I’ve always found it pretty easy to save money on travel. Although some people might be afraid to look at their bank account after an eight-month around-the-world trip, I came home from my sabbatical excited by my financial prospects. I still had almost half of my travel budget remaining! In fact, if I hadn’t had a scheduled back-to-work start day, I could have kept traveling for another four or five months.
How am I able to save money while traveling? To be honest, a lot of my travel budget success has come from trial and error, and learning from the mistakes I made over the past fifteen years of international travel. While I’ve never blown my entire travel budget, there were a few times in my early years of travel where I spent money on things that didn’t bring me happiness, where I spent more than I needed to, or where my money literally disappeared into thin air.
Following are my 45 favorite ways to save money on travel. They’re strategies I actually use on almost every trip, and I hardly notice the difference (though my wallet sure does!). I’ve got money-saving tips for travel sightseeing, accommodation, food, transportation and gear, plus a few bonus tips that will save you even more money while you’re away.
Save Money Sightseeing
#1 DIY Sightseeing
Most of the best things to see and do around the world can be experienced without an organized tour. Don’t pay for a car and driver to shuttle you around from sight to sight. Do it on your own! You’ll save money, build confidence and have random, unforgettable experiences along the way.
#2 Just see it (don’t do it!)
You can often save money on travel by checking out the world’s most famous buildings and monuments from outside, without actually going in (or up). In Paris you can save €16 by picnicking in the park beneath the Eiffel Tower rather than ascending. In Dubai you can save up to $61 USD by admiring the Burj Khalifa from ground level rather than from it’s top floors. Honestly, the view of these iconic buildings is often better than the view from them.
#3 Join a hostel tour
Some things can only be experienced on a tour (unless you packed your own canoe!). Lots of hostels allow non-guests to join their day trips and excursions, and this is my preferred tour option when possible. Hostel tours tend to cost less than tours catering to couples and families, have a more social atmosphere and offer cheaper choices for meals and other extras.
#4 Free walking tours
They’re not exactly a secret anymore. In fact, they’re a major money-maker for everyone involved. Still, free walking tours are one of the best ways to get to know a city on foot, meet other travelers and get insider secrets from a local. Remember to tip fairly, as chances are your guide has to pay their organizing company based on the number of participants.
#5 Compare prices of for city cards
A lot of cities have official tourist cards that offer free or discounted admission to attractions, along with public transportation, restaurant coupons and more. These can be a great value if you actually use them. Compare the price of the card to the actual value you’re likely to receive from the services you’ll use in the time that you have. Personally, I’ve used the Barcelona Card, the Berlin Card and the Torino Card to save money, but I skipped over the Istanbul Tourist Pass on my last visit to the city.
#6 Look for free/cheap entry times
Many museums and galleries offer free or discounted admission on certain days, or at certain times. For example, the contemporary art museum in Barcelona (one of my favorite things to do in Barcelona!) offers €1 off tickets on Saturday, with free admission after 16:00 that day. In Buenos Aires, the MALBA contemporary art museum has half-price admission every Wednesday. If you plan your itinerary around free and discounted admission times, you can save a lot of money!
#7 Bring a guidebook
Carry a purse-sized guidebook, or an electronic version on your phone, and you’ll always know when there are interesting and inexpensive things to do nearby. You’ll save money on travel by not having to backtrack to visit an attraction that you were close to already (there’s nothing worse than getting back to your hotel room in the evening, planning out your next day, and realizing, “But I was just there!”).
#8 Leverage any memberships
This one starts before you depart. If you’re a member of anything, check with that organization to see if they have organized discounts for their members. For example, many hotels offer preferential rates to AAA members (always compare prices against Booking.com!). Similarly, many museums offer discounted admission to people who work in education or the arts. If you’re a student, a valid student ID card will unlock a world of discounts when you’re traveling in Europe!
Save Money on Food When Traveling
#9 Try eating two meals a day
While you might eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day when you’re at home, when you’re relying on restaurants for most of your meals you might find that two meals a day is plenty. Restaurant portions tend to be really large (especially when you’re tempted to sample all of the local delicacies) so you might be satisfied, and full, off just two meals, or two meals plus a snack.
