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When I graduated college, traveling for fun didn’t seem like an option because I had no money to travel with! Instead I’d tag along with my parents to Taiwan and anywhere else they wanted to visit because usually they paid the bills haha. Even once I started making money, travel still wasn’t cheap. So I told myself that every year around Thanksgiving, I’d go through my spending from the past year and figure out what I can do to save more, and this includes saving money traveling. Because more money means more trips!!
I’ve collected a list of 20 ways I’ve been able to save money while traveling in my 20s (there’s been eight years of that), and I hope some of these tips will help save you money and not compromise your love for traveling.
1. Sign Up for a Travel Credit Card
In 2018, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card paid for my trips to New York, Beijing, Munich and Las Vegas. Two of them were international and worth thousands of dollars! Of course, when I signed up there was also a bonus of 100k points if I spent a certain amount within a few months (the sign on bonus is now 50k points which is still worth about $750 in travel) so that helped a lot. The card won’t be paying for subsequent trips like the first few, but once you rack up enough points, it’s still a lot of money saved. Oh and did I mention you get a lounge pass to go with it? Time to get bougie.
These perks don’t come without a cost however, and the annual fee is a hefty $500. If you exclude the $300 that gets credited back to your account for eligible travel expenses and the lounge pass and free TSA Pre/Global Entry, then it’s still pretty worth. In any case, do lots of research before you decide as you know what type of credit card is best for you! Here’s a good list to get you started on your research.
Wanderer Tip: I recommend signing up for a credit card ONLY if you are debt free or really good about paying off your debt in a timely manner. Otherwise, if you’re just building more debt by using a travel credit card, the points won’t be worth!
2. Alternate Between Nice Stays & More Economical Ones
When I travel, I dream of staying at 5-star hotels, having a bath tub with a view, and the best breakfast spread. But of course, when I actually start to do my research, reality hits and all I can afford is a 3-star stay in a decent neighborhood while the hotel is having a deal.
So I figured out a way to stay at nice hotels without breaking the bank. The key is to balance it with more economic stays. When I traveled to Maui, I wanted to stay at a hotel with A.C. (that’s pretty reasonable right?) But hotels in Maui so pricey. After doing some research, we booked 2 nights at a hotel and 2 nights at a glamp site. It turned out to be the best decision ever and I kind of liked the glamping experience more. So get creative with where you stay, and if you’re visiting somewhere for more than 2 days, maybe look into both your dream stay and a cheaper one to save money.
3. Walk More!
This one is not hard for me at all, because one of my favorite ways to experience a place is by foot! However, this is not always feasible (like while you’re staying in a desert in Mongolia) so use your best judgment here. If you’re in New York City, however, think twice before you take that cab or Uber. Oh and public transport is a good fallback option if and when your legs do get tired.
4. Plan Ahead
Usually, the more you plan ahead, the more money you’ll save. This means booking your flight for international trips 3-4 months out, and booking your stay about 2-3 months out. These timings are a rough guide based on my experience monitoring prices for past trips, and it could depend on where you’re going and how popular the place is.
5. Travel During Off Season
This one’s for my working ladies and gents. One perk of being out of school is that you can avoid traveling during winter and summer months and beat a lot of the travel crowd! This can also save you money because flights and hotels tend to be cheaper during the off seasons. My advice for traveling off season is to do research on what your destination will be like during off season months. Sometimes the weather may be meh if it’s not during the ideal time to visit so you’ll have to be willing to sacrifice that to save money traveling. By the way, did you know Portland in the fall is underrated?
6. Cook with Local Ingredients
Do you shop at local supermarkets when you travel somewhere? This is one of my favorite things to do because you get to see what the locals eat, save money traveling, and learn to cook foreign cuisine. Of course, this assumes you are staying somewhere with a kitchen. Even if you weren’t, local grocery stores typically have prepared foods that are just waiting to be devoured. Also because these stores are selling to locals, they also won’t mark up the prices unnecessarily like many touristy spots do.
7. Book Your Flight on a Tuesday
I don’t think this is a secret anymore, but flights tend to be cheaper on Tuesdays! That’s it. Tip number 7, simple as that. To be extra sure though, set alerts via Google Flights so you know if tickets drop in price. Scott’s Cheap Flights is also a tried and true source for the latest deals.
8. Exchange Currency Before Leaving For Your Trip
Exchanging currency at your destination can lead to additional fees. Many banks offer to exchange your currency before you leave for your trip so you can avoid unwanted fees. Here’s an example of how it works at Bank of America. Sometimes, this doesn’t end up saving you that much, but it’s good to exchange at least some currency ahead of time for peace of mind.
