You’re sitting at your desk and thinking of that perfect vacation…. Or like we were, you’re sitting at your desk and thinking of making the move abroad. Sounds like an adventure! (And a little scary). Whether your trip is ten days or ten months, let’s talk about some serious ways how you can start traveling on a budget. Yes, it is possible! And yes, it is possible to actually enjoy yourself sticking to a budget.
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Prepare Your Own Meals
Ok, let’s start with most basic and maybe the most lame of our tips for traveling on a budget. This mostly applies to those traveling abroad for the long term. We’re talking about something longer than just your regular vacation. If you’re going to, let’s say Tokyo, for 7 days then ignore this tip! We recommend experiencing the food at your temporary destination to the fullest!
For those wandering backpackers, digital nomads and students studying abroad for months at a time, your money needs to last you for quite a while, making traveling on a budget very important! We’ve found the best (and most boring) way to save money is to prepare 1-2 meals a day.
This is especially great for long-term stays. If you have a kitchen and like eggs, they’re a great way to get that important protein your body needs. Boiled, scrambled, fried, if your kitchen has a hot plate then you’re good to go. We like to pair milk and bread and fruit with eggs, especially in the morning. If your host or hostel has a tea kettle or French press, well your trip just got a whole lot better. Coffee can do that.
If you don’t have a kitchen then consider buying a loaf of bread and making PB&J or, our favorite, ham and cream cheese sandwiches (if you’re lucky enough to have a mini-fridge). Eating these sandwiches kind of sucks. Okay, after some time, it can really suck. But these are recommendations. You don’t have to adhere to just these sandwiches every day. Explore your local market or grocery store and play around with some ideas. Find a way to mix in some local cuisine (like tea eggs or cheap dumplings in Taiwan) to spice up a boring but budget saving meal.
In the long run, eating these cheap meals adds up to a lot of extra money in your wallet, making traveling on a budget worth it. Then you can do it big at an attraction, a flight to another destination, or as we prefer, spend big on a scrumptious local dinner and some wine. Yum!
Have a No-Fee ATM Card
It wasn’t until we were having troubles with our own bank while in Bali that we discovered no-fee ATM debit cards. We feel stupid now. I mean, duh, why wouldn’t you want to open a new bank account that allows you to withdraw at ATM’s around the world and not pay foreign transaction or ATM fees?
Common sense, right?
Well, it’s just another one of those many things we’ve learned after the fact. Our credit card already had no foreign transaction fees and honestly the idea never occurred to us to think about ATM fees. Well, now we know.
Chase watched our debit card like a hawk and kept freezing it at ATMs while we were in Bali. Apparently, fraud is a BIG deal in Indonesia. Our frustration with Chase kept growing as we were having to pay to use a hotel phone to call them and say for the millionth time, “WE’RE IN BALI, stop freezing our card!” That moment was a blessing in disguise because that’s when we decided to switch banks and discovered there are some checking accounts that are way better for travelers.
We found Charles Schwab and we’re so happy we did! Not only do they waive foreign exchange fees but they also refund all ATM fees, even internationally! Nerdwallet, as usual, has great articles comparing the best bank accounts for travelers. They compare Schwab and Capital One as well as other banks. Do your research!
Charles Schwab offers no foreign transaction fees and no ATM fees so we signed up. If you’re already abroad like we were then you must use a VPN to open the bank account.
Travel Rewards Credit Card
You might be asking how do you save money with a travel rewards credit card? Well, it’s more about the benefits you get from the card. We want to be upfront here and say to please be cautious when swiping a credit card! Yes, we get some awesome benefits from our credit card, but we only use it when we know we can pay it off! Credit card interest can lead to a very bad place very quickly. Be smart when swiping!
We have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card and have racked up more than $1800 in travel rewards in 2 years. We still haven’t used a dime from our rewards. We’re not sure what we’re saving it for. A big trip somewhere or if we’re stranded one day maybe it’ll be our lifeline to get home!
With no foreign transaction fees, double points on dining and travel, and awesome customer service, we highly recommend this card! Interested in which travel rewards credit card is best for you? We’ve compared 5 of the best travel credit cards in a concise and viewer-friendly table. Check it out on our best credit card post! The benefits from some of these travel credit cards can lighten some of the load when you’re traveling on a budget.
Buy a CityPASS or Explorer Pass
This varies from city to city so be sure to do a lot of research before purchasing one. We bought an Explorer Pass for our Chicago trip and saved a lot of money on attractions throughout the city. Some cities, like London and Amsterdam, even include a public transportation card with their passes. We talk a little bit more about city passes in our Chicago and NYC posts, as well as awesome things to do there! There’s a definite difference between the CityPASS or Explorer pass so be sure to read up on what is best for your destination. For instance, if you’re going to NYC, we recommend getting the Explorer pass. You can see more and save more!
Traveling on a budget doesn’t mean your accommodation has to suck. Why not just stay in free housing?
Yes! House-sitting, pet-sitting, working on a farm, or sleeping on someone’s couch in exchange for some culture share, there are a plethora of ways to travel on a serious budget! Not technically “free” since you’re giving back some of your time through work or dog sitting, but these options make traveling on a budget way easier and can also provide some cool experiences!
