How to save money while you’re travelling? It’s like trying to lose weight when eating cake or attempting to detox at Glastonbury. Kind of defeats the object… why ruin such an indulgent experience? But my dear backpackers, there are some ingenious travel hacks which won’t detract from your experience. In fact, these travel hacks may even enhance your time away and some are guaranteed to make it last longer.
When I was asked to write this sponsored post, I decided to poll a few of my most well-travelled friends. I asked them for clever travel hacks on how to scrimp and save without feeling you’re missing out on essential travel experiences. Amongst the tips and tricks was one resounding piece of advice – don’t believe that it’s possible to travel ‘for free’. It isn’t. Despite all the posts out there claiming it’s possible – this is the most common fallacy pedalled by the travel community.
Travelling means saving, planning and being highly creative. Unless you’re a high profile influencer with tens of thousands of followers, even fully press trips can leave us bloggers out of pocket. As my Mum says – there’s no such thing as a free lunch. But there ARE plenty of ways to get cheap flights, free stays and eat for next-to-nothing along the way. So here are my top tips for how to save money while you’re travelling…
The first travel hacks start before you’ve even left home. Don’t bother buying expensive backpack dividers, nip to your local supermarket and stock up on an assortment of freezer bags to compartmentalise your toiletries, undies and electronics. Freezer bags are also great for avoiding suncream spillages ruining your only sundress and for stopping your travel towel getting contaminated with Deet.
My personal favourite? Save forking out on a money belt and stash your cash in more ingenious ways – roll up currency in empty lip balm tubes or empty make-up containers. Who’s going to mug you for a chapstick?
Get the best fares
Another save-before-you-go tip is to take out a credit card or charge card that accumulates lots of air miles in a short period of time. Often you’re required to hit a minimum spend over a specified period but if that’s unfeasible, try buddying up with a friend or partner to get ‘companion tickets’ via a credit card points scheme. I’m currently using an amex gold charge card to snag free airmiles, but check out Money Saving Expert for the latest top offers (this suggestion is by no means sponsored – just my top tip). Obviously use sites like Sky Scanner and Kayak to compare air fares and always collect air miles or Avios points on your loyalty cards with petrol stations, supermarkets and high street stores.
Pre-planning and researching your flights is a breeze these days thanks to apps like Hip Munk and Hit List, which help you effortlessly snag the best deals. ‘Rome To Rio’ is my go-to for comapring the cheapest way to travel in-country. It quickly tells you whether it’s cheaper to get a bus / train or combination from one destination to another. ‘Skiplagged’ uses cheaper “layover” flights when they’re actually your last stop — which can mean savings up to 80% off the normal ticket price.
Use your blog to get discounts and freebies
If you write a travel blog there even more opportunities to save money while you’re travelling. So if you haven’t got one, now’s the time to get tech savvy and start. However new you are to it, it’s often worth approaching tour operators, hostels and hotels to try and negotiate a discount or freebie in return for using your influence to publicise your experience. Don’t fret about how small you might determine your ‘influence’ to be. As the saying goes – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. If your blog is well-presented and fits the demographic they’re aiming to attract, you’ll be surprised what you can get for free.
It goes without saying that travel bloggers are a great, low cost marketing vehicle so big up your google analytics, your social media followers and reach to persuade companies that you have something to offer in exchange for a complimentary visit or discount. This said, don’t cheapen your brand by collaborating with places that don’t fit in with your readers and what they want to read about. I limit the amount of freebies / comp trips I take and prefer quality over quantity.
My strategy is always to write a polite letter to the marketing team or Manager, introduce yourself and tell them what you propose. For example, one night’s free stay in exchange for a post and set of photographs. I would suggest putting together a Media Kit to make yourself seem more professional (it’s kind of like a CV of your blog with stats / facts on your demographic, reach and number of visits). Another top tip: low season is generally best to snag yourself a free stay in exchange for a sponsored blog post. Most places would rather fill an empty room with someone likely to boost their profile than have it left empty.
Seek out Freebies (even if you don’t write a travel blog)
Even if you don’t have the means to travel in luxury or blag freebies via your blog, the best travel experiences are often the free ones. From exploring markets to free city walking tours, taking dirt-cheap train rides through India in 4th class or hanging out with locals you meet along the way. Accept invitations when families ask you to have dinner with them, explore parks and neighbourhoods (if safe to) and seek out bustling plazas and squares to people-watch from.
SPEAK TO LOCALS
The top tip I got was to do what locals do and sniff out unique experiences that don’t have a hefty price tag attached. Even in my home city of London, one of the most expensive cities in the world, it’s common knowledge that national galleries, museums, parks and many public attractions are completely free. But speak to locals and you’ll be able to unlock secret freebies even further…
One clever way of funding an extended break is getting a job. It also makes you feel less like a constant tourist and more immersed in a community. Living and working somewhere gives you a completely different perspective on a place than merely passing through as a backpacker. Working overseas is a also great way to save money while you’re travelling and the right position can look impressive on your CV.
Maybe you’re a qualified dive instructor or photographer. Perhaps you have no useful qualifications but could work as an au pair, waitreess or bar tender? Hostels are often looking for temporary staff (plus tend to give you free accomodation) and it’s a guaranteed way to meet other travellers. To find careers overseas, start by checking out websites like Gap Year Jobs, who provide a detailed list of roles for all sorts of destinations. There’s a good chance you might want to look on here first and then base your future plans around it.
