- See minimum budget travel for more radical advice.
If you want to see the world on the cheap, for necessity, lifestyle or challenge, there are some ways to do that. Basically, they fall into two categories: Either work while you travel or limit your expenses. This article is focused on the latter. For those willing to sacrifice comfort, time and predictability to push expenses down close to zero, see minimum budget travel.
The advice assumes that travellers do not steal, trespass, evade fares, participate in the illegal market, beg, or otherwise exploit other people for their own gain.
Some of the budget travel advice also reduces your environmental impact, using more efficient transportation, and consuming less commodities.
|“||I would rather own a little and see the world than own the world and see a little of it.||”|
Doing research may help you avoid paying more than necessary. This includes finding out-of-way cheap lodgings that don't spend money on advertising, getting a membership card that gives you discounts in hostels and at camping sites, buying the travel card before having to spend on single tickets, being able to use early bird discounts etc.
In the standard case, travel agencies cost more than booking the same service yourself. They can however provide some good deals, at least for resorts. Aggregators can be a good option when you're planning and purchasing the components of your trip, which often makes sense to do well ahead — in most cases, pre-booking transportation, accommodation and attractions is cheaper than last-minute booking. Last-minute deals might be found for selective resort destinations.
When you book transportation, there is a balance between time and money spent; the same can be the case when booking accommodation (near or far from your main destination). See also time management.
Consider joining a group tour. Often there are significant group discounts and you can visit places that would be far more expensive if you visited on your own (especially if you need transport). You might regard the planned itinerary and the guiding as something you need to cope with to get the price cut – or as a bonus.
You will walk a lot, especially if you are going to avoid taxis. If you aren't accustomed to walking all day at home, you may want to do some exercise – especially if you aren't really fit. You may also want a realistic estimate on how much walking you can do and how much you need to rest after a visit to a large museum, to allow better planning.
Consider where you're going in the first place, especially if you are going to stay a longer time, or are considering travelling far. A "staycation" of day trips around your home area might be a viable alternative. Low-income countries and places that can be easily accessed (overland) are usually better if you are on a tight budget – but in some low-income countries getting the comfort and safety you are used to is anything but cheap. Also – especially if you're flying – getting to a developing country can be considerably more expensive than to a popular tourist destination with more demand and more competition. On the other hand, if you would like to go to a relatively expensive destination such as Norway or Greenland, be prepared to spend: although you can avoid many costs, trying to avoid everything expensive can ruin a visit to such regions.
Currency exchange rates in both your home country and destination countries can change rapidly. If you have the opportunity, choose a time and place where you get more of the local currency.
Within the same country, small towns usually have cheaper accommodation, dining and services than large cities and resorts. In a small town, though, you might be more dependent on a car or other personal transportation, and there probably won't be a suburb or back street with cheaper options.
The timing of the journey is also decisive; transportation and accommodation are expensive during major holidays and a destination's main tourist season, as well as during high-attendance events such as major sporting matches and conventions. For instance, a ski resort might offer bargains in summertime; even without snow, hiking can be enjoyable. Seasonality also matters for associated costs: if you travel to a place where winter is the low-cost off-season, you might find yourself spending more on winter clothes, snow tires, and other cold-weather needs than you will save on the direct travel expenses.
Travellers who are retired or on a long-term leave are less time-dependent, and can find cheaper dates than full-time workers on a short vacation at fixed dates. Mid-week can be cheaper than weekends (or the other way round where business travel outweighs tourism). Local holidays can spike prices.
Travelling slowly can reduce costs. Staying in the same location or region a longer time (several days to several months) reduces transportation costs and gives you time to determine the cheapest places to stay, eat and visit. You can usually also negotiate lower rates for extended stays. Generally, a slow mode of transport allows you to cover a smaller area, but instead of wasting time on getting somewhere (or waiting at an airport), you can use every minute to experience the place where you are at the moment.
Compare all modes of transport and plan your routes strategically. The shortest way isn't always the cheapest way, and if you can include an interesting (perhaps little known) intermediate destination or leave one with an expensive (or time consuming) connection to the next time, all the better.
The way the locals travel is often cheaper than the way the tourists travel.
Many carriers have a discount for categories of travellers, such as youths, students, seniors, soldiers, veterans, or clients of welfare programs. They might need a certificate, and sometimes only a local one counts. Sometimes the discount applies also to foreigners, but they want something they can recognise as the needed certificate. An International Student Card (ISIC) may be recognised even if ordinary cards from your country are not.
Try to pack light. Buying things as needed and paying for laundry may be cheaper than needing a taxi.
