There are a number of steps you can take to make sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck in travel. However arguably the most decisive factor is where you end up traveling to. Certain countries *cough* the UK, Denmark, Switzerland, Australia *uncough* are sure to make your travels more expensive. Throw a weaker US dollar into the mix and things can start to get even more pricey. That said, even in expensive countries you can find cheaper locales and thrifty ways of enjoying your time. During my time traveling across the likes of Spain, India, Jordan, the UK, and the US I’ve picked up on a few things. Below are my tips for making a visit to an expensive country on a budget (and a not so expensive country on an even cheaper budget).

Watch out for BIG cities

London, Paris Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Beijing, Paris, Rome–you get it. “BIG cities” doesn’t just mean cities that are the epicenter of politics, it’s also cities that are large financial and cultural developments to be reckoned with. The price of getting around the city, staying in the city, and eating in the city are going to be markedly higher than in a smaller city. If you’re looking to save some cash, stay in smaller cities or towns. A bonus is that you get an off-the-beaten-path experience. Chances are you’ll even be able to make a better connection with people who have not grown so immune to your tourist’s charm.

Tower Bridge London edited by Damian Esteban

London is a BIG city.

Be flexible with your arrival destination

Along the lines of avoiding the BIG cities when possible, be flexible with where you’d be content to explore. Some airports are just going to be a lot more expensive than others. For instance, if you wanted to travel to Costa Rica from NYC you’re two most obvious options are Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) in Alajuela or Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR) in Liberia. Event though SJO is the bigger of the two, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than LIR as it’s right smack dab in the capital a.k.a. a BIG city. Flying into either airport would make for good a experience in Costa Rica, but even if you plan on doing something around Alajuela, it’s might be worth it to fly into LIR and bus it down south. The same applies to any other country.

Check out my blog on booking flights like a pro.

Stay in hostels

This one’s kind of obvious, but staying in hostels is one of the easiest ways to minimize your travel costs. Aside from being a cheap place to lay your head, they also provide a cheap place to meet people, eat/make food, and discover/enjoy events. A lot of hostel workers are or have been travelers themselves and make it a point to show those staying there a good time. If you’re looking to save even more $$$ you can always find alternative housing arrangements like CouchSurfing or even looking to staying at a temple.

Exchange wisely

The best way to breeze through most locales is with a zero foreign transaction fee credit card. Of course, some restaurants, bars, scooter rentals are (even in the ritziest of cities) going to be cash-only. The best ways to get the currency you need is by withdrawing from an-in network ATM. You’ll probably have to deal with 1-3% transaction fees, but you might get away with none. If you’re going to exchange money, make sure you’re exchanging it at the cheapest rate. Private companies will have different rates than government agencies e.g. post offices. Get the lay of the land. Figure out what will give you the best price. For more tips, check out this article on NerdWallet.

Cook your own meals

This one’s easy and even applies to our quotidian lives in our home countries: eating out is more expensive (most of the time) than eating in. If you’re in a hostel, cooking food in the group kitchen can be a great way to meet people. I can’t tell you how many good conversations I’ve had over evening spaghetti. Take this idea a step further and prepare food for when you’re on the go. Going to be exploring some ruins later in the day? Pack some sandwiches. Plan on camping out in London’s finest museums? Bring some carrots and hummus to snack on. Just not inside the museum, please.

Drink at dive bars

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to find a bar where I just might almost not be welcome. I’m talking bars that border on townie-like insularity, but still are welcoming enough that they appreciate a fresh face to talk to. Aside from being a romanticized way of connecting with locals, it’s a great way to get a sense of the community in the area. I find that one of my favorite parts of traveling is #TFW I don’t feel like a “tourist” but like a “human being” among the other “human beings” in a “local community”. Quotes are fun. This touchy-feely way of getting your drink on set aside, you will probably be able to find a dive bar with a tourist-centric vibe. Go there. You will meet fellow travelers and will have great conversations about the joys of travel and, like, the value of seeing things from a different perspective, man. Shoot, I’m romanticizing things again, aren’t I?

Image of two pints of beer sitting on a table edited by Damian Esteban

Cheers, my new friend!

Find the free things to do

London has a bunch of free museums, Reykjavik has a bunch of hikes nearby, and nearly every city has endless walking opportunities. You can do a surprising amount of things without spending a cent. Consult with locals, consult with fellow travelers, and most importantly, use your imagination.


For more travel tips, follow me @EstebanRules.