Travelers are no fools, but they and their money are often easily parted. Still, you can get up and go without spending more moola than you have to.
- Local transport. “Use public transportation. That’s what the locals do,” says Michele Perry, a travel expert with tripadvisor.com. You’ll save on car rentals and the headache of finding parking. “Public transportation, whatever it may be—train, rickshaw, subway—is always cheaper than doing it yourself,” Fodors’ Doug Stallings adds. For printable subway maps from cities all over the world, try amadeus.net.
- Nosh for next to nothing. The food is part of experiencing another culture, but there’s no reason to eat through your travel fund. “Eat where locals eat,” Stallings advises. “If you avoid the touristy restaurants and try some new things, it’s almost certain to be cheaper.” Look for long lines next to places not in the tourist books. Or skip the restaurants and “visit local markets or grocery stores in order to grab a cheap picnic lunch,” Perry suggests. And ask around. Miami-based Kerstin Sachl says, “Make connections with locals. They live there and they don’t have money to splurge like a tourist, so they know how to get around with reasonable means.”
- Find the freebies. “If you’ve done your homework, you can save tons of money,” Stallings offers. Find out which days the museums or other sites are free, and plan your itinerary accordingly. Print off Internet specials and take them along. Go to a city’s official tourism site to find out about free festivals. And check on city passes that bundle admissions at a discounted rate.
- Sleep on the cheap. If your purpose is travel, then you’ll be out exploring, not snoozing in your room. “The hotel is the least important thing,” Stallings says. “It’s a place to sleep.” Locally-owned hotels, B&Bs, or guesthouses may be the best bets. If you’re traveling internationally, consider renting an apartment since the rates are often lower and you can save even more by cooking meals in the kitchen. Sites like realtravel.com and tripadvisor.com allow you to search for hotels by budget. Budget Travel editor MacNeil recommends perusing eurocheapo.com for the scoop if you’re staying in Europe.
- Get the guidebook. Spend a few dollars on an up-to-date guidebook and it can more than pay for itself. “It gives great tips on cheap places to stay and eat and can save a lot of time, energy, and money,” recommends Wesley McGowan, an avid traveler from Nashville, Tenn. Want to save even those dollars? Perry suggests taking a trip to the local library, where “they are free.”
- Be bendy. Flexibility is important, according to Stallings, especially in deciding when and where you’re going. Aim for the “shoulder” season—that sweet spot between peak and off seasons. If you travel during the high season to any destination, you’ll pay high prices, but going in the low season may mean your options are limited because things shut down.
- Close up shops. You’re going for the experience, not the souvenirs, so skip—or drastically limit—shopping. “People buy all this junk, and then not only have they spent all this money, but they have over-full luggage,” Stallings notes. If you must buy, then make it part of the experience. Avoid pricey touristy shops and go for goods that you’ll still want once you get home. Grocery stores are a great place to find gifts at good prices, and local flea markets offer one-of-a-kind treasures. For works from local artisans, try the markets, but don’t forget to bargain. “Outside of most westernized nations, they expect you to haggle a bit,” McGowan advises. “Just don’t insult them by offering too little.”
- Budget for it. Nashville, Tenn.-based traveler Alicia Claxton recommends starting a travel savings account. “Set money aside each month,” she says. “You can plan ahead or be spontaneous if you have money marked for this purpose.” Funds too tight? Try cutting off cable and reading up on travel destinations, or delete eating out and practice cooking new recipes with an international flair. Use a credit card that gives you airline rewards you can cash in for ticket miles—just be sure to pay off your balance every month.