If you want to go travelling but think you can’t afford it, you should know that it is possible!
[Updated January 2018]
I’ve been travelling on a budget for years and there are many different ways to lower the costs of your trip.
If you want to travel on a budget, it takes a little preparation, but it’s perfectly doable.
I’ve been collecting these tips over my years of travel. They’re all pretty simple hacks that anyone can use.
Pin it and use it when you plan your next trip!
Be Flexible about the Time and Place When You Plan Your Trip
One way to save money is to choose your destination by price. If you can be flexible about your destination, you can search SkyScanner and enter “Everywhere” in the “to” box.
It will give you a list of flight destinations and you can easily see where is the cheapest place for you to fly to.
If you can be flexible about time as well, you can save even more money.
Flying at night will often be less expensive than flying during the day (and as an added bonus, the airports are likely to be less crowded).
Booking flights in the middle of the week, mainly Tuesday and Wednesday, is likely to save you money, as most people go on weekend vacations and there’s less demand in the middle of the week.
You can search for flight in a particular month on SkyScanner, which is a very efficient way to see at a glance what days in the month offer you the cheapest flights. Simple select “Whole Month” under “depart” or “return”.
Avoiding travel in high-season is another proven way to save on the costs of travel. If you can travel off-season or in the shoulder season, you will get better value on flights, accommodation and possible tours. You will also avoid massively crowded tourist attractions.
Free and Cheap Accommodation
There are a number of ways to find a free places to stay when you travel.
All of these depend on doing some research in advance, so even if you like spontaneity in your travel, remember that some planning can save you a lot of money.
The first is hospitality exchange – networks like CouchSurfing and several others connect you with locals who are willing to host visitors in their homes.
I’ve used this many, many times on my trips around the world and it is an amazing way to travel.
If you can’t find a host at your destination, (this may be difficult in some big cities…), another brilliant way to get free accommodation is house sitting or pet sitting.
When people go on vacation, they need someone to mind their house, the plants and garden, and sometimes their dogs or cats.
You can stay at their house for free in exchange for taking care of the animals or plants, or just keeping the house safe. It’s a win-win 🙂
If you cannot find free accommodation, the cheapest options will normally be hostels or renting rooms in people’s houses.
You want to compare prices of course, but I have found that in many places Airbnb rentals are cheaper than hostels.
In some particularly inexpensive cities, like Zagreb, Prague and Warsaw, I have found and booked entire apartments for myself on Airbnb at a prices that wasn’t much higher than a dorm bed at a hostel.
As a budget traveller, that’s something to keep in mind. I’ve written a full guide to booking on Airbnb, including how to search by price.
Stay Longer in One Place
Staying longer in one place instead of moving around too often is a good way to get to know a place better and make connections with locals.
You can also learn a bit of the language and it’s generally a more relaxed way to travel.
It also has many advantages moneywise.
The first advantage is quite obvious – if you travel to many destinations, you will pay more for transport.
Whether you take trains, buses or flights – you can save these expenses by staying longer in the same place.
There are also some less obvious advantages that are worth considering.
Local pay-as-you-go or prepaid sim cards are often valid for a month, so you will pay the same price whether you use them for a week or a month.
You can often get discounts on accommodation if you stay longer. For example, many Airbnb hosts have weekly and monthly discounts which can amount to a considerable saving.
If you buy a public transport ticket, it would normally be cheaper to buy the weekly or monthly pass.
Museums can have high entry fees, but most museums have free days at least once a month, sometimes even once a week, and occasionally at specific hours of the day.
Check the “Plan Your Visit” section on any museum website and find the info you need in advance.
Then plan your time so you can see all the museums you want for free. You might have to wait in line, but for popular museums there will be a line anyhow, any day of the week.
- In Brussels, the Magritte Museum and the Musical Instruments Museum as well as other museums offer free entry on the first Wednesday of the month.
- In Paris The Louvre, Musée Rodin, Musée Picasso, Musée d’Orsay and other museums are free on the first Sunday of the month.
- In Madrid, Museo del Prado is open for free every day from 6 till 8pm and Centro de Arte Reina Sofía is free on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7 to 9 pm, as well as Sunday mornings.
