Top 12 Money Saving Tips For Travel
1. Tent in Europe (also applies to New Zealand and Australia)
In general accommodation is expensive in Europe. Prices vary from place to place, but in Western Europe we found the cheapest double rooms would often start at around 60 Euros a night. Dorms were usually a bit cheaper at maybe 20 Euros a night per person, but you have to put up with stinky snoring loud people at all hours of the night who may pinch your stuff. A much better option we discovered, was to live in a tent in a campground.
Most major tourist places in Europe have at least one or two campgrounds vaguely nearby that are accessible using public transport. We generally found that it cost about half as much to tent, as it would have to stay in dorms at a youth hostel. But it was way better because you have your own space and the facilities (bathrooms, computers etc) are usually nicer at campgrounds than at hostels.
Things to be aware of if you're planning on tenting:
=> You will be at the mercy of the weather so buy a good waterproof tent resistant to wind.
=> You will probably want to keep your gear dry at night so make sure there is room in your tent, or under the fly, to fit you and all your gear comfortably.
=> You will be carrying your tent a lot so try to get one that is lightweight unless you’re a sucker for punishment.
=> It’s no fun trying to sleep on the cold hard ground so make sure you have a good sleeping bag and a good bedroll. If your bedroll is thin then it may take some time to get used to sleeping on it.
=> Campgrounds in Europe usually don't have cooking facilities (not like the awesome ones in New Zealand!). They have restaurants instead. So you will probably need to get a gas cooker and pot etc if you want to cook your own meals.
=> Campgrounds in Europe (and the US) are generally set up mainly for campervans / caravans / motorhomes / camping trailers / fifth wheels / house buses / whatever you call them where you live. The ground is often quite gravelly and not very kind to the floor of your tent so it may be worth getting a separate ground sheet to put under your tent. We didn't do this and our tent suffered as a result.
=> Campgrounds are often quite some distance out of city centres but usually accessible by public transport. In Rome for example we spent about an hour each day just getting from the campground to the main sights.
=> In some countries people don't really mind if you set up your tent in a random field and stay for free. In some countries you might get told off for doing this. If you want to try this “freedom camping”, be selective about where you put your tent, and if possible, ask someone if it is okay first.
2. If you're going to Europe, don't buy a Eurail Pass
What? Don't we mean “Do buy a Eurail Pass”? Well, no. Once upon a time Eurail passes were great value, but these days they've become much more expensive and in most cases you'll save yourself a lot of money if you don't buy one. Instead you can find really good deals on buses and regional trains on a case by case basis. You just have to know where to look and accept that your journey may be a bit slower. Some of the best deals we came across in Europe were the regional train passes on the German rail network. For example, when we were in Germany we bought a weekend pass that allowed up to five people to travel right across Germany for less than 40 Euros. And you get these great deals from the train station ticket machines, you don't have to buy them ahead of time before you leave home.
Even if you're not using a super deal like those mentioned above, you're usually still going to save a lot of money over a Eurail pass if you're willing to take the slower regional trains rather than the more expensive long distance trains.
If you want to find out more about train ticket prices and the deals available then a good starting place is www.bahn.com
If you're specifically interested in the awesome deals available on regional trains in Germany then try these links:
Buses, or coaches as they tend to be more commonly called, tend to be cheaper than trains except when you're using one of the awesome deals above. Bus companies vary from country to country, but one major bus company that covers much of Europe is Eurolines. You can often find a better deal with a more local bus company, but Eurolines are handy to get a feel for the general prices available:
If you are really hard core then you may decide to save accommodation costs by deliberately taking trains or buses at night and sleeping on them. You probably won't get a good night's sleep, but it will save you money.
As a side note, in some countries you can but train tickets that give you a bed in a sleeper car. These usually cost way more than regular tickets, but it means you don't waste your day travelling. If you think about it, this means you can spend one less day in the country and see just as much stuff. So your sleeper car ticket is saving you not just one night's accommodation, but two! So they're well worth considering if its a long train ride.
3. Put some effort into sorting out your travel money
It might seem about as fun as doing your tax returns, but it really does pay to put some time and effort into sorting out your travel money. We have a whole page dedicated to this topic: Travel Money Key areas to sort out that will save you money in the long run are:
=> Locking in exchange rates if they are at historically good rates. When we went travelling the New Zealand Dollar only bought about 53 US cents. It was most sucky. Now however (in August 2011), the New Zealand Dollar is near its highest ever levels and will buy about 82 US cents. If we were about to go travelling we would be looking for cost effective ways to lock in that good exchange rate, such as buying a cash passport or similar foreign currency debit card. We’ll talk more about these types of cards on our Travel Money page.
