In my final instalment of travel budget posts (for now!) I’m covering lots of tried and tested ways in which you can save WHILE you travel. From food to accommodation to flights, here are 12 ways you can save on the road!
1. Eat street food
Some people shy away from street stalls and I really don’t know why. These people are making a living – they don’t want to poison you!
We travelled for 3 months in Asia and never had food poisoning or got sick. In Thailand, I had a 10 baht (20p) plate of noodles, 3 BBQ chicken kebab sticks for 50 baht (£1), and many plates of chicken fried rice and pad Thai for 50 or 60 baht. In Vietnam, we had amazing kebabs in thick pitta bread for 25,000 dong (about 70p). Plus the little streetside café stalls are amazing! EMBRACE THE STREET FOOD!
2. Get cashback on travel
For some reason, I only found this out two months into our travels, despite being a huge advocate of cashback sites. On TopCashback, I get 40% off a deposit on Hostelworld! I also get cashback on Agoda, Booking.com and lots more – I just wish I’d realised earlier!!
Now I use cashback on loads of things – Megabus, trains, Travelodge whenever I need to use them. I’ve saved hundreds of pounds over the years with TopCashback, and a huge chunk of that is on travel!
This especially applies to Asia, but it’s worth a try if you’re spending an extended amount of time in one accommodation, want to buy a couple of services from one place, or particularly at markets anywhere in the world.
It’s also daunting at first, but the thing is: you’re EXPECTED to. It’s best to have an idea of how much something should cost, and then go in and barter a little lower. The vendor will most likely meet you somewhere in the middle, or they might even accept the price! And if you’re not happy with their final price, walk away.
One lady tried to sell a t shirt to a friend for 120,000 dong, and he was prepared to pay it. I told him to offer 60,000 because I’d seen them for 80, which he did – and she didn’t even argue! This might sound bad for the vendor’s pocket, but actually paying above the normal rate harms the economy because in the long-term, it drives prices up for locals too.
I found that we had to haggle the hardest with tuk tuk drivers, but our best tactic was walking away if they didn’t back down.
Outside of Asia, you can pit travel providers against each other to beat prices. Many offer a guarantee to beat any competitors’ offers.
4. Don’t always pay for tours or entrance fees
I am really bad for this. I’ve never been into Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London or St. Paul’s cathedral. I didn’t go into the Colisseum in Rome or St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. I walked to the Grand Palace in Bangkok instead of taking a tuk tuk. I almost always take public transport instead of taxis, and DEFINITELY instead of a coach excursion.
And the thing is, I don’t really feel like I’m missing out on attractions (I’ll pay for the ones I REALLY want to see) but it depends whether they’re the sort of thing you can just enjoy from the outside. And by using public transport, not only do I save a bunch of money but I feel like I’m living more “local” than if I was on a stuffy bus with 50 other tourists. I also walk a LOT, which really saves me money!
My other tip is to use travel desks in hostels and hotels. Being an advocate of independent travel, I don’t utilise this enough, but we got entry into Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary for $28 instead of $34, so it’s always a good idea to see what travel desks and shops offer. On the contrary, our hostel in Saigon offered a half day trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels (one of the few coach trips I’ve taken) for double the price of booking the exact same tour through a local travel shop, so always compare!
5. Travel off-peak
This is probably my favourite travel tip for various reasons – and not just money.
If I’m planning even a warm weekend break to Europe, I almost always travel in shoulder season; May or September. It’s cheaper than the summer months, there are less crowds so it’s less stressful and you can sightsee more quickly (and not have a ton of people in every picture!), and the weather is still great. I was going to write that you won’t be surrounded by kids, but I always seem to find huge school trips!
And it’s not just the time of year you should consider. When searching for flights, look at mid-week ones (Tuesday or Wednesday) as they are almost always cheaper.
6. Use comparison websites
In an age of comparing prices on everything, there are a plethora of sites out there who do virtually the same job – and it’s made it much easier to save money!
I always check Skyscanner and Kayak for flights, and accommodation is normally great on Trivago or Expedia if you’re after hotels rather than hostels. I also look on compareholidaymoney for currency prices.
Skyscanner is great because you can set up price alerts so if it gets cheaper, you’ll get a notification! (not so great once you’ve booked it and then receive an email saying the price has gone down!) It also has the fantastic but dangerous “everywhere” feature so you can be completely spontaneous and get the best price on it, too!
7. Free accommodation
It’s possible to travel pretty much for free with services like Couchsurfing, and it’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in a culture. I’ve used it both for staying and for hosting, and it can be brilliant for meeting local people even if you don’t stay with anyone – you can contact them to invite them for a coffee or a drink; you don’t HAVE to request a place to stay.
It’s particularly useful for travelling to more expensive countries like Switzerland or New Zealand, so if you’re interested in visiting the “high-end” travel market but the cost puts you off, consider this instead.
