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It’s all well and good saving thousands of pounds in advance of your trip around the world, but what good is that when you blow it all in your first week? Then you end up living on one single bowl of noodles a day for the next six months. With a little bit of common sense mixed with some forward-thinking, it’s actually quite easy to make a penny stretch a very long way on your travels.
Free continental breakfast. The majority of hostels in all main tourist destinations offer this option to entice hungry travellers. If it’s not offered as free, sometimes you can opt in for an extra few $£€. Either way, take full advantage of it. More often than not it’s nothing more than fruit, bread rolls, croissants and an assortment of plastic cheeses and meat, but nevertheless when you pool these all together they make a great, filling and most importantly free meal. Fill yourself up at the breakfast table and make up a few extra sandwiches to slip in your bag for lunch later on. So much cheaper than the over-indulgent brie and cranberry panini at the café down the road.
Avoid the salad. Unless you really want a salad, that is. But if you find yourself in a restaurant where the cheapest option on the menu is a Caesar salad and you find yourself contemplating ordering it just to save a few bob, just skip it and go for what you actually want instead. Any money you save by going for the salad will only end up getting spent an hour later on snacks when you realise you’re still hungry.
Cook for the family. If your hostel has a kitchen, grab a group of your new friends and arrange a ‘cook-in’. Decide on a meal that you all like which can be cooked in bulk (spaghetti Bolognese, fajitas etc.) and if each of you gave €1 each, that’d likely be more than enough to buy all the ingredients. You end up with a good, cheap meal, brilliant company and it’s an excellent excuse to bond over chopping onions! A slightly more expensive alternative would be to get everybody to contribute one dish from their home country (Welsh cheese on toast anyone?).
Steer clear of the main areas. Where there are tourists, there are over-priced cafes and restaurants lining up to fleece them for all they’ve got! Venice is a prime example of this – around St Mark’s Square you’d need to take out a second mortgage to buy a coffee, but walk away from the masses and you’ll find an array of restaurants aimed at the locals offering authentic local food for bargain prices. It’s the same everywhere! When in doubt, ask a local what their favourite restaurant is and go there.
Walk. It’s the most obvious way to save on ‘travel’. Forget taxis and buses if your destination is within [safe] walking distance. Cuzco is one of those cities which I could easily spend hours just wandering around, taking in the sights and smells. Purposely getting lost on foot is one of the best (and cheapest!) ways to pass time!
Take the ‘long way round’ If you have the time, take the road less travelled, so to speak. Forget costly flights and take the bus instead. So it might take a lot longer, but you’ll get to drink in so much of the country you otherwise wouldn’t get to see! I once spent 72 hours almost consistently on a bus from Ecuador to Peru, and if I could go back and do it again I 100% would!
Overnight flights and trains. If at all possible, try and fly long-haul at night. You’ll end up saving on accommodation, time and food; most night flights come with dinner, breakfast and a ‘snack’ at some point. The same can be said for trains, although in most countries you’ll have to pay a little extra for food.
Arrive during the day. Arriving in a foreign country at 3am with nothing but your guidebook and a handful of local currency is a little terrifying – so you end up arranging a costly pick-up service by your hotel, or paying for a taxi, and taxis from airports are expensive. By arriving during the day, you can opt instead to get local transport to wherever you need to go. It’s a great option to save money and experience the local way of life.
Share taxis. If you absolutely must get a taxi, try and share with others. If you’re heading into the main centre, ask around at your hostel/hotel whether there’s anybody going the same way. You’ll split the cost and have some company for the ride.
For the brave hearted among us, hitchhike! Having never purposely hitchhiked (I have been picked up and offered a ride a few times, though, specifically at border crossings) I’m clearly not an expert on the subject, but if you know it’s legal and feel safe enough doing it, head on out to the side of the road and give those cars a thumbs-up!
Couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is one of the best ways to experience somewhere new – hosts offer to put you up free of charge, but please do remember that the whole concept of couchsurfing isn’t just about freeloading. You have to give as much as you get. Sometimes the hosts are able to show you around, invite you out with their friends and truly help you discover your surroundings. They become your dear friends, and it’s quite sad to eventually have to say goodbye. Your hosts open their arms and homes to you: show your gratitude by doing something nice for them – cook a nice meal, or maybe give them a gift from your home country.
