25 Ways to Travel on a Budget

There is often a mindset when it comes to travel that it costs a lot of money. The “I’m too poor to travel” attitude permeates a lot of people’s decisions. This cannot be further from the truth if you know what you are doing.

Studies have shown that spending money on experiences is more likely to bring lasting happiness. This is because while we quickly get used to material possessions, memories and experiences we share with others, on the other hand, are a gift that keeps on giving. You get to see the world and enjoy history, new food, and surround yourself with culture, allowing you to grow as a person and appreciate parts of the world people only a few generations ago would have killed to experience.

I’m here to tell you can still hit your financial goals AND see the world and do so comfortably. Here are some tips I’ve used on my own travels and hope you find them useful.

1) Use ATMs to get local currency

Using ATMs is the cheapest way to get local currency. You usually get charged the spot rate for the exchange plus 2.5% to 3.5%. Your bank may charge an additional $2 to $5 for using a foreign ATM but in certain circumstances this fee can be waived. Even with these fees, the last thing you want to do is to go to the airport to exchange your money. The exchange rate can often be 10%+ and there can also be a transaction fee of $5 to $15 which is a huge rip-off in comparison.

Another benefit of taking out cash at an ATM is you can take out money as you go, so you don’t have to worry about having too much money on you. I personally carry a few hundred dollars’ worth of local currency and use my credit card for everything else.

2) Have a travel reward credit card

For Canadians, if you’re a solo traveler I recommend the new American Express Cobalt card targeted at Millennials or the WestJet RBC Elite Mastercard for families and couples

For Americans, if you’re a solo traveler I recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred which has won best credit card of the year multiple years in a row or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Visa for couples or families.

For more, see my posts on recommended travel reward credit cards for both Canadians and Americans.

3) Use Google Maps offline

The app you most likely use the most when traveling is Google Maps. The issue then becomes how can you use it without hopping from Wi-Fi spot to Wi-Fi spot to avoid roaming costs? (reminds me when I was in NYC, hopping from Starbucks to Starbucks whenever I got lost). The easiest solution is to download the maps ahead of time. To do so search for any address, swipe up from the bottom to get more information, and tap the …’s at the top to find the download button. You can still use the GPS functionality with airplane mode on when using maps offline.

4) Travel during the shoulder season

Cheap flights, cheap hotels, thin crowds. There are a lot of benefits of traveling during the shoulder season. The shoulder season is defined as the months before or after peak season. Each destination is different when their shoulder season is so do your research. I personally like to travel during the shoulder seasons over the offseason, because the offseason is unpopular for a reason: poor weather conditions.

5) Look for flight deals

Flight deals are all the rage these days with sites like Jack’s Flight Club (in the U.K.), Scott’s Cheap Flights (in the U.S.), and Ydeals (in Canada) offering subscription lists to keep you informed of the latest and greatest deals. $169 flights non-stop to Japan? Anything is possible if you keep yourself flexible. The best flight deal I had was $450 round-trip through Ydeals to Lima, Peru from Calgary, Alberta! The best part is their email subscription list is free with Jack’s Flight Club and Scott’s Cheap Flights also offering a premium subscription service with more personalized custom deals made specifically for you. I personally find the free email service sufficient, but if you wanted the premium service, Jack’s Flight Club and Scott’s Cheap Flights cost £35 and $39 a year respectively.

6) Stay in hostels

I love staying in hostels. Not only do I save money, but I also get to meet people I would never meet otherwise. You can use a number of services online to book, but typically I like to use Booking.com or Hostelworld. Hostelworld in particular has the most options with over 36,000 properties across 170 countries. I normally base my bookings on location, rates, and reviews. They have a good refund policy too. You often have the option of booking a private room, which while may cost more, is still less than a hotel room. I was bouncing around Japan on $30 a night, can’t beat that. If you have room in your luggage, bring your own lock and a towel to avoid having to rent them at the hostel.

7) Book using a private browsing window

If you’re booking flights abroad be sure to clear your browser cookies and use the private/incognito window when searching for flights. Depending on the airline, they may increase the cost if they know you are searching from outside their country.

8) Book using a VPN

Taking things one step further, use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to make it look like you are booking from another place to avoid price discrimination. You can ensure you are getting the best flight deal using this technique. Aside from getting a better flight deal, VPN’s are more secure than using a regular internet connection as everything is encrypted. There are free VPN’s and paid VPN’s. Why pay when you can use one for free? Often the free services have limitations such as being slow and having either a data or time limit on their usage. If you’re using the VPN to book flights though, a free VPN is more than enough.

Depending on what you are using the VPN for, my recommended paid VPN is NordVPN that offers an $11.95 a month plan which includes up to 6 devices and nearly 5,300 servers in 62 countries which ensures a fast and reliable connection. If you’re looking for a free service, then I recommend ProtonVPN which has no time limitations and offers unlimited data. The drawbacks are that you are limited to three server locations and one device on the service at a time.

9) Travel light

You’ll save more by avoiding checked luggage fees. Not only that, but you’ll be able to travel faster and lighter by keeping your bag light. Do what I do and only bring the necessities. Anything else you can purchase during your trip.

10) Use Airbnb or VRBO

Airbnb is by far my favorite way to travel. You can often stay in a spacious loft in a trendy neighborhood for a fraction of the price of a hotel. I’ve personally stayed in over 10 Airbnb’s and have not had a poor experience yet. Be sure to only book places with good reviews and a lot (I look for 50+ reviews), and pay very close attention to the photos of a property. You want to minimize the risk of being disappointed. Another tip is to look carefully at the description, amenities, and rules, and the cancellation policy as each place has different policies.

