You get dropped off at the airport with just the clothes on your back and your pack, you flash your passport, walk through security, check the monitors, and settle down at the terminal eagerly waiting for your plane to depart. The last thing you’re thinking about at this very moment is when you’ll return. Instead, you have a movie trailer of adventures playing in the back of your head. What will it be like? Who will I meet? How will I survive? The best part about travel is that you never know exactly what you’re in for. Who knows, maybe you’ll never return!
Whether it’s forever, a few months, a few weeks, or a few days this list of tips on how to make your money last will ensure that you keep traveling and exploring this beautiful world for as long as possible.
8 Tips (Plus One Necessity) For Making Your Travel Money Last
1). Minimize Your Costs At Home
Fewer costs at home mean more money to put towards traveling! This is especially important for long-term travelers, but reducing your unnecessary fixed costs can literally add hundreds of dollars a year to your travel budget. In our case, we cancelled all subscriptions (Internet, Spotify, Fabletics, gym memberships, phone plans, even our beloved Netflix got booted), terminated the lease on our apartment, sold one car and a good chunk of our belongings, and found the cheapest possible place to store the rest of our stuff (…TJ’s parents garage… no shame). While we’re on the road our only fixed costs are:
Alli’s phone bill (which has a reduced plan for travel and TJ was able to cancel his indefinitely)
Renters insurance on our small amount of belongings in storage (very cheap and great peace of mind)
And lastly comprehensive coverage for Alli’s car (basically the lowest possible car insurance that covers your car sitting in one place).
If you’re traveling for a short period of time, all of these pieces won’t be feasible, but check if there’s anything you don’t need that could reduce your costs (like that beloved Netflix membership 😉 ). Even just a few dollars here or there can add up fast.
2). Set A Budget & Stick To It
Budget?! Gross! When you board your flight out of the country, place your pack in the overhead bin, and settle into your seat for the long journey ahead the last thing on your mind is having to watch how much you’re spending. Maybe you’re pondering the fruity drinks you’ll enjoy on the tropical island, where you want to hike to in the national park, who you’d like to meet on your adventure, or which exotic places you’d like to explore first… but budgets are nowhere to be found in that daydream.
Even so, setting a budget and sticking to it means traveling longer and not running out of funds.
3). Avoid Unnecessary Bank Fees
Yeah we know, still probably the last thing you will be thinking about as the Air Asia flight attendant hands you a steaming hot towel to cleanse your face and hands with before takeoff (such a lovely experience by the way). However, picking the right credit and debit cards to take with you can save you way more $$$ than you may think.
Make sure you have ones with no foreign transaction fees! We use Capital One, Bank of America, and Barclays cards that have no foreign transaction fees (or annual fees for that matter). This means that we’re not getting charged the 1-3% on every transaction like you will be if you stop reading this guide 😉 Sure 1-3% may not sound like a lot, but add it up over a year, or even just a month of travel and you will be disgusted by the amount of money you’ve thrown away!
Traveling abroad, particularly to countries that deal primarily in cash (like those in SE Asia), means you’ll be pulling money out of ATMs often. Each time you do you’ll get charged anywhere from $1-11 regardless of how much money you pull out (the fee is based on the ATM itself and some banks tack their own fees on top of this). So, unless you have a card that reimburses your ATM fees like the one we use from Charles Schwab, you are losing quite a bit of $$$ to the ATM that could be used to fund a few extra days of travel.
We hate changing money over at exchange places (who wants to have to shop around to be able to spend your own money), so we use our debit cards in every country we visit and love having the ability to get cash when and how we choose without having to worry about those ridiculous fees. Because we don’t get charged, we don’t have to worry about carrying a bunch of cash around with us all of the time. Instead, we just pull out money when we need it. If you want more info on the best cards for travel from true travel hacking experts, then check out Extra Pack of Peanut’s guide!
4). Travel Slowly (Or Just Slow-er)
As the captain turns off the fasten seatbelt sign and you get up to move around the cabin and stretch your legs you start thinking of all the wonderful places you’re about to go.
If you’re anything like us, you may have a rough outline of the places, but not necessarily any timeline or specific route. Either way, one of the biggest (not so secret) secrets to saving money on your travels is to slow them down. The more time you spend enjoying a place means the less time you spend moving around (which is the most expensive part of traveling). Now we don’t mean a month or more in all of Thailand, but rather in one location/city. This way you can book cheaper accommodation as most places offer weekly — or even better — monthly discounts. Take advantage of the time you have and make your dollar, rupiah, peso, dinar, bhat, etc. stretch!
