a little cabin you can lie down in. The buses in Vietnam, Thailand and Peru were also quite comfortable.

Tips:

  • Sometimes you will have the option of paying more to have a seat that is larger and reclines more. Depending on price, this might be worth it for the added comfort and the better sleep. They are usually called the “VIP Bus” or “Sleeper Bus”
  • It can be difficult to sleep on a bus, but after a while you get used to it. Take some headphones with you and listen to some soothing music. Or, download a white noise app to block out any outside sounds.
  • Take a warm jumper with you. Many buses will have the air conditioning cranked up and even in a hot climate you’ll be freezing.

Here are some of our tips for having a more enjoyable long bus journey.

Buying Stuff When You Get There

Vientiane night market
Shopping at the night market at Vientiane, Laos. Make sure the numbers add up!

I was recently chatting with a friend who is planning a trip to Thailand. She mentioned that one of the items on her to-do list before leaving Canada was buying flip flops. I told her not to bother even looking for flip flops while in Canada in the winter. Would stores even be selling them?

“As soon as you get to Bangkok, take a walk down Rambuttri or Khao San Road, or head to the MBK shopping centre. You’ll find a choice of hundreds of flip flops at a fraction of the price you would pay in Canada.”

The same is true for a lot of things, so don’t think that you need to bring everything from your home country. Think about the items that might be cheaper in your destination and buy them when you arrive.

Tips:

  • This is especially relevant when you travel to somewhere with a different climate. Clothing and accessories for that climate will be more abundant and cheaper there.
  • Do some research online to find out whether an item will be cheaper in your destination.
  • Ask the locals where the best place to buy those items are. They might recommend a local market that you have never heard of.
  • This tip might not work if you need a specific brand or a prescription medication.
  • We did this with vaccinations, too. Getting our travel vaccinations in Bangkok instead of in Canada saved us a thousand dollars.

 Learn How to Haggle

Once you get used to the art of haggling, you will save yourself a lot of money. A German girl we met in Cambodia paid twice as much as Lee and I for exactly the same tour. She had been too shy to haggle. Lee and I had gotten a reasonable price, she overpaid.

Since haggling is not a part of our Western culture, it can feel a little strange at first. You might be too shy to quote a lower price because you may feel like you are insulting the seller.

In cultures where haggling is normal they will not think any less of you for negotiating price. The first price the vendor quotes is often high, as they expect you to bargain with them. When you quote a lower price they will go back and forth until you find somewhere in the middle you are both happy with. It feels strange at first, but once you get used to haggling it will become a normal part of any sales interaction.

Tips:

  • There is a sweet spot where the price is affordable for you, yet still reasonable for the vendor. That’s what you are trying to find, so don’t try to push the price down too low. A difference of a few dollars won’t impact your travel budget but will be significant for a street vendor in a third world country.
  • Haggling should always happen with a smile. There’s no point getting angry if the seller’s price is too high. Walk away and go to another vendor.
  • In fact, sometimes if you shake your head and start to walk away, the vendor will have a sudden change of heart. They might decide to drop their price after all to get your business.
  • If the seller won’t budge on price, see if they will add in freebies or other services to make the sale more worthwhile.

Don’t Prebook Your Hotel for the Entirety of Your Stay

Lee and I will often book a hotel, hostel or guesthouse for the first two or three nights. Once we arrive we will decide whether we want to book longer.

This gives us much more flexibility and offers us a lot of advantages. Sometimes we look around and find other hotels that are better value than anything we saw online. If we have only committed to a hotel for the first couple of nights, we are free to move over and get a better deal. Sometimes we arrive at the hotel and it isn’t as advertised, or the Wifi doesn’t work. We have only booked for a day or two so we are free to find somewhere better.

Of course, this wouldn’t work well if you were staying in a very busy destination. The hotel might be completely booked by the time you arrive. Yet, in most cases there is no problem with booking only the first few days and then extending if you like the hotel.

