Your money-saving mindset doesn’t have to change when you’re on your trip. In fact, being frugal while traveling can extend your trip or free up funds for a certain meal or tour you want to splurge on. Use my guide to save money while traveling and you’ll see a big difference in your overall trip cost, especially in expensive destinations.
1. BYOB – Bring/Buy Your Own Breakfast
Who else wakes up hungry? I know I’m not the only one… If your hotel doesn’t have a free breakfast, save time and money by prepping your own breakfast from the comfort of your hotel room or Airbnb kitchen.
I love eating oatmeal or muesli in the morning, so I’ll make portions at home to bring with me. I measure out the right amount of oats, nuts, dried fruit, cinnamon, etc. ahead of time, and I mix it with water or milk that I buy in my destination. Although, if you’re checking a bag, you could certainly bring a carton of almond or coconut milk with you. I try to find an accommodation that has a fridge and microwave to store my breakfast supplies too.
If oatmeal’s not your thing, stop at a grocery store when you get to your destination to buy breakfast – yogurt, fruit, and frozen breakfast burritos/sandwiches will be much cheaper there than in a restaurant. Grocery stores usually have microwaves too, if your room doesn’t. And if you don’t have a fridge or microwave available, pick up some fruit, a loaf of bread, and nut butter for a tasty, shelf-stable meal.
2. Take public transportation or a rideshare
In many cities, taxis are the most expensive transportation option, and renting a car is not always the cheapest option when you factor in gas, insurance, and parking.
Do as the locals do and try public transportation or a rideshare, like Uber or Lyft.
Make your transportation experience smooth with these suggestions:
- Do some research on public transit passes. Some cities/countries offer a weekend, 7-day, or 14-day unlimited transit pass that could save you a lot of money if you plan on riding often.
- Many public transportation systems are free or have a free component. For example, in Amsterdam’s city center, the tram system is totally free, just hop on and hop off. Same thing in Melbourne’s CBD and Downtown Miami.
- If you’re wondering about wifi availability and requesting Ubers/Lyfts – I learned that you only need to be on wifi to request the ride. You can turn off your data once you’re in the car if you’re trying to avoid roaming charges and keep it off even after the ride is finished.
3. Drink the local beer/wine/liquor
Although some money-saving recommendations say to forgo alcohol entirely to save money on your trip, that doesn’t sound like a trip I want to be on. I say, save money while having a local experience by sampling your destination’s regional drinks. Whether you prefer beer, wine, or liquor, most destinations have a local favorite that is much less expensive that an import.
Some local favorites are obvious, like tequila in Mexico, but some places have lesser-known beverage production. We tried some great Peruvian wines in Cuzco and a variety of Australian-distilled spirits in Sydney, which aren’t exported to the US.
4. Eat street food/at markets
Markets and street vendors provide delicious food and an awesome way to spend a few hours. Local culture is in full force at markets too.
5. See the sights on your own
While there is definitely value in hiring a tour guide, some of my favorite sightseeing experiences have been on my own. You can spend as much time as you want wandering around, or if you’ve seen everything you want to, you can leave without feeling guilty about ditching your guide.
When we went to New Orleans, we did one cemetery tour with a guide and one that was self-guided. The guided tour was in a group of about 30 people, and we had a hard time hearing our guide and walking amongst our group, which made it an experience we didn’t want to repeat. For the next cemetery, we found this guide to Lafayette Cemetery #1 online and had so much fun following it. We could stop whenever we wanted to take pictures or make detours.
6. Or, go on free walking tours
Many cities have companies that offer free walking tours – an awesome way to see the main tourist attractions and hear from a tour guide. While these tours may expect a tip at the end, they’re definitely cheaper than some package tours you would buy on Viator.
Free Tours by Foot is one of the most well-known free tour companies, and they offer walking tours, bike tours, food tours, etc. in many cities across the US and Europe. They also have some great self-guided tour resources on their website.
Another good option with lots of tours in Europe and Asia is Freetour.com. Although they have a wide variety of destinations, their tours don’t run as often (once or twice per week) so this company is better for people staying in a destination for longer than just a couple days.
