Save Money on Travel – 30+ Ways to Fund Budget Travel

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You’ve planned and you’ve saved. Your trip is now a reality. However, saving money to travel is just the beginning. Learn how to save money while traveling, and your journey can last much longer.

HOW TO SAVE MONEY ON TRAVEL

In this series, I’ve been trying to tackle many of the issues related to money and family travel. In this post, let’s talk about how to save money while traveling. Below I’ve listed up some of our best money-saving tips. Some we’ve used, while others we’ve learned from other savvy travelers.

The tips in this post are divided into various sections: general best practices, flights & transportation, accommodation, and food.

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To get the ball rolling, let’s first run through some of the most common practices for saving money on travel. Then we can move into newer and lesser-known areas.

Obtain Credit Card with Point Programs

One of the easiest ways to save money while traveling is to earn points on your flights. If you don’t have any points programs with hotels or credit cards, do this now. Look for the programs that work best for you and sign up ASAP. When it comes to credit cards, look for big sign-up bonuses and lower spending minimums. Be wary of yearly fees and international transaction fees, as well.

You can actually start accumulating points even before traveling. When you buying any travel gear, put it on the point-earning card and you’ll be earning flights without even trying. Our card is connected to Delta mileage since that was the airline we flew most (Delta had the only direct Tokyo>Atlanta flight). We even paid our utility bills with this card. It all added up to Delta mileage points.

Avoid International Bank Fees

If you’re traveling overseas, then make sure to leave for your trip with at least one credit card or debit card that doesn’t charge exorbitant ATM fees.

In Epic Education Radio interviews, two cards have been mentioned more than any others:

The Chase Sapphire Card was mentioned by:

Charles Schwab was mentioned by:

Earn Airline Mileage

One of the best ways to save money when traveling is to earn free flights. This is one of the biggest costs of family travel, and it’s dead easy to earn at least a few tickets if you travel enough and utilize your points wisely.

I have a credit card that earns Delta mileage, simply because Delta has a hub in my hometown (Atlanta) and therefore offers the most options for visiting my family there. If you don’t have any credit card to earn airline mileage, sign up for airline mileage program now. Sign the kids up as well. They should have their own accounts. A few long cross-Atlantic or cross-Pacific flights can add up to some free domestic travel down the line!

Be Loyal, Be Creative

Whenever possible, stay loyal to those cards, airlines, and companies. Use your credit cards to pay for as much as you can,  but only if you can pay it back immediately. Earn points even before you leave on your trip by paying your bills with the cards (within reason, of course).

Be creative with your spending, as well. For example, I read a story of a travel hacker who wanted to buy something for USD $200 from a specific retailer. Instead of just buying it, she went to a different store and bought 200 dollars worth of gift cards for that retailer. Why? Because the store where the gift cards were on sale offered double points for her card. This person made an extra trip, yes, but for her effort got an additional 200 dollars worth of mileage points.

The Alliances

Currently, there are three major alliances among major airlines. Leveraging these alliances and choosing which one is best for you could be an entire post in itself. Perhaps another time. Just understand that earning free flights is an essential way to save money while traveling. Here’s a breakdown of the three main flight alliances.

Sky Team

The Sky Team alliance includes Delta, so naturally, we had tried to fly using the airlines in this group in order to accumulate mileage on Delta card, and occasionally arrange flights that stop or transfer in Atlanta. Other Sky Team partners we’ve used (and earned miles through) over the tears include Aeromexico, China Eastern Airlines, and Garuda Indonesia.

Star Alliance

This major airline alliance has currently more than 25 airlines, including United, Air Canada, and Lufthansa. We hadn’t used this one until we signed up last year, and have since flown with their partner Turkish airlines from Spain to Israel (via Istanbul). We had an excellent flight with Turkish airlines and plan to use them again: the service, the food, and the onboard entertainment options were really good. You can tell that they are working hard on making the airline top-notch, and it worked on us. No, this isn’t a plug or an affiliate — we really were that impressed!

