Think of solo travel, and you may think that travelling alone has to be done on a budget, but solo travel doesn’t have to mean sharing a dorm room with numerous others, travelling on rickety transport, or only being able to eat street food. If you use a budget template, you can better plan for anything.
I’ve stayed in my fair share of hostels and travelled with livestock on local buses, and as much as it is an adventurous way of travelling, sometimes I prefer the comfort of luxury travel. Staying in a swanky apartment, sitting down in a posh restaurant and admiring the view from a rooftop bar with a cocktail or two.
Luxury solo travel doesn’t have to mean expensive travel or more time alone. It gives you just as many opportunities to meet other people whilst on the road. Just this time in comfort. So how can you experience luxury solo travel on a budget?
N.b. If you're ready to plan your solo trip but are unsure how to do it, read my how to plan a solo trip article.
How To Solo Travel on a Budget
Choose Your Country
Firstly, if you’re travelling to New York, Switzerland or Japan, luxury travel is going to cost you, so pick countries where you can get much more for your pound or dollar. If you travel to Thailand, for example, you can stay in a 5-star hotel for the price of a 3-star in your own city, so you can experience being treated like a queen for a fraction of the cost.
If you visit countries such as parts of Asia, Northern and Eastern Europe and certain countries in Latin America, you can experience more luxury solo travel than you could in other countries.
If you thought staying in a penthouse was out of your reach, there are really affordable ways to stay in your dream apartment and live in luxury as a solo traveller.
During my trip to both Colombia and Panama, I was able to stay in the most amazing penthouses, which I booked through Airbnb. Not only did a night in this luxury accommodation cost me £20 a night or less, but I also met the most welcoming locals who hosted me during my stay and gave me insider tips for both cities.
Airbnb offers you the chance to stay overnight in luxurious accommodations that you may not have even considered. My tip – choose a city with an amazing skyline for travelling in style.
If you’re not really a rustic travelling kind of girl, then glamping is a more luxurious way of experiencing camping, providing hot water and even a proper bed to sleep in so you can experience the great outdoors in comfort. Glamping on a safari in Africa is the perfect way to experience luxury when you travel, and you get to avoid most of the creepy crawlies too.
If you time your trip just right, you can save money on your accommodation too. Travel when the seasons begin to change, and you find great discounts. During a trip to Bulgaria, I stayed in a studio apartment with a communal pool, bar and restaurant, just 15 minutes from a sandy beach for only £12 a night. Less than half of the price that it was just two weeks before if I had booked during high season.
Travel to Nicaragua, and you can experience the best hotels whilst swimming in their pools. Every Sunday, an event called Sunday Fun Day takes you on a hotel pool crawl around San Juan del Sur, which is not only a way of sampling luxurious hotels but also a great way to meet other solos.
Nowadays, you can practically stay anywhere, from stunning eco-lodges to magnificent castles. For me, nothing oozes luxuriousness more than a desert hotel. Waking up to the silence of a red desert in Abu Dhabi was the most amazing experience I have had to date.
Wining and Dining
A dining experience doesn’t have to cost a fortune. You don’t have to eat a three-course meal and a glass of wine to be able to dine at a fancy restaurant. Just ordering a main meal and a soft drink is perfectly acceptable, or dine early to catch any early bird offers that may be on offer.
For some solos, the thought of dining alone fills them with nerves, so eating early and avoiding a full restaurant later on can avoid that awkward feeling that some would rather avoid. Or choosing a lunchtime buffet at a nice restaurant can give you a luxurious dining experience at a fraction of the cost.
Look for revolving restaurants in the cities you are visiting. In Colombia, I dined at the only revolving bar in the city with a 360-degree panoramic view of the city’s skyline and saved 30% off my meal because of the special weekly offer. Listening to live piano music whilst admiring breathtaking views was simply incredible.
Nothing beats a view like a rooftop bar, so look for hotels on your trip and ask if they have a bar or a rooftop terrace. Not only do they offer a great viewpoint of the city, but they are cheaper than observation decks.
Havana in Cuba has stunning rooftop terraces, and even if you’re not staying in the hotel, you can still enjoy a Mojito whilst watching the world below. Other cities with great rooftops for luxury solo travel are Shanghai, Bangkok, New York, Panama and Colombia.
Dubai is known for opulence, and if you order airport transport here, you usually receive a limousine to take you to your chosen hotel. Air-conditioned and with a driver who will open the door for you to enter, you’ll feel totally pampered before you even check in. You could even order a limousine ride from your house to the airport so you can begin your travels in style and avoid the busy commuter trains.
Instead of taking a taxi, see if the country you are travelling to has Uber. Uber is a transportation service which offers a ride in comfort, so you’ll be upgraded from your usual taxi ride experience and feel safer if you’re travelling alone, as each driver is vetted beforehand, and you receive the number plate and driver’s name before the car even arrives.