Tips:

  • If you do choose to stay in the hotel for longer, you can book the rest of your stay with the hotel owner. Since the hotel booking website isn’t getting a commission, this often means you can get a cheaper price.
  • In some destinations you can find local guesthouses that are not advertised online. Many of the hotels we stayed at in Sri Lanka or Cambodia weren’t online. They were small guesthouses run by local families who hadn’t made a website. We would have only found those places by walking around the city.
  • If you have only pre-booked a couple of days, then you don’t even have to stay in that destination if you don’t want to. The city might feel unwelcome, unsafe or uninteresting. You can move on without having to worry about changing your hotel reservations.

Ask For a Discount For a Longer Stay

This hotel room in Kep, Cambodia cost us around $12 per night
This hotel room in Kep, Cambodia cost us around $12 per night

Also, another advantage of only booking for the first couple of nights is that it allows me to negotiate face to face with the hotel owner or front desk staff and ask for a discount for a longer stay. Usually the longer you stay at a hotel the cheaper the per-night rate can be.

When you think about it, having the same guest for several days is advantageous for the hotel or hostel. They don’t have to worry about the check in/check out process and the cleaners don’t have to turn over the room. Also, the hotel owner will know that they have a booking guaranteed for the next several days so that they won’t have to worry about getting new guests through the door.

I have often said, “If we stay for 7 more days, can you give us a cheaper rate?” The hotel will be happy to fill the room for a week (especially during a low season) so they will usually be flexible on price.

Tips:

  • It’s about supply and demand. Use websites likes HostelBookers and HostelWorld to check how many rooms are available. If it is slow period and there are a lot of rooms available, this is the best time to bargain.
  • Negotiating works best in owner-run hostels, as you will often be able to deal directly with the owner. If you ask a staff member in a large hostel, they may not have the authority to grant you a discount.
  • Don’t get too carried away and ask for a ridiculously low discount. If the original price of the room is $25 per night, don’t try to ask for it for $10. However, asking for a rate of $20 if you stay for at least 3 nights is completely fair. Usually a discount of around 10-20% on a room is reasonable, although if you are staying for several weeks or months, you might be able to get a deeper discount than this.
  • It is important that you take a look at the room first before you start haggling over the price. You might be able to agree on a lower price, but then the manager might give you the worst room on offer rather than one of the nicer ones.
  • Be willing to take “No” for an answer. It never hurts to ask for a cheaper long term stay, but the hotel owner is never obligated to lower his or her prices for you. Some don’t want to and if they say no, say “thanks anyway” and walk away with a smile rather than frustration or resentment. You can always try somewhere else.

Make Connections in Places You Visit Regularly

types of travel

Lee and I have been to Bangkok several times, as we use it as our base for travelling in Southeast Asia. With every visit we return to the same guesthouse. Before we arrive I send an email to the manager letting him know our dates. He makes sure to allocate a specific room we like best – one of the newest, nicest and best positioned within the hotel. He also gives us a discount on the room and gives us every 4th night free.

If I hadn’t made that connection, we would have to start from scratch every time we came to Bangkok and we wouldn’t get the discount and the special treatment. If you visit the same destination regularly, it is absolutely worth introducing yourself to the manager of your accommodation and making a connection.

Tell them that you are a frequent visitor and if they can offer you a discount you will stay at their accommodation every time you visit. It’s a win win situation and it’s also really nice to be a “regular” somewhere and to be greeted with a friendly face in a destination where you often travel.

Tips:

  • Try to get the direct contact information, either email or phone number, of the manager or owner of the hostel. That way, you can contact the same person each time and they will remember you when you book again.
  • If you are spending many months on the road, a hotel or hostel that you will return to multiple times can also serve as a mailing address. You can ask the hotel if they would receive mail for you and store it until your travels bring you back around to that destination. (You probably want to tip them for this extra service).
  • If the manager is good to you over several visits, show your appreciation with a little gift. I gave a small gift and card to the manager at the Bangkok guesthouse the last time we were there and he was touched. I wanted to thank him for how welcome we had felt every time we stayed.
  • Also, if you find a gem of a hotel or hostel in a frequent destination and you return there multiple times, be sure to write them a review on TripAdvisor!

