How I Save Money for Travel

Travelling cost A LOT of money.

Even little trips can soon add up to hundreds of pounds when food and activities are involved, and no one wants to work all year for just a cheap week in the sun. Its taken me a few years to perfect my saving habits, but this last year alone, I have been able to go on more individual trips than ever before. So here is my personal guide to saving money, before AND during your trips…

BEFORE

Budget: My life revolves around budgeting. I’ve inherited my mothers obsessiveness with tracking my finances, and its most definitely paid off (ha, ha). Even when I have no trips planned, I generally try to save consistently throughout the year, so that I always have a little ‘get-away fund’ for those last-minute deals. On payday, I move 20% to my savings account, off the bat. I understand that this isn’t possible for everyone and obviously, I use this money in an emergency, however in general I don’t touch it. After savings and paying my bills, I have the left over as ‘spare’. This is for day-to-day life, and probably comes to just under £100 (baring in mind I have a credit card to spread out larger expenses {mentioned below}). If I don’t use all of this within the month (I get paid weekly) the excess goes into my savings, starting each month fresh. I find that I’m a lot more frugal when I don’t leave excess money in my debit account, as I avoid using my savings account day-to-day.

About a month before I go away, it just comes down to making a conscious effort to tighten the purse strings. I take lunch into work instead of buying (a £3.50 meal deal is almost £100 in a month!), I don’t buy coffees when I am out, and I only get clothes that are on sale (this is KILLER just before a holiday!). It’s so simple and yet it does help to save those last few pennies before your next adventure.

Ask: Don’t be the person who starts a GoFundMe page. Its ignorant and exploits people’s good nature on something that is a privilege, not a right. As far as I’m concerned, pay your own way. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with asking for money instead of a present for Birthdays/Christmas/leaving do’s. I’ve done this for years with my family, and its helped to build my savings quickly during the summers, when I’m most likely to go away (my birthday is in July). It might feel impersonal, but its a great way of gaining local sterling and saves everyone the trouble of stressing over what to buy you. besides, you can always buy the thing you desperately wanted with the money yourself (after your flights. Obviously).

Work: Before I left for my year in Australia I was working 2 jobs, in an office all day and a restaurant all night. Both minimum wage. It was exhausting and meant that I missed some great parties, but it helped to build my finances quickly before I left. Although it’s usually a better idea to save long-term before your trip, sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and get the job done.

There are plenty of other ways of making money too. I started doing paid online surveys during university, but this has continued as it’s just such an easy way of making a few extra quid. I personally use Onepoll.com and YouGov UK, which both pay out cash to a PayPal account (there are lots of survey sites that deal in vouchers instead). Onepoll.com has a lower payout limit ( you receive £40, each survey is worth 10p – 30p depending on the length) but YouGov has a lot more interesting surveys about a variety of subjects. It’s not exactly the most fast and exciting way to earn money, but if you have internet access and an hour to kill, it doesn’t take a lot of effort.

Plan: You should always have a rough idea of what the trip is going to cost you. How long is the trip? Do you want to go shopping? is there certain attractions you want to see? Is it a particularly expensive destination? Having a general idea of the overall costs helps you to keep your finances in control. It also saves you the horror of getting home and realising that you don’t even have enough money for the taxi from the airport.

Unfortunately, sometimes you have just got to be picky about what activities you really want to do. I usually write a list of my ‘Must Sees’ and prioritise. I went white water rafting instead of bungee jumping at Mission Beach. I walked around the Louvre instead of climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris. A lot of the time you don’t need to pay to go into the building to appreciate it.

Search: Check out my previous blog on how to get the best travel deals here.

(If it’s a shorter trip, I have also written about how to pack using just hand-luggage. Saving you a TONNE of money on cheap flights.)

DURING

Food/drink: It’s so easy to over spend on food and drink. Yes, you want to try all the local delicacies, but it’s not worth breaking the bank. I always stop at a supermarket when I first arrive, to get some cheap supplies. This is usually whatever inexpensive breakfast type thing I fancy for the week, and snacks. I usually try to get into the habit of only eating twice a day whilst travelling, as I find it helps to keep my budget low, whilst still feeling satisfied (I realise that this wouldn’t work for everyone!) Usually, it’s Breakfast and Dinner.

Breakfast (as mentioned above) is either something bought in bulk or something quick and cheap on the go (food trucks/tasters etc.) I’m not much of a brekkie person at home, so I tend to eat later in the morning to keep myself going through the lack of lunch. I also find that, if I save myself until 11ish, its more appropriate to spend my breakfast budget on interesting local delicacies, instead of your standard morning foods (asia is great for this. it’s never too early for noodles!). In the evening, unless there is a specific place that I want to go to, I generally avoid restaurants. I find them expensive and, as I usually travel alone, the experience is a little wasted on me. However, if you do decide to go out for dinner, get the early bird menu. A lot of restaurants in Europe are cheaper between 4-6pm, and there’s no waiting around for a table. When I’ve been in Asia however, I’ve only eaten in a proper establishment a handful of times. Asia has the most amazing arrays of street food at ridiculously low prices, with little pop up restaurants filling the side streets. Follow the locals, they know where the best food is for your buck. And don’t worry too much about food poisoning, as long as the place looks clean and the food looks fresh, you’re good to go (I don’t know a single person who has been ill from street food {except for a rogue case of ‘Delhi belly’!} ).