…Don’t worry if traveling slow isn’t an option, we have more money saving tips to go…
5). Plan Your Own Travel & Excursions
Hmmm it seems like the plane has hit some turbulence so you’re not allowed any tea or coffee as you, or your neighbor may accidentally send your drink flying (wouldn’t that be tragic!). On the bright side, your meal has arrived and it’s time to eat! As you enjoy your meal and fill your belly, you get in the planning mood – always so much easier once you’re fed! You start looking at all the excursions you want to take and places you want to explore. It may seem overwhelming if you’re headed somewhere totally new, but planning your own travel path and excursions, instead of using packaged tours or hiring a travel agent, will save you heaps of money.
One of our favorite ways to plan our explorations is to check out blog posts from other travelers and see what they’ve done (and how they’ve done it). Then we will look at a map (usually on maps.me or Google Maps) of the area and “star” anything we want to see. Lastly, if we’re still not sure, we’ll head to a tour agency or tourism office and take note of where they recommend going. Just because we’ll be handling all of the details on our own doesn’t mean we cant go to some of the same cool places that they take people (and usually we are able to do it for a 1/4 of the price!).
6). Travel Like A Local
That was delightful! Well at least as far as airplane food on a long flight crossing many oceans goes 😉 . Even better, the turbulence has stopped, you’ve enjoyed a cup of tea, and now it’s time to rest your eyes. As you close them, you imagine what it is going to be like learning to use all of the means of local transportation in the cities you will visit.
Which brings us to another game changer when it comes to bringing that daily budget way down, traveling like a local. Instead of hiring private or group tours we typically opt for renting a motorbike and driving ourselves around whenever possible. If we’re in places with great public bus or train systems (like Penang, Malaysia, and Singapore) we’ll opt for those instead. And if we’re on islands where public boats are an option we’ll take them (like you can on the Gili Islands in Indonesia). Taking public transportation and driving yourself around may take a bit more effort, but you get to see the country more like the locals do, you’re in charge of your own timeline, you can adventure and explore places spontaneously that may not have been on your “itinerary” for the day. Plus, you’ll save a lot of money!
Tools/Methods We Use To Find Cheap Transport
When arriving in a new place, whether by ground or air, there will always be what we call a “convenience fee” to get a taxi or bus directly from the place where you are dropped off. Whenever possible, try to walk a few blocks away and you will usually find a cheaper ride to your next destination.
Whenever you fly into a major airport you usually have the option of taking a taxi or shuttle to your hotel OR figuring out a public transportation route that will get you close enough to walk for a fraction of the price. Ask the information counter at the airport and they’ll usually give you the exact bus #, train stop, etc. that you’ll need. These are typically located before you exit from baggage claim with your bags.
Use Uber/Lyft (or Grab if you are in SE Asia). The prices are almost always going to be cheaper, you don’t have to haggle, and they come directly to you. We’ve even used Grabs to take 1+ hour rides in different parts of SE Asia.
Don’t use travel agencies. Go directly to the source unless the convenience outweighs the price tag. Sure you can buy a bus ticket from the travel guy around the corner, but it will be 25% less if you just walk down to the bus station.
Try to travel by land as much as possible. Rome2Rio and Seat61 are both great resources for figuring out bus and train routes respectively.
Always haggle (when appropriate in the country you are visiting) and always look for ways to get a better deal when you can bundle into a group. For example, even if you’re traveling solo chances are there are others looking to go to the same place as you are. Make friends and try to save some $$$ 🙂
7). Eat Like A Local (And Don’t Drink Every Day)
“Flight attendants, please prepare the cabin for landing”. Your flight is nearly complete; now you can just sit back, relax, wait for the wheels to touch down, and decide what local fare you might like to try first! Although many of the places you may visit will have food options that cater to Westerners and tourists if you take a few steps back and “people watch” for just a minute you’ll start to notice where the locals eat. They walk into little ma’ and pa’ shops, over to street carts, food gardens, and into cultural areas like China Town and Little India (if you’re in a city like Bangkok for example) where street food reigns.
