15 Hacks for Budget Travelers and Travel Cheapskates (like me!)

I’m all about budget travel. Unless you’re a trust fund kid, you don’t get to 40 countries without learning a thing or two about traveling on the cheap. And when it comes to travel, overall, I’m Queen Cheapskate. You’ve gotta be, when you need to cover lodging, food, excursions and more for several weeks.

Though I believe in the occasional splurge, I’ve found many tried and true ways to save money while traveling. Here are some of my favorites.

Rollerbag Goddess Top Tips and Tricks for Budget Travel

1. Always research the real price of products and services before you go.

For example, I research how much a taxi or tuk-tuk ride should cost from point A to B, so I know in the moment whether the price is right.

Tuk-tuk driver in Cambodia - budget travel by asking about pricing first
Most people around the world are honest, in my estimation. But budget smart travelers know to ask about the price first before climbing into a taxi or tuk-tuk. This was my very honest and kind driver on a trip to Cambodia. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

This is especially important in places where drivers are known to rip off tourists. For example, Hanoi is notorious for this issue, and many tourists will take a taxi without knowing the many scams that operate there. I was able to arrange a car through my hotel, at a pre-established price. It was nice to know when I disembarked from my flight, jet lag and all, that I had already put things in place so that I wouldn’t have to worry about getting ripped off right out of the gate.

2. Never accept food or a ride without settling on a price first.

I’ve been caught up in this racket multiple times. A taxi in Nice, France, charged me $15 euros for a 1 kilometer ride. A food cart in Hanoi charged $3.50 USD for a sandwich, an unthinkable amount there.

My mistake: I hadn’t discussed the cost beforehand. Live and learn.

3. Seek out cheap lodging.

Aside from airfare, your lodging will likely be your biggest travel expense. So it’s worthile to get the best value you can.

There are loads of options for lodging these days, so you don’t have to pay through the nose for a hotel (though in some regions, such as Southeast Asia hotels may be totally affordable).

 

budget travel tip: eat at home
Shopping at local markets and eating at the place you’re staying will help you keep to your travel budget. I stayed in this lovely home for free, and cooked for my host in gratitude. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Overall I, personally, can’t afford to travel for six weeks and stay in an Americanized hotel the whole time. That’s in part because I pay my own way, (unlike a lot of travel writers) and never ask or accept freebies from brands.

My Airbnb rental in Tallinn, Estonia included a wall mural of Italy. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
My Airbnb rental in Tallinn, Estonia included a wall mural of Italy and a small kitchen. It was a super cheap place to stay, maybe $25 per night, in an otherwise expensive corner of the globe: Scandinavia. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

So, I look to other options. In the past I have stayed in the homes of locals through traveler exchange programs, I’ve rented a vacation apartment or room, and I’ve stayed in hostels.

Tam's Cafe in Dong Ha, Vietnam: budget lodging
Budget lodging in Dong Ha, Vietnam was easy to find. A bed at Tam’s Cafe cost only $7 per night.
cheap lodging tip for Singapore: pod hotels
Pod hotels offered an affordable option in the rather expensive Singapore area. This pod cost me about $33 per night, a great budget travel option. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Don’t rule out hostels! Here are a few tips for staying in hostels at any age. As a plus, many hostels offer free breakfast.

Travel cheapskate tip: Most vacation rental sites allow you to list properties by amenities, features, location and or price. Select pricing from low to high, and don’t check any amenities or room types. This will give you a clear picture of your cheapest options. Select places that are simple, but have good reviews, and you’ll be just fine.

It’s important to remember that standards for hotels and other places to stay differ from country to country. Come with an open mind. Chances are they won’t have your bamboo husk pillow that you love, or your memory foam mattress with the gel top. If you’re really on a tight budget, you may have to rent a room in a house that isn’t up to your standards. That’s okay. Appreciate the experience for what it is: local…..and cheap.

