15 Actual Ways a Budget Traveler Can Save for a Trip

Have you ever seen these not-so-unique ways to save for your trip?

Instead of a hotel, book a private room inside a hostel. That would be great, except I already stay in the absolute cheapest dorm room in hostels. If I took this piece of “budget” advice, my trip would probably cost twice as much!

Use a credit card to rack up enough airline miles for your trip. I’m sorry, but have you ever stopped to calculate how much you’re spending on your credit card versus how much it costs to just buy a plane ticket? Most of these rewards programs require that you put at least $1000 a month on your card. I don’t even know how I would spend $1000 every single month, unless I was buying a thousand-dollar plane ticket every month!

Fly with an airline that offers free checked bags. Here’s a better idea: don’t take checked bags! Seriously, it’s been so long since I’ve taken checked luggage on a vacation, that I don’t even remember how I filled that bag! A carry-on and small backpack provide plenty of space, and is less that can be lost, stolen, or slowing me down!

If you’re like me, you want to save a lot of money so you can have an amazing trip. But after hours and days of scouring the internet looking for some advice, all you find are these not-so-budget-minded “savings” tips. For awhile, I was convinced that I saved so much already, that there was no possible way that I could save anything “extra” for my trip. But every once in a blue moon, I would find a golden nugget of travel tips. Here they all are in one place so you don’t have to waste as much time as I did!

1. Keep your cash safe for free. Money belts can be handy, but the key to not getting all your money stolen is to distribute your cash throughout your person. A twenty dollar bill inside the sole of your shoe is a place that thieves won’t easily be able to get to!

2. Don’t spend money on beverages. Many saving tips say to order water in restaurants (and if you’re in Europe, be sure to order table water to avoid being charged for a bottle), but this can translate into not even buying beverages at the grocery store. When I travel, I carry a reusable water bottle or reservoir with me, and most convenience stores and restaurants don’t mind me using their fountain when I need a refill. (However, I always ask first, especially if I’m not buying anything else!) This rule applies to alcoholic beverages too, especially since they tend to be the priciest. I don’t drink, and the thought of spending hundreds to thousands of dollars per year on alcohol is one of the reasons I never want to start that habit! If you like to travel but also like to drink, consider that cutting alcohol for one year could save enough to fund a decent trip for yourself!

One more note on water: there are some countries where drinking the water would be unsafe. Do your research ahead of your trip to confirm this. If your destination does indeed have dangerous drinking water, you will have to buy bottled water, but there’s still a way to do it cheaply! Instead of buying individual water bottles each day, buy the biggest bottle you can find in the store. (When I was in Peru, all the convenience stores offered 3-liter water bottles which we would use to refill our personal-sized bottles.)

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I would buy the largest bottles of Inca Kola in Peru, too!

3. Buy multipurpose products. My hands can get dry in certain climates. I also sometimes have trouble falling asleep in uncomfortable or unfamiliar places. And although I enjoy the rush of traveling, it sometimes makes me nervous. I could purchase lotion, melatonin tablets, and anxiety medication to solve each of these problems individually, or I could just get one bar of lavender-scented lotion. (Lavender is a natural herb that can calm nerves and help you fall asleep.) Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap is a traveler’s favorite, as it can be used as soap, shampoo, dish soap, and laundry detergent, just to name a few. A thermos not only holds soup and hot beverages, but it can be used as a water bottle, and it could even carry meal leftovers! Even a large scarf can quickly transform into a shawl, swimming cover-up, blanket, or head covering. Multipurpose products not only save you money by putting less on your shopping list, but as a bonus it will also save room in your suitcase.

4. Earn more from your savings. No matter how you travel, planning for a trip involves saving up a chunk of cash. Talk with your bank and tell them your plans to see how you can gain the most interest. Sometimes, putting money in a CD can earn you the most interest, even if you have to pay a small fee to cash it early. If your banker knows about your travel plans, they might be able to provide you with special offers, such as exchange-free credit cards and short-term savings plans. These will all vary by your bank’s services and your personal saving habits, so it’s best to schedule an appointment with your bank to see how they can maximize your savings.

5. Make your own food. Cooking at home can greatly help contribute to your trip savings. Generally, the less packaged and processed your ingredients are, the more you’ll save (and it’s healthier that way, too)! Before I leave on a trip, I try to eat out of my pantry as much as possible to avoid food spoiling while I’m away. I also prepare some snacks to take along with me. As long as I have oatmeal, I can throw in just about anything from my kitchen (nuts, sweets, spices, dried fruit, seeds) and make a batch of granola. I also try to eat out for only one meal per day while traveling, but if you’re not as much of a cultural foodie I’m sure you could go with even less dining out. I usually stay at accommodations that provide free breakfast, and then I eat out at lunchtime (since that’s usually cheaper than eating dinner out). For dinner, I’ll either eat my lunch leftovers or fix something in the kitchen of the place I’m staying. Virtually all hostels and guesthouses provide a guest kitchen, and many hotels and even camps are jumping on board with this idea. Because it’s tricky to travel with perishable food, map out inexpensive grocery stores near your destination so you can buy food from there.

Bonus Foodie Tip: Turn your food-making into a memory, like I did with this dessert-building team.
Bonus Foodie Tip: Turn your food-making into a memory, like I did with this dessert-building team.