#10 Stock up at (super)markets
Visiting a local market, or even a local supermarket, is an experience in itself. You can save money on travel by self-catering some meals. Pick up fresh local ingredients and prepare a feast back in your apartment or hostel kitchen. No kitchen? No problem! Look for food stores with take-away counters serving up portions of salads, hot dishes and desserts. Or, hit the shelves for granola bars, nuts, dried fruit and yogurt.
#11 Eat local food
A few years ago, I was backpacking in Peru and met some other travelers on Amantani Island in the middle of Lake Titicaca. As we hiked to the highest point on the island, one of the Swiss girls noticed that a vendor beside the path was selling a bar of Toblerone chocolate, all the way from Switzerland! She couldn’t believe her luck… but her excitement was quickly shattered when she calculated the exchange rate and realized the little bar of chocolate would set her back almost €10.
Yes, there can be something comforting about eating food from back home, but if you want to save money you should stick to the local foods that are grown or manufactured locally, and that are popular with local shoppers. They are more affordable because it costs less to get them onto plates, due to short distances and high demand.
#12 Sample the street food
Speaking of local cuisine, it doesn’t get more local than street food! From Singapore’s hawker stalls to Colombia’s fruit vendors, people around the world save money by buying cheap eats on the street. I’ve eaten street food all over the world (yes, including in India!) and I’ve never got sick from it, but there are some guidelines to help you choose the safest and most delicious street food. Most importantly, look for busy stalls where the food is being prepared to order, and where local people are queuing to buy food for themselves.
#13 Lunch specials = amazing value
Many restaurants offer multi-course lunch menus at an affordable fixed price. Once you’re a few blocks away from major tourist attractions, these lunch deals typically cater to office workers on their lunch break and offer hearty, local cuisine with seasonal ingredients and homestyle cooking techniques (it’s how they keep costs down!). Sometimes the lunch special is just listed as the “plate of the day” while other times you get to choose from a selection of soups, salads, main dishes, drinks and even dessert.
#14 Drink less alcohol
Although we’ve all heard the legends of Eastern European restaurants where beer is cheaper than water, generally speaking, alcohol is expensive. You can save money while traveling by drinking less alcohol. Full stop. When you do want to drink, consider buying alcohol at the supermarket, drinking during happy hour or choosing beer and wine instead of fancy mixed drinks.
#15 Order the house wine
In many wine-producing regions, restaurants will have their own house wine that comes in a carafe: usually 250 ml, 500 ml, 750 ml or a full liter. It is typically much cheaper than bottled wine, yet it likely comes from the same vineyards (or, in smaller restaurants, from the family’s own vineyards!). Ordering the house wine keeps your costs down and gives you the chance to try a wine that might not be available anywhere else.
#16 Drink tap water
If the tap water is safe, drink it. If it’s safe to drink but you don’t like the taste, try using a water purifier and/or drinking it straight out of a cold fridge. In many places, water companies fill their bottles directly from the municipal water source, meaning you’re paying a huge mark-up to drink the stuff that comes out of the tap for free.
#17 Buy big bottles of water
That being said, I know from personal experience that the tap water in many parts of the world is simply not safe for drinking. If you choose to buy bottled water in those places, you can save money by buying large bottles. I prefer the five- or six-liter jugs, although for a weeklong stay I might try to organize a twenty-liter jug. Then, just pour water from the large jug into your own reusable water bottle. Did I mention that carrying the big bottles from the supermarket back to your accommodation is great exercise?
Save Money on Accommodation
#18 Stay in hostels
Hostels have come a long way. While you can still find bare-bones dorms (like the one in my hometown, with a 44-bed male dorm room!), most hotels have upped their game. Today’s dorm rooms often have beds with curtains for privacy, private charging ports, lights and shelves for each bed, and lockers to secure your stuff. Many hostels also have private rooms (with shared or private bathrooms) so that you can have a little personal space. Of course, there are also lots of social activities that add extra bang for you buck, like buffet breakfasts, walking tours, board games, language lessons and pub crawls… all of which you can opt into or out of as you please.