One World

The One World alliance currently has 15 member airlines, including American Airlines, British Airways, and Qantas. We haven’t used this one yet, but since we’re based in Spain and local carrier Iberia Airlines is in the group, we’re looking into it. Have you flown with One World or Iberia Air? What was your experience?

Use Tourism Offices and Tourist Cards

If you’re planning on spending a few days in a particular city, seek out their tourism offices and talk to them. See if they have any deals for families or travelers. Lots of large cities have a great system set up for you to save money while traveling: tourist cards. These cards must be bought, but they can end up saving you a bundle if you really try to use them. Not all tourism offices or tourist cards are made equal, but they really can be worth the price if you know that you’ll go out and take advantage of their deals.

We used tourist cards in Zaragoza, Spain, and it really made our 36 hours in the city even better. We did some rough math and discovered that we probably saved at least 80 euros (approx 90+ USD) in 2 days.Sure, we were hustling through the city, hitting all the free and discounted sites that the card offered. We even ate at an amazing local tapas place because it offered a free drink and tapa to each cardholder. We arrived for the deal, and it ended up being one of the best meals of our month-long road trip.

Be Smart with Your Phone

The rules of travel and communication are changing. Smart devices are getting smarter and telecom companies are beginning to understand the transience and lack of loyalty many customers present today. However, you can still add up a large phone and data bill if you’re not careful.

For US residents

For my American countrymen planning to stay with your plan in the States, most people advise T-Mobile when using your phone overseas. I’ve never done this, but a number of Epic Education Radio guests have:

Unlocked phone is ideal

I think the ideal option, in my opinion, is to have an unlocked smart device that allows you to use a local SIM card.

SIM card use, rates, and prices vary by country — even in “Unions” like the EU. If you’re traveling in Southeast Asia, however, SIM cards with data are super cheap, rechargeable at convenience stores and available at most major airports.

For places with heftier fees, look for local wifi. Research the country/countries you’re visiting and see what local businesses offer free wifi. Map it out beforehand if you have to.

The right apps

Make sure that you and those you communicate with have Skype, Viber and Whatsapp installed on your phone. At least these three. Different countries use different chat & VOIP apps. For example, in Japan, people love LINE (us too, with caveats), while in Korea and some parts of Asia, Kakao Talk is king. Presently, WhatsApp is used most globally, but these things change all the time. Regardless, these apps make it much easier to keep in touch with loved ones and with each other.

Keep Track of Free days & Free stuff

In your research, look into specific dates where paid attractions are either free or discounted. For example, in Valencia, Spain, there are a lot of great museums and historical sites which have free admission on Sundays.

Lots of cities have excellent free walking tours or other tour guide services. Hanoi, for example, has a well-known walking tour guide system, and Sandeman offers tours in many locations across Europe. These guides are often young and working for tips and/or to improve their English. If they’re good and working hard, you should tip them, and possibly humor their ambition to talk with native speakers. All in all, however, these tours — tips and all — can save you money.

Travel Slow

I’ve said this many times, and so have many of the guests on the show: slow travel saves money. This has been a huge topic of discussion on the Epic Education Radio podcast, and has been discussed on dozens of episodes, among them:

We travel slowly, too. Let me count the money-saving ways. First off, by staying longer, you can often get steep discounts in you accommodation costs. For example, we’ve stayed in AirBnB apartments that offered a 20% discount if we stayed for a week, and a 30% discount if we stayed for a month — one-third cheaper, just for staying longer!

Also, traveling fast often means hasty decisions. When you rush through a place with kids, you often fork out more cash just to make a problem go away:

“So the kids are hungry? Well crap, then I guess we’re eating right here. Are the kids are jetlagged and ready for bed? Well crap, I guess we’re going to stay at this overpriced hotel for the night.”

You do this in one city, and then you do it in the next place, and so on and so on. When you travel slow and stay in one place longer, it also means that you find more deals and more local places with local prices. Speaking of which…

Talk to Locals

Find opportunities to talk to local people about where to stay and where to eat. Don’t ask “Where should we eat?” Instead, ask “Where do you like to eat?”

