In This Post: From not eating out, to walking many miles to avoid transit, to refusing to participate in any and all overpriced activities. The following post looks at easy and sustainable ways to reduce your overall travel budget by making some simple choices.
Some people tell me I am too extreme with the budget or that they’d never want to travel like me (or with me – rude!). Some people think I’m a bit crazy. But most people ask me how on earth I travel so much for so little money, and how I’m able to adhere to my stringent budget.
While there is no simple formula, staying in budget is mostly about making [good] choices and holding yourself accountable to them. It’s also knowing your priorities, but I’ll explore this more in another post (coming soon). For now, here are some “rules” I adhere to to keep costs down.
How To Save Money Every Day & Reduce Your Overall Budget While Traveling
#1. Do Not Eat At Your Accommodation. Ever.
The breakfast area at your hostel/hotel/homestay is so cute. And it’s so convenient to just head down there when you roll out of bed. But wait! It’s also so overpriced. In these scenarios you are a captive audience, and the prices are tailored as such. One of the easiest things I do to save a LOT of money is never, ever eat at my accommodation (unless it’s free) nor even order a coffee there. I go to local spots (#7), make my own meals (link coming soon), or buy groceries. The amount of money I save not eating at the hostel daily is generally several dollars, which is huge in countries where several dollars is enough to eat for days. Sometimes it’s quite literally the difference between a private room and dorm. It’s all about choices. And priorities!
#2. Walk. Then Walk Some More.
Walking is free, obviously. I have a hard-and-fast rule that if a destination is less than 3.5 miles away, I walk without second thought. If I have all my bags, I change my cutoff to 2. Anything longer I’ll look into a bus or public transit, but I will almost never take a taxi (#8). Walking is not only a good way to save money, but also to stay fit and discover things. I always, always find my favorite sights, experiences, and glimpses of travel moments while walking on foot.
#3. Seek An Alternative To The Tourist Path
Tourist activities are inherently expensive. This is true no matter if you’re an hour from your home or on the other side of the world. Some tourist activities are must-sees regardless (IE: The Taj Mahal). You will pay what it costs because it’s essential. Others, though, like a big rock in Sri Lanka that costs $30 USD, not so much. I always seek alternatives to the popular spots to not only save, but also to avoid the hordes of tourists (link coming soon).
#4. Just Say “No”
Many travelers do things which are not within my budget. I’ve observed that many travelers also feel pressured to do things outside their budgets (or that they simply aren’t interested in) because they don’t want to go alone or “feel bad” saying no. I am not many people so I struggle to understand this. Yet it’s pervasive.
Although meeting others and socializing are essential (and fun) parts of travel, you do not need to break your budget to do this! I repeat: You DO NOT need to break your budget to make travel friends.
- Others going to a pricey tourist restaurant outside my budget? I suggest another place, or I tag alone and just hang out (eat afterwards in the street) or order a beer.
- Others going to a super-touristy sight I didn’t plan on seeing or can’t afford? I say “no thanks” but make a plan to hang out later at the hostel, or suggest a free activity like a hike.
- Others pressuring you to drink at the hostel bar which is expensive and also not something you care to do? Just say no.
I know it’s not always easy, but there is nothing worse than breaking your budget for something you did not want to do. Remember, at the end of the day it’s your trip and your money – and these people are objectively strangers you’ll never see again. So be smart about what you agree to.
#5. Don’t Drink Alcohol
Alcohol is expensive. It adds up fast. And it’s simply not necessary. Of course enjoying a beer on the beach or at a cool cocktail bar with a new friend is nice from time to time. But if you are drinking in the hostel every single night (or in the hostel at all…), what are you doing? People often
ask me how I’m able to mock me for booking a private room. And while there are several ways I afford this (link coming soon), but the #1 way is by rarely drinking while traveling. The price of 1-2 drinks is the difference between the vile mixed down and the glorious private room. Or between staying below or exceeding budget. Just saying.
#6. Reduce Bottled Water Purchases
Water is one of the few necessary items while traveling, so its purchase is justified. But if you’re on the road for months it can really add up (it’s also wasteful).
- Take advantage of free water coolers in your accommodation, fill your bottle each day, and try to avoid refilling while out
- Always bring a water bottle to a restaurant. If you forget, buy one on the road before you enter. Never buy water in a captive place – it’ll be more expensive
- Use water purification tablets, a UV pen, or boil water if you’re really looking to save
- Buy water in “bulk.” Buy a big jug to use for the week, as opposed to 20 smaller bottles throughout
#7. Always Eat Local
Tourist restaurants charge tourist prices. Local restaurants do not. Seek out spots that are off the tourist strip – in the actual real heart of downtown where real, non-tourist people live. Look for locals (and only locals) eating there. Keep your eyes peeled for no English menus whatsoever. These are all good signs you’re getting the local fare at the local prices. Bonus, the food is, unequivocally, better at these places.
And never eat on a tour! I’ve gone into detail on this in another post so I won’t delve into it here, but I never eat the forced tourist meals on excursions. They are exceeding more expensive than a meal at a local spot or a meal I’ve packed myself.
#8. Never Take A Taxi
Sometimes you have to take a taxi, but if there is a choice just don’t do it. Walking is free. Public transit is a fraction of the price. But wait, you may think…Schlepping is annoying. It’s hot and sweaty. My legs are tired. I’m hungover. It’s raining. I don’t care. There are always excuses or justifications to do something, but the fact is taking a taxi is the best way to exceed your budget and exceed it fast. You are backpacking around the world for goodness sake; don’t be lazy.
#9. Ask Before You Buy
Never, ever buy something without a price without asking first. This goes for food on the street, a menu without prices (menus without prices are horrible red flags; I recommend leaving if there are no prices), goods, whatever. If there is no price listed it means:
- It’s really expensive
- They’re going to make it up and charge you a tourist price because you are a foreigner
- It’s going to be a swindle
- Some combination of #1-3
- It may cost more than you want, or are able, to pay
By asking upfront you avoid the weird situation of them handing you a hot piping food, charging you 5x the actual price, then refusing to take it back since you touched it. (OK, Vietnam). If you ask first you can walk away if it’s too much, or make the decision if it’s within budget. Also often when you begin to walk away, the price will magically drop (link to other post).
#10. Shop Around
I never buy something – food, a souvenir, a bus ticket – without first getting a frame of reference. This can be as quick and dirty as asking a few stalls the price of an identical item, browsing a few menus in a market, or glancing at the prices on a few ticket windows. It can be as intense as scoping out different neighborhoods in a city for the cheapest street food, or attempting to negotiate with drivers in advance of your travel date. Regardless, it’s important to have a ballpark idea of how much something should cost before you buy to ensure you don’t overpay.