Here are some tips I’ve used to keep my travels cheap.
- CouchSurfing: I’ve used CS in many countries and besides the fact that it takes care of your accommodation costs, it’s a great way to meet locals and get tips from them about their city/country. This site is about hospitality exchange and not just a free place to stay. Choose hosts/guests carefully based on there profile, references and request/messages.
- Work Exchange: I’ve used these sites in San Francisco to find a hostel job and again in Medellin to find a place to teach English. Both of these jobs took care of my accommodation costs and gave me a different experience/perspective on the place I was visiting. The Working Holiday Visa program allows citizens under 30 to work legally in different countries, restrictions/rules vary by country. (HelpX, WorkAway, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms)
- Hostels: I’ve stayed in hostels in many countries and can say they are great places to stay cheaply if you don’t mind that atmosphere. I’ve stayed from $1/night in Siem Reap to $35/night in Paris but you can typically get a nice hostel for $15/night or less, unless it’s last minute on a busy day. (Get earplugs and an eye shade) (HostelBookers, HostelWorld, Lonely Planet)
- Airbnb: I haven’t tried this myself but it’s typically cheaper than hotels and you get to live like a local.
- Overnight Transport: If your trip to your next destination is going to take 7+ hours, then typically I book it as an overnight trip and sleep on the train/bus/plane, which saves a nights accommodation.
- Airport Sleeping: This can be hard sometimes but can save you a lot if you find a flight that’s much cheaper but has a long layover. (Sleeping in Airports)
- Groceries: If you have access to a kitchen then you can make your own food and save a bundle. For $20-$60 you can typically get enough food to last a week in most places in the world. (Food Prices)
- Street Food: This stuff is usually cheap ($0.50-$7) and can be really good. It lets you try local foods and get a local experience. (The World’s Best Street Food)
- Fast Food: If you don’t mind eating at places like McDonald’s, then in some countries you will find they are a cheap option. This rule is mostly true in “Western” countries. (Big Mac Index)
- Public Transport: This is a great way to live like a local and is typically the cheapest ($0.10-$5) option to travel within a city. Check the prices for weekly and special tickets/cards as they often will save you money if you want to use the transit system often. (Prices in 80 Worldwide Cities)
- Buses: They’re typically the cheapest option and go from anywhere to anywhere. You can usually look up and even book your bus tickets online. (Greyhound, Megabus, Eurolines, Willer Express, MakeMyTrip)
- Budget Airlines: They aren’t as popular in North America but in the rest of the world there are extremely cheap flights with these budget carriers. I’ve flown all around South East Asia for plane tickets that were sometimes as little as $10. (AirAsia, RyanAir, JetStar, Spirit Airlines)
- Booking Tickets: Search several different booking sites and book with the cheapest option. You can save yourself $100’s easily. This method can be used for bus and train tickets as many routes have multiple carriers. (Skyscanner, KAYAK, Rome2Rio)
- Bicycle: If your going to be staying a while you can buy a used bike to get around the city. If your doing a shorter trip then many cities have bike sharing system in place where you will find a row of bikes and you can pay (typically by credit card) to rent them for 1-24 hours, or more. (List of Bicycle Sharing Systems)
- Walking: This is my main method of getting around in cities. It’s free, healthy and you get a great perspective of the city and it’s layout. Research where the “bad areas” of a city are before going on a walk so you can avoid them, unless you wanna go there.
- Clothing: Wear comfortable weather appropriate clothes. I’ve found that jeans work just about anywhere, special travel clothes are not needed, except maybe for socks and underwear. (SmartWool, Icebreaker) You can pack less and buy new clothes at thrift shops when you get sick of the stuff your carrying. Bringing clothes that can be combined into outfits and used alone will make it feel like you have more options.
- Backpack: Go with a pack that’s small enough to be considered carry-on and you will save the $10-$50 fee for checking your bag. Check the specific airlines website for what dimensions they consider carry-on. This also cuts out waiting at baggage claim and the chances of a lost/stolen bag. (Airline Baggage Limits, Osprey Packs, The North Face)
- SIM/Phone Card: If you have an unlocked phone then you can save a lot by buying a local SIM card for your phone rather than getting involved with roaming charges and then you’ll have a local number. Some phone companies will unlock your phone if you tell them your going to be traveling. If you need to call outside the country you will likely need to dial a code before the number.
- Money: Instead of travelers checks use an ATM/debit card to withdrawal from ATM’s, which are everywhere. Look for the PLUS/Maestro symbols on ATM’s and the back of your cards. You’ll get a good rate and some cards don’t charge a fee for withdrawals abroad. (TD All-Inclusive(Canadians), Charles Schwab & Capitol One 360 (Americans), CAXTONfx (Britain’s)). Bring a credit card such as VISA or MasterCard for online bookings & emergencies. Currency exchange rates are based on several factors so don’t expect that the rate you get on xe.com will match what the ATM/bank gives you.
- Visas: For some countries in the world you will need to get a visa to visit/work. This depends on where your from, or more specifically which passport you hand the border guards. I’ve found that these are easy to get in neighboring countries or at the border which can save a lot of money over getting them all in advance. Some countries require this be obtained before arriving at a border. (DoYouNeedVisa, Schengen Area, VisaHQ)
- Souvenirs: My preference is to avoid buying them altogether but if you decide to buy something then consider shipping it home rather than carrying it, some countries have incredibly cheap post office shipping rates. (Post Offices)
- Tours: There are companies that do “free” tours of cities with the expectation of a tip at the end. Also if your staying in a hostel they often have free tours/events during the week. (Free City Tour, NewEurope)
- Museums: Many museums have “free” days in which you typically pay what you want. (International Museum Day, Free Museum Day)
- Events/Meetings: There are communities within cities that organize events/meetings for free. They are a great place to meet people and learn new things. (MeetUp, CouchSurfing Events)
- Insurance: Check with your credit card company as they may give you free flight/travel insurance just for using their card to book flights. I think travel insurance is good to have if you can afford it but I also feel that insurance is a personal choice. Your health insurance plan within your state/province can effect the price you pay and length you are allowed to be insured with certain companies. (WorldNomads, Travel CUTS)
- Vaccines: Whether or not you get vaccinated is a personal choice but certain countries do require you to be able to prove you’ve been vaccinated, typically for Yellow Fever. Certain health plans will give you free vaccines if you tell them where you are going. (CDC, Infectious Diseases)
Amenities (Many of these places require you to be a customer)
- Internet: Most hostels, cafes and restaurants have free WiFi that you can either directly connect to or just ask for the password. (Hotspot Locations)
- Toilet: You can find a free toilet just about anywhere in the world if you look hard enough. Sometimes they are amazing and sometime it’s just a hole. But it’s free. (theBathroomDiaries)
Free Travel (I haven’t tried these options and they may be illegal in some countries, but they work)
- Dumpster Diving: I’ve seen people do this and bring back an amazing amount of perfectly good packaged food. (Trashwiki, Freeganism)
- Hitchhiking: I would say this is much safer than it’s portrayed and even a normal practice in some countries. (HitchWiki, Tips for Hitchhiking)
- Camping: Pitch a tent somewhere sensible such as a park, either in or outside of the city. You can use Google Maps with satellite view to look for good spots. Watch out for local wildlife. (Countries Where Camping Can Be Totally Free, Freedom to Roam)
- Street Performance: People can have a lot of fun doing this and it can easily make you enough money to survive for a day, in many tourist heavy countries.