If You’re Not Going to Spend Time in the Room, Go Cheap

Lee Carter London England

A few years ago, Lee and I went to London just for a couple of days. We stayed in a pretty dingy and cheap broom closet of a hotel room – but to be honest I don’t even remember what it looked like.

During the 48 hours we spent in London, we were barely in the hotel room except for when we were sleeping. All day we were out and about, seeing the sights and walking around the city until I wore out the soles of my cheap Primark shoes. There’s so much to see and do in London and we did our best to cover it all!

If you plan to spend most of your time outside of the hotel exploring and doing stuff, go for the cheapest hole in the wall that you can find. It really doesn’t matter, because it will only be a place to keep your bags and a bed to collapse into after a full day of exploring. If we had spent money on a nice hotel room on that trip (especially at London prices!), it would have been wasted because we were barely in it.

Tips:

  • Book a hotel room that is as cheap as you can stand, but don’t go too far. If your hotel or hostel feels dangerous or unsafe or is located in a very sketchy part of the city, it’s not necessarily worth the savings.
  • Watch out for bedbugs. They can occur anywhere, even in the finest hotels, as they are attracted to warm human bodies rather than grime. However, generally the higher end hotels eradicate them thoroughly after an infestation while the cheap hotels cut corners and don’t get rid of them completely. If you do get bitten, try to get the hotel to cover any cost of any anti-histamines or cream as well as the cost of laundering your belongings.
  • Consider bringing a candle or a stick of incense… sometimes cheap hotel rooms can have a stale and dingy smell. (Of course, never leave it burning unattended!)
  • Spend as little time as possible in the room – go out and explore!

Don’t Pay for a Breakfast You Won’t Eat

Sometimes your hotel will include a free breakfast, which sounds like a good deal – but only if you actually eat it. Lee is not a morning person and doesn’t like to eat a big breakfast most mornings, so a hotel with free breakfast is wasted on him. However, I love mornings and I enjoy feasting on a huge breakfast when the hotel offers a buffet – so I certainly get my money’s worth.

Also, it’s not worth paying more for a hotel with a free breakfast when you are going to be leaving too early in the morning to enjoy the breakfast, or when you think you might be going out the night before and will probably sleep through it.

Tips:

  • Sometimes hotels will have a cheaper rate that doesn’t include breakfast – so if you are willing to forego your morning feast you can negotiate with them for a cheaper price.
  • Find out what the breakfast actually is. Some hotels and guesthouses will put on a huge spread with fruit, waffles, pancakes, bread, cereal, etc. (One hostel in Argentina served up fresh cooked-to-order crepes every morning.) Others will only offer you some toast, jam and instant coffee. Figure out what the breakfast is, so that you can decide whether it is worth the extra charge.
  • Sometimes the hotel will charge you more for breakfast than it would cost you to eat your own breakfast with ingredients from the supermarket. Skip the breakfast option and self-cater instead.

Take an Empty Water Bottle on Your Carry On

We all hate the invasive inspection that we have to go through in order to get on a plane (although we understand why it is done) but one of the most annoying parts of going through security is that you cannot take any liquids. So, you end up finally airside and waiting for your plane and you realise just how thirsty you are. However, the only drinks available are the ridiculously overpriced ones from the airport shops and it always feels awful to pay such a price for a simple bottle of water.

The solution is to bring a bottle of water with you in your carry on, but keep it empty until you get through security. You won’t run into any problems as you are not carrying liquids, but when you arrive on the other side you will be able to fill it up at a water fountain or a tap.

Tips:

  • Of course, you can only do this in countries where it is safe to drink the water from the tap.
  • If you can’t find a water fountain you may even be able to ask nicely at a Starbucks or McDonalds and they will probably fill it up for you.
  • There are even collapsible water bottles which can be folded up very small when they are not filled with water, saving you precious luggage space.

Practice The Money-Saving Art of Packed Lunches

Another important tip for saving money when you travel that I want to pass along to you is the habit of taking a packed lunch when you go out exploring for the day. This is a great ideal when you are in an expensive city such as New York or Rome and you want to go wandering around for several hours. Prepare a brown bag lunch with a few sandwiches, pieces of fruit and snacks that you purchased at the local supermarket.

