Ok, so you've saved up a stack of cash, quit your job, and are heading out on the trip of a lifetime. Maybe you've even read our guide to creating a trip budget and have come up with a bullet-proof budget of your own. Now comes the tough part... actually sticking to that budget. Let's be honest, traveling on a budget is a bummer. Planning and talking about it is one thing, but once you are actually wandering the shops of Paris or the sushi restaurants around Tokyo, keeping your spending under wraps becomes a lot harder. Take it from us. We are pros at frugal traveling and we're constantly struggling to stay on budget. There is just too much delicious food in the world! Anyway, there ARE a couple strategies that really help us keep our costs down. They may not sound like the most appealing strategies, but unless you are traveling with unlimited funds or a stolen credit card, you are probably going to want to employ some of these to ensure you can stay on budget and keep your dream trip alive!
1. Slow Down
The faster you travel, the more you spend. Decide whether it would make more sense to visit only one or two cities on your trip instead of five. Easier said than done we know, especially when you're visiting a country you have never been to before. But a crowded itinerary can often mean travel headaches and a much higher price tag. If you spend longer in one place you can really take the time to explore and experience everything it has to offer. Not to mention it can be easier to find accommodation deals with a longer stay.
2. Live Like A Local
We've said it before on R&R and we will say it again, Airbnb is one of the best ways to find nice accommodations on a limited budget. With such a staggering range of options in most cities, it is easy to find a home and location that suits your needs. Renting an apartment/house also allows you to stay in more residential neighborhoods that are more interesting and affordable than staying in the high-traffic hotel hotspots. Outside of the popular tourist areas is where you often find the best/most affordable food options and those hidden-gem cafe's that become your favorite coffee spot. Another major bonus: when renting an apartment you will usually have a kitchen, which leads us to tip 3.
Eating meals at "home" is the single easiest way to drastically bring down your budget. We consider ourselves foodies and love to try new foods and restaurants everywhere we travel, but when we are staying in an expensive city we will usually eat just ONE MEAL OUT A DAY. This allows us to try most of the restaurants we are interested in, even if they have a slightly higher price tag. For those who have never done this when traveling, it's a lot easier than it sounds. Just make sure you stay somewhere with a kitchen!! After your arrival, head to a local grocery store and pick up food for the week. This can also be an opportunity to try dishes that you might not normally make at home. They don't have to be complex or expensive, just find the easy staples that locals eat. For example, here in Japan we have been cooking with soba noodles and gyoza because they are affordable, tasty options sold at every grocery store.
4. Research Your Restaurants
When you do head to a restaurant for a meal, make sure it's worth it! Do some research online to find highly recommended spots in the city you are in. Obviously, this might not be possible every time. Sometimes after a tiring morning of exploring a city, you just want somewhere close and convenient. However, if you can take a minute to research options on your phone, it might prevent you from spending a chunk of your budget on a mediocre lunch.
5. Eat Luxe Lunches
This doesn't always hold true, but for the most part eating lunch out instead of dinner will allow you to try the best spots for less dough. Many upscale restaurants (even ones with a coveted Michelin star), will offer great deals or set menus at lunch. You might not be getting the same quantity of food that you would for dinner, but the quality will usually be the same. Here in Tokyo, there are Michelin-starred sushi joints serving up some of the best sushi in the world that cost over $300/person for dinner but just $50/person at lunch. That is A LOT of money saved!
6. Hunt For Deals
When looking for thing to do in a city, sightseeing and museum hopping are often a tourist's top choices. Depending on the city, this can become expensive quickly! If some of the places on your must-see list have high admission prices, it could be worth it to spend some time researching discounts or package deals online. Many cities offer passes that give you access to multiple museums or notable sights for a discounted rate. In lieu of that, there are often websites that sell discount tickets to attractions for unpopular days and times. Also be sure to check the museums/attractions website to see if they have free or discounted days weekly or monthly.
7. Check Event Calendars
Sometimes the most interesting things to do in a city are one-off events that most tourists would overlook. When you are at home and not traveling, you probably check local event listings to find concerts, screenings, festivals etc that are happening that week. Why not do the same in a foreign city! Most places will have a local paper or tourism website with an event calendar on it. This is an easy way to find free and cheap things to do that sometimes become the most memorable part of a trip. Go to a live show in a small local bar, check out an outdoor movie screening, explore a pop-up crafts market or food festival etc.
8. Buy What You Need
The lure of shopping when traveling is strong! When you spend the whole day wandering and window shopping, it can be almost impossible to resist picking up a souvenir or some new clothing. The only advice we can give is to only buy what you NEED. If the weather somewhere is a lot colder then you packed for, it probably makes sense to pick up a new jacket. But avoid buying a jacket just because it's cute and 20% off that day. Different people prioritize different things when traveling. For some, maybe shopping is a crucial part of their experience. Personally, we think that a couple hundred dollars spent on clothing is money that could instead go to nicer accommodations, an amazing experience, or a few extra days on the beach in Thailand.
9. Get Your Steps In
There is a lot of advice out there on how to stay in shape while traveling, hotel room workouts, local yoga classes, discount gym, etc... But we think that one of the easiest and best ways is often overlooked: walking! One of the best ways to explore a new city is on foot, allowing you to find the hidden, local spots that you would never see when speeding past in a cab. Spend most of your day walking around a city and you won't have to worry too much about all the delicious, calorie-packed food you've been trying. And since you are hoofing it home instead of calling an uber, you will end up saving yourself a bundle of cash as well.
10. If All Else Fails, Do No-Spend Days
So you tried steps 1-9 and are still spending too much money?? Desperate times call for drastic measures. Do what we do when our spending gets out of control and take a day or two off! Hang at home and get some work done, take a walk around the neighborhood, visit a free museum, whatever. Just don't spend a dime! This is when having those groceries at your rental apartment really comes in handy. By not spending anything for a day, you can keep that trip total from getting too out of hand.