Similarly, if you are looking slightly more long-term, people offer a bed and usually food too in exchange for some help. This could be anything from farm work (e.g. WWOOFing) or babysitting to general housework and renovating. It’s a great way for them to get some cheap help, and for travellers to live with someone local, experience a country’s way of life and also bag a free place to stay. Note that most people would appreciate a couple of weeks’ commitment but you never know what you will find! The best websites to check out are WWOOF, Workaway and Helpx. (Helpx is my go-to one but the user interface is shocking)
You could also get free accommodation by working for a hostel – either cleaning for a couple of hours a day, or some will offer work in reception or their kitchen or bar.
Another great way to save money on accommodation is to take overnight buses and trains. I’ve utilised these in the USA, Europe (including the UK) and Asia. It’s better than travelling all day too, when you could be out seeing things (unless it’s a particularly stunning route!).
8. Sign up with restaurants and travel companies
A lot of the time, signing up to a restaurant newsletter entitles you to a voucher. And if you’re waiting for cheap flights to come up, sign up to airline or agent newsletters for the latest deals. Many companies, particularly Flight Centre, hold some fantastic flash sales – I’ve seen Australia flights going for under £500, and New York flights for under £200! Same goes for tour companies if you’re eyeing up their services.
Sometimes holding off on a purchase also saves you money. We got really frustrated when we went to book our Magnetic Island hostel on Base’s website. The night we wanted had just sold out so we frantically booked the next night and the internet went down. When it came back up, I had an email asking if I still wanted to book it along with a voucher for 5% off!
My favourite one was when I went to buy our malaria tablets and decided not to do it straight away. They then emailed me a code which saved me over £30 – and they were already the cheapest I had found!
Also: always Google discount codes for the company you’re looking at!
9. Cook your own food
On our trip to Asia, kitchens in hostels are virtually non-existent because food is so cheap anyway. But in Europe and Australia, cooking is essential. Plus I love going to foreign supermarkets to see what they offer and shop like a local. This is even better if you’re travelling with someone or are staying in a hostel because everyone can split the costs and you can bulk buy food such as rice, pasta and even meat. I went to a huge market in Budapest with a friend which was not only really fun, but we got lots of reasonably priced goodies to take back to our place and cook!
It’s also a great way to share cultures! Above is a picture of a sushi roll made by our Japanese room mate. The following morning, we cooked her the traditional British hangover cure – a full English breakfast, aka the fry up!
10. Share a ride with a travel buddy
In Australia, four of us hired a car and it obviously halved the cost if it had just been the two of us. In Asia, we always hired one scooter between us. Ride sharing sites are also on the rise – in the UK, you can sign up to websites like BlaBlaCar to share journeys with people who are already driving that route, and this can be within the UK and even to Europe! I used BlaBlaCar to go to Seville for the day from Portugal, and it worked out great – and cheaper and more pleasant than the bus!
If you’re staying in a hostel, it can be even easier to find people to share rides or travel with, and Facebook groups have made it really easy too. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I would never have gone to Mount Sunday in New Zealand – someone asked if anyone wanted to join them one weekend and they were open to suggestions for destinations, and I managed to convince them to go AND bring me along!
This is a great way to save money and meet people, and is safer than hitch hiking which is illegal in many countries (though we have hitched short rides with people before!). Plus check out Uber and Lyft, the increasingly popular ways to share a ride or save money on taxi fares.
11. Buy a travel pass for the city you’re visiting
Many cities offer a tourist pass which encompasses lots of main attractions for one price. The London pass offers a huge array of attractions from £60 a day – not bad when some of the big ticket prices (including St Paul’s, pictured above) are the best part of £20! The best way to find out about these is to visit a tourist information office – something I again haven’t utilised enough when I travel.
Plus you can save money on inner city travel with day or week passes in most cities. This is usually a great way to give you flexibility on getting around too – the Oyster card in London, for example, covers the underground, buses and the DLR trains.
12. Earn while you travel
Working in another country can be daunting, but it may be easier than you think. We spoke to people in Cambodia who had turned up at a bar and ended up working there in exchange for accommodation, food and drink. So while you may not get paid, think of the savings you could make, even if you just did it for a couple of weeks – and it’s definitely an experience to remember! You could also try to do this in hostels – many offer free accommodation in exchange for a couple of hours of cleaning.
I cannot stress enough – please be ethical about things like this, especially in poorer countries where you might be taking work away from the locals.
And of course, visa issues may make it a little more complicated than that for most countries, and the popular job choice of teaching English isn’t for everyone (it’s something I’d love to have the confidence to do!), but there’s always vineyard work in France and Canada, backpacker jobs and WWOOFing in Australia (see #7), summer camp jobs in the USA, and ski season work in Europe and North America.
If you have specific skills, you can pretty much get a job anywhere in the world as an engineer, a scuba diving instructor, a surf instructor, etc etc.