During my sophomore year of college, I was lucky enough to live in London for six months. While I was there, I used my free time outside of class to explore eleven neighboring countries. With a scholarship offsetting my living costs and incredible destinations within spitting distance, I was able to travel on a budget. For every trip, I had the set of rules that follow:
Tip 1: Keep a list!
Spreadsheets are crucial when budgeting spending costs, and keeping track of flight, transit, and accommodation information. Forget a cost? Check the spreadsheet! Forget a time of departure? Check the spreadsheet! Keeping detailed lists and a physical folder of your tickets will allow you to travel for longer with less to worry about.
Tip 2: Book your flights first.
Airline costs will always be outrageous, and there’s no rhyme or reason to them. Having flexible travel dates is always helpful, and the difference of a day can save you $100. While there are third-party services that can help you find cheap flights, I recommend using Google Flights because of its helpful monetary calendar view and its lack of outside service charges. Traveling during off hours will also help your prices decrease, though you might have to make it to the airport by 4 a.m.!
Tip 3: Be a returning customer.
Using the same booking websites repeatedly can get you discounts! Online booking services such as Trainline, Kayak, National Express (UK), Hostelworld and Booking.com sometimes offer discounts for returning customers. I have taken free bus rides on National Express because of my returning customer status, and traveling by bus and train is cheaper than flying. It’s also better for the environment!
Tip 4: Stay in hostels and sleep on buses
Though accomodation costs can be entirely avoided by sleeping on overnight trains and buses between destinations, hostels are great places to meet people from around the world, and most of them offer free guided city tours! With hostels, it is crucial that you check the reviews. It’s better to book a hostel that’s closer to the center of the city because the money you’ll save on transport will counteract the cost. The most important thing to make sure of is that a hostel is safe, not that it’s decor looks cute or its prices are $5 cheaper. Investigate the surrounding neighborhoods on Google Maps before booking!
Tip 5: Take unusual routes and pack appropriately!
The strangest route I’ve booked was a 10 day trip to Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Liverpool and Manchester. Since there was an unconscionable return flight cost between Portugal and London and my only other option was to walk home, I extend my trip by flying into Liverpool and staying up north for 2 days. With this unusual detour, I was able to explore 5 new cities and all of their attractions while spending only $43 total per day. During this time, the most money I spent was on coffee because I didn’t pack an appropriate coat for the steep drop in temperature and found myself taking shelter inside as often as I could in the last leg of my trip.
Tip 6: Shop like you would at home.
I never buy souvenirs, but I always buy groceries. Instead of eating at a restaurant for breakfast and lunch, go food shopping like you would at home. Eating a grocery-store-croissant in a park is just as enjoyable as eating one in a cafe, and the price difference can be immense! Shopping at grocery stores and street markets is a great opportunity to learn more about your destination’s food, language and culture. Embarking on your next adventure? Read my quick tips for organizing travel.