If you’re travelling through the Alps, upgrade your train ride to a carriage with a panoramic view or take an iconic train ride on the Rocky Mountaineer, Orient Express, or the Trans-Siberian Railway. Waking up to a spectacular view each day and then meeting others in the dining carriage is a great (and safe) way for solos to travel.
I took the Trans-Mongolian from Beijing to Ullanbator in Mongolia, and as well as experiencing the most amazing desert scenery, I met some great people with whom to continue my onward travels.
The Atlantis The Palm hotel in Dubai
If flying Business class is out of reach, there is always Premium Economy to consider. Airlines such as Virgin or British Airways have an upgraded economy class with larger seats and personalised service, so you experience a taste of luxury during your flight.
Having a hot lemon-scented towel, a complimentary glass of bubbly and real cutlery can make all the difference during your travels, and it doesn’t have to cost thousands, either.
You don’t have to be a business traveller to experience an airport lounge either. Lounges are for anyone, and instead of spending hours sitting amongst the airport crowds, you can spend your time lounging in a comfy leather chair, drinking as many cappuccinos as you desire and eating brownies to your heart’s content (and even get a massage or pedicure before your flight).
Whether it’s the Serengeti or the Fairytale Valley of Cappadocia, taking a hot air balloon ride and watching the sunrise whilst floating silently in the sky is one of the most luxurious and magical experiences you can have when travelling. Some even provide a champagne breakfast so you get a chance to mingle with others in your group too.
If keeping your feet firmly on the ground is more your thing, nothing feels more luxurious than being smothered in aromatherapy oil with the scent of jasmine wafting around you. If you’ve been travelling alone for a few days and are feeling a bit homesick, just having a massage or reflexology treatment will re-balance you and give you that connection that you need. Either look for massage treatments in hotels, independent salons or even on the beach.
There are so many ways to incorporate luxury travel into your itinerary. Travelling solo doesn’t have to mean sacrificing luxury just because you’re alone, In fact, it’s the best reason to treat yourself especially when you can experience luxury solo travel on a budget.
Travel Solo on a Budget in Norway
I always thought that countries such as Norway were out of my budget. That's until I visited Oslo, Norway's capital, determined to see this city on a budget. Flights from the UK only take 2.5 hours, and at only £55 for a one-way flight, its appeal was too tempting. Wanting to also return here in the winter to experience the Northern Lights, I decided to just book a trip to Oslo.
In my five days here, I walked everywhere, took the train from the airport and only ate lunch out, choosing to cook for myself in the evenings. And I came in under budget! For a capital city, it's not actually that big, so I was able to walk around, saving money on transportation and also getting exercise in the process.
Don't get me wrong, Norway is expensive if you take a taxi from the airport, stay in 5-star accommodation, and eat in nice restaurants, but for a budget Girl about the Globe, it is definitely doable.
So what are my tips for cheap travel to expensive destinations?
1. Choose Airbnb instead of a hotel. Even hostels are expensive here, but I had my own room for a great price and got to stay with a local who showed me around.
2. Do a walking tour or, better still… do a self-guided one. I walked around the city myself with an offline map and just Googled the nearby attractions. If you want to meet people, take a walking tour where you make a donation for the tour at the end.
3. Look for parks (which are usually free). The Vigeland Museum was £10, but the Sculpture Park was free and was so impressive that I didn't feel the need to go to the museum.
4. Look for free things to do. Many museums are free nowadays or have certain free days where you don't have to pay for entry. The Opera House in Oslo is also stunning and free to enter inside.
5. Browse markets. They are always free to window shop, and you get to see the local produce.
6. Look for public transport to and from the airport. If there's an express train, look for a local one. This saved me 50% and only added an extra 7 minutes onto my journey.
7. Eat lunch out and cook dinner at home. Delis are a good place for lunch and sometimes have meal deals. A coffee and a wrap cost me the equivalent of £10, and I found a supermarket with fresh produce to cook vegetables for dinner. I also took my porridge oats with me and just bought yoghurt to add to it for my breakfast.
See, it is possible to go to expensive destinations and do them cheaply. I hope that this has inspired you to visit a destination that you may have thought was out of reach. I have even seen the Galapagos Islands on a budget 🙂
How To Save Money Travelling Alone
After travelling to 141 countries, I know a thing or two about spending as little cash as possible. After all, the more money I save on a trip, the more money I have for the next one. In this section, I run through my travel hacks for budget solo travel.
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 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.
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 of the 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 want 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 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 and 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 you 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, 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 is 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 for 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 are 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 go to, see if there is a tourist pass that 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 it is, 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, 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 pounds 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.
