It’s difficult to understand how your money is spent even if you’re only purchasing ramen noodles. The list of travel expenses add up: rent, transportation, activities, and motorbike tickets in Bali for driving on the wrong side of the road.
Here’s our 10 best money saving techniques for traveling. No matter where your next adventure is or where you currently are, these tips will help you be a little less shocked when you see that account balance.
1. Alcohol…yup. If money is short, make the bar tab shorter.
If traveling cheaply is important to you, you’ll choose to limit your alcohol consumption. This is something Morgan and I knew before our one-way plane ticket. We’re lucky to have adopted this plan before it was too late. Here’s our collection of six months worth of alcoholic drinks…no joke. Pretty good for two recent college grads.
For the recent American college graduate, you’ll be tempted by your old drinking habits and the cheap prices. The days of beer bongs, four lokos, and finding the few fraternity guys that just love to sip on Smirnoff ice…are over. Even though dollar beers exist all over SE Asia, cutting this expense will save massive amounts of money. We avoided clubs, infrequently drank at our place, and rarely purchased hard alcohol. If slowly tapering off is necessary, look out for happy hours (in Asia the term isn’t used correctly because they’re actually happy days from open to close).
There are many advantages to this money saving technique. You’ll feel healthier, you won’t waste days on hangovers, you’ll learn that there are better ways to enjoy life/meet people, and you might even become a lightweight. Some of our best memories came from early mornings and watching the sunrise. Impossible to enjoy if you spent the previous night with shots of questionable vodka.
If you limit your drinking frequency, the times you choose to drink will be that much more entertaining. Add in the newfound glory of being a lightweight and you’ve become a cheap drunk and a cheap date. Both spectacular things for the fellow millennials.
This is very important! Find an AirBnB or condo with a kitchen, even if it’s only for a couple of days. Local food is always a must when experiencing a new culture. But eating out three times a day is expensive. We were spending an average of $15 per day on food in Thailand. Don’t get me wrong, that’s amazing compared to one meal in the US costing upwards of $15. With a kitchen, we cut that figure down to $5 per day. This enabled us to eat healthy food cooked our own way. Again, eating local food is likely the most important part of traveling. But along with saving money, you’re consciously aware of everything you’re putting into your body and it’s a way to make you feel at home.
Food courts are the second best option. Like most food courts, the price is fairly cheap but the quality could lead to an uncomfortable night.
3. Plan ahead
Save money by booking in advance. Obvious but worth the mention. This is tough for travelers like us where sometimes we didn’t know where we were sleeping later that night. It’s all part of the experience and eventually breaks down anxiety…eventually. If anything, plane tickets need to be purchased ASAP. Hint with plane tickets: Tuesday nights offer the best prices as well as flying on Tuesdays. It was somewhat annoying researching information on best flight deals because the top search results have sporadic publishing dates. We can honestly tell you that Tuesday nights are the best (airline companies compete with deals released each Monday).
Other areas like accommodation and tours will have more availability the further in advance. It’s fun being spontaneous and waiting to the last minute…only if you’re positive there are options to choose from. We booked speedboat tickets from Ubud to the Gili Islands a day in advance…we were lucky we had options for living (thank you AirBnB). In terms of tours, popular ones like the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Thailand (Read Morgan’s post here) and XO Food Tours in Vietnam require set dates in advance.
4. Book online
Whether it’s for accommodations or activities, you won’t regret it. Use Apps previously mentioned in blog posts like Klook and Tripadvisor. You will find the best deals. On at least three occasions we had a list of hotels or bungalows we wanted to tour before booking that night. When we made our decision (most often the higher quality included breakfast), we booked online through Agoda.com in the hotel lobby versus through the front desk. In terms of activities, purchasing online sometimes cuts original costs in half or at least by 10%.
We saved money on tickets for Art in Paradise using Klook.
The added value of pre-purchased tickets is showing up and getting in line at the “online booking” section by the front desk. It’s a pleasant feeling when a little planning helps you avoid those long lines in the baking sun with crying babies.
5. Public Transportation
Densely populated cities like Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Tokyo, have phenomenal transit systems. Even in Singapore, the underground is cheap. Still hopeful that more developed cities in the US will create a system like the BTS/MRT in Bangkok…Hi Los Angeles 👋
Here’s us riding the BTS. Don’t mind our Santa Clarita Diet Halloween costumes, especially because we were the only ones celebrating.
