The Internet is full of stories from perpetual travelers, galloping around the globe for several years in a row and posting amazing shots and pics on their social media. When you look at those accounts, the obvious question that pops to your mind is “how they can even afford to travel for so long?”.
Most perpetual travelers are living the digital nomad lifestyle, funding their escapades by working remotely or taking on occasional freelance gigs. However, even when you manage to combine work and play, the costs of travel can still be high.
Even if you score great deals on airfare and lodging, there’s a lot of sticker shock involved in travel. If you’ve ended a vacation having spent way more than you intended, you aren’t alone. In fact, just in the United States we spent more than 718 billion dollars on leisure travel in 2017. That number represents the people who did travel. There are others who simply stay home because they cannot afford it.
Whether you are planning an extended trip or a short vacation, you do need to pay attention to that unsexy thing called “the budget”. There are several things you can to do enjoy a great vacation, while saving just a bit more cash when you go.
Resist the temptation to hop on a tour bus, or to follow a paid guide around on a pricey tour or pay for an Airbnb Experience. Instead, do a bit of research, and explore on your own. You can download city maps, guides, and other materials right to your phone to help you get around. Most official tourism boards publish free itineraries that you can swipe and host free walking tours (but do tip your guide!).
Renting a car, hailing taxis, and using Uber all add up very quickly. If you’re staying someplace a bit remote, those may be your only options. If you’re staying in a metropolitan area, research your options regarding public transportation. So many cities have great networks of buses, trains, shuttles, and subways that will take you directly to any attraction you want. Even better, many offer discount transportation cards/deals just for tourists.
Dining out can take up a significant chunk of your travel budget. On one hand, eating great food is an important part of an amazing vacation experience. The trick is balancing great food experiences with eating on a budget. Here are a few tips that can help:
- Hit the local farmers market. You’ll find more than fruit and vegetable stands there. Chances are, you’ll find stalls selling baked goods, sandwiches, and local fare. It’s a great way to eat local foods on a budget.
- Try a picnic instead of eating at a restaurant. While you’re at the farmers market grab some fruit, cheese, bread, and other treats. Then, plan a trip to a nice outdoor spot for a picnic lunch.
- Eat on the street. Food carts, corner restaurants, and other local food options are usually a better option than touristy hot spots. The food costs less, the company is less pretentious, and you’ll get a local experience. Look for busy places with long lines. Those are the places that are most likely to be clean, and serve up amazing food.
- Take advantage of any freebies. If your hotel offers free donuts and coffee in the morning, grab some to start your day. If you’ve got a mini fridge, stock up on yogurt and other snacks. This will help you save more of your dining budget for something special.
If you approach things sensibly, you can take advantage of credit card perks to save quite a bit of money on your trips. These generally fall into one of two categories. First, there are member perks. These are special gifts and privileges that credit card companies give to members in good standing. This might include:
- Discounts on event tickets
- Members only experiences
- Discounts on Airfare and Lodging
- Access to VIP areas and airport lounges
- First come first serve tickets
The second benefit is, of course, rewards points. These can be redeemed for airfare, and other travel points. Sometimes, you can redeem points for cash directly. Before you choose a card, do your research. You might have good luck with a card that’s tied directly to a hotel or airline like the BA Amex card. Then again, a standard credit card may give you more flexibility.
In the previous post, I shared more tips on managing finances while traveling.
There are so many things relating to travel expenses that can be impacted by timing. First, things are likely to be more expensive and crowded during holidays, on the weekends, and while the tourist season is in full swing. Aim for off season travel whenever possible. Keep in mind that many attractions charge less midweek than they do on the weekends. Also, check for discounts. Museums, zoos, and other cool places often set aside a day or two each week to offer discounts on admissions.
The way you structure your day can make a big difference as well. For example, lunch or an early dinner of appetizers is often less expensive than dinner. Happy hour is cheaper than late night cocktails at a nightclub. If you opt to use Lyft or Uber to get around, you’ll pay less if you can ride when drivers aren’t so busy.
Checked baggage costs and fees for overweight bags can be a real bummer. Fortunately, you can avoid these by packing lightly. Rather than loading your suitcase with an outfit for every single day, plan to do a load of laundry mid vacation. This can help you pack lightly enough to keep everything in a carry on, and avoid the costs associated with checking your bags.
To make even more room, learn to pack efficiently. Roll your clothes rather than fold them. Check out space saving options like packing cubes as well.
There are so many ways to save on travel, without making yourself feel like a poor person. It just takes a bit of planning. By using the tips above, you can enjoy more vacation on a smaller budget.