For new travelers, finding ways to travel economically can be challenging. You type in “how to travel for cheap” on Google and you’ll get 1000 different results saying 1000 different things. Advertisers and tour companies will try to get you to believe that they give the best deals. That’s their job. As a smart backpacker, you have to find ways to travel for cheap without getting pulled into a scam. The truly cheap options are sometimes hidden unless you know where to look.
One of the very best ways to get the most of your money is to practice slow travel. When you allow more time and flexibility in your schedule, you will be opening up your options for cheaper travel at a local level. For example, say you are nearing the end of your vacation and are in Southern India. If you have a tight time budget, you’ll likely have to take an expensive flight to Delhi and get home.
On the other hand, if you have more time, you can take a series of trains, buses and other transport to get back leisurely, and perhaps stay with locals along the way. You’ll have the freedom to spend an afternoon enjoying tea with new friends or exploring a hole-in-the-wall museum
Saving money reaching your destination
First let’s start with what is likely the first part of your journey: flights and transportation. Finding ways to travel for cheap can be hard when flight or overland transport are way beyond your budget. Here are some money-saving ideas.
1. Choose cheap destinations. This is one of the easiest ways to save money, and there are so many interesting places out there to travel! Choose a country with a lower cost of living than yours, and you’ll automatically save loads on travel expenses.
2. Be flexible with your flight date and time. A flight leaving just a couple days earlier could be significantly less expensive. Read our tips for finding dirt cheap flights!
4. Take carry-on baggage instead of checked. It will not only save you the cost of a checked bag; it’s also easier to lug around once you’ve landed. Beware of low-cost carriers as sometimes checked bags are cheaper than
5. Use layovers as extra destinations. Flying from Canada to India and have a layover in Frankfurt? Extend that layover to 48 hours to enjoy a quick visit to the city.
6. Utilize overnight buses or trains. You won’t have to pay for lodging, and you’ll be getting somewhere while you sleep, so you save money and time. Just be sure to prepare yourself adequately for the night!
7. Public transport like buses and trains are often infinitely less expensive than taxis, private shuttles
8. Walk! So simple, yet we sometimes forget that a few kilometers really isn’t that far. Who knows what you could encounter along the way?
Saving money on lodging abroad
You’ll always need somewhere to stay, but it doesn’t have to be the Hilton. Consider these alternative options for getting the most out of your lodging budget and read our thorough guide on how to find the cheapest possible hotel in every city!
9. Check out hotels with breakfasts included. In some countries, the extra cost isn’t worth it, but in others, you may score a great meal and sleep for less than it would cost to eat breakfast separately. Turkey is a good example of this.
10. Couchsurfing. It’s free, safe and as a huge bonus: you get the insight of a local, who may point you to places a foreigner would never find on their own. Plus, you can share a bit of your own culture with your host.
11. House sitting. Oddly, this is becoming a thing in some countries. Locals will let you stay in their house while they are gone as a house sitter. You may be asked to water the plants and walk the dog, but you also get to save your budget. There is an organization called House Carers that matches house sitters with people who need their house cared for. We have also found
12. Airbnb is worth checking into. These local abodes can be cheaper than a hotel, and there are some pretty cool ones out there, it just depends on where you go.
13. Camp! Sometimes this means you need to have a tent, but some places offer hammocks or tents to sleep in for a fee.
14. Avoid fancy-looking facades. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
15. Choose your location wisely. The closer to the center of town or a university you get, the more expensive lodging will be.
16. Use the web! Search online for hotels in the area you are headed. Booking is a good place for this. Check out the cheapest prices on Booking. Then remember, Booking or other hotel search engines
17. Your offline map may display a map of hotel locations and prices when you type in “hotel.” This can give you a good idea of where the cheap places are, but keep in mind it won’t show all your options. We’ve found using Google Maps and Maps.me together work well. Just download the region on the apps before you go.
18. Be sure to check out our article on how to find cheap lodging in developing countries for fun and simple ways to score cheap places to crash.
Depending on your mode of travel, food may be your biggest expense. When we were traveling in Guatemala we did daily calculations and generally, food was the majority of costs. Here are some tips on ways to eat cheap while traveling.
19. Here’s the obvious one: take advantage of street food! It’s cheap, local and sometimes even healthy. Check out our article on how to eat for (almost) free for more tips on street food and why it’s awesome.
20. Make your food. In western countries, buying groceries and making your own food can be cheaper than buying meals. In developing countries, it depends on your merchantman skills.
21. Shop at produce markets, rather than the grocery store. If you’re obviously a tourist, you may be charged more than a local, but it will still likely be cheaper than a supermarket, and you’ll be supporting the locals.
23. Shop in bulk. If you do go to a grocery store, look for their bulk section.
24. Eat local. A local eatery in South America is going to be less expensive than an expat-run restaurant called “Little Paris”. Follow what the locals do. Your trip will be worth it!
25. Shop where locals shop. They aren’t on vacation and will be going for the cheapest options.
26. Write it down. One way to keep your backpacking budget in check is to track your expenses. We don’t do this religiously, but sometimes we’ll journal everything we buy for a few days at a time, and get a good idea of how much we are spending, along with what we are spending it on. Sometimes our biggest expense is food, sometimes transport, it just depends, but it is a good reference to have.
27. Only carry what you need. Worried about over-spending? Choose your daily budget and keep that on you in cash in your pockets. The rest stays in the hotel room. This way, you can’t overspend.
General ways to travel for cheap
Finally, here are some general tips we have learned are useful to save money abroad.
28. Use guidebooks! They may not list all your options, but they are a great resource. We’ve avoided plenty of mistakes by consulting various guidebooks. We generally buy a guidebook for cheap on Amazon before we leave, study it, and bring it along on our trip. It’s the second best way to get a reliable overview of a country. The best one? Dirt Cheap Travel Guide 😉
29. Free walking tours are offered in most tourist cities. Take advantage of these! You’ll learn a bit from a local, have the opportunity to ask questions, and they can give a great overview of the city– without having to buy a tour. Don’t forget a tip is expected though!
30. Volunteer. Some places will have you volunteer in exchange for food and lodging, some you have to pay a small fee to volunteer (we stay away from these) and some will pay you a small stipend to work for them. Workaway, WWOOF and HelpX are good places to start. If conditions don’t seem fair, it’s better not to encourage.
31. Credit card churning. Reaching spending bonuses on credit cards for travel rewards is popular and for good reason! Part of the larger trend of travel hacking, it can dramatically cut your flight
32. Get good travel insurance, but don’t pay too much for it. There are many insurances to choose from, therefore some will take advantage of your wallet without giving much in return.
Stay in the know!
33. Student discounts. If you’re a student, bring your student ID! It could save you money on entrance fees to parks and tour costs. Even better, get your ISIC card, which is a
34. Travel independently, rather than buying a package tour or tour group. Sometimes tours are good deals, but you’ll lose your freedom in the process. Instead, take your time and do it solo.
Behave like a local
35. Haggle, especially in developing countries where haggling is the norm. Keep in mind merchants will never sell below cost. As a tourist, you’re usually quoted a higher price than the local.
36. Go easy on the tip. This is a case by case scenario but try to do like the locals. We have noticed almost everywhere we go Lonely Planet says we should tip but when we reach
37. Abide by local practices. This one is important, to say the least. We travel to learn and see, not teach and change. This means that to a certain extent, we want to blend in. Prices are better this way and locals appreciate the effort, showing what’s behind a country’s facade.
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