9 Tips For Travelling As Cheaply As Possible
I’ve been backpacking on a shoestring budget for seven years. I’ve been across Europe, I know the United States by the Greyhound bus line schedule, and I’m always looking for a deal. Here’s some things that I’ve learned along the way, and I hope they help you.
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles only on a Tuesdays and Thursdays
These days are the least travelled days out of the week. Think about it. If you’re working a 9–5, you’re leaving on a Friday night or Saturday morning. If you can squeeze a few extra days in on your vacation, you’re going on a Wednesday. If you’re travelling for business, you’re leaving on a Monday and going back home on a Friday.
On these days, not only are fares typically cheaper, but the terminals are less clogged with passengers. Every line, from the security at airports to the line ups at the Subway next to the bus station, are shorter.
If you’re flying standby, your chances of getting a direct route are increased substantially on these days.
Always avoid weekends and days that fall on a long weekend. The prices will gouge you raw.
Clear Your Cookies
Sadly, we’re living in a time where the internet spies on us and everyone’s always looking to make a couple bucks. If you’re keeping an eye on prices, or even just doing research, clear your internet browsing history (cookies especially) before starting a new one.
Certain sites will keep a tab on you and automatically put a few extra dollars on flights, hotels, car rentals, you name it, just because it knows you’re interested in that location.
When a friend was coming to visit me while I lived in the UK, she did this right before she booked and ended up saving $20. That’s not enough for an extra night in a hotel, but it’s a decent meal and it all adds up.
Walk, Don’t Take A Taxi
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve said, “My legs work fine!”
Walking as a certain romance, you know? You can explore the streets, get to know the neighbourhood. You can’t do that when everything’s whizzing by through a car window.
With that said, always be safe. If you’re too gone to stand, don’t walk. If you’re too tired to make it to your bed, walk. Be safe.
Hostels Are Great, But Explore Other Options
Okay, I love hostels. I’m not even going to try to be non-biased about this. They’re amazing, especially if you’re young and sociable and a solo traveller. You’ll meet people who will want to tag along with you for that walk, or you’ll meet people who will take you on an adventure. Hostels are magical places.
I mean, yeah. Ultimately, you’re sleeping in the same room with eight other people. But I’ve used hostels for years and never once had any issues with safety, and I was travelling as a single women.
The sad thing about hostels is that they’re getting more expensive. I first visited Paris in 2011 and found this amazing hostel just south of the river for about 20 Euros a night. Fast forward to 2017 and 3 of us were going to the city, it was far more economical to go through Air BNB.
If I was travelling alone, I would have picked the hostel so I was around other people and there was the opportunity to meet people. But with a group, it made more sense to go the other way. Always explore your options with accommodations, and remember what’s important to yourself. Find the best deal for your level of comfort.
Take The Road Less Travelled
When I first went to Europe, before living in a few countries there for a few years, I spent a lot of my time in Berlin. Again, this was 2011. It was a little bit before blogs and social media made it chic. I found that in Berlin, $10 went $30. In Paris, $10 was $7, and in London $10 was $5. I flew in and out of Paris so I couldn’t do much about that. Originally, I was supposed to spend a week in London. After two days, I was on a payphone, struggling through an international calling card to let my friends know I was coming back to Berlin.
There’s always more economical options to where you want to go. Instead of London, go to Devon or Edinburg. Instead of Paris, there’s Normandy. Instead of Venice — well, anywhere in Italy’s kinda expensive.
Not only is going to those not-quite-on-the-radar spots more economical, but I find that people are a lot more down to earth. You can really learn and be apart of a community. Those places are worth your while.
Book In Advance
I’ll never forget this, for as long as I live. I was going from New York City to Boston on a Megabus. This is not an advertisement for Megabus, their fares were cheap but their bathrooms stunk and we were over a hour late arriving.
But there was this woman in front of me. She was face timing with someone in her family. I could here her, but not the screen. “I booked this bus four months ago and it cost me $5!”
I booked the same bus a month ago and it cost me $20.
With some things, it doesn’t matter if you book far in advance. With major airlines, typically two weeks before your date of travel is the cheapest you’ll get — and that’s going down by $10-ish dollars from book two months out.
But know your transport lines. $15 is the difference between her fare and my fare and that’s a few drinks at a pub.
Grocery Stores, Not Restaurants
I once had a Thanksgiving Dinner that was a bottle of beer, an apple, and a bit of bread. I sat on a park bench while it was kind of raining and smiled. Because I was in Dresden, Germany and there was a cement ping-pong table across from me and I’ve never seen that in a public park before.
Here me out on this one. Yes, there’s fast food joints where you can get super cheap food. But it’s always-always-always better to do your dinner shopping at a grocery store. Not only is it better for you, it’s probably pound-for-pound cheaper.
(Bonus Tip: If you went with the hostel and they have a complimentary breakfast, put some extra food in your bag to cover you for lunch. Nobody will judge.)
Budget Well And Stay Within It
Literally divid what you have saved for this trip nto the amount of days that you’ll be gone and plan for that as spending money. If you do not have enough, delay your trip.
There’s this trend now of tourist-begging that breaks my heart. It’s our mission that, if we chose to travel and go abroad, that we can support ourselves. You do not go without enough and place yourself at the mercy of the people who’s land your own. Be respectful. Be self sufficient. Be a human being and take care of yourself.
Avoid Passes, Unless They’re A Good Deal And You’ll Use Them
So this one is two stories:
I got a Greyhound Discovery Pass in 2011. It’s since been discontinued. But it was unlimited travel wherever Greyhound went, for about $400 for two months. I drove that pass into the ground. I went from Western Canada, down to Dallas, back to New York and Toronto and then west again. They lost money on that pass.
Not too long after, I got a Euro Rail pass. It didn’t seem too different from the Greyhound pass, only that it was a certain amount of destinations and not unlimited travel. I didn’t want to go to a bunch of places, so I was on board with it. I go to Gare Du Nord to use it for the first time and learn that although my fare was free, I still had to pay for a reservation at the tune of 30 Euros. And those reservations weren’t necessarily good. They most likely were milk runs.
At the stations that I didn’t need a reservation, I was left to sit in empty seats until someone with a ticket came by to kick me out. If there were no seats left on the train, I sat in between the cars.
Knowing what I know today, I would’ve flown across Europe or pay for each train upfront.