As much as you should be trying local foods on your trip, if you are desperate, always remember that fast food is, and always will be, cheapest. Subway’s my go to, as its reasonably priced in every country I have been too. I always buy a foot long filled with salad, so I’m at least getting some nutrients in!

Apart from my morning coffee (an essential in my eyes), I drink a lot of water when I’m travelling. Most countries have consumable tap water (but check first!), so take a reusable water bottle with you for day trips. You can save so much money by doing this instead of buying bottled and its important to stay hydrated in hotter climates (or when you are recovering from a hangover). As for saving money on alcohol, most people pre-drink at the hostel before hitting the town (but always check with you hostel first). Every country has its own cheap drink (hello, Goon/Jungle Juice/Saeng Som /Bia Hoi etc.) so talk to your fellow travellers! They almost certainly don’t taste great, but they do the job intended.

Put it on the plastic: People are very wary of credit cards, however I think when they are used wisely, they have some great benefits, especially when used abroad as many offer lower exchange rates with no (or low) commission fees. At home, I use mine to pay for petrol, online shopping and flights. That’s it. The golden rule of having a credit card is to never spend more than you can actually afford on it. Sounds simple, but credit cards are designed to spread the costs, NOT cover them. For me the benefits out-weigh the risks of me over-spending; increased transaction safety, refund policies, improved credit score and being able to spread the cost of big deposits (such as long haul flights) across an additional 4 weeks, preventing me from having to reduce my weekly budget further.

When I’m away, I use my travel cards to get sterling (also a great idea! I currently have the Multi TMC from the Post Office. It holds multiple currencies {including GBP} that can be moved about on an app, it’s contactless and it works anywhere that uses MasterCard.), but for transactions, my credit card is my go to. (I wouldn’t advice getting cash from your credit card, as they charge for sterling). Credit cards offer a lot of protection when abroad, and usually have a great conversion rate. As credit card are programmed to freeze transactions considered ‘suspicious activity’, you should let the company know you are heading abroad beforehand. If not, usually they will just call you up to confirm the transaction before it is processed. After the initial use abroad, there should be no problems with the use of your card. Credit Card Companies are also great for if your card gets lost or stolen, as they can cancel any transaction that you don’t authorise.

And ALWAYS remember to decline DCC (Dynamic Currency Conversion) for each transaction abroad, as this allows the supplier to use their own exchange rate (+ excess costs) to convert your money into the local currency. The majority of the time, your own card company will offer you the best conversion.

Transport: I. Walk. Everywhere. Unless it’s physically impossible, of course. But in cities, I map out my route before I leave my hostel, put on my trainers, pack supplies for the day and just go for it. Its one of the best ways to learn about a place.

A step up from this is bus/trains. public buses are great, but be aware of how you need to obtain a ticket (for instance, in Australia you buy a ticket from 7/11). As much as Paris is beautiful to walk about, I personally LOVE the metro system for when you’re short of time. It’s so easy to use and around $1.90 (or $15 for 10) for a single (including transferring lines, Metro and RER). You can even get to Versailles.

If you have the time, long haul bus/train journeys are a lot cheaper for covering a larger area. Have a real think about whether its worth the time sacrifice though, as cheap internal flights can pop up at anytime (and you need to emotionally prepare for a 12 hour bus ride, trust me). The Grey Hound service (USA, AUS) is quite expensive, but is well planned and really flexible. I tend to use Greyhound for a more structured experience (i.e. I used them for Sydney to Cairns, agreed number of stops, 3 month pass, 24 hours notice of attendance), as it’s too expensive to book individual journeys, or alter your route during. I’d always advise booking long haul trips in advance, even before you go in some cases. An example of this is the Japan Rail Pass, which offers unlimited travel for 7, 14 or 21 days, and is significantly cheaper to buy outside of Japan.

Another great alternative if there is a group of you, is to hire or buy a car. This is obviously more suited to some countries than others, however it is a brilliant experience that none of you will forget. Just be prepared for the cost of breakdowns (and petrol!).

Accommodation: I’ve written before about my love for hostels. They’re cheap, well advised and friendly. As a solo traveller, I always stay at a reputable hostel close to all the action, and couples often forget that you can get great deals on private rooms in some hostels. That being said, I do stay in hotels, on occasion. This usually depends on the deals I can get online (also written about here), or if I just desperately need a really good nights kip. Thailand is a great place for hotel deals. Heading back to Bangkok after a wild couple of weeks on the Koh islands, I stayed in a 5 star hotel for about $20 a night. Sure, it’s expensive compared to a hostel, but after sharing rooms for over 9 months, it was the perfect way to finish the holiday.

Activities: I ask about discounts wherever I go. It may seem a little rude to some of you, but it’s ALWAYS worth a shot. Student discounts and PAYW (Pay As You Wish) has saved me so much money on museums and attractions. For example, in Paris, most museums and attractions are free to anyone under 26 who lives in Europe (ID is sufficient evidence). Another example, the majority of attractions in New York City are PAYW (often disguised by a ‘suggested’ price) either all week or on certain days (e.g. Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays). Student Discounts are also usually available.

 

Happy Travels!

 

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