16 Ways to Actually Save Money While Traveling
Traveling long-term is not at all like traveling for a short trip or a weekend break. For a short trip, you pack in the sights, save sleeping for later, try all the foods and drinks and maybe even stay in a special-occasion type of accommodation. When you travel for longer, the novelty of excess wears off as you try to stick to a manageable budget.
Our favorite ways to save money while still traveling for a long time involve a few different themes: do your research, make smart investments that pay off long-term and skip the excessive parts of travel in order to still have fun and make memories.
Cook more and eat out less.
There, we said it - stop eating in restaurants (all the time!). If you travel for longer than a three or four-day getaway, you notice how eating in restaurants adds up very quickly. There’s tax, tip (most places), the drink from the ‘Drinks’ section that looks good, the add-in of an appetizer or a side (or three) and a little bit of dessert.
Unless you’re in Sri Lanka, where eating out for two runs you 6 USD (all following prices are listed in USD) or so (with tea and smoothies), chances are that eating out in most of the world is more expensive than cooking your own food. For this reason, when traveling long-term, Dan and I choose to cook with fun local ingredients we find in markets and in supermarkets. In fact, one of the first things we do when we get to a new city is to locate the nearest supermarket, and ‘star’ it in our Google Maps.
In Peru, we cooked with Peruvian chili peppers, in Colombia we cooked with arepas and in Mexico, we made everything into a taco (a package of 10-12 corn tortillas is about $1 at most corner stores). If you’re traveling full-time or for an extended period of time, it’s a great idea to learn to cook some easy dishes, because eating out can get old, fast.
Travel in the off-season (AKA never around Christmas).
Have you heard the term ‘high season’? It’s a real thing!
Some places become more expensive during Christmas and New Year’s, during summer (relative to the hemisphere!) and during spring breaks (depends on local university schedules). If you avoid these times of year, you’ll find hotels that want to fill up their properties, tours that may discount prices in order to draw visitors in the off-season and lower flight prices.
Compare the flight costs in low season
As a quick example, Dan and I compared the cost of flying from Mexico City to New York on January 1 and on January 15. On January 1, a one-way from MEX to NYC is $577, and on January 15, the price goes down to $164, one-way. To save $413, you can schedule your trip two weeks later (when schedules permit).
An interesting way to think about this is, Will the cost of staying another X days in the city will outweigh the costs of a more expensive flight, sooner?
To date, I’ve also taken two trips to Colombia in February, which is a rarer time of year to travel, relatively-speaking. My flights were rarely more than $350, round-trip.
Enjoy fewer lines and fewer crowds in low season
During our trip to Myanmar (Burma), we realized that our hostel seemed empty, despite its popular rating on Hostelworld. It dawned on us that it was because we were traveling in shoulder season, and had we visited even a month later, everywhere would have been busier.
Minimize buying drinks at bars.
If the cost of food wasn’t enough when traveling long term, the cost of alcohol has to be added on top. If you consider that in some of the world, beer costs $0.25 (Vietnam), but in some places, $10 (San Francisco, CA), there are some very varied costs in consuming alcohol in different parts of the world.
No matter where you go, alcohol is not something required for your body. Although some people travel for beer, or travel for cocktails or wine, or consider alcohol as a way to explore a place, if you consume alcohol every day, it can become a hefty portion of your daily travel costs.
There are ways to avoid paying per-drink at bars, however - if you’re staying at a hostel and there’s a common space, backyard or rooftop, you can bring back a six-pack or bottle of wine (if rules allow it). In some countries, drinking in parks is allowed (Spain has this type of culture, for example), and you can purchase your wine or beer at a corner store or supermarket and enjoy it in the outdoors.
Save money by staying in hostels.
Why should you stay in hostels? First, it’s appropriate to point out that hostels aren’t ‘always cheap.’ In fact, in the Netherlands and Ireland, we chose to stay in Airbnbs because hostel privates cost upwards of $100 per night.
