Looking to save money while traveling? These high impact tips will help you spend less while still having the trip of your dreams.
Story by Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt.
For most of my life, I never traveled. Like most Americans, “travel” was just another word for a vacation. You go somewhere for a week, spend a lot of money, and then come home rested and refreshed — mostly likely with a tan.
Then you spend the rest of the year paying off that trip and saving for your next one.
That was travel.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I discovered that there was a lot more to it than I thought.
On a vacation to Thailand, I met a group of backpackers who showed me that travel could be done for more than just a week at a time. It could be done for months — or even years.
All you needed was the right mindset and some good money management.
In this post, I’ll show you how to save money when you travel — no matter where you’re going or what your budget is!
1. Get a travel credit card
The best way to save money as a traveler (specifically as an American) is to start travel hacking. This means that you’ll want to apply for travel credit cards that will give you points and miles that you can later cash in for free flights or hotel stays. Even if you’re not a big spender, having a travel credit card is a great way to inch your way toward free travel. And who doesn’t want free travel?! Here is a list of resources that can help you started travel hacking today:
2. Avoid ATM fees
The longer you’re abroad, the more money you’re going to spend in ATM fees. Cash is still king in many countries around the world, which means you’ll be taking money out every month — if not every other week. Those $3-5 fees add up if you’re away for months at a time, so get yourself an ATM card that lets you avoid the fees. The best is the Charles Schwab card, as it doesn’t have any fees and will reimburse you for any you’re charged.
3. Learn how to find cheap flights
Transportation is going to be one of your biggest expenses as a traveler. Learn how to find the best flight deals to help you save money. Knowing the best websites and the best times to book can save you hundreds of dollars on each flight. The key, though, is to be flexible: with flexible dates and destinations, you’ll be able to find flights for a fraction of what other people will pay. Here are the sites I use to find the best deals:
- Airfarewatchdog – Great for searching US flight deals
- The Flight Deal – Great for global flight deals
- Holiday Pirates – The best for European flight deals
- Momondo – My go-to search engine for cheap flights
- Scott’s Cheap Flights – The best for US flight deals
- Secret Flying – Great for flight deals from around the world
- Skyscanner – Another great search engine website for finding flight deals
4. Embrace budget accommodation
While five-star hotels are nice, they are also expensive. As a budget traveler, you’re going to want to embrace more wallet-friendly accommodations. Hostels are your new best friend, as you can find them all around the world for a fraction of the price of a hotel. You’ll get to meet other travelers, go on free tours and pub crawls, and save a ton of money in the process. Hostels also have kitchens so you can cook your own meals, allowing you to save even more. And if dorms aren’t your cup of tea, most hostels have private rooms, so you can still enjoy some privacy while saving money and enjoying the social atmosphere.
5. Join the sharing economy
There are tons of awesome platforms out there to help you have memorable travel experiences while saving money. You just need to get creative! Some of my favorite sharing-economy apps and platforms are these:
- Airbnb – For shared and private accommodation direct from local homeowners
- Couchsurfing – Free shared accommodation with locals
- Trusted Housesitters – For long-term housesitting and pet sitting (free accommodation)
- BlaBlaCar – A ridesharing app that’s great for long distances
- EatWith – Offers unique dining experiences with local cooks
- Vayable – Customized tours with local experts
6. Visit tourism offices
This is an underrated resource that most travelers don’t utilize. Tourism offices in major cities have tons of information on local events, free activities, discount cards, and tourism passes. It’s their job to help you have a great time, so why not take advantage of their knowledge? Stop by the local tourism office when you arrive in a new destination to see what’s happening and to find out how you can save money.
7. Take a walking tour
Free walking tours are a great way to learn about a new destination, its history, and its culture. You’ll get to spend 1-3 hours with a local guide who can answer all your questions while you get a feel for the city. I always take a free walking tour when I arrive in a new place, because it’s the best way to get a quick overview before really diving in. Just be sure to tip your guides — they live off of tips, so be generous! You can also take a paid walking tour if you want something more in-depth and professional. Some of my favorite walking tour companies are:
- New Europe – Walking tours all around Europe
- Strawberry Tours – Free walking tours around the world
- Context Travel – High-quality paid walking tours
8. Find cheap eats and drinks
While you’ll likely want to cook many of your own meals to save money, you’ll also want to enjoy the local food and drink scene from time to time. Try to eat out during lunch, as many restaurants offer cheaper lunch specials (versus more expensive dinner meals). Additionally, if you’re going to drink, look for happy hours (especially in more expensive countries). Many hostels will have their own happy hours too, if they have a bar, so be on the lookout — even if you’re not staying there, you can still pop in and grab a drink!
9. Get tips from locals
The best way to get insider information is to connect with people who actually live in your destination. Use apps like meetup.com or Couchsurfing Hangouts to connect with locals as you travel. You’ll learn about the destination and pick up tips you won’t find anywhere else. Don’t just rely on a guidebook — reach out to residents for a more authentic experience.
10. Search for free activities
Who doesn’t love free stuff? When you arrive in a destination, do a quick google search for “free things to do in X.” You’ll get tons of blog posts and sites with lists of all the best free activities, giving you a chance to experience your new destination without breaking the bank.
11. Avoid eating or staying in tourist areas
My general rule is that I never eat or stay within five blocks of the busy tourist areas. Prices will be much higher and the general standard of food will be lower. Move away from the tourist hub and head out to where the locals are eating and staying. The food will be better and cheaper, and the accommodation will be cheaper too.
12. Skip taxis
If you want to blow your budget, take taxis everywhere. If you want to save money and extend your travels, use public transportation or rideshares. It might not seem like a big difference, but those extra dollars will add up over the course of a few weeks or a few months. Unless you’re in a rush, stick with public transportation. It’s more interesting, it will save you money, and it will give you a deeper sense of local life. For an alternative to taxis, use ridesharing apps like Uber, Lyft, or BlaBlaCar.
Many hostels will let you stay for free if you can work a few hours a week helping them clean. It’s a great way to save money while getting some work experience, allowing you to further stretch your travel budget. Websites like helpx.net and workaway.info have tons of volunteer opportunities to help you extend your travels, so be sure to check them out if you’re looking to stay on the road without draining your travel funds.
14. Buy travel insurance
This may seem counterintuitive, but buying travel insurance is the best way to save money when you travel. Flight delays and cancellations, lost baggage, theft, injuries — I’ve had them all happen to me over the years. Each and every time, I had travel insurance I could rely on to help me navigate the situation and save me money. Unfortunately, problems and hiccups can and do happen when you’re traveling — and they can cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Don’t risk losing your life savings. Spend a few bucks for travel insurance. I never leave home without it — you shouldn’t either. Here are my top recommended companies:
- World Nomads – Backpacker-friendly travel insurance (I’ve been using it for a decade — it is my go-to company)
- Medjet – A membership program with top-notch evacuation coverage
- STA – Travel insurance for student travelers
- Insure My Trip – Great insurance options for older travelers
Whether you’re heading out for two weeks or two years, these money-saving travel tips will help you keep your budget intact as you explore the world at large, allowing you to make the most out of your adventure! Don’t go home early — and don’t go home broke! Embrace the mindset of a savvy budget traveler — you won’t regret it.
Matthew Kepnes runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt. He’s also the author of the New York Times bestseller How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. His writings and advice have been featured in The New York Times, CNN, The Guardian UK, Wall Street Journal, Budget Travel, BBC, Time, and Newsweek. His upcoming travel memoir, Ten Years a Nomad, is story of wanderlust, friendships, and the quest for home. It’s available now!
How do you save money and travel?