We love to do upscale things on a downscaled budget. In 2017 so far, we’ve visited Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Ireland, England, Wales, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, and Iceland. And we’re not done for the year yet – we have a few more destinations left to go! We don’t travel full-time, and we’re not complete digital nomads who work from the road. We rent an apartment, save for the future, and lead “normal” lives – but we prioritize travel and budget as much as we can while studying, working, etc. We’ve been asked dozens of times, “How do you travel as often as you do, the way you do?” An important lesson we’ve learned so far is that it’s as important to budget while you travel as it is to save up before you travel. We collaborated with other travelers in the blogosphere and Instagram who know a thing or two about stretching your buck to travel longer and better to help you on your next vacation. These tips have helped us trot around the world quite a bit, and we hope they will help you too!
*It is important to acknowledge that not everyone has the resources to travel as often as they’d like – be it time, money, visa-issues etc. We put together these tips to help everyone who has travel on their mind and would like to travel for at least a bit longer than their current resources allow them to.
Before you travel
Get a travel card
A travel card is a must-have for any traveler, like Kaylie Lewell at Happiness Travels Here. We ourselves have managed get back hundreds of dollars this year with our Bank of America Travel Rewards card! The Chase Sapphire card has been a favorite of Tim and Julie at Wikerts in Wanderlust. Shop around for the card that suits you best, in your country! Try to get a card with no annual fees and assuming that a point equals a dollar, at least 1.5 points to every dollar you spend (among other perks!)
Choose WHERE you go wisely
Geographical savviness is important for any aspiring traveler. We want to visit New Zealand as much as the next person but it’s much cheaper to travel there from Asia or Australia than from the east coast of the United States! On the other hand, it’s much cheaper for us to explore US and Caribbean destinations than it is for some others. Pick your destinations carefully – the closer you are to a destination, the cheaper flights tend to be (for the most part!)
Have you traveled your home country yet?
It’s funny – sometimes it takes years, or a visiting family member or friends, to force you to explore your surroundings! When we’re short on cash and have the travel bug, we look to driving to nearby trails and cities, rather than booking expensive flights. You’d be surprised at what you’ll find right in your home town, state, or country! This is also a great way to save up for that big trip to Europe, the US, Australia, or even Antarctica!
Traveling to the south of Europe in July or August? You can expect marked up prices and accommodation, not to mention a competition for the “good” accommodation months in advance. And did we mention that vendors for cruises and other activities also tend to have marked up prices during this peak travel season? Travel during the spring or fall instead when vacationing in these hotspots. Opt for more out-of-the-way places in the summer instead, such as the north of Europe: Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania all come to mind! You can also avoid the hordes of other tourists this way – a necessity for us when we travel!
Book your travel in advance!
Guess what? The three-month travel rule doesn’t really apply anymore. It’s usually safe to say that the earlier you book, the better deals and prices you get. Alternatively, when it comes to hotels, you can roll the dice and book the day before, or the day of, for slashed prices. And if you really like living on the edge, travel standby on flights (though we have way too much anxiety to do this, to be honest!)
Unless we’re traveling for more than two months at a time, and crossing extremely varied temperatures, we try to make do with just our carry-ons. Luggage fees can add up quick, and you’d be surprised at how much you can fit into your carryon + personal item if you really tried! It’s always a good idea to invest in a good carry-on!
Download a map of your destination to your phone via Google Maps
Avoid crazy GPS charges at car rental companies with this simple hack: use Google Maps! Don’t have a mobile internet connection during your vacation? No problem! Download an offline Google Map of your destination to your phone. You can download entire countries on Google Maps and off you go! This is how we navigated the Republic of Ireland, Wales, Iceland, and England this summer – and avoided paying $90 for a GPS per country. Make sure you have enough space on your phone (a map can be up to 1.7GB the last we checked, the Republic of Ireland was around 500MB). Remember that you don’t get traffic updates with offline maps, but this is hardly a problem when traveling around, trust us (unless you’re in a big city and in a hurry of course, in which case you can look up updated traffic routes before you leave the house!)
Carry tea/coffee with you
This might sound funny but for those of you who require tea or coffee in the morning like we do, it’s best to carry it with you! Little expenses like that can add up, and tea bags and coffee packets have negligible weights, making it the perfect addition to your carryon!
