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How do nomadic, round-the-world trip and budget travelers make their dollar stretch when they don’t have a daily 9-5 job to replenish their spending? Well, there are ways to travel for cheap!
Money is the best known killer of travel dreams. While travel influencers and Instagrammers make a travel lifestyle appear glamorously easy, we all know traveling is not a cheap hobby. Traveling is a privilege that has to be afforded.
Table of Contents: 46 Ways to Travel MORE for CHEAP | Budget travel tips for Solo Travelers
- 1 46 Ways to Travel for Cheap
- 2 Budget travel tips on Food & Eating
- 3 Budget Travel Tips for Activities & Trip Partners
- 4 Budget travel tips for Shopping
How I afford travel?
Readers and viewers want to know how I afford traveling too. In order to create my videos and blog, I have to find countless ways to afford my travels. Sadly, there is no magic wand aside from hard work. Boooo… I know, you didn’t want to hear that, right? If I’m not in an office making an hourly wage, I’m freelancing in video production, job hunting, and I’m on my blog working long hours at creating content and converting statistics or pitching business opportunities. I’m in it with you! But over time, managing a tight travel budget and schedule, I’ve learned budget travel hacks to make my dollar stretch and I’m happy to share those with you.
Saving money on your travels
Unless you’ve socked your life savings away or have a regular 9-to-5 job that allows you a short spurts of a vacation, many of us are looking for ways to make our dollar stretch when we travel.
46 Ways to Travel for Cheap
Adjust your Budget Trip Mentality
1. Each splurge, cut back on something else.
When you splurge on one thing, like an upgraded hotel experience or an extra attraction, tighten your belt on something else. Some things I tighten my belt on are: food, souvenirs, bars and posh restaurants, or a pricy attraction!
2. Choose less expensive destinations
Choose less expensive destinations, where I you can travel longer with less money. A lot of people think travel is expensive. It doesn’t have to be- a large part of what determines your budget is your choice of destination. Sure Europe is sexy! But a one week trip to Europe can equal two months of travel in Southeast Asia or Central America.
3. Keep a daily budget.
Holding a daily budget makes you accountable for everything gives you an idea of where to cut back. I jot my daily expenditures in a notebook ; for longer journeys, I create an Excel spreadsheet.
4. Keep a daily allowance.
A daily allowance keeps you from spending. If I give myself a $20/day budget ( I put that money in my wallet and leave the rest in the hotel) then I’m more cautious of where I spend my money. Once I hit my daily limit, the spending has to end.
5. Vacation mentality or slow travel mentality
Vacationers with limited time are often seeking convenient tourist options; they may burn through their money quicker. Slow travel has the ability to choose cheaper and more local options.
Budget travel tips on Transportation
Cheaping on transportation without losing out on a quality experience is one of my expert skills, so I’m fleshing this out a little more. Many cities have their own Insider budget hacks. They exist but it’s up to you to research and find them, like a good coupon.
6. Research the ride share app of the country you’re traveling.
These days, more and more travelers and locals are turning to rideshare apps over taxis, where you can hail a ride-on-the-fly, see your prices and route in realtime, avoid dealing with cash and taxi scams. If you’re traveling the United States or western countries, Uber is the popular rideshare app to download. However, some countries have different rideshare apps and may also cover driver hires and tuk-tuks, so best do your research before traveling.
Grab app is great in the Philippines and Thailand too. In Sri Lanka, they have tuk tuk ride share apps- Uber and Pickme are popular. India uses Ola Cabs. Italy, I used Uber, I believe.
7. Use public transit like the bus or metro.
Tip: Check to see if the public transit offers daily or package tourist packages! Cities like Seoul, Tokyo, Fukuoka, New York, Bangkok, Shanghai… offer tourist metro/bus pass packages with unlimited rides and even discounts. Living in Korea, I enjoyed hop-on/hop-off city bus tours for under $10. Other places offer discounted rides for those who purchase a reloadable transit pass, such as Istanbul and Hong Kong.
8. Walk and burn calories.
Walk walk walk… you know those food videos I film? This is how I burn those sinful calories off! What is my no pain motivation? Exploring on foot allows me to travel deeper, photo hunt and film my YouTube videos!
