Ever since Nick and I began taking long trips overseas to backpack around Asia, the most common question we get is regarding the logistics of affording to travel so long.
The second most common remark we get is, "It must be nice to be you!" To which I would love to have the guts to respond with an equally unsavory remark, but I'm way too nice.
While saving money before traveling will be addressed in a different post, here is where I'm going to talk about the strategies we use to make our money stretch farther, thereby allowing us to travel longer, sometimes for 4 months at a time.
Being from America, where the cost of living is high, and it's easy to spend money (or use credit cards) to keep up with the lifestyles of those around us, I understand how it can seem impossible to stretch a few thousand dollars over a few months of travel. It is impossible if you're not strategic.
We hope you get some ideas from this list. Be sure to read #10 because that's my favorite and most useful one.
1. Choose your destination wisely
Okay, this isn't exactly saving money while traveling, but it is the very foundation of it. There's no way to budget travel if you choose the most expensive places on earth. So your ability to travel cheaply is dependent upon where you go first and foremost. Now into the details.
2. Get the cheapest flight possible
Getting cheap airfare is like a game to me. There are strategies I use, websites I prefer, and secrets I will never tell. Just kidding about the secrets. You can read all about our favorite websites to book cheap travel.
One of my strategies is to book 3-4 months ahead of time and have relatively flexible dates. I also use multiple search sites to compare prices. You can find those sites here.
After you've done significant searching and found the golden ticket, it's critical to book the flights either using a different computer, or by opening a private window. The majority of search sites will save your search criteria and jack up the prices on you. So be smarter than them!
3. Do not shop at the airport
This means snacks, magazines, neck pillows, water, anything. They inflate the prices so dramatically that you are essentially being ripped off. So stock your carrying on with everything you need before getting to the airport. Bring an empty water bottle through TSA and refill it on the other side (not always safe to do based not the quality of the drinking water of course), and keep yourself occupied without shopping.
This goes for the end of your trip as well, don't do your souvenir shopping at the airports. If you must purchase something for family back home, do it with the local shops during your trip and support their economy instead of the overpriced, cheap stuff at the airport.
4. Do not park at the airport
To save quite a bit of money, do everything in your power to secure transportation to and from the airport and keep your car at home or a friends house. Don't worry about burdening someone because you can always return the favor. Call a friend or secure an Uber or Lyft, and save the $12 - $30 a day to leave your car in a parking lot. That money could be better used to get your an entire day of activities on your trip!
READ MORE: Why You Should Prioritize Traveling Abroad
5. Take public transportation
Most countries that are budget friendly have incredible public transportation systems in place. Or at least inexpensive ways to get around. Stay away from taxis which will suck your budget dry, and try the local buses, trains, or even hop on the back of a motorcycle. Sounds sketchy, but is quite popular in some countries. Navigating the public transport can be tricky, but is a priceless way to experience the culture, and will make your money stretch much further.
6. Skip pre-packaged tours
Nick and I try to limit tours when we travel because it's always much less expensive to plan activities ourselves. Of course, sometimes we are feeling lazy and it's nice to be catered to, but it's rare because we also understand that many package tours take you to places where other package tours go, and so you end up feeling like cattle being herded around.
With all those other package tourists around all your travel pictures end up having tons of tourists in them too, which sucks. There's a huge sense of freedom to go exploring on your own, so do a little research, ask around, and go! Your budget will thank you.
7. Eat at local restaurants
The fewer English words printed on the menu the better. The less "western food" on offer the better. Better, and almost always cheaper. Skip eating at places that are filled with other tourists, and find the restaurants where the locals are eating. Eating at the street stalls is even better!
8. Do not eat near big tourist attractions
The most expensive and least tasty meals can be found next to the major sights. The locals know where the money, I mean people, flow, and no matter the country they will take advantage of it. Throw a snack in your bag before you go incase you get hungry, and then leave the area to find a proper meal. This will cut costs dramatically.
9. Do not make hotel reservations ahead of time unless you have to
I can almost feel your adrenaline pumping at the thought of showing up to a new location without a place to stay. Trust, it can be a little unnerving if you haven't done your research and you arrive in the dark.
Nick and I always try to narrow down our hotel options to 3 or 4 possibilities in a certain neighborhood before arriving, and we do our best to arrive in new places in the day time. That way it gives us the opportunity to visit the hotels or hostels to see what we are getting, and then negotiate a better price.
Also, staying at places that even have a website and ability to book online means they are going to be pricier than other places in the area. Finding a cheap place that isn't online is always good for the budget.
But, if you absolutely MUST book your room online, which happens to us time to time, then I recommend using HotelLook.com or Hotels.com. We also like AirBnB, but who doesn't? These are affiliate links by the way, and if you use them to book, you will be helping this blog. So, thank you in advance.
10. Put your daily budget in cash in a separate wallet
This is my absolute favorite way to save money while traveling, and a must for me to stay on track during a long trip. I travel with two wallets. One is a money belt where I keep my cards and cash and passport. The other is a tiny little zip-up pouch.
Each morning I take my daily budget out of the money belt and put it into the pouch. There are two upsides to this. First, I can see what I'm spending through out the day and it helps me stay within my means. At the end of the day if I still have money left over I get soooooo excited! Second, when I'm in public, I'm only ever flashing a few bucks when I go to pay for something, so if I get robbed (god forbid) I can give them the small pouch and only lose one days worth of money.
These are just a few ideas that work well for us. But there are so many ways to cut costs while traveling like working along the way, volunteering, camping, hitch-hikeing, or bartering. Be creative!
Do you have a technique you use to save money while traveling? We'd love to hear about it. Share in the comments below.