One of the main reasons people give for not traveling is not having enough money. While, of course, travel can be expensive – but it doesn’t have to be. Some of you may not know that I choose to only work part-time in a traditional hourly position so that I can devote the rest of my time to working on projects for Her Bags Were Packed and looking for ways to best serve this community. Working part-time, living a full life, and traveling means having to get creative with my money. Previously, I’ve shared how I choose to Spend With Intention, but today I want to get more specific about the creative ways I save money while traveling. Below are twelve of my tricks for spending little to no extra money while traveling and exploring.
Stay with friends (or friends of friends)
When traveling, I catch up with old friends by crashing with them, make new friends by crashing with friends of friends, and/or check out Airbnb and Couchsurfing for good deals.
Pack snacks for the plane. Bring an empty water bottle and refill it before boarding the plane. You can even bring a small empty thermos, tea bags, and instant soup; then ask for hot water aboard the plane.
Plan meals and buy groceries
Since I usually stay with friends or at an Airbnb with a kitchen, I try to pick up fruit, snacks, cereal and milk, and a few frozen meals. The key is to not over buy, but to save money by eating breakfast before heading out each day, carrying snacks along with me, and having a lunch/dinner available when I head back to change before going out at night. But this also doesn’t mean I don’t take time to enjoy the local food. I’m just intentional about making sure that if I am going to eat out, it’s on a meal or snack I want, not just because I am hungry.
The Google Maps App is my best friend while traveling. Not only does it allow me to drop pins for all the places I want to go, but it also gives directions for walking, driving, biking or public transportation, including (mostly up to date) schedules for buses and trains.
Look into bus passes but don’t automatically assume it’s worth it.
This requires a little research in advance, but find out if the place you’re visiting offers any multi-day transportation passes and compare how many rides it requires you to take for it to be worth it. Then compare this number to your itinerary. They want people to splurge on the more expensive pass because they’re counting on you not using it as much as you think and chances are you won’t, so take time to look at your trip and decide.
For example, I was in Rome 6 days. A bus pass was tempting as I was going to be all over the city; but the truth is, I only rode the bus twice… actually once because the second one I was waiting for never came and I had to get a taxi. I was glad I didn’t purchase a bus pass.
Anything under a mile or two, I will walk because it gives me the chance to explore and see new things. Going further than that, I will hop on a bus or train or take an Uber or Lyft when necessary.
Not only will walking save you money, but it will also allow you to get to see the city you’re visiting. Take your time, try not to have too strict of a schedule, and let yourself wander and get lost a bit.
Download travel guides
Purchasing audio guides and tours in museums and at attractions can quickly add up. Before doing this, do a quick search for podcasts or self guided tours online, and you will probably find something
When I was in Italy, I downloaded a copy of Rick Steve’s Vatican Museum Tour and saved $10. I also got his guides for the Colosseum in Rome and the David in Florence.
Do some research
Why pay for tours when all of that info (and more) is available online for free? For example, the Freedom Trail around Boston has a map and/or app you can purchase, or you can just choose to follow along the stops on Wikipedia.
Avoid the frills
Don’t pay extra for luggage, seat selection (unless you’re really tall and it’s a long flight), in flight entertainment, snacks, etc. A great way to easily save $50-100 is to only bring luggage that is included with your plane ticket. It may seem intimidating at first to only travel with a personal item or carry on, but I promise it can be done. Check out my tips here for how to get started with only packing a personal item or carry on.
Look into free museum days
Find out about free or “donation only” museum days. In Philly, the Art Museum is donation only on Wednesday nights and the first Sunday of every month. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City (home of Van Gogh’s Starry Night) and the New York Historical Society are both donation only on Friday nights. You may see a certain museum or exhibit is free but wonder if it is worth visiting; I would encourage you to be willing to take a chance. Sometimes the unplanned moments are the most memorable. I didn’t have any idea what the New York Historical Society would be like and actually went with the intention of seeing a very specific exhibit. The exhibit I went to see was a major let down, but then I ended up stumbling upon a temporary exhibit about the silent role former First Ladies have played in American History. It was absolutely mind blowing.
When planning my itinerary I always check Groupon for unique activities in that area. But be sure to confirm the Groupon is available for use during the dates you are visiting before purchasing.
Check Facebook for local events
Use the “Discover” option on Facebook to find events that are tailored to locals. It’s more likely these events will be cheap or free; plus, you’ll get the local experience. One of my favorite free events I found while traveling was the Cinco De Mayo Chocolate Block Party in Boston back in 2017. There were food trucks, open art galleries, breweries, and chocolate samples and factory tours from Tazo Chocolate.