9. Travel slow.
Take local vs express routes, long-distance buses vs. bullet trains. In Japan, a JRailpass offers discount packages for express train travel, but you can go even cheaper by taking local metro. Of course, the local route makes stops at every station along the way. In Korea, I used to make weekend trips to Seoul from Daegu, but the Korail was a $75 OW trip which took anywhere from 2-4 hours in transit. $150 RT is almost the cost of a domestic flight. Instead, I often opted for the 4 hour express bus at $24 OW. Before you discount the quality of a Korean bus, it sometimes had satellite TV and it looks like the bus on the Gangnam Style music video. That’s a savings plus an adventure.
10. Travel overnight
Overnight trains and buses are literally a bed-on-wheels. Warning: It’s not always a comfortable bed on wheels, unless you can sleep sitting up or rocking, but it will save you a day in sightseeing and the extra cost of a hotel. Check out some of the overnight travel experiences I’ve had : India, Thailand, (okay, not) Laos, Myanmar, Turkey
11. Travel overland
Overland travel is when you take ground transportation via railway, ferry or long-distance buses across the border of a country. It is a form of slow travel and not best for those who have a short span of days in a place, but it is significantly cheaper than the cost of a flight. One of my fave resource websites for overland travel is Man in Seat 61 (www.seat61.com).
Read/Watch my most epic solo travel day in India for inspiration, where I turn a long trip of multiple connections into an adventure.
Budget trip hacking flights and layovers
12. Only take flights when you really need to
If you travel everywhere by air travel, your expenses will quickly rack up. If you are traveling multiple cities like in say, Southeast Asia or Italy, then flying to get to each city will save you time but is not the economical approach. As I mentioned in tip #11, if you have the time and you enjoy slow travel, then overland travel is generally cheaper than air travel. Smaller countries like Italy or Korea, you can take easily take a train to move between cities in under six hours. I based myself in Florence but traveled to Cinque Terre for a day trip as it was under three hours away.
13. Pack carry-on luggage size
We all know the cost of baggage fees can get high, with most starting at $50 for the first bag. These days, I pack carry on luggage size. Not only am I shaving $100 off my roundtrip ticket, but I’m saving myself additional stress about the airlines losing or damaging my bag. Nevertheless, minimalist travel is key for solo travelers, who have to carry their own luggage and gear. The advantage to carry on luggage is more than just avoiding fees.
14. Utilize layovers as an extra trip.
I’m a huge fan of milking the time I’ve got.. everywhere, including airports and layover destinations. Did you know Turkish Airlines offers free transit hotel stays to passengers with 7-10 hour layovers? China offers 72 hour visa free transits and a day’s layover get you a free sightseeing day in Shanghai or Beijing. Know your airlines and choose wisely!
Budget Travel Tips for Cheap Accommodations
Hotels and accommodations will be an expense that is hard to get around and are second to air travel. But there are decisions you can make in your traveling and hotel resources to look for when booking your hotel. These things can either add to your investment in a place or help you skirt around additional expense.
15. Book a hotel with an airport pickup service.
Book a hotel which offers free airport pickup service. This saves: time finding your hotel, unnecessary stress in getting lost and money hiring a taxi or using transportation.
16. Spend the night in an airport.
Sleeping in airports ain’t so bad. Some airports are notoriously known for their state of art luxury and make great layover haunts. Flying Korean Airlines and landing in Incheon Airport’s Terminal 2, they offer free showers (yes, FREE!), wifi, have a sleeping room of recliner beds and 7 Eleven is a stone’s throw. See my video below My favorite website for researching airport facilities is Sleepinginairports.com
Watch my tour of Incheon Airport at the 04:00 minute mark
17. Learn to sleep anywhere you are.
Learn to sleep anywhere. I know some folks are light sleepers, but if you can relax into any space, sleeping on a bus, airport or even a chair won’t bother you. One of my superhero travel talents… I can even sleep standing up!
18. Hostels & guesthouses
The best budget accommodations are hostels and guesthouses. Hostels offer dorm accommodations where you are sharing a room with other travelers. Hostels can offer single rooms too, although the prices may not be as low as guesthouses. Guesthouses are secondary housing which offer convenient and affordable stays. Usually they can originate out of a home but are not a homestay. Read: Hostel Tips for the Beginner
19. Airbnb: Get $40 off
Ever wonder what living local felt like in the city you’re traveling? Here’s my GRRRLTRAVELER referral code – you just got $40 off your first Airbnb booking.
Travel bloggers and long-term travelers I know have had good experiences with trustedhousesitters.com ($95 annual fee); mindmyhouse.com ($20 annual fee)
21. Don’t only look at “hotels”
I love hotels but sometimes, being a female solo traveler they feel generic and lonely. So I also love exploring unique budget accommodations , where I can have a local experience, while still feeling a part of the local community. I’m talking about doing a mental upgrade in accommodation experience and staying where locals have either slept historically or allow access to deeper local experiences and culture. I’ve stayed in homestays, overnight spas, cave hotels, manga cafes, temple stays, capsule hotels.
