I truly believe that spending money on travel is an excellent investment in yourself. Not only does it reward you with beautiful memories but it educates your mind and opens up endless possibilities. You may learn some of the local language, try new tastes or just find out that your tolerance levels only reach a certain point!
Having said that, the majority of us have a budget and the costs do start to add up especially when travelling with a family. I am sharing my own tips for saving money whilst on a trip and you can apply these to your own itinerary. To save money on flights and accomodation please see my previous articles Planning an Overseas Trip and Finding the Perfect Accomodation.
1. What is Important to you?
Saving money whilst travelling is a personal choice and it really comes down to a more mindful approach as to what is important for you. For some it maybe enjoying a cocktail during a sunset, visiting a theatre or staying in a five star resort. Work out what is actually important to you and hence worth spending money on.
Our family of four chose one attraction each when we visited London. It was a great way for everyone to experience something that was important to them. My daughter chose the Cutty Sark and my son chose the London Eye.
Bottom line, don’t spend money on experiences and sites that don’t interest you.
2. Pack Lighter
This is something my family continue to improve on with every trip. It has become a mindset for us to take carryon sized bags only and I personally couldn’t go back to checking in a suitcase. How does this save me money?
- Many budget airlines charge high fees for checking in a bag.
- Lugging around heavy bags is not fun and you will avoid the cheaper option of public transport.
- You can take you own bag to your room and avoid ‘porter fees’ (this probably only applies to fancier resorts).
- Zero risk of your bag going missing during the flight thus avoiding the need to spend precious time and money replacing lost items.
3. Do your own Washing
When you pack lighter it goes without saying that you will need to do some laundry along the way. Most hotels offer laundry services but it can be very expensive especially as many charge per item. To save money we always carry a small laundry kit that comprises of a washing line, universal sink plug and some laundry detergent. We usually wash smaller items in the bathroom sink and occasionally rinse less dirty items whilst taking a shower. We have also used local laundrettes which provides a fun experience chatting to the local people.
4. Eating on the Cheap
There are several options to save money when it comes to eating:
- If you are staying in accommodation that has cooking facilities it makes sense to self cater. Quite often basic items such as milk, margarine salt and pepper are included in the rental so you just need to purchase the main ingredients. It’s also a great experience to wander around a supermarket in a different country.
- Who doesn’t love a picnic in the park? This is a really great option if you have younger children who prefer not to sit for longer periods of time in a restaurant. We chose this option a couple of times whilst we were in Paris with some family friends. At the time our daughter was four and our son twelve months old. One evening we ate take away pizzas and drank red wine in a beautiful park in the centre of Paris. On other occasions we bought soft cheeses, cold meats and baguettes.
- Always carry a few snacks and water with you especially when visiting popular tourist attractions. This is even more important if you are travelling with children. Nobody likes to pay three or four times the usual price for a bottle of water. Trust me we learnt this the hard way!
- Try to avoid eating close to major tourist attractions as prices are always higher. You usually only have to walk a couple of hundred meters to find cheaper options.
- Look out for promotions or happy hour deals at restaurants. Some restaurants offer cheaper meals on certain days of the week and who doesn’t love happy hour.
5. Drinking on the Cheap
Now this is where you will save lots of money. Other than a select few destinations drinking alcohol and soft drinks is a costly exercise especially when there are four of you. For most of us though cutting out a few relaxing drinks is not a desirable thought. If like us you enjoy a few bevvies then here’s how you can save a few dollars:
- Purchase a few drinks from the shop to enjoy before you head out. Cheaper drinks can be purchased at 7-11 stores throughout Asia, supermarkets throughout Europe and bottle shops in Australia.
- Always look out for the locally made drinks as they are usually much cheaper.
- Carry a reusable water bottle so you can refill at any time. It’s not only better for the environment but it’s also good for your own health.
6. Search for ‘Free Activities’
The best things in life are free, sound familiar (I bet you’re singing it in your head) well quite often when it comes to travel it’s true. Do some research on the places you are visiting and check out all the free sights and activities. Some great examples are taking self guided walks, swimming at the beach, people watching, talking to the locals and looking around markets. More often than not the free activities show the true character of a place without the touristic hype.
Major cities can be particularly expensive, here is a list of great websites offering free activities in the following places:
Many of the activities my family love are free and have given us wonderful memories. Just to name a few stand outs:
- Strolling through an endangered animal habitat park in Hong Kong and witnessing two large birds perform a mating dance in perfect choreography.
- Listening to a powerful Russian quartet performing acapella at Carcassonne Cathedral.
- People watching at a traditional Souk in Ras al Khaimah.