The only cost you incur while walking is new shoes, as they get worn down a little faster when you walk more. It is the cheapest mode of transport hands down. If you are an experienced walker, can carry around the stuff you need and have several weeks or months for your travels, you can cover even long distances by foot only. After all, this is how our ancestors moved around on land before any other kind of transportation was invented – check Long distance walking in Europe for some suggested routes.
Nearly all old towns are compact and walkable almost by definition, and even many younger cities can be explored quite comfortably on foot, giving you a much better feel for the area. The latter is true also in the countryside, and you can choose routes where no bus is available and which may not even be driveable. In some places a car is more hassle than it's worth, and not having to bother with metro-cards that only work in one city, having to pay exact change for the bus, and details of lines and timetables, can leave your mind free for actually seeing the city you're in.
- See also: Tour cycling, Urban cycling
Cycling can be a good and cheap way to explore areas a little (or much) further apart than what is practical to see by walking.
One advantage of a bike is that there are little running or fixed costs once you have the bike. Small repairs or the occasional drop of oil/grease for the chains hardly amount to more than a hundred euros per year even for heavy users, whereas a car costs in excess of two hundred euros per month just for maintenance and fixed costs. Furthermore a bike is a simple enough mechanical system, not needing much technical expertise to understand, and all pieces except the frame are easily replaced and fixed within a couple of hours. In low income countries, you can usually have your bike fixed for quite a low price if you don't want to do it yourself, while big cities in many high income countries have "do it yourself" or "help each other" bike repair shops where tools and experts are provided for free or a nominal fee and you can learn how to do it on your own the next time while you fix your bike together.
In some cases a traveler may be able to bring a bicycle from home; usually the handlebars and pedals need to be turned or removed to fit the bicycle into a "bike box" for transport on intercity bus or rail. Airlines may or may not accommodate bikes; their exact policies vary and change so much that you should rather check with your airline directly. Car ferries usually take bikes without hassle.
Renting a bike can be a good option, for overall transport or shorter tours in the countryside. While the price is not always cheap, it may be cheaper than getting transport for your own bike and is certainly cheaper in most countries than renting a car, and can give you the range you need with little hassle. However, in some countries like the USA or Australia, rental bikes for two people can easily cost more than a rental car for the same period.
For an extended trip it will be much cheaper to buy a used bike rather than rent. Used bikes can usually be purchased for reasonable prices at thrift shops, pawn shops, and garage sales. However, don't count on being able to quickly sell your bike at the end of your trip. Also check the condition of the bike carefully: if it needs repairs you will lose time, and replacement parts can cost as much as the used bike.
Many cities, especially in Europe, have cheap bike share schemes run by (or in cooperation with) urban governments. These can be good value for money and a dirt cheap way of getting around fast. Check them out before you go, as some need advance registration.
While bike-share systems are getting increasingly common, not all of them are a good choice for visitors, as some require a local ID or bank account as proof of identity and the location of their stations may be better for commuting than sightseeing. Furthermore, unsubsidized systems, which are common in North America, can be rather expensive (membership in the range of US$100 per year and day passes for $10 and more plus usage fees for longer hire) and may not compare favorably to public transit after all.
Travel insurance may not cover loss or damage to a bicycle you rent. Check and get the cover if you need it.
- See also: Cruising on small craft, Canoeing
Freighter travel or hitchhiking boats may be an option for transportation between continents. They are usually not cheaper per mile than flying, but if you like the experience and not count food and accommodation aboard as transport expenses, they may be quite cheap nevertheless – especially compared to a cruise. To some less visited destinations they may be the cheapest or only option.
While yachts are expensive, smaller boats or a canoe or kayak need not be. If there are suitable waterways and places to sleep, a boating voyage can work out very cheap – in addition to possibly being a nice alternative way to experience a region. You need to do your research, though; if you need transport for your boat past rapids, dams or otherwise blocked passages, your saving may quickly be gone, and spending may be hard to avoid also on stretches where you cannot camp wild in or near your boat. There may also be hazards on the route. If you are buying a cheap boat instead of renting or bringing your own, there are all the issues with buying a potential lemon away from home.
Hitchhiking is an unreliable way to travel. If you are lucky, you will be almost as fast as if you were driving yourself. If you are unlucky you will be mostly waiting or walking for days.
An alternative to hitchhiking is ride sharing, where a ride is arranged in advance with another voyager travelling in the same direction. Typically, ride sharing passengers pay some token amount to defray the cost of the trip, which often is more economical than scheduled bus or train lines. Do not confuse with ride hailing services, where the driver usually drives or shares their car for a profit.
By public transport
Public transportation is usually a reasonably cheap way to travel around an urban area. Some cities even offer some forms of free transport in city centers.
