One of the biggest hurdles many travellers face is not saving money for a trip, but rather making that money last while they are actually on a trip. In other words, how to save money while travelling and make your hard-earned travel dollars go further. Once you’ve made it to your destination, oftentimes it is easy to lose track of your budget and say to yourself, “It’s okay to splurge a little — this is once in a lifetime trip!” Many a long-term traveller has come home 5 or 6 months into a year-long trip after the funds have dried up, and have been left wondering, “Where did all my money go?” Here are some tips I’ve learned over the past 5 years of travelling that have helped me stick to a budget and stretch my travel dollars as far as they can possibly go.
Keep Track of Everything You Spend
On my very first trip overseas — a four-month backpacking trip around Europe — I carried a tiny notebook with me everywhere where I wrote down every shekel, Deutsche mark, or shilling I spent. That notebook was dog-eared and stained and not in very good shape at the end of the trip, but it managed to keep me on budget for the entire 4 months.
Nowadays budget tracking is made even easier with the availability of so many apps like Trail Wallet for your iPhone or Android device. What gets tracked gets measured, and there’s no better way of ensuring you’re sticking to your budget that to keep track of your money. Many even make the conversion into your own currency for you. I usually set up categories such as Transportation, Food, Lodging, Entertainment, Tours, etc. to see where the bulk of my spending occurs. On those days when you do splurge, just be vigilant to try and make up those funds in the days following. It’s easy for things to spiral out of control if you’re not careful.
Stay Longer in One Place
I wrote an entire blog post on how to find cheap accommodation while travelling, and while I no longer stay in hostels or shared dormitories when I travel (a huge money-saver if you can put up with the noise and lack of privacy), I do stay much longer in one place. I prefer to stay at least a month in a city or destination, and I prefer to use Airbnb. There are a few reasons for this (my own place, privacy, lack of noise, etc.) but also most rentals through Airbnb offer discounts of up to 60% if you stay for a month. Some do have reduced costs for weekly rentals, but I fins that the best deals are to be had for monthly rentals. I’ve had my own condo in Thailand for about $7.50 USD per day. That’s about the same price you’d pay for a bed in a dorm room.
Booking an apartment or condo as a long-term rental also has other benefits as well of course. Most are going to have a kitchen of some sort so you can prepare your own meals instead of eating out all the time. Some rentals even have a washing machine right in the unit, and a shared pool and gym on site as well.
Watch What You Drink
I get it. You’re on vacation. Except it’s not really a vacation if you’re travelling for 6 or 8 or 12 months now is it? Constantly drinking alcohol every night (or even every other night) is not sustainable. When you first arrive at your destination, especially if that destination budget-friendly like South East Asia or Central America, it can be easy to fall into the booze trap. “But it’s only a buck a beer!” Yes, but after 10 beers, and then some shooters, and then cover at that nightclub and some more drinks, how’s your budget holding out now.
More than once I found myself having a few beers with dinner and next thing I knew I was buying shots and dancing the night away until the wee hours of the morning. While it was fantastic at the time, the next day I was usually not very pleasant upon discovering my sad, empty wallet. Be smart and plan your nights out. And while some nights it’s perfectly fine to let loose, don’t make it a habit if you want to stay on track with your budget.
Plan Your Meals
I’ve already touched on the subject of having a kitchen helps to save money while travelling, but the subject of planning your meals is slightly different. Most folks make a grocery list before they head to the grocery store, but more often than not that gets thrown out the window on vacation or on an extended trip. I’m guilty of this as well — showing up at a 7/11 and just filling my basket with whatever is around, instead of having a healthy, balanced meal plan before I head to the store. Planning what you intend to eat for the week ensures you aren’t stuck eating junk. And junk tends to be a lot more pricey when it’s last-minute or from a convenience store.
Even if you aren’t in a place that allows you to prepare your own meals, make a rough budget as to what you plan to spend during the week and what you plan to eat. Research restaurants beforehand if possible to get an idea of the menu and the cost. This can help not only with your budget, but also with planning a balanced diet for the duration of your trip, and also if you have any allergies or food preferences.
Get Your Phone Unlocked
Traveling is not always cheap so every little bit helps if you want to keep the costs under control. Before starting your trip make sure you check to see if your phone is network locked because if it is, roaming costs can be outrageous in many parts of the globe. Getting your phone unlocked allows you to use it with any GSM SIM card worldwide. Usually, the process of unlocking is quite simple and no technical skills are required. You can contact your network provider for support or search for an online unlock code provider. Depending upon your device model, you may be lucky and find some free phone unlocking giveaways but if not, even if you end up paying few dollars, it’s definitely much cheaper than the roaming rates you’ll face.
Use Credit Card Rewards
I can’t believe more people don’t take advantage of credit card rewards. I meet many travellers who say they don’t want to have credit card debt, so they don’t have a credit card. Here’s a news flash — you won’t have any debt if you pay off the credit card every month. And you won’t be charged any interest either. The sign-up bonus alone is often good enough for a short-haul flight.
I have three credit cards currently, one of which has an annual fee, but that pays for itself every year with the number of reward points I get from it. Whenever possible, I try to put everything on my credit card to maximize those points. In the past, I’ve booked flights to Los Angeles, Newfoundland, Mexico, Toronto and Vancouver using my points.
It’s best to do a comparison of travel reward credit cards beforehand to determine which one will be the best value for you. Some things to look for are:
- Travel insurance — does the card offer free or extended travel insurance if you book your trip with the card, is just one type of insurance like the motor trade insurance or others.
- Warranty extension — many rewards credit cards will double the warranty on electronics you buy using the card
- Points to Dollar Spend ratio — how much money do you have to spend annually on the card to get the points you want
Many travel rewards credit cards not only offer travel rewards, but actual merchandise as well. I used my points to get some fancy wireless earbuds for my iPod, as well as to get Christmas presents shipped directly to folks back home when I’m not in the country.
Use Local Apps for Transportation (and more)
Everyone’s heard of Uber and Lyft, but how about Grab or GoJek? Grab is an app in many South East Asian countries that works similar to Uber, except you have a choice of taxi, shared ride, or even a motorcycle in some markets. GoJek is an Indonesian app that does the same, but you can even order such stuff as food delivery, a massage, or even a haircut. Not only are these apps often times cheaper than the international equivalents, most of these apps allow you to charge the ride directly to your credit card as well, so need not to worry about the driver not having change or trying to rip you off.