VRBO, short for Vacation Rental By Owner, is similar to Airbnb with one key difference: you can only rent entire homes whereas with Airbnb you can rent out a single room if you like. Either way, you are saving a lot of money versus staying at a hotel.

11) Have a big breakfast and skip lunch

I find when I travel that it’s hard to stop for lunch when I’m out and about trying to hit up places to see and do. Rather than putting a halt to your plans and your wallet, a better alternative I found is to eat a bigger breakfast (if it’s included with your accommodations even better) and bring a snack with you on the go.

12) Download budget travel apps

Budgeting

Budgeting can be hard during your trip. How do you keep track of all your expenses? By using Trail Wallet. Trail Wallet is a budgeting app designed for travelers. You can plan out your budget and enter your expenses as you go. They offer their app for free for the first 25 items to let you try it out first to see if you like the interface. You first organize your expenses by trip or month, set yourself a daily budget, then add expenses as you go.

Flights and Hotels

For flights and hotels, I recommend using Hopper. Hopper uses historical data to predict the future of airfare and hotel prices so you no longer have to ask yourself, will they go up or down? You set an alert for the travel dates you are looking for and Hopper advises you if you should book now or wait. You can often save a lot, upwards of 40% off if you time your booking right. I’ve personally saved hundreds of dollars using Hopper.

13) Make refundable bookings

You never know what might come up with work or your personal life so I prefer making refundable bookings when I travel. Using Booking.com is my preference. You get cancellation on most rooms and their best price guarantee.

14) Purchase travel insurance

While your credit card may have coverage it is always a good idea to review the fine print before assuming you’re covered in any given scenario. There are limitations so I normally recommend purchasing additional travelers insurance to ensure you are protected. My recommendation is World Nomad Insurance. They allow you to buy coverage while traveling, offer 24/7 emergency assistance, coverage for 250+ activities and give a portion of the proceeds to charity. As an example of a 2 week trip to Italy, it cost me $78 CAD.

15) Take the night train or bus

If you want to maximize your travel time, purchase an overnight train or bus ticket. You’ll save on a hotel and by the time you wake up, you’ll be at your destination. Depending on your budget, might be worth splurging on a premium seat to get a better sleep.

16) Get a place with a kitchen

Whether you get a hostel, an Airbnb, or a hotel, having a kitchen allows you to cook your own food and save a lot on eating out. It’s a great way to check out the local markets and pick up fresh food for cheap, especially if you are traveling in a more expensive country. While I know a lot of people don’t like to cook while on vacation, at the very least breakfast is easy to make and allows you to eat out at restaurants for lunch or dinner.

17) Use public transit when you can

Whether subways, trains or buses, I almost always use public transportation when I travel and rarely take taxis. It’s a great way to see the city and experience life how the locals live. The key is to stay somewhere central so you don’t have to go too far and use Google Maps for their excellent public transportation maps.

18) Rent a bike

Depending on where you are visiting, biking can be a great way to see the city and get some exercise while you’re at it. I often like to do a bike tour and then rent the bike for the rest of the day exploring the sights.

19) Take walking tours

Walking tours are one of the best ways to explore a new city and one of my favorite kind of tours. They are often free and led by experienced locals.

20) Try the street food

This is one of the best ways to experience authentic food and also the cheapest. The locals eat it and it’s cooked right in front of you so you know it’s fresh and safe to eat. Look for a busy stall so you know it’ll be good. I love eating pad thai on the street in Thailand.

21) Skip the international phone plan

If you’re going to be in a country for a while I recommend purchasing a local SIM card for your phone, assuming your phone is unlocked. While you will have a different number during the duration of your trip, the ease of getting around and the savings makes it far more affordable than getting an international phone plan. Alternatively, putting your phone on airplane mode and using Wi-Fi can work. Download Google Maps for offline use as previously mentioned.

22) Book early, but not too early

Airline fares typically rise the closer you get to departure, but there is a sweet spot where prices either lower or increase based on demand and market conditions. The recommended time to book is 6 to 8 weeks before your departure, or around three months if you are traveling during peak season.

23) Visit free museums

Some cities offer free museums. You should do your research to know which days in advance and plan accordingly.

24) Walk as much as you can

There is no better way to experience your surroundings than to walk. You are able to see things you would never encounter on a top list of things to do and see. I remember encountering temples and places I randomly came across and they turned out to be some of the highlights of my trip. The best part is getting exercise and enjoying the local food without feeling guilty. Some days when I was in Italy I was walking 20,000 steps a day, and one day walked over 30,000.

25) Call the hotel directly

Often if you call the hotel directly, you can get a better deal as the hotel is able to avoid commissions as high as 15% that they pay to the online booking site and travel aggregator. You should first find the price online, and use that as the price you want a price reduction on. This tactic can also work on car rental companies.

Legal Disclaimer: The views expressed by Mr. Dumont on Money Sensei are solely his and not intended as investment advice nor a guarantee of any financial return. Mr. Dumont is not an investment or tax professional, so the information contained on the blog is not a substitute for professional advice. The contents of this blog are accurate to the best of his knowledge at the time of posting, but rules and laws are ever-changing. Please do your research to confirm that you have the current information.

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