Inevitably you will find yourself hungry and rather than spending money on an expensive lunch in a restaurant, you can simply find a nice park or scenic spot and sit for a moment to enjoy your sandwiches and snacks. Not only will you save money, but it also means that you can have your picnic lunch whenever and wherever you like – then pack up again and keep exploring without having to wait for the bill. How about a picnic in Paris on a bridge over the Seine or in the grass in the shadow of the Eiffel tower?

Tips:

  • The local open air marketplace is often a great place to find fresh fruit and other snacks. Buy fruit and vegetables that are in season and they will be cheaper.
  • When you shop in a market you can buy just the amount that you need that day, so that you won’t have any leftovers from your picnic.
  • Bring a utility knife with a can opener and corkscrew with you. (Make sure to put it in your checked luggage on the plane).
  • It’s also handy to have a towel or some wet wipes to help you clean up after your picnic.
  • If you visit the deli section of a supermarket late in the day, you might find that they have marked down the deli food in order to get rid of it before closing time.
  • If you want to have a little bit of wine or beer with your picnic, research the local laws. In some countries it is legal to drink alcohol in public, while in other places you might be breaking the law.

Google the Common Scams in Your Destination

All of your frugal habits will be cancelled out if you get robbed and lose a significant amount of money. Before you go travelling, it is very important to be aware of the common scams so that you can reduce your risk of being taken advantage of.

Pickpockets and thieves use a lot of clever distraction tactics and lies in order to take your attention away from your wallet – such as having their accomplices start a fight or a shouting match in a public space and then pickpocketing the spectators who slow down and stare. When you are aware of this, you can be cautious around loud disturbances in public places and keep walking with your hands in your pockets.

Tips:

  • Many scams involve distracting you so that your pockets can be picked while you aren’t paying attention. For example, there is a scam where someone will squirt some fake bird poo on the back of your shirt, then alert you to the stain. While they are “helping” you clean it off, their accomplice will be picking your pocket.
  • Another type of scam is when a group of people or young children will crowd into a busy subway car. They will swarm around you and distract you, one of them will steal you wallet and then they will all jump off the train right before the doors close.
  • In yet another popular pickpocket scam that happens all over the world, the scammers stand at the top of a busy escalator, which creates a crowded backup of people who are trying to get off. Someone who is crowded in below you will swipe your wallet and hand it to someone on the opposite escalator, which makes it almost impossible to chase them.
  • Scammers will often try to approach you in public areas and start a conversation with you, then propose their dodgy offer when they have gained your trust. Be wary of people, usually males on their own, who come up to you acting friendly and asking where you are from. They might be genuinely just trying to talk, but sometimes their motivations may be less than altruistic, so take everything they have to say with a grain of salt.
  • Have some prior knowledge of the destination so that you can decipher what is the truth and what is a lie. For example, if your Bangkok tuk tuk driver insists that the Grand Palace is closed and tries to take you somewhere else, you can tell him “no thanks buddy, the Grand Palace is open every day.”

The Local Version of Goods Will Always be Cheaper

ways to save money while you travel
Chang Beer in Thailand

When you are shopping for food and toiletries on your travels, being flexible about the brands you use will always save you money. Beer is a great example. Maybe you like a certain brand of beer and if it is a popular one you will likely find it in your destination, but the local beer will always be cheaper.

The same goes for wine – when we were in New Zealand the locally produced wine offered great value, but buying New Zealand wine while back in the UK is expensive. It costs more to import something from another country, so the version of that item that is produced in the country is always going to be cheaper.

This tip applies to wine, food brands, shampoo, soap, etc. Plenty of the soaps and lotions in my toiletry bag at the moment have Thai characters all over their packaging, because I bought them while in Thailand. Look for the local version of the item that you want to buy – even if the packaging is in a language you don’t understand.