Remember to tip your guides!
7. Take advantage of the off-days/times
If you think back to your economics class, you might recall the concept of supply and demand. When demand is high, prices ride. Same is true for the opposite, when demand is low, business have to drop prices in order to sell their goods.
My favorite example of this concept is happy hour – take those slow mid-afternoon/early evening hours, run special prices on drinks and food, and voila! People come in the door. Happy hour also seems to be somewhat universal – you may find 2-for-1 margaritas in Mexico or tapas specials in Spain where snacks are included with your drinks.
When buying tours and services, you’re more likely to haggle the price down when they aren’t crowds of people willing to pay full price. Trying to rent a paddleboard on a beach? You’re going to get a better price early in the morning before the crowds hit. Or maybe you want to hire a guide to lead you around Teotihuacan? The morning time is also less busy, so the guides have less demand and you’ll be able to get a better price.
8. Avoid fees when spending money
If there’s one thing I despise more than spending money unnecessarily, it’s paying to spend money! Avoiding ATM fees, foreign transaction fees, and currency conversion fees is a simple way to save money while traveling, regardless of where you’re going.
- Avoid ATM fees – withdrawing money from an ATM in another country may seem like a quick and painless way to get foreign cash, but when you see all of the fees you’re assessed, it’s actually pretty painful. Withdraw cash in your home country before you leave and exchange it when you’re in your destination.
- Avoid currency conversion fees – as soon as you exit the jet bridge in another country, you’ll probably see a currency exchange kiosk. However, with most things, you pay for the convenience of getting your money exchanged right away. You probably don’t even need this convenience, especially if you’re taking public transport or an Uber from the airport (which accept credit cards). Wait until you’re either at your hotel (the front desk might be able to exchange money for you for free) or at a bank (the exchange fee is significantly lower) to convert.
- Avoid foreign transaction fees – simply put, don’t use your debit card internationally and only use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fee. No FTF is a pretty common credit card perk. If you don’t have a credit card with no FTF, check out NerdWallet’s list of recommended cards.
I recommend using a credit card for as many transactions as you can while traveling. You’ll avoid the hassle of exchanging money or carrying large amounts of cash, plus earn points and easily track your spending.
9. Ask for locals’ recommendations
Getting recommendations from locals is ideal for two reasons: first, they know the best hidden, hole-in-the-wall spots, and second, they usually don’t spend like tourists.
This strategy to save money while traveling doesn’t have to be boring – in fact, it may lead you to a more fun experience (or a more delicious meal) than if you were to stick to the tourist areas.
We asked a taxi driver for a restaurant recommendation in Cuzco, and he was quick to recommend an authentic Andean restaurant. So, we went straight there, and even though there may not have been any Yelp reviews on this place, we were excited to see what it was all about! We ended up having the most friendly service and delicious food. Our waiter was so passionate about the cuisine; he taught us about many varieties of Peruvian corn and potatoes – I still remember that over 600 types of potatoes are native to the area! And the chef invited us into the kitchen to learn more about typical Andean food! We will never forget seeing “cuy” (guinea pig) roasting in a pan…
10. Take home free souvenirs
We’re all about living a minimalist life, but we love bringing home little mementos of our adventures. Plus, we want to share our experience with friends and family.
One of my favorite “souvenir” ideas for friends/family – send postcards! Who doesn’t like getting mail? And to me, a handwritten note is so much more meaningful than a shotglass you picked up in the airport. Postcards and stamps only cost a few cents so you’ll still save money while traveling but share the experience with someone special too.
We also collect business cards/stickers/matches from restaurants or bars we enjoyed. These are free (you can grab them from the hostess stand on your way out) and they don’t take up much space.
Some of the best souvenirs aren’t physical goods, but memories and things you’ve learned on the way. Did you learn how to cook a new dish? Or make a new drink? Try replicating that experience at home, and you’ll bring back all of those good memories from your trip.
What are your top ways to save money while traveling? Without sacrificing fun, you can travel on a budget too. Have you used any of these ideas? Let me know in the comments below!