Everyone wants to save money while traveling, but no one wants to cook their own meals, miss out on the best attractions, and travel during the off-season. During my year of travel through Europe and Latin America, I became obsessed with how to save money in ways that wouldn’t detract from my experience.
Over the course of the year, I used these 12 strategies to save money and for the ones that I could quantify, it came out to over $2,500 in savings! I was able to put this money towards incredible experiences like visiting the Galápagos Islands, walking with penguins in Ushuaia, and dining at one of the world’s finest restaurants in Lima. Cue the obligatory penguin picture.
12 Ways to Save Money on Travel
1. Get debit and credit cards that will save you money
Most cards charge a fee when you withdraw from a foreign ATM, as well as a fee for every purchase, and these add up fast. The Charles Schwab debit card is a must for any American traveler. Charles Schwab doesn’t charge a penny for foreign withdrawals and even refunds the transaction fee issued by the ATM. Chase’s Sapphire Reserve credit card rewards you with $750 if you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months, which is not too difficult if you’re traveling.
2. Use public transportation at every opportunity
A taxi ride per day can easily add $5 to your daily budget, especially if you’re traveling solo. My rule is to only take taxis at night or if the walk from the bus terminal to my accommodation is more than 30 minutes. In most countries, public transportation is navigable with basic language skills, and hostel staff will be happy to give instructions on how to use local transportation. If you’re traveling in Latin America, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with colectivos.
3. Take Overnight Transportation
Save a day’s time and the price of a night’s accommodation by taking an overnight bus or train. There’s no better feeling than getting a good night’s sleep and waking up in a new city. Even if you don’t sleep well, a coffee and the excitement of being in a new place will get you through the first day.
4. Know how much it costs to get from the airport or bus terminal to your accommodation
It’s no secret that some taxi drivers like to take advantage of tourists. Especially those who are tired after long flights and don’t feel like negotiating. On HostelWorld many hostels list the taxi price, but if not, don’t be afraid to send the property a message in advance asking what a fair price is.
5. Do research on the ATMs before arriving in a country
Not all ATMs are created equal, and it pains me to see people withdraw from a Global Net that marks up the currency by 10-15%. A quick Google search goes a long way in figuring out where you can withdraw the most cash for the lowest fee. Also, always decline the conversion rate on the ATM screen. It may cancel the transaction the first time, but try again and you’ll get cash at the official exchange rate.
6. Avoid checking luggage
No matter how long your trip is, fit all your belongings into a carry-on. On my first backpacking trip, I packed way too much, and checking a bag every flight got expensive. I guess I only used 11 strategies because I failed on this one.
7. Avoid organized tours for attractions that can be visited independently
This is one of the easiest ways to save money on travel and organized tours can eat away at your daily budget. Guided tours are really valuable for sites like archeological ruins which require an explanation, or if you have safety concerns about an area. However, visiting waterfalls or hiking is often pretty straightforward and way cheaper to do on your own using public transportation.
8. Take advantage of free hours at museums
Most museums have a few hours a week or even a whole day with free entrance. You may have to wait in line, but it can be worth it to save $10.
9. Buy a local SIM Card
I meet too many travelers with expensive plans from home that they take abroad and end up paying $60-100/month. Buying a local SIM card and data plan may take 30-60 minutes out of your first day in a new country, but it will cost less than $1/day. In 2022 it’s very easy to have contact with friends and family even if your phone number changes.
10. Find friends at hostels to book tours with
If you go to a tour agency alone, you’re unlikely to get a discount. But if you’re a part of a larger group, you can usually get 10% off.
11. Buy a sterilizing pen to purify water
With a sterilizing pen, you can avoid the cost of buying bottled water in countries without drinkable tap water. This is the pen I use and it’s the most useful travel gadget I own.
12. Stay in hostel dorms
I saved this one for last because more than a few people would say sharing a room with strangers detracts from their travel experience. If you like to meet other travelers and are ok with sacrificing privacy, there are many countries around the world where you can get a bed for under $10. I did not include this in my calculation of how much these strategies saved me because that would be deceiving.
That wraps up the 12 easy ways to save money on travel without missing the best experiences. Next, check out the best places to visit in South America!