Other Tips for saving money as a solo traveller
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 that offers 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 at 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.
Sticking To Your Travel Budget
The biggest consideration when planning your trip is your finances, especially if you only have a small budget. The last thing you want to happen when you’re away is to run out of money and have to change your ticket to come back home earlier.
Knowing how much money you have to spend will not only stop you from overspending but it’ll give you that piece of mind so that you can enjoy your trip without worrying too much about money. That's where a travel budget planner comes in.
It isn't worth scrimping and saving and not doing what you really want to make yourself miserable on your trip. You have to put a price on what you value the most. If you want to experience everything in a country then do that, if you prefer your own space then book a private room instead of sharing a dorm. If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, then compromise more on what you want to do.
Only pick three expensive things that you want to do in a city instead of doing them all, and stay in the cheapest accommodations so that you can have your private room or mix and match it with a dorm room before treating yourself to your own space.
Travel Budget Planner
The best way to monitor your finances when you’re away is to set a daily budget and use that as a guide. There will be days when you spend less or maybe more, but having a daily amount will help keep you on track.
Working out a daily budget and how much you can expect to spend each week in a country will help determine how long you can go for, but how much each country costs will really depend on what you like doing. If you prefer dining in restaurants instead of eating directly from street vendors, then your costs will be higher.
For the guide to daily budgets for each continent, check out the Solo Guides (on the menu bar) for how much you can expect to spend in a day. The daily budget for each continent includes accommodations at the low end (staying in the cheapest accommodation, whether a hostel, guest house or low-star hotel), three meals a day and the cheapest transport costs of getting around (usually by bus).
Obviously, if you want to stay in nicer places and eat out every night, then you need to factor in a higher cost to cover these.
How To Set Your Daily Budget
Creating a budget is a must for your trip, but before you panic that you’re no good with finances, it’s really easy and just takes a bit of know-how. A daily budget is what’s left after you’ve paid for all the initial outlay of your trip.
Say you’re flying to your destination, have pre-purchased a rail card to get around, and have already paid for your visas. Then these expenses don’t need to be included in your daily budget. This is only needed for you to know how much you need to save to go on your trip.
Your daily budget is made up of accommodations, transport from place to place, food, bottled water, any activities you want to do, such as paragliding or just taking a half-day bike tour along a canal, attractions you want to see, such as museums, and money for the evenings (alcohol can really add to your budget).
You also need to include arrival and departure fees for some countries, any additional visas (if you’re extending it or paying on the border), getting to and from airports, tipping costs (especially if you’re heading to America), laundry costs to wash your clothes, and if you’re away for a while, you’ll probably need to take into account extra toiletries such as deodorant, shampoo, sun tan lotion, mosquito spray and others to buy when you are there.
A secret here is also to have extra as a backup, even if it’s just a credit card, for those unforeseen events such as getting sick and needing to pay a doctor or having to change your flight to go home quicker.
If you have travel insurance, you can usually claim this back, but you still need to pay at least the excess on the policy upfront. Don’t forget to take into consideration any bills that you may have at home, so leave enough money in the bank to cover these.
Sticking to your budget
So how can you stick to your daily budget? Find out the exchange rate, then put the amount you allocated in your purse for that day. By the end of the day, if you have any left without dipping into your reserves, then you’ve stuck to your budget – easy!
Always carry reserves on you just in case, though. You can also work it out the other way and divide the amount of money you have by the number of days that you will be away to get your daily budget. If you’re really good at being frugal, you may even spend less!
Numbeo – Cost of living in different countries.
XE Currency Converter – Currency converter (Use the app for Smartphones).
Unless you’re planning to travel to a country with a closed currency where you can’t get the local currency outside, change your money before you go. Look around for good rates, as they can fluctuate.
Depending on which part of the world you are travelling to, either take some extra American dollars (for anywhere in America – North, Central or South) or Euros with you (in Europe) for emergencies when you’re there.
There’s also the option of pre-paid travel cards where you can choose which currency you want to load onto the card and then draw it out when you arrive in that country.
Don’t take too much cash with you. You may need to pay a departure tax for countries, so leave enough local currency to pay in case they don’t accept credit cards. Take more than one debit and credit card so you have a backup in case one of your bank cards is stopped. Notify your bank before you travel with your intended countries to prevent them from putting a temporary stop on your card.
If you use ATMs when you’re away, most banks will charge you for the transaction, so it may be worth comparing rates before you go. If you’re going to be spending time in smaller towns, then make sure you have enough cash to keep you going until you get to the next city.
ATMs are pretty widespread nowadays, but you still need to take into account developing countries. Always take your bank's emergency number with you so you can call from abroad. Some banks are so hot on credit card fraud that they have been known to stop your card until they’ve checked with you on recent transactions.
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