6. Use your feet. This tip could save you hundreds on travel costs, plus give you a good alternative to your gym membership! When traveling, I stay near downtown so that I can walk to all the attractions I want to visit. There have been days where I’ve logged upwards of ten miles, but that’s okay because it means that I’ll get a great night of sleep! It also adds a new perspective to travel, as the slower place allows you to notice more of the scenery and culture. You can use this tip before a trip, too. I’ve seen so many people park in the parking lot of one store, shop there, and then get back in their car and drive to another store…which is right next to the first store! It’s okay to leave your car in one parking lot. I will sometimes even stick my bicycle in the back of the car so I can bike to places near my destination.

7. Volunteer or get an extra job. The obvious advantage to getting another job is that you’ll make extra money. But even if you don’t get a paying job, I believe a volunteer job provides many benefits as well. Getting a job or otherwise involved in the community will introduce you to more connections. I worked a part-time retail job while going to college, and because everyone that worked there was broke to some degree, we often exchanged ways that we save. You may meet people that could turn out to be travel companions, mission trip sponsors, or simply someone who encourages you to reach your dreams. Some volunteer jobs offer things like free meals, free entertainment, and possibly free travel. This of course shouldn’t be your goal behind volunteering, but it is a nice reward. Another great benefit of spending some extra time working is that these are a few extra hours each day where you won’t be tempted to spend your hard-earned cash!

Sometimes, your job may involve doing some hard work, like going on an all-expense-paid conference in the Northern Wisconsin where you get to jump from the second floor of a building.
Sometimes, your job may involve doing some hard work, like going on an all-expense-paid conference in the Northern Wisconsin where you get to jump from the second floor of a building.

8. Ask for discounts! Many tourist companies that don’t post discount rates may still have them. If you’re a student, AAA member, AARP card holder, veteran, or anything else that could possibly qualify you for a discount, ask about it! Oftentimes at independent and locally-owned businesses, you can get a discount just by asking the owner (often cleverly disguised as receptionist in these small businesses). Even if they can’t offer you a discount on what you asked for, they may be able to throw in a freebie or offer insider information that could help your trip. Ask on a discount for everything, from the food you eat to the bed you sleep in. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no, and the best that can happen is you’ll get everything free! (But don’t expect to get anything for free, and definitely don’t be pushy or annoying when asking!)

9. Enter contests. This isn’t a guaranteed way to save, but someone out there has to win that all-expense-paid trip! I have yet to win a travel contest (probably because I forget to enter every day), but I have won books, food, gift cards, and scholarships that ultimately helped me put more money towards travel.

10. D.E.Y. (Do EVERYTHING Yourself!) I fully back up making homemade laundry detergent (especially since it’s concentrated for easy travel), but as a single person that only saves me about $20 per year. But combined with money saved from patching up my old clothes, making more creative gifts, growing herbs in the windowsill, and making some of my own toiletries and cleaning products, it eventually adds up to a lot! I know I spend hundreds on car maintenance, but if I could learn a few auto mechanic skills, I wouldn’t have to pay nearly as much. The more you can do yourself, the more money you’ll save.

D.E.Y.-ing doesn't mean missing out on the fun, it just means getting creative. Got invited to a costume party? Make your own costume!
D.E.Y.-ing doesn’t mean missing out on the fun, it just means getting creative. Got invited to a costume party? Make your own costume!

11. Don’t sell on eBay. Unless you are selling an in-demand product for an incredible profit, using sites that charge you to sell is often a waste of money. If you’re just trying to sell some items you no longer want, Craigslist is probably the best option. Plus, since you’re selling to someone nearby, you won’t have to spend money on shipping. To get even more local, many communities have Facebook groups where you can buy and sell from neighbors. In my experience, these tend to be fairly effective. Even posting your for-sale items on your social media could garner your friends’ interests!

12. Take care of yourself. The right foods, a little bit of exercise, enough sleep, and taking care of your physical and emotional self will work wonders. You’ll have a better trip (and ultimately, life), and you’ll save money on doctors, medications, and numerous other consequences that you can expect when you neglect your health.

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Biking does double duty: It’s a good overall workout, and it’s a fun way to travel locally!

13. Need something? Phone a friend. Ask your friends and family if you can raid their castoffs before they’re sent to the thrift store. (Of course, offer to let them do the same with your things- you could even plan a castoff swap!) If you’re looking for a specific item for your trip, such as a backpack or an ice chest, ask your friends before you buy one. These kind of items are often kept in storage, and your friend probably won’t mind you borrowing it for a few weeks.

14. Give up whatever you use most. Cut out one frequently-bought item cold turkey. Maybe it’s junk food. Maybe it’s movies. Maybe it’s coffee. Maybe it’s clothes. If you find that you’re craving it, ask yourself if you really want to spend your money on short-term gratification, or use it to take a trip with memories that last a lifetime. Even if you’re only spending money on necessities, think about cheaper substitutions you could make.

15. Take online surveys. These don’t pay much, but can help fill the time when you’re bored or waiting for something. They’re are a ton of survey sites that pay their users, so look up a few and choose which one you think is best for you. (Or sign up for them all!) You can use your earnings to buy gift cards, airline miles, or other rewards.

Am I missing any important travel information? Leave a comment with your best ways to save!

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