However, in some places, it can be cheaper for three or four people to share a taxi than to take public transport. Shop around and compare. Motorcycle taxis (tuk-tuk, boda-boda etc.; tricycles or plain motorcycles) are common in East African and Asian cities, and cheaper than taxis, but in some countries driving can be reckless, and helmets are seldom provided.
For public transport, look into multi-use tickets. Many systems have tickets that can be used a certain number of times, or over a certain time period, for a considerable discount over buying each ticket individually. Sometimes do-the-town cards include public transport for a day or a few, in addition to free or cheaper entrance to many sights. If you are using them heavily, they are often a bargain, but if you mostly walk and visit just some of the places, they may not be a good deal. Compare with your plans.
Even national and international rail and bus networks may have discount tickets for a month's or several months' travel. You should also check what discounts you're eligible for: Western Europe frequently has blanket discount schemes for people under 26, Great Britain has a youth discount card that you can buy and which pays for itself after three or four journeys (a 'Young Person's Rail Card'), and many countries have discount schemes for students, pensioners and sometimes disabled people. Increasingly train operators sell discount cards offering either 25% or 50% on all or certain types of travel. Though they mostly have a minimum validity of one year, some special offers for short term cards are sometimes available for cheap prices. Though be careful with those offers as you often have to cancel early to avoid being "trapped" in a rather expensive subscription with yearly cancellation. Most discount cards also offer a discount for a trip starting or ending in their country and crossing one or several borders.
Local transport is often considerably cheaper than express or long distance transport. In European countries in the outskirts of a city, the public transport system can often overlap with a neighbouring city, providing a cheaper method of transport than explicitly paying for an inter-city trip. In countries like Japan, local trains are cheaper if you have time on your hands and can manage the connections. Early bird fares (where they exist) for long distance public transport such as trains can still be the cheapest option available – with the downside of limited flexibility and often no possibility for a refund.
Buses tend to be the cheapest option of getting anywhere and in some places they are the only alternative to a car. The deregulation of intercity buses in Europe has created a dynamic market with several players trying to undercut each other (and the railways) in terms of price. Once more, the key to low prices is booking early and shopping around. Sometimes cobbling together a connection between two different companies works out even cheaper than buying the whole route from one operator, but naturally you are the only person responsible for such connections working out and should you miss your connection due to any type of delay your ticket will almost certainly be worthless.
For distances up to 1,000 km (600 mi), sometimes even for longer routes, trains may be cheaper than flying. Shop around. Sleeper services are usually more expensive than non-sleepers, but you might consider them for the money they save you on accommodation and for the daytime hours you save. On some trains you have the choice between a (small) private sleeper compartment and a cheaper shared couchette. Some railways only charge the sleeper surcharge once per unit of accommodation, thus enabling pairs or small families who share a cabin to get a sleeper at quite an affordable price. If traveling as a couple, this of course also has a certain romanticism to it that is hard to find in other ways of travel. If you still find the sleeper too expensive, you might opt for a seat instead. As there is no high demand for these in nighttime, they are sometimes steeply discounted – but trying to sleep in one is difficult (see Bus travel#Sleep for some tricks). At some night trains there are reclining seats that give a sporting chance to sleep adequately, still cheaper than real sleepers.
First off: driving is often the most expensive way of getting anywhere, even if gasoline happens to be cheap where you live. Maintenance and fixed costs, tolls and taxes are things that make owning a car expensive, before you have moved it a single inch. If you can at all live without a car, you will usually save big amounts of money, that you could not save while owning a car even if you hardly drive. However, there are some ways to mitigate the costs of car use. In some scenarios it even makes sense to rent a car just for a vacation, instead of having it all year.
If you are going overseas or bringing your own car otherwise is difficult and expensive, you may have to rent one. Depending on country, you might want to plan carefully on what legs you need or want the car and where it is more of a costly nuisance. In some countries getting a car with driver can be cheaper than renting a car you would like to drive.
In many parts of the world, especially Europe, it is possible to save money on travel by "ride sharing". There are websites where people post their travel details: where, when, what kind of car they have, how many spare seats, and how much they want you to pay them. It's not just a great way to cut travel costs, it can also be a great way to meet new people! In Germany, this kind of travel is called a "Mitfahrgelegenheit", in Portugal "boleia" and in France "covoiturage". In some countries this is regarded as illegal black taxis, but you may be able to get around that by just sharing costs.
In the United States, you can try a driveaway car service. These most often serve "snowbirds", seasonal travellers who want their vehicles brought south to them in the winter or back north in the spring. In this service, you pay a small fee to an agency to deliver a car to a business or individual in another city, often hundreds or thousands of miles away. The customer wins by reducing their shipping costs, and you win by having a car to drive for cheap – but likely only one way. You are often allowed a certain amount of flexibility in the route and delivery time, allowing you freedom to explore. This is also possible, although not very common, in Canada. HitTheRoad.ca is a Canada-based driveaway service.
