As someone who has picked up and traveled the world for months at a time, many times, I’ve come up with a few life hacks to make my travel experiences more sustainable, cheaper, and in many ways, more of an adventure. I’m all for living a high-low experience, but there are just some things I refuse to waste my money on, especially when there are alternatives that fulfill all my needs.
Below are my top 12 ways to travel cheaper, easier, and like a pro, so that when you are ready to say yes to life, your adventure will be far easier and last longer than you could’ve ever imagined.
1. Travel To Countries that Offer More Bang For Your Buck
The biggest and most important part to traveling is understanding how far your currency goes in other countries. This will completely change what you can do, where you can go, how long you can stay somewhere, and the type of experience you will have.
My first big trip for more than a month was completely unplanned, but after being in South East Asia for 2 weeks, and falling in love with the energy, I knew I couldn’t leave as soon as I had originally expected. The fact that my dollar went even farther than I had realized, and that life was beyond affordable, made the decision to miss my flight back home even easier.
Being able to spend $5 dollars a night on accommodation that was safe, clean, and offered me everything I needed made this decision even easier. Being able to spend $1-$2 on food that was delicious and nutritious made this decision even easier. The fact that I met incredible people who were also traveling on a budget made the decision even easier.
Traveling through a country like Turkey, I was shocked at how much the dollar was worth, and how affordable life was in general for the local people. I had not planned on coming here either, but after learning these things, I quickly extended my trip, and did two weeks in Turkey instead of just a few days.
Looking into exchange rates, the standard cost of things like food and accommodation, and not being dead set on going to a specific place at a certain time, will allow you to travel and see things you thought you would never see.
Never let money be an excuse as to why you cannot travel.
2. Travel To Countries Off Season
My second big tip to make your travels more affordable is to travel to countries off season. This one may sound like an obvious tip, but for many people, they often think about traveling to places only during high season because of weather, time off, or many other variables. Something I like to remind people is seasons vary in many ways between different countries, so don’t get stuck on what you think the weather will be somewhere.
While traveling through South East Asia, I unknowingly traveled during rainy season, which meant that it rained for a few hours some days, if at all, and then would clear up and become gorgeous out. Yes, this can be a bit risky, but I had an incredible time, had amazing weather, and was able to treat myself to experiences that would’ve cost triple the price had it been high season. You can literally find deals on incredible places that normally go for $250 a night for as low as $30 a night.
I actually splurged once and spent $70 a night on a private little bungalow on Coral Island in Thailand. I wanted to experience the island without all the crazy tourists, and the only way to stay on the island past 5 pm is to rent a room, which I could’ve done for as low as $20 a night had I not treated myself to a beach front view. I almost never treat myself, but I said fuck it, and gave myself this present, which turned out to be incredible because from 5 pm until 11 am the next day, I basically had an entire island to myself to read, do yoga, and enjoy an incredible sunset and sunrise.
Weather can definitely make or break a trip, so do a little research when traveling during different seasons.
3. Stay In Hostels
I know this can sound super scary, gross, or undesirable to many travelers, especially ones who have never stayed in a hostel before. However, once you pop your hostel virginity, you actually find they are super fun, a great place to meet people, and offer beyond affordable ways to stay in cities, beach towns, and cute country areas all over the world.
I’ve literally paid anywhere from $4 (in Cambodia) to $22 (in Turkey) to stay for one night while traveling. The amount of money you save while staying in a hostel will allow your trip to last far longer than if you are staying in a hotel or other type of accommodation. To really add bang to you buck, many hostels will include a meal, often breakfast, with your stay.
Apps like Hostel World make it beyond easy to see what you are getting for your money, where you are staying, and what other type of experience you will have while staying at each specific hostel. As I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve definitely found myself not looking to share a room with 14 people, although this can be super fun, so I usually look for a room that sleeps no more than 4, and places that have social common areas, but aren’t driven by late night parties and loud music.
More than anything hostels offer an experience that you won’t find while staying at a hotel or at an Airbnb because you are basically guaranteed to meet other travelers, which for me, as a solo traveler, is the biggest reason I chose to stay in a hostel when traveling to a new city. Having interesting conversations, meeting people of all ages from all over the world, and making friends like your back in elementary school will add an incredible amount of value to your travels no matter where you end up.
4. Travel Light
Not only will traveling light make physically moving from place to place far easier, but it will also allow you space to grow as you travel.
