Many times, when I tell people (mostly strangers or those I don’t know very well) about my travels, I often hear, “Oh, you’re so LUCKY!” or “I wish I could do that!” (you can!), sometimes with a tinge of underlying resentment. I think these people think that I get handed money to go on trips like I do and/or must be rich. The truth is I am far from rich; I save for the adventures I go on and work very hard to do so. Sometimes, it irks me when people think that about me, after all I have sacrificed to go where I’ve been, but they just don’t realize that my philosophy is, if you want something, work as hard as you need to in order to achieve that goal.
As a caveat, it’s true that I am fortunate enough to have extra money to save, and many people in other countries and the United States do not have those extra funds to save because they are living paycheck to paycheck. I feel that most of the people who say things like this drive nice cars, wear nice clothing, go out to eat a lot, etc. I had one person who I knew got a $20 car wash, got a manicure almost every week, got their hair done about every two months, etc and told me I was “lucky” for being able to travel so much. I would bet that if these types of people would distribute their budget differently, they could probably travel more than I do! The following are things you can do to save money before and during your adventures!
BEFORE YOUR BIG ADVENTURE
Bring your lunch to work rather than eat out – this has saved me countless amounts of money. In fact, even when I am not saving for a vacation, I generally bring my lunch. I find I eat healthier anyways
Ditch the expensive habits – this follows the above tip, but if you’re getting coffee at a coffee shop every day, getting your nails or hair done and/or washing your car on a regular basis, smoking, going out to the movies, going out to the bars all the time (really the list goes on and on) you can save loads of money by cutting out those habits! It doesn’t have to be completely; you can budget your expensive habits, thinking of them as a splurge makes it easier for me. It doesn’t have to be permanent either, but if you’re trying to save for a big trip, cutting out these habits will save you beaucoup bucks!
Find ways to take alternative transportation rather than driving (walk, bike, carpool, public transportation, etc)
Stay away from online shopping and/or big stores such as walmart or target – they’ll suck you in! If I go into those stores, I have to make a list and stick to it; otherwise I end up spending 10x as much as I went in the store for initially. I try to shop at smaller stores, not only to support small business, but it keeps me from being tempted to buy things I really don’t need.
Shop around for your ticket – I shop on many different websites to find the best flight for me. Usually, I do a combination of cheapest/shortest, so I won’t always pick the absolute cheapest, but I will get one that fits my needs. It takes some patience, and I usually search for at least a week, depending on the flight, but I have saved over $500 on one flight alone and gotten there quicker than the more expensive flight because I looked elsewhere.
Only pack what you need! – I have saved countless of $25 or more baggage fees by packing only a carry-on for shorter trips. Sometimes, they’ll make you check the bag anyways for free and you don’t have to worry about lugging it around. It will also save you time waiting for your luggage to come off the carousel (one of my least favorite parts of travel) so you can hit the ground running. I’m still trying to learn this one, but am getting better. I do, however stick to my travel essentials.
Break up with your bank – this is a big one for me. I had Wells Fargo for years nd they would consistently charge me fees for anything they could possibly think of, often in error. I was charged when my bank account fell under a certain limit (charging people for not having enough money just doesn’t make sense to me!) They also charged me a hefty fee for going to a non-WF ATM and using my debit card in another country, even Canada! I finally broke up with them, went to a credit union where they have more branches all over the country, I can use any ATM and not be charged by my CU, don’t get charged for foreign transaction fees, etc and I couldn’t be happier. I’m sure that if you are in the same boat as I was, you could save a lot of money kicking those bank fees!
Put away a little bit regularly – prior to my last big trip, I would mainly use my tip money as spending money and to pay bills as much as I could and put away as much of my paycheck as I could to my savings. Think of your savings account as a “hands off” account. If you have direct deposit or an automatic transfer feature with your bank/CU, you can set up a certain amount to go into your savings every paycheck.
You don’t need fancy travel gadgets – the backpack that costs as much as some cars is probably just as good as one that is cheaper and the travel “gadgets” I swear by were inexpensive purchases For example, my under $10 travel alarm clock and about $20 luggage scale (again helps with not getting charged for overweight luggage) and multi-use sarong which I’ve had forever are on almost every trip
Frequent Flier Programs and Travel Credit Cards: Frequent flier programs can add up (if you’re patient and vigilant about making sure all your trips earn points) and Travel Credit Cards are worth it as long as you pay off your balance each month. You can be flying across the world and/or first class for free once you earn enough points! My recommendation is to sign up for any free frequent flier program you can and get a travel card with no annual fee and pay it off vigilantly.
DURING YOUR VOYAGE
Stay in hostels or with friends/family when you can – most of the stereotypes about hostels are untrue. I have loved most of the ones I have stayed in and some are nicer than hotels I’ve stayed in! Plus, many offer amenities such as laundry, internet, communal kitchens, you get to meet and interact with other travellers, and some even have a “restaurant” in the hostel!
Take the next flight – airplanes intentionally overbook, and sometimes, more people show up than they can accommodate on the flight. In exchange for volunteering to take the next flight out, they’ll not only put you up in a hotel for the night (or however long until the next flight), but will also offer a voucher for a FREE trip (usually for redemption within a year). So if you’re travel is somewhat flexible, go for it!
Buy local and cook where you’re staying – this will save you TONS of money, and it’s fun to see the local grocery store, try new foods and learn to cook different cuisines. Again, it’s probably healthier since you know what you are putting into the meal.
Look at different modes of transportation: don’t only look for airfare, buses in South America are surprisingly comfortable and inexpensive and train travel in Europe is also less expensive (and you see more) than taking planes.
Pregame 😉 – If you’re going out to a club or bar, making cocktails wherever you’re staying before you go out can save you tons of money rather than spending lots of cash on watered down drinks
Volunteer and/or work abroad – this will not only give you a life-changing experience of working or volunteering with locals and truly seeing the country you are in, but if you are working, it will give you a chance to gain some extra cash for excursions during free time. And with either one, it’s definitely an impressive resume booster and could turn into a job once you return home (that worked for me!)
Make New Friends – travelling with other people can save you a lot of money, from going in on a hostel room together, sharing taxis, meals, etc. I love travelling with new friends also because they bring their experiences and knowledge to the table.
Go to the Visitor’s Center – they often give you free maps, coupons and have loads of suggestions (often free museum days, concerts, and other activities) be sure to discretely look at maps when you are alone and/or in a not-so-safe area – I put mine in my journal or a book, so it looks like I’m reading when I’m looking at a map 😉
I hope these tips help you if you are planning a trip. These are tools I swear by and they often become good habits even when I am not currently planning a trip!