Planning your next trip overseas is exciting, but it can also be pretty stressful as the costs start to build up. You might find yourself with rapidly depleting funds as you fork out for flights, visas, vaccinations, new gear and insurance – and that’s before you’ve even left home!
The last thing you want is to arrive at your dream destination and have no money left to experience it properly. Here are a few tips to help you to save money for travel, both before you set off and when you’re on the road.
Before You Leave
Give Up Bad Habits: Use your upcoming trip to help you give up those bad habits. Whether it be drinking too much, smoking or grabbing a daily caffeine fix on your way to work, when you figure out just how much money you could save by changing your routine, you’ll wish you’d done it sooner. Similarly, if you start running home from work instead of catching public transport, you will be healthier and richer by the time you set off on your trip. Visualising which amazing experiences that money would be better spent on might just be the extra kick you need.
Plan Ahead: The more you plan, the less likely it is that you will make costly mistakes when you’re overseas. Read your guidebook and blogs and discover location-specific tips on saving money. I’ve read a lot of travel-focused personal memoirs and I’m always amazed by the haphazard routes the authors have taken (The Gringo Trail and Red Rucksack come to mind). Of course it’s great to be flexible with your plans, but deciding on a potential itinerary and knowing ahead of time which places you simply can’t miss will prevent you from needing to backtrack or zigzag through the country/continent, saving you transport fares and leaving you with more time.
Find Alternative Ways to Socialise: It’s difficult not to become a bit reclusive when you’re planning a big trip abroad. The money from that friend’s birthday meal in the fancy restaurant could buy you a paragliding flight over a Chilean beach at sunset… But there are ways to save money without cutting off all ties with your existing friends. Suggest meeting up at someone’s house instead of a bar; join people for drinks after they’ve eaten; have a DVD night instead of going to the cinema; or find out where free daytime events are taking place.
Order a Travel Money Card: Travel money cards are a great way to keep your savings secure, should your card or its details fall into the wrong hands. They also have far better withdrawal and conversion rates than most debit and credit cards. Do your research on a price comparison site before you choose and make sure you go for one that will be accepted in all of the regions you plan to visit.
Collect Air Miles: Earning air miles is as simple as using a particular credit card for purchases or shopping in the same supermarket all year. It usually doesn’t even necessitate a change in your behaviour. You just need to have the initiative to set it up in the first place. If you sign up to a frequent flier programme, not only can you save a chunk of cash on your next flight, but you’ll be the first to hear from the airline about any great bargains they have.
On the Road
Take Night Buses: When travelling around Asia and South America, I’ve often chosen night buses over any other form of transport. They’re much easier to book last minute than flights, so you can make spur-of-the-moment decisions. They’re almost always the cheapest way to cover long distances, and usually the terminals are in the centre of town. What’s more, they are surprisingly comfortable and, best of all, you save on a night’s accommodation.
Use Hostel Comparison Websites: Compare prices and check hundreds of reviews to determine if a place is for you. Don’t book ahead because your plans may change and you’d lose your deposit. I have only ever reserved a room for the first night of each trip or if I knew there was a big event scheduled.
Buy Your Gear Abroad: Especially if you’re travelling long-term, there really is no need to stock up on high-tech gear for every eventuality. From clothes to toiletries and even malaria tablets, you will probably be able to buy them cheaper overseas. Carry cheap items and you won’t be upset when they go AWOL at the lavanderia or you leave them behind in a messy dorm room. As you move from one climate to another you can discard/donate your old clothes and pick up new ones for next to nothing. On top of all that, if you want to earn yourself some serious traveller street cred, an inca-patterned llama jumper with baggy traveller pants combo will always gain you more respect than a wardrobe of labels. By nature, travellers will appreciate that:
a) You appreciate the value of money and would rather put it towards more time on the road than material items; and
b) You’re helping to support local small-scale businesses.
Eat Like a Local: Don’t be tempted by the Western restaurants. Some of the best, most authentic and fresh food can be found in small cafes and on street stalls where the locals tend to eat. If you’re concerned about the quality, a great tip is to go to the places with the longest queues. They’re popular for a reason.
Couch Surf: Couch surfing is a fantastic way to save money and meet new people. Staying with a local will enable you to see a place through the eyes of someone who’s lived there for many years. If you’re lucky, they’ll show you around, introduce you to their friends and other international travellers and encourage you to practice their language. Just be sensible about who you stay with. Choose someone who’s registered and who has plenty of reviews on their profile. Message them before you visit to determine whether they’re genuine.
Consider City Passes: Most major cities have city passes, enabling you to get money off a selection of the popular attractions, as well as transport and sometimes accommodation and restaurants. If you plan on spending long enough in one place, these are great little packages. They also usually come with a booklet informing you of the best things to do in the area.
Research Group Bookings: Most tour operators are open to offering discounts if you can convince more people to join your group. If you’re interested in an activity, put a notice up in your hostel to see who might want to accompany you. It’s also a great way to meet new people.
Sell Your Skills: Do you have stunning photographs of your trip? Are you good with words? Plenty of travel-related publications and tour operators are interested in paying money for your services. Start your own travel website and exchange experiences for coverage, or build up rapport with an existing site with high readership that might be willing to accept guest posts. Teach a skill or volunteer in return for free board. There are plenty of exciting and rewarding ways to make the pennies last a little longer, and they don’t hurt your future job prospects either.