Saving this year? Most of us know the feeling, but that’s no reason not to travel. Here are 6 ideas designed to inspire you to travel on a shoestring and still have a lot of fun.
For solo travellers on a big time budget, couch surfing is always an option, and on a Google glimpse you’ll discover an array of websites and apps that will help you find a place to lay your head for the night. The rise in services like AirBnB means those travelling solo, in a pair or even as a family, can find unique, exciting, friendly and budget-conscious alternatives to hotels in all price ranges and even during high season.
With regards to booking hotels or other accommodation (budget through to a higher spend), always do your research by comparing booking sites (e.g. booking.com, expedia.com, hotels.com) alongside the direct sites of accommodation that looks appealing to you. For example, say you see a terrific deal on a Holiday Inn Express in Chicago, and you’ve spotted it on Expedia, surf over to the official Holiday Inn website to compare the rate. Often you can score or negotiate a cheaper deal by cross-referencing and even making direct contact to facilitate your booking.
Also remember to keep an eye out for options – such as those on booking.com – where you can reserve a room but easily cancel up to a day before without being charged fees (a great option in case you find a better deal closer to your arrival).
Every destination has its must-see attractions, and that’s great. However, more often than not, they are expensive to enter, and busy to boot. Research the best time of day to visit, plus look for local deals. Read blogs on the places you’re planning to visit and never be shy about dropping the author a line to ask for advice or additional tips (especially if they live in the region, rather than those who have just passed through).
If you’ve got time, sign up for local websites which offer daily deals, e.g. LivingSocial or Groupon, and ask around on Facebook or Twitter for tips on localised and/or travel-themed apps that might be worth downloading to your mobile device prior to departure.
Alternatively, don’t be afraid to do nothing for a day – just be, and enjoy.
The number one rule here is to get out of the key tourist areas and discover back streets or local shopping areas where everything will be much cheaper (and probably nicer and more authentic). Try to think like a local, and if in doubt, ask for advice.
If you’ve got time, find out where the tourist information office is in the region you’re visiting. Aside from inevitably being helpful and enthusiastic about “their town”, they usually have free books filled with discount coupons and offers on food and drinks.
As with the sightseeing element of your trip, seek advice, but do your own research too – a deal that suits one traveller might not be the best option for you.
Save your old phone once it’s off contract and ensure it’s unlocked by your service provider (or purchase a cheap unlocked phone prior to your travels). Just about every destination now offers cost-effective options for purchasing a local SIM to suit your needs (whether you want to make/receive calls or texts, or utilise data on the ground).
Also, get into the habit of using free WiFi offered in cafes or restaurants (e.g. Starbucks, McDonalds, local pubs or public areas) to save on your data plan if you’ve applied one.
Tip: Skype mum [or, insert precious loved-one here] while sipping on your frappé and overlooking a foreign landscape – she’ll appreciate it.
DISCOUNTS & SHOPPING
Are you entitled to any special discounts (e.g. student, pensioner) which will apply in overseas countries too? Look into local rail and coach offerings to see if there’s anything you can buy or download that will give you access to such exclusive deals, and if you’re unsure, send an email through the contact form on the transport provider’s website. In many parts of the UK and Europe, for example, you can apply for such discounts prior to your journey; always carry ID to prove you’re eligible.
If you’re shopping up a storm abroad, remember to enquire within the mall/chain/department store about tax-back incentives – a lot of the time, if you keep your receipts, you can apply for some cash back at the airport before heading home!
MONEY & SPENDING
And on the topic of cash, we all know credit cards are easy to use (sometimes too easy), but often hefty fees add up on international expenditure. In the first instance, shop around prior to your travels to see if you can find a credit card plan that suits your needs. Remember too, to balance the use of cash – be mindful of having enough with you to keep you out of trouble, so that you can use it to buy food or extras; but also so you don’t have to pay an extra large fee to withdraw cash (‘cash advance’) from your credit card via an international ATM.
Research the best place to organise money exchange (airports are usually more expensive than local exchange stores in your home town); and always ensure you’re being served by an authorised money exchange agent. If concerned, facilitate this before you leave your home country. Keep your cash safe – use common sense when storing it (if it’s not with you) and when carrying it around in a foreign land.
Enjoy your travels though – while budgeting is important, don’t penny-pinch the entire time. If it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity or experience you’ve come across that’s a little beyond the limit you’ve set yourself daily, but your heart is telling you ‘yes’, then just do it. You’ll probably regret it if you don’t.
Feature image by Seth Rader
Words by Sarah Blinco