- The very first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as we turned a street corner……
……and so many more but I won’t bore you with them all! It really confirms the best things in life really are for free.
7. Getting Around
It will depend on the distance you need to travel as to what mode of transport you take. As a family we prefer to walk as much as possible, not only is it good for us but it’s free. You also get to see everyday life occurring right before your eyes.
Of course for longer distances we always try to use public transport. Along with being cheaper it is also better for the environment and you get to experience travel the local way. Having said that we did find taking a taxi in some Asian countries was cheaper than four tickets for the train.
Always do your research to find the cheapest option, this will save you time and money when you arrive at your destination. Most cities provide excellent connections and quite often children under a certain age are free.
For even longer distance travel consider overnight trains or buses as this has the benefit of saving you a nights accommodation.
Without any doubt we’ve all succumbed at some stage in our life to purchasing a souvenir that ends up in a cupboard or worse still in the rubbish bin. Go to any major tourist attraction and you will find a shop full of over priced souvenirs.
I’m not saying don’t purchase any souvenirs just be mindful of the souvenirs you do chose to buy. Ask yourself the question…will this souvenir add quality to my life and will it serve a purpose?
Some great examples of souvenirs that serve a purpose:
- T-shirt or item of clothing that you would wear
- Picture or painting that can be displayed in your home
- Keyring (if you don’t already own a myriad of them!)
And these examples of free souvenirs:
- Local free newspaper
- Photo’s taken on you camera/phone
So next time you are tempted to buy a plastic model of your favourite building/sight look on the bottom of it and you will probably discover it’s made in China. And yes I purchased a plastic Eiffel Tower at the age of twelve only to discover the ‘Made in China’ sticker on the bottom. Lesson well learnt!
Many of us take the opportunity to read whilst we are on vacation but purchasing and carrying around heavy books is not ideal and costs a lot of money. As I mentioned previously we travel with carryon only and this has size and weight restrictions. Taking books is not an option for us.
My husband happily reads books on his iPad or iPhone whereas I prefer the feel of a real book. When I am transiting from one place to another I usually buy a magazine to read as it is a cheaper option, it is lightweight and can be recycled or donated when I’ve finished with it. Years ago when I backpacked around South East Asia I swapped books at hostels or purchased at second hand book shops. Another option that we actually use here at home is purchasing our books at a charity shop and when we finish reading it we donate it back. Win, win situation.
Guidebooks are another expensive option and it is worth asking yourself whether you really need one. We are currently planning a trip at the end of the year to Thailand and Myanmar. My husband and I have travelled extensively through Thailand and have decided that along with all the information on the internet we will not require a guidebook for this part of the trip. However, Myanmar is a whole different story and we felt that having a lonely planet guidebook is going to be a great benefit and will save us money in the long run. We decided to get it as an e-book, not only is it cheaper but it doesn’t take up any of our weight allowance.
10. The Local Currency and Banking Cards
If you are travelling to a country with a different currency you will need to do some research into the best way to convert your money. Banks make vast amounts of money on the difference between the buy and sell exchange rate known as the spread and on top on this they also charge a foreign exchange commission to change your money. It may not seem like a lot of money each time but add up multiple currency exchanges and you’d be surprised how much it costs you.
Some of the ways to keep the costs down:
- Find a bank that allows you free access to your money. We moved our money into ING as they offer free ATM access globally. If we get charged they rebate us the fee within 5 business days. All we have to do is deposit $1000 into the account per month and make 5 card payments each month. A trip we did previous to making the change cost us $60 in withdrawal fees alone. We also found that they offered a favourable rate upon each withdrawal.
- Look for places that offer commission free exchange. We exchange money at our local Post Office where they have a commission free arrangement. We don’t usually exchange a lot of money before we travel, just enough for the first day. We find that the rates offered here in Australia are usually lower than the local exchange rates in the country we are going.
- Avoid changing your money at the airport as they usually offer unfavourable rates and charge a much higher commission.
- In a few countries (for example, Cambodia and Myanmar) you will get better exchange rates for changing higher denomination notes.
- Use a credit card that doesn’t have an annual fee and offers free travel insurance when you book your flights. Whilst we avoid using our credit card overseas it is always good to know we have it in case of any larger emergency costs.
I would suggest carrying a mixture of cash, bank cards and a credit card. We always carry an amount of our local currency just in case our cards don’t work. If we don’t need to use the cash we haven’t lost any money on the exchange rates. Just make sure it is kept in a secure place like a money belt.
What to do with all the money you have saved? Well book another trip of course!
I’d love to hear some of your ways for saving money whilst travelling.