Hostels are a memorable experience
For the most part, Dan and I have traveled in many parts of the world and have stayed in awesome hostels that have been both affordable and memorable. Why do we love hostels? Hostels are a place to make connections, to meet people, to have access to helpful staff, to take part in group outings and to learn.
Hostels provide cultural experiences
Hostels are good for our budgets
For the most part, hostels have been a cost-effective way for us to travel for months on end. In Sri Lanka, we stayed in hostel privates for $40 per night, and in Guatape, Colombia, that figure was sometimes as low as $15 for the two of us.
Travel in places where your home currency takes you farther.
There’s a very important website I like called Price of Travel and I’ve used it a lot to compare the cost of travel in various places. Sometimes this can be very plain and simple, but sometimes it’s not as clear.
Travel on less than $40 per day
As a starter example, when I traveled with a friend in Nicaragua, I calculated that I spent $275 (including some gifts to take home) in eight days (not including my $500 round-trip flight from NYC to Managua). The reason I was able to average $39.29 per day was due to a few reasons.
First, my friend Joe and I would only take public transit like Central American buses between cities. We both were in vegetarian-vegan phases at the time, and saved money by eating only vegetarian meals that mostly consisted of beans, rice, avocados and fruit. We stayed in hostel dorms that usually cost us between $6 and $10 per night per person.
Most expensive places to travel
In comparison, I’ve been to Singapore, which clocks in as the most expensive place I’ve ever been. My cost of travel in Singapore averaged closer to $100 per day, even with staying at an American friend’s apartment.
In Singapore, street food meals cost close to $20, beers in a convenience store were $7, a taxi from the bar district to my friend’s apartment was $40 and other daily expenses like snacks, coffee and taking the metro added up fast.
Research the price of travel and the trends
Figuring out the average price of travel in world cities helps us determine what we’d like to do in order to travel longer and better.
Sometimes it’s committing to cook all of our meals or cutting out drinking in bars in order to compensate for costs like rental cars, taxis we’ll need to take or costs incurred in visiting the must-see attractions of a destination.
Cut out shopping and take photos instead.
If you want to stop spending money when you travel, stop buying things. I used to buy something every time I traveled. I considered my souvenirs as a collection of the places I’d been. I used to buy a tank top for every Southeast Asian and Central American country in which I backpacked.
Is it worth collecting souvenirs?
The truth is, now I have these eight or so tank tops sitting in a box collecting dust. For the ones I like, I wear them as pajamas. I would also buy things to take home to my family - shot glasses for my sisters, local snacks (wrapped and non-perishable) for my mom and always a bag of coffee, from Guatemala or Costa Rica, for my dad.
Should you buy gifts for family when you travel?
Since my days of buying things for people, I’ve found that the shot glasses I got for my sisters collect dust and are left unused, my mom wound up forgetting about the dulce de leche I got her from Colombia and I found it some months later in the back of the fridge, and my dad has more coffee than he can consume.
How to stop buying stuff when you travel
So, I stopped buying things both for myself and for others. I consider that my photos say it all. Instead of ‘investing’ in souvenirs for yourself and others, invest in a trusty camera and camera gear that will help you remember your travels even when souvenirs get lost or broken.
Photos don’t weigh down your luggage, and they definitely don’t spoil, rot, collect dust or break. Above all, once you stop shopping, you’ll notice how much money you can save.
Check out our favorite travel cameras!Travel Camera Ideas
Find things to do for free when you travel
All over the world, it is possible to find things to do for free. If you’re not interested in walking for miles to see a city and its parks or buildings, you can seek out ways to enjoy nature and the arts.
In Rotterdam, which is a fairly expensive place to travel in terms of the cost of accommodation and food, we appreciated famous architecture for two days, all without paying a Euro.
In Tenerife, we hiked Teide National Park for free on its trails that are available when you get off the public bus. The visitors center is free as well.
