Best Ways to Save Money While Traveling

Some of the best, most creative travel experiences happen when you’re maximizing your wallet. Determine what your budget is and stick to it. From food sourcing to local activities, there’s plenty to do that feels like more bang for your buck. Trust Kelly Smith, a digital nomad and writer who made the leap to work from the raod. Here’s his list of 8 easy tricks to stretch your travel dollar.

1. Fly Flexible

Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time, I flew my family of four from Portland, OR to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Ok, technically that’s not true. I really flew us from Seattle, British Columbia (yes, the Canadian one) to Singapore. We saved $180 per ticket on that flight — more than enough to rent a one-way car trip in the States and a luxury charter bus through Malaysia, plus hotel rooms on both sides. We saved a bundle and got more travel.

Flexibility around dates can save money for travel too. Bottom line: don’t have tunnel vision when you book your flights. Trying to get to Madrid? You might save loads of money by flying into Stuttgart, Germany (which has some stellar car museums, btw). Be adventurous and open and see what you can save – you might end up flying in and out of somewhere really cool. So two mini-vacations for the price of one!

2. Browse Incognito

Some of the travel aggregator sites — sites where you find the cheapest airfares across all airlines — will look at your browser history to figure out which locations you’re most interested in. Then they’ll bump the prices they show you as a result. Using the Incognito browsing function while you shop disables the tracking and information gathering that makes it possible. You can also use apps like Hopper which send you updates as prices rise and fall.

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The Cue Wrap Sleeveless Dress: Wrinkle-free and cocktail-ready.

3. Credit Cycle Your Recurring Bills

If you don’t have a credit card with rewards or airline miles, you’re walking away from travel money every time you put a purchase on your debit card. Set your recurring bills – utility bills, insurance payments, grocery, and gas — on your rewards or miles card. If you keep the payments regular, it quickly establishes a pattern of credit that ups your score… meaning you can qualify for better cards with more rewards and lower interest.

4. Groupon: Not Just for Your Hometown

This hack is so easy we’re amazed by how many people still get surprised by it: Groupon — that savings coupon site you use at home — also offers deals on trips and getaways, and is an international cheap activity resource. If you visit the website a few weeks before your trip, you’ll not only find savings on many of the things you want to do, you’ll see ideas for cool outings you never even thought of. Just browse the city you’re visiting and see what pops up. (And if if you want to keep the vacation going, look for local deals for services like house cleaning, yard maintenance or massage. Tack one of those onto your vacation during or after for a terrific homecoming experience.)

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Travel can be unexpected. Prepare for anything in the Mission Ridge Shorts.

5. Pack a Water Bottle

Or buy one locally on your first day. Either way, the water you pour into it from your hotel room/restaurants/clean bathrooms will be far, far less expensive (and way more sustainable!) than shelling out for bottled water. In many European and Asian countries, water is more expensive than alcohol! So save money and buy alcohol. But drink water — just not a plastic bottle of it.

6. Buy the Bulky Stuff

With airfares getting progressively more competitive, airlines are charging more for extra baggage fees. Solution: Travel light and buy what you need there. A lot of bulk in your luggage is because of the same handful of culprits: toiletries, hats, jackets. Even a case big enough to protect your sunglasses. Depending on where you’re traveling to, you can buy those things on site for less than it costs to carry an extra bag. Anything you’re not willing to buy on site probably isn’t important enough to bring anyway.

7. Make Your Own Meals

After your flight and your hotel room, dining out is often the biggest expense. Save money by getting a hotel or AirBnB with a kitchen. Every other day, follow this agenda: Eat a simple breakfast at your hotel, have a big lunch at a killer local spot, then cook dinner and relax from a busy day. Yes, cheese and bread and wine count as “cooking dinner.” 

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Dress them up. Dress them down. Dresses for any occasion.

8. Call Hotels Directly

Aggregator and accommodations websites are middlemen and will charge accordingly. National reservation lines can get you the best sticker price but aren’t empowered to find or give additional discounts. But the reservations person at the actual hotel where you’re staying? That person can get you the best deal — sometimes even fudging things a little to get you a conference or event discount you don’t technically qualify for. They’re also the best resource for how to get to the hotel, where to find the best cheap eats, and any free local attractions. The person answering the hotel phone will probably know more than anybody you talk to at home!

Final Thoughts

About a decade back, a research group released the results from a nearly 50-year study of what makes people happy. Few of their results were universal across all subjects, but one was: Experiences make us far happier than possessions.

They further found that travel is the kind of experience most likely to make us happy. So travel as much as you can afford. Tell em’ Toad sent ya.

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Kelly S. Smith is a digital nomad currently based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He’s a freelance copywriter and content marketer, contributing the occasional article on smart and affordable travel to help give his fellow travelers the chance to adventure around the world.