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How I Traveled Cheap (And What I'd Recommend)

Posted by Lindsay Hall on 4/9/18 11:13 AM

ILP Thailand

Traveling cheap is a learned art and not one for the faint of heart. It takes commitment, dedication to sticking to your budget, and sacrifices at times ... but it is so worth it. 

Many people think they can't travel the world because their budget is just too tight. That's completely not true, so don't let yourself buy into that lie. It's all about priorities and also some research. If you can't afford to stay in luxurious resorts, don't worry because you're in good company. 

Pst: We wrote a whole guide called Traveling On A Budget that you'd probably be interested in. 

These tips come from a chronic cheap traveler, so be smart and learn from my mistakes. I've tested all the travel tips out so you don't have to. 

Tips for traveling on a budget 

  • Rules for food 
  • Watch what you drink
  • Walk, walk, walk
  • Don't travel in comfort
  • Budget airlines
  • Splurge on only the necessary activities
  • Window shop
  • Chose your souvenirs wisely
  • Do all the free stuff
  • Travel in a group if possible
  • Have a plan

Rules for food 

Especially if you will be traveling in Europe, bringing your own food will help you save a ton. My motto while traveling is spend money on experiences, not food! Either bring some easy "just add water" packs with you from home or go to the grocery store and load up on breads, peanut butter, oatmeal, mac and cheese and cheap snacks. 

Eating the local food can be an experience all of its own so if you're a foodie you might find eating out worth it to you. In that case, look up all the cheap places (don't just stop at the first restaurant you see). There are cheap restaurants everywhere and sometimes they're even better than the expensive ones! I mean, look at these budget meals in Vilnius and Moscow-- they look yummy to me.

Do your very best to never eat American food while you're abroad. Sometimes it's nice to go with a familiar meal, but this will be your most expensive option and will shred your budget quick.

Oh, and food in Asia is really cheap. You'll save a ton of money by traveling in Asia versus traveling in Europe, for a lot of reasons (especially when it comes to food). 

ILP Thailand

Watch what you drink

Drinks are another big expense (and one that can be cut down drastically). Stick to water while you're traveling. Bring your own water bottle -- these are the best ones for traveling -- and take it with you everywhere. 

Most countries are not like the US where they offer free water. You will pay for water everywhere you go. Buy the biggest jug of water you can find at the grocery store, keep it at your hostel, and fill your bottle up as needed (unless you want to carry around that huge jug, but I'm guessing you don't.). Since you're already buying water, don't add more to your budget by ordering drinks, too. 

Walk, walk, walk

Using your own two feet is a great way to save money. Don't use taxis or tuk tuks unless it's too far to walk. If it's too far, make sure you take the cheapest transportation that city offers. If there is a metro available, that's a great option because it's cheap and really easy to figure out. You can often get a pass for a few days if you're staying there for a quick trip and bonus is that there's almost always a stop close to all the tourist attractions that you probably want to get to.

Don't travel in comfort

When you're traveling to your destination, you'll have many options: flying, buses, trains, etc. Do your research and pick the cheapest mode - which most of the time is traveling by bus or train. There are sometimes different kind of seats you can chose between (hard seats, soft seats, hard sleepers, soft sleepers which means -- see the difference here). This is especially popular in China! You can basically choose how much your ticket is based on what type of ticket you have.

Just as you'd expect, the most comfortable option is the most expensive. When traveling on a budget, go with the most uncomfortable option! Although...if you've got a 20 hour train ride in China (yep, China is huge) then it's probably worth your sanity to get a bed rather than a seat so that you can rest. If you can book a train where you're traveling over night then get a cheap bed on the train and save the money on a hostel.

Budget airlines

In Europe, flying with these budget airlines is sometimes cheaper than the train or buses (lucky volunteers in Europe) - Check out all these cheap flights from Poland! Make sure you check out the budget airlines and not the big name ones. There is a huge difference in cost. 

Don't worry! There are budget airlines everywhere. Here are some for the rest of you ILP volunteers!

ILP Europe

Splurge only on the necessary activities

When you're abroad, it's so easy to get caught up in the thought of "I'll only be here once so I have to do EVERYTHING". While it may be true you will only be there once, there are touristy spots that you can skip that are either not worth it or you aren't interested in and won't enjoy anyways.

When figuring out what you want to do, figure out what you just can't live without and what will really create an experience you'll never forget.  Skip the rest. Not into museums? Don't go to the $40 famous museum just to say you went. Choose wisely when it comes to spending your money. 

Window shop

ONLY! Don't buy anything, just peruse. Some of my favorite memories is just wandering through all of the shops, which didn't cost me anything. I have pictures to her remind me what those streets of vendors or rows of artwork looked like, which didn't weigh down my bags or empty my wallet. 

Chose your souvenirs wisely

 I've fallen into the trap of spending way too much on souvenirs. Buy ONE small souvenir or, better yet, use your pictures as souvenirs.  Get souvenirs you won't regret buying to help you save. 

Instead of buying a present for every family and friend, I tend to ask if they'd like something (my dad usually requests a chocolate bar from the countries I visit - easy, and inexpensive) instead of buying useless trinkets that friends will throw away. 

Do all the free stuff

There is free stuff in just about every city. You may have to do a little research, but it's worth it. You can find some really cool, unique things this way. I mean, check out these free things you can do in Odessa, Ukraine and Budapest, Hungary.

Travel in a group if possible

This is easy if you're traveling abroad with ILP. You can just stick with your ILP group! Traveling in groups is the best because you can go splitsies on everything. You can go in on an Airbnb together or go grocery shopping and split the tab. You can sometimes get group rates at certain places as well, and share a big meal. You can save tons this way. 

Have a plan

Don't leave without a plan! Plan if you're carrying your own food, stopping at grocery stores when you get to your destination, if you're going to eat every meal at your hostel/hotel, if you're going to splurge on one or two meals, etc. Don't leave anything up in the air. The more planned you are, the more money you'll save.

Like these tips? Check out the ILP blog for more! Or, better yet, follow ILP on Instagram and see what our current volunteers are up.

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Topics: All The Travel Tips, All About ILP + Volunteering Abroad, Saving Money + Fundraising

Exploring The World For Nearly 30 Years

Hi! We are ILP, a non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We share our tips for making the most of your time traveling and living abroad.

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