In Ireland, we entered natural and historic sites like Glendalough for 0 EUR, and enjoyed priceless views and the feeling of being in ancient medieval ruins. All these cool things we did cost us nothing and were just as memorable as lots of things we’ve done that cost us entrance fees.
Walk and take public transit when you travel.
We love walking, and we also focus on our daily step count. As our friends Alex and Ryan would say, “Keep moving!”
If it comes down to having some time in which we can walk rather than taking a taxi, we’ll do that! If we can’t walk, meaning if distances are too big, we first consider mass transit. Mass transit is more environmentally-friendly and usually saves money (especially if traveling solo).
In Europe, the train and bus systems are very impressive and efficient most of the time, and in Amsterdam, we immediately looked for the public train that would take us from Schipol Airport to the city center. From there, we used Google Maps to find the correct tram to the Lloyd Hotel and the ticket-taker advised us to buy a multi-day tram pass that wound up being very efficient for our purposes in Amsterdam.
Overall, walking and figuring out the bus, subway or train routes helps us to avoid hefty prices on taxi travel.
Minimize attractions with entrance fees or cover charges.
All over the world, there are attractions that cost money. In no way am I telling you not to go to incredible wonders of the world like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona or the Forbidden City in Beijing (both of which require paid tickets acquired beforehand for entrance), but it’s important to realize that most of enjoying a place does not require spending heaps of money.
For our days spent in Barcelona, Spain, when we did not go to the Sagrada Familia or Parque Guell (also requires a ticket purchased in advance), we walked six or seven miles, getting to know the city, its neighborhoods, its many parks and cafes. This kind of enjoyment is free (or costs very little, depending on what you eat or drink).
When I went to Singapore in 2012, I saved money by staying with a friend, but blew my budget by going to Singapore’s most famous bars and clubs, which charged cover fees of $25.00 each night of the weekend. This accounted for a chunk of my daily travel spend!
Stick to a travel budget
If you are able to do research in advance, you can stick to your budget by trying alternatives that do not charge cover fees to enter.
Get connected to some locals.
Anywhere you go, locals know what’s up. If I have visitors in NYC, they’re thankful that I can take them to the non-touristy neighborhoods they never would have found otherwise, or take them for local activities like picnics with my friends, which cost tons less than a tour or an activity that costs a lot of money.
Dan and I love meeting locals and meeting up with local friends of friends when we travel. In Buenos Aires, it was my friend Ayelen who took us on a double-date with her boyfriend to their favorite place for steak and wine. We sat on the street and commented that if not for them, we never would have found such a local experience.
When I started planning my trip to Nicaragua, my parents found out that a friend of theirs had a good friend who owned a coffee plantation in Esteli. They put me in touch, and I wound up with an airport pickup from their driver and a private stay on a coffee plantation for my first night when I flew in by myself!
For anywhere you go, reach out to your network. You never know who you may find - an old friend from years back, a relative you’ve never met before or a friend of the family.
Tip: Post on your social media channels about where you’re headed, and ask around and talk about your trip to determine if any friends or family members have connections there.
The most meaningful experiences are the ones that happen with other people!
Drink the tap water (if it’s safe).
It’s incredible to realize the difference between a trip on which you can drink the local tap water and one on which you can’t. When you can’t safely drink the water, there’s so much more to think about, like running out of water, or how much water to buy or how much water can you physically carry back to where you’re staying.
In Europe and Israel you can safely drink the water that comes out of the tap, no matter what. After traveling in Asia and Central America for five years, this came as a pleasant type of culture shock to me! I love water and staying hydrated, so water availability is a big factor in my travel.
Is it OK to boil tap water?
When living in Shanghai, I would boil the water that came out of my sink in order to make it drinkable. In all honesty, this was a fine scenario because most of the winter months, my apartment was so cold that I wanted to warm up with hot water! I would add tea, lemon and ginger to make it taste better.