The amount of times I’ve thought I packed light only to realize I’ve brought way too much stuff is pretty much 100% of the time. There is nothing more annoying than shlepping around a bunch of stuff you don’t even use in the end, so what I encourage is to pack, and then cut half of what you have, especially if traveling to countries that are big on the export game when it comes to material goods like clothes and shoes. Remember that just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it’s something you need, or that it is being made fairly or sustainably, so still be mindful of this when traveling to countries like China, Turkey, and Cambodia.
Traveling light also makes flying cheaper as you’re not paying extra for multiple checked bags. I can’t fully explain how freeing it is to move without a wheeler bag dragging behind you. I highly encourage getting a big ole backpack from a company like Osprey, which offers lifetime warranties, and can hold way more than you realize.
After hiking / camping for 45 days on the PCT, I realized how little I truly need on a daily basis, so don’t be afraid to travel with a lot less than you think you may need.
5. Barter, Bargain, And Ask For A Better Price
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve saved money because I simply asked for a better deal. Companies, hotels, and businesses need you to spend your money, and often that means they don’t mind cutting a little off, so that you still spend some.
Of course there is a time and place for everything. You can’t walk into a department store and expect the sales person to cut the cost of your items in half, but more times than not, you can get 10% off in even regular stores. If you are a student there are countless ways to save money, so don’t be afraid to ask if there is a student discount when buying your ticket to a museum or even shopping in regular clothing stores.
Additionally, there are often local prices and travelers prices.
Don’t be afraid to call it out when you feel like you are being ripped off or taking advantage of. Often times the locals aren’t even being rude or difficult, it’s just that they know they can do this, so they do. I’m all for paying fair prices, supporting local businesses, and spending my money on local goods and services, but that doesn’t mean we have to pay more than someone else for the same thing.
If you are staying at a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb for a week there is often a discount that you can get simply by asking.
I know to some it sounds entitled to ask for a deal or discount, but you never get what you don’t ask for, so don’t be afraid to ask. The worst thing that can happen is someone says no, but again, I can’t stress how many times you will hear yes. People like to help, and if you don’t tell them you need their help, there is no way for them to know you need it.
So speak up and ask away.
6. Eat Like A Local
You wouldn’t eat out every meal when you are at home, so why do it while you are traveling?
Everything from eating the street food, which I have never had a problem with anywhere in the world, except in my own beloved NYC, to buying groceries and cooking at your hotel, hostel, or homestay with allow you to save so much money. Get adventurous, think of it like a game, and ask locals where they go for amazing cheap food. Pick one or two spots that you are dying to try, and let yourself enjoy, but don’t get hung up on eating at the poshest and fanciest spots. These type of places are usually overrated and often get a lot of their ideas and recipes from smaller more affordable local spots.
I’ve had so many amazing encounters when eating at street carts, chatting up locals to get some ideas about where to eat, and just getting lost in neighborhoods that aren’t on the list of tourists hotspots.
Lastly, while I am a bit of a foodie, I am someone who travels to places to experience the people and see the rich culture. While that 100% involves eating local cuisine, I can’t stress how much money you will save, if you make smart eating choices. Don’t stress about hitting every trendy restaurant, instead enjoy eating like a local and getting flavors from all aspects of the places you travel to.
7. Create Your Own First Aid Kit / Stay Healthy
Before I leave for any trip, I make sure that I create my own little first aid kit just incase I get sick.
There is nothing worse than getting somewhere and not speaking the language, not understanding what packages say, or not being able to get what you need. With that said, many countries have amazing, and sometimes better, options for dealing with specific symptoms than the US does, so don’t be afraid to ask a local pharmacist for help if your body starts to break down while traveling.
Things I always makes sure I have on me when I travel are:
I’m a big fan of Zyrtec D as it totally kicks my allergies fast and effectively, and as someone who suffers from seasonal allergies, I know how annoying they can be. I actually found off brand version of these types of American products in Europe for $5 dollars, so I would suggest hitting up a local pharmacy when traveling abroad.
Any brand will do. I first discovered these when I got Bali Belly, something every traveler will likely get while in Indonesia, and they were magic. These things are bodily gold if your bowels start to fight you, as they will regulate everything in the matter of a few minutes to a few hours. The amount of times I’ve given these to people for the first time to only have them be skeptical to then being blown away at how effective they are is beyond countless. Imodium is also something else I recommend keeping on you, but honestly, I’ve found the charcoal pills to be even more effective. Trust me on this one if nothing else because there is nothing more frustrating than having stomach problems while you’re trying to enjoy your time traveling.
