Travel on a budget
There's no compact money tree that fits nicely into a carry-on so we travel on a budget (I’ll likely talk more about the money specifics in another post).
And if we want to keep doing this for a year and not have to sell an organ or start busking using my not-remotely-amazing-actually-rather-painful musical talents, it’s important we stick to that budget.
It can be a challenge...
There are always unexpected expenses…Like an emergency $6 trip to a fancy public washroom in Paris – a lovely experience but not the kind of thing I really wanted to invest that much money in.
There are things we should, but just can’t, say no to…Our craft beer habit in Belgium comes to mind.
And there are places where money just seems to leap out of the wallet…I’m giving you the stink eye London, England.
But having travelled quite a bit, we have a few strategies to help keep some of the money more securely in the wallet so that we can still have fun and let go a bit on some extra special experiences.
There are lots of ways to save money while travelling. Many are easy and even lead to a more interesting experience.
We’re not always successful on all of these fronts (says the girl who just did a little retail-therapy and can’t say no to an afternoon Kingfisher beer on the beach), but we’ve learned a lot, are still on track financially, and are getting better with each new adventure.
How to save money on accommodations while travelling
1. Stay outside the city, but near public transport. For larger cities, we often book accommodations outside the main centre but near public transit. It’s still easy to get to all the sights and amenities, but the place, and often the nearby food, are cheaper. We also seem to get a more authentic experience by being away from the really touristy areas. Had we not done this, places like Paris and London might now have been affordable.
2. Stay longer. Often, we get a much better deal if we stay a week or even a month. In fact, longer term stays have reduced our per night cost by as much as 50% on Airbnb! At hotels, the potential savings aren’t always obvious if booking online, but a phone call or an in-person chat may result in a better price.
3. Find a place on arrival. For our longer stay in India, we just pre-booked a place online for the first week. On arrival, we hit the ground in search of something more affordable and long term. Online rates are usually way higher than what you can actually get, especially in parts of Asia. We were offered places at half the advertised price when we simply talked to the property manager in person.
4. Use Airbnb. Airbnb can be a great option for cheap and sometimes really cool accommodations. We’ve stayed in some very nice two-bedroom apartments and just booked a stay in an awesome-looking superhero themed apartment for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room. Plus, we save by being able to cook our own meals and do our own laundry. But it can be tricky to find what you want/need as there are so many options and search variables. I always try searching in lots of different ways to get a clearer picture of what’s available, and don’t be afraid to message a host to ask questions or even for a discout. Stay tuned for an upcoming post filled with Airbnb tips!
5. House sit. We secured a housesitting opportunity through friends, but there are several websites that connect homeowners with travellers willing to care for homes and pets. One of the most used and mentioned is TrustedHousesitters. There’s a fee to sign up, but a single housesitting job will likely make it more than worthwhile financially.
6. Don’t discount hotels. People often think hostel when thinking budget travel, but they’re not always cheaper when travelling with kids as they charge per person rather than by room. Also, don’t restrict yourself to Airbnb because in some places it can be more expensive than a hotel when you factor in the fees. We often look through Booking, Agoda and Airbnb to find the right spot. If we’re in a city for just a few days and really just need a place to sleep after a day of sightseeing, a budget hotel room (with free breakfast) does the trick.
7. Travel with a small blow up mattress. This gives us an extra bed option wherever we go. Often kids stay free if they use existing beds, but the three of I don’t always want to be crowded into a double bed with a kicky eight-year-old for three weeks. Having an extra mattress and small blanket means we all have a comfy place to sleep.
How to save money on food while travelling
8. Make your own food (but not always). In Europe, it was way cheaper to grocery shop and make our own meals. It’s healthier and we got to experiment with local grocery stores, products and recipes. We would often carry around a couple fun snacks and when we went out for the day, we’d pack a picnic. However, in parts of Asia it can be very cheap to eat out, provided you stay away from tourist spots. In India, I can feed myself a small lunch for about $0.70 so it's hardly worth grocery shopping and preparing meals. We eat out for most meals and just kept some snacks, fruits and veggies in the fridge for in between or a light lunch when tired.
9. Don’t order drinks. Honestly, we’re not good at this one. Right now, LJ has an expensive mango lassie obsession, while a dinner-time Pilsner is much appreciated by L and I after a hot day. But beverages add A LOT to a bill, even in more affordable destinations. Carry around a water bottle and buy beer, wine or juice at the supermarket. The same goes for coffee. We brought a single cup coffee filter with us. Just need to buy a tasty blend and we’re happily caffeinated every morning.
10. Buy treats at a grocery store. A box of fun ice creams or a pack of local candy is way cheaper than those eye-catching gelato stands. It’s easier for me to ignore those mounds of creamy goodness if I can look away and bite down on a Snickers bar.
11. Eat local food. When eating in a restaurant, try to order dishes that are of the local cuisine. We found many restaurants in Tanzania offered Swahili dishes, as well as pizzas, pastas and burgers; however, the Swahili food was always way way cheaper...and tasty! The same goes for fruits and veggies. Buy what’s in season and grown locally because if it’s not, it will cost you more.
