Ten Thrifty Traveller Tips (traveling on a shoe-string budget)

Ten Thrifty Traveller Tips (traveling on a shoe-string budget)

Even though the world has not shrunk in size, advancements made in communication and transportation has somehow, made it smaller. People are bombarded with news items, travel documentaries, pictures, videos of amazing and exotic places – raising curiosity and feeding on man’s innate travel bug.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to walk on the Great Wall of China? Or celebrate New Year at Times Square? How would it feel to dip into the clear waters of Tahiti? All of these play in everyone’s mind and everyone dreams of someday, going to these places to answer these questions.

Unfortunately, traveling, especially to overseas destination, can be quite expensive and, if you have a family to support, and children to look after, the costs can appear overwhelming.

This, however, should not deter you from planning a holiday. Make this holiday a goal you and your family can work towards on. Have your kids save a little every day so they can have their own “spending money” (even though you know that you’ll be paying for their purchases anyway).

If you’re keen on going somewhere, whether on your own or with your family, but have limited funds to work with, here are ten tips for the thrifty traveller.

Airfare & Local Transport

Without a doubt, traveling from one place to another will eat up a big chunk of your travel budget, however, there are still ways you can save on airfare tickets and land transfers.

Apart from buying round-trip airfares (which are cheaper than two 1-way fares), flying in and out of the same airport, and looking for promotions, here are two other ways you can cut down on travel costs.

Tip No 1: Travel Off-Season

There are three types of “travel seasons” and the prices of airfares vary depending on these.

Peak Season (or High Season) is when travel to that particular destination is most active and there is a higher demands for seats. This, of course, will translate to higher airfares. Christmastime is always Peak Season.

Shoulder Season is the period between High Season and the Low Season. This period is usually between Spring and Fall – and the cost of airfares is more reasonable.

Finally, there is the Low Season, which is the time when very little travel or activity occurs in a particular destination. During the low season, air fares are more competitive, and cost of accommodation is also quite low.

If you don’t need to be at a particular place at a specific date, consider travelling during shoulder or low season. Not only will you save on airfares, you will also save up on concomitant expenses, such as accommodation and food. If, however, you do have to travel during high season, book your flight way in advance as these usually costs less than those booked closer to the departure date.

Tip No. 2: Ditch the Cab and Take Public Transport

Once you’ve reached your destination, you will still incur travel expenses, now in the form of land transfers. In an ideal world, there would be a car waiting for you when you step out of the airport.

Well, to some extent this is true because there are car rental companies offering their services at all international and domestic airports.

If you are counting pennies, consider taking the train or the bus instead. Not only will it be cheaper, travelling by public transport gives you a chance to be with the locals and will form an exciting and memorable experience of your overseas trip.

If your next destination is indeed, not accessible by train or bus, then do rent a car. However, remember that it’s usually cheaper if you rented from and returned your vehicle from to the same location. If you’re going on a one-way trip, prepare to spend a little extra.

Also, get quotations first and evaluate what each car hire company has to offer. You may be saving a few dollars from one company but the excess on the insurance might be higher. Weigh your options and select the one that suits your needs best.

While exploring the city, try to use the buses and trains as well. Or better yet, WALK! Walking is an excellent way to see the sights and discover hidden gems not frequented by tourists. You not only get to see and appreciate the surroundings more, you also get to burn off the extra calories brought about by (inevitably) sampling the local cuisine.

Alternative Accommodation Options

Accommodation expenses will take up another significant chunk in your travel budget. After a full day of sight-seeing you do need to find a safe and comfortable place where you can sleep and recharge for another day of traveling. If you’re traveling on a budget, it’s advisable to stay away from hotels and motels and stay elsewhere.

Tip No. 3: Stay at Backpackers or Hostels

Backpackers, otherwise known as Hostels, are budget-oriented accommodation facilities where  guests are able to rent a bed, usually a bunk bed in a room shared with other travellers (called a Dormitory), on a per night basis. Backpacker facilities have a common lounge, kitchen and dining area where the guests can relax, cook and eat their meals as they please.

Some backpackers have a toilet and bath in each dormitory room or have communal (yet private) ablution facilities in the premises. The rate charged per bed, per night ranges from $25 to $30 per head, and may or may not include a meal. In some cases, backpackers may charge a nominal fee for the use of their towels and laundry facilities.

Backpackers are social places where you can meet like-minded travellers who wouldn’t mind giving you tips on where to go and what to see.

Tip No. 4: Stay with Family and/or Friends

Another option you can consider to cut down on your travel costs is to stay with family and / or friends who live nearby. They will, most likely, not ask you to pay while you are with them – and that’s a lot of savings for you. If you do decide to stay with relations and/or friends, make sure that you abide by their spoken and non-spoken house-rules.

Remember too, to thank them for their hospitality either by preparing dinner for them, treating the family out for a meal, or giving them a souvenir where you came from.

