How to save money while traveling – budget travel tips

Ever since I traveled to the United States and became an Au-pair I´ve had a passion for traveling and discovering new places. After those 2 years in the US, I went back to Germany to work in retail. My full-time income there was about average I would say.

I made it work to go on 17 flights in 2019 and traveled to at least one new place every month back then. I did that with a full-time job and with the amount of money I made without sacrificing my normal lifestyle back in Germany. I eventually quit that job to travel to Mexico without making any money and just living off of my savings.

I´ve been doing that for a couple of months now so I think I have one or two tips to share on how to save money while traveling that can potentially save you thousands of dollars.

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1. How to save money on flights

Use a site that compares airlines

I ususally look up flights on Google Flights because this will compare all the airlines instead of just going directly to a website of one airline. I usually just google directly (the city I´m leaving from) to (the destination I want to go to) and Google will show me all the airlines and flights and put in dates.

Save money and be flexible with your dates – the ultimate cheap travel hack

This will save you a ton of money! After you decided where you want to go you can choose your dates. When you do that, look at what the little number under the date tells you. If it´s green you know you have the cheapest flight. So for this example of flying from Atlanta to Cancun, I would fly between the 16th to 30st of January and pick the dates that are green to make sure I got the best deal. This is pretty simple and it will save you a ton of money in the long run.

Try to fly to or from a different airport

This is also something that will save you a lot of money in the long run. Sometimes no matter how flexible you are with your dates, you still won´t be able to find a good flight. Sometimes it´s worth checking if you can leave from a different airport or fly to a different one.

For example I live near the Stuttgart Airport in Germany but it is a relatively small airport. If I want to go somewhere further away, a lot of times it makes sense to look at Frankfurt airport to fly out from. Often times flights are cheaper even if I have to pay extra for the train ticket from Stuttgart to Frankfurt.


Be flexible with layover and travel times

Yes, it is more comfortable to fly nonstop to your destination within a couple of hours but those are the flights that are usually the most expensive. So check if there are flights that are cheaper but have a layover somewhere or fly overnight and arrive the next day.

Travel light, consider not bringing suit cases

On all flights, you should have one personal item for free. The dimensions usually are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 centimeters x 25 centimeters x 43 centimeters) depending on your airline. This is usually a small duffle bag or backpack. This item has to fit under the seat in front of you. If you only go somewhere for a couple of days or you´re good at packing light this can save you a lot of money because you don´t have to spend it on baggage fees. I once traveled to Philadelphia, PA for a week only with a small Tommy Hilfiger Duffle bag. So you can do it too!

Here are a few options of bags that have the right size to fit under the seat in front of you:

2. Save money at your accommodation

Consider Couchsurfing, Workaway or Trusted House Sitters

If you´re traveling solo or just want to save a lot of money consider looking at websites like Couchsurfing, Workaway, or TrustedHouseSitters. For those of you who don´t know these sites: Couchsurfing is as the name says a website where you can request to sleep on someones couch completely for free. Now I do know that this sounds super sketchy but I have done it so many times while I was an Au-pair in the US and I´ve only had really good experiences with it. I meet a lot of people who I´m still in touch with.

Workaway is the same principle as Couchsurfing but you have to “work” in order to sleep at someone´s place. This work can be anything like household chores, watering plants or taking care of animals etc. The type of work will usually be discussed upfront.

Trusted House Sitters is a website where you can do “house sits”. You basically watch someones house or pets while they´re away on vacation.

Consider Hostels or Airbnbs instead of Hotels

If Couchsurfing, Workaway or Trusted Sitters is not for you consider Hostels or Airbnbs. Some hostels even offer single rooms and they´re still cheaper than hotel rooms. This is great if you want more privacy and don´t want to sleep in a 12-bed dorm room.

If you´re going with friends or more people Airbnbs usually make more sense because you pay for a night instead of a per-person basis.

For example, if you find an Airbnb for 40$ a night and you go with your partner it is 20$ per person. If you go with 3 other people it´s only 10$ for each. In hotels, you would probably have to book 2 different rooms at 40$ which would turn out to be 80$ for 4 people.

Don´t book all inclusive hotels – an important budget travel tip

Sometimes all-inclusive hotels can be worth it but most of the time it makes sense to book a hotel only with breakfast and check out local restaurants or local cuisine.

Mexico for example is known for amazing street food and the best part? It´s super inexpensive to eat street food in Mexico. You can get tacos and quesadillas for 1$ or less. This is also the case in a lot of other countries. So it can save you a lot of money if you decide to not eat at your hotel.