Through this exchange, you get a good local restaurant and possibly avoid paying tourist prices.

Your questions shouldn’t end there. Ask locals “How much should a taxi to the airport cost?” and other relevant questions. Even if the local you ask is the clerk at your hotel or guest house, get the feel for the prices of local things so you don’t pay more than you have to.

Ask other questions, too

Your questions shouldn’t end there. Get in the habit of asking for discounts and upgrades whenever possible. Do it nicely. Do it respectfully. But do it. Ask the hotel if that’s the best price they have. Inquire at your airline’s check-in counter about meal coupons if your flight is delayed. The worst possible outcome is they say “No,” right?

I’ll admit, I’m not great at this. Fortunately, however, my wife (and often my son) do this very well.

When booking your flights or hotels, find the best price and then check the airline or hotel’s own site. When possible, contact them directly and ask “Is that your best price?”

A few local resources

There are a few sites that can help you get a local perspective. Many people think of Couchsurfing as only where college kids crash at stranger’s houses, but it’s much more. Locals and other hosts can also choose “meet for a drink,” and this can be a great way to meet people in the area who enjoy conversations with travelers. Another service I’ve heard great things about With Locals.

Get Social

Join like-minded groups on Facebook or elsewhere. Members of Facebook groups like Families on the Move and Fulltime Families have a wealth of information and are happy to share. Ask if anyone has been in your situation, and how much they spent. It’s hard to underestimate the value these groups have provided to us and countless other family travelers — not just about saving money, but everything.

A few groups I recommend:

SAVE MONEY ON FLIGHTS & TRANSPORTATION

We’ve talked about the earning free flights and other goodies, but there are many other aspects of booking flights that can help you save money while traveling.

Be Flexible with Your Dates, Times & Locations

One of the fastest ways to spend extra money when booking a flight is to insist on flying on specific dates, at specific times from specific airports. Avoid this whenever possible.

When looking for flights, give yourself three days to a week of buffer time on either side of your ideal departure and return dates. Look at nearby airports and see if it’s cheaper to arrive there. What about overland transportation? For example, when we first arrived in Spain, flying all the way Valencia was significantly more than flying to Madrid and then taking the train. Guess which way we went?

Travel in the Off-Season

Paris is amazing in the summer. It’s also incredibly crowded and expensive. Look at the off-season and the “shoulder seasons” (the time between high- and low-season) and try to go then. You may not get the area’s best weather, but the lack of crowds and lower prices might more than compensate for the inconvenience.

Keep up with Possible Discounts

There are so many apps, sites, twitter handles and mailing lists that can help you find discounts and save money while traveling. It takes extra time, but it can very often be a rewarding way to save money while traveling. The list below is not comprehensive — there are many, many more. If your favorite isn’t listed, then tell me about it in the comments or contact me directly.

Apps

Mailing Lists

Websites

Twitter Handles

Look into Travel Hacking and Other Flight Booking Tricks

There are a few ways you can still game the system to eke out more travel for less cash. Many people, including many Epic Education radio guests, have used travel hacking to save money while traveling. I’ll skip over techniques like “hidden city ticketing” and “throwaway ticketing” because they are somewhat dubious and the days of pulling them off are likely numbered. If interested, look into them on your own.

Instead, let’s talk about the extended stopover. This is a great way to see two places for the price of one flight. Sometimes you have to transfer planes, right? Well instead of walking straight from one plane to another, how about walking out of one plane and staying for a week or two in that city before boarding that next flight? That’s what Kathrin Spacarelli and her family did. They booked flights to Bangkok, with a layover in Japan — but they stayed in Japan for a while first.

Be Smart with Rental Cars

If you’re planning to rent a car, there are several things to consider. First off, does your credit card cover the insurance? If so, how much? Many credit cards offer this automatically, and if you’ve ever rented a car overseas, then you know how this can save money while traveling.