#19 Book a vacation rental
It’s no secret that Airbnb has captured a huge segment of the accommodation market, and yes, I have used Airbnb myself. During a long stay in one place, it’s nice to come home to a place that feels like home. That being said, I haven’t always had the best experiences with Airbnb, and it’s not the first place I’d look for a vacation rental property.
If I am looking to rent a house or apartment while I was traveling, I always start my search with Booking.com. Many properties are listed on multiple sites, and it’s not uncommon to see the same properties on Airbnb and Booking. The difference? Booking usually has a more flexible cancellation policy, they total price is displayed more clearly, and they have a loyalty program that rewards frequent travelers with up to 15% off the normal rate.
#20 Try a house exchange
You can travel for months and spend exactly $0 on accommodation. I would know, since this was my family’s favorite way to travel when I was growing up. There are lots of house exchange websites (some are free, some require a paid membership) where you can connect with people who would like to exchange houses. The more popular your hometown and the better-situated your own house, the more likely you are to find a great exchange. This idea might sound strange to my American and Canadian readers, but rest assured that’s a very popular way to travel in Europe.
#21 Reserve the most basic room
Unless you’re an Instragrammer whose job is to take selfies in fancy hotel rooms, you can save money on travel by reserving the most basic room in the hotel. Solo travelers, see if the hotel offers a small single room. Couples, you can cut costs by booking a private room with a shared bathroom. If you’re going to be out exploring all day and just need a place to sleep (and store your suitcase!), a simple hotel room is fine.
#22 Skip the room service
Room service is a scam. Hotels with restaurants that offer room service often inflate the menu prices of the dishes and then tack on extra service fees and delivery fees… while still expecting you to the tip the employee who delivers your food! Most of the time it’s cheaper to order delivery from a local restaurant right to your hotel room door, but the cheapest option is to leave your hotel and eat in a local restaurant.
#23 Sleep on overnight flights, trains and buses
Why waste an entire day on a bus, train or plane, when you could make the same trip overnight, sleep on board and skip out on paying for a hotel that night? I don’t recommend doing this every night, but an occasional night in a sleeper compartment might be worth the discomfort when it’s weighed against the savings.
Save Money on Transportation
#24 Walk wherever, whenever
Exploring a destination on foot isn’t just a great way to save money while traveling, it’s also the best way to get to the authentic side of each place you visit. Walking shows you hidden streets, shops, cafes and landmarks that you’d never encounter from the backseat of an Uber or the carriage of a subway train.
Just make sure you’ve got a pair of supportive shoes. I packed Birkenstock sandals and Nike running shoes for my RTW trip, where I clocked at least 20,000 steps a day (until my Fitbit fell off somewhere in Goa…).
#25 Use public transport
If it’s too far (or too hot, or too cold, or too dangerous!) to walk, opt for public transportation over private transportation. You’ll save lots of money on travel by using public transportation, and you can increase your savings by loading up a local transportation card or purchasing a multi-day transit pass. Sometimes, public transportation is an attraction in its own right! In Berlin, you can see the entire city from the top of a double-decker city bus for less than €3, and in Moscow, the city’s stunning metro stations are famous around the world.
#26 Fly mid-week
If your travel schedule is flexible, consider starting your vacation mid-week, rather than on the weekend. Flights on Tuesday and Wednesday are often significantly cheaper than weekend flights. Sundays are the most expensive day to travel, as people are rushing home from their trips to get back to work.
#27 Pack light
When I was young and inexperienced, I traveled from Barcelona to Turin with so many bags (and so many extra baggage fees) that it would have been cheaper to take half my stuff to Turin, fly back to Barcelona and make a second trip with the rest of my stuff. Please, learn from my mistake! While budget airlines are famous for charging sky-high separate baggage fees, even legacy carriers have recently got in on the checked luggage fee game. Keep your costs down by understanding how much baggage is included in your fare, and packing accordingly.
