After travelling to 141 countries, I know a thing or two about spending as least cash as possible. After all, the more money I save on a trip, the more money I have for the next one. In this article, I run through my travel hacks on how to save money travelling alone.
There’s no doubt about it, travelling costs money, especially solo travelling. It may be tempting to blow your budget within the first month, but if you take steps at the beginning you can stay on the right track and stick to your travelling budget. Having an amount that you know you shouldn’t go over will help you to reign in your spending and make you think about what you really need and want to spend your hard-earned cash on.
The less money you spend, the longer you can stay on the road, and making some little changes can really add up. If you’re not planning to work when you’re away, here's how to save money when travelling alone.
How To Save Money Travelling Alone
When planning your trip and your travel budget, visit the most expensive countries first and leave the cheaper ones for the end of your travels. Book your first night’s accommodation and airport transfer before you go, or find out the best way to get from the airport to reduce transfer costs such as taxis. If you can, travel in low seasons – it’s cheaper and you avoid the crowds.
Accommodations can also eat into your budget when you travel so look for any extras offered. Some hostels include breakfast (others even include a free or cheap evening meal). If you’re planning to stay in a hostel for longer than a few nights, ask if they have a special long-stay rate. If you’re staying short-term, choose the biggest dorm for the cheapest price.
Better still, try Couchsurfing instead which is absolutely free as you’re staying with locals. They may also give you inside knowledge to free things you can do in the town or city and the cheapest places to eat. If you find people who are heading in the same direction as you, ask if they want to share a room. Odds are they’ll be wanting to save money just like you.
For hotels, choose accommodations which aren’t directly in the centre but are still within walking distance from what you want to see. Accommodations are generally cheaper the further away they are from the city centre. Check out local transport as it may be cheaper to stay on the outskirts and pay to come into the centre each day.
As nice as a beach property looks, you know it’s going to come with a price tag so look at properties just a couple of roads back instead and use a hotel comparison site for the best rates. You’ll often find that there are cheaper deals on these sites rather than booking directly with the hotel.
If you’re staying in a hotel, the half-board option may initially look as though it is more expensive but if there’s nowhere else to eat within walking distance then taking the option could work out cheaper.
Just book a couple of nights then look around once you arrive for short-term lets or spare rooms in guest houses. Not every hotel or guest house advertises on the internet, and you may come across a complete gem.
If you’re adventurous and don’t mind roughing it, take a tent with you and find a campsite. Pitching your own tent is so much cheaper than a bed for the night, and some countries allow you to wild camp so you can just pitch up anywhere. Even better, choose a hammock instead of a bed for the night (although you will need your mosquito repellent for this one).
I use Booking.com for most of my accommodation. I check the reviews through here before deciding which one to book.
Food & Drink
It can be easy to eat cheaply when you’re solo. You can stay away from fancy restaurants, eat breakfast bars for dinner (I always pack these with me), and there’s no one to make you try that new sushi restaurant that has just opened in town. You can eat whatever takes your desire, and not feel guilty about visiting a burger joint twice in one day.
Street food is definitely the cheapest. Anywhere you don’t have to pay for a seat and table will save you money, but if you do fancy a sit-down meal, see where the locals eat as they definitely won’t be paying tourist prices. Food malls are a good option too. You can sometimes get a three-course meal for a fraction of the price of a restaurant and a variety of different cuisines to choose from.
If you’re staying in a hostel, make use of the free breakfast and tea and coffee facilities and cook your own meals. Find out where the local supermarket is or buy fresh produce like fruit and vegetables from local sellers and cook your own. Club together with others and cook a large meal instead of just cooking for one, that way you avoid the same pasta dishes and it’s cheaper when there’s more of you sharing.
If you’re not into cooking, look for a buffet section in a supermarket where you just can buy salads and cooked meat instead of buying all the ingredients yourself. If you’re travelling or out for the day, carry breakfast bars or nuts for a fast healthy snack to stop you from splurging on expensive food in touristy areas when you get peckish.
Drinking can really diminish your budget too, so find out what the local drink is in the country and choose that over your normal tipple. Choose house wine (if the country produces its own) or local beers, as imported beers and spirits can be the same price as what you’d pay back home. If you’re not staying in a hostel which has a discounted bar, look for happy hours, drink promotions in local bars, or places where you can BYO (bring your own).
For food lovers, you could even combine your love of the cuisine with a food tour. They are a great way of meeting others instead of dining alone. You'll get a night out (or a few hours at least) as well as learn more about the culture whilst visiting a few different restaurants or bars at the same time.
When you travel, generally one of the most expensive costs are flights. Sign up for a price alert to be notified of when the price goes down. The more flexible you are with the dates, the better the chances you have of finding a cheaper fare. Another tip is to avoid the peak seasons if you're able to. * Check flights and prices
No matter how cheap the country, taxis will generally be the most expensive option of getting around so check out the metro or bus services. When you’ve used them once, you’ll realise how easy it is to navigate your way around. Look for special passes and offers if you’re going to be using the transport more than once.
In Paris, buying ten metro tickets in bulk costs less than buying ten separate tickets. In London invest in an Oyster card for all methods of transport in the city, and in places like Switzerland, a Swiss Pass will save you a small fortune if you’re planning to travel through the country by train.
If you’re travelling around and moving from place to place, choose local buses. Collectivos or Matatus may be cheaper than the normal buses, so check if they are operating the same route first. But, no matter how tight your budget is don’t risk your safety by sitting on the top of buses! (overland trucks are fine).
As well as buses, check local flights. In countries such as Colombia, using a low-cost carrier is the same price or less than bus transport (and will save you hours too). You can get stung for luggage though, so it can be more expensive if you have heavy bags in tow.