Also, how big of a car do you need? Smaller cars require smaller amounts of gas, and in some places, gas can add up.

If you are traveling with kids, you might think that bringing the car seat is cheaper. Call the car rental company and ask about rental prices. With airlines charging for extra luggage, it might save you money to just rent it.

Use Public Transport or Walk

In some places, it’s the taxi. In others, it’s the tuk-tuk, bemo, or songthaew. Wherever you are, it might be more money than you need to spend. When getting from point A to point B, try to walk when you can. When that won’t work, use public transportation when possible. In addition to saving money, you might learn more about the place you’re visiting.

  • When visiting places like Chiang Mai, take Songthaew (tuk-tuks are more expensive).
  • In Sumatra, take bemos.
  • Going to Malaysia or Spain? Take the bus.
  • In places like Japan, you can walk or use public transportation everywhere.

SAVE MONEY ON ACCOMMODATION

Stay in Nearby Towns instead of Downtown

Popular destinations are also expensive destinations, and your food and accommodation costs go up the closer you stay to where the action is. Look into nearby towns to see what they have to offer. For example, when we visited San Sebastian during the high season, we found a great hotel in a Leitza, a beautiful small Basque village about 45 minutes away.

Staying further away doesn’t always cut costs, however. One thing to consider is the time and price of getting from the nearby town to your desired location. Sometimes the price of gas, train tickets, parking or other transportation costs can make it almost worth staying downtown.

Use Transportation as Accommodation

The idea behind this is that you book overnight flights, trains, and buses so that you pay one less night in a hotel. I’ve included it here because yes, it is a reasonable option. I’ve done it dozens of time, as a young single dude up to now.

However, but I urge you to consider the intangible costs accrued when every member of your family had a terrible night’s sleep. If you can all sleep well in vehicles, then great. If you don’t, then is it really worth saving 50 bucks and losing an entire day of enjoyment because the kids are sleepy and grouchy?

Look into Alternatives to Hotels- How to Save Money on Travel

We love good hotels and resorts as much as anyone. However, we want to get the most of out travel budget centered on travel experiences, and not just where we sleep at night. Hotels are only one of many, many options, and if you want to save money while traveling, look into hotel and resort alternatives like those listed below.

Guesthouses & Hostels

If you’ve never stayed in a guesthouse or youth hostel, you should try it at least once. Many of the uninitiated think that all youth hostels are grimy dorm rooms where rowdy students drink until dawn. These places exist, but the hostels and guest houses market is remarkably diverse.

Many hostels and guesthouses also have private rooms, and at a price much lower than a hotel. One of our favorite experiences of our road trip through Northern Spain was staying at a youth hostel built into an old schoolhouse.

Apartment rentals

This is easily one of our most used and well-loved ways to find accommodation and save money while traveling. The kids get their own rooms and we have a kitchen to cook in. On top of that, we often get great info from the hosts on the best that his/her city has to offer.

There are a wide number of apartment rental services. We have mostly used AirBnB and have had great luck with them, but they are by no means the only option. In his interview, Epic Education Radio guest Mark Wyld talked about having great results with Booking.Com.

Some Apartment rental sites:

Couchsurfing

Some people bristle at the idea of staying at a stranger’s house, but you’d probably be surprised at how common this practice is and how “normal” most Couchsurfing hosts really are. We were Couchsurfing hosts in Tokyo for years, actually (not that we’re “normal” or anything).

To be clear, just because it’s called “Couchsurfing” doesn’t mean that you’ll always be sleeping on a couch. Hosts offer a variety of sleeping arrangements — from tiny futons to your own small house by the pool.

And yes, many hosts take families. The options are more limited than, say a couple or a solo traveler, but there are more options that you may realize .

House sitting & Home exchange

If you want to sleep in someone else’s house, but without them there, then house sitting or a home exchange are the way to go. I go into this in-depth on my House Sitting for Families post and my post on how toTravel Cheap with Kids via Home Swap.