Some repairs can be done by laypeople as well. While the increasing number of electronic components and onerous warranty provisions make this more and more difficult, things like changing tires or measuring the amount of oil in the motor can and should be done by yourself. Some other small repairs don't require an expert either, though this may depend on your technical knowledge and the model of the car. Not only does it save you money (particularly in high income countries), it also familiarizes yourself with your vehicle and enables you to detect problems before they cause expensive damage. Furthermore the ability to make a broken down car run again can save you a fortune in remote areas where help may be days out.
In spite of the remarks on costs above, if you own a car, it may nevertheless be good to use it for a trip – and if public transport is sparse where you are going, and you are going with your family, or in a company, renting one may make sense.
The major advantage of a car is that it offers a lot more space than most other modes of transportation, and you can use that space to save money. RVs, vans and large station wagons are suitable for sleeping in (as long as it's reasonably warm outside); if you travel in places where it's safe and legal to do so outside designated camping areas, you may not need to pay for lodging. Even if you can't sleep in your car, you can usually pack a tent in the trunk. It's also comparatively easy — especially in rural areas — to travel to places with affordable lodging. Moreover, self-catering is fairly easy: you can bring cooking equipment and a small refrigerator and shop for larger quantities of foodstuffs where they cost less. If you travel abroad, there may be products from alcohol and tobacco to clothes and home electronics that for various reasons cost a fraction of what you'd need to shell out at home, and a trunk offers much more space for them than a backpack. This also works the other way around: If you travel to an expensive country by car you'll be able to bring inexpensive stuff you'll need on your trip from home. Check customs rules.
If you have a choice of vehicles, you might want to check fuel economy, road tolls and ferry prices, which may be much more expensive if you have anything beyond what is considered a "normal" car locally; capacity for larger vehicles may also be limited on some ferries.
Fuel is often the greatest expense when driving in places like the European Union, where fuel taxes are high. There are many methods to save fuel.
- With a manual gearbox, favor high gears when safe.
- Use cruise control, if available.
- Avoid overtaking.
- Avoid congested traffic.
- Use the air conditioner only when necessary.
- Remove roof racks or a roof box when not in use.
- See also: Flying on a budget
Riding first or business class is of course expensive, but even seats in economy class can differ by as much as a factor 5, depending on booking time, flight time, and ticket class.
Look for bargains. Budget airlines sometimes offer air tickets for very low prices. With a bit of luck you can fly even below the price of airport taxes and charges. And check price for getting to your destination from the airport. Some airports have cheap ordinary public transport, often beside much more expensive airport buses and taxis. In Australia, some airports charge a premium for public transport to or from the airport that doesn't apply if going to or from the next stop along the line – sometimes that stop is an easy walk away or you can even take a bus and change onto the train from there. Other airport surcharges are not as easy to avoid, but Denver charges the same rate for a day ticket (including the airport) as for a regular ticket to the airport.
In general the economies of scale tend to work against aviation for "short hops" and in favor of it the longer the distance gets. Once crossing an ocean is involved, aviation is usually your only and almost always your cheapest option. For shorter distances however, and especially for routes that are only served by one or a select few carriers, overland transport may be cheaper, sometimes even by orders of magnitude. This however often comes with a reason. The 300-odd km flight costs $200? Well, that's 'cause the only other option is a 24-hour bus ride (if you get through fast) with no place to sleep and little legroom. The flight to the place you never heard of takes twenty minutes and costs a month's wage? Well maybe that is because the only other option is a boat built under the auspices of the German Kaiser, with little maintenance since, together with a bunch of shady types. On the other hand, on some routes where the plane flies anyway (for mail or whatever) and has difficulty filling the seats, the price on an early bird or last minute ticket may be quite affordable.
Still the pricing structure of aviation does not follow a strict relation between cost and price (often there is none whatsoever) and sometimes cheaper fares can be had by actions that seem to defy logic, such as going hundreds of miles in the "wrong" direction first to go to another airport with cheaper flights or buying a flight A to C via B if you want to go from A to B and never boarding your connection to C. The airlines have tried to crack down on some of those "tricks" while they generally don't care about some others. Conditions may vary wildly locally.
Another option worth considering, especially if you are flexible with your origin or destination airport are air rail alliances, which allow you to for example fly into Frankfurt airport and take a train to Hamburg or the other way around for possibly much cheaper than the flight to the latter city would have been.
|“||Better gear than good sense |
A traveller cannot carry,
Better than riches for a wretched man,
Far from his own home.
