Traveling for cheap, it's possible!
I have to admit that this article is very timely. I was starting to get tired of writing travel guides about French Polynesia and other destinations that I’ve recently been to. It was time to write something more personal, based on my travel experience and especially on my one-year tour of South East Asia.
Traveling is a very personal thing, and everyone can do it the way they want to. That’s also the beauty of it. Fortunately, we don’t all travel the same way, to the same places or the same hotels. Even if we can hardly admit that traveling has simply become a trendy phenomenon in the last few years, many young people have the desire to travel for less, without breaking the bank. That’s what this article is all about.
Whether you arrived here by Google or you are one of the regular readers of my blog, you should know by now that I am overall more of a budget traveler, focusing on human experiences with locals, in what I consider the most authentic way. Very often when I travel, I try to be careful with what I spend, in order to make the happiness last longer, but mostly keeping in mind that one doesn’t necessarily need to spend (we do that enough in our daily life) to have a great trip.
This article doesn’t claim to find solutions to everything, but it offers many ideas to save money when traveling around the world. Whether you are planning a trip around the world, a WHV in Australia or a tour of Europe by train, the advice remains the same. We really should differentiate between vacations and travels though as they are two very different things. However, whatever the other case, you may always want to save money! So here are my tips for saving money when traveling.
If you like to travel economically and find good deals, I suggest you take a look at the links below. These are links that I’ve been using in my daily life for several years now when traveling, whether it’s to book my flights, a camper van or to book my hotels! Good deals guaranteed!
Found a cheap flight
1 - Choosing the destinations
I will start with the basics in my opinion. You might say that I’m slightly off topic, but I don’t think so. Choosing where you want to go, where you are going to escape for a few weeks, months, or even more, is for me the beginning of the trip, right? And this is already where your choice may be decisive for the rest… Yes, I promise you!
Imagine the following, you plan to spend 2 months in the Western Canada for example on a road trip. Do you seriously believe that you can sleep for 5$, eat for 1$ and travel across the country for 30$? I assure you it’s impossible. But you see where I’m going with this, right?
Depending on your savings and your planned budget for the trip, you will have to make choices from the start for your vacation and travel. To travel cheaper, the choice of the destination remains essential. For the cost of a month spent in Norway, you spend almost 6 months in Southeast Asia. In short, to save money from the start, consider traveling to the cheaper countries, simply put: all of Southeast/Central Asia and South America.
If you are planning to stay in Europe (overall), or in North America/Africa, life will be much more expensive and the bill much higher, for sure.
2 - Save on airfare
You may wonder what this tip is? Very often when you go on a trip, you will probably go by plane and this is quite often what will cost the much in your vacation budget, depending on the destination. So, we could start with this tip to limit your travel expenses rather than choosing your destination first, but that’s another debate.
Two words though, this is often a technique I explain to people who believe that traveling is necessarily expensive. I know that not everyone can be flexible, that’s for sure, we all have different lives, but setting a precise destination with associated dates is the worst choice you can make, economically speaking. I often advise to let yourself be guided by the prices you find on the web, on the best flight comparator for example. I personally have been using Skyscanner for a long time (I talk about it in detail here).
Flight prices vary greatly and finding a cheap air ticket can sometimes be a bit tricky. Here are a few tips to find your next trip for less:
- Low-cost airlines often offer the best deals (Easyjet, Ryanair, Vueling, etc.)
- Don’t hesitate to compare prices on the various existing flight comparison sites (beware of tour operators that are not comparison sites… such as Opodo, Edreams, etc.),
- Considering a last minute trip can sometimes save you a lot of money,
- Adapt your travel dates and schedules as much as possible to find the best rates,
Finally, another way to save on airfare is to simply not take it. I’m thinking particularly of people who have time and want to embark on a journey by foot or bicycle. In addition to being economical, you will consider the trip differently, slower, more relaxed, more personal than the plane…
Savings on accommodation
Traveling around the world for cheap is not always easy and the budget for accommodation will be an important part of your expenses depending on the country. Here are a few tips on how to save money on accommodation when traveling.
