Ways to Save Money While Traveling

by Cheryl Yanek

Okay, so you’ve sacrificed for months, perhaps even years, before your trip. You cut out all of the extras (like no longer eating out in restaurants), have limited your alcohol consumption, buying generic food at the grocery store instead of the fancy, popular brands, and are riding your bike to work instead of taking the bus. You do all this so you have a nice amount of money in the bank for your trip. But once you’ve left, is there a way you can continue to be wise with your money during your trip? The answer is yes, there is.

Before you leave, figure out how much you should budget for your trip. Dividing the total cost by number of days seems like an obvious way to do it (assuming the cost is fairly uniform across the different places you will be; otherwise, you’ll need to adjust), but keep some extra money to use in case of an emergency or unexpected circumstance – which will come up, regardless of good planning. You may find yourself stranded in a town where there are no trains until the next day, and no budget accommodations, or an illness may force you to seek medical assistance, which can be costly, depending upon the country. Check guidebooks for their suggestions for a realistic budget – they will usually advise an amount per day under the practical information section – and then add a bit more. (Guidebooks are usually researched and written nearly a year before being published, so you must account for inflation.) Keep in mind the exchange rates as well, and if necessary, carry a calculator when you travel.

A popular travel phrase, “take half the luggage and double the money” should be a traveler’s mantra. Even if you swear to eat solely in grocery stores and camp in your tent, times will arrive where you are forced to alter your methods. There may be no campgrounds, or you may be in a city where food is expensive everywhere and grocery stores few. Perhaps you can’t resist trying a famous restaurant – you should pad your budget for occasional indulgences like this as well.

If possible, set aside some money to be only touched if there is an absolute emergency, or have a safety account – in case you need some money to float on when you return. A separate bank account is useful for this. Before leaving, think about if there is anyone who could lend you money if you are in a bind. If there isn’t, budget extra vigilantly because a money problem could send you straight home, or leave you sleeping on the streets and skipping meals. No one likes counting the days until they can go home, so that shouldn’t be an option you want to pursue.

If you think you will have problems sticking to your budget, write down every single time you spend money. This will help you keep track of what you spend your money on, and make it easier to stay within your limit.

Here are some tips on saving money while you are on your trip:

  • Know key phrases in the language of the country you are traveling in, and if possible, carry a phrase book for languages you don’t know. Ordering the wrong item or a wrong amount could end up costing you money you don’t have to waste.
  • Stay in hostels or shared accommodation whenever you can to cut costs. Camping is another great way to save money.
  • Use ATMS to get local currency – they offer the best exchange rate. Just be careful, as transaction fees can add up, so try to get out a sizeable portion of money, and guard it on your person.
  • If you need to exchange currency, shop around for the place with the best exchange rate and lowest or no commission. Hint: these are usually not the ones in airports. Guidebooks often list places with good currency exchange rates.
  • Stock up on items from cheaper countries. If you need some new socks or a new hat, do some shopping in places where prices are lower, such as the Czech Republic during a tour of Europe.
  • Instead of buying maps, ask your accommodation or the tourist information offices for a free map.
  • Before visiting museums, find out if the museum offers free admission or discounts at certain times. Try to arrange your museum visits around these times, as some museums are quite costly and this can save you money. Sometimes, however, these times can be quite crowded.
  • If you can, wash as much of your laundry as you can by hand. You will save on your washing costs, as well as your time – a few minutes every evening or two is better than several hours in a laundromat. If you plan on doing this, pack clothes that will dry quickly and look good after hand washing. Let clothes fully dry (or wear them damp) – if you pack them wet or damp, they will smell. You will be forced to wash them again.
  • Carry Febreez or a light perfume to freshen the smell of clothes, and extend time between washings.
  • If you can, walk instead of taking public transportation. Walking also enables you to see more of the places you visit, and you will find galleries, shops, people, and cafés you might otherwise have missed. Staying in accommodation that is centrally located is an excellent way to ensure that you will save on transport costs.
  • Find out about daily or weekly transportation passes – you may end up saving heaps of money if you need to take public transportation frequently. Also, ask about student discounts, if applicable.
  • Shop around before settling on a place to eat. Don’t wait until you are famished to eat or you may end up devouring whatever is closest – which may not be the cheapest. Eating outside of the tourist traps is always cheaper. Check out the cheap eats recommended by your guidebooks.
  • If you can, stay at a hostel or accommodation with a kitchen. Cooking your own meals, and shopping for food and snacks at grocery stores is one excellent way to save money.
  • Buffets are a great place to eat well. This can often take the place of two meals.
  • Bring food on trains and buses – restaurant cars and bus rest stops feature overpriced food. When in doubt, never underestimate the value of a jar of peanut butter (or jam or Nutella) and a loaf of bread.
  • Know the local tipping standards – what may be normal back home, may be an outrageous tip elsewhere.
  • Eat in unconventional places – have picnics and barbeques in parks, shop at farmers market and grocery stores. Get takeaway and eat it on a park bench – it is often cheaper, plus you can save on the over-inflated drink prices by drinking tap water (which is safe in most places – check ahead of time). Hare Krishnas often serve vegetarian meals for outrageously cheap prices.
  • Drinking Under the Eiffel Tower
    Drinking Under the Eiffel Tower

  • Don’t go wild with drinking. Alcohol can be quite a wallet-drainer. Find out about drink specials, happy hours, and pub crawls if you want to drink. Purchasing alcohol at a liquor store and drinking elsewhere is always a great option – drinking down by the Seine or under the Eiffel Tower in Paris are two great places to share a bottle of wine with friends.
  • Keep an eye on your money, passport, and valuables. Replacing these items can be quite costly, or complicated. Use lockers provided at hostels, or keep your valuables on your person while you sleep.
  • Be friendly to everyone – it goes a long way. They may give you a discount, or free food, or even a friendship. Smile, and do your best to prove that you are not a typical tourist.

While you should budget on your trip, don’t skimp on what you shouldn’t! You traveled to see what another culture is like – don’t deny yourself a cultural experience. It may be costly to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but it’s something you have to do – it’s a symbol of France, and an unforgettable experience. You don’t want to go home regretting what you missed because it was too expensive.

Don’t sacrifice your health. Make sure you eat as healthy as possible, and take vitamins. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I had a vegetable?” You may be shocked at your answer. If you get sick, go to a pharmacist for help, and then a doctor. Get travel insurance (and find out what it covers). Good travel insurance is there so you don’t have to worry when emergencies come up.

Enjoy your trip. The budgeting you do before you leave, and while you are there, will ensure you will be able to have a longer and more pleasant trip. Scrimp where you can, but not on a fun, amazing cultural experience.