#28 Pack a snack on flights and ferries
Airlines and other transport providers also make a killing with their onboard food sales. Skip the soggy, reheated plane food and pack your own healthy, tasty travel treats instead. For domestic flights I like to pack a banana and mixed nuts. For international flights (where fresh produce is likely prohibited) I opt for homemade trail mix, crackers, protein bars and the occasional handful of candy!
#29 Don’t rent cars at the airport
I rarely rent a car when I’m traveling, but when I do, I never rent it directly at the airport. Rental rates are often much cheaper if you pick up your rental car in the city center or in a residential area. While it most cost a little bit of money to take a bus or taxi to the rental office, you can often recoup that expense in your first day or two of the car rental.
Save Money on Travel Gear
#30 Buy or borrow second-hand luggage
If you’re new to traveling, don’t shell out for that $400 backpack quite yet. If you’re just going to one or two different destinations, or if you’ll be renting a car, you can use any old suitcase for your trip. You only need a proper travel backpack if you’re frequently on the move and switching between many forms of transportation. Even then, you can borrow a backpack from someone you know or purchase a second-hand backpack on Facebook marketplace (that’s where I sold mine!).
#31 Invest in a secure purse or daypack
The easiest way to lose money traveling is by having it stolen. I should know, as after traveling to more than sixty countries I finally got robbed in Buenos Aires this year, losing my iPhone and almost 500 photos in the process. You can reduce your chances of being pickpocketed or robbed by carrying your valuables in a secure bag. Personally, I like cross-body purses from Kipling that zip closed and have a flap covering the zipper. For people who don’t want a purse, brands like Pacsafe and Travelon make two-strap and sling backpacks with anti-theft features including locking zippers and hidden compartments. Spending $100 on a theft-deterring bag for your most valuable items might just save you thousands of dollars.
#32 Unlock your phone
I can’t believe locked phones are still a thing, but apparently they are. A locked phone only works with a SIM card from the phone company that sold you the phone (or that you have a plan with). With an unlocked phone, you can pop SIM cards in and out as you move between countries, taking advantage of cheap local data rates to place calls, Facetime your family and use Google Maps to find your way. Before you leave home, contact your phone company to make sure your phone is unlocked. If it’s not, ask that they unlock it immediately (it should just take a minute or two).
#33 Wear your regular clothes
You don’t need special travel clothes! In fact, you’ll be more comfortable on most trips if you just pack the clothes from home that you like to wear. I didn’t buy any special clothes for my around-the-world trip. Instead, I packed wardrobe staples that I would wear anyways, like cotton t-shirts, linen pants and swimwear that I already know is opaque in the water (very important!).
#34 Pack a towel
I’m always surprised when I meet travelers who expect hostels to be exactly like hotels. If you want the full-service experience, choose full-service accommodation. If you want to travel on a budget, understand that there will be trade-offs. A common trade-off in hostels is that towels are not included, especially if you’re in a dorm. While you can often rent a towel, packing your own can save you money. I stopped using microfiber towels years ago; instead, I always travel with one of these lightweight Turkish cotton towels. It doubles as a beach towel and sarong!
#35 Try a menstrual cup
In some parts of the world, tampons are few and far between. They’re also only available in very small sizes, and at very high prices. Female travelers can save money, and avoid inconvenient period problems, by packing a reusable silicone menstrual cup. They do have a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it you can hold ten year’s worth of period protection in the palm of your hand… all for the cost of a couple boxes of tampons. Click through to read more about menstrual cups for travel!
Bonus Money Saving Tips for Travel
#36 Go to cheap destinations
There are many places in the world where you can travel comfortably on $25 USD per day. There are other places where that $25 won’t even cover a rickety bed in a windowless dorm room. If you want to save money on travel, choose cheaper destinations. Eastern Europe is usually cheaper than Western Europe. Southeast Asia is usually cheaper than East Asia. Central America is usually cheaper than North America.
If your trip includes a high-cost region and low-cost region, start in the high-cost area. This will make it easier to manage your budget and ensure you don’t run out of cash before your flight home.