4. Long layover or early flight? Sleep at the airport

budget travel tip: sleep at the airport
There have been many trips with long layovers or early flights where I’ve opted to sleep, or not sleep, at the airport. It saves on your budget and helps restart your internal clock to your local time zone. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

This requires a bit of research on the front end to determine if you are able to sleep at the airport in question. I’ve done this, and I know many other travelers who have done this. If you’re on the other side of the world, I actually find that staying up all night jump starts my body to adjust to my home time zone. So I hang out at the airport. Sometimes I snooze or read or write, or connect with friends and family. But if you’re on a tight budget, or just feeling cheapskate-like, you can save the cost of a night’s lodging, which can be substantial, depending on where you are traveling. More, you won’t have the stress of trying to catch a cab at 3:30 a.m. for your early flight.

It isn’t restful, and you need to watch your stuff, but it’s cheap. (Just bring snacks to avoid the airport food prices.)

5. Book rooms that come with kitchen access.

Dining out night after night in sit-down restaurants adds up fast. Plus, gross. Who needs three huge meals a day when traveling? Instead, shop at the local market or grocery store and cook your own meals at home.

budget travel tip: buy food and cook at home
Buying food and cooking in the kitchen where you are staying saves tons of cash. As a bonus, if you’re staying free at someone’s home, you can spoil them with your mad cooking skills, like I did here. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

In expensive countries, such as many of those in the EU, you’ll save a lot of money on coffee alone. I also find that shopping where locals shop adds to my cultural understanding of the places I visit. And, it’s fun.

6. Bring a water bottle when traveling in countries where tap water is drinkable.

Okay, this sounds super simple, right? But if having a water bottle keeps you from buying overpriced bottled water, even at the airport, you’re winning. Better yet, so is the planet.

(Seriously, I once paid maybe $8 for airport bottled water. Yikes!)

7. Travel with someone to avoid the single supplement.

Many tour agencies and companies charge an additional fee for solo travelers. Travel with a friend and you avoid this cost. At the very least, if you stay in a hotel, you cut your costs in half as an individual.

travel with a companion to save on lodging costs
My favorite “avoid the single supplement” budget travel hack is to bring BackpackMr. No, you can’t have him. You have to go find your own. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Bring a friend to stay on budget and save on lodging costs
FancyNancy gazes out over Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica, along with Koda the Wonderdog. Traveling with friends can help you save on your travel budget. Here, we split the cost of a rental. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

You may even drive down your food costs by sharing expenses on basics.

8. Stay within walking distance of popular attractions.

You can save on public transportation and taxi costs by walking there instead. Not to mention, you get a more intimate feel for the city you’re visiting! This also helps me with wayfinding, not to mention, I often walk by sites and shops that I wouldn’t have discovered if I’d taken other, more costly, transport.

9. Travel in shoulder season.

Skip the high season for any destination and you’ll avoid the crowds as well as the markup! Hotels, Airbnbs and tours often come at a higher cost during the high season. Go during the shoulder season and there are often bargains to be found.

10. Bank with a credit union.

Some financial institutions will really gouge you with international fees. I bank with an awesome credit union which charges about a dollar per international withdrawal or credit card charge.

That’s crazy low by banking standards.

Over time you’ll save a ton of cash.

11. Pay in the local currency.

By paying in local currency you don’t have to battle with shady exchange rates from vendors, hotels or restaurants.

Withdraw your cash from local ATMs as needed (see tip 10) and you’ll get the daily exchange rate.

12. Picnic whenever possible.

budget travel tip: picnic instead of dining out
Buy foods at the local market and have a picnic in a beautiful outdoor space, instead of paying high restaurant prices. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
buy food at the local market, like these cheese in Amsterdam, to save money when traveling
Buy food at the local market, like this cheese in Amsterdam, and prepare your own meals to save money when traveling. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Inevitably you’ll be exploring midday and will find yourself in the middle of tourist price-ville. Cafes and restaurants are expensive, and in touristy areas, everything can be expensive.

Good thing you booked a place with a kitchen, shopped for groceries at the market, and packed yourself a sandwich. With your trusty tap water, that’s a bargain!

