Travel Frugally not Cheaply

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.

5. Walk

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).


1. Prioritize

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.

Site Seeing

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.

2. Prioritize

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.



Filed under Budget, Travel

14 responses to “Travel Frugally not Cheaply

  1. Nice tips, I definitely agree on the walking and the rented apartements. Not only are they cheap, but also allow you to cook for yourself and ask the owner for some good tips in the neighborhood.
    I would definitely include the advice to pack light, so you can be spontaneous and enjoy your walks more.

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  3. My advice would be talk to people. Learn just a few phrase including hello and thank you in the local language. Everyone appreciates you making an effort to communicate. You will have more fun and people are generally more friendly with you. You often end up paying the ‘local price’ for things too which is always good but shouldn’t be you main impedes.
    Enjoy, thats the main thing, just enjoy.

  4. Kim

    I use a lot of your tips for when I travel. This one isn’t really a tip for travelling cheap per se, but it relates. I have a pact with my friends: unless I see something that they’d LOVE, I don’t usually get them souvenir gifts when I travel. I ask the same thing of them. Sure it’s nice to give and get another handmade bracelet/ doll/ fan/ postcard/ ashtray / mug / fridge magnet from your friends’ travels, but let’s face it, small souvenirs add up, both in terms of $ and the heft to your luggage. Plus those souvenirs get tossed out eventually anyway – I live in a condo, can’t afford the space. To me, it’s really is the thought that counts when it comes to travelling souvenirs, and a photo that my friends took with a note attached “wishing you were here” is oftentimes just as good, if not better, than another piece of kitschy souvenir.

    • That’s a great point, Kim. I try to ask my sisters and close friends if there is something in particular they would like, and I try to remember, but I don’t even bother getting gifts for most people. I learned my lesson when I lugged things home from halfway around the world, and had people say they didn’t want it. Now, I just go and enjoy myself :). Call me selfish, but it works.

  5. Love me some travel tips because I love me some traveling! I think talking to locals is the way to go. It’s fun and you learn so much about the area or city that you are in.

    Learning about a new culture is definitely rewarding – especially when it’s coming from interacting with nice locals…

  6. Good tips thanks Fru-girl. I love travelling and always try to book flights when it isn’t school holidays, always aim to stay for a week to get better rates, stay in apartments which I find cheaper because you can cook your own food.

    I also try to research the locations well and make my choices based on how close the apartment is to grocery stores- so I can buy fresh food. Consider also if a breakfast is included with the stay. And always ask when booking if there are any specials- it always pays to ask.

    As for getting around, I find that if you can be brave and try out the public transport this can be a cheaper alternative to getting taxis and airport transfers. Again that depends on how many people you are travelling with.

    I love travelling and if you can save here and there, then that’s more money towards your next trip 🙂

  7. Great tips. I’m tossing around the idea of a roadtrip soon!

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