Taking a free walking tour is the easiest way to get to know a new place in a couple of hours.
Most European tourist destinations now have a free walking tour.
In big tourist destinations, like Barcelona, Athens or Prague, you’ll find several competing free tours to choose from.
I use the reviews on TripAdvisor to decide which tour to take and have never been disappointed.
“Free” actually means “tip as much as you like” – you pay the guide any amount of money you think the tour was worth at the end of the tour. This means the tour guides will do their best to entertain you and make the tour interesting.
Another way to take a free tour is to look for a “greeters” network in your destination.
These networks are volunteer based. You will be asked to enter your details and trip dates on their site and they will try to match a volunteer to greet you and show you around the city.
Once you know the dates of your visit, do a quick search online to find out if your destination has greeters.
You can start on the Global Greeter Network website or just search for “city greeters” and the name of the city you’re going to.
Other Free Things to Do and Free Events
Before you go, simply search online for “free things to do in (your destination)”. You’ll find many lists of things from various travel blogs and tourism websites.
When you Google “free things to do in…” the top search results are normally from TripAdvisor. It’s really useful to read reviews from other travellers, especially about free activities.
The easiest trick is to search directly in TripAdvisor, i.e. put the words “free things to do” in the search bar and then add your destination.
Apart from the free museum days and the free walking tours, you may find tourist attractions that happen to be free.
You might also come across some free events, such as free festivals, concerts or film screenings.
I also recommend having a look at Eventbrite, which lists events around the world and lets you filter the results to see only free events.
Another way to do this is to ask locals. There are many things that only locals know, and no tourism website will ever tell you…
Facebook groups or Couchsurfing groups can help you connect with locals before you go.
Post that you’re looking for free activities or any budget related advice (for example, you can ask about how much things cost).
People are normally happy to share their knowledge and you’re likely to get some good insider tips.
There are a number of ways to access free WiFi when you travel:
- Book accommodation with free WiFi – this may seem obvious, but it’s not, so make sure you’re going to stay at a place that doesn’t charge you extra for WiFi.
- Search for free city-provided WiFi – This is a service that more and more cities around the world provide. You will normally find the info on the municipality website of your destination, or the official tourism website.
- Download some apps that collect public WiFi passwords – These apps store Internet passwords for cafes, restaurants and other public places.
This is a less reliable way to find free WiFi, but it doesn’t hurt to have some of these apps on your phone. They just might provide a solution when you need it.
- Use coworking spaces with high speed Internet – If you are a digital nomad or remote worker and your workload requires a good, steady Internet connection, coworking spaces may be your best choice.
Some will give you a free day pass if you ask, and some may even give you a free week trial. The easiest way to find coworking spaces is to use coworking directories.
For a more detailed guide read my post How to find WiFi when you travel.
How to Save Money on Food
Eating out can be a huge part of your trip’s budget.
Of course you may want to try a fancy restaurant here and there and that’s cool, as long as you only do it once in a while and the rest of the time, combine different ways to save money on food.
- Cook for yourself – This is the most affordable option in many countries. Shop at the local market and cook in your kitchen at your hostel, rented flat or your local host’s house.
Cooking with or for you CouchSurfing host, for example, can be a great social experience and a nice way to say thank you for their hospitality.
- Go for local food – When you eat out, avoid the tourist traps on the high street, and go for smaller, local restaurants.
These may be hidden in a back alley or a side street. Seek them out.
Traditional cuisine, made from locally available ingredients, is likely to cost less, plus you can enjoy a more distinct cultural experience than you would elsewhere.
- Choose street food instead of eating at restaurants – In many places this would cut down your expenses considerably.
- Go out to lunch instead of dinner – If you want to go to a restaurant, you will save money by having lunch instead of dinner. It’s typically cheaper.
- Find cheap eats with good reviews – An easy way to find affordable restaurants that are actually good is to search for them within TripAdvisor.
I’ve used this on quite a few trips and it will save you both time and money.
For example, go into TripAdvisor and type in “affordable restaurant” or “cheap eats” in the search bar and then add the destination.
It will scan the reviews and give you the relevant results. You can then see the ratings for each restaurant and select the ones with higher ratings. (Here’s an example of the search results for affordable restaurants in Madrid)