Download entertainment onto your phone. Christian’s favorite: Netflix movies!
It’s a sad but true fact of plane travel: certain budget airlines require that you pay to use their entertainment systems. Beat the system by downloading entertainment onto your phone (or carry a good book) to survive those flights, long layovers, what-have-you, at no additional cost! Downloading Netflix movies is a staple for Christian, and downloaded Spotify playlists and a good book are my preferred modes of entertainment.
Book activities in advance
We’ve had semi-private cruises of Santorini, Greece and the Algarve, Portugal, and done a helicopter ride over the active Kilauea volcano on the Big Island in Hawaii. And we’ve paid at least a quarter less than others for these activities – because we booked early (we’re serious!) We plan our vacations months in advance to get the best deals as early as possible. In this case, the early bird really does catch the worm – at a fraction of the price!
Look up where to exchange currency
Where to get the best rates when exchanging money really depends on the country. In some cases it’s better to change it at the bank at your home country. In others it’s better to exchange it at a bank at your country of destination. In still others, airports work. Sometimes it’s just better to pull out money at an ATM. And still sometimes shops on the streets offer the best rates. You can usually find this information online before you travel. Check with your local bank for their rates to change currency as well. Avoid those fees when you travel!
Compare car prices to tours/public transport
It’s funny – we’ve found that renting a car can be cheaper than booking a bus tour in certain cities – not to mention you can usually see more, with more independence, with a car! On the other hand, public transport usually beats out renting a car – and if there’s a good inter-city rail or bus system, it can be a fantastic way to explore the entire country of choice! Research the best ways to get around before you book that extremely expensive tour, car rental, or even bus/rail ticket – it never hurts to compare prices! For example, we found that it was much cheaper to get from Tampere to Helsinki in Finland via train, but a car was best to explore Lakeland, unless you wanted to take the train and bicycle around (another great, budget alternative by the way!)
Book a car for a day trip
Certain locations like Hawaii and Iceland basically require a car to really explore during your trip. In other countries such as Croatia and Germany, it is perfectly feasible and economical to use ferries, trains, etc., to get around. However, if you’re on a budget and looking to explore more out of the way areas such as the Biokovo Mountains in Croatia, book a car for a day instead of for your entire vacation. Plan to visit locations only accessible by car on this day!
For more ways to book your car on a budget, see our guide Car Rental 101!
Book apartments and aparthotels
Apartments and aparthotels are fantastic for several reasons: they tend to be cheaper than hotels, you get a kitchen for cooking your meals, and some can be extremely spacious and central! Like Julia at The Freckled Tourist and Jason at Where’s Jason, we love Airbnb for finding our home away from home. Steph and Zach Dorworth of Destination Dorworth also suggest Airbnb for a more immersive experience within the local culture. Host advice can also be extremely helpful to navigate your destination the local way – like we did on the North Shore in Hawaii with our incredible host Jana’s help!
Click here to get $20 off your next Airbnb trip!
Book centrally and walk, if you can
This is location specific: central apartments can be pricier than others, but it can be useful to forego the price of public transport and time to actually get into the city by booking centrally and walking around. That being said, this wholly depends on the price of the central apartment you find. Have to drive in everyday from your cheap apartment located far outside the city? You may want to consider more central lodgings and forego your car rental instead (especially if you’re looking to explore a city!)
Keep a few days free
This works if you’re traveling over a long period of time, like Hannah and Adam Lukaszewicz at Getting Stamped did during their two year round the world trip. Book a flight in and keep some days free in the middle. This way, you’re free to find those more out of the way spots/islands and will not be held down by already having booked your entire holiday in advance.
You can choose to book accommodation that you can cancel at no cost via Booking.com or wing it and not book anything at all for certain periods of time during your vacation.
While you travel
Buy meals at supermarkets
Like Alison of Up And At Em Travel and @globalcitizendesigns1 we love checking out different supermarkets when we travel. You can find local produce and brands, and shop for breakfast items and snacks that are a staple for any vacation, especially road trips! We make sure we buy non-perishable snacks and at least one large baked good (banana and carrot cakes are our favorites) to munch on during our road trips. Alison stacked up on breakfast items such as cheeses and meats when she traveled Sardinia, which she enjoyed from her balcony with a view. You can also pack sandwiches for lunch, and cook pasta for dinners like we did in Iceland. There’s nothing like a view of a fjord over a picnic dinner on the road, trust us!