#37 Take advantage of free stopovers
There are some destinations that are inconvenient or difficult to visit. In countries like Iceland, the Seychelles and Belarus, the national airlines attempt to address this challenge by offering free stopovers on their routes. A flight from North America to Europe with a multi-day stop in Reykjavik is often the same price as a non-stop flight, but it creates an opportunity for you to explore a different country along the way. At other major transit spots, like the Singapore International Airport, airlines offer free city sightseeing tours for travelers with long layovers.
#38 Travel during the shoulder season
The shoulder season is considered to be the month or two immediately before or after high season. For example, in much of Europe the shoulder season is May, June and September. During these months the weather is generally favorable, and more importantly, prices drop dramatically from their high-season peaks. If your work schedule is flexible, you can save money on travel, without sacrificing comfort, by traveling during these slightly-less-busy periods.
#39 Jump on deals
If you’re flexible in when and where you travel, jumping on last-minute deals can be a great way to save money while still exploring the world. You can find last-minute and unexpected travel discounts by joining local Facebook groups and signing up for mailing lists. In 2020, one discount-hunting website found its subscribers flights from San Francisco to the Bahamas for less than $250, and flights from Portland to Bali for $356. I once booked a last-minute Christmas trip to Nicaragua when I saw a seat sale posted on one of the Facebook groups that I follow.
#40 Cut back on services at home
Specifically, don’t pay for things that you’re not going to use while you’re away. I always put my gym membership on hold if I’m going out of town for more than 30 days, and for my recent eight-month trip I also cancelled my internet, cable and mobile phone services (though I did pay a small fee to have my phone number put “on hold” for my return). Unplugging most of your small appliances and electronics can also reduce your electricity bill, since the unused devices won’t be sucking up “vampire electricity”.
#41 Stop buying souvenirs
Take only pictures, leave only footprints. I never buy expensive souvenirs anymore (after 65+ countries, where would I even keep them?). Instead, I send postcards to my friends and family, and I occasionally purchase beautiful articles of clothing from local designers that I know I’ll wear for years when I get home. You don’t need another shot glass, coffee mug, magnet or key chain. I promise.
#42 Collect credit card points
For the past five or six years (pre-pandemic) I’ve flown from my home in Canada to either Europe or Asia, during high season, and I’ve rarely spent more than $100 for the return trip. I pay for these flights with credit card points that I earn throughout the year, just from my normal day-to-day spending. I use a Canadian credit card that gives me two Air Canada Aeroplan points for every dollar I spend on travel and groceries (my two biggest expenses) but you’ll want to research the cards available in your region to find the one that’s right for you.
#43 Minimize ATM fees
Many countries still rely heavily on cash for day-to-day transactions, and you’re eventually going to need some local currency when you’re abroad. You can save money on travel by reducing the fees you pay to withdraw cash from local ATMs. Before you leave, see if there’s a local bank or credit union that doesn’t charge a fee for foreign ATM withdrawals. If no banks nearby offer that kind of service, you could look into an online service like TransferWise, whose prepaid MasterCard allows for no-fee withdrawals up to £200 per month.
#44 Read up on common scams
Scammers will take advantage of naive tourists, and educating yourself about common travel scams is your best defense.
One common scam involves changing money in the street; the guys who do this claim that they offer better rates than the bank. In fact, they will usually short-change you by slipping in smaller bills or notes that are no longer in circulation.
Another trick that some taxi drivers use is to falsely claim that your hotel is closed, or that the road to your hotel is impassible. They’ll then offer to take you to a different property, where you’ll be overcharged (and you’ll probably still get charged for your original reservation).
If you’re aware of the potential for these scams, you can save money on travel by not falling for them!
#45 Hope for the best, plan for the worst
Statistically, chances are really good that your trip will go off without a hitch. However, having a plan in place just in case can save you from expensive emergency situations. No matter what, make sure that you have travel health insurance; I used World Nomads for my RTW trip. You should also have a credit card (not the prepaid kind) in case you need to make any major unexpected payments, like a sudden hospital bill or a last-minute flight home. Without these, your only option in an emergency might be a wire transfer service that charges huge fees to send you cash.
Did I miss your favorite money-saving travel tip?
If so, let me know in the comments!
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