=> Working out what the best value convenient method is for you to withdraw cash in the countries you’re going to go to. If you plan to withdraw cash from a credit card or debit card you need to know what fees you’ll be charged. These are a minefield for hidden fees so you need to be careful or you’ll probably get suckered into paying hundreds of dollars more than you need to.
=> Come up with a daily budget for each part of your trip. If you’re planning a big trip you’ll probably need to know in advance how much money it’s likely to cost you, just to make sure you’ll have enough to get home again. Many travel guides for countries list typical daily budgets for different levels of comfort. These are a handy way to get a feel for how much it costs to travel around in different countries. But don’t feel you have to buy the travel books, just find some at your local library.
=> Make a money book to track your progress during your trip. Once you’re off on your adventure it is very useful to keep a record of your expenses and how they compare to your budget. We did this with a small notebook, our “money book”. It’s amazing how your spending behaviour can change when you’re writing it all down. For us it became almost an obsession at times to see how much under budget we could come. But the real highlights were the days when we could write a big round zero for a day. Zero days are something truly special in the long term traveller’s life.
4. Bludge off family and friends
Kiwi travellers are famous for one thing above all else: Bludging off their friends and relatives. And why wouldn’t you? Staying at a friend’s place overseas not only lets you hang out with your friend, but it can save you a stack of money on accommodation, plus you get the benefit of a local guide to the area.
Our best example of bludging was when we stayed with some friends in the US. They were so good to us, and then when we went to leave they offered us the use of their car for the month long road trip we were about to start! Now you may not meet anyone as generous as those people, but you might be surprised at just how kind some people can be. Especially Americans!
Of course, if you do end up staying with family or friends make sure you do something nice for them in return, like taking them out to dinner, to show your appreciation.
This is all pretty obvious stuff so that’s probably enough said.
5. Join CouchSurfing
Couch Surfing (www.couchsurfing.org) is an online community where people offer travellers a place to stay at their home for free. It sounds pretty crazy, but it works! There are now over 3 million members of Couch Surfing worldwide and it is still growing rapidly.
To give you a brief idea of how it works:
Each member of Couch Surfing has their own profile describing who they are, where they live, whether they are accepting other Couch Surfers to stay or not, and various other details they choose to share with the world. They also have a section where other Couch Surfers can vouch for them and say whether or not they are good to have in your house or not.
If you are a member of Couch Surfing and you are travelling somewhere you can go on the Couch Surfing website and search for “couches” available in that area. You can filter your search to only show people who match certain criteria (such as languages they speak, number of people they want to host, how likely they are to say yes, etc).
You can then look through the profiles of the people it brings up (including the description of where you'll be sleeping), and decide on who's place you think you want to stay at. Then you send a message to each of the people you select telling them a bit about yourself, when you're in their area, and how long you'd like to stay. Then you wait and see whether they accept you or not.
One of the big limitations of Couch Surfing is that you need to be organised and know where you're going to be a few days in advance so you have time to request a place to stay and receive responses. Another limitation is that although Couch Surfers are all over the world, you may find that people in really popular places get so many requests they don't reply to yours, which can be frustrating.
We Couch Surfed a few times during our travels (in Israel and Europe) and we met some really cool people through it (we were pleased to discover its not just for young smelly single males!). It helps you get under the skin of the culture a bit and better experience how the local people live, plus it gives you a free place to stay! There is no expectation to pay your host, but it is generally hoped that if you're being hosted by other people then you might be willing to let people stay at your place some time as well.
For more info or to sign up go to www.couchsurfing.org
6. Sleep in your car
If you didn’t like the suggestion of tenting, then you may want to skip right past this one, it’s certainly not for everyone! If at some point in your trip you find yourself in possession of a car, whether it be rented or borrowed, then why not occasionally use it as your accommodation for the night too? This can save you considerable money in first world places such as Europe, the UK, New Zealand, Australia and North America. We probably wouldn’t recommend it in poor countries or dodgy areas where you might be seen as an easy target for a mugging or worse.
Sleeping in your car does have its drawbacks, not least being the lack of showers, so you probably don’t want to do this too many nights in a row. But during our month long road trip around the US we probably ended up sleeping in the car for about one out of every 3 nights.