I also frequently buy a fresh baked roll at a grocery store and a package of deli meat, then make my own sandwich on the fly as I’m exploring a city on foot. Super quick and easy.

make sandwiches on the fly while traveling to save cash
Europe is expensive. So while there, I often bought a package of deli meat and. a single roll, then made a sandwich. In Hungary, this sausage was cheap. Lunch is served. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

Just grab a scenic spot, a park bench or a beach, and you’ve got the best seat in the city.

In many places, you can even enjoy a beer or some wine out in public (Although drinking straight from the wine bottle is generally frowned upon the world over, I think. So maybe bring a cup like a classy chick.)

13. Check multiple sites for pricing.

When booking your trip, be sure to check multiple sites for price differences. Often you can save cash just by booking through a different website, particularly when it comes to hotel rooms or airfare.

I frequently use Google Flights and sometimes Kayak.com for airfare, but I also check with individual airlines to see how their prices match up. I often google something along the lines of “airlines that fly from x to x,” to find regional airlines that may not be listed on pay-for-play aggregate services.

For hotels, I scour multiple booking sites as well as the hotel itself. In many parts of the world I have found luck with booking.com, although now my phone thinks I speak Thai, so the site only comes up in Thai.

If you like, you can even call the hotel and ask if they can beat another rate. It’s worth a shot.

I often refer to rome2rio.com for multiple options on how to get from place to place, and sometimes options pop up that I didn’t know about, along with prices, so I can easily compare.

Not all options are listed, so remember if there’s one bus from city to city, chances are there could be another shuttle, as well, and it may be worth further research. But if the 4 hour bus costs $40 and the 3 hour bus costs $75 and I’m on a budget, it’s an easy call.

If you have more time than money, exploring overland travel options can save you a lot of cash.

14. Subscribe to travel discount newsletters.

There are so many companies that send out hot deal alerts on a regular basis. My personal favorite is the Travelzoo Top 20, through which I’ve booked numerous trips.

Even airlines send out fare alerts these days. So, don’t be afraid to sign up when that annoying pop up box intrudes on your web experience. You might just find the deal of the year.

15. Fly “Basic B*tch Economy.”

Every single website these days wants to upcharge you for services and products beyond what you initially set out to purchase. Book “Basic Economy” (or as my friend FancyNancy calls it, “Basic B*tch Economy,” with an airline and they list a page of warnings in red text about what you DON’T GET. Then, you’ll board last in who knows what seat, which is assigned at the gate.

Who cares.

Remember what you’re buying, and remember you’re trying to save cash as a budget traveler. You simply want a way to get from point A to B, so keep that in mind when they try to scare you into buying insurance or an upgraded seat or a window. Bring your own snacks so you don’t have to pay $10 for three crackers and a slice of cheese. Plug in your headphones and enjoy the cheaper ride.

Overall, anticipate a “tourist tax” wherever you go.

The Central Market in Hoi An, Vietnam. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
The Central Market in Hoi An, Vietnam. Locals will almost always get a cheaper price than tourists, no matter where you travel. Shop at local grocery stores if you want honest pricing. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Fish at the Central Market in Hoi An, Vietnam. Photo by Charish Badzinski.
Fish at the Central Market in Hoi An, Vietnam. Photo by Charish Badzinski.

My husband and I travel a lot and we use this term to describe the upcharge tourists often pay without knowing there is another way. Be forgiving of yourself as a first-timer. Know that to much of the world, tourists from the U.S. represent wealth. Opportunists will always be there to wrangle unsuspecting travelers. And locals will almost always get better pricing than a tourist. The best thing you can do is to conduct some research on the front end so you know what you should be paying, and be diligent as you travel. If you want fair pricing, shopping at the grocery store, or solely at shops where prices are clearly marked, can be a helpful tip.

Budget travel is easy with these 15 tips

Traveling the world, particularly via longterm travel, requires some budget smarts. And after 40 countries, we have a pretty good handle on what works. Use these 15 budget travel tips and you’ll find it’s relatively easy to stretch your travel cash.

What are your tips for traveling on a budget? 


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Charish BadzinskiCharish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess, she applies her worldview to her business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.

Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.

Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess, on Facebook at @rollrbaggoddess, and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.


 


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