The first step of the journey for most savings seekers is to head online, where you can find all sorts of budget-travel wisdom.
Here are 10 not-your-usual tips for stretching your travel budget:
Budget travellers rarely turn to travel agents, in part because it’s simple enough to book everything themselves. Some also assume that agents cater to a richer clientele. But travel agents’ insider knowledge also means they can be a treasure-trove of savings knowledge. The key if you use one is to select one that’s based locally—at the destination where you’re headed—because they’ll know their territory best.
When you use an agent, a good strategy is to tell them your travel budget at the outset. They can then lay out the transportation, lodging, dining and local tour options that will help you stay within that budget.
Another benefit of using a travel agent is time savings. While many budget travelers consider research part of the fun, you can end up spending a good chunk of time doing research during your trip. By freeing up time to fully enjoy your destination, a travel agent also provides more value for your travel dollar.
The principle is simple: If a country’s currency value were to drop by, say 10 percent relative to the U.S. dollar, then you’d get a 10 percent savings across the board on your expenses within that country. That’s an oversimplified explanation, of course, and delving into the complexities of currency exchange-rate fluctuations isn’t nearly as much fun as reading about cool things to do within a country. But the savings are real and you don’t always have to peruse financial websites for currency clues. News stories about countries with struggling economies are a great tipoff.
A couple of caveats: If you already know your destination (and when you’re going there), this strategy can’t help you seek savings: The rate will be what it will be. In addition, during times when the dollar’s value is generally falling worldwide, then, instead of calculating your potential savings, you’ll be calculating (and having to factor in) your increasing travel expenses.
And, should the idea of taking advantage of a country’s economic woes give you pause, remember that spending your tourist dollars there will be beneficial to that country’s economy, at least in some small way.
If someone else is paying to fly you somewhere, then tack on some vacation days at the end of your work trip. Another way to avoid airfare expenses is to linger at a stopover on your flight itinerary, taking a few extra days to explore places that are on the way to or from your primary destination.
And the strategy can be applied to more than just business trips. If you’re doing a volunteer vacation, then spend a few days afterward to explore the country where you’re doing your good deeds.
This is another strategy that assumes you haven’t already picked a destination. Airfares takes one of the biggest bites out of most travel budgets, so avoiding the need for air transport altogether can save you significantly.
Also, because air travel is a big contributor to climate change, an added benefit to this strategy is that it reduces the carbon footprint of your trip. Exploring places closer to home also gives you a chance to leverage your own expertise about your region, and to explore places that far-flung visitors might overlook.
This is another dual benefit strategy: It lowers your costs and your carbon footprint. Car rentals, even when you get deals, are a significant expense. Using local transit is a tried-and-true budget-travel strategy; the emergence of bike rental fleets in many cities simply gives you another great option.
Often, even if you use public transportation, you’ll need to get from your lodging to the station and back. Taxis and online ride-service companies are the usual suspects. Bike rentals can perform that same job for you at a fraction of the cost—and a bike is way more fun. We’d be remiss, too, if we didn’t point out that walking is the least expensive option and offers a similar fresh-air perspective.
The big players, Airbnb and Vrbo®, tack on extra fees for their services. Because many rentals list with multiple websites, you can save by finding a rental you like at a local rental agency that offers online rentals and charges fees that are substantially lower than the big players. This strategy works best for popular destinations that have a large inventory of vacation rentals.
Many budget travellers, of course, seek out hostels because they can be a great deal—and they offer a more communal travel experience than other types of lodging. But many people also instantly rule out hostels, thinking that their dorm days are behind them.
But not all hostels are alike. Many offer private rooms and private baths, giving you the best of both worlds: your own space to relax and an interesting, convivial place to stay.
And, if you’re the adventurous type and want to spend nothing at all on accommodation, consider couch surfing. Hosts within this worldwide community provide a free couch in their home for use by solo travellers.
Eating lunches outside, not in restaurants, stretches your dining dollars. Pick up fruits, bread, cheeses and meats from local markets and bakeries and dine alfresco during your daily explorations. The same applies to snacks: Buy them and bring them along, rather than succumbing to hunger pangs when you’re out and about.
The other way you can leverage lunchtime for savings is to do splurge restaurant meals out at midday, rather than in the evening. Lunch prices are invariably lower, which means you can get the same entrée for less.
If your outdoor gear is key to your entire itinerary—a bike tour, for example—you might be able to save by shipping your oversize gear. Because baggage and shipping rates are variable, you’ll have to do some research and cost comparisons to know which works best.
If you choose to ship, then you’ll need to also decide where to ship your gear. Some hotels and vacation rentals might agree to hold things for you free of charge for a few days. There are also baggage shipping services, though those will add to your costs. And if you’re lucky enough to have a family member or friend near your starting point, that’s even better.
It would be a crime to waste precious travel dollars because you failed to devote some time to finding out about common local scams at your chosen destination.
Some scams are universal: seemingly free services, like help with your luggage, that end up with you having to pay later (to get your luggage back). Or someone might pose as an official and ask you to pay a bogus fee for say, sitting in the shade of a resort umbrella. Research scams ahead of time online and in person by asking locals for tips after you arrive.