In part 1, I talked about how I saved money leading up to my trip. Part 2 will focus on how I saved money while travelling and made sure I stayed under budget.
Leave the suitcase at home
I have talked before about the learning curve I took when it came to packing, but the bottom line is that taking a big suitcase is an added expense to any trip, particularly if you are taking multiple flights. Taking a suitcase can cost anywhere from $20 to $70 per flight, and that can triple if your bag is overweight. Take advantage of the free carry-on: most airlines allow you to take a small-wheeled cabin bag and a personal item such as a backpack, which is more than enough space for a 2-3 week trip. I took a 5 cities carry-on which may not have been the best choice because the canvas took a real battering during camping. However, it cost less than £20, it fits a lot in and it can be used as a wheeled trolley case or as a backpack which makes it really convenient for longer trips.
Skip the fancy hotels
Let’s face it, if you are travelling on a budget, you aren’t going to be able to stay at the Hilton or the Ritz. The best option for budget travellers is always going to be Airbnb, couchsurfing or hostels. I always recommend hostels over the other two choices: they are cheap, safe and a great opportunity to meet new people. As an added bonus, a lot of hostels run cheap (or even free) trips and activities in the city – like walking tours, bar crawls or cooking classes. I know a lot of people have low opinions of hostels, but as long as you check the reviews you can end up in accommodation that isn’t too far different from a budget hotel. My go to website is hostelworld and I always choose hostels with a location rating of 8.5 or above. After all, there is no point in choosing a budget hostel only to spend a ridiculous amount of time, energy and money travelling to the city centre from the back end of nowhere.
Prioritise how you travel
I don’t mind taking flights with 2 layovers, I don’t mind staying in 12-bed mixed dorms and I don’t mind getting up at 3am to get a cheaper flight but what I won’t compromise on is the things I do while I am travelling. I’ve met people before who have splashed out on very nice hotels but then spend all week sat around bored because they can’t afford to do any activities or trips. I think that is just so backwards, and I would so much rather save in another areas then splash out on amazing meals and fun experiences and far-flung day trips. When I did an au pair adventures trip around California, we stopped at the North Face outlet in Berkeley and some of the girls spent over $200 on new clothes before spending the last few days of the trip cooking pasta in the hostel kitchen because they simply couldn’t afford to go out. Instead, I saved that money and put it towards some incredible Santa Monica sushi and an unforgettable helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. Think about what is important to you and what you want to get out of the trip, then budget accordingly.
Set a budget (and spend it in cash)
Speaking of budgets: you should definitely set one, although you won’t always stick to it. I don’t agree with daily limits because every day is different, and one big adventurous activity will throw your whole budget off course. Instead, I like to budget by the week – then those cheaper and more relaxing days will balance out with the busy, expensive ones. Another top budgeting tip is to always spend cash (being careful, of course, not to carry too much with you at once). Not only will it help you avoid those pesky card fees if you are in another country, but it also lets you keep better track of your money. Spending on a card – particularly with contactless – is just too easy and there is so little accountability with it. Actually handing over money, and seeing it decrease in your wallet helps you to see very clearly how much you have left.
Do your research
As I said in part 1, no-one wants a trip that is planned down to the very last minute, but a little bit of research will really help you out. A lot of tourist attractions are cheaper if you book online, or have peak and off-peak times, which means you can save a lot of money by doing some smart scheduling. Some hostels and hotels also have deals with local attractions, so you may be able to get better deals by talking to the staff on reception. I also like to do a little bit of research on Pinterest before I go somewhere new, and some of the best meals of my life have been from the hidden gems I found by searching ‘cheap eats in [enter city here]’. Obviously you don’t want to plan every meal of your trip, but it’s good to have a few options rather than blindly picking an overpriced restaurant because you were hungry and didn’t know where else to go. And without Pinterest, I never would have eaten a grilled mac and cheese from Cheesie’s in Chicago so that’s something.
Go where the locals go
Doing your research is also a good way to avoid those over-priced tourist traps and go somewhere a little bit less popular but equally exciting. Ask a local (whether it be the hostel receptionist, a cab driver or a random stranger at the bus stop) where you really have to go in their city before you leave. Ask them their favourite places to eat, the best places to go, the cheapest and most lively bars. Yeah, you could end up somewhere completely random, or you might end up hiking up an amazing waterfall in Oregon, sailing across the Mississippi river for $2, or eating the best Key Lime pie in history made with real Florida limes.
Be kind to yourself
You will go over budget. You will spend way too much on a really average meal. You will miscalculate the exchange rate and end up paying over the odds for a tacky souvenir that will break in your suitcase on the way home. It’s okay: take a deep breath and relax. This is your trip and you have to do it your way, and that shouldn’t mean missing out on something you desperately want to do because it pushes you slightly over budget. So it’s fine to spend too much one day and make up for it by spending very little the next. It’s fine to Google ‘free things to do in [insert city here]’ because your wallet is looking pretty bare. It’s fine to go a little bit over budget and have to eat supernoodles for a week when you get home. I’ve been there, I’ve lived it and believe me: it’s fine.