Tips:

  • If you can’t understand the usage or cooking instructions on the packaging, you can always ask someone at the hotel or a local friend to translate it for you.
  • Be adventurous and try the local snacks. They will be cheap and you might discover something that you love!
  • Be careful if you have food allergies or sensitivities. The ingredients might not be the same as the products you are used to. If you aren’t sure, check with a local person or stick to the brands you know are safe for you to eat.

Take Along Treats From Home

ways to save money while you travel

This tip ties in with the last one a little bit. If you are buying the local products because they are the best value, you may be missing out on certain things. Sometimes you just have a craving for a certain item from home that no local version can replace. For example, as an Englishman Lee really misses a proper cup of tea when he is travelling. In some countries it is hard to find the reliable brands of tea that will have the right taste, such as Twinings or Tetley. If he does find the tea bags, they have often been imported and cost much more.

So we carry tea bags with us in our backpacks wherever we go. That way, Lee is never without a “proper brew” and we don’t have to pay higher prices for them.

You could do this with any type of treat that you enjoy from home. For example, if you are an Aussie who loves vegemite, you’ll be discouraged when you find it at sky-high prices in the “Australian imports” section of the supermarket – so bring a jar from home.

Tips:

  • Make sure that you keep all food items in your checked baggage, seal them in a plastic bag in case they leak and declare any food to customs if necessary in the country you are visiting.
  • It’s not only comforting to travel with a food you enjoy from home, it also gives you the chance to share it with the people you meet so that they can try a little bit of your culture. Be willing to share your treats from home to teach others about your own country.
  • Be careful in hot climates with items that can melt such as chocolate or candy – or you can end up with a sticky mess inside your backpack.

Walk as Much as Possible

ways to save money while you travel

Walking is one of my favourite ways to explore a destination. It doesn’t cost you a thing to walk anywhere and you don’t have to worry about adhering to a transit schedule or getting ripped off by a taxi driver.

The money saving advantages aren’t the only reason I love walking. First of all, it’s great exercise. It’s the perfect way to balance out the calories all of the delicious local food you will be indulging in on your travels. It’s one of the healthiest and more enjoyable ways to save money while you travel. 

Secondly, it’s a great way to really experience your destination close up. When you walk you move through the streets slowly, getting a real sense for the local atmosphere. Lee and I love to set off wandering, walking and talking for hours and seeing where we end up. In New Orleans we turned a corner to find a brass band marching through the streets of the French Quarter. Having no plans, we followed it until it lead us to a jazz festival in Louis Armstrong Park.

On another day of wandering through Rome, we stumbled upon an elaborate changing of the guard ceremony at a beautiful old fortress.

Tips:

  • Get a local SIM card so that you can use Google Maps to find your way.
  • Do some research online first to find out if there are any dangerous neighbourhoods you should avoid.
  • Take a bottle of water with you to stay hydrated, especially in hot climates.
  • Wear sturdy trainers – not flip flops – so that you don’t cause yourself painful blisters.
  • Keep your valuables such as wallet and phone close to your body, not in your back pocket.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination, so that you can stop if you see something interesting along the way.

Sign Up for a House Sitting Website

ways to save money while you travel

Lee and I spent 10 days staying in a gorgeous house in Sydney, Australia with a swimming pool, billiards table, huge jacuzzi bathtub and big screen TV. It didn’t cost us a thing – all we had to do was make sure that the two dogs that lived there were fed and cared for (which is not a problem, as we love dogs).

We found the gig on a website called Trusted Housesitters. Homeowners post their listings seeking someone to take care of their pets and their home when they are on vacation. If you find a housesitting gig that fits with your travel plans, it can be one of the most amazing ways to save money while you travel. It’s a win win situation really – you get free accommodation and the homeowner gets peace of mind knowing that their home is safe and their pets are being looked after.

Some of the housesitting websites cost a fee to sign up for, but Lee and I figured that if we got even just one opportunity to house sit in expensive Australia the cost would be justified. Plus, we love animals and we aren’t able to have a pet due to our nomadic lifestyle, so the chance to spend a few days with dogs or cats is a bonus for us.

