10 tips to avoid blowing your travel budget

tips to avoid blowing your travel budget

It is the one big concern for travellers on a budget: MONEY.

You see it on their faces – the grimace while checking their account balance at an ATM, the wince when handing over cash for accommodation or activities, or the look of despair when their bill from dinner is more than they anticipated.

Money sucks. As a budget traveller, you never seem to have quite enough to do everything you want to do! So with the budget traveller in mind, we have compiled a list of ten tips (five for before you go and five for while you’re away, plus a bonus tip at the end!) to help you manage your money and avoid overspending (and that horrid feeling of despair).

Before you go

1. Take advantage of sale airfares

Sign up for email newsletters from airlines and travel agencies, as well as deal websites like Groupon and Travelzoo. When the sales come out you need be ready to jump on them as quite often there are limited seats, so make sure you have the money available!

2. Search widely and consider non-traditional types of accommodation

Search on websites that combine different booking search engines, like Trivago. If you don’t mind not knowing exactly where you’re staying, take advantage of secret deals like the ones Hotwire offers. You can pick the area and star rating and you’ll know the price, but you won’t know the exact hotel you’re staying at until you have paid.

Also, consider non-traditional forms of accommodation, such as Airbnb or Couchsurfing. Airbnb has some amazing hosts and properties at a fraction of the price you’d pay for a hotel in a similar area (think New York City). You’ll also meet some amazing people who often give you tips for the best things to see, eat, and do in their local area! We experienced this in Portland when we stayed with Tom. Or you could even consider camping like we did around America’s Northeast!

Camping in NY state

Camping in NY state

3. Look for discount codes.

If you’re booking an attraction or tour online, do a quick Google search for discount codes for that particular place. Sometimes you’ll find them and sometimes you won’t, but it’s worth spending a few minutes looking to see if you can save some dollars!

4. Ask if there are discounts for booking online or booking in person

Some companies offer discounts for booking online, and others offer discounts when you show up at the booking office. It’s worthwhile asking them before you book!

5. Money matters

See what debit or credit cards you can take with you that cost the least in terms of ATM fees. Some have no fees, while others charge a whopping amount when you withdraw cash. Keep your eye on exchange rates and buy cash when the rate is good, and save it for your trip! You can also use a prepaid currency card, and while these are handy in that you can take advantage of good exchange rates and don’t have to carry loads of cash around, beware of the conversion fees.

While you’re there

6. Eat takeout, street food and cook for yourself

By takeout, we don’t mean eat McDonald’s throughout your holiday – no way! We mean buy healthy takeout from somewhere like Chipotle, or grab a sandwich to go from a deli. By not sitting down at a restaurant or cafe you can avoid tipping, especially in the US and Canada (sorry to those who make a crappy wage but being a budget traveller means you have to cut corners in some places!).

Street food is some of the cheapest and most delicious food on offer – grab a banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) and wander down Hanoi’s streets, or watch a Pad Thai being made in front of you on the street in Bangkok. Look for places that are busy with quick turnover – chances are that food has been sitting out in the sun all day if it’s a quieter establishment!

If you’re staying in an apartment, Airbnb accommodation, or a hostel, quite often you’ll be able to cook your own meals. While this may seem a bit boring it’s a sure-fire way to save those precious dollars!

Street food in New York City

Street food in New York City

7. Walk rather than use public transport or taxis

Use your feet to get around cities, rather than relying on something with wheels. Your feet are free! Wear comfortable shoes and clothing that you can happily wander around in for a few hours. Although subway and bus fares can be relatively cheap, it adds up if you use them several times per day. And taxis… if you can avoid them, do! They’re super duper expensive. Catch public transport instead of a taxi from the airport to your accommodation, if you can!

Note that this mainly concerns western countries – in places like Southeast Asia taxis can be dirt cheap! Just make sure the meter is turned on or you agree on a price before setting off…

8. Join up with other travellers and do things together

Aside from it being a great experience meeting and hanging out with other travellers, you can save money too! In many places, say if you hire a guide or a boat for a day (as we did in Inle Lake, Myanmar), the whole thing may come at a fixed price. That way if you can find other travellers to come with you, you can split the cost between everyone.

