Traveling abroad is an amazing way to learn about new cultures and have great experiences. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either, if you’re smart with some planning in advance. Decide what you’re willing to invest money in and where you’re willing and able to cut your expenses, then start booking your flights. Be flexible and be adventurous, and you’re on your way to seeing the world on a budget.
1. Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees.
Make sure you get a credit card that doesn’t charge transaction fees for international use. If you can find one that also gives you cash back or points for hotels and airfare, that’s a bonus. When using your card overseas in stores and restaurants, always check to see if there’s a transaction fee or a minimum transaction required. Sometimes using cash is cheaper.
2. Avoid money exchanges.
It’s tempting to grab that cash while you’re in the airport but the exchange rates are usually much higher than anywhere else. If you can wait, use an ATM to get cash. Some banks offer free international transactions. Even if your bank doesn’t, ATM fees are generally significantly lower than money exchanges.
3. Use local transportation.
For in-country travel, check the bus schedule and ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft to save money over taking the train. In some countries, the bus is quicker than the train, too. For travel between countries, compare costs and travel times between discount airlines and trains. Those discount airlines offer tempting prices but add on fees for luggage, and with the time it takes to get through airport security and travel between airports and hotels, the train may be a better option. Most trains are in a city center rather than as far out of town as an airport, which reduces time and money in transport to and from hotels.
4. Use your smart phone in smart ways.
To communicate with friends and family, a text-based app like WhatsApp works with phone numbers but connects to wifi if you’re out of cellular range, and there are no SMS charges. Turn off the cellular connection on your phone so you’re not charged roaming fees. If you travel often in places without reliable internet, consider investing in an international unlocked phone that accepts a SIM card so you’ll be connected to the local network. And don’t underrate the importance of having a paper map or writing down a few addresses and directions before you leave your hotel’s wifi each day. You don’t want to get stuck somewhere remote with no coverage and no idea how to get back.
5. Rent a room or a house.
The advice used to be to stay outside the city center in order to save money on lodging. But if you plan on doing activities in the city, the expense and time it takes getting to and from your outer-limits room every day may not be worth it. With the popularity of AirBnB and VRBO, inexpensive lodging can be found everywhere. Hostels used to be the way to go for a cheap bed, but a rental may offer more privacy and security at a comparable cost.
6. Travel during the off season.
Many popular destinations have an off season, where the attractions and restaurants are still open, but the hotel prices are lower and there are fewer crowds. Sometimes the weather isn’t always perfect but it may be worth it to tour some of the local attractions for a lower price or have some peace and quiet at restaurants. Maybe don’t plan a beach vacation during the rainy season but planning a trip during a non-holiday times can save you money on airfare and lodging. Research a destination’s peak season; it may be different from your home area.
7. Eat locally.
You don’t need to spend a ton of money to enjoy some of the best food. Buy food from farmers’ markets, street vendors, and grocery stores more often than you eat at a nice restaurant. If you do want a restaurant meal, look for small coffee shops and cafes. Bring a reusable water bottle, too, and save money on bottled water. Fill it up at your hotel and from drinking fountains. If you’re in a country where the water may not be clean, purifying tablets are inexpensive and make a great addition to any emergency travel kit.