My heart yearns for travel.
Before Sweet Baby was born, DH and I would eat, sleep and breathe “travel.” We would save and scheme all year to take grand trips whenever time and money allowed. We have managed to see some amazing sights, make some fantastic friends, and traipse the globe with our backpacks to places we never could have dreamed.
As with everything, travel comes with a cost. A steep one. (Not to mention all the crap you have to deal with from your boss just to even go. I cannot help you there… )
How we manage, is by traveling super frugally, and from one traveler to another, I will share with you some tips and tricks on how we pulled it all off.
“Know” Before You Go
I cannot stress this enough. A frugal traveler is an informed traveler, and here’s the ‘why’ and ‘how’:
- Make an itinerary. Nope, not at all suggesting that you travel like a rigid, scheduled weirdo, but an outline of your route, where you will stay, and the main things you want to visit/experience in each location can be helpful. It will save you money by not having to overspend from your lodging budget, and will save you huge amounts of time by not having to hoof it, with a loaded backpack, all over town, because you can’t find an affordable (and clean, and safe), place to sleep.
- Book rooms in advance. By doing so, you can often save money just for being an early bird. Also, any extended stay of more than a handful of days may garner you a discount. You might have to ask for it though, and some will happily oblige.
- Find cheap accommodations. Since a hostel may not be for everyone, look for hostals or pensions. They are the rest of the world’s answer to a motel. They are usually quaint, charming, historic, and affordable! Most offer free breakfast, so rise early and grab up the free grub!
- Do your homework. Many cities and their major attractions have discounts for students and seniors. If you are traveling in a group, look for group discounts. Familiarize yourself with the places you are going.
- Know when to go. Try and avoid the tourist season if it’s prudent to do so. Choosing the right time of year can save you tons of cash! Restaurants and lodging that rely solely on tourism slash prices dramatically in the off-season. They are generally up for deal making if it means getting you in the door of their place that would otherwise be empty. Plan your trip just before, or at the tail end of the popular seasons to find the best deals. That way, you don’t have to compromise the good weather for bargains.
- Look for freebies. Lots of locations have great attractions that are totally free. Learn about them before you go and perhaps book your lodging next to one to save money on transportation. Also, some museums offer a free admission day once per month, or if you’re lucky, once per week. Read up on local events, fairs and festivals that often have free admission and offer unsurpassed cultural enrichment.
- Do as the locals do. Eat what the locals eat. The whole point of traveling is to not be at home, right? So embrace the food and don’t be afraid of those small mom-and-pop shops. That’s where the good stuff is hiding and the prices are not “tourist prices.” Eat from food carts, at open markets, and other local haunts. (Just be careful in developing countries. You might want to stick to food that has been cooked and/or peeled). Some of my most memorable meals and snacks have come from street vendors in some of the most unlikely places.
- Self-cater. Depending on our budget and area that we are in, we generally only eat at a restaurant once per day, sometimes less. Just like at home, it is always cheaper to stop at the grocer and collect your own supplies. Travel with a few handy things like a cutlery multi-tool and your own water bottle.
- Save the bread. Like save the whales? Ha ha, no. I mean the bread from your table. Restaurants often provide bread at the table, and I take what is uneaten with me. I wrap it in a napkin and stuff it in my bag for a self-catered meal later on. Am I suggesting that you steal? Nope. You paid for that bread. Don’t waste it.
- Stay standing. In many countries, Europe especially, it is cheaper to take your coffee, tapas, and light fair standing at a table. The meal costs more if you sit at a table and have service.
- Bring your own booze. Just like at home, it’s cheaper to drink out of the bars. In Italy, we found many places that sell wine in bulk. It was cheaper to buy than bottled water. Just bring your own container and off you go! And… you guessed it; I never wanted to leave that beautiful, delicious country! 🙂 Also, if you must drink on the plane, (which does nothing, I might add, to help you recover from jet lag); you can carry-on your own booze. They don’t call them an airliner bottle for nothing.
- Join a fare-watching site. Getting cheap airfare is rough. Make it a little easier on yourself by signing up to receive email alerts from sites like Kayak or TripAdvisor to receive notice when the fares have dropped. Also, booking in advance can help, and Americans can access airline schedules 331 days in advance. (Other countries have different policies).
- Use your awards. I know, using your frequent flyer miles is like some form of rocket science. Thankfully, there are blogs to help you with that. Here’s a great one.
- Walk outside the airport to catch your cab. If you have to take a cab to get to your destination, fetch one outside the airport. It is always cheaper. The people you find waiting for you at the baggage claim and beyond prey on your haggardness of 10+ hour flight. When you hire one of those “fly-catchers,” the fare is generally more expensive, and it is not unusual for the driver to take you to one of his contracted hotels. Bypass these guys and fetch your cab out on the street.
- Hire a driver for the day. In tricky places where public transportation isn’t in place, or is too intimidating, hiring a driver for the day can save you money. If you know you will be out and about all day and need to cover large distances, this can be a great way to do so. Ask your hotel. They always know someone. As an added bonus, the driver can sometimes help translate and act as a tour guide as well. Tip accordingly 😉
- Rent a bicycle. Many places offer bike rentals with locks. A super cheap way to get around the city and cruise the neighborhoods you can’t see by auto.
- Take a cab (or pedicab) halfway. In places where cabs are expensive, the weather if foul, and public transportation inaccessible, it nice to save money by taking a cab partway, and walking the rest. You can still see the sights on foot, but also have a little compromise for your tired feet.
- Utilize free transportation. In some locations, free transportation is available. Free ferries, bus rides and the like are growing increasingly rare, but they are still out there. Ask the locals for tips.
- Sight see by public transportation. In Venice, you practically have to sell your first-born child for a gondola ride, but if you ride the vaporetto (water bus) through the canals, it’s way cheaper!
- Take your own travel clothes line, (I have this one), and wash undergarments in the sink. Saving not only money, but time on laundry. The outer-garments can fend for themselves 🙂
- Look into a Eurail pass if traveling by train through Europe. Book in advance and order it Stateside for additional discounts.
- Bring your own batteries. They can be hard to find, and when you do, expect to pay tourist prices.
- Use your guide book. They can recommend inexpensive places to eat and sleep, and on a sliding scale. Lonely Planet and Rick Steves, a local guy, are my very favorites! Utilize their forums as well. Ask other seasoned travelers their cost saving tips for that region.
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably is…
Picture this: two young lovers strolling down a cobbled street in Roma. The street opens up to an amazing view of the Colosseum. They run down the steps into a plaza where 2 men are dressed as Spartans. Everyone is happy and smiling. The men gesture to the young couple, who are completely awestruck and overjoyed at the site of the Colosseum, to come hither for a photo. It was a picture perfect moment and the couple loved the idea of a photo. Why these men were dressed such, they didn’t know or care… until after the photo the Spartans demanded payment. Robbed those fools blind! The Spartans demanded 70 Euros for a photo, and when the shocked couple couldn’t pay, tried to intimidate them with anger. Only after the couple emptied their pockets, did the Spartans let them be.
What fools we were.
We learned a very important lesson that day. That was our first trip out of the country and we were young, naive, and blissfully unaware that people don’t do fun or nice things in touristy areas for free. End of story.
Roll Call: My travel buddies, speak up! I know you’re out there! What do you have to add to this list? Give me your best frugal travel tips in the comments below.
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