15 Easy Tips To Save Money While Traveling Abroad
One of the most common questions I get is how to save money while traveling abroad. Considering that international travel can quickly deplete your savings, it’s a good question. Who doesn’t want to save money while on vacation? Whether you’re going on a weekend trip to Mexico or a 4-month tour of Southeast Asia, these money saving travel tips will keep your costs down. Here are 15 easy tips to save money on international travel, even if you suck at budgeting like me.
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1. Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights
The first step to a frugal vacation is finding cheap flights. For that, it’s hard to beat Skyscanner. I’ve repeatedly compared Skyscanner to similar sites like Priceline, Expedia, Kayak, Google Flights, Orbitz, and Mo Mondo. It consistently offers the cheapest prices so I don’t even bother with the other sites.
Skyscanner is my go-to place website for finding international flights at bargain prices. I’ve been using Skyscanner since 2012 when I studied abroad in Spain. Since then, I’ve snagged some deals like a $24 direct flight to Milan, a $30 flight to Berlin, a $400 roundtrip ticket to Colombia, and a $500 roundtrip ticket to Japan.
Another great thing about Skyscanner is that you can set price alerts for a trip, and you’ll be notified when prices rise or fall. You can also search for flights ‘everywhere’ if you’re flexible with your destination. It will show you the cheapest places in the world to visit for a specified date. The Skyscanner app makes it even easier to search for flights and set price alerts.
2. Use Rome 2 Rio to find the best travel route
Are you wondering whether you should fly, take a train, or take a bus to your destination? Rome 2 Rio will help you decide. It is a website that shows you all the different routes and transportation options to get from your current destination to your intended destination. Rome 2 rio gives you a breakdown of the distance, price, and travel time for each route. Let’s take a look at how it works.
I searched how to get from Barcelona to Sevilla, and the results different modes of transportation and how much they cost. With this information all in one place, I can decide how to get to Sevilla, considering the length of the trip and the cost. In this case, I’d probably do a rideshare just because I prefer traveling around Spain by car and don’t mind long trips.
3. Be flexible with your travel dates
The more flexible you are with your travel dates, the more likely you are to score the cheapest flights. Airlines change their prices based on a long list of factors, including demand, flight availability, and passenger preferences. Do you notice that sometimes the price of a flight doubles within a week or drops by 30% in a few days? That’s because airlines adjust prices in real time based on changes in the factors listed earlier. If you’re open to different dates, then you have more leeway to choose day with a lower price. If you’re set on one specific date, then you have to pay whatever price is set .
4. Never exchange money at the airport
Exchanging money at the airport is like telling the staff at the currency exchange booth “Please take my money! I have no use for it.” The currency exchange rates at airports are never in your favor and have rates higher than those you’ll find in the city or town. Not only that, but you may be charged exorbitant service fees, the price you pay for convenience.
To get the best exchange rate, order the foreign currency you need from your local bank before you travel abroad. You’ll have to estimate how much money you’ll need depending on your plans and the length of your visit. If you’re enable to order the currency from your bank, then exchange money once you have left the airport and arrived at your destination. What if you need the local currency to take a cab or train to the city center? Use a credit card without international transaction fees. What if you don’t have a credit card like that? Exchange money at the airport as a last resort, but only exchange the amount you need immediately. You can also withdraw money from ATM in the local currency. You may be charged a service fee, but bank rates are normally better than rates at the currency exchange booth.
5. Consider work exchange programs
If like me, the idea of couchsurfing doesn’t appeal to you, there is another alternative. Consider doing a work exchange program. For instance many hostels offer travelers free food and accommodation in exchange for help out at the reception desk. There are even yoga studios and meditation retreats that will provide you a full week or more of free accommodation in exchange for your help. To find these opportunities, go to Workaway.info for a listing of work and volunteer opportunities around the world.
6. Avoid eating out in touristy areas
Want to know how to save money on food while traveling? One sure way is to avoid touristy areas at all costs. Touristy areas, usually in the center of a city, are filled with overpriced shops, tours, and restaurants. It makes sense: these areas are convenient for tourists and attract a ton of people. Demand plus convenience equals higher price.
Another reason to avoid touristy areas is the quality of the food. Often times, restaurants will ‘water down’ traditional dishes to make them more palatable to tourists. For instance, if you travel to Barcelona, you will come across Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian street in the city. There, you will see a lot of paella joints lined on the street. They all advertise their paella using the same stock photos, another warning sign. The paella tastes bland and is much pricier than paella restaurants in less touristy parts of the city. To get the best food and prices, consider going to mom and pop restaurants or at least somewhere away from the touristy areas.
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7. Shop at the local farmer’s s markets and supermarkets
Eating out can quickly deplete your travel budget. I know that part of the excitement of traveling abroad is trying new cuisines, but don’t overdo it. You can try the local cuisine without going to a restaurant. How? Shop at the local farmer’s markets or supermarkets. There, you will often find restaurant-quality local dishes that you can warm up in a microwave. You can also buy the ingredients for local dishes and prepare them yourself, if you know how to cook. This is another easy way to save money on food.
8. Book discounted hotels
Paying full price for a hotel is like throwing your hard earned money in the garbage. Don’t do it! These days I use booking.com to get the best rates on hotels. I used to use Expedia but have found that it’s better for all-inclusive deals and bundles (hotel + car rental). Booking.com is perfect if you just want to book a hotel at a discounted rate. The website provides the following information to help you choose the best hotel for your trip:
- The demand for the hotel – how many times it has been booked in the last 24 hours and how likely it is to sell out. It also shows you the demand for similar hotels.