Tips:

  • If you have someone who can write you a reference on the website, such as an old landlord, housemate or someone else you have housesit for, this will be very valuable. Having a reference to say that you are responsible will make it more likely that you will get more housesitting gigs.
  • It helps to be flexible with your travel dates. If you can, you will probably have more opportunities for housesitting.
  • It goes without saying, but make sure that you return the house in the same condition as it was when you arrived. If you have the time to do some cleaning and return it in better condition than it was when you arrived, the hosts will be thrilled.
  • It’s also a nice gesture to make sure that your hosts have some fresh food in the kitchen when they return home, such as some milk, bread and other essentials. This means that when they come home after a long trip they will not need to head to the shop right away if they are hungry or want a cup of tea.
  • Ask your hosts to write down any specifications such as which food to feed the pets, how much they should be fed each day and whether there are any other guidelines (dogs aren’t allowed on the couch, don’t let the cats outside at night, etc.). When you have it written down there will be no confusion and it’s harder to forget.

Buying a Vehicle? Be In The Right Place at the Right Time

ways to save money while you travel

A great way to travel is to buy a cheap used vehicle when you arrive at your destination and use it to drive around, then sell it when you finish your trip. It gives you ultimate freedom and allows you to explore at your own pace, as well as allowing you to go to more locations that are further off the beaten track. This is especially helpful when you are travelling across countries such as the USA, Canada or Australia where there are vast distances between each of the cities.

If you want to get the best deal when you are purchasing your vehicle, head to the place where most people finish their journey and fly out from. Most of the time, people have a plan to sell their vehicle after road tripping, but they leave selling it to the last minute. All of a sudden, they have to leave in a few days and they need to get rid of this car, so they are open to taking lowball offers just to get rid of it. If you find someone who is in this situation you will be able to negotiate a lower price.

Tips:

  • Make sure that you have the car fully checked by a mechanic before you purchase, to make sure that you aren’t buying a problematic vehicle that will cost you more in the long run when it starts breaking down.
  • Sometimes you can buy a car with a service, such as Travellers Auto Barn in Australia, which will offer a guaranteed buyback. This will take the pressure off at the end of your trip and you won’t have to worry about selling your vehicle.
  • It is a good idea to buy third party property damage insurance, which will cover you against any damages that your car might cause to the property of other people. This will cover you if you are ever in an accident and you damage the other vehicle.
  • Make sure that you are allowed to drive in that country. In many countries you will need an international driver’s license while sometimes you will simply need your valid licence from your country of residence.

Make the Most of the Deli

ways to save money while you travel
The best deli salad bar I have ever seen – Siam Paragon, Bangkok.

If you are cooking meals in your hostel, Airbnb or housesitting location for only one or two people, the deli counter is your friend. You can buy exactly the quantity that you need, so that you don’t have to spend more if you don’t want to. If you are making breakfast, you can buy just enough bacon rather than having to buy a full pack of bacon and have too much left over.

Most deli counters have a great selection of meats including minced beef, shaved ham, chicken and more. They will also have potato salads, pasta salads and other side dishes such as rice and quinoa. If you are only making dinner for one or two people sometimes buying a container of pasta salad at the deli is cheaper than buying all of the ingredients and making the pasta salad yourself. Plus, you won’t have to waste all of the leftover ingredients if you have to leave the next day.

Tips:

  • Take a look at which items are on sale that week and take advantage of the deals.
  • Watch out for the high priced items that might tempt you, such as the dips, chips, condiments and fancy olives.
  • Seek out the supermarket flyer and see if there are coupons for any particular meats or deli items.
  • If you are taking a long bus or train ride, getting some cold cuts from the deli and a loaf of bread means that you can bring sandwiches with you – rather than having to eat expensive and unhealthy food from the convenience stores and roadside stops.

Take a Minute to Understand the Local Transport System

ways to save money while you travel

In Bangkok you can get from the main backpacker area Khao San Road to MBK, the mega shopping mall, via metered taxi for about 80 baht (depending on the traffic). That’s about 2.25 USD, so that seems very cheap – especially compared to the inflated prices quoted by the tuk tuk drivers.