If you’re on a travelling circuit, you will meet others who have just come from your next destination or heading the same way as you so utilise their knowledge and information.
If you’re travelling around Australia or New Zealand, hiring a camper van could work out better than car hire and hotels, and you get the luxury of planning your own route. Better still, rent a car and take a tent with you. You may even come across potential travel mates on the road to take a road trip with you and divide the costs.
If you do have to take a taxi, walk a couple of blocks down from the main touristy areas to find a cheaper one.
Tours & Attractions
Think about what you really want to do. Doing and seeing everything will eat its way through your budget so be selective. Check what you can do for free and if there are any special offers, such as visiting museums on a Sunday for half price. Explore parks and gardens and check out any outdoor events that are advertised on posters around the city.
If you’re somewhere with a good transport system, skip the tours and do your own with a bit of guidance from the hostel, hotel or tourist information office. You’ll be surprised at how much more you can pay just to be on an organised mini-bus instead of getting a local bus.
My favourite way of seeing the city used to be on a Hop on Hop off bus (especially if the city is spread out). But as much as you’re tempted to jump on that big red bus tour and cruise around the city, many cities now have free walking tours where you tip at the end according to how much you enjoyed the tour. They are a great way of meeting other people, getting some exercise, seeing the city and will only cost you a small amount of money. If you do take the hop on bus option, you sometimes get a boat ride included too.
If there’s a tourist attraction that you really want to do, see if there is a tourist pass which includes numerous attractions instead of paying for them separately. You could easily spend two days in somewhere like Petra in Jordan, so buying a two day pass is only a fraction more a one day pass and gives you more time to explore the historical site.
If you’re going off the beaten path on a four day jungle trek, or overland across desert terrain then taking an organised tour may be the only option. Don’t pick the first one you come across, check for recommendations, how long the trip is and if it includes any extras such as a local payment for food, then break it down into a daily rate to see if it still appeals.
Tourist hot spots will be more expensive than those lesser known. Staying a while and asking locals for hidden gems will give you insider knowledge and help you stumble upon somewhere even better than the guidebook.
The big question that always comes up during each trip is: ‘Can I really afford this?' when I'm debating whether or not to do that bungee jump, that quad-biking ride or attend a classical concert. I've learnt over the years to totally avoid this question and counteract it with:
‘Can I afford NOT to?'
The biggest regret you will ever have is not doing something that you really want to do because you can’t afford it. If you really want to go bungee jumping and are planning to visit a few countries then see which one is the cheapest to do it. Ask others where the best place to do your experience is. Sometimes the more touristy the place the more expensive, so look for a lesser-known area to paraglide instead (Colombia versus Switzerland for example).
Don’t go with organisations who advertise on the internet for homestays to improve your Spanish. These are generally overpriced and you can find your own alternatives. Look for local families when you arrive at a destination or try Couchsurfing or Airbnb with only native speakers instead for full immersion.
On certain reefs such as the Red Sea and Great Barrier Reef, snorkel instead of diving where you can see just as much with good visibility. Choose experiences for half a day instead of paying for a full day to keep the costs down, like quad biking or glacier walking. That way you can still have the same experience for a lesser price.
You don’t have to do everything at once so be selective and savour those experiences. After all, you only regret what you don’t do rather than what you do do, and you may never get the chance again.
* I use Get Your Guide for booking my experiences. I did reindeer feeding in Norway with them and plenty of others too!
Banks can charge a fortune just to take your own cash out when you're abroad so look into taking a travel cash card with you. I use Revolut as it's really easy to use and saves me the fees that my usual debit card charges. It allows me to have accounts in pound Sterling, Euros and Dollars as well as other currencies and I can just top it up through my phone app with a quick verification code within minutes.
If you don't have a travel cash card, I recommend this one or check with your bank or credit card provider to see if they have any good rates for paying with your usual debit and credit cards overseas.
* Click here to find out more: Revolut
Utilise any skills you may have, e.g. if you are a hairdresser or a masseuse offer your services to other travellers, or teach English to the locals.
Unless you are travelling around Europe and have the EuroTraveller option on your phone, don’t use your phone internationally. Buy a sim card from the country you are staying in for cheaper phone bills or use an international phone card instead (don’t forget Skype is free).
If you’re in a country where you can barter – try it! If you manage to get a third off, you’ve got a good deal.
You may not be allowed to carry water through security anymore but there is nothing stopping you from taking through an empty water bottle and filling it up from water fountains the other side. Although some airports don’t have this facility, it’s a good way of saving money from the ones which do.
What happens if you’ve blown most of your budget and are running out of funds? It may be time to consider staying still and working for a while. Although the majority of countries require a working visa, it can still be easy to pick up temporary work such as fruit picking which is popular in Australia.
Volunteering or working in a hostel in exchange for accommodation may not give you extra cash but it will save you money in the long run. Sites such as HelpX and Work Away offer listings of organic farms, hostels and even sailing boats for those looking to work in exchange for their board. WWOOF is also a good organisation with opportunities for volunteering on organic farms. If you love sailing, consider being part of a boat crew with Crew Seekers. You don’t need any experience either.
If you think about everything you are about to buy in the local exchange rate and compare it to a night’s accommodation, i.e. a hostel in Shanghai costs $7 and coffee costs $3 which is nearly half an evening’s accommodation, you’ll soon change your mindset and be cutting back like a pro.
I appreciate all your first hand info!! I am excited to solo travel! Your suggestions on cheap accommodations is great!! Thank you!!
You’re so welcome Debbie! x