Longboat on Inle Lake

Longboat on Inle Lake

9. Take advantage of free Wi-Fi

If your hotel doesn’t have free Wi-Fi (most do nowadays, but some pesky ones are ruining it for travellers!) then don’t pay that exorbitant fee they’re asking – pop down to your local Starbucks or other cafe and ask to use their Wi-Fi. You may have to buy something to use it, but at least you can sit there with a nice coffee while you do your internet business! We have been known to hover outside places with free Wi-Fi and hook into it without going inside – but many places these days have password protection on their networks. All you need to do is ask!

10. Watch what you drink and where you drink it

Alcohol can be your downfall in the budget stakes – how many times have you gone out and had three or four drinks and blown your budget for the week? Drinks at a bar or restaurant in countries like New Zealand are phenomenally expensive – $9 for a beer, or $14 for a glass of wine, anyone? If you’re wanting to have a big night, have a few drinks at your accommodation (that you’ve purchased at a supermarket or liquor store) before you head out, and then your bank account won’t have the same headache as you the following day.

Bonus tip!

Track your spending. This way you know if you’re under, on, or over budget on a daily (or sub-daily) basis. We use the iPhone app Trail Wallet when we’re on a trip. You can set the currency you’re spending, and it will convert to your home currency if you want it to (quite useful when you’re dealing with many more zeros than you’re used to!). You can split expenditures into categories like Accommodation, Transport, and Food (and make your own custom categories too). We swear by it and recommend it for every traveller with a smartphone!

P&S xx

What tips can you share for saving money, either before you go on a trip or while you’re away? We’re always on the lookout for more ways to save money, so share your thoughts below!

17 comments

  1. The hotel that I stayed in Australia didn’t provide any free WiFi; had to run down to the nearest Dome Cafe whenever I needed to settle matters online. It was such a pain in the neck because of the amount of Australian Dollars spent on just the coffee. Ah, yes, I do agree that travelers should rely on walking instead on taxis. We were lucky in the sense that there were free buses around the CBD area and the only walking involved was from the bus station to the hotel (it’s quite a long walk, come to think of it).

    For us, we usually purchase our flight tickets around 6 months in advance if we are confirmed flying to that place. It’s somehow cheaper then. It does help to check with the bank whether they have a branch in that particular destination 0- or if they have partner banks who will allow a free withdrawal. Hope it helps! ^^

    • Petra
      Author

      It’s so annoying when there is no wifi right?! Free buses are a traveller’s best friend, wish they were in every city! We haven’t quite figured out the best way of booking flights, there are so many ways to get a good deal – but 6 months in advance sounds like a good idea! Thanks for sharing Ciana!

  2. I’m a huge fan of walking around and taking cheap public transport over expensive taxis where possible! I also keep a travel budget as spreadsheet, but the Trail Wallet app sounds like it might do a better job! Thanks for the tips 🙂

    • Petra
      Author

      Walking is so much better right – you see so much more! We keep a spreadsheet too for bigger items before we go but the app is good for when you’re out and about, for food and things like that.

  3. I will certainly try that app next time I’m on the road. I tend to try to keep track in my head, and always fail! I would add that in big cities like New York there is often some sort of longer-term pass that saves quite a bit on public transportation. Paying per trip is usually very expensive, but a seven-day pass is earned back within a couple of days. Check out the deals carefully though. Sometimes there’s a deal available to locals that is not publicized to tourists!

    • Petra
      Author

      Hi Rachel, thanks so much for mentioning the public transport pass! They are an excellent idea – especially if it’s winter and you don’t want to be outside all the time. Thanks!

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  5. Some great tips here! I’m so glad you are finding Trail Wallet useful. We think tracking your expenses is the best way to get in control of your finances – both when you’re saving for travel and when you’re on the road.

    I’d add travel slowly to this list. It saves so much money on transport and you can get some great accommodation deals if you stay for a week or month. Monthly apartment rentals on Airbnb are particularly affordable and you save money on food by having a kitchen. In Guatemala we just rented a gorgeous apartment for $700 a month when the nightly rate is $100!

    • Petra
      Author

      We agree Erin – it gets a bit annoying sometimes having to remember to add everything to track, but it’s pretty easy when it’s in such a good app!

      Travelling slowly is a great tip, and aside from saving money on accommodation and transport you experience much more in the surrounding area too! Wow, sounds like you got a great deal in Guatemala – we’d love to head there some day.

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