Some places are a pleasant oasis for drinkable water, namely Medellin and Bogota, Colombia, where you can safely drink tap water and it even tastes pretty okay. In these places, it’s smart to pack a reusable water bottle in your luggage in order to minimize plastic.
Buy local brands and locally-grown produce as snacks.
What’s better than trying new foods? Nothing! We love trying the ‘local stuff’ when we travel, whether it’s local tamarind candy from Mexican drugstores (only $0.30!) or dried coconut sweets in Colombia (roughly the same price tag, at $0.31 for one!).
When I lived in Shanghai, I shopped local - Asian pears, chestnuts roasted on the street, eggs from the supermarket and of course, rice and tofu. My friends who ‘required’ imported American goods from home at the expat grocery stores would fork over lots of money to have a taste of what they missed from home like specialty flavor M&Ms and American cereal (nearly $7.00 for a small box).
In Estonia, Dan and I asked the hostel owner of Euphoria Hostel which types of foods were native to Estonia and therefore would make for affordable purchases in the supermarkets.
We found out that products like potatoes, dill, apples, pickles, carrots and beets were the in-season foods that we could buy in order to shop local and lessen our carbon footprint. We ate pan-fried potatoes with dill countless numbers of times in the following weeks, with no regrets!
*Tip: When you land in a new place, ask a local - your taxi driver, a local or any other connections you can make - for what’s locally-grown.** You may be in for some great surprises.
Do your research in order to save money and avoid fines.
This one’s funny, but true - if you are aware of the rules in a new place, you will save money by following them. Whether it’s about open-container laws or driving regulations on the highway, asking locals or researching online can pay off.
When Dan and I were in Argentina, we rented a car and started a road trip through the Cordoba Sierra region. The company that rented us the car had warned us to always use the daytime lights, at all times. Seems easy, right?
We stopped the car along the highway to take some photos of the mountainous views, and when we got back into the car, we forgot to turn the daytime lights back on. Within fifteen minutes, we got stopped at a toll plaza and were issued a ticket, which we tried to fight, but we were unsuccessful.
An hour later, while closer to our destination, we stopped the car again for a break. When we got back in, we forgot to turn on the daytime lights. Would you believe it? We somehow got stopped again and were issued a second ticket for the same offense by a police officer.
It pays to keep the rules in mind! We spent our final day in Cordoba running around the city looking for the office at which to pay the fines. You could say we learned a lot about the rules in Argentina for highway driving!
Use a credit card when possible.
Whenever we can, we use credit when we travel in order to get the best rate of the day and to also build points and miles. Our favorite credit card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees, so we save on fees this way.
We typically like using credit as much as we can while we’re away. We’ve found that we get the best conversion rates and don’t need to take out too much cash if we’re using credit often.
Get Priority Pass to save on airport lounges.
Are you sick of getting to an airport and having to pay and arm and a leg for even a water bottle? Another way to make travel more comfortable and save when you’re in airports is to get Priority Pass. This is a great feature of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and probably the benefit that we love most!
Around the world, we’ve eaten buffet brunches in Hong Kong airport, taken naps in nap rooms in the Lisbon airport and had snacks on a deck of an airport in the Canary Islands all with our Priority Pass membership. If you’re not ready for a new credit card, you can apply directly for Priority Pass in order to get a membership to airline lounges around the world and never have to buy overpriced airport food or WiFi again.
We love Priority Pass!
Priority Pass is a must-have for long airport visits.Learn more about Priority Pass
Find creative ways to work and travel.
Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. Have you considered working while traveling in order to make some money to pay for your expenses? You find some types of remote work to work on while you’re away, by checking [these remote work tips for travelers].
If you are a professional looking for freelance work, Flexjobs can work out nicely for finding remote work and part-time opportunities. What we also really like is traveling with a group and getting everything under the Remote Year platform like coworking membership, housing and flights onward, all for a flat fee.