Let's just say it: Sticking to a budget while travelling is extremely difficult. Not only are flights and lodging pricey, but activity fees, cabs, and on-the-go meals can add up quickly. And don't even get us started on stuff like exchange rates and foreign transaction fees. But just because we're watching our bank accounts doesn't mean we're cool with missing out on seeing the world.
There are plenty of small strategies you can implement while travelling that will help save dough without ruining the fun and spontaneity of being in a new place. In some cases, it might even make your experience feel more authentic. We asked four bona fide travel experts — women whose passport stamps inspire serious FOMO — to share their strategies for saving money on everything from flights to food. Read on to hear what they had to say.
"Be flexible with your travel dates," suggests Beth Whitman, a women's travel expert and the founder of WanderTours.com. "When searching for flights, if you can be flexible on the day and time you’re flying, you can search for the least expensive options and book accordingly. Most airlines and online travel agent sites give you the ability to choose flexible dates to find the best fares."
While this can be difficult if you're trying to be somewhere for a wedding or holiday, if you work at a company that allows you to sometimes work from home (or you just have extra time off you can take), consider flying to your destination a little or earlier or leaving a little later than you normally might.
"With most people trying to get home in time for work, airlines usually hike up the prices for weekend flights. Instead of traveling back on Sunday, which tends to be a peak day, try flying home Monday or Tuesday to avoid the extra costs," agrees Ariana Pierce, a travel influencer and the founder of Style & Travel Girl.
While Airbnb is a great temporary housing resource, it's a misconception that it's always going to be cheaper than a hotel. "A seemingly cheap Airbnb or homestay option may not be so cheap after additional fees are included at the time of booking," cautions Alyse, the blogger behind The Invisible Tourist. "In some cases, homestays may end up costing more than an actual hotel room, especially for only a few night’s stay. Be sure to compare accommodation prices on various websites and shop around for the best deal."
Pierce also suggests being open to staying in hostels, even if you're no longer in your early 20s. "If you are set on having your own room and bathroom, those options are also available and more than likely will be less than your average hotel room. Plus, it’s a great place to meet new people and make friends," she explains.
"Carry healthy snacks with you on the plane so you don’t have to rely on expensive airport or plane food. Consider an apple with a packet of almond butter or a mix of nuts and dried fruit," Whitman says, echoing the sentiments of some flight attendants we recently spoke to. After all, why shell out for pricey airport food that's rarely tasty or wholesome when you could pinch your pennies until you reach your (hopefully delicious) destination?
This one is for all of you intrepid travellers abroad: "In some countries, restaurants have separate menus for locals and an English menu aimed at tourists. Depending on the country, this creates a problem when the pricing on the English menu has been set much higher than the local one to rip off unsuspecting visitors," says Alyse. "By learning a little of the local language beforehand, know what to order off the locals’ menu to save money avoid being scammed." Who knew?
Even the most popular destinations typically have an "off season," and if you can find out when it is (and don't mind potentially not-so-great weather), that's the time to travel there on the cheap.
"Many times, you will find that plane tickets, hotels, and activities cost less, which makes for a great holiday and — the best part — less tourists," Pierce says. "For example, Quebec City has an amazing deal at the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac where they are offering Christmas in November for guests to get significant discounts this season. What I love about this is that you can save money and stay at a luxurious hotel."
Okay, so it's kind of annoying getting text alerts and promotional emails all the time, but sometimes, it's worth it — literally. "Most companies love to reward their subscribers with deals and specials as a thank you for signing up and being a loyal customer," Pierce says. "Take some time to join your favourite airline and hotel’s newsletter, and watch for daily deals that come through for various destinations."
If you really don't want all that stuff clogging up your inbox, Pierce suggests opening a special email account just for those kinds of messages. Why didn't we think of that?
While its tempting to rely on taxis and Ubers in a foreign city, they can be a real money-suck. "Walk at your destination rather than taking a taxi," Whitman suggests. "You’ll definitely save money but you’ll also see more sights at a slower pace and have more interactions with local people."
If walking really isn't an option — say you're going to or from the airport, or you're staying in a place that's off the beaten path — Alyse suggests doing a little research ahead of time to figure out how best to get around. "It’s easy to find out the most cost efficient way to get into the city centre, which is usually by train or bus. An added bonus is you’ll get a realistic glimpse into local life at your destination," she says. And it could mean the difference between shelling out £30 and saving that cash for shopping or food.
If you're staying in a house or apartment in your destination, remember that you can save serious money on food by making your meals there.
"A hidden value in using holiday rentals is the money you save not eating out. I’m not saying you need to eat every meal in, but the savings add up when you cook for breakfast or lunch a few times while you’re away," explains Melanie Fish, HomeAway's resident travel expert. "Most holiday home owners provide basic spices and condiments so no need to overspend at the grocery store. If the house information isn’t clear on what’s included, it’s perfectly fine to message the homeowner and ask before you travel."
Consider getting a travel rewards credit card to ensure you're getting the most bang for your buck on stuff like flights and hotels. Those points add up, especially if you travel often.
"Now, more than ever, there are so many great and competitive sign-up bonuses out there, and you can earn points to use on travel with everyday purchases — making it easier to book a 'free' flights or hotel stays entirely on points," says Kiersten Rich of The Blonde Abroad. Just make sure you pay off that balance at the end of the every month!