There are so many new experiences, fabulous meals and new bucket list destinations vying for our travel dollars. We’re never short of ideas of where to head next but with such a long list you never know if or when you’ll get back to a city again so we try to fit as much into our time as we possibly can. We aren’t budget travellers but we do have some tips to make the most of your travel budget.
We like to splurge a little on new experiences and unique opportunities in each destination. While we enjoy hiking and love the ocean we don’t want to be confined to a budget travel itinerary. If there’s a tour we want to do, a dive trip, a restaurant with a stellar reputation or that resort that’s a little bit luxe we want to find a way to fit it into our travel budget. Over the years we’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that help to boost the travel purse and make the dollars stretch to include more of the adventures we want to have.
Top tips to get the most out of your travel budget
1. Don’t travel in peak season
Peak season is based on demand but that doesn’t mean it’s universally the best time to visit a destination. School holidays, festivals, ski season and the height of summer can all trigger a peak in a destination but if those things aren’t important to your trip there are cheaper times to travel. You might even find shoulder season or off-peak is a better fit for your travel style. The crowds will be less and the bonus is that it can easily save you a good portion off your flight and accommodation costs and still get the same great experience.
2. Plan ahead
If you’re super flexible with where and when you go then last minute can work really well for you but for most of us the best deals come with planning ahead. You’ll generally put together a much better deal a couple of months out and have your choice of flight times and accommodation options.
Does the week need to start on a Saturday? Midweek flights offer up some great discounts with no real downside. It can also be a great excuse to tack on a couple of extra days.
3. Book your baggage along with your tickets
If you’ve ever been stung with excess baggage or needed to check a bag at the last minute you know that can add substantially to your costs. Unless you’re a habitual light packer consider booking your baggage (or upping your baggage limit) when you book your flights online.
Our camera gear and electronics dominate our cabin baggage so we always book our luggage upfront, the cost is a fraction of what it would be adding it later at the airport.
4. Be flexible
Are you able to trade time for dollars? Often an indirect flight can be significantly cheaper than a direct one. Always consider whether your travel dates are really fixed, travelling a day or two either side can save hundreds of dollars, if it’s not going to impact your experience significantly then moving your dates even a day or two, a short transit stop mid-way through the journey or taking the opportunity for a stopover in another city can a be a boost to your budget.
5. Turn off cellular data on your phone
On many levels, it can be great to disconnect from the digital world for a few days, especially if work likes to intrude on your mind and your mobile phone. If you can’t go cold turkey do some research before you go and look for the most affordable option, it will depend on the country you’re visiting. Simply letting your phone go into global roaming when you land can lead to a horrifying bill when you get home.
- To open up the options, whenever you enter a phone contract or buy a phone make sure it’s unlocked. You don’t want to be restricted to one carrier.
- Look out for free internet in cafes and public places but protect your data with a firewall. We also try to always book accommodation that includes it in the standard rate, a surprisingly large number still try to charge it as an add-on.
- A local SIM card with a data pack on it is usually the most cost effective choice if you want on demand connectivity but unfortunately in many countries they’re not available to visitors.
- Depending on your phone company at home they may have an affordable travel option. With Vodofone in Australia we can use our usual plan while overseas for a fixed daily fee which is only charged for the days we use it. We quite like this option as our data limit is shared across our plans and we can use the mobile hotspot to enable us to use both phones or the iPad within the one fee.
- A third option is to rent a mobile WIFI device. These can usually provide connectivity for multiple people in your group simultaneously and can be hired before leaving home so you pay in your home currency. Always check the terms though, some of the data limits are very low and the fees for exceeding can be as high as global roaming.
6. Eat like a locavore
Take your taste buds on an adventure too. Enjoy the seasonal local produce and regional cooking styles. It adds a whole new dimension to your travel and it’s a lot cheaper than seeking out the restaurants and meals you’re familiar with from home. Watch out for farmers markets, food stalls and farm gate sales, these are great opportunities to pick up fresh snacks at a great price.