Many art galleries, museums and other attractions are free, and major sights in cities are virtually always free to see from the outside. Of those that require an entry fee, some have discounted or free days at least once a month, or a time after which admission is discounted or free. Tourist information offices will sometimes be able to tell you about these. In some countries you get a discount if you are a national of that country. Students and elderly people also often get discounts, but a need to prove this status may apply. In Finland there is the Museokortti card, which at a moderate price offers free entrance to most museums all round the country for a week or all the year – a real bargain if you like such venues.
Some national parks and hiking trails charge an entrance fee, but it's often lower for hikers, cyclists or skiers, than for visitors with a car. There may be year passes for national parks in a country, which can be worth considering if you'd like to visit several parks. Also, it's possible that a lower or no fee is charged off-season (though remember that the weather may be really awful then).
Religious buildings (churches, mosques etc) are usually free to visit, except museum buildings, and churches used for concerts. They might request a gratuity from visitors.
Free public events include ceremonial guards, parades, public concerts and some street performances. Most cities have an official tourist website with information about these.
Tourist information centres are usually run by the public sector, and provide gratis advice, as well as a wide range of activities. Well-visited cities might have private "tourist information" offices which are an expensive middleman for activity booking.
Getting advice at the hotel can be a gamble. The staff usually knows the city well, but might have a touting scheme for a tourist trap.
The derogatory term tourist trap is used for a rather expensive venue or resort, purpose-built for distant visitors, which might be of poor quality, without a genuine experience, or bordering a scam. They might be built near well-known destinations such as old towns or archaeological sites, with a stereotypical image of local culture. Even a whole city, such as Las Vegas, can be considered to be a tourist trap.
It can be up to each visitor whether a venue is overpriced or overrated, with respect to cost, travel and waiting effort, overcrowding, and quality of the experience. Some venues built as tourist traps can over time become iconic for their city, or even their country, such as the Big things in Australia. The Moulin Rouge in Paris opened in 1889 with the intention to rip off visitors, and still in 2019 a regular ticket is €87. While the Eiffel Tower gives a good view of Paris, other viewpoints (such as the Tour Montparnasse or the Arc de Triomphe) are cheaper and less crowded, and allow you to see a view with the Eiffel Tower itself. Madame Tussaud's in London was sensational in the 19th century, but visitors in the 21st century might disagree whether wax sculptures are worth £35 to see.
While the venues mentioned above are genuinely world famous, advertising with the phrase "world famous" is usually a giveaway for the opposite. Tourist traps might tout themselves as important to history, mythology or fiction. These claims can be far-fetched or false; venues in Nottinghamshire might boast a connection to Robin Hood; though he was probably not a real person. Some genuine scenes of historical events, film sets, celebrity homes or similar are overpriced or disappointing, and better left to your imagination. While museums traditionally have some educational aspirations, the word gives no such warrant today, and "museums" on sensational topics such as erotica or torture might be disappointing. Check reviews before going.
Especially at well-visited destinations, you should check articles, reviews and pricing, for attractions, restaurants and gift shops, to more easily recognize tourist traps and find more genuine venues, perhaps on a nearby back street. The absence of local people is usually a giveaway that a venue costs more than it gives. If you notice that prices for some standard items, such as a can of soda or an umbrella, are inflated, you'd better assume all prices are.
Touts in traditional or stereotypical costumes (who are not ceremonial guards, museum guides, historical re-enactors or similar) are also a warning sign for a tourist trap. Some of them might charge visitors for a group photo.
Gambling is set up so that the house wins in the long run. Still, casinos in places such as Nevada offer food, drinks and entertainment to guests at large discounts (for a reason: you need significant self-control not to lose also on these, by spending more at the table). In less glamorous destinations you may be allowed to gamble with smaller sums, limiting the amount of money you'll likely lose.
Before digital cameras, travel photography including film and development used to be a major part of the budget. Today, however, phone cameras are usually sufficient for all but the serious photographer. Even a cheap (new or used) compact digital camera can provide zooming and some other features absent in regular phone cameras, and are a good option if you travel without a smartphone. A used or cheap camera is also less likely to be stolen or mark you as a "rich foreigner", which can be an advantage over whipping out a €500 smartphone in downtown Mogadishu. Travel writing and urban sketching are cheap options to eternalise travel memories.
- See also: Shopping
Countries have different payment systems. In a highly connected country, an international debit card is a good option for major purchases. For some uses a credit card can be better. In cash-dominated countries such as Japan, you need to research where to get the best exchange rate, and get out an adequate sum of money. Some places have no or small fixed costs and are thus better for small sums, while other may give better rates. Banknotes from an exchange office might be redeemed without a fee, if you have the receipt.