I’ve worked in South Africa, Uganda and India and find it’s also a way of not living out of your backpack constantly and being immersed in a community – as opposed to always skipping through places as a tourist. Obviously make sure you have the correct visa requirements if you’re doing paid work.
Volunteering is also a memorable way to spend your time oversees. Whilst volunteering doesn’t pay per-say, some placements will cover expenses or give you a living allowance. Read about my time in Uganda where I had complimentary accommodation and per diems covered in exchange for offering up my filmmaking skills to an NGO.
BECOME AN EXPERT HAGGLER
Whilst haggling is fun, I’m always careful not to barter too hard and do people out of a decent living. It may be fun to barter in markets (and it’s wholly expected in most cultures), remember those few dollars you’re haggling so hard over will mean a lot more to the seller than they do to you. If you really want the item, pay fairly for it and don’t haggle unnecessarily or too aggressively just for satisfaction of walking away with a bargain. It can be just as satisfying knowing you might have paid a little over-the-odds but you’ve made someone’s day in the process.
This said, sellers often hike up their initial asking price knowing full-well that you’re going to haggle them down to a more reasonable price. So here are some tips for haggling abroad effectively…
My tried and trusted methods include:
· Be their favourite customer – don’t underestimate how far a friendly smile and some good humoured small talk will get you. I always start by befriending a stall owner before even beginning to haggle or act interested.
· Starting small – this means even when a price builds it will still be manageable.
· Shopping around – find out what you can get at a number of different stalls before you even begin to barter.
· Walk away – know when to cut your losses and walk away. I’ve been in souks in Morocco and had sellers chase after me to persuade me to continue negotiations.
AVOID TOURIST SCAMS
If you’ve travelled a lot before, you’ll be no stranger to the countless tourist scams and there are plenty of ways you might get cheated or scammed when on the road. This will range from simply overcharging you at iconic spots of interest to having gangs of street children slip their hands into your pockets while you aren’t looking.
Here are my top tips to avoid being scammed:
- Never change money on the street. Always go through an official bureau de change.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Free rides, kind offers from strangers etc.
- Split up cash to lessen your chances of being targeted.
- Learn a bit of the local language so you can eavesdrop and know when you’re being talked about!
- Agree fares on taxis, rentals etc in advance. Take photographs of hire cars, bicycles etc as proof and if you’re threatened or ripped off, don’t be afraid to threaten to get local police involved.
- Don’t break the law. Corruption is rife in some countries so even police will scam you or insist you pay them off if you break the smallest of laws. I’ve had police ask for money for being caught late on the beach in Mexico and for driving without a helmet on a motor taxi in Uganda. Know your rights and stay on the right side of the law.
- Always ask for receipts / proof of purchase.
- Be especially wary at Delhi train station, probably the worst place in the world for tourist scams. Avoid getting in taxis here (pre-book if you can or get your hostel to arrange transport). Phoney taxis will take you on the biggest scam by detouring to so-called ‘tourist offices’ and insisting you pre-pay for alternative accomdoation. They will tell you, for whatever reason, that your hostel is closed / dodgy / not suitable. Ignore them and insist on going to your pre-planned destination.
- Remember, most crime against travellers is opportunists. Keeping an eye on your belongings, locking your stuff up, taking padlocks and generally not walking home drunk is the best advice. I’ve travelled to almost 60 countries and only been a victim of petty crime a handful of times. Being street savvy and avoiding dodgy areas, especially at night.
FIND TRAVEL BUDDIES
Splitting taxis, rooms and other costs with people you meet on the road is a brilliant way to make your cash stretch further. It sounds obvious but trying to coincide your travel plans with others makes great financial sense and whilst you may not want to travel with everyone you meet, it’s economical to split rides at least. Use public transport as much as possible – this goes without saying. I use the app ‘Split Fare’ to make sure all costs are split evenly between the group. The app is super easy to use, free and means that you never end up being caught out buying that last round of drinks!
Not only an ingenious way to save money but my top tip for meeting locals, being immersed in the community and getting an authentic introduction to a new place. Obviously if you’re a single woman like me, vet hosts carefully and rely on reviews / gut instinct to stay safe. It works two ways so remember that coach surf Karma means you should probably return the favour when you’re back in your home town or city.
BE A FRUGAL FOODIE
Hostels have come a LONG way with many now kitted out with state of the art kitchens. So there’s no excuse not to channel your inner Gordon Ramsay and cook up some local ingredients. Cooking at your hostel is hands-down my favourite way to save money while you’re travelling. Whilst shopping for ingredients, you’ll find food markets are way to save money AND soak up some local culture.
Street food has perhaps unfairly earned a bad reputation and whilst your Mum might tell you to avoid it all costs, I’d say the opposite. As long as it’s freshly cooked in front of you, busy with locals and looks like it has a hgih level of hygiene, you’ll more than likely be fine. I wrote a whole blog on India’s ecclectic street food which is worth a look.
This blog on how to save money while you’re travelling was in collaboration with Herson Blake and Olive Ivler