Food, Drinks and Entertainment

Yes, you do have to eat, and food and drinks also form part of your travel budget. It goes without saying that, if you are staying in a hotel, skip the hotel breakfast (unless it’s part of what you paid for) and eat elsewhere. If you’re staying in backpackers, just buy the ingredients you need and prepare these in the communal kitchen. Apart from these, here are two other ways you can reduce food and beverage expenditure and yet still have fun on your trip.

Tip No. 5: Plan Your Meals

If possible, have breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dinner like a Pauper. Not only is this a healthy practice (that should be done on a daily basis, not just when you’re traveling), it also cuts down on what you spend on meals. If you have a full breakfast, you will have enough energy to go around the entire day stopping only for a quick lunch before continuing with the day’s activities.

If you skip breakfast, you’ll find yourself getting hungry earlier and will most likely stop for snacks every so often. The price of breakfast and lunch meals are also usually less expensive than the price of meals served at dinnertime.

If you’re staying at a backpacker, buy all the ingredients you need for your entire stay at the city because it’s usually cheaper to buy in bulk than to buy “piecemeal”. Prepare your meals or snacks for the following day the night before, that way you don’t have to spend any more on meals.

Tip No. 6: Plan your “night outs”

If you’re one who has to experience the night-life in the city you’re visiting, it would be to your advantage to plan this ahead of time too. If you can, determine when you want to go out and where you want to go. If you’ve been asked by your new-found-friends at the backpackers to join them, go ahead.

However, in both instances, set a budget for yourself and stick to that amount. Once you’ve spent the money you’ve set aside, don’t pull out your credit card and put the next bottle of beer on it. Stop and just head on home. This not only saves you from spending unnecessarily, it’s also for your own safety. The last thing you want to happen is for you to be completely wasted in a city full of strangers.

Shopping and Sight-Seeing

Of course you need to see the sights and go shopping! Why else did you go to another country right? You’ve come to see the sights and perhaps, take home a remembrance (or two) of your fabulous holiday. When shopping and sight-seeing, here are two tips to keep your expenses to a minimum.

Tip No. 7: Go to the Free Tourist Attractions

Before going on your holiday, make a list of the places you want to see and visit and research on whether or not there is an admission fee to enter these places. Most popular tourist attractions have free entry, however some (usually special features at museums and art galleries) may charge a small fee.

There are some attractions that you simply must pay for. If, for example, you are at London’s West End and want to watch a musical, you will need to pay for the ticket. Y

ou don’t have to buy the most expensive one on the house though. If all you’re after is the experience of watching a musical at West End, then a cheap seat would suffice.

Tip No. 8: Shun the Souvenirs

Hmmm … souvenirs. Should you or should you buy those cute little trinkets? Perhaps you should, after all, you do want to have something to remember your trip by.

However, you probably have your camera with you so wouldn’t the photos taken of the Eiffel Tower with you in the foreground be a better souvenir than a mass-produced miniature Eiffel Tower keychain?

Also, if you find yourself buying souvenirs of your trip to give out to friends and officemates – just stop right there. You are under no obligation to give the people back home a token from your holiday. If you want to bring them something, get something inexpensive such as a postcard, which you can often buy in bulk.

Money, Money, Money

Yes – money. For the thrifty traveller, every cent counts, every dollar matters. Here are ways to make sure you don’t have to pay extra for every off-shore transaction you make while you’re away.

Tip No. 9: Buy Foreign Currency Before Leaving

If possible, make sure you bring a sufficient amount of money, already in the currency of your destination before you leave for your trip. You usually get better rates when you have your local money exchanged here than you do overseas.

Furthermore, you can be assured that the likelihood of you receiving counterfeit bills is smaller if you convert your money locally than if you do it elsewhere.

At the start of every day, give yourself a budget and try to stay within that budget and, anything left over can be added to tomorrow’s allocation. Keep tabs of your receipts and remember to always count your change.

Tip No. 10: Use Cash Passports

If you don’t like carrying cash, consider getting a cash passport or a travel card. These are basically debit cards which you load with the currency of your destination. Some cash passports allow you to load up to 5 different currencies which makes it really handy for those travelling to different countries. Since you can only use up the money that you’ve loaded on it, you can’t overspend because these cards do not work on credit.

There are various companies offering cash passports to travellers and the fees and charges vary depending on the provider. Read the terms and conditions of each first and understand how these work before signing up for a service. If you can talk to a representative, ask as many questions as you can and make sure you have a firm grasp of the concept and would know how to make the cash passport work to your advantage.

There are many other ways you can cut down on travel costs – you just have to be aware of the financial implications of everything you do and determine if it’s worth the expense, and if you are able to pay for it later on. Now that you know how to be thrifty and yet still have fun on your trip, what are you waiting for? Choose your next holiday destination and start planning for this wonderful trip.

Bon Voyage!


Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.