Some places, such as border towns and resorts, accept both the local currency, and a foreign hard currency such as US dollars or euros. In most cases, foreign currency rates are inflated.
Tourists often have the option of duty-free shopping, on certain terms. This can be at airports and on ships, or in normal shops with tourists a significant clientèle. Usually the duty-free goods are expensive to begin with, and many of them are the same around the world. If you do want to buy these, they are heavily taxed were you live, and the absence of taxes and duties really shows in the prices, some of them may be good deals. Otherwise, feel free to take advantage of what is cheap in normal local shops instead.
Retail prices differ a lot between countries. If you find travel equipment, clothes, electronics or other commodities much cheaper than at home, you would buy them anyway and, for electronics, they conform to the same standards as at home, you might save a lot; in a few cases a shopping journey might give you a net earning. You can buy things for a friend at home, and split the savings.
However, you risk damaging or losing things, or paying customs duties or overweight fees. Repairs and refunds for products bought abroad can be difficult. Packing and carrying excess baggage takes effort in itself, and it may be more difficult to assess features and quality away from home. If the price difference is only marginal, trying to save money on cheap purchases is not worth the effort.
Plan shopping for one of your last days on the destination. You will know more available shops and their price levels, and how much money you can spare. Retailers frequented by the locals are usually cheaper than shops in hotels, resorts, and airports.
Bargaining can save money; in some countries, it is expected.
Commercial services can be cheap in low-income countries, including hairdressing, hygiene and body care, spa treatments, clothing and shoe repairs, etc.
In many places in Western Europe, and possibly also in other parts of the world, you can find give-away shops, shops where you can take things you want for free (as long as you don't take too much), and where you can leave stuff you don't need anymore. Flea markets run by charities sometimes have perfectly good items for ridiculous prices.
BookCrossing is a book exchange network. Books are travelling through the world, looking for people to read them! You might have encountered books with BookCrossing stickers already, but on the website you can look for places to find them. There are also exchange shelves not part of the network, where you can leave books you no longer need or take ones you find interesting, e.g. at some libraries, student union offices and accommodations. In Australia and New Zealand, there may be local "community cupboards" or "street libraries" where you can donate or take what you need.
Mass-produced souvenirs differ a lot in price. Prefer items that will be useful on the journey or back home, such as souvenir clothing. While handicraft items from low-income countries are usually worth their price, those made in high-income countries are rather expensive.
The cheapest places to buy food are traditional markets, supermarkets and street vendors.
In some cities there are very cheap restaurants in squats, usually selling vegetarian or vegan food for the price of the ingredients; for example Germany's Volksküchen. Some countries also have heavily subsidized university restaurants sometimes open to foreign students as well. Germany for instance has Mensas, offering famously tasteless (but in modern times more often than not surprisingly edible) small-sized meals for €2-3 (for non-students a substantially higher price may be charged, making the fast food chains cheaper, but e.g. in Finland also the outsider price is great value); in large cities, there are also restaurants run by immigrants offering food for €4-6; restaurants offering German cuisine tend to be cheaper in districts with a high unemployment rate and in rural areas. As with hotels one of the most important things for a restaurant is its location, and if you dine in an out of the way location with low property values this may be reflected in the price.
Self-catering, buying your own ingredients and preparing your own meals, is a great way to stay on a budget. Many hostels provide kitchens where you can cook your meals. When camping outdoor cooking comes in handy.
For restaurants, avoid eating in the main tourist thoroughfares, including airports, resorts, international hotels, business districts, and famous landmarks. If you get into the side streets and back alleys, you'll find cheaper restaurants that often serve tastier, more authentic meals. In some places, though, there are few restaurants outside those thoroughfares – and sometimes they are too authentic for your taste. The ratio of locals to tourists generally correlates well with an eatery's value vs. cost. Pricing information at restaurants vary between countries; the check can get inflated by side orders, taxes and tips.
Food in airports can be notoriously overpriced due to the captive audience. Buy or prepare some food to bring with you to the airport: sandwiches, fruit, nuts, and energy bars generally travel well, or a more substantive meal in a small container. For a lightweight but not very healthy option, you could bring a cup of instant noodles – some airports provide free hot water. Remember that large containers of liquids or gels can't usually be brought through security, but you can carry an empty water bottle and refill it after security, as there are often free water dispensers. Check whether there are import restrictions on the food you intend to bring. Chain fast food stores at an airport usually have the same price as elsewhere in the country.
Some hotels provide a breakfast buffet with the price. If you let the breakfast be your main meal, you can eat lighter the rest of the day.
Restaurants usually have a lunch menu cheaper than their dinner menu.
Fine dining is usually the most expensive food. With good research you might be able to find similar dishes in a more casual restaurant.