Don’t let prices fool you, street food may be the cheapest, but it is often the most delicious you will find! Plus, if you’re looking to do things more like the locals, then you’ll have a great time learning how to order in a foreign language, figuring out what level of spice you want your food to have, how to eat it, and discerning how and where people go to pay (not always an easy task!). Eating street food is one of our favorite parts of traveling in places like SE Asia and with the amount of money it saves us, it’s not hard to figure out why 😉
Bottom line when it comes to drinking- it’s a budget killer. A drink or two a night can quickly amount to hundreds of dollars (or more) over the course of a trip. Drink when it will be the most fun and rewarding for you, and spend other nights enjoying other activities. You will be leaps and bounds above the pack as far as saving money is concerned!
8). Find Cheap Accommodation
As you land you hear the captain make his final announcement “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to (insert dream destination 🙂 ) International Airport. The local time is 10:38 AM and the temperature is 75 degrees. For your safety and comfort, please remain seated with your seatbelt securely fastened until the Captain turns off the Fasten Seat Belt sign.” You’ve finally made it! But wait… you decided to hold off on booking accommodation until after you arrived, so its time to find a place to stay.
Another great way to save on lodging through sites like Agoda and Hotels.com is to always search for places to stay directly through their mobile app. These companies automatically apply a special discount code to your booking when you search through the mobile app rather than through a web browser (helps build brand loyalty for them). Instant saving is always a win!
If hostels are more your thing, which let’s be honest, they should be if you’re looking to travel for as little as possible, then searching on sites like Hostelworld, hostels.com, and Agoda will be the easiest way to find a place that is right for you. We use Hostelworld practically everywhere we travel and are amazed by the number of hostels available in cities all over the world.
Pro Tip: If you are a traveling twosome like we are, then be sure to always check the prices of private doubles (if that is an option) vs. booking two dorm beds. Sometimes, a private room is cheaper than booking two separate dorm beds. In countries where negotiating the price of a room is common, you will probably get a better deal if you wait and haggle a bit once you arrive (that is if you’re a sharp negotiator 😉 ) Otherwise, prices are typically cheaper when you book online ahead of time.
Finally, one of the best ways to save on accommodation is to not pay for them… how you might ask?
By connecting and staying with locals throughout your journeys. And luckily for you (and the thousands of other travelers who use them), there are several awesome sites out there that can help you connect with locals. Couchsurfing is one of the longest standing and most user-friendly sharing economy travel websites out there. As the name suggests, Couchsurfing is a site that allows you to find locals willing to take guests into their homes free of charge. No matter what your tastes may be, one thing every traveler has in common is that they don’t want to pay a fortune for accommodation, so staying with someone who lives where you’re going can be a great option. And the best part is, they are already experts in that area, so you can ditch your Lonely Planet book and just ask them for advice instead.
One Last Requirement For All Budget Travelers: Track Your Expenses
This is the most important thing you can do to make your travel money last!
If you ignore the rest of this article, then please at least do this one thing, track your spending! It may not always be easy to remember, but actively tracking your expenses will keep you accountable for what you are spending and will ultimately make you a better budget traveler. Plus, it’s fun to be able to see where you’re at every day and figure out where the bulk of your money is being spent (well until you’ve been at the bars too many days that is 😉 ).
We’ve used apps like Mint for tracking our expenses at home, but for travel, we prefer the TripCoin app as it is made specifically for tracking travel expenses and is super easy to use while on the go. We love it because we can set up different trips (one for each country and one for one-offs like plane tickets), use the handy in-app currency converter, create our own categories, and track our spending by day, country, category, and much more! Best of all, it’s free 🙂
Do we ever go over budget? Of course! But, we make up for it on other days. The key to staying in the green comes down to planning. We know how much we have to spend on things like food and accommodation to be able to have enough money to splurge on all of the fun stuff we want to do like visiting an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai or zip-lining through the jungle in Laos. Setting a budget, tracking all of our expenses, and sticking to the plan we set for ourselves gives us the freedom to be able to travel much longer and do all of the awesome things we do.
Do you have additional tips for saving money while you travel? Let us know what they are in the comments!
Share this: use the sharing icons below to share this with your friends! And be sure to share your adventures, and how these steps worked for you, with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (tag @LifeIsMeantForExploring to make sure we see it 🙂 ).
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At Life Is Meant For Exploring we help promote and inspire a life of exploration with a focus on travel, outdoor adventure, experiencing local culture, and breaking away from the pack to forge a path of your very own. Our promise is to share crazy and honest stories, epic photography, thoughtful reflections & culturally respectful realities. Whether you’re traveling the world, sitting in your backyard, or looking for a fresh start, our goal is to show you how to enjoy life one adventure at a time.
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