Whether it’s for a small cut, blister, or something totally different, having some form of bandages will come in hand at some point, so make sure to always have a few on you.
DayQuil / NyQuil
I know this one some people may fight me on, but I swear by these things if I’m starting to feel the slightest bit sick. I will take the standard dosage, chug a ton of water, and then get a big nights sleep. Usually by the next morning I am back on track and feel beyond better. I suggest bringing these with you from the states because you will have a hard time finding something similar when abroad.
Having some sort of painkiller is just smart. As I get older my aches and pains are becoming more of a thing, and Ibuprofen can help in a number of ways.
These are just smart to have always on you, as there is nothing worse than being stuck somewhere having to blow your nose and not being able to. Tissues can often double as toilet paper, a quick bandage, and many other things.
Mother nature’s elements can be totally unpredictable and vary in big ways in different countries, so make sure to keep some sort of lip balm on you. Whether or not you are someone who uses lip balm on a daily basis, I promise you will be grateful to have it on you at some point will adventuring out in the world.
I personally find it super uncomfortable to have dry skin, especially on my hands and feet. Not being able to fix this problem is something I have found myself frustrated by because I simply didn’t keep a little bottle of moisturizer on me, so I highly suggest keeping even just a little tube of lotion on you.
You don’t want to fuck around with your eyes, so eye drops are a smart thing to have. You may not need these your whole trip, but more often than not, you most likely will, so save yourself the discomfort, and have them in your first aid kit.
These are the major things I suggest having on you at all times, and do not take up a lot of space; however, there are definitely other things you will personally find you are happy to have on you while traveling and feeling below the weather.
Overall, you want to treat your body like the temple it is, especially when traveling because you will often find yourself not sleeping normal hours, sleeping lighter as you adjust to different time zones and different beds, and not exercising like you do when back home. Make sure you drink a lot of water and avoid other types of beverages. This will also save you money. Eat healthy and nutritious foods, and stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing.
I’ve found all these things save me a lot of wasted time and wasted money when I am traveling. Be prepared and keep your body a priority, so that you can continue your travels smoother, cheaper, and for longer periods of time.
8. Take Local Transportation / Walk
Whether you are traveling in NYC or in Tanzania, taking local transportation usually ends up being far cheaper when getting around. A subway ride in NYC is now about $3, and will usually get you to your destination in half the time than a cab or uber, which cost far more especially during rush hours. The same is true of most public transportation systems around the world.
If a country has a metro system than I highly encourage learning and using the system, which is often quite easy to do, and if for some reason you end up confused or lost, as I have many times, all you have to do is ask one of the locals around you for help. Most people have no problem giving you directions, pointing you in the right way, or even walking with you to where you need to go to make sure you are back on track.
Walking is an obvious way to save money, but I’m always shocked at how many people avoid walking when in new places because they are worried about getting lost. Walking is a fantastic way to find hidden treasures, see amazing things, and save a ton of money. One of my favorite ways to acclimate to a new place is to put on my running shoes, go for a run, and get lost. You can easily backtrack your steps, or turn on google maps whenever you decide it’s time to head back to where you are staying.
I also highly suggest finding out if a country has public transportation to and from whatever airport you are using, as these rides will almost always be the ones you save the most money on. A ride on the public bus from Istanbul to the Airport is 18 Lira or about $1.50, but a taxi can cost you anywhere from $15 dollars and up depending on where you are coming from.
Not only will you save a ton of money using these systems, but you will also get more of a local experience as you ride in a Matatu, a crowded bus with 30 Kenyan men and women, or sit on a tram in Amsterdam. There is something very humbling about being amongst the local people, and the interactions you find yourself having will sit with you forever, and make a lasting positive impression on you.
9. Get a Local SIM card
While many service providers now a days have international plans or a set amount that you can use your phone while abroad, you will actually save a ton of money by buying a local SIM card. You can find these at local service providers while in the airport, and usually close to where you are staying. You will spend closer to $20 dollars for a week of using your phone instead of $70, and more often than not, I am able to go even longer than I realize with the local data I end up buying.
I switched over to Verizon from Sprint in the US because I wanted to be able to easily switch out SIM cards, and Verizon keeps their phones unlocked, so before you travel abroad look into if your phone is locked or not.
Another pro tip is to freeze your service while traveling abroad, which is super easy to do and will save you a lot of money, especially if traveling for longer periods of time.
It is inevitable that you will be using your phone, so make it work with your budget not against it.