3 - Couchsurfing
I was honestly hesitant to include this solution, because the original idea isn’t to go and crash at someone’s place and not make the effort to talk or put in the work. Unfortunately, this happened to me and others I know on several occasions. People have pushed the system and are using Couchsurfing to find free nights. I spare you the messages I received ” French Polynesia is expensive, we are on a world tour and don’t have much money (well only 15/20 000€…), can we sleep at your place? ”
It’s a bit of a rant, but don’t use this only to avoid paying for a night. I also had some nice experiences that went very well. The idea is simple, offer a room, a couch, a mattress to someone for 1 or 2 nights for free, in exchange for discussion and good tips with someone who lives there. If you are in this state of mind, it is a good way to meet people who know the country well, who want to exchange and share, and as a bonus you don’t pay the night. A small gesture is always appreciated. Come with some pasta and some beers, eh!
4 - Roommate / Homestay / Home exchange
For long term travelers or those who like to stay a few weeks or even months in one place, it is always a very good solution to share with other people who already live there. Unlike Couchsurfing, you pay rent, but if you stay for a month, you get great discounts.
If you want to go to the sun for cheap, why not also consider home exchanges between individuals. You’ll need to be a little flexible with your dates, but it’s clearly a way to go on vacation without breaking the bank.
5 - Airbnb, staying with a local
Everyone more or less knows Airbnb by now. The concept is that the host provides a customer with a room in his house, a bungalow in his garden, in short, a place to sleep and live. You are normally independent here and it is clearly a way to save money when traveling. For example, in French Polynesia, you can find nice places in the homes of locals that are rented at prices much lower than a hotel. On top of that, depending on who you stay with, you can spend a lot of time chatting… Recently, I booked an Airbnb in Bora Bora and even during my road trip in the USA.
6 - Youth hostels and dormitories, sleep at a reduced price
For those who like to meet people and party, youth hostels are a good way to sleep without breaking the bank when traveling. It’s usually much cheaper than hotels but you don’t often find the same peace and quiet. I recently tested a hostel in the center of Auckland. I thought I was still young, at 34 years old. Anyway, it was a mess and we had to go out and yell at the drunken kids who were making noise at 3am. In short, we are getting old 🙂 To be negotiated, as in all guesthouses, as soon as you stay more than 2/3 days.
7 - Lodging with friends / other travelers
And yes, when you travel, you often meet cool people who say things like “if you come to Greece, let me know and come stay at my place”. That’s what I did a few years ago when I went to stay with a Greek friend of mine for a month in his vacation house in Crete. It’s always a way to meet old friends and save money on travel.
8 - Camping
You’re going to tell me that it all depends on where you’re going, but you’d probably be surprised of all the places in the world where you can camp for (almost) nothing. French Polynesia is an example and here it is clearly the cheapest way to travel around the territory. They are not available on all the islands, but you can find quite a few of them. You should know that it is possible in any case.
This summer, I spent one month camping during my trip to USA/Canada, almost only camping, except when my wife was complaining because she was cold and had a bad back, but otherwise it’s great. The atmosphere in the campsites at the end of Canada was for example great, by the fire at 3°C, grilling marshmallows, a change of scenery guaranteed. Camping is always cheaper than any other means of accommodation. I am not talking about countries where a room will cost you 4$ like in Cambodia or Thailand. At this price, you will book a room…
9 - Sleeping in night transport and airports
This is the solution of the cheap traveler 🙂 More seriously, it happened to me a few times to spend the night in airports, in Asia, in Greece (of course I missed the plane), in Nepal (I missed my plane again…).
I also spent some nights in trains, or in night buses, especially during a trip in Thailand. It’s not always done on purpose, but depending on the flight/train/bus schedule, you can consider it. Sure, it won’t be the best night of your life, but you’ll save the night to do something else the next day!
10 - Use websites offering discounted prices
I’m also aware that not everyone likes to sleep on the floor in an airport, in a dormitory hostel or on a train on a wooden bench. For all those who are more used to sleeping in guesthouses or in small hotels, I would really advise you to visit websites that compare accommodations.
Save on food
The food budget may not be the most important part of a trip, but if you don’t pay attention to it, you can quickly increase your vacation budget. Here are three tips that I always try to apply as best as possible.
11 - Eat local
This is by far the most reasonable advice I could give. Between us, we don’t go on a trip to the other side of the world to eat a pizza and a Mcdonald either, do we? Even if long term travelers know that it’s good from time to time, it’s always better to taste the local food.
As a self-respecting French person, you must love to eat and what better way to do so than to try all the local dishes when you are in a country. I think I have tried all the Asian dishes in the countries I have been to. Besides the discovery, you are sure to save money by eating local.