Avoid taxis at all costs while in a foreign country. The drivers will hassle you about price and sometimes will have an issue understanding the destination. We were stuck in traffic for two hours because our condominium was the same name as a local park in Bangkok. Also, if the driver eventually agrees to using the meter, they might drive slower and intentionally hit red lights as much as possible. Distance yourself from the unneeded stress. Always carry a transit map, buy an adult pass on your first day, and experience the local way of transportation.
If you’re located in a city where taxis are the only option, be aware that they aren’t required to accept rides and they “don’t have change”. Always have small bills with you because it’s just another trick for some extra cash. Finally…use Uber. It’s always cheaper. Read my post about effective travel apps here.
6. Buses and Trains
Use buses to travel between cities and countries (not within cities because they’re usually unreliable). Be careful with overnight buses, they seem like the perfect option (saves money on accommodation for a night) but the cheapest ones are uncomfortable and filled with some interesting people. This is when it’s important to travel in a group or at least with one other person. If you’re a solo traveler, travel with someone you’ve met headed in the same direction or a group from your hostel.
Trains are the slowest mode but the cheapest. We took a train from Bangkok to Penang, Malaysia. The overnight trains are surprisingly comfortable so if timing isn’t an issue, we recommend the sleeper trains from Hua Lamphong station.
7. Use Cash
I know this seems strange because of withdrawal fees. We lost about $10 every time we pulled out cash. Our rationalization for paying basically everything in cash is this…it makes budgeting easier. There’s no better way to track your money than using this method. It’s too easy to forget how much you put on the credit card each day unless you check after every transaction. Credit cards are dangerous for budget travelers…but really for everyone.
We pulled out two weeks worth of local currency (not accounting for accommodations) every time we went to an ATM or bank. There are obvious safety concerns about having this much cash on hand. This is why we only brought out a days worth of cash each day and left the rest in our locked bags inside the secure room at our accommodation. For example, in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, our daily budget was 100 Malaysian ringgit ($25). When we left in the morning, I put 100 ringgit in my pocket and we spent wisely. By the end of the day, if we had leftovers we put it towards the next day. If we were at dinner and only had 20 ringgit left, we only spent the 20.
There will be a separate post on this regarding ATMs, banks, and credit cards. Cash is king in SE Asia. It allowed us to budget more effectively and keep our credit card information safe. Hint: we paid for accommodations with our travel rewards card. Essential for traveling abroad.
8. Source of Income
It’s astonishing how simple it is to earn money while traveling. Read Morgan’s post. Through online apps or working as a digital nomad, it’s never been easier than it is today. Payment in local currency is recommended but PayPal is the most common form. Get creative! If you’ve always wanted to be a bartender, a scuba diving instructor, or teacher, now is the time to do it.
9. Impulse Buys
Just like alcohol, the small but tempting purchases will add up. If you like to buy random snacks throughout the day, you’ll need to be careful. To see how your impulse buys impact your daily spending, log two days worth of purchases in the Notes app. This improved our habits and helped us pack our day backpacks more effectively.
10. Do Your Research
There’s no worse feeling than having a conversation with a traveler about the same exact tour or bungalow and hearing you paid twice the amount. It sucks, no better way to say it. Feeling like you could have saved money after spending it…worse than forgetting leftovers in the fridge.
If there’s some tourist attraction you want to visit, look up the different ways to travel to the destination. Use different search engines to discover the options for purchasing tickets and advice from past travelers.
Get a general idea of how much something costs to avoid being ripped off.
TripAdvisor commonly has the best tips with thorough advice. For example, knowing that a ferry boat one-way pass costs 15 baht will deter you away from private boat tours that are 1,500 baht…With multiple platforms out there to share opinions, it’s difficult to know how to get the best prices. Spend time before making important decisions. Remember that the cheapest option might not always be the best. No point in arriving somewhere with a lost bag and a night of sleep in a dirty blanket…spend the extra $5.
Your money will go farther here:
Malaysia (Cameron Highlands/Pangkor Island)
Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh/Hanoi)
Cambodia (Siem Reap/Sihanoukville)
You will lose money here:
Singapore…by far. We were the only backpackers insight.
We hope you enjoyed our 10 best tips money saving tips for cheap travel!
After 10 months, we figured out the majority of these at least a couple months in. Hopefully we can help you make better choices and learn from our mistakes. Last piece of advice: Be realistic with your budget and plan to spend more than you originally intended.
Save some money! You can stretch $1 more than you think. If you want any personal advice feel free to leave a comment or message us through Instagram. We want to meet more travelers like us! #walkingonair