Many people are under the misconception that travel has to be an expensive endeavor.
This is especially true for Americans, as our way of life makes the seven day/three thousand dollar vacation the most common form of travel. And sure, if you look at travel as an expensive vacation, or as a flight back home for Thanksgiving, then yeah, you aren’t going to get your money’s worth.
The reality is that travel can be CHEAPER than your day to day life. It really can. We have been traveling full time since 2014, and our individual monthly budgets almost never exceed $1,000 USD. That is less than the cost of rent alone, per person, in our home of New York City.
So, how do we do it?
Truth be told, we use a combination of different tactics and approaches to keeping our costs down. For more on that subject, check out this article, which discusses the basics of affordable or budget travel. It covers some of the initial aspects of learning how to change your perception of what travel is, and how you experience life on the road without spending a ton of money.
How to Save Money While Traveling
How can YOU backpack or travel on a budget? We put together a list of things we have done, and continue to do, to save money while traveling. We hope it gives you some ideas on how to keep costs down next time you travel.
The couchsurfing community used to be a thing of beauty about a decade ago. It’s still pretty great these days, and couchsurfing can be one of the absolutely BEST ways to keep travel cheaply. Who doesn’t want to spend a couple of nights rent free in say… New York City? Paris? Buenos Aires? Barcelona? Rio?
So, yeah, couchsurfing has serious money saving potential. And it’s a great way to meet a local (by literally living in their home) and potentially make a friend for life. So, sign up for a CouchSurfing account. For best results host some couch surfers before embarking on your travels so you can get some positive reviews on your profile.
Save Money While Traveling by Staying in Hostels
Hostels are great. Full stop.
Hostels are one of the primary means of keeping your costs down while traveling. Sure, in theory you can couchsurf eternally. Theoretically. Maybe. Barring that, hostels are your best friend when backpacking on a budget.
In general hostels are safe (we hate how a horror movie made the word “hostel” sound scary), are a great way to meet other travelers, and most importantly they are almost always cheaper than any other accommodation option. Do some research (TripAdvisor and HostelWorld are good places to start) online, and check out our growing list of the best hostels in the world for hostels recommendations.
So yeah, if you want to save money while traveling stay in hostels.
Workaway and Helpx
While usually not ideal for short trips, both of these two websites are goldmines for long term travelers.
Want to live in France for a month rent free? Sign up for Workaway, devote 25 hours a week to your host, and enjoy the rest of your time in a country that is usually not included in the budget travel conversation. Helpx is a similar site you can check out for work in exchange for room and board.
Here are some other ways how to make money traveling.
WWOOF is a similar organization to Workaway, but based around organic farms. WWOOFing is a great way to learn about farming, go green, and stay in the country of your choose while receiving room and board in exchange for four to six hours of work a day.
Learn How and When to Haggle
Haggling is customary in many parts of the world, and learning to haggle is a nifty skill that every backpacker of budget traveler should have in their back pocket.
While you might not want to haggle over the price of street food, or over fifty cents, it pays to haggle with hostels/hotels over room costs, especially when traveling in low season or staying in the same place for five or more days.
Likewise, haggle with tour operators especially when booking a tour or excursion for two or more people. In addition you should haggle over luxury items you buy from local vendors who will always start with a high ball price and will almost always be willing to come down by a minimum of 10% or so. In some countries you can haggle the prices down to half of what was originally asked (China we are looking at you!)
That said, we always make sure not to haggle with people who are clearly impoverished. You should never haggle over a few pennies with a shoeless fruit vendor, for instance. Use empathy and practical judgement when determining who to haggle with. A few pennies won’t hurt you one way or the other, but those same pennies can be the difference between having a meal and going hungry for many people around the world.
Who doesn’t love a good farmer’s markets? Fresh veggies, yummy fruit, and loads of local flavor and culture can all be found at many a farmer’s market. We love visiting the markets in new places along our travels, and we always find it to be a rewarding experience.
And of course, farmer’s markets generally sell fresher and CHEAPER food than you will find in supermarkets, making them a great tool for wise backpackers, budget travelers, and YOU to employ.
Cook Your Own Food and Try Street Food
Cooking your own meals with fresh produce you purchased from local shops and markets is one of the primary ways you can keep costs down during your travels around the world. We can’t stress this enough. Traveling doesn’t not mean you have to eat out all the time. If you feel like you are missing out on the local cuisine by cooking your own meals, eat out during lunch as opposed to dinner. Lunch portions are generally cheaper, but just as delicious, as their dinner counterparts.
When you do eat out, try to sample street food. Street food isn’t huge everywhere in the world, but it is very common in many countries we have visited. And it’s obviously going to be cheaper that a restaurant dining experience, while still allowing you to explore local culinary delights.
When traveling in developing countries stay away from leafy greens and any uncooked food, especially if you are new to travel and have a untested digestive system.
Make use of Airbnb
Airbnb used to be a great option for budget accommodations, but as its popularity has skyrocketed, so have the prices found on it. However, you should always research Airbnb options when considering accommodations in a new destination. It is still possible to find good deals, especially on single rooms in larger apartments.
Airbnb is a particularly when you are traveling in a group of 3 or more people. There are places in the world (especially in Europe) where an Airbnb apartment that can accommodate 4 or more people is cheaper than a three dorm beds, as crazy as that sounds.
Want to book accommodations? We recommend using the following sites:
Teaching English Abroad
Getting paid to travel is pretty much a dream. You might be surprised to learn that there are many countries in the world that will pay you a slary to teach English as a second language, and even pay for roundtrip flights, and sometimes pay housing. For anyone looking to travel the world and get paid, teaching English abroad is a great option. Additionally, for the longterm traveler you can recharge your bank account and extend travel by months if not years.
Most countries require a TEFL or TESOl certificate for teachers, which you can find more info on at MyTEFL.com. Classes can be taken online or in person.
Check out an article our friend Claire wrote about how she moved from Candada to South Korea to teach English abroad.
Looking to Get TEFL Certified? Just a Pack readers can get a 35% discount with MyTEFL. Click below and use the discount code.
Keep Organized Tours to a Minimum
Avoid using tour companies whenever possible. Plan your own bus route, take your own walking tours, and so on. However, if you are trekking into the wilderness always hire a guide from a reputable company unless you really really know what you are doing.
Travel During Low Season
Sometimes not ideal, but low season doesn’t always mean shitty weather and deserted streets. Again, do some research on weather conditions but generally expect cheaper prices and a reduced amount of annoying vacationers.
You can read more about traveling during low season here.
ATM Fee Reimbursement
It may seem like a small surcharge but ATM fees can really add up over time. Most banks charge a 3% conversion rate when withdrawing money in a different country and local ATMs slap on a fee of their own. Open a bank account that refunds you those fees, such as a TD Bank Premier Checking Account.
Travel by Bus
Bus travel is highly developed in Asia and Latin America and is usually far far cheaper than a flight. Sure it takes longer but you get to watch the scenery whiz by, observe local culture, and you get a real sense of movement and distance. So unless you are in a hurry take a bus. Splurge on the First Class option when taking over night buses. For more on bus travel, and avoiding some of the dangers associated with it, check out our article on the topic.
Hope the above advice helps get you on the road. For specific prices in towns we have visited in our travels thus far check out our Traveling on a Budget page.
Cheers! Travel responsibly and travel well!
Disclaimer – We have included a few handy little affiliate links in case any of our readers want to book accommodations. We receive a small commission for any sales made, without any additional cost to you, our dear reader.