When I first went to college and began making new friends, one of my favorite questions to ask was, “if money wasn’t an object, where would you go?”
What I repeatedly found is that most people dream of traveling abroad, spending time immersing themselves in another culture and lifestyle, whether that’s for a vacation or an exchange program. I can’t blame them; I want the same thing! Having the opportunity to live and visit a foreign country is an invaluable experience that can hardly be explained in words.
What you learn extends beyond what your eyes see; you discover so much more about yourself.
Unfortunately, money is often the barrier that stops so many people from international travel. However, it doesn’t have to be. The truth is with initial saving, smart planning, and these money savvy tips abroad, you may find it more in your reach.
Stop looking at it as a dream, and start planning to make it your reality (and hopefully, this will help).
No. 1: Choose Airfare Wisely
This one is a given, but is definitely still important to mention. The biggest cost of travel is the airfare to get there, so take the time to do your research. With the emergence of cheap flights offered by budget airlines and numerous sky search apps, flying is more affordable than ever. Look at booking sites and try to be flexible if possible with your flying dates to get the cheapest price. Don’t forget to look at the baggage fee’s because those can add up quickly and you can get caught paying hundreds of extra dollars, that you can use somewhere else. See here for my top list of websites that help make flying affordable.
No. 2: Try Alternative Forms of Transportation
Depending on where you go, your method of transportation can vary. What I recommend is talking to locals when you get there to see the most affordable way to get around. Opt to walk or take the bus around the city when you’re staying in as Ubers and taxis can get expensive. If you’re planning a weekend or longer trip, look at the costs of hopper planes, trains, ride-shares, and overnight busses. If you need a car to get around, be sure to look at budget car sites and try to convince friends to go with you to split the cost!
No. 3: Research the Accommodations
If possible, try to book in advance and compare prices with different types of accommodation. My top two recommendations for safe and cheap travel accommodations are Airbnb and Hostels. Airbnb’s often give you more privacy, which can be nice. Look at renting a room from a family or an entire house if you have friends to join.
Hostels are typically the cheapest option and often provide discounts on different tours and activities, and can connect you with new people to travel with. If you’re not comfortable sharing a room with strangers, look at booking a private room in a hostel with a friend. This usually isn’t much more expensive as long as you have someone to share it with, and it still gives you access to a kitchen, which will save you money as you’ll see below!
Remember, sometimes spending a little extra money to stay directly in the city can save you both money and time to get to and from your accommodations.
No. 4: Cook Your Meals and Pack Your Lunches
While fancy meals out can be a part of the experience, cooking your own meals is one of the biggest and easiest ways to save money. This won’t happen all the time, but just try to avoid the habit of eating at a restaurant, especially on a daily basis. With that in mind, go to the grocery store and buy your food for the week. Chances are you’ll end up spending about $1 to $4 per meal when cooking rather than $8 – $20 when eating out.
When you do cook, cook in bulk. The convenience of eating out is one of the reasons so many people go for that option. If you come home from your long day of adventuring and there is food ready to just heat up, you’ll be more likely to stick to your food budget.
Lastly, don’t forget about packing your lunch! This will save time and money when you’re out on day trips.
Pro Tip 1: Don’t forget to sign up for customer loyalty programs, its free and you’ll get the discounts when you buy.
Pro Tip 2: Buy generic store brands instead of the name brand items. They usually taste the same but are significantly cheaper.
No. 5: Be Smart when You Do Eat Out
When you go to another country, you’ll want to fully experience the culture and eating out comes with that. It’s definitely okay to eat out as long as it’s once-in-a-while, and there are plenty of ways to keep your money in mind when you do. Here are a few quick tips:
- Try to go out for breakfast or lunch instead of dinners. Chances are that these prices will be almost half of what they are for dinner.
- If you’re in a group, go to a family style restaurant and split the dishes.
- Go during happy hour times instead.
- Save your leftovers and don’t waste food or money.
- Opt for water instead of soda or alcohol.
- In most countries, “another” isn’t a refill. Don’t make that mistake like I did!
- If you go to a bar, don’t keep an open tab, buy your drink and close it.
No. 6: Know Your Currency
This is a big one and if you aren’t being smart, can really increase how much money you’re spending. Make sure when you’re traveling abroad to understand the exchange rate to see how much your cash is actually worth in another country. If you have the opportunity, try to travel some place where your dollar goes farther.
No. 7: Understand ATM’s and Conversion Fees
Going directly to the ATM or to a bank to take out money is likely one of your cheaper options. Don’t go to currency exchange counters as much as possible. These counters (i.e. the ones in the airport) are known for having the worst exchange rate. As convenient as they are, try to avoid them because you’ll be charged an absurd transaction fee on top of an already inflated exchange rate.
When you take out money, try to plan ahead and take more money out and less often. Understand that each time you use an ATM in another country, you will most likely be charged a transaction fee of about $2 – $5, which can add up throughout your trip.
No. 8: Take Advantage of Free Activities and Entertainment
Free activities are more common than you think. Go outside and adventure by visiting the beach, going on a hike, or walking around the city. Explore parks and landmarks around you that don’t charge entrance fees. Visit free outdoor markets and sit and listen to music in the park. Research the museums and attractions around you, sometimes they will have free or discounted days!
No. 9: Research the Best Phone Plan
Before you go, do your research on the best way to communicate while you’re away. If you’re going to be gone for an extended period of time, usually buying a sim card and paying for a payment plan in that country is the best option. If your phone plan extends across countries for text and data, take advantage of that and call over apps using your data or Wi-Fi. And of course, there are plenty of free calling apps that are available over Wi-Fi including Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber.
No. 10: Go in Groups
One of the best ways to save money while traveling is to go in groups. Not only do you get to experience the world with friend and have people to share picture with, but you also can cut the costs significantly. Going in groups allows you to split the costs of dinners, rental cars and accommodations, and get group discounts on travel activities. Traveling is much more cost effective when you can share the cost with others, just be sure to keep track of who paid for what so everything is split equally!
No. 11: Don’t Get Caught Up in Buying Souvenirs
As much as we love to, refrain from buying souvenirs. Other than photos and videos, these are some of the best ways to bring home your memories. However, the problem with souvenirs is that usually they are expensive, cheap quality, and take up space in your suitcase. Instead try bringing home tour pamphlets, ticket stubs, maps, bottle labels, coasters from restaurants and post cards. These are usually more memorable later on because they are from things you’ve actually experienced, not to mention they are free and won’t take up much space.
No. 12: Be Selfish, Sort Of
First, understand that I am not saying to be stingy or disrespectful. All I want you to remember is that when you travel, you are there for you to experience the world. When you’re traveling with your friends, sometimes you end up spending money on things you don’t want to spend money on and wouldn’t have if you were alone.
Some friends may enjoy eating out all the time, but be realistic with yourself if you would rather save money and cook instead. Especially with trips and activities, you need to be honest on what you want to spend your money on. If friends are going somewhere you aren’t interested in paying for, it’s okay to say you don’t want to go. If everyone wants to do a certain activity that is more expensive, but you aren’t crazy about it, that’s okay. Don’t spend your money on what your friends want to do, and be okay when they do the same.
I’m not saying to be that stingy friend, at all, no one likes that person, just be open with each other about what you’re interested in actually paying for.
Finally, remember that traveling is about the experience and living in the moment. Experience the world, but try to be smart and realistic when you’re setting a budget. Spend when it’s worth it and save when it’s not. Now do your research, start planning, and get out there!