Last month we only spent US$2,000 holidaying in the US. This works out at US$64.50 for both of us, per day. It includes all our accommodation, food and travel expenses.
It wasn’t a fluke either. After many years of practise, I feel I’ve got the skill of ways to save money when travelling down to a fine art.
Ever since I was little I’ve been one for a bargain. During university, my dad was always impressed when I came home from the shops with bags stuffed full of clothes to announce that I’d bought my new summer wardrobe for $100.
Dave used to get infuriated when it took me an hour to do the grocery shopping, as I would carefully compare each price of every item, making sure I got the best value.
Over the years though, my cost saving ways have rubbed off on him and now when he finds a bargain he comes home and proudly tells me, “It was on sale!”
Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my cost-saving tips for travelling, so that perhaps you can save a little too.
10 ways to save money when travelling
1. Pack your lunch and cook your dinner
When we’re in a new place, we always make sure we eat out at least once. Trying new food and experiencing the local cuisine is one of the reasons why we travel after all!
But if you eat out for all three meals of the day it quickly adds up and can get very expensive. We find that making sandwiches for lunch and cooking up a quick pasta dish for dinner can save us hundreds in the long run.
And besides, eating a picnic in a beautiful park in Paris not only saves you money but is a lot of fun too!
2. Do a self-guided tour
Tours are expensive. And sometimes they’re not even that much fun. Recently we went on a tour in a cave and a little girl kept screaming in our ear.
For one hour.
It’s often cheaper and more enjoyable to do your own tour of a place, discovering a destination at your own pace.
A month ago we were in the Garden District of New Orleans and I downloaded an interactive map that told us which mansions had some of the best architecture, the history behind the buildings and where they were located. We spent a couple of hours wandering around the area and had a great time.
3. Skip the small stuff like coffee and cake
We were suckers for this when we first started travelling. Even if we ate breakfast at our accommodation, we’d get a coffee later. This adds up – sometimes we were spending $15 on coffee and cake a day! Eeep! In my opinion, it’s better to go out and enjoy a full meal out once a week than to eat coffee and cake three days a row for the same price.
Oh, and if you work while you’re on the road, why not do it in a library? Using the free wi-fi in a cafe just means you end up spending a lot of money on… yep, you guessed it, coffee and cake.
4. Sign up for flight notifications
If you have awhile to book your flights, sign up for notifications for that route. A few search engines like Expedia and Kayak allow you to sign up for ‘price alerts’ and will let you know whenever the route you’re looking for goes on sale.
Don’t have a particular holiday destination in mind yet? Search your location on SkyScanner and then click ‘everywhere’. It’ll tell you the cheapest route out of there and perhaps that’ll be your next holiday spot.
5. Write down all you spend
I’m a bit obsessed with this. I think that when (and if!) we ever finish travelling, I will continue to do this. Writing down everything that we spend from buying a piece of fruit to a fancy dinner really helps you to keep track of your budget.
It also allows you to go back and have a look at where you overspent. Sometimes I’ll say to Dave, “We’ve spent $100 already today” and he’ll be surprised. It’s difficult to keep track of how much you’re spending when you’re busy.
I just write all my spendings down into the notes app on my phone, which I always have with me.
6. Try alternative accommodation
When we were in Vegas we stayed in the sleaziest motel that had cigarette burns in the bed sheets. The walls we paper thin – and it was not the kind of place where you wanted to hear what was happening in the room next door.
We paid about US$60 for the room for the night.
We’ve stayed in Airbnb accommodation where we’ve paid around US$40 a night to stay in a gorgeous bedroom in someone’s well-kept house. And instead of hookers in the neighbouring room, we met lovely locals. Plus, we got to use their kitchen as one of our ways to save money on eating out.
Sometimes thinking outside of the box when you hunt around for accommodation can save you hundreds of dollars. Did you know that you can legally park your campervan in the Walmart parking lot and sleep there for free?
7. Cut down on the booze
I don’t want to be a party pooper. Boozing is fun, there’s no denying it, but it’s also expensive. Dave and I have tried to cut down on the booze – mainly when we’re house sitting and in one spot for awhile – to save some cash.
If you can’t go without a tipple, rather than slam shooters in the hotel bar at 1am go to a local watering hole at happy hour, or buy a bottle of wine and drink it up on your room’s balcony while you watch the sunset before dinner.
8. Travel in a group
I mentioned previously that tours can be crappy. But some of them can be awesome too. If you meet some fellow travellers and are keen in doing a tour, ask them to come along.
We’re thinking of hiking to Boiling Lake, a volcanic spot on Dominica, later this month. They recommend a guide but if it’s just the two of you it can cost more than US$50 per person. But, if Dave and I wait to do it with my mum and dad when they’re here, it’ll cost just US$25 each.
If you’re in a market or another place where negotiation and bartering is acceptable, don’t be afraid to try it! When we were in Istanbul, Turkey, it is expected of you to haggle. Get over your embarrassment and do it.
It took me and Dave awhile to get used to bargaining but we were pros by the end.
Our best method was if we just said no and walked off. Sure enough, the salesperson would come running after us and give us the bargain we were hoping for.
10. Get a travel card to avoid atrocious bank charges
We made the mistake of not investing in a travel bank card immediately. More than US$150 spent on bank fees later (which was in about one month!) we made the transition and got us a travel card. Inquire at your bank before you leave on holiday to find one that’s best for you.
When we were in the US we used CaxtonFX for our British bank account. All we had to do was transfer our funds to the card online and then when we took out cash at the foreign ATM we didn’t pay any fees.
Much better than the $30 in fees we were paying each time with withdrew money from our Australian bank account!
Where you shouldn’t scrimp
Friends of my parents had to re-mortgage their house when their son had a hiking accident in South America. He didn’t have any insurance and had to be airlifted off the mountain. They had to front up the thousands of dollars it cost to pay his medical bills and fly him back home.
Moral of the story – DO NOT travel without insurance.
2. Your health
Once when I was travelling in Italy I started peeing blood. I was in a lot of pain but I was stressed out about seeing the doctor. I didn’t want to pay extortionate fees to get better.
Turns out it was a urine infection and with just 5 euros spent on antibiotics prescribed by the GP I was better in 24 hours.
If you’re ill, see the doctor. Your health is more important than your money. And you might be surprised – it could be cheap like it was for me in Italy!
3. Doing something you’ve always wanted to do
One of our regrets is not getting a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon. We might never be given the opportunity again yet at the time we felt we couldn’t afford this adventure.
If you want to do something badly enough – do it. You’ll never regret the money you spent, instead you’ll remember the experience you had.
4. Splurging on a little luxury now and then
In Morocco we found the markets overwhelming. Dave didn’t like the way the men stared at me (even when I was covered) and after being ripped off by a local we were feeling exhausted. I dragged Dave along to the Turkish bath and we had the BEST massages we’d ever experienced. We walked out of the spa floating on air. Sometimes if you’re feeling rundown on your travels, it’s nice to splurge a little to take the pain away.
5. When the locals need the money more than you do
After the Bali bombings, the Balinese were really suffering. Tourists refused to come there and the locals were struggling to get by.
My parents and I stayed in a top notch resort and we were the only ones in it. Yet the Balinese were all smiles and even baked me a cake for my 18th birthday.
It’s nice in situations like these to spend a little. Get your laundry done, hire that sun lounger, give the waiting staff a nice tip. They need the money more than you do.