House Sitting on Epic Education Radio:

Camping

Depending on where you are, camping might be a great option for cutting costs while seeing a different side of the land you’re traveling through. When we took a road trip through the USA in 2015, we bought a 50-dollar tent and some cheap sleeping bags (all our camping gear was in Japan). We stayed at a number of campgrounds for a fraction of what hotels would have cost.

We even camped in an old friend’s back yard! Don’t laugh. This might be the next big thing. In the spirit of AirBnB and Couchsurfing, now there’s Camp in my Garden, a service that connects travelers with people who will let them pitch a tent on their property.

Work for your accommodation

If you want to save money while traveling, accommodation is one of the best places to start. There are a variety of ways to work for your place to stay. Campgrounds and RV parks in Europe and the USA often hire seasonal staff and pay them via free room and board. Epic Education radio guests the Boyink family have done this in Colorado, and I’ve had friends who worked on a campground in Italy for the summer. The pay? A cabin and 2 meals a day for parents and son.

Another popular method is WOOFing, where you work on an organic farm in exchange for meals and accommodation. Programs vary.  Then there are sites like HelpX. In addition to farms like the WOOFing program, HelpX provides a platform for people to barter their skills for accommodation.

Do you do web design? There might be a guesthouse in Bolivia that will give you a room if you improve their website. Ever painted a house before? I knew a family that worked on a mansion in a remote town in New Zealand. They stayed in the mansion for free while they painted a set amount of rooms.

SAVE MONEY ON FOOD & DRINK

Keeping your offspring fed and nourished is a crucial component of family travel. Here are a few tips on how to cut costs without dealing with grumbling stomachs.

Prep Your Own Food

Cooking at home can save lots of money, and you can often eat better, healthier and more extravagantly when you cook for yourself. Apartment rentals through places like AirBnB and Booking.com make it easy to have your own kitchen, but there are lots of guesthouses and youth hostels that have kitchens you can use, too.

When a kitchen isn’t available, you can still go to the local market or grocery store and pick up supplies for a picnic somewhere — even if that “picnic” is hastily made sandwiches on a park bench or front steps of a museum.

Know Your Country’s Dining Culture

There are some places where eating dinner out is cheaper and easier than cooking at home. The night markets of Taiwan (especially Taipei) come to mind. Vietnam also comes to mind. Yummy, yummy Vietnam. However, in Europe and North America, dinner is often the most expensive meal on the menu.

That said, lots of nice restaurants serve similar food for lunch but for much less. If you really want to eat out in these places, then do lunch. In Japan, you can get lunch menus filled with yakitori, grilled fish and sushi platters at a fraction of what it would cost to eat the same thing at dinnertime.

Spain is well-known for its lunch culture, as well. Look for chalk signs in the street that say Menu del Dia. These can range from six to fifteen euros, but they almost always come with a starter, a main course, a drink, and dessert. Spaniards eat big lunches — it’s their biggest meal of the day actually — so it’s possible to split a menu del dia sometimes. Keiko and our daughter often order one dish and split it between them. It usually much more than they can eat by themselves, anyway.

Eat local

For better or worse, fast food and “foreign” food are usually more expensive. When we lived in Japan, I would have paid a hefty price to eat Spanish bread, olives, and sausages — so I never did. Once we moved to Valencia, however, I gorged myself on the stuff because it’s often the cheapest way to eat.

Same goes for Japanese groceries now in Spain (a bottle of soy sauce is 3x the price as it was in Tokyo). We ate sushi only once since we came to Valencia. It’s not as good as the one we eat in Tsukiji, anyway.

By the same token, fast food isn’t always the cheapest option. A set meal at Burger King here in Spain costs 7 euros, where a sandwich with chips and a soda at the cerveceria next door costs three euros less.

Sometimes you want a burger, a sandwich, or some other comfort food. I get that. Just keep it in check.