Save money and book in advance

Usually last minute hotels or Airbnbs are more expensive. If you know where you are going look for hotels right away and book in advance. This can save you a couple of hundred dollars.

3. How to save money at your destination

Go to cheap countries

There are a lot of countries that are super cheap especially if you´re used to the Dollar or Euro. Flights to these countries could be more expensive upfront but it is worth it if you save money later on while being there.

For example flights from Germany to Mexico are more expensive but because Mexico is a really cheap country compared to Germany I can save a lot of money while being in Mexico.

Save money on visa fees

Visas can be quiet expensive. If you travel to visa-free countries you can save the fees. Check in advance if you need a visa for your desired destination. This will not just save you a headache but also money.

Don´t fall into the FOMO trap

The fear of missing out will push you to do and see everything in the shortest time possible. But trust me you can´t do it all and it´s usually not worth trying. Also you don´t have to do it all in order to have a good time. Just pick the things that are most important to you and skip the rest.

4. How to save money on activities and shopping

Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash

Know the prices and avoid getting scammed

In a lot of countries prices are clearly stated. In other countries especially in touristy areas some people try to take advantage of you by pursuading you to buy a tour from them or buy from their street stand or shop. This is really common in Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Usually a lot of things are negotiable. Also sometimes you can find the exact same thing somewhere else for cheaper. A lot of tour guides try to sell you a tour where you think you get a good deal because they offer complimentary food or drinks but most of the times they charge you 3-4 times more than what you would pay if you booked online in advance.

A tourguide once stopped us and wanted to sell us a tour for $125 and we were able to bring it down to $60. We did not end up buying that tour since we knew we can get the same tour online for less than $30.

Also if there´s no taximeter make sure to negotiate the price in advance before they drive you anywhere.

Here are some tours to consider booking in advance:

Do it yourself vs. booking tours

Often tours are more comfortable because you don´t have to do much yourself. That also makes them more expensive even if you don´t get ripped off. If you plan things yourself you can usually save a lot of money. For example, I saved a lot of money by planning my Trip to Chichén Itzá myself instead of booking a tour.

Find things to do for free

A lot of times it´s worth checking out sites like Couchsurfing or Airbnb to find activities for free. There are a lot of free walking tours on Airbnb. Most of the time the people who offer them only work on-tip-basis. Sometimes museums or galleries etc. have days where you can visit for free. This is something to save money on activities!

Compare everything!

As I said sometimes you can find that one thing a vendor wants 20$ for down the street for 10 bucks. So just make sure you compare everything. This also goes for transportation. Always check if there´s Uber available. Compare Uber rates to taxi rates. Consider taking a bus if it´s cheaper. Compare transportation, hotels, activities, restaurants etc.

5. How to save money on food and drinks

Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian on Unsplash

Get an acommodation with a kitchen

Going grocery shopping and cooking at your accommodation is almost always cheaper than eating out all the time. Consider booking a place with a kitchen. This is especially good if you´re traveling for longer periods of time.

Try local cuisine

Usually local restaurants and food is not just better than big chain restaurants, it is also less expensive than eating in big restaurants. For example Mexico´s street food is amazing and the nation’s cuisine has attained status by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. So you don´t want to miss out eating street food in Mexico. Also Thailand is a place where street food is super inexpensive and popular. So you see, a lot of countries have an amazing food culture and it´s really cheap to try these local dishes.

Drink at home or go to Happy hours

If you want to go out, consider start drinking at home since buying drinks can be super expensive. Also a lot of restaurants and bars have happy hours where you can often get 2 for 1.

6. How to save money while traveling

Photo by STIL on Unsplash

Get cash at ATM´s

Get your cash at ATM´s when you´re traveling outside of your home country. Usually exchange rates at the banks in your home country are really bad or you have to pay a pricey fee. ATM´s at airports usually also have really bad fees.

You can do a lot of research in advance on which banks and ATM´s are best to withdraw money from. But I´ve learned it makes sense to go to big banks in your destination country and check the ATM´s there and compare the fees.

Always pay in local currency

In a lot of countries you can pay with different currencies but always pay in the local one. If you pay in local currency you don´t have to pay for exchange rates all the time which can add up quickly. Also check what your bank charges you for foreign transactions when paying with credit cards or withdrawing money.

Make money while traveling

This one depends on how long you´re planning to travel but it can make sense to try to make some money while you are traveling to pay for your vacation or to be able to stay longer.

These are all the tips I have on how to save money while traveling. To sum it up, travel to cheap countries, pay in local currency and don´t eat and drink out to often. Also compare, compare compare!! Compare everything to make sure you get the best deals!

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Do you have any other tips on saving money while traveling?

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Jessica Buck

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