How to save money on transportation while travelling
12. Be flexible and travel in off-peak times. You might be able to cut your costs in half if you suck it up and take that Wednesday overnight bus or that red-eye flight. We’ve reduced airfares big time by accepting 20-hour layovers and really early-morning departures. In fact, during a recent long layover we took advantage of an airline deal that offered a free and fancy stopover hotel and airport transfer. What could have been a very grueling journey turned into a 24-hour, no-cost adventure in Qatar! You can also save money buy booking flight legs separately and with different airlines. Just make sure you leave enough time in between flights as you’ll likely have to collect your luggage and check in again. We use Skyscanner and Google Flights to find the best options and then usually book directly with the airlines.
13. Compare types of transport. Sometimes, flying can be cheaper than the train if you're flexible with times and okay with discount airlines. The bus is always cheapest, but a 20+ hour ride on a crowded bus is not always ideal with kids, or with a guy prone to back problems. We often use Rome2Rio to helps us figure out and compare our options for getting from Point A to Point B.
14. Be a walker. If something is closer than 3 km, we walk. We get to explore more, we get exercise and it’s free.
15. Take public transit. Instead of taxis, hop on to subways, busses, autorickshaws, etc. It’s cheaper, you’ll get to see another side of the city, and you won’t spend as much time stuck in traffic. One of our favourite things to do in India is take the inter-city busses.
16. Consider the extra transportation costs. That very early-morning flight might be cheap, but factor in how you’ll get to that airport that’s an hour a way. Is there a shuttle or public transit at that hour? How much is a cab? We got a great deal on a flight out of Paris only to realize the night before that we had no way to get to the airport except for a $75 taxi ride. Expensive lesson learned!
17. Reduce your luggage. Baggage fees on planes can be huge so keep your luggage to a minimum. That cheap flight isn’t so cheap when you realize you’ll need to shell out another $300 at the airport to bring those 10 pairs of shoes. We stick with one under 15kg checked-bag and one carry-on each, but many families travel with just a carry on!
Other budget travel tips
18. Set a daily budget and track. We like to use the Wallet app, which allows us to easily record and categorize every expenditure and ensure we’re meeting daily, weekly and monthly spending targets. We put everything in there, even a fifty cent package of candy.
19. Forget souvenirs or keep them very simple. We don’t want to carry too much stuff so we buy what we need and let photos and memories be our souvenirs. If we do buy something, we aim for small jewelry items, clothing items we need anyway, flag patches to sew on LJ’s backpack, consumables like pens or notebooks, or tiny mementos that take up little to no space.
20. Use the right cards. Use point credit cards to get free flights and hotel stays. Also, get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and a debit card with no/low withdrawal fees as these fees can hit the budget hard over the long term. With the right card, withdrawing money locally at an ATM is cheaper and easier than going to a currency exchange. But have a variety of cards in case you get to a country and one doesn’t work or gets temporarily blocked by your bank because of suspicious activities. We spent a lot of time on the phone in Tanzania and India unblocking cards because our withdrawals were flagged as strange, even though we notified the bank.
21. Do free stuff. Every city has free events, festivals, activities and even museums. There are also neat playgrounds, libraries and community centres to explore. We spent an hour in a beautiful book store in Bucharest, more hours than I can count at playgrounds, and had a fabulous day at a free beach-themed festival in Brussels. You also don’t have to buy tickets to every attraction. Pick one special “must-do” and enjoy the rest from the outside. In Paris, LJ really wanted to go up the Eiffel Tower, which isn't cheap, so that was our "big spend." The rest of the time, we just wandered, explored free places, hung out at playgrounds and had picnics.
22. Be content to just wander and explore. We’ve had some memorable moments and fun experiences by simply wandering around with no real plans, especially in big cities. In Varna we followed a parade, in Glasgow we came across a cool football camp for LJ, and in Amsterdam we discovered a free all-you-can-eat cheese tasting!
23. Rent out your house or house swap. Renting out your house can save you money by paying your mortgage or even by helping fund your trip, while house swapping means free accommodations in places all over the world. Many travel-loving families list their home for swapping at World Schooler Exchange, but there are lots of other sites like HomeExchange and LoveHomeSwap.
24. Try Workaway or woofing. Both Workaway and Woofing provide free room and board in exchange for work. We had planned to do a Workaway in France but unfortunately it fell through. We’re hoping to try it out at soon though.
25. Use sim cards, Skype to Phone and WhatsApp. We often have to call landlines in Canada to sort out banking and house stuff so we keep a balance on a Skype to Phone account. This allows us to use our mobile phone and a Wi-Fi connection to call mobiles and landlines in most countries, no matter where we are, at really cheap rates ($0.03/min to call Canada). For friends and family, we make free video calls and send messages with WhatsApp. We also usually buy local sim cards and data packs for our phones so that we can message each other when we're not together and look up things like maps, bus schedules, random facts to prove to prove each other wrong, etc. Data is WAY cheaper everywhere than it is in Canada.
Have any more budget travel tips? How do you save money while exploring the world?