However, there is a local bus that will take you right there in almost the same amount of time. It’s cost? 8 baht. That’s 25 cents US. You could take the bus 10 times for the same cost of taking a taxi once. The bus isn’t difficult to catch or dangerous to ride – it’s a little rough around the edges (like a lot of things in Bangkok) but it is safe and reliable. Bangkok’s public transport system can be searched on Google Maps and you can plan out your route and see bus times on your smartphone.

This is true for nearly every city around the world – if you take the time to figure out the public transport system it will be the cheapest option for getting around. Sometimes you will need to buy a prepay card, such as the Oyster Card for the London Underground or the Opal Card for the Sydney, Australia train and bus network.

Other times you will need to pay in cash as you board the bus, which means that you will need exact change. In some less developed countries, you’ll be handing over a fistful of coins to the driver of a old rickety bus. In Nicaragua the transport system consisted of old American school buses painted in bright colours. In the Philippines they were “jeepneys” which are jeeps decorated with kitschy embellishments and flashing lights with bench seating in the back.

Every system is different, but if you take the time to figure out the system when you first arrive you can use it throughout your stay and save lots on getting around. Plus, riding the local transport can be a bit of an adventure and can really give you a glimpse into what day to day life is like in your destination.

Tips:

  • Many public transport systems will offer day passes and week passes at a set rate. If you plan on taking numerous buses and trains as you go exploring at your destination, this can often work out cheaper than paying for each ride separately – so it’s worth looking into.
  • In some locations the public transport system will have an app you can download that will help you to track bus and train times. Some of the largest cities, such as New York, will have several.
  • Or, you could download a public transport route planning app such as Moovit, which works in over 1200 cities around the world.
  • Pickpockets often work on buses and trains because people are crammed together and distracted. Be aware of your belongings and keep them in your front pockets, rather than your back pockets.
  • Pay attention while on the bus or train, if you aren’t watching carefully you can miss your stop and find yourself in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. Also, if you are distracted or fall asleep you are more likely to have your belongings stolen.
  • Use Google Maps on your phone to figure out if you are getting close to your stop, so that you know when to get off. You can also ask the bus driver to let you know when you have reached your destination.
  • Be considerate and share the space with other people. If you have a backpack, place it on your lap rather than taking up the seat next to you. If an elderly person or pregnant woman gets on the bus or train, offer them your seat. When traveling with lots of luggage, try to keep it tucked away and avoid blocking the aisles of the train or bus.

Use Groupon to Your Advantage

find local things to do
You can often find great deals on food, activities and more on Groupon.

Here’s another fun way to save money – down the Groupon app and see what kind of fun activities and attractions are available at a discounted price. Groupon is an app and a website that offers discounts and deals and it is available in more than 500 cities in 28 countries around the world.

For example, Lee and I have found Groupon deals for a $45 voucher at a pizza restaurant for only $20. We went on the Brisbane Wheel in Australia for only $11 each when the normal price was $20 each. We’ve enjoyed great discounts on meals in restaurants, tourist attractions and much more. We even found a Groupon that gave us $25 of Uber credit for $3.

It’s absolutely worth taking a look on Groupon when you arrive at your destination to see if there are any discounts you can use on your stay.

Tips:

  • Download the mobile app so that you can view the map and see Groupon deals that are closest to your location.
  • When you are choosing a coupon, don’t forget to factor in the other costs. For example, will you need to pay for transport to the location? Will you need to rent special equipment for the activity?
  • If you refer a friend to Groupon, you can earn $10 in credit that you can use towards a Groupon purchase.
  • Make sure that you read the fine print before purchasing a deal – just to make sure that it is available for your dates and there aren’t any special conditions that will mean that the deal doesn’t work for you. (for example, you can only use the coupon on a weekday but you are only in that destination over the weekend.)
  • The more you complete your profile, tweet deals, like posts and interact with the app the more Groupon will learn what you are interested in. Then, it will show you more targeted deals on the things you like.

Learn How to Cut Your Own Hair

ways to save money while you travel
My hair when I cut it myself – it doesn’t look so bad!