Great discoveries of local food during my trip to Southeast Asia
12 - Avoid tourist restaurants
This is similar to the advice above, but I wanted to clarify a point. Very often during travels, we always tend to end up in tourist sites with a lot of people and food outlets. Of course, you can surely find local food in the area, but if you want to save money during your stay, take the trouble to walk 5/10 minutes and get away from these tourist areas.
Prices are often much more expensive and as soon as you are out of there, prices often drop. This was quite obvious in Asia where the price of a dish would drop as you got out of the known spots. This trick also works very well with transport and accommodation, we will talk about it below.
13 - Making your own food
You will say that it depends on where you are going on your trip and you will surely be right. In countries where life is so cheap and where you can eat a good meal in a street food shop for 1€ (I think of all or almost all of South-East Asia), it’s not really worth the cost to cook yourself.
On the other hand, the counter examples are developed countries like the USA where I spent this summer. For lunch, we used to make salads and sandwiches, and it’s much cheaper than going to a snack bar, I don’t even mean a restaurant. For French Polynesia, if you stay several days in one place, you can consider going to the local store and cooking yourself… It will cost you much less than going on half board and even less on full board.
14 - Work on site
At a time when more and more young people are going on a WHV (Working Holiday Visa) in Australia, New Zealand and other countries, I must admit that it is one of the best ways to travel without breaking the bank. Some people will say that doing a WHV is not the same as traveling, and I agree a little bit, but at least it has the advantage of helping people to get out of their home and by working a few weeks/months to see something else!
There are many ways to work abroad. To mention only the most famous ones:
- One year in WHV,
- Doing Helpx (work a few hours a day and get free accommodation),
- Babysitting (pets, house),
- Teaching languages.
Save money on transportation on vacation
With the accommodation budget, transportation is where I think you can spend the most. Everything will obviously depend on the size of the country. You can’t travel the same way in France as in the United States! Here are some tips to save money when traveling in this domain.
15 - Travel less and take your time
Yes, it may sound silly but a good tip to save money on transportation is to travel less when you are traveling. We are in the years where travel has become a trendy phenomenon and just look at the number of people who are looking to travel, a race to “do the countries”. The need to make numbers, to see as many things as possible, to visit as many countries as possible, in short, to consume travel to excess. You know, the type of person you meet and who says, yes I know Southeast Asia very well: I spent 2 days in Bangkok, 3 days in Ha Long Bay and 2 days in Angkor in Cambodia…
I’m a bit critical but I have the right 🙂 Seriously, you don’t have to “see everything” or “do everything” on a trip to have a great time. I’d much rather focus on a smaller area of the map and enjoy it all rather than skimming over everything just to say I did it. That’s like saying I know Canada, when I spent a week there this summer…
In any case, try to read a bit about “slow travel”, a way to travel more slowly, more calmly, at your own pace, appreciating things at their true value. Obviously, the less you move around on your trip, the less money it will cost you.
16 - Limit air travel / Use local means instead
Again, I know that traveling across the US by bus instead of plane is more economical but not everyone has a month’s vacation to do that. Many people simply prefer the 5 hours flight. Still, in many countries, traveling by bus is very economical (but longer).
But in countries with a more respectable size, you can consider taking a bus or a train which will cost you less. In addition to the economical side, I have great memories of trains taken in Burma or Thailand. It’s the opportunity to mix with locals, to see the real life of people there, to play music on your iPod to a child who’s never seen one, to smoke things you’re not too sure about, to share a meal with people, in short to travel in the good sense of the word in my opinion.
If you plan a trip to Europe, you can take the train for example with Interrail which allows you to visit all the European cities without ruining you. Eurolines is also another solution to travel cheaply in Europe by bus. To travel in France, you can also turn to a carpooling website, like Blablacar.
For those who go on a road trip on vacation, you can still look at the price of the cheapest cars for rent on this site that I often use. For van and camping car rentals, I compare prices on this comparator.
By traveling local, you often meet new people!
17 - Negotiate the price of shopping and get out of the tourist areas
I know that depending on the country, negotiations are more or less possible. Here, I am thinking in particular of all the countries where this practice is known and common, especially in Africa and South East Asia. I don’t know about South America, but I think so too.
Very often during my tour of Asia, I had to negotiate the price of Tuk-Tuk rides or motorcycle tours in the cities, that kind of thing. Clearly, the prices are not fixed and often not displayed. Know in any case that everything will depend on your bargaining power here and that you can easily cut the prices in 2 or 3!
