The truth is, I haven’t done a lot of travelling (I supposed you could call that my number one frugal travel tip – don’t travel much! :P). However, I’ve done a few small trips that I’ve planned and been on larger trips with my family (and my mom, the ultimate frugalista), so I feel mildly qualified to talk about this topic. On my trips, there have been a few choices made to keep costs down that I would like to share with you all.
Eat (& Drink!) Like a Local
One of my favourite things to do when traveling is to go to different grocery stores. I love seeing what different products are available and what people eat that I may never have seen before. Going to the grocery store is also a great way to cut food costs when you travel, since buying food there will be much cheaper than eating out. This doesn’t mean you have to cook, however. In Amsterdam, I ate beautiful pre-packaged salads for dinner every night and in Paris we ate a lot of bread and cheese. Neither of these required a kitchen, but were still affordable ways to eat healthy cheap food on the go. If you are staying in a place with a kitchen, this is even more of a bonus! You can make coffee at home in the mornings and, depending on the style of your trip, cook some of your meals there as well. When Jordan and I went to Kelowna, we BBQ-ed most of our meals and it was great. In all of my travels, going to grocery stores and eating somewhat like I would at home (home-cooked or minimally processed food) kept my costs down and energy up.
Similarly, you may also want to consider what are the frugal ways to drink, if that’s your thing. In Europe, wine was €3 a bottle at the grocery store. Compare this to €6 a glass at cafes and you can see why we bought grocery store wine to drink in the park or on our patio. We still got to experience different wines but getting them from the neighbourhood grocery/liquor store saved us tons.
Cut Your Accommodation Costs
Air B&B is my one true travel love. If you do nothing else that is frugal, booking cheap and nice accommodations will save you tons on your trip. This is where Air B&B can pay off for you wonderfully, providing you’re smart about it. You do have to research accommodation costs in your area, to make sure you are getting a good price. It’s also very important to pay attention to the reviews before booking a place (in Paris, my family learned that when a person has reviews saying they cancelled at the last minute on other people, they will 100% do that to you too). That being said, if the place looks nice, has the amenities you’re looking for, and has good reviews, go for it! Aside from the one terrible guy in Paris, I have never had a bad experience with Air B&B, and I’ve saved tons of money using it in the process. You can also filter by accommodation type, which allows you to select for amenities (like a kitchen!) that can translate into further cost savings for you.
I also hear things from other, more experienced travellers, about saving money using hostels. I have never stayed in a hostel, so I have no thoughts to add. They are probably right about it being cheaper though.
Have Fun for Free! (Or Cheap)
In any place you go to, there are often activities that you can enjoy for absolutely no cost at all. My favourite thing to do in new places is to take walks and just explore. It’s free, I get a feel for the place and the people, and I get great pictures that way. I always end up finding neat things on my meandering walks that I never would have found otherwise. In Paris, it was the cheap bakery with the excellent chocolate croissants and in Amsterdam it was the best fresh pressed juice I have ever had. No matter where I am, I always love doing this.
You can also find lots of free activities simply by doing your research online. Lots of attractions like museums and art galleries have free (or discounted) admission days and some don’t charge any admission fees at all. If you are going to pay for attractions, look for local attractions passes that offer admissions to multiple sites at a discounted rate. In Paris, my mother found a pass that got us into most of the major museums, a few other cool activities, and gave us free transit for 2 days. Provided you are actually going to use all or many of the things in the pass, it can save you a substantial amount of money. You can also sometimes save money (and always save time waiting in lines) by pre-buying tickets to things online before you go.
Think It Through
At the end of the day, it’s important to think through all the choices and options available to you on your particular trip. Traveling, for me, is really about gaining new experiences and seeing new places. It’s important to pay attention to your priorities and make the choices that fit best for your experiential priorities and your budget. Sometimes the most cost-effective choice isn’t always the best one. For example, we could have found many cheaper Air B&Bs on our Europe trip, but they would have been further away from the things we wanted to do. The money we (and my we I mean my mother, since she very nicely took us on this trip) saved on accommodations would have translated into more time on the bus or taking lots of taxis. This would have meant higher transportation costs or less time for new experiences (what we were there for) or both. It’s important to think your choices through, take all the various factors into account, and make choices that are the best fit for your individual situation.
What about you? Do you have any great frugal travel tips that I should know about? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!