If you love pets and love to travel, then we recommend TrustedHousesitters. The annual fee is $119, but you get a discount if you buy your membership soon after creating an account. We will be participating in TrustedHousesitters in the UK next spring and we’re super excited! Very popular in the USA, Australia, and the UK, TrustedHousesitters matches pet-loving travelers to care for someone’s pets while receiving FREE HOUSING. Can’t beat that! If you’re not a pet lover then there are stays that are strictly house sitting.
There are other options out there for house sitting. If TrustedHousesitters is too pricey for your liking, take a look at MindMyHouse and House Carers as alternatives. They offer more affordable yearly fees and are lesser known so your chances of getting a house sit are higher but your options will be fewer.
WWOOF and Workaway
Into organic farming or working with your hands? WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and Workaway are both great options to get started on your working and traveling adventure. Whether it’s a vineyard in Italy, a dairy farm in France, or a rice farm in Taiwan, WWOOF and Workaway have opportunities all over the world. We will be doing this next summer/fall so keep an eye out for updates!
The only downside to WWOOF is that each country has its own membership. That could get expensive if you’re hopping from country to country. Workaway, however, offers a membership that works wherever and is only $38/person if a single traveler or $48 per couple/2 friends.
Finally, there’s Couchsurfing. For the extrovert in you, stay with someone kind enough to open up their home to travelers. You pick a city, check out some hosts, find the right fit and then you’re all set! Of course, Couchsurfing is a sort of social networking hospitality site, so it’s best to do deep research on who you’d be bunking with. We recommend to always go with someone who’s verified and has good reviews. We’re looking into Couchsurfing for when we’re in Europe, especially in the more expensive countries like Belgium and the Netherlands. We’ll have to see!
What if house sitting or farming doesn’t sound good to you? No worries! There are great cheap options out there for accommodation, they just require some research!
We found that the best way for traveling on a budget if you’re a couple is to use Airbnb. A great part about Airbnb is you can negotiate the price with hosts well in advance and most hosts offer discounts for long term stays. That’s the main reason we like to book a month’s stay at a time. If you’re traveling with friends, Airbnb has included a feature where you can split the payments with your fellow group members.
If Airbnb isn’t for you or your destination is cracking down on homestays (NYC, Bangkok, Singapore), you might want to stay in a Hostel. They can be very affordable, especially for you solo travelers out there, but the downside is you typically are in a dorm and have to share a bathroom with other guests BUT hostels are a great way to meet fellow travelers and make new friends! Hostel World is a good place to start looking for your cheap stay. Explore your options!
Find Cheap Flights
Flights are one of the biggest challenges for traveling on a budget but they’ve become easier to tackle thanks to great tools like Google Flights or Skyscanner and subscription emails like Next Vacay or Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights).
You’ll usually find the cheapest flights during non-tourist season, but it’s possible to find great flights during peak times. Going and Next Vacay are e-mail subscription services that do the searching for you. They send out almost daily emails informing you about cheap flight deals they found. If you pay for a subscription then you see more deals and can even tell them what cities you want to see deals out of. The free email subscription is just a crapshoot of great deals that may or may not be a good departure city for you. Either way, someone is doing the hard work for you!
If you’re using Google Flights then you can enter your destination and search by the month. Google will show you the prices for each day on a calendar and you can figure out the cheapest and best time for you to go. If you use Skyscanner then you can even ask them to find the cheapest month for you to travel.
Planning ahead is key to getting that sweet flight deal so make sure to try some of these awesome tools!
Since we upped and left our jobs in the USA, we left our phone plans behind as well. If you’re traveling abroad for a while but less than three months, then suspending your number is a great option (depending on your carrier!). You’ll have your US number when you return!
If going abroad for the really long term, then leave your plan behind and research the traveler plans offered in your destinations. WiFi is practically everywhere in Europe and most of Asia. And the best part about going from country to country like we are is that we just get a phone plan on a monthly basis. For instance, in Taiwan we can get unlimited data for 30 days for $30 USD per person. Phone plans are typically cheap for travelers, especially in Asia.
In reality, if you don’t teach or work online, then you don’t need a phone plan. You could use all the free WiFi around you, download google maps ahead of time, and go with the flow. But if staying connected is important to you, you don’t want to lose your U.S. number or you’ve used up all of your plan suspension days in a year, then consider switching carriers with a good international plan like Google’s Project Fi or T-Mobile.
It’s All About That Fun Money!
You planned your trip far in advance. More or less, you know where you’re going and what you’ll be doing. But sometimes there’s a surprise and the unexpected happens. No matter what your plans are, you’re on a trip and making memories. Some of the best travel memories are made on accident. That’s why you save money on planned things, so when the unexpected greets you, there’s enough fun money to say yes and have a new experience! Who said traveling on a budget can’t be fun?!
Money isn’t everything, but it’s what gets your butt around the world. We hope this post has helped spark the money-saver in you so you can plan your next big adventure!
Tells us about your favorite money saving tips for travel! We’d love to hear from you.