Many supermarkets have pre-mixed salads, pre-rolled burritos, or the likes. While they are usually cheaper than at restaurants or street stalls, they still charge a huge premium over the basic ingredients. If you can at all prepare your own meals, do so. Also away from kitchen facilities, you can eat food you prepared and packed yourself (but be careful with food getting spoiled in hot weather). Have suitable bottles, boxes and cutlery, so that you do not have to buy food by the portion. A knife will come in handy for cutting fruits and bread (but carrying one may be regulated).
Abstaining from alcoholic beverages saves both health and money; mostly indirectly, as intoxication might cause poor judgement, and reckless spending.
A good drink does not need to be expensive, though. In general, the cheapest beverages are found in supermarkets and dive bars, and the costliest ones in hotel bars, airports, and nightclubs. In high-tax countries such as the Nordic countries or Japan, there is hardly such a thing as a cheap drink, but a drink in a night club may still cost thrice the price of its ingredients. Visitors who enjoy strong beverages should consider bringing alcohol from a low-cost country, or duty-free shopping (which may not be that cheap); within legal limits.
While some nightlife venues take hefty cover charges just to let you through the door, others offer free entrance. When it comes to finding a good party without spending a fortune, local know-how might be more valuable than ever.
Water is another concern. While tap water is safe and subject to stricter standards than bottled water in much of the European Union, this is sadly not the case worldwide. Even in seemingly rich and developed countries like the USA high profile cases of unsafe tap water have occurred. If you have to buy bottled water, opt for the cheapest brand – do a blind taste test if you aren't convinced cheap water can have adequate taste – and buy in the quantity that's cheapest per liter (you can later carry it in bottles you brought). In many places, supermarkets are required by law to give the price per basic unit of many commodities (e.g. the price of water per liter) but should they not, you can use "the rule of three" to ease calculations. Most smartphones these days come with integrated calculator apps. On the road you should take at least as much water as you'll need for the day, and refill from a safe source of water whenever possible. You don't want to be caught without water in a place where a bottle costs ten times the usual price – or water is not available at all.
In places where drinking bottled water is necessary, buy the biggest bottle of drinking water you can find in the local supermarket. Leave it at your place of accommodation, and use it to refill a smaller bottle you carry around with you. That way you can save through bulk purchase and reduce waste. Or boil your water (where this is sufficient treatment) and use it to refill bottles.
- See also: Sleep#Finding bargains
Camping is an obvious choice for cheap accommodation, and it's often the closest accommodation to lots of natural attractions. This will mean burdening yourself with whatever camping equipment is necessary to protect you from the weather at your destination. Also, many popular sites like national parks limit camping to particular spots and often have you pay for a site. This is still almost always cheaper than hostels, except in very very popular camping spots.
Consider the cost of travel to the sights you want to see, if you're staying outside town (or anywhere in a big city). You could stop where there is cheap accommodation (camping or otherwise) and continue to the destination only in the morning. This is usually easy to do if you travel by foot, bike or car. Using buses you have to be more careful; if there is a stop where you want to sleep, with the city in reach by local bus, possibly with a 24-hour ticket available, this works perfectly, but if you find no place to camp where you got off you may have a problem.
Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Finland have the Right to access principle allowing you to camp wild on most undeveloped land. Similar but more restricted rights exist in many other countries. In Japan you can participate in the nojuku tradition.
You could sleep in your car. Although also illegal in many areas, if you have a van style vehicle with limited rear windows, it is often easy to get away with.
The objective of hospitality exchange networks is to meet new, and local, people. It can be a great way to get a free place to stay the night, but besides that it's a fun and easy way to get acquainted with an area, city or culture. Active users of online hospitality exchange networks also tend to have broadband connections, which you can use while you are staying there.
If you have friends in the area, they might welcome you for a night or two. With today's travel speeds you might very well have a dense enough network of friends to avoid other lodging most nights. You should be sensitive, though, not to abuse their hospitality. In general visiting friends and family has become an ever more popular reason for travel in the last few decades and there is no reason not to make the visits a mutual thing – them staying at your place and you at theirs. Just remember – after three days fish and guests start to stink.
You can stay in hostels or guesthouses, usually the cheapest type of commercial tourist accommodation. Many hostels offer cheap one- to four-person rooms, but the cheapest of all are dorms shared by up to twenty people: you'll usually be given a key to the room and left to choose a bunk bed. Dorms are a great way to meet fellow travellers. There are some international hostel associations, members of which get discounts at participating hostels. Linen is included in most regions, though not everywhere.