India: I stayed in a yoga ashram to yoga, OM and rest.
Korea: I love experiencing different jjimjilbangs. They cost under $10/night and provide sleeping clothes, toiletries and a locker storage.
Tokyo: I spent an entire trip exploring the capsule hotel variety.
Thailand: I scored a $5 bungalow in a rural village for caving adventures.
Nepal: I did a community homestay and learned Nepali cooking, local life and my money went back to the sustainability of the local community.
You gotta be creative.
22. Take the overnight train or bus
Back to Tip #10, traveling overnight saves you the expense of a hotel and a sightseeing day which might be lost to travel if you traveling during daylight hours.
23. Ask if your hotel has early check-in fees.
Some hotels allow early check-ins without fees. While this tip does not necessarily save you money- so to speak- the knowledge is a huge resource which can save time, stress and discomfort, when your travel schedule doesn’t line up well.
Piggybacking on Tip #22, some overnight buses and trains arrive into a city at early morning hours. It is inconvenient, it can feel unsafe for female solo travelers and I have never understood why there are such schedules, but if you arrive early you may find yourself feeling stuck at a closed local station. In smaller towns, it is worse– there may not even be a station but an outdoor bench!
Here’s my most uncomfortable arrivals: Bagan (I was uncertain about those weird morning taxis), Gokarna (I ended up wandering and sleeping on the beach), Kyoto (in winter, there is no heating in train stations).
Couchsurfing.com is a non-profit online meeting space where you can offer your couch to travelers passing through, whom need a place to stay.
Being a female solo traveler, I am always concerned about safety, so I have not used couchsurfing. However, I have met other female travelers who have had good experiences. Additionally, whenever I’ve been on it, I’ve noticed listings no longer want to offer a “crashpad” but selectively seek a good match in interests, a desire to hang out or teach them something. I totally get that you’re loaning your pad out to a stranger, but it’s gotten to feel like a friend-matchmaking service. You have to convince folks why you make a good guest; so it can feel like writing job cover letters for a couch.
Tip: Research hour host and their reviews first. Be prepared to write and pitch yourself.
Budget travel tips on Food & Eating
Grazing or light snacking is a great substitute for a heavy sitdown restaurant meal. It allows you to sample a variety of local flavors, keeps you sated throughout the day, is easier to burn in calories and is less expensive than a full meal at a restaurant.
26. Eat street food or at local restaurants
While I do not suggest avoiding hotel restaurants- some hotel restaurants and buffets can be quite good- I highly recommend hitting the streets for local fare. I’m very passionate about eating street food and finding local restaurants to experience authentic local living. Read: 11 Food Safety Tips to avoid getting sick
27. Use re-usable/refillable water bottles.
28. Take a water microfilter device
If you are a long term traveler of developing countries or an outdoors lover who loves trekking and camping, I highly recommend getting a SteriPEN (Read my review) or Lifestraw Go Water Bottle . Buying bottled water can certainly add up and in some countries it is not always 100% filtered!
29. Shop at local grocery stores
Shopping at grocery stores reduces the expense of eating at restaurants. Some hostels have shared kitchens where guests can store and cook their own meals. At hotels, you at least have a coffee maker where you can boil water to make noodles and soups. Tip: bring a spork and make your own meals.
30. Shop at local markets
Shop at local markets, you’ll find great deals on fresh fruits and local snacks, which you can easily pack with you for long haul trips on buses and trains.
Budget Travel Tips for Activities & Trip Partners
31. Groupon it.
Groupon probably doesn’t exist in every country but I’ve been surprised to find it exists outside the U.S., in a total of 28 countries! Save at spas, restaurants, gym memberships, even travel!
32. Share transportation
A great budget travel tip is to find other travelers to split costs with. I meet many solo travelers and secret budget travelers at train stations after the train arrives and it is time to hail a taxi into the city. Don’t be shy– find another solo traveler– if they are headed in the same direction as you (namely, the touristy part of town), they might want to share a taxi in.
33. Share accommodation expenses
Yes. Share accommodations with a stranger. Single travelers can avoid single supplement fees and get an upgraded semi-private room, by finding a trustworthy traveler to split costs with. It can beat staying in a hostel dorm.
