- Make friends
This is one thing I have been good at. I randomly talk to people when I travel, and I make friends. Although this is definitely not the reason why I am uber-friendly, so having its perks. Several times, fellow travelers I have met and kept closely in touch with, have invited me to stay over at their places for free when I traveled to their home countries.
Go to places where you have friends, stay with them and explore that area. Aside from having a free place to stay at, you have a local tour guide who can tell you the ins and outs of a place. In South Africa, because I was with a local, I was most often presumed to be a local as well. Thus, I would automatically be given the local resident’s rate, which was usually 30-50% less in the ticket price. That goes a long way.
- Find people to share with
When you are traveling solo, everything is expensive. Look for a friend to travel with, so that you can share the costs. When this is not possible, check out your hostel and ask around for others who may be interested to do the same activities. This way, you can split transportation expenses, guide fee, etc. among yourselves. Try to be a good judge of character though, and trust your instincts about people you may hesitate to go with.
For mountain hikes where we need guides, my friends and I sometimes ask other groups to merge with us, as we did in our trips to Mt. Maculot and Mt. Talamitam. Doing this immediately results in savings for everyone.
- Research in advance, do a lot of research.
A hike to Lion’s Head in Capetown, which has neither entrance nor hike fees, is charged when availed of as a tour. Luckily, we researched ahead of time and found out that it was easy, that trails were well marked, and that it was completely free. Since we did not have to go through a travel agency or a tour guide to do this, we saved a lot.
- Cook your own food
Cooking and I don’t go well together, but when I was backpacking Australia and everything was just expensive, I had to learn to do at least the basic. I went to the grocery, searched for easy-to-cook items on promo and attempted to do it myself. Luckily, I was in a hostel with lots of helpful people, and so I shared my food with them that night. In turn, everyone else shared theirs with me for the rest of my stay, so I hardly spent anything for food.
- Walking is the best way to experience the place
Walking is the best way to explore the place. In Hong Kong, we walked a lot to save on transport costs. We did the same in Paris. Apart from it being free, it was great exercise. All you need is the perfect companion to make the walk more enjoyable, and you also get to see more snap chat moments or impromptu ones as compared to being in a car.
- Ask the taxi driver/hostel reception for local suggestions
Sometimes, a mere search on the internet comes up with a lot of touristy stuff.
Don’t miss out on the authentic local experience. These are usually free or cheap.
- Check out the free stuff
There are parks where you can join activities like silent disco, yoga, Zumba or whatnots, especially during the weekend. Similarly, check out the museum schedules; there may be days of the week where an entrance fee is half the price, if not free.
- Join the Free Walking Tours
Yes, there are a lot of them. I joined one in London, in Melbourne, and I am sure there are more in other places. This is a good way to get an orientation of the city and a little bit of history —-all for a tip to your volunteer guide.
- Australia Free Walking Tours
- Big Apple Greeters(NYC)
- New Europe Walking Tours(All over Europe)
- Tour Guys
- The Secrets of Portlandia
- Learn how to ride a Motorbike
In Bali, driving around on a motorbike costs almost nothing. This is a great way to see the sites, go on an adventure and for very cheap. We attempted, but perhaps I need more practice in driving the motorcycle. Beware of accidents.
- Student discounts
If you are a student traveler, be sure to maximize this privilege.
- Check out the different passes and assess which fit your needs
For instance, in Australia, we made it a point to get the YHA card. We got a lot of discounts from hotels, tours, transportation and many others. In the Balkans, they have the Balkans hostel card where you can get discounts too. Japan also offers the train pass but it works best for those who plan to visit a lot in just a short amount of time. For us though, we decided to stay longer in each place we visited, so it wasn’t beneficial.
- Check the transport passes
The Oyster card in London has lower rates, so if you plan to be on the train often, then take that. Hongkong also has that ( Octopus Card). Europe has the bulk tickets that you can split among friends, which makes it cheaper and more convenient than all of you have to purchase tickets each time. In the United States, CityPASS San Francisco includes transport for 7 days so capitalize on those.
- Plan your trip during the offseason
Check out the lull between the rainy non-peak season, the super busy season and the okay weather but fewer people season. That’s’ what you aim for. Hotels, flights, tours are always cheaper and people are always willing to throw in a couple more discounts or freebies.
- Book way ahead or book last minute deals
Search for early bird promos, or if you are a solo traveler, book last minute and look for last minute deals. This, of course, depends on your personality. Last minute means less planning if you can deal with that.
For groups, it’s best to book way ahead. Ask for group discounts. Some tours offer triple room discounts or book-with-friends discounts. For Contiki, we got a relatively cheap rate booking with friends, plus we got an early bird discount, plus a repeat tour discount. What more could we ask for?
- Leverage on Group Discounts
In Australia, we were a group of 4 and we booked quite early. I researched on companies that would give the best rate per activity. I then packaged those activities and corresponding best rates to pitch to one company, stating that we would get all from them if they matched the rates and sweetened the bundle with freebies. More often than not, they came back and agreed to our terms.
By doing it this way, you get a good discount plus it saves you the hassle of having to deal with different operators.
- Not all airlines and agencies are the same.
Again, RESEARCH, RESEARCH, and RESEARCH. You may have to study countless options till you find one that can give you the best deal.
- Stay in hostels or homestays
These are way cheaper and usually, go for free light breakfast. The front desk personnel who checks you in, or the home host, is immediately your local guide. Here you may also find like-minded travelers with whom you can plan and share tours with.
One technique I’ve always used is to have one cheat meal (kiosks, sandwich, grocery meal) and one moderate to a relatively pricey meal (local restaurant, famous restaurant) in a day. For long travels, it would be great if your accommodations come with a kitchen so you can cook. Going to the grocery will save you a lot. Pack lunch since you will usually be on the go while sightseeing, then you can have a good, relaxed sunset or evening meal. Just because you are traveling doesn’t mean you have to eat every single meal out. This will cut your meal allowance in half.
19. Try the street food or the market for cheap yet authentic local food.
- Go for restaurants in the side streets or inner streets
Usually, those in the main street are highly priced. In our case, we walk around first to check them out. In Japan, we noticed that they all sell the same thing but differ in price. Continue walking and you will find something that suits your needs.
- House Sit
I’ve been reading a lot about this lately, but I haven’t really tried it yet myself. I met a couple of people who did house sitting, and they loved it.
- Redeem those promos from your credit card
Again, check the promos for your card/s. There might be something in conjunction with your trip (bonus miles, freebies in restaurants, discounts or points for accommodations, etc.)
- Study your trip itinerary
Some airlines fly cheaper at a certain day of the week, avail of that. What’s another day to spend in a cheap hostel, making friends and recuperating before going on your next big adventure?
- Go for hikes and nature activities, they are cheap
You don’t always need a group tour to show you the best places in town. Look for the offbeat places and you’ll realize they are so much cheaper, but not be lacking in amazingness.
- If you want to visit a fancy place that’s too much for dinner, go have dinner in a cheaper place, then grab a coffee or a drink in that fancy place. You get to experience the ambiance and take your pictures for way less than if you ate dinner there.
Through it all, my best advice really is to book a promo ticket using your mileage and head to a destination where you have a friend. You will get the most authentic local experience for cheap and you get to reunite with your friend. A lot of people ask me if I grow money on trees, I DO NOT. I just do my best to save a lot while I am in the city and I really plan my trips in such a way that I get to spend within budget while enjoying everything that the place offers.