Stay with friends. One of the best things about travelling is that you make so many friends from all over the world. You may not see these friends again at the end of the holiday, with both of you jetting off back to your home countries, but the chances are if they find out you’re heading to their hometown they would be more than happy to have you stay at their place and show you around. With this in mind, I’m lucky that next time I head off to India I know for a fact I’ll be spoilt for choice about where to stay!
Work in exchange for room and board. Working or volunteering for free has become an increasingly popular option for travellers and backpackers from all walks of life in recent years. Workaway is a brilliant resource – you have to pay for a one year subscription but have unlimited access to the site. The opportunities vary greatly, , from farming to working in a hostel to babysitting, but the great thing is there’s something for everyone, from long term travellers looking to stay 3montsh+ to those just looking for something worthwhile to do for a few days during Spring break. I haven’t used Workaway myself yet, but can’t wait to contact some potential hosts in preparation for my upcoming trip!
Think outside the box. Hostels are what springs to most people’s minds when it comes to cheap accommodation, but a subject I briefly touched upon in a previous post is that there are actually so many other options out there. Clearly sleeping on a roof wouldn’t exactly be ideal in a lot of countries, but where the choice is there, jump at it! If your hostel has a garden it may be worth asking if you can sleep there – they often allow you to do it off-the-books for a couple dollars or sometimes free. This was particularly true in South America, where the climate and night-time temperatures aren’t too cold and so sleeping outside is actually quite refreshing. If you’re a lover of the outdoors you could also camp! I’ve always considered this, although lugging a tent around with me isn’t exactly appealing.
Free walking tours. There has been some sort of variation of these in every single city I’ve ever been to. Of course, they’re not actually free as you’re expected to tip your guide at the end, but that’s not obligatory so if you really didn’t enjoy it or you actually have no money whatsoever, you don’t really have to. Walking tours are absolutely fantastic ways to learn about your surroundings and an excellent way to pass time. If anybody is in Berlin, I would highly recommend the Original Berlin Walking Tour.
Museums. When looking for something cheap and cheerful to do to occupy your day, a trip to the museum is always one of the first things to come to mind even at home! From my personal experience, it seems that more museums are free or cost less than a sandwich, than those that cost a fortune. Local museums enable you to learn about the history and culture of your surroundings in a way that reading a book just won’t. One of the most memorable and eye-opening museums I’ve ever been to is by far Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa which had an actual real-life (but not alive!) mummy!
Hostel movie/games/quiz nights. The beauty of staying in hostels is that there’s always something going on. Sometimes you have to pay a little extra to participate, other times they’re free for guests but ‘outsiders’ have to chuck some money in the kitty. If your hostel hasn’t got anything on the go, arrange it yourself! There’s bound to be someone with a Netflix account or a pack of cards – gather everyone in the common room and wile away a rainy night with a Go Fish tournament! Urban Buddha Hostel in Medellín was a great place for this kind of thing – one night most of the guys went out clubbing for a birthday, so the few that remained behind stayed up until stupid o’clock lounging on bean bags and watching Black Swan with the night staff.
Local beauty spots. If you ask around with the locals, they’ll be sure to point you in the direction of somewhere off the beaten track, somewhere loved locally but scarcely mentioned in travel guides and blogs. I was lucky (again in Urban Buddha Hostel, Medellin) to befriend German, one of the staff members who wasted no time in taking me to El Peñol, a little town just outside of the main part of Medellin. Famous for the giant rock it shares with neighbouring town Guatapé, of which it’s often looked over in favour of. El Peñol is a hidden gem though, with breathtaking views of the land owned by the infamous Escobar family.
Budgeting and keeping track of your finances while you’re on holiday can be so difficult, especially with all the difference currencies and exchange rates you’re bound to come across. I’ve always carried a little notebook with me, scribbling down my expenditure as I go to keep track of how much I’m spending on food, accommodation etc per day. Now there’s a free app Trail Wallet which does it all for you. I’ve read rave reviews about it on other blogs and will definitely be downloading it before I head off in March.
There are so many other ways to save as you go, and if anyone has any tips, please do feel free to share below!