Five Easy Ways to Save Money While Traveling
There is no shortage of advice online when it comes to tips for saving money while traveling. However, there are several easy, often overlooked measures one can take to maximize a travel budget, without hardly compromising your itinerary or experience.
1.) Contrarian ticket buying
Beyond determining your destination, if you can be non-committal in scheduling the "when", it can go a long way to help reduce transportation costs. The best example is airfare, which I often purchase through Google Flights or Southwest Airlines' low fare calendar. It can be difficult and emotional exhausting to have a destination determined months in advance but to wait to secure transportation till only weeks before you're scheduled to leave, but if you can find the discipline, it can reward you handsomely. I've gotten one way cross-country and international flights using both services I mentioned before for well below $100, both only several weeks before my ideal departure day, and several months in advance.
2.) Shared-room lodging
For those traveling solo, or with a lone companion, shared room hostel stays are hands down the cheapest rooms you can rent, and often the most fun. I’ve had some awesome times and met unforgettable people when staying in hostels and bunking with 3-5 other people in a room. You can find rooms for $5-10 in almost all Latin American cities I’ve stayed in; mind you, the smaller a given city’s tourism industry, the less likely it is for there to be a hostel. In this case, I would suggest booking through AirBnb. Even in larger cities with a higher cost of living, you can find a room for close to $10 per night.
3.) Raw > processed foods
Though this is a principle I apply to my life in general, it deserves special consideration with respect to saving money on the road. Not only will eating fresh fruits and meat bought from street vendors or markets generally cost less than packaged snacks, you will need to buy less since the nutrient contents will leave you feeling more full.
4.) Cut out drinks, carry a water bottle
This may be a tough one for some readers to execute. Since I view what I do as travel rather than vacation, I’ve largely put the idea of splurging on expensive things out of my mind. Beverages in particular are one thing that can add up quickly when considering a budget.
While living in Mexico, I became accustomed to only drinking water and making my own fermented drinks (think kombucha) since it’s nearly impossible to find drinks that don't contain at least 20 g of sugar per container.
While carrying a refillable 20 L water jug isn’t too feasible on the road, you can still carry a large, BPA-free water bottle, as most hostels and hotels have their own water jugs free for guests, or you could even refill a disposable empty plastic bottle for short-term periods. Not paying for water every time you need to replenish your supply is one of the best cost saving measures I have found to maximize a budget.
In addition to keeping your wallet padded, your body will thank you for reducing your sugar consumption. Fresh juices sold by street vendors can often cost less than their
packaged equivalents, but also are usually high in sugar.
Alcoholic beverages, especially those purchased at a bar or club can be dangerous to someone on a budget, especially since - like in my case - they are likely to drink more than one or two in a sitting. I’m not advocating becoming a recluse in order to save yourself some coin, but rather to be conscientious when buying alcohol or going out drinking. Buying in bulk is more economical than individually, and drinking more while “pregaming” before hitting the bar means you will need to drink and pay less at an establishment.
5.) Pack light
When I first started traveling frequently, one of the first lessons I learned was to carry as few belongings as possible. The largest cost associated with unnecessary luggage is baggage fees from airlines. Many companies will charge for checked bags, sometimes starting with the first one.
In a lot of Latin American countries, you can buy things cheaper once you arrive then you could get them for in the US. If you will be traveling long term, or plan to reside somewhere medium-term, you may want to considering selling your belongings that are in mint to mildly-used condition.
When traveling light, you also have the added benefit of peace of mind. Not having to worry about transporting all the things you don’t need, or even worse, have them lost in transit or stolen, allows for more stress-free travel.
Theft against tourists can be quite common in a lot of metro areas in Latin America, and if you get a bag stolen, it’s only going to cost you a lot more money and headache than if you didn't have it in the first place, or bought domestically when you needed something.