Especially when traveling long distances it can be very convenient to already have a place to crash, but only book a hotel or hostel for one or two nights – spend the first day at the destination to shop around for cheaper accommodations (which often don't have a web presence). Also, for long term stays: Most web sites don't offer any discounts but when asking at the reception very good deals can be had (sometimes 30% of list prices when staying for a month). However, when travelling during peak season, having reservations for the entirety of your stay can work out both cheaper and easier. Once almost all hotels are booked out and only a handful of rooms remain in a city, the bargaining advantage turns decisively against you and if you don't speak the language and don't know your way around town this becomes even more pronounced.
If you have a long distance train or bus pass, you can often sleep on a train or bus. Ferry passages of suitable length sometimes have affordable cabins (or other places where sleeping is possible) – sleep on board instead of searching for accommodation when you arrive. While bunks usually require paying extra, they are often much cheaper than a hotel.
The most straightforward way to earn money on the road is obviously to find some work. This is more easily done through contacts, and as a matter of fact hitchhiking may come very handy here. Contacting expatriates may also provide opportunities.
Obvious jobs for travellers include harvesting, teaching English and waiting at restaurants or bars in tourist areas.
Wwoofing is a term for working 5 hours or so a day on a farm in exchange for lodging and food: it stands for World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. See wwoof.org.
If you have a talent for music or other performance arts, you can go busking (performing in public for tips). These activities are however prohibited or regulated in many places.
If you are travelling in your home country then working is usually straightforward, and may have no more paperwork complications than working at home. If you are travelling abroad, then things can be more complicated, and you may need a work visa, which may need to be applied for months before you leave home. If you are a citizen of the European Union you can work in any country of the EU without any need for visas or permits, but language and qualification certificates may be issues.
- Main article: Volunteer travel
Conservation organisations sometimes want volunteers to spend some time, maybe one week, helping on their projects in exchange for accommodation and maybe food or travel. This can give you a cheaper time away than a normal trip and may give "behind the scenes" access to places that would be hard to access otherwise.
Before signing up, research what is being offered, and how much of what sort of work is required. General research on the organisation and what is being conserved is also useful – learn to recognise some of the birds in a nature reserve, or some of the history of an old building. A two-night weekend trip may be intense working on both Saturday and Sunday, while a two-week trip is more likely to allow time off each day. If you are joining a project in a foreign country, volunteering may be considered work, or may be permitted on a tourist visa.
As part of your research you should make sure the offer is not a scam or otherwise ill advised. Is the project effective in what it is trying to accomplish? How is the local community involved? There are lots of good organisations, make sure you choose one of them.
Don't get thrifty when it comes to health. Abstaining to treat a wound or other illness might in the end cost you more than if you took care of it quickly.
Take a travel health kit with you, suited to your expected needs. In addition to anything you need regularly, consider taking a few things that would help you deal with minor problems, like sunscreen, painkiller, or bandages. Not only is it cheaper to grab a bottle of aspirin off the shelf in your home and toss it into you bag than to buy it at a convenience store later, but it's also better to have it with you, in case your headache begins five minutes after all the stores closed for the night or don't speak the language to describe the symptom (but watch out for substances not allowed across the border).
Countries with universal health coverage with free or heavily subsidized fees often have bilateral arrangements with some other countries. For the European Union and EEA the reciprocal arrangement covers all residents of the area.
Healthcare in low-income countries is usually much cheaper than in high-income countries, especially for service not covered by universal healthcare, such as dentistry or optometry; medical tourism can give the traveller a net earning.
While not all countries require medical travel insurance, it is a good idea to get one even where it isn't required. Your insurance from back home may cover some stuff in some other countries, but unless it's travel within the EU you should check details carefully. Insurance that covers medical repatriation is very advisable when going to places you wouldn't trust with life threatening conditions. Even if you don't have insurance back home (which is emphatically not advisable) you should get one for your travels as there's a higher risk of getting injured a catching some bug that doesn't exist back home.
Fees for mobile telephones and Internet connections can be hefty, especially when you are in a foreign country. If you are in a foreign country with plenty of Wi-Fi hotspots, you might do well without mobile Internet. Inside the European Union there should be no roaming charges, but there is often fine print regarding territories such as the Channel Islands, which have a special status and may or may not be included in the "roaming free" area, depending on your provider (and Finnish providers have an exception, with free roaming in EU depending on the contract). In other countries, notably Mexico or the US, you may even be charged roaming even if you do not cross any international borders, simply for being in a different "zone" of the same country.
If for some reason you cannot or don't want to use voice over IP services (some countries block them), there are apps and SIM card providers that specialize in giving migrants the possibility to call home. Those will usually have better rates than the mainstream providers and often be available as a prepaid plan.
Many discounts for senior citizens are available to people as young as 55, or even younger people in welfare programs.
Youths and students can also get discounts.