This is more of a tip for females, because for some reason it costs a fortune just to have a stylist cut your hair in most countries around the world. Guys can usually get a cheap haircut at a barber, or can travel with a buzz cut and an electric shaver.

When you have longer hair, things get a bit more complicated. One day, I got sick of having to pay $60-$70 for a stylist to cut my hair when all I wanted was the ends to be trimmed and cleaned up. I figured that a simple trim couldn’t be too difficult and that I could learn how to do it myself via Youtube videos.

All I needed was a new pair of sharp scissors and a way of measuring my hair lengths so that I could cut in a straight line neatly across the ends. There are several ways to do this, but I used one technique in which I put my hair on top of my head in a ponytail, stretched out the ends, measured with my fingertips and snipped across. When I took out the ponytail and shook my hair out, I had a sink full of hair clippings and a fresh head of neatly trimmed hair.

I was worried that I might screw it up, but it looked completely fine. Now, I wouldn’t recommend this is you have a highly sculpted short hair cut, or if you have hair that is a complicated texture. However, if you have straight or slightly wavy hair and you wear it in a basic long style, it’s totally doable to learn how to trim the ends on your own.

You can get your hair cut by a professional maybe once every 6 months to a year, just to maintain the right shape. Then, you can simply use their cut as a guideline to trim your own ends for the rest of the time. You’ll save lots of money that you can spend on travel instead.

Tips:

  • Make sure that you are using a new pair of sharp scissors, not an old dull pair. The dull scissors will not give you a clean cut across the ends of your hair and can cause split ends.
  • Watch a few different Youtube videos and read a few tutorials until you find one that fits with your length and style of hair.
  • If you get really good at cutting your own hair, you can offer your services to other travellers at the hostel for a good price and make a little bit of money.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try Street Food

ways to save money while you travel

I love street food, for me it is one of the delights of travelling. I love to taste the local flavours wherever I go, such as fresh noodles fried up by a smiling toothless Thai woman or arepas grilled over coals on a street in Medellin, Colombia. The best part about enjoying street food in many places around the world is that it is often the cheapest food available. You can usually feast on a full meal from a street cart for only a few dollars, making it a fantastic option when you are travelling on a budget.

However, many people are hesitant to try street food, because they are nervous about getting sick. It is a myth that eating street food puts you at more risk for food poisoning than eating in a restaurant. Food poisoning happens when food is handled in an unsanitary way or it is left unrefrigerated, which can happen in a restaurant kitchen just as easily as at a street cart.

At least when you are dining from a street cart you can see behind the scenes and watch as your food is prepared. If the food is cooked hot and fresh in front of your eyes and immediately handed to you, you’re fine. If it has been sitting out for who knows how long, you should avoid it. Be selective and smart when dining on the street and you will be able to enjoy a very delicious and cheap meal.

Tips:

  • Look for the stalls that are busy and have a lot of locals eating there. This is a good indicator of quality and a busy stall means that the food won’t be sitting out for a long time.
  • Be wary if someone is touching money with the same hand that they use to prepare the food with. There should be someone in charge of cash and someone else in charge of cooking.
  • Only eat fruit that you can peel – such as banana, mango, rambutan, etc. Avoid fruit with a skin that you eat such as strawberries or apple.
  • Eat during the local mealtimes, as that is when you will find the street food is ready and fresh. If you arrive at the stall later you might find it has been sitting out and has had a chance to grow bacteria.
  • Watch out for smoothies or drinks in places where the water isn’t safe to drink, as it’s hard to know if the ice is made with filtered water or not.
  • Watch out for the sauces, as they can be sitting on the table for a long time unrefrigerated. Watch the other local diners and see if they are putting lots of sauce on their food, which means that the sauce dishes will need to be refilled regularly.

These are 25 ways to save money while you travel – all tips that Lee and I actually use. Have your own frugal travel tips to share? Let us know in the comments!

About Kelly Dunning

A Canadian freelance writer with a love of art, culture, literature and adventure, Kelly loves exploring foreign lands and expressing her experiences through the power of the written word.

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