As mentioned above, don’t hesitate to get out of the tourist areas to go shopping for the day and motorcycle, Tuk-Tuk and others. I tried it several times in Asia, and it works very well. Take your backpack, walk 2 km and get away from all the tourist areas. You would be surprised to see the prices drop!
18 – Travel Economically
Instead of traveling by plane or train, why not consider alternative means of transportation that cost much less. More and more travelers are starting to hitchhike, walk or bike again. For many, it’s a way to respect the environment and to reduce their carbon footprint (it’s also trendy now…). Personally, this is in line with the idea of slow travel mentioned above, taking your time, enjoying the moment and not running the race of “I want to see everything”.
We see less things because we move less quickly on foot or by bike, but we see things better in my opinion. It is easier to immerse yourself in the local life and it is often also the occasion to make beautiful encounters and to live unforgettable experiences. The fast means of transportation are still very impersonal for many people and crossing Europe by bike to go to Teheran (as Mickaël did) in 6 months is an experience 1000 times stronger in terms of feeling and experience than to go by plane in 4 hours…
On top of that, of course, it’s a way to save money!
Save on travel activities
Depending on the destination, travel activities can take a significant place in the finances. I’m not talking about activity-specific trips, such as diving trips. I’m talking about classic travel in general. I am still convinced that you don’t need to do expensive activities to have a good trip. Unfortunately, depending on the country, it is almost an obligation…
19 - Prefer free activities
French Polynesia, is a bit of a case in point and you could almost be tempted to believe that you have to go jet-skiing, diving, ULM or on boat tours to have a good stay. I’m not sure. I often advise those on a budget to focus on free activities. I often feel that I am closer to the local population in these moments. Just to name a few that come to mind. Walking in the villages and talking to the people costs nothing and yet, if you make this effort, you are sure to meet a lot more people and learn a lot more than if you spend the day with 30 tourists packed on a boat.
Hiking is also a great way to save money when traveling. It’s also about taking your time, enjoying things, and taking a step back. You are free to do whatever you want, go wherever you want (or almost) and it won’t cost you anything. As a bonus, you will discover incredible landscapes…
Going on a hike to enjoy the scenery doesn’t cost anything when traveling!
The example I wanted to mention in particular is New Zealand. I had the opportunity to spend a month there in 2017. I often summarize the country in this way, which only concerns me: it is frankly a very beautiful country, but for me, it is too clean, too guided in the paid tourist activities that usually cost an arm and a leg. A friend of mine said that New Zealand is like an open-air Disneyland and I agree with him. A beautiful country by its landscapes, but in which you are always pushed to spend and do activities. What’s funny is the image that the country has, a wild, natural country in which you can live “adventure” … Despite that, there is a way to get out of it if you make the effort and enjoy yourself just by hiking!
20 - Avoid agencies
I am not talking about travel agencies itself. I just finished an article on the interest or not to go through a travel agency for a stay in French Polynesia, depending on your way of traveling. Don’t hesitate to check it out. I’m talking about agencies that propose day activities.
I’m becoming more and more afraid of this kind of thing and after having recently found myself with 60 people on a boat with a party atmosphere on the island of Moorea, I am not ready to do it again. However, if you have to choose day trips, try to inform yourself beforehand and choose small local agencies.
Very often, I advise not to book anything in advance for activities and to book onsite. Generally, you save money and you leave yourself the freedom to change your program too, which for me is a good thing.
Some more information to travel cheaper!
To finish this special article on saving money when traveling, I have put together several other tips to help you limit your budget during your vacation!
21 - Be careful with your credit card
You might think that this is almost a detail when traveling, but in reality, it’s not. On a long trip, several months or a world tour, you will realize that the credit card fees are very important. They can even be considered as a budget in their own right.
Some specific points to look at when you go on a trip:
- Insurance / Assistance coverage: on a basic card, you usually have, 30 days. On Gold/Premium cards, you are covered for 90 days. This was my case in Asia for example. Afterwards I opted for a private insurance,
- Withdrawal and transfer fees: these are key points because on a long-term trip, you will have to do these manipulations many times. You usually have a fixed fee and a percentage.
I haven’t written an article about credit cards and choices yet, but it shouldn’t take long. Everyone is talking about N26 for travelers, I feel like I’m going to crack and open an account! Test to follow!
22 - Traveling with others, group travel and limiting alcohol
I’m not saying that you mustn’t go alone, right? I’m just saying that it’s often cheaper to travel with several people, with friends, as a couple or as a family! Indeed, the prices of the accommodations according to the places don’t vary for example if you are 1 or 2. As for food, it’s easier and cheaper too when you buy in bulk. Going alone has clearly its advantages too and the few trips I made alone have also affected me.
