Many people have this assumption that traveling to far away destinations are only for either the wealthy people who can afford to travel without looking at their growing credit card bill, or for backpackers willing to hitchhike, couch surf, and put their lives at risk to save a few hundred bucks. As someone who travels one country a year while maintaining a full-time job and being a part of the middle-class bracket, I can assure you, almost anyone can travel.
While you do need to save up for a trip, the amount isn’t always as high as most people expect. Last year, I went to Hong Kong with my daughter. By skipping Disneyland and other tourist traps, we managed to have a memorable trip that cost less than $3000. That’s just one way of cutting back. These other tips can help you save money even while traveling on a budget.
Booking Your Flight
I got this from my mother and older sister: it pays to be following the social media accounts of airlines and being subscribed to their mailing list, if available. I’m part of a mailing list for a certain airline company, and before they release their annual discounted flight promo on social media, they announce it to the people on their mailing list. I’ve learned that by the time the promo is publicly announced, most of the good flights and seats would be already taken. But don’t let the pressure force you to make hasty bookings.
I can’t really recommend Frequent Flyer Programs because I haven’t accumulated enough points to earn huge rewards. However, I’ve heard stories of people who have traveled and gained enough points to get free roundtrip flights around the world. Personally, I think that if you rarely fly, I wouldn’t recommend joining this program.
Also, I think a lot of people know this, but I think it’s worth mentioning here. As much as possible, book your flight months or, if possible, a year before. If you look at airline websites, you’ll find that a ticket for a flight tomorrow costs more than a ticket for the same destination six months from now. That’s because of simple supply and demand: if you want to get somewhere fast, you’ll have to pay more; if you want to pay less, you’ll have to fly at a later date.
The prices for airline tickets usually vary between days, so if I’m not in a hurry and willing to be flexible with my schedule, I compare close dates and find the most affordable rates. I look through booking engines such as Skyscanner or Kayak, but I also look at the airline website itself, since some airlines offer the lowest price if I book on their website.
Remember, the price fluctuates depending on several factors, and you have to plan carefully. If you’re planning to spend Christmas 2019 in New York, for example, then a ticket for a flight from California to New York is a lot cheaper if you buy it on January 2019 compared to October or November. In that same vein, that ticket same ticket to New York on December is still worth more than a ticket to Florida at the same time, since it’s off-season. And because a lot of people are going to New York for the New Year’s Eve celebration, it’s peak season, which means more travelers and higher ticket prices compared to, say, a regular day in June. These factors will really affect the ticket prices, so it’s important to plan where you really want to go, and when.
As for the flight times, I’ve found that it’s a lot cheaper to fly late at night or early in the morning. Less people are willing to destroy their sleeping cycle and drag themselves and their family or friends to the airport to catch a flight at two in the morning, so you’ll find a quieter but cheaper flight. Even more so when you travel on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Cheapest Way to Book Accommodations
After booking your flight, the next thing you should do is book accommodations. Instead of hopping from hotel to hotel, I book for hotels in places that are either in the center of all the destinations I’m visiting or at least accessible at the end of the day no matter where I visit. That’s because many hotels are more likely to offer discounts to guests that stay for more than one night.
There are a lot of accommodation types to choose from, but I recommend only two: hotels and hostels. These are accredited businesses who are liable for your safety. I’ve read so many negative experiences on couch surfing and Airbnb’s that I don’t want to sacrifice low-cost accommodations for safety. There are also some backpackers who will recommend not getting accommodation at all and simply sleeping during travel and using public bathrooms or the bathrooms in their destinations to freshen up, but I find the idea of it so stressful and not worth the few hundred dollars I’m saving.
Online, you’ll find several websites offering to search various hotels in the place you’ll be visiting, but I strongly recommend dealing directly with the hotel because some websites add a referral fee on top of the price as payment for leading you to the hotel. Some hotels partner with websites and give a cut of your money to the website at no added cost to you as well, but I’ve found that it’s much more cost-effective to deal with the hotel.
This tip I’m going to share should only be done on off-season destinations. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself without accommodations or having to pay for much more expensive rooms. Instead of booking a hotel room after booking a flight, call a hotel or hostel at the last minute. During off-seasons, it’s very likely that they have spare rooms that aren’t making them any money, so asking them about cheap accommodations will more likely get them to provide you with discounted rooms.
When I have money to spare, I like the extra luxuries and privacy hotel rooms provide, but if I’m traveling alone or on a budget, hostels are a good place to pick. It’s not for everyone, especially if you’re the paranoid type who thinks everyone is out to get you, but good hostels can provide you with not only shared and clean facilities, but a chance to meet fellow travelers and pick up some tips on traveling on a budget.
Check What’s Free
I know it sounds like a cheapskate way of putting it, but there’s no better way of saying it simply: there are tourist sites that really are free every day or on certain days, so it helps to do your research of an area before going there. Government-funded museums in some countries, for example, are usually free admission to all. However, if you’re going there on a weekend, expect there will be loads of other tourists and locals visiting the area.
Ask the Locals, Not the Tourists, Tour Guides, or Online Reviews
They’re called “tourist traps” for a reason. Plenty of governments around the world understand how economically beneficial the tourism industry is for their country and have departments finding ways to make tourists fork over money for overpriced things that locals know they can get for much cheaper in places tourists aren’t really aware of.
For example, your tour guide will probably take you to popular tourist destinations with souvenir shops and restaurants twice the regular cost. But if you tour the area on your own and stop to ask the locals on tips, you’re highly likely to find a good local restaurant a bit farther from tourist destinations but at much affordable prices.
It’s why I don’t recommend reading reviews online such as TripAdvisor: most of the time, these reviews are written by either angry tourists who wanted cheap but five-star service or bloggers trying to link people to their blog. Locals rarely write about places they visit frequently, so when in doubt, ask a local.
My advice: avoid the tourist-filled streets. Go a few blocks away and you’ll find places offering the exact same food and souvenirs, but at cheaper prices.
When it comes to food, souvenirs, shopping, or other activities that cost me money while traveling, as much as possible I avoid the tourist traps and bring enough money for the day. Before beginning my traveling adventures, one of my friends told me to open a special bank account. With ATM cards, banks can charge a significant amount on withdrawal fees for international banks. While it’s only a few dollars, these charges can pile up if you’re the careful type who doesn’t like to keep huge sums in their wallet.
Some banks offer ATM accounts with less or no charges on international withdrawals, saving you a large amount when you withdraw money. If you’re like me, you need this when you’re trying to save money. When I leave my hotel or hostel room for the day, I only carry the money I need and then keep my ATM card in a safe place. That way, I’m careful to spend on things I need or souvenirs I really want without going over budget.
These are just a few ways I save money while traveling. Notice that even with these methods, you’re not sacrificing the fun you get out of your travels, and that’s because you don’t have to spend a lot just to have a memorable trip to a new area. Plan carefully, be smart about your journey, and, even on a small budget, you can have a fun trip.