7. Prepare some of your own meals
If you have cooking facilities available at your accommodation consider stopping off at a local market to pick up some exotic produce or seafood direct from the trawlers and prepare it fresh yourself. It’s not always possible but there are some incredible finds and the stallholders are usually very happy to discuss how it should be prepared and explain the local delicacies.
After a long day exploring we’ve also picked up a selection of local pre-prepared items and put together a delicious antipasto platter to enjoy on our patio with a great private view.
Another cost-saving option that can enhance your travel experience is picking up items for a picnic in a park, on the beach or at the end of your hike. Food in nature always tastes so much better, it’s cheaper than a restaurant and it’s fun.
8. Eat where the locals eat
Many years ago someone told me that to find the best local food and avoid ‘tourist’ restaurants just stop and watch where the locals go and ALWAYS walk at least 3 blocks from a major tourist attraction before choosing a restaurant. Where possible we also avoid places with ‘we speak English’ signs as they often adapt their menu to suit a universal palate meaning you miss out on the opportunity for an authentic experience.
9. Take a water bottle
Not only is it better for the environment to not contribute to the growing amount of plastic water bottles consumed around the globe but there are many countries where it is perfectly safe to drink the water directly from the tap. Even when bottled water is required it’s a lot cheaper to buy large bottles and decant into your own drink bottles.
10. Don’t eat breakfast at your hotel
Unless you genuinely get breakfast thrown into the accommodation package for free it pays to get up in time to have breakfast before you head out for the day. Hotel breakfasts are a convenient option and are often an expensive option for the quality, especially if you order it in your room. Instead, head out and explore the local area, not only will you save yourself some cash but you’ll try something new and have a more authentic travel experience.
11. Buy travel insurance
It’s an upfront expense but we won’t travel without insurance. While we’ve been fortunate enough to have never claimed on it personally we have family and friends who’ve had massive medical bills for accidents or medical episodes while overseas that would have been financially crippling without it.
12. Pre-book Airport parking
If driving to the airport is your best option, and for many of us that don’t live in a major city it can be, check out the options online first and always pre-book. If you sign up they’ll usually offer frequent discounts and vouchers and by pre-booking, I can usually save around 25%.
13. Consider using public transport
Travel how the locals travel and check out the public transport system. In many places around the world, it’s the fastest, most efficient and cheapest way to get around. Not to mention far less stressful than driving in a foreign city, especially if you don’t speak the language or are more comfortable on the other side of the road! In big cities stored value cards and passes can offer some great discounts, we found this with Sydney and all around Japan.
14. Withdraw cash from the ATM rather than exchange it
Travelling with a large wad of cash in your wallet is rarely the best idea so it’s important to find the best rate and lowest fees for obtaining cash while you’re away. The best rate is generally the one from your bank not from exchanging it at the hotel or foreign exchange desk.
You can also do a bit of shopping around before you go to make sure your bank and card are the most effective for your travel destinations. The rates and fees for withdrawing cash overseas do vary from bank to bank, sometimes quite considerably.
Another option if you’re someone that travels regularly or follows the exchange rates closely is the FX cards that are now widely available. These are especially useful if you’ll need multiple currencies and they allow you the opportunity to buy when the rate is good storing it on the card.
15. Watch out for discount city passes and free days at local museums and galleries
Chat to people as you travel, in restaurants, visitor bureaus and to other travellers to find out what’s on offer. Stay flexible where you can so you can make the most of opportunities as they come up. In many cities around the world, there are some great city pass deals allowing you to experience a whole range of activities and attractions for the price of just a couple. A couple we found to offer great value and have written about previously is the Hakone Freepass and the Osaka Amazing Pass in Japan.
What tips have you found that save you money on your adventures, I’d love some more ideas so please share your best tips in the comments below.
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