I love to travel, and I know that I’m really lucky to be able to travel as much as I do. I’ve backpacked through Egypt, Germany, and Southeast Asia. I’ve also traveled and lived in various places in North & South America.
My favourite parts of traveling is tasting the food, and experiencing the culture. I love just spending hours getting lost and walking around every where. Attractions are nice, but I usually only see one or two of the main ones (without long line ups!), and spend the rest of my time exploring.
Like most finer things in life, traveling can get really expensive. Transportation, accommodation, food, site seeing, gifts – it all adds up. But with some planning, prioritizing, compromising and creativity, traveling anywhere can be fun, exciting, and frugal.
Last year, was a great year with many opportunities to travel. I went to Vancouver, British Columbia to visit my sister during the Winter Olympics ($800), I visited BF in Venezuela during one of his projects ($600), BF and I visited Boston, Massachusetts at the end summer ($600), and we took a mini-vacation the weekend before Christmas holidays at Niagara Falls ($150).
Here are my frugal tips for traveling.
1. Plan ahead.
Try to plan your trip as far ahead as possible, and keep tabs on flight costs so you know when there is a good deal, and snatch it up. Figure out what type of flight your need. A round trip flight, with fixed departure and return dates are usually the cheapest, but make sure that works with your schedule. If you may need to change your return date, it might be more worth it to look into open ended tickets, as opposed to paying the charges for a flight change.
2. Fly during low seasons
During high seasons, flights can be more than double the low season price.
3. Use travel points
If you use your credit card a lot, or get reimbursed for work related expenses, those points add up really fast. If you always fly with group of airlines (i.e., Star Alliance), you may be able to rack up “status” with them and get free perks. I find this is most applicable for those of us who have the luxury of traveling for work.
4. Public Transportation
Once you’ve gotten to your destination, take advantage of the existing public transportation systems instead of relying on cabs, or rental cars. Not only will this save you a tonne of cash, you get to see more of the city and be “closer” to it’s people. Most major cities have public transit which can connect people from airports to the city core.
Walking is not only free and great exercise, you get to see and feel the city the most. You can completely immerse yourself with the crowd, and pretend like you are one of them. You also get to burn a tonne of calories, so that you can keep eating all the yummy food.
1. Stay Longer
If you’re only staying for one night, and moving every night, it’s pretty hard to negotiate a decent rate. If you’re staying at least 3 nights to a week, you can usually score a discount rate. It never hurts to ask.
2. Stay in hostels
Having traveled as a poor student, often times I stayed in
sketchy interesting hostels. Make sure you ask for a tour first, so you can see if you feel comfortable staying there. Hostels work really well, if you don’t plan on spending much time in the hostel, and you don’t mind sharing your space. I find YMCA’s are really great, because they are very clean and they offer lots of options. Shared bathrooms also helps make getting ready faster, especially if you’re traveling with 5 girls.
3. Rent an apartment
I had no idea the plethora of short term apartment rentals until BF and I went to Normandy, France. We rented a 2 bedroom apartment minutes away from a beach for an entire week for only $600. In Vancouver, I stayed in a rented bedroom for only $30 a night. Apartments usually are equipped with basic cooking utensils so you can also save money and cook some of your meals, too.
4. Use points
The good thing about redeeming travel points for hotels is that you can pay for it completely with points. Unlike booking a flight with points, you don’t have to pay the taxes, so there is no out-of-pocket cost (I am giving you the evil eye, Aeroplan).
If there is a Michelin restaurant you are dying to try, then do it! But make sure that meal is special, and it’s not every meal. Plan to have one or two really (or three) nice meals, so you don’t feel “deprived”, if that ‘s what you value.
2. Pack food
Pack some water, crackers, bread or fruits with you on the go. These snacks are usually healthier and less expensive than grabbing a random snack once your stomach starts growling. In France, BF and I would pack some cheese, a baguette and some cured meats and we’d be good for the day. Then, we feast at dinner.
3. Recommendations from locals
Talk to other tourists, your tour guide, or just any local. Chances are, they know of a range of great restaurants and are more than happy to share recommendations with you.
4. Stay in a place with a kitchen
If eating out is not your thing, then why not make your own food with local ingredients and flavours? Like most home cooking, it’s probably better for your health and wallet. And you don’t have to worry about what the tipping etiquette is.
1. “Free” Maps & Tours
Most major cities offer a plethora of tour guides and fancy duck-shaped buses which haul you around the city. I usually find the “free” tours, or tip-based tours to be the most informative, enjoyable and bang for my buck.
Do you enjoy walking through museums? Or do you prefer to look at historical buildings and sites? You have a limited amount of time, energy and money, so don’t try to see or do it all. You are not seeing the city, if you are spending half your time in line-ups to see attractions.
3. Hang out where the locals do
Do you think a local New Yorker steps foot in Times Square? Or a local Parisian climbs the Eiffel Tower? Probably not. Why not enjoy a glass of wine while listening to a local jazz club? Or check out a local production? Or enjoy stargazing while listening to local musicians at dusk while perched at the hill top of Sacre Coeur?
Just remember to have fun and be creative while minding your wallet. I’m sure no one wants to come back from the trip with a huge credit card bill. Traveling frugally doesn’t have to be cheap 😉
What are some of your favourite traveling tips? Please share in the comments, I’d love to hear them.