10. Say Hello To New People / Make Local Friends
Whenever I get to a new place, I find myself slightly overwhelmed because everything is new, and as I’ve said before, I don’t do a ton of planning. However, something I always force myself to do is suck up my pride, nerves, and fear, and say hello to new people. Whether it is strangers in my hostel, who are also traveling, or locals at a bar or cafe, I fore myself to say hello, and ultimately make new friends because this is where you will always find the most value out of your travels.
Not only will you walk away with incredible new friends, fresh perspectives on life, and a ton of new understandings, but you will get the scoop on where you are. Other travelers will often have incredible tips and tricks to save money in whatever place you find yourself in, and locals know all the ins and outs of their home city or town.
I consider myself an extrovert, I actually scored a 100% extrovert once when I took the Myer Briggs personality test, but I still get shy around new people as we all do. The unknown is scary, but as every experience has shown me, the more I get out of my own way, and do the things that scare me, the more I find everything I was looking for on the other side, so smile and say hello to new people wherever you go.
11. Wash Your Own Clothes
This is something that most people overlook, but one that saves me time and money everywhere I go. Washing your own clothes whether it be at a local laundromat or in the sink at wherever you are staying will save you money.
I always travel will a very long piece of sturdy string, it’s actually plastic string I recycled from when I was in Thailand and doing humanitarian work with elephants, so it even has sentimental value attached to it, and makes me smile every time I whip it out to hang my laundry up.
Make sure you carry something like Dr. Bronners natural soap with you, as you can use this for everything from washing your hair and body to doing your laundry with just a small amount of it. I will even use the shampoo or body wash I find in a hotel if I am in a pinch.
Being able to wash anything anywhere is something I have found to be super helpful when traveling all over the world. It’s also super fun to set up a clothing line and dry your clothes in you room when traveling as it adds a touch of home, which is always a comforting feeling.
12. Travel For Longer Amounts of Time
I know this tip sounds like the complete opposite of making your traveling cheaper, but when you give yourself more time to travel, you actually will be able to hit more places at once, which is cheaper than going back home and saving up for your next adventure.
If you follow all the other tips listed here, you will find that traveling in general isn’t as expensive as you may think, which means you can stay away a bit longer. Even if adding just an extra week onto your travel time, you will be able to save so much money on flights, which I have always found to be the most expensive thing when it comes to traveling.
Side note: You should 100% get yourself a credit card that is linked to one of the big airlines, which will give you miles to fly every time you use it. Be responsible with this credit card, as the last thing you want to do is end up in thousands of dollars in credit card debt. But if we are being honest, when I was 19 years old and studying abroad in Paris, I put myself $5000 in credit card debt. It was an experience I knew I not only wanted, but needed as I have never been outside of the country before, and what better time to be abroad then when you are in school? You actually have far less responsibilities when you study abroad, and the debt I found myself in was definitely stressful at 22 when I was graduating from college, which was stacked on top of my student debt, but after years of hard work and paying it off, I can fully look back and say it was beyond worth every cent.
Once you get to a new continent travel instantly becomes far less expensive because you are traveling shorter distances. I’ve taken night buses in South East Asia for $5, which means you avoid needing a room for a night and you wake up in a new city. I’ve found a last minute flight from Paris to Stockholm for $0, yes you read that right, $0. All I had to pay was just $14 in taxes.
The amazing thing is this isn’t rocket science. I by no means am the best traveler or planner. I often wait till a day or two before deciding where to go next, but thanks to apps like Rome2Rio, SkyScanner, and blahblahcar, traveling around the world is made super easy and simple. I highly recommend downloading these apps, they will save you serious money, and keep you wanderlusting far longer than you could ever imagine.
Remember every cent counts, so be flexible, don’t have a super strict plan, and give yourself time. I can’t stress how many people tell me they wish they could do what I do, but the honest truth is, anyone can do what I do. You just have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone, and get creative when it comes to traveling.
I know this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, but for anyone who wants to get the most for their money, travel more, and meet incredible people, these tips will unlock new adventures and set your soul free in ways that will change how you look at the world and yourself. Don’t wait for tomorrow, don’t let money be an excuse, and go, go now because the world is changing faster than we can control it. Our earth is truly a magical place, and the more you see of her, the more you will want to help protect her and our fellow human inhabitants.
Happy exploring my gorgeous human beings. I can’t wait to hear how far you go, and how much you see, so remember to share your tips with me here, and lets keep the adventure going. Anddddddd most importantly, don’t forget to hike your own hike!