- Distance from the center or downtown – it’s all about location, right? Factoring in the distance from top attractions will help you determine if you’re getting a good bargain.
- Real customer reviews – some hotels have more than 10,000 customer reviews! Hotels are given a score from 0 to 10 based on cleanliness, comfort, facilities, staff attentiveness, wifi quality, location, and value for money.
- Hotel Highlights – Booking.com highlights the best amenities and selling points according to guests so that you know right away if it’s what you want.
9. Rent an apartment with a kitchen and refrigerator
Staying in an apartment with a kitchen and refrigerator gives you a greater incentive to go grocery shopping. You have everything you need to cook so why eat out all the time? You can find fully equipped apartments on booking.com. Normally, they are cheaper than hotels and also feel more like a home. On your next trip, try staying in an apartment instead of a hotel and see how much money you save on food.
10. Stay in a hostel that offers free breakfast
To be honest, I rarely stay in hostels these days because I feel like I’ve outgrown them. But when I first started traveling, hostels were my preferred choice for accommodation. It was exciting to pay $13 a night while meeting people from all over the world. If you’re in your early twenties, you can make a ton of friends this way; hostels attract mainly study abroad students and young people. If you’re older and don’t want to share a dorm with college students, you can book a private room in a hostel. It will be more expensive but still cheaper than a hotel
It’s even better if you book a private room in a hostel that provides free breakfast. The quality and variety of the breakfast will vary, but you can get a sense of that through the reviews. Typically you’ll get some cereal, toast, fruits, ham, orange juice, and milk. Other times, you’ll get a whole feast. Case in point: Gallery Hostel in Porto, Portugal serves breakfast that’s even better than the breakfast at the Hilton! You get a wide selection of meats, parfaits, fruit salads, cheese platters, freshly squeezed orange juice, and other exquisite options. If you ever find yourself in Porto, stay here!
I’ve always used hostelworld.com to book my stays. It rates hostels based on different criteria, such as location, cleanliness, and amenities. You can also read reviews from people around the world – you’ll see where they are from, their age group, and whether or not they traveled. It also tells you whether the hostel serves breakfast. Always try to book a hostel that serves breakfast because that’s one less expense on your trip. It’s also another way to save money on food while traveling.
11. Stay in a central location
Staying near the city center is one of the keys to planning a frugal vacation. It not only makes getting around more convenient, but also saves you a ton of money on transportation. If you stay in the suburbs, for instance, you’ll need to take public transport into the city. If you stay out late at night, you’ll probably have to take a cab home. Start looking for accommodation at least a month before you travel so that you can book a central accommodation at a decent price. If you wait until the last minute, the central locations will be sold out. If any are still available, the prices will be higher than normal.
12. Walk whenever you can
To save money on transportation, walk whenever possible. Another advantage of staying in a central location is that you’re walking distance away from a lot of the top attractions. In some cases, you may not even need to use public transport at all. Of course, not all destinations are walkable. If you visit Los Angeles, you will mostly definitely need to rent a car or take a cab because it’s so spread out. If you visit Madrid, on the other hand, you can walk to 80% of the museums, parks, plazas, highly-rated restaurants, and other top attractions within 30 minutes if you’re in the center.
If you’re wondering how to save money while on vacation, here what NOT to do. Case in point: I just visited New Orleans. My sister and I were about a mile from Bourbon street but took a taxi there. Somehow, Google maps made us think it was farther away. Even the taxi driver pointed out that we could have saved $8 by just walking. That’s $8 we could have put towards some gumbo. Moral of the story: don’t waste money on taxis.
13. Take advantage of multiple day or unlimited metro passes
Many cities have different metro and bus passes for tourists. Depending on how long you’re staying, it may be more economical to buy a pass than to buy individual tickets. For instance, if you’re traveling to Barcelona, you card buy the Barcelona Hola Travel Card, which gives you unlimited rides on any public transport for 2,3,4, or 5 days. You also get a 10% discount for buying a pass online. Tons of cities, from Paris to Tokyo, have similar passes so make sure to search online as you may get a discount.
14. Carry water and snacks with you while sightseeing
When you’re exploring a new place, you can use up your energy fast. That’s why it’s important to take some snacks and water with you. If you get hungry, you won’t have to buy something. You can just eat the snacks you brought and save your money for a nice dinner. Of course, you can buy some cheap street food. But if you do that everyday, it can start to add up.
15. Exhaust all the free activities
The first thing I do when I visit a city is a free walking tour. Lasting 2-3 hours, these tours show you all the highlights of the destination and teach you about the history. After the tour, I have a better idea of where I want to spend more time and where to take pictures. I like to start with the free stuff, like going to the park, meandering around the neighborhoods, or visiting a free art museum. In fact, I almost never pay money for any activity when I travel. For me to open my wallet, it has to be something special like a football game (I don’t care for football, but the games in Spain are electrifying) or a tour of a gorgeous palace. By keeping paid activities to a minimum, I make sure I don’t go over my travel budget.
There you have it – 15 easy tips to save money while traveling abroad. Follow these money saving travel tips on every trip, and you’ll never have to worry about going over your travel budget.
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