To spend a cheap vacation, it may sound silly but it’s not. Compared to the cost of living, alcohol is almost always quite expensive, even very expensive. Even in Asia, in Thailand for example, the price of a beer can cost you the price of a meal. If you compare that to France, you wouldn’t consider it.
So, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t drink while traveling! But let’s just say that depending on the place, you will clearly ruin yourself. I am thinking of Scandinavian countries for example where even the smallest alcohol is expensive, and the same goes for cigarettes… In French Polynesia, when you see the price of a bottle of strong alcohol or even the price of a 6-pack of Heineken, you will quickly be disappointed!
23 - Leave without checked luggage
This is a very small tip, especially useful for short stays of a few days, but not only. If you live in France, you know very well that traveling in Europe costs almost nothing. Ticket prices have dropped so much that you can find great deals.
Are you curious? Why not look at the price of a travel destination that tempts you?
I’ve been using the same comparator for a very long time!
On the other hand, if you look closely, checked luggage is always extra, especially on small low-cost flights in Europe. So if you’re going to Prague, Madrid or London for a few days, don’t take a hold bag, which may cost you more than the price of the plane ticket itself. You just need to find out how many kilos you are allowed in hand luggage, nothing too complicated.
For those who come to French Polynesia, it’s the same principle with the low-cost company French Bee. You save about 120€ if you come without luggage. I recently came back for 2 weeks without luggage, it’s very easy.
24 - Traveling out of season
The best time is maybe not the one you think. Even though the tip comes at the end of the article, it’s one of my top tips on the list I think. Not to mention the fact that you’ll avoid the tourist crowds, prices very often drop when you get out of the vacation periods or the busiest times. Hotels lower their prices, activities on site also, and you can negotiate everything easily.
I remember during my Asian tour I went to Koh Lanta, Thailand in the “off season”. There was nobody there, everything was closed or almost and the guesthouses made promotions so that you stay at their place. It must be said that the customers at these times are not running around…
The counterpart where you have to be careful is the weather. Often out of the tourist season, it also means out of season in terms of weather. Few come to the far end of Canada or Alaska in the middle of December. So be careful to check the weather before you go… Very often in many hotels or agencies selling activities, you will see high season/low season prices…
25 - Get off the beaten track
I’ll save the best for last in my opinion. Of course, many travelers and bloggers complain because “beaten tracks” doesn’t mean much at times given the fashion phenomenon that travel has become. We find people almost everywhere, wherever we go. However, in my opinion, there are still areas that are not very well visited.
There are two ways of looking at it. Either you choose your destination from the start and want to get off the beaten track, or you don’t. There are many countries and sectors that are still very little visited. Just to name a few that come to mind: the cold areas (Spitsbergen, Siberia, the depths of Sweden or Finland, many areas of central Canada, etc.), but also the islands lost in the middle of the Pacific (Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, etc.). And there are many more. Of course, you will meet tourists, but much less than if you choose to go to Bali, Thailand or the Caribbean.
Traveling off the beaten track is also often a good way to save money
Even if you choose to go to a tourist country like Thailand, there is clearly the possibility, if you make the effort, to go off the beaten track (Phuket, Bangkok, Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, etc.). Unfortunately, if I may say so, very few have the desire to see something other than the tourist sites. I try to get out of that as much as possible during my trips. It is my vision of things and of travel that pushes me to flee from the tourist areas to seek the authenticity that I like when traveling. Eating pizzas in a square full of tourists in Thailand, I see very little interest in it.
Thailand is the perfect example of a country where even if there is a real mass tourism, you can, if you want, get lost in areas where you will not meet any tourists. I spent 3 months in the country and in some areas, there is nobody, not a single tourist and nobody speaks English. This is what I personally often look for when traveling: to meet the locals, to discover, to simply change. In these places forgotten by the crowds, the prices are always much lower. You sleep, eat and occupy yourself for much less. Not to mention that I personally find the idea of going off the beaten track better, you’ll save money for sure.
That’s it, I’m coming to the end of this article exposing 25 ways to travel cheaper. I think there are others and if you have any ideas, I’d love to add them to the article. If some of you are looking for useful links or websites with good deals, I invite you to check out the page of travel ressource. I list there all the websites I often use when traveling!
I wish you a good trip and don’t hesitate to leave me your thoughts on the article in the comments!
See you soon,