I’m often asked how I can afford to travel as often as I do, and the answer is simple: travel doesn’t have to be expensive!
There are so many different ways to save money while traveling, especially if you’re willing to be a little flexible and put in a bit of extra time when planning. I promise your savings will be worth it in the end!
Here are my 7 ways to save money while traveling:
Use Worldpackers to get free accommodation
Use Skyscanner to find cheap flights
Check foreign transaction fees
Check Facebook Groups to find free events
Avoid using third party booking platforms
Talk to people while you’re traveling
Ask for what you want
1. Use Worldpackers to get free accommodation
My favorite way to save money on travel is work exchange, hands down.
The amount of money that can be saved by securing free accommodations is huge!
I used the Worldpackers work exchange program to spend seven weeks in New Orleans for free in exchange for 20 hours of easy work per week. Even hostels in New Orleans charge $20-$30/night so I saved an estimated $1200.
In addition to accommodations, many work exchange programs offer extra incentives, such as free meals, discounted tours, discounted drinks, etc.
The hostel that I worked for offered free breakfast, but they also agreed to buy food for the work exchangers to prepare for guests and we were welcome to eat whatever meals we prepared for the group. This way I had free meals, too, unless I decided that I wanted to go out to eat.
Worldpackers has opportunities where you can get free accommodation all over the world, with a variety of setups, and if you’re on a super tight budget, you can even narrow your search to opportunities that provide a specified number of free meals.
2. Use Skyscanner to find cheap flights
Another area where money can be saved easily is transportation.
I always search for flights through Skyscanner because I have consistently found the cheapest flights through them.
Flexibility is key here because a difference of just a couple of days in flight dates can save hundreds of dollars. Also, consider booking your routes individually.
Recently I searched for a round trip ticket from New Orleans to Oaxaca, Mexico. The cheapest price that I found on my initial search was around $718. By separating my flights, buying one-way tickets from New Orleans to Mexico City and Mexico City to Oaxaca, and then vice versa for my return trip, and playing around with my departure/arrival dates for each flight, I was able to get the total cost down to $384.
There is some risk by booking flights individually. You want to make sure that you have a sufficient layover length in case of any flight delays, but the $334 in savings is worth the longer layover for me.
3. Check foreign transaction fees
Be smart about your money. Make sure to check the foreign transaction fees for your bank and credit cards.
You might consider opening a new account or applying for a new credit card with better rates if your existing methods are unfavorable.
Charles Schwab is an online bank that reimburses 100% of ATM fees worldwide. I opened an account with them before heading abroad so that I can withdraw money directly from any ATM machine without having to worry about exponential fees.
Another perk of this approach is that you’ll most often find the best currency exchange rates by using an ATM as opposed to a currency exchanger. Remember, currency exchange is their business, so they undoubtedly are making money off of you!
4. Check Facebook Groups to find free events
Before you arrive somewhere, do your research. There are often Facebook groups dedicated to free events happening in the area, so don’t forget to check for those!
Visit the websites of attractions that interest you and check their schedules for free days. Many museums offer free admission once a month, and the Smithsonian Magazine hosts an annual Museum Day, where admission to all participating museums in the US is free for a day.
On Museum Day this year, I was able to visit the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, which was incredible and usually costs $28 to get in.
Know what you’re paying for before booking tours. If the tour company is charging an arm and a leg to transport you from one place to another (as they often do), then research other ways of getting to the attraction and buying your admission ticket through the venue itself.
5. Avoid using third party booking platforms
Speaking of going directly to the source, avoid using third party booking platforms such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, Viator, etc., when possible.
I always knew that there was a small change in price when booking through these sites, but during my work exchange experience at a hostel, I discovered that the upcharge is much higher than I had realized. These sites still have great value in helping find excursions and accommodations, but when it’s time to book, try to book directly through the hostel/hotel or tour company.
6. Talk to people while you’re traveling
Besides making new friends, locals and even fellow travelers can be a wealth of information.
I learned of a bar that hosts free dinner every Monday night and a bar that offers free ice cream and comedy every Saturday night, just by chatting with the locals.
When I worked at the hostel, I made sure to be around during breakfast to chat with the guests about their plans for the day, which is how I found out about Museum Day. Other travelers will be making the same efforts to save money as you are, so they are asking around too and can pass these freebies along to you!
7. Ask for what you want
My final tip on how to save money while traveling is the most straightforward: ask for what you want.
I know that it seems too simple to actually work, but I have been surprised at how often just asking for what I wanted has earned me discounts and freebies.
In New Orleans, there was a Mediterranean restaurant that gave me free food in exchange for a few hours of cleaning. I went with my roommate to ask whether we could barter for a month-long membership at the local rock-climbing gym and after we’d chatted with the manager for a bit he offered us free access!
I’ve gone to plenty of bars with international guests, started chatting with the bartender about how we are all travelers, and been given free drinks more than once.
At the very least, I’m usually given advice on where to go to find cheaper or more suitable places to get whatever I’m asking for. The worst that can happen is that they tell you no, but even then, hopefully, you’ve got a nice chat with someone new out of the deal.
Please be aware that when visiting a different country, you should get to know their customs before you go around asking for free stuff. In some cultures, this can be considered offensive.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as ways to save money while traveling.