If you’re considering sleeping in a car, then here are some tips that might make it a more enjoyable experience:
=> Find a good place to park for the night. You want somewhere quiet and out of the way where people are unlikely to bug you. This can be a bit tricky in some places, but in all our car sleeping we only ever were approached once, and that was by a park ranger telling us we weren’t allowed to park for the night in their national park (ironic really isn’t it?). If you’re in the US then check out the awesome rest areas that are dotted every now and then alongside the interstate highways. Truck drivers often park up for the night in these areas so there are usually other people around so it doesn’t get too dodgy and there are toilets and usually even power points you can use inside the rest area building. In some states they have signs up at rest areas saying you can park for up to 8 hours, so they clearly expect some people will sleep there the night. If you’re not near an interstate rest area then look for a Walmart carpark. A surprising number of people tend to sleep in their car – or motorhome – outside Walmart stores, and they don’t seem to mind. And it’s very convenient if you get hungry or need the toilet…
=> Use bedrolls and other bits and pieces to cover the windows so light doesn’t come in (and people can’t stare at you!). We found this particularly handy when we were sleeping in our rental car in the north of Scotland in the peak of their summer. It was light until about 11pm and then light again at about 5am!
=> Station wagon is another word for motorhome. If you have one then just fold down the back seats and you’re all set. In the more likely scenario that you have a sedan style car the best place to sleep is usually in the front seats with them pushed right back and tilted as flat as they can go. You want to have your body as horizontal as possible so its generally good to put something under your feet, and maybe pack some clothing in the dip between the base and back of your seat. Obviously the passenger seat is better for sleeping in than the driver’s seat, but if there are two of you then you can still get a good night’s sleep in the driver’s sleep if your car is an automatic (less pedals!) and your feet aren’t too big.
=> Have good sleeping bags. If it’s cold outside it will get cold in the car. One morning we woke up and the condensation from our breath had turned to ice on the inside of the windows!
=> Lock your doors. Goes without saying really.
=> Be respectful of your surroundings. You should anyway, but this way you’re less likely to have people coming to tell you to clear off!
=> Don’t sleep in your car if there are bears around. If they think there is food in the car they can get their claws in behind the door frame and peel it open from the top as shown in Exhibit A to the left! If you’re in a national park and there are signs saying not to sleep in your car due to bears then take heed!
7. Mix it Up a Little
Doing all the usual touristy things can get pretty old after a while, plus you can burn through cash surprisingly quickly. To add some flavour to your trip and also keep the cost down, consider doing something a bit different. To get you thinking, some of the possibilities out there include:
=> Wwoof (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). Through the Wwoof website you can get a placement on an organic (or similar) farm where you work for an agreed number of hours a week (usually less than 30) in return for food and lodging. Placements can be anywhere from a few days, up to several months in duration. We Wwoofed in Switzerland (an otherwise very expensive place to visit), for two weeks on a biodynamic farm and our time included four days building fences on a real Swiss Alp. For more info visit: www.wwoof.org or www.wwoofinternational.org
=> Visit Taize. Taize is a Christian community in France where anywhere up to 5,000 people at a time (mainly German speaking young adults), come to spend a week or more praying and learning about God. They have three prayer services a day in a big hall where everybody joins in singing modified Gregorian style chants in an impressive variety of languages. The place is run by “brothers” who lead the chants and prayer services. We spent about a week tenting at Taize and it cost us very little as they only request a nominal donation to cover food and expenses. For more on Taize visit www.taize.fr/en
=> Volunteer. Voluntourism is all the rage these days, and many organisations have started up to facilitate this. However from what we’ve heard, many of these organisations seem to be more about making money off the tourists than about helping impoverished or other needy communities. The best way we found to get involved overseas is to contact people you already know directly, or talk to reputable charitable organisations. For example, when we went to Nairobi, Kenya, we not only got to meet a child we sponsor through Tear Fund, we also got to help out for three weeks at the project where he was involved. To make this happen we contacted Tear Fund New Zealand several months before we left and they arranged it all for us. If you can find the contacts then the possibilities for volunteering are plenty.
=> Stay put. If you find somewhere you like, and you have a sweet deal on accommodation etc, then why not stay a few days longer and catch your breath before starting the next frantic leg of your trip? After a hectic trip around mid-eastern Europe we spent about six blissful days tenting for free beside a beautiful lake in Slovenia. It was a real highlight of our trip and the whole time probably cost us less than our budget for one day!
=> Work. If you’re eligible for the right sort of Visa then you may decide you want to get a job for a few weeks or months in one of the places you go. This is pretty much the classic O.E. type experience for school leavers on their gap-year, but don’t let that stop you from investigating it if you’re older. Spending a few weeks working in one place is a great way to extend your trip and get under the skin of the local culture. At least that’s what we hear. We didn’t get paid for anything during our travels, so we can’t speak from experience on this one.