Picnics can be an amazing addition to any vacation. Picnicking in Snowdonia, Wales, was the highlight of our trip. Like Rohan and Max at Travels of a Book Packer, enjoy incredible views at a budget, yet yummy meal at a fraction of the cost of eating at a restaurant – not to mention that it’s seldom you find such views at a restaurant!
Sunset drinks with a twist
Avoid the ridiculous restaurant prices by buying beer or drinks at a supermarket and enjoying them at your own leisure over the sunset! We’ve enjoyed stunning sunsets around the world in this way. Not to mention that it helps you find some local favorites in terms of alcohol in supermarkets and you can save the leftovers for the next sunset – or the next trip!
Eat street food
Most destinations have food trucks and street food that allow you to sample the local favorites at extremely cheap prices. My favorite meal in Hawaii was a spicy shrimp rice from a famous food truck on the North Shore (not to mention incredible poke at the supermarket!) Margherita Ragg of The Crowded Planet suggests the street food of Milan to keep your budget in check! Scope out the local food scene and where food trucks hang out by Googling or talking to your hosts/locals and avoid constant restaurant prices (and tips etc.!) Check the food safety practices of your location before you sample the street food though; you’re better off eating at a restaurant in most places in India, for example!
Eat local food at restaurants
No one wants to avoid restaurants completely when on vacation! Here’s a tip for when you eat at a restaurant: in most places, ordering a local dish can be much cheaper than ordering a more “foreign” preparation. For example, salmon in Finland and Ireland was ridiculously cheap. The black risotto and “Macaroni” were delicious and usually the cheapest mains in Croatia and Korcula respectively. Adri En Route suggests drinking the locals beers and liquors. Check the restaurant menu for local specialties before you sit down at a restaurant (and in general, for the price range and menu items of course!), a staple in most countries around the world.
Avoid restaurants in the main plaza of a city
Central locations usually mean higher prices for restaurants in cities. Scout restaurants in side alleys and streets for better prices and even tastier dishes, as these locations usually have to “try harder” to bring customers back to their more out-of-the-way location!
Order different things on the menu
Jan at Adventures A Must suggests always ordering different things on the menu when traveling with a partner. This way you can sample different items on the menu – given that you’re both up for sharing that is!
Miriam at Out An’ About suggests cooking casseroles and big stews that can be mixed in with rice and noodles over periods of time. This way, you have some variety in your meals and don’t have to worry about cooking every single meal after a long day of exploring.
Do Free Things!
Have you tried Googling “free things to do in [enter destination]”? From New York, USA to Polonnaruwa, Sri Lanka, you can find free things to do in almost any destination. In fact, Mri Grout of Lifelong Vagabonds only visits free attractions! @globalcitizendesigns1 suggests looking up free things offered once a month (such as museum entries!), or on a daily basis, at your travel location.
Hiking is an incredible way to spend time during your vacation. Certain places may have nominal entry fees, but hiking can be a great alternative to visiting expensive museums or shows. You may be surprised to find hiking trails closer to you than you think!
Walk, walk, walk
Our mantra is, the small things add up. Like Noel at Ten Thousand Strangers and @caitlin_l_murphy, we try to walk as much as possible – it’s a great way to keep fit while you travel, and you can scout restaurants and parks, instead of taking Uber/buses/trams everywhere. You think you can walk it, you probably can!
Check out Walkli, a fantastic app to help your explore your city by foot!
Visit upscale hotels for drinks and tapas
Want to visit the gorgeous poolside of an upscale hotel but don’t want to fork over hundreds of dollars for a room? @meghanbarnardyoga suggests having a drink and/or tapas at the hotel, and enjoy its grounds/pool/lush surroundings without the $700 a night stay price-tag!
We hope that you find these tips helpful when you’re looking to do upscale things on a downscaled budget! Have we missed something? Comment below with your own suggestions to stretch your buck to travel longer, better! Happy adventuring!
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