Skip Snacks

Eliminate sodas and lots of sweets and other snacks. Feel free to ignore this advice if you have little ones, of course. If you have teens/tweens hitting their growth spurt and constantly eating, my condolences — you can ignore this, too. However, if you really want to save money while traveling and still keep bellies full, then I suggest filling them  with as much fruit, veggie sticks, and water, as you can. Skip the soda. We’re not health nuts (our girl uses much of her allowance on ice cream) but we try. Our day bags usually have crackers, apples, and nuts in them, along with several bottles of water.

For the rest of you, curb your appetites and save them for mealtime.

Refill Water Bottles

It’s important to stay hydrated during family travel, but that doesn’t mean that you have to spend 1-4 dollars every time someone gets thirsty. But a refillable water bottle, or just hold onto the last plastic bottle you used simply keep using it. Refill it at water fountains or sinks wherever you can. It’s easy.

In fact, Daniel Prince in his second (and upcoming) episode of Epic Education Radio talks about walking into restaurants, bars, and other establishments and humbly asking them if they wouldn’t mind filling a water bottle for them. You know what? Nine times out of ten they’ll help you out. Why spend a dollar or two on a new bottle of water, when you can quickly, easily and ethically get it for free? What’s the worst that can happen? They say “No?”

Of course, this only applies in places where you can drink the water out of the faucet, which includes Japan, Korea, the UK, Australia, and Spain, as well as most of Europe and North America. Some families may even consider bringing a Steripen with them, as these previous podcast guests have:

Stay Away from Tourist Areas

I’ve heard it referred to  as the “five block rule,” which is to essentially walk five blocks away from a tourist center before you look for food. This is valid, I guess. However, sometimes you don’t have to walk that far, while other times you have to go farther. Then there are times where you don’t know which direction to go. When in doubt, just ask locals where they usually eat.

Eat and Drink Something Cheap Before You Go Out

When kids are super-hungry, they can start ordering way too much food. Wait, did I say kids? I meant me. You’ll never save money if you let empty stomachs order for the table. Sometimes it’s worth picking up a few bananas or pastries and give everyone something to satiate their hunger before you sit down at a nice restaurant. This goes double in Spain and other places in Europe, where meals last for hours and your food may reach the table long after it was ordered.

Not kid-related, but I also do this with alcohol on certain occasions. I might have a store-bought can or two of beer at the hotel before we head to dinner — especially if I know that the cocktails will be tempting and/or pricey.

BONUS TIP: VACCINES & MEDICAL TOURISM

If you’re coming from the United States or some other countries, one of the medical expenses can add up quickly. Here’s the secret: there are hospitals and other medical facilities that are just as nice (or nicer ) in developing countries. I know people who’ve given birth in Mexico and Jakarta, got a vasectomy in Malaysia and had full-on dental reconstructive surgery in Costa Rica. The best part: all of them had their procedures for less than a quarter of what it would have cost in the United States. We’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars. Simply look up “medical tourism” and go from there.

Another major cost for traveling families is the series vaccinations each family member needs. Before a big trip, it’s important to update all your shots — especially if you’re heading into the developing world. You’ll need shots for stuff like Yellow Fever, Meningitis, Japanese Encephalitis and Rabies, and that last one is a multi-shot affair.

This stuff adds up — especially when you’re talking about a family of three, four or more. We’re talking thousands of dollars. The solution? Make your fist stop Thailand, because you can get all the same shots you need at a fraction of the price. Are there other countries where people do this? Let me know!

WANT MORE TRAVEL MONEY TIPS?

Saving money while traveling is only one component of funding family travel. I’ve written much more about getting the money for family travel. So far we’ve covered:

HOW DO YOU SAVE MONEY WHILE TRAVELING?

This is such an essential component of any family’s journey, so I’d love to hear how you save money while traveling? Do you have money saving tips? Do you use cards or research or something else? Share your strategies so that we can all save money while traveling!

Image Credits: #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #9, #16#17

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you, we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book using those links. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help your travel.

Comments

  1. Diego Johnson says:

    Nice post! Thanks for the post.Keep sharing.

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