Budget Travel: 8 Penny-Saving Tips

Posted on February 28, 2010 by

“How do you manage to travel all the time?” Friends often ask, puzzled by my packed travel schedule. What they don’t know is the side of me before a trip: scrimping on every penny I make and staying home instead of out partying. I’m a travel writer – life’s not as glamorous as you think, and my pay check’s not as loaded as a blue-collared executive. So before or during a trip, I tend to  be extra careful with my money – I’m no expert; I’m merely sharing some of my own practices with those interested in travelling more and spending less. Hope they’re useful!

Photo by Steve Wampler 1. Stay Home, Spend Less 

Before a major trip, I usually sacrifice party-time and instead, cook at home to save some pennies. For me, foregoing a night out with the girlfriends means saving at least $30 in just a weekend, which adds up to $120 a month (equivalent to one-week expenditure in South America!) There’s always plenty of free things to do on a weekend – take a stroll in the park or go out on a hike in the countryside – usually healthier than boozing.

2. Move in with your parents

It’s the fastest (but might not be the easiest) way of cutting down on your monthly expenditure. Renting your own place means approximately $500 off your earnings each month, pack up your bags and move back to your parent’s place and convert that into an extra month of travel in Guatemala. For the couples out there, find a cheap place to stay – who cares if it has a tv, private bathroom or even good location – you’ll cut down a big chunk of your spending.

3. Go where your dollar lasts

Instead of traveling around Europe, where your dollar isn’t going to go as far, travel to Eastern Europe, South East Asia or South America, where you can galavant for a fraction of the cost. Or if you’re planning a trip to Central America, spend more time in Panama instead of Costa Rica where prices are much higher. In Asia, take your time finding your way around Indonesia or Thailand where cost of living is lower than and then say, Singapore and Japan.

1062744637_215b9bc9b5_b Photo by kiki99

4. Travel at off-peak period

A red-eye flight is going to be cheaper than one that leaves at a more convenient time. If you are flexible with your dates, try to fly on weekdays and non-public holidays. Summer travel tends to be the peak season, so if work doesn’t come in the way, travel when everyone else is not.

5. Scour for travel deals

Budget airlines have definitely changed the way we travel these days, a Ryanair flight can costs  as low as 5GBP if you’re luck enough to snap it. Make sure to check out every airline and last-minute travel deal when booking your trip. Online travel coupons are also getting more popular, offering generous discounts off vacation packages or airfares.

6. Make friends with the locals

There are thousands of social media sites in today’s world – twitter, facebook etc. Give a shoutout when you’re visiting a particular destination to get the lowdown on what’s good and what’s not. The locals will know the best value places to eat, the fastest and cheapest ways to travel, and  at times extend their hospitality by showing you around. At the end of your travel, you get a good understanding of the place you’ve just visited and you’ve just earned yourself a new friend.

7. Couch Surfing

A brilliant concept that brings travelers from around the world together, exchanging culture and experiences, and a free place to stay. The uninhibited can just sign up for free, do a search for locals living in your destination, write them an email and if they say yes, voila! – you have a free night’s stay on their couch! I personally adore couchsurfing, having done it a couple of times and always having an excellent experience.

8. Cook your own food while traveling

Although trying a country’s food is a large part of traveling (and often is one of the most important for me), eating out takes up your travel budget. Instead, visit the local food market (which can sometimes turn out to be an awesome experience) and try out whipping up some local dishes in your hostel. Or are you tempted to splurge on that gorgeous restaurant poised above the city center? Try to find a quiet spot right next to it, and bring a picnic with you to enjoy the same views for a fraction of the price.

300811684_4e1468e05c_o A hostel kitchen – Photo by Alana Jonez


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About Nellie Huang

Nellie Huang is a professional travel writer and blogger with a special interest in off-grid destinations and adventure travel. Her mission is to visit every country in the world. In her quest, she's climbed an active volcano in Iceland, swam with sealions in the Galapagos, built a school in Tanzania, waddled with penguins in Antarctica, crossed into North Korea and drank beer in Palestine.

30 Responses to “Budget Travel: 8 Penny-Saving Tips”

  1. Paul March 1, 2010 7:45 am #

    Great tips ! Good call on Panama ( instead of Costa Rica , which used to be sooo affordable ( god damn eco tourism !))
    Eastern Europe is getting more expensive ( unless you travel to some god forsaken Serbian village where they still haven't heard about toilet paper ).
    I am kinda scared trying couch surfing , but I like the idea behind http://www.singlespotcamping.com/
    Tried to "connect with locals " on Twitter , before my last trip to Florida , got a bunch of spammers…

    • Nellie March 2, 2010 4:31 pm #

      Thanks for the recommendation, will check out single spot camping.

  2. inka piegsa March 2, 2010 12:43 am #

    I do the 'scrimping' before a trip. And yes, Eastern Europe is getting more expensive by the day. Unfortunately
    Turkey is a point in case. Couch surfing? I don't think so, but then, I'm no longer 20!!

