Thanks to Uber and BarclayCardUS for sponsoring this post!
Ever since I started traveling solo eight years ago, I have collected plenty of tips on how to save money and how to spend wisely. I’ve also made plenty of expensive mistakes! What I have learned is that saving money while traveling is not necessarily the most important thing– spending it wisely is. Being a smart traveler will save you more in the long run than always just choosing the cheapest option.
It’s not a secret that travel costs money. But if you start thinking about your budget early on, plan ahead, and learn to be flexible at the right times, you can stretch your trip longer and increase the amount of memorable experiences you have. Here are my tips for maximizing your experiences on a budget.
BEFORE THE TRIP
The decisions you make with your money now (before the trip) can make a big difference to you when you’re actually on your adventure.
PAY ATTENTION TO PRE-TRIP SPENDING
So many people, myself included, are spending money we don’t even realize we are spending! Small transactions add up. Instead of having an avoidant relationship with your bank account, get real with it and have a detailed understanding of where your money is going. From there, be very mindful of your spending and ask yourself where you can reasonably adjust your lifestyle to save money for your trip. Saying no to a handful of nights out leading up to your trip can save you a few hundred bucks and have you on your way to an extra day of traveling. Look into your most expensive daily or weekly routines, and get disciplined with the things you can change.
USE A CREDIT CARD WITH GREAT REWARDS AND NO FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES*
Credit cards were a huge game-changer for me financially. Not because I ever spend money I don’t have, but because I understand how rewards work. If you know you are going on a trip in a few months, it can be a smart idea to get a credit card with great rewards on travel expenses. That way, you’re getting money back. Nope, do not charge a trip you can’t actually afford, but understanding benefits & rewards can mean saving you money overall that you can later put into your trip. A card I might consider might be the new Uber Visa Card which offers 4% cash back on dining* and 3% cash back on hotels and airfare*, which can be significant especially when you think about the bigger purchases you’ll be making leading up to your trip! The Uber Visa Card also has no foreign transaction fees*– something that is important to think about when using a credit card abroad. Many credit cards charge a 3% (ish) fee when using your card outside of the US… which kinda defeats the purpose of using a credit card for travel rewards. Also make sure your card’s rewards are easily redeemable. To check out the full rewards & details of the Uber Visa Card, click here. *Terms Apply.
Look up the peak tourist seasons for the place you are going. Most of the time, hotels and activities will have a cheaper rate for off-season bookings. There is also often more availability for bookings in the off-season, giving you more flexibility when it comes to planning and last-minute activities. If you have the flexibility, shoulder seasons would be my pick. You often get the benefit of nearly peak-season weather at lower prices and it’s less crowded.
TRAVEL WITH A FRIEND TO SPLIT EXPENSES
If you’re committed to giving yourself the gift of solo travel, skip this one! 😉 But if you aren’t purposefully going it alone, traveling with a friend can be fun and save you money. If you haven’t traveled with this particular friend before, I recommend communicating beforehand what you plan to do each day, and expect to want some solo time! Planning at least the framework of your schedule will help you when you’re on your trip.
HOTELS: BE STRATEGIC, NOT CHEAP
The cost of accommodation is important, but the cheapest hotel or rental is not always best! If a hotel is super cheap, but it’s a long commute to the city center or the places you’ll want to see, it may not be worth it. Think about the time and money it will cost you to get to the locations you’ll want to be. It’s also often worth it to call a hotel and ask for their best deal, which may be different from what you see online! Getting creative with accommodation is also often beneficial–– if glamping is appealing to you, this can be cost-effective! A rental home, room, or a hostel are also choices worth considering. Having access to a kitchen can cut your cost on meals if you use it.
SHOP AROUND FOR FLIGHTS
I usually use a couple of different search platforms when searching for flights. The general consensus in the travel community is that flights internationally are cheapest about 90 days in advance, and about 60 days in advance for domestic US flights. You can also save money by choosing a low-cost airline, just be sure you understand their fees and don’t get caught at the airport paying an extra $100 to check a bag because you didn’t read the fine print.
ON THE TRIP
GO CARRY-ON ONLY
Flying carry-on only can not only save you money, but time as well! If you don’t have to check a bag, you don’t have to wait for it, and you also avoid the risk of the airline losing your luggage. In general, just be aware of how many bags are included with the airline you choose– sometimes even a carry-on incurs a fee. This can be avoided if you make sure to read the terms and conditions ahead of time, and make the necessary add-on purchases as they are required before you get to the airport.
Instead of spending money on three meals a day at restaurants, consider designating one meal a day as a “picnic” meal. Buy oatmeal and fruit and keep it in your hotel room, or if you have access to a kitchen, keep supplies in the fridge to pack a lunch. When I was traveling around New Zealand for four months, I made my own meals most of the time. When I did choose to eat out, I was intentional about the restaurants I wanted to try. I never felt a sense of lack because I understood that I was choosing to stretch my dollars.
Along the same food lines…
AVOID TOURIST RESTAURANTS
We all know what these look like–– big sandwich board signs with photos of hamburgers and fries that say “WE SPEAK ENGLISH!”. These restaurants often serve lower quality food for more money. Look for restaurants that locals are eating at, and expect to break out your pocket translator (or app) if you’re not in a country that speaks your language. 🙂
SPEND TIME IN NATURE, IT’S FREE
It can be energizing to see the greener part of any town or city. In the US, National Parks do come with a fee, but if you spend a day or two in the park, it can be worth it. Other outdoor activities require no monetary expense, like a walk in a city park. If you have a rental car, make the most of it and research where the most picturesque countryside is, or go explore the coast. Drive to a trailhead and go hiking–– these are often the most memorable experiences you’ll have!
PAY ATTENTION TO FREE MUSEUM DAYS
Many museums have days or half-days where you can visit for free. Look these up ahead of time and see what fits with your schedule!
TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT
In many cities, public transportation is not only more cost-effective, but will save you time as well in bigger cities like New York City and London. Look at what the locals do–– most of the time, they’re onto something. If you’re debating on the best way to get somewhere, ask around. People are likely to help you out if you ask the best way to get from Point A to Point B. Which brings me to my next point…
Ask for free upgrades and later check-outs. Ask for complimentary breakfasts and discounts. Many people don’t get these perks because they simply don’t ask for them! The worst thing the manager/owner/server/person can say is no, so why not ask?
BE A GOOD PERSON
I can’t tell you how many times I have gotten complimentary beverages, meals and upgrades just because I asked someone how their day was going, or made their life a little easier. I’m not saying the only reason you should be a good person is to get free stuff, but its a bonus on top of other excellent benefits like having a positive outlook on things, attracting genuine friends and enjoying your life. 😉 Folks who work in customer service driven industries have to deal with rude people a tad more than others. So if you make their day, they might just make yours, too.
These tips are not as much about saving money as they are about being intentional with it… like everything else you read here on this blog.
What are your favorite hacks for getting the most value out of your trips?
This post is sponsored by Uber and BarclayCardUS.
Photos taken with the help of Dakota Adan.
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This is super helpful! I’m doing my first long trip to Europe with a friend this summer and I’m definitely looking for the best ways to spend wisely. Thanks!
Thanks Rosemary! So glad you found these tips helpful 🙂
I’ll be traveling across Europe for a month this Summer, and the tips you shared are priceless. Thank you.
Thanks Mark! Always happy to share.
Thak you for the helpful tips! I’m doing my first solo trip in Europe this summer and I can definitely use your advice. Staying at Airbnb I think is another cheap option for accomodation.
Thanks Sarah! Agreed about Airbnb – sometimes you can get a more unique property than a hotel as well 🙂