I know what you’re thinking– it is unsafe. Yes, it is. Yet it unconsciously happens a lot, when you’re on the road and meeting travelers with similar itineraries as you. Often, I’ve met my next hotel roommate on the long-distance bus to the next city. I strike up a conversation on the bus, I get a good vibe and the traveler seems cool so I fish around to where they are staying, with the idea that they’ll give me a good hotel recommendation. One thing leads to another and sometimes, I end up with a roommate.
Tip: Be discerning, safe and smart about who you choose.
34. Choose budget minded travel partners
The friends you travel with can help or hurt your budget and this in return, can hurt your friendship. If you are a budget-minded traveler traveling with vacation-minded friends who do work hard and save their money for that annual splurge of comfort and luxury, this could drive your budget up. You will waste your trip getting upset for paying for what you feel are unnecessary upgrades.
As a westerner, I have friends who prefer to split bills at restaurants, even if the split is not wholly fair. Our social language is littered with phrases like “It’s only $20” to “ah, I don’t sweat the small stuff” when ponying up for an overly generous tip or added expense. Discrepancies like this will drive a budget traveler crazy.
Travel with someone as cheap as you. Read: Things that Make or Break Travel Partners
35. Avoid drinking and night clubbing
It is a fact that drinking and night clubbing burn holes in wallets quickly.
36. Book group tours locally
When researching things to do on your itinerary, book locally. Not only are you avoiding markup costs for a middle man company, but online bookings through travel agencies can sometimes state single supplement fees for solo travelers.
37. Free walking tours
Before booking an expensive day tour, see if there aren’t free walking tours first… yes, they exist! Free walking tours are usually a 2-3 hour city walking tour with a guide that is experienced in where you are walking. They are free because they are run by volunteers, who make their money through tips from pleased guests. It is still a steal from what you might otherwise pay for a “professional” city tour. Definitely leave a tip if you are happy with your experience!
Budget travel tips for Shopping
38. Learn how to negotiate costs when you travel.
Haggling or learning how to negotiate costs when you travel is a travel skill which makes a huge difference in certain countries. Most westerners feel uncomfortable and stressed about haggling for prices, because most are used to fixed prices with price tags up front. When you enter a store and do not see price tags, it is likely that prices are negotiable. From shop vendors to tour agencies, some cultures expect to negotiate costs and will purposely drive their prices up expecting that you will try your best to bargain with them for a better deal.
39. Save souvenir shopping for the end
By saving souvenir shopping for the end of your trip, you gauge and control your budget better. You can also see what you’ll be carrying in extra baggage or shipping fees.
40. Avoid shopping touristy areas
If you need to shop for anything from toiletries to souvenirs, avoid shopping in the main touristy areas. Instead, check out side street alleys or shop outside the popular touristed areas. The more local the area, the prices reduce dramatically to match local economies.
Work volunteer for free room and board through HelpX.net Work can range from working in cafes to hostels.
WWOOFing is Worldwide work on Organic Farms. This is for travelers who seek volunteer experiences where they can experience, live and work in a place for a longer term. For volunteer work, you get free bed and board. Check out the websites: WWOOF or WWOOF International
Storing luggage to explore a city
43. Left Luggage
Knowing your left luggage options help you drop your bags to sightsee a city when you’re still in transit. Research luggage storage facilities and left luggage services at a train station or airport. Some airports allow you to leave your bags and charge you at an hourly rate, package rate or by weight. Drop your bags in an airport or train station’s left luggage storage and roam off to explore a city during your layover.
44. Coin lockers
Train stations can have coin locker storage or left luggage storage for those who are passing through the city but want to do a little sightseeing.
44. Pack light
Being a female solo traveler, there are many essential reasons for packing light and traveling with hand luggage only (read my hand luggage review). One helpful and unpredictable reason is it gives me flexibility and mobility to store my luggage anywhere~ train lockers, left luggage, spa lockers, you name it.
45. Best Travel Insurance for Budget Travelers
Americans often have premium travel insurance. It’s nearly impossible to get the cheap rates other countries do. If you’re a backpacker, the best insurance I’ve found is World Nomads. They charge you based on your country, travel dates and destination and their coverage is full package from standard trip cancellations to theft and at risk activities.
46. For regular travelers, I get an annual insurance for $129 through Allianz Travel Insurance. The coverage is lighter than World Nomads but it covers a standard coverage and is great for business travelers.
What are your ways to travel for cheap? Leave your budget travel tips below so we can benefit from it.
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