  3. Dave and Deb March 3, 2010 6:06 am #

    Excellent Advice Nellie, We are going to have to look into Couchsurfing. We only just found out what it was all about and what an excellent idea. I wish that we signed up before while we actually had a place to trade with people, it might be a little difficult now. Oh well:-)

    • Nellie March 5, 2010 9:33 am #

      Dave and Deb! How's travelling around Sri Lanka? The best thing about Couchsurfing is that people don't expect the favour to be returned. I mean you don't necessarily have to offer your home to someone, in order for other people to host you in their homes. It's not really a houseswap, you basically contact the locals, and they'd let you sleep on their couch if it's convenient for them. :)

  4. marta March 4, 2010 4:24 pm #

    great advices and unfortunately (for us) didn't consider before couchsurfing but i know many travelers are raving about it so we would definetly look into it asap.
    it sounds surely as a great way to save on the accommodation cost, mix with the locals or at least with someone that know much more of that city and could give you some great tips

  5. Migration Mark March 5, 2010 6:02 pm #

    I couchsurfed for about 5 months straight and had nothing but great experiences. It is a great way to make friends and stay somewhere if you are flexible.
    I would also add to the list that you should not buy unnecessary items. Countless people go into a convenience store purchasing highly unnecessary snacks and beverages at high prices. If you only buy the things you really need, you will save a lot.

    • Nellie March 7, 2010 5:42 pm #

      Mark good to hear your couchsurfing experience was good. I'd only done it three times, all were amazing experiences.

      Yep buying unnecesarily tends to eat up a big chunk of your travel budget. Shopping (especially for us girls) can be quite a killer as well. I had to totally stop visiting the malls when I was saving for a big trip.

  6. Womens Journeys March 31, 2010 9:55 pm #

    I think I need to try couchsurfing at least once…to overcome my fear! Love the tips, especially those related to pinching pennies *before* you travel.

  7. Jonathan White May 14, 2010 2:27 am #

    Fantastic information for the longer term, budge traveler. Yes there are many wonderfully inspiring and life changing countries that are very cheap in order to extend your stay. South Asia is, in my opinion, the most favored safe haven that offers the young and not so young, traveler the opportunity to live and work alongside some of the most endearing lovely people on earth.

  8. Juno May 14, 2010 5:40 pm #

    Nice one! Essential tips :) I personally very proud of the fact I did no.8. One month of backpacking I cooked almost every meal. Pasta, sandwich, soup..plenty of other food. Cooking with fello traveller was so much fun. That’s why I’m really into cooking now :)

  9. Stephanie May 14, 2010 12:09 pm #

    I've been living at home to save for my RTW trip and, although it's not always easy, I am probably saving over $1000 a month compared with if I had to pay rent in the DC area. Absolutely worth it!

    • admin May 16, 2010 11:59 pm #

      Wow $1000 is alot! Good for you!

  10. Adam May 17, 2010 5:14 pm #

    Great advice here. Cooking in at a hostel is always a good idea to save some bucks, and it affords you the opportunity of meeting new people and having a good time in with some new friends. There's always that camraderie amongst travelers in a hostel kitchen sharing the limited amount of space and utensils. One of my favorite things about traveling anywhere is to hit up the local markets, whether they be giant flea markets, open air farmer's markets, or small, locally owned, neighborhood markets. You can get super cheap food to cook on your own, and you can usually find super cheap meals and hunker down with the locals. Going to markets is BY FAR my favorite part of traveling.

    • admin May 18, 2010 5:14 pm #

      Thanks for mentioning the local markets! It’s definitely one of my favorite things to do when traveling. I especially like markets/souks in Northern Africa and the Middle East, the vibrant colors, smells and noisy all pack into an interesting experience. ;) Southeast Asia also has explosive markets that you can easily get lost in.

  11. LondonApartment June 7, 2010 3:39 am #

    If you are in South East Asia you will find that eating out can be a lot cheaper than cooking. Don't go into 'European + local food' restaurants, but keep your eyes out for little kitchens that are packed with local people – usually a good sign that the food is good and cheap. Street side eating can be quite an experience as well (and cheap). Just make sure you take time to observe how the cooks handle cleanliness and hygiene, e.g. I will walk away if he/ she is making meals and collecting money using the same hand.

    • admin June 7, 2010 4:22 pm #

      Thanks for pointing that out. I second that, in South east Asia where I’m from, eating out actually saves you some pennies rather than cooking at home. In countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, street food is actually a highlight in many’s gastronomic experiences. I personally find it an intriguing experience and often a gratifying one. ;)

  12. anca a November 12, 2010 8:20 pm #

    Very good tips full of common sense. You're welcome to stay on my couch if you intend to visit Bucharest Romania!

  13. Columbus Echevarria November 30, 2012 4:07 am #

    Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the issues. It was truly informative. Your website is very useful. Thank you for sharing!


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