8. Cook Your Own Meals
This one may be a bit boring, but it can save you plenty in more developed countries where food tends to constitute a big part of your daily expenses. Even if you just cook your own meals now and then the savings can add up to big money. Except in the US where they have $1 menus at BK and McDonalds. There the main thing you save by cooking your own meals is weight…
9. Buy a Round the World Ticket
Now you could argue that this shouldn’t be in a list of money saving tips, as in our case getting a round the world (RTW) ticket actually cost us a whole lot more. That’s because it made us realise that with a RTW ticket we could also visit a whole bunch of other countries at very little extra cost (in terms of flights), but we would need to extended our trip by a few months so we’d have time to go all these new places...
The reason we’ve included RTW tickets here is that they will usually cost you less than you’d pay for all the same flights individually. The RTW ticket we used for example cost about NZ$5,500 each including taxes (about US$3,000 at the time). The ticket we got for this price allowed us to fly from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur, then to Dubai, then to Amman, then from Amsterdam to Nairobi, then from Lusaka to Lilongwe, then to Johannesburg, then to Antananarivo, then to New York, then to Seattle, then to Honolulu, then to Auckland. If we’d done the same trip using tickets for individual flights we're pretty sure it would have cost us considerably more.
The RTW ticket we used (the World Journey fare) is no longer available. In fact, it actually ran out while we were still travelling! But there are other good options out there (some cheaper than the World Journey fare) including those offered by One World ( www.oneworld.com ) and those offered by the Star Alliance ( www.staralliance.com/en/fares )
We’re planning to have a whole section soon explaining all about RTW tickets and all the rules that go with them, but in the meantime the above websites are a good place to start. Each of these websites have a route planner that lets you work out possible routings you can do using their airlines. Note that you generally have to select specific flights if you want to find out how many flight segments you’re really using up. Don’t worry, it won’t book them for you unless you go all the way through to paying for it! You can save your itinerary as you go, and then come back to it again using a username and password.
It should be noted here that some experienced travellers are quite anti-RTW tickets. They say they can get a better deal using individual flights on budget airlines, and they reckon the RTW tickets tie them down too much. We can only speak for ourselves when we say that we found our RTW flexible enough for our needs, and far cheaper than we could find the same routing for any other way.
10. Do It Yourself Tours
The tourism industry thrives on convincing people to pay for stuff they could quite easily do themselves if only they knew how. One of the big areas where this happens is tours. Yes tours can be very convenient and fun ways to quickly experience a country and meet new people, but they’re also usually quite a lot more expensive than travelling independently in the same area.
A great example of this is Egypt. We went on a tour for part of our time in Egypt (which is unnecessary by the way), and we found out they had a budget for lunches of US$15 per person per day. We had already been in Egypt for a few days by the start of the tour and we were amazed. That price just for lunch was more than we would sometimes spend on a whole day including accommodation and meals! The reason it was so expensive turned out to be because the lunches were at these massive buffet restaurants set up specially to cater to the many tour groups that travel through Egypt. Before we went on the tour we had no idea these places even existed, as we had been happily eating at the same places frequented by the locals. So not only were we paying far more for our meals, but we were missing out on the cultural experience of dining with the locals.
In general the more things you can do for yourself on your trip the less you will pay for it. Tours can be excellent components to include in your trip, especially in regions that are difficult to travel in, but they’re not the only way you can see a country and they will usually cost you far more than travelling independently.
11. Find a Travelling Buddy (or three)
This is common knowledge, but we’re including it here anyway for completeness. It costs much less per person to travel in pairs than it does to travel by yourself. If you can join up with another pair of travellers then things like hiring a car together can become fantastic value. We’re not sure if we’d recommend travelling in threes though, as we imagine that could limit your options for accommodation.
12. Avoid the Crowds
If you can, try not to be in a place when it is the peak tourist time, because that is when all the prices for everything are highest. And don't make it your regular habit to stay or eat at a place highly recommended by the Lonely Planet, because they'll almost always have put their prices up or lowered their quality of service, sometimes by a lot. Its all about that age old economics idea of supply and demand. If the demand goes up, so does the price!
When we visited Madagascar for example, there was a coup in progress in the capital city Antananarivo, so there weren't many tourists around. As a result we were in a good position to negotiate some sweet deals on accommodation and guided trips.
If you have any money saving tips to share, or if you want to make a comment or ask a question, we'd love to hear from you!
Feel free to share your thoughts below!