9. Travel with More People
Even as I approach my 30s, I still love the idea of going on trips with a group. For me, the ideal number is 8 people 🙂 By traveling with more people, you may open up yourself to more stay options (e.g. 4-bedroom Airbnbs vs. 2-person hotels) and you get to split the cost with more people. Plus it’s so much fun! My favorite destination for a group trip is definitely Tahoe.
10. Find Free Things to Do
There are free things to do in every city, and sometimes they can be funner than the paid events. For San Francisco, Funcheap SF is one of the best resources for finding free events. And events can cover everything from hikes to free museum days to free parties.
11. Fly on a Weekday
Similar to traveling during off season, it’s usually cheaper to fly on a weekday. If you work a job that allows you to have weekdays off sometimes, take advantage!
12. Travel Light
This used to be my least favorite thing to do, until I mastered it. I like to bring so many things with me on trips, and traveling light was always such a struggle! But packing light can save you money while traveling. Just think of all the extra luggage fees you’d be avoiding. Plus you won’t need to buy any more suitcases.
So here’s how I do it:
- Use a toiletry organizer (something like this from Amazon will do)
- Use travel containers for your products
- As you travel more, buy products that are light and travel friendly
- Bring versatile clothes. For example, you can bring a jumper that can be worn with a sweater and a denim jacket.
- If all else fails, have your friends bring stuff for you (did this once, will do it again)
This is a hard one to master and took me more than a few tries. So take your time with this one. But once you have a system, you’re golden.
13. Stay with a Friend
Once I turned 25, my friends all seemed to start dispersing to different parts of the country. A friend moved to LA, another to New York, and one more to Taiwan. While I was bummed they were all moving so far away, I now had places to crash when I visited LA, New York, and Taiwan. Case in point: I stayed with a good friend when I visited New York, and got to stay at a 5-star hotel with a tub and a view as a result of the money I saved.
14. Order a Mocktail Instead
I started doing this as a part of another new years resolution to cut down on my alcohol consumption. This turned out to not only be good for my liver, but also a good way to save a few bucks here and there. Most bars make mocktails and most bars will charge way less for them. So if you still want to go to a bar while traveling, consider replacing your usual cocktail order with a mocktail every now and then.
15. “Sample” Restaurants
What do you do when you want to try all the restaurants on your list but can only afford a handful? Try ordering just one or two famous dishes from each restaurant so you can go to more! Saving money aside, I love doing this because it’s also more forgiving on my stomach, and I get to taste so many dishes in one day.
16. Find Out Where the Locals Go
Not only do you want to do this to avoid tourist traps, you should also do this to save money traveling. If you’re staying with an Airbnb host or visiting a friend, ask the for their recommendations. If you don’t know any locals, there are plenty of guides online. Just do a quick search on “a local’s guide to [insert destination].”
17. Do Multi-Leg Trips
I love Europe for how easy it is to visit multiple cities in one trip. And it saves money too. If you’re going somewhere far, try visiting more than one city so you get more out of one trip. If you’re visiting Amsterdam, maybe stop by Brussels on your way there. For folks traveling to San Francisco, Portland is just a nine hour drive north and Los Angeles is seven hours south. Being close in proximity means you also have more options for how to get places – like traveling by car.
18. Use Priceline’s Pricebreakers
My dad visited me while I was in college, and he stayed at this swanky hotel just outside of my school. I was surprised because if there’s anyone who’s good at saving money while traveling, it’s gotta be my dad. He calculates everything down to the penny. Then he told me about Priceline’s “Name Your Own Price,” where you basically put in a price, the star of the hotel, and zone, then Priceline selects a hotel that fits that criteria for you. I found out recently that this service is no longer available, and a new one called Pricebreakers (see Priceline homepage) seems to have taken its place. Go check it out, and you might be able to nail a deal like my dad did.
19. Do an Airbnb Experience
Airbnb came out with Airbnb Experiences a few years ago. It’s a place where anyone can act as a local tour guide of their city and host an experience of some sort. It could be a cooking class, tour of a part of town, or something else. I booked an Airbnb experience when I visited Cuba, and not only did we spend less than $100 on a day trip (car included) to the Vinales, we also had a personal tour guide and driver, and I felt safe.
20. Pick Destinations That Have a Low Cost of Living
Aside from the amazing Airbnb experience, Cuba also had $3 Daiquiris everywhere we went. It was amazing!! Because rum is aplenty in the country, the cost of rum based cocktails is super low. Generally the cost of living in Cuba is way lower than in the U.S., so we didn’t have to break bank when we visited there. Some other popular destinations with low cost of living can be found in Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Africa.
Your 20s is all about experiencing the world and living your full potential, so don’t let the cost of traveling hold you back. Try out some of these tips and see how much you can save while traveling. You may be pleasantly surprised.
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