How to Travel Frugally

CC BY 2.0. Taki Lau

With the right approach, seeing the world does not have to cost a fortune.

There was a time when travel was a luxury reserved for the rich, but times have changed. It is now possible to see the world without breaking the bank. Allow frugality to shape your travel plans next time. Here are some tips for doing so.

Select your destination carefully.

From a frugality standpoint, it’s always sensible to visit a place in its off-season – and yours, too, i.e. not when everyone else is taking a holiday. Costs for flights and accommodations will be lower, a small price to pay for less-than-perfect weather.You could also choose to stay local, within your area, province/state, or country. There's much to be seen in one's own backyard.

Shop around for flights.

Check all neighboring airports, both close to your house and around your destination. Sometimes smaller airports have cheaper flights. Consider connecting flights, which can really bring down the price. (Nobody likes connections!)

Search sites like Expedia and Kayak for the best prices. Keep looking if you don’t like what you see. This process can take days of relentless hunting. Change up your date combinations and avoid weekends, which tend to be more expensive. The optimal prices happen around the 8-week range prior to departure.

Avoid paying for upgrades. The cost for an extra few inches of space isn’t really worth it.

Look at alternative transportation.

See if you can avoid airplanes, which is better for the environment. Search for train, bus, and ferry schedules. Though it will take longer to get somewhere, you could save money on accommodation and see more of the landscape. One fun site to look at is Rome 2 Rio, which has lots of ideas for alternative ways of getting places.

Once you arrive, figure out how best to get around. Can you rent a bicycle or buy a public transit pass? Car rentals tend to be very expensive, plus gas and insurance.

Consider accommodations.

Hotels cost far too much to use on a regular basis, but if you must use one, search with a site like Hotwire for the best deal. Ask local contacts, if you have them, for hotel suggestions. I did this in Jerusalem recently, and ended up at a delightful, quaint hostel owned by a Palestinian family that was very appreciative of the reference.

My approach is always to try to stay as long as possible in one place. That way, you can rent an apartment or house through a website like Airbnb or Trip Advisor. This will likely give you a place to prepare food, which is a huge money saver.

Look into house-swapping sites, like Home Exchange, especially if you’re traveling as a family for a longer period of time. Ask any friends who might know people in the country you’re visiting. Does anyone have a space you can rent? Use those personal contacts to your advantage.

Have you thought about camping? This is by far the cheapest way to sleep far from home, although you will have to travel with some extra luggage. Take a tent and sleeping bag. Visit Campsited for great resources on camping throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Read the fine print.

This may sound redundant, but some airline websites are very confusing, which can result in high costs. I once got burned on a RyanAir flight when I didn’t realize I had to state my carry-on bags when checking in ahead of time. I assumed I’d sort it out at the airport. What ensued was a massive 90 Euro fine per bag. I had three bags. Needless to say, I learned my lesson. The budget airline ended up costing me more than an Air Italia flight would have, with more generous baggage allowances.

Travel with food.

Take as much food as you can. Make sure you’re covered for snacks and drinks until you arrive at your destination. You do not want to buy food in the airport, where the markup is exorbitant. Whenever I travel with my husband, he takes dozens of pre-assembled bags with dried meat, berries, and nuts for snacking so that he won’t need to buy food every time hunger hits in a foreign country. It’s a smart strategy.

Buy a water filter.

Get a small portable water filter and take a good-sized water bottle. This will free you from having to purchase disposable plastic water bottles on the go; it’s better for the environment and your wallet.

Buy good shoes.

Select your traveling shoes carefully. They must be comfortable, practical, and compatible with various outfits. This is key, because if your shoes hurt or you don’t like them, walking great distances will be problematic and you’ll be more inclined to waste money on expensive cab fares.

Buy a luggage scale.

A luggage scale is not expensive and it can save you tons of money on overweight luggage fees, especially if you’re not a traveling minimalist.

Be prepared to eat simply.

You don’t have to eat at fancy restaurants in order to get a feel for a country’s cuisine. Go to a market or grocery store. Stick with basic ingredients and assemble those for outdoor meals. Keep restaurant meals to an absolute minimum -- perhaps a special event to mark the end of your trip.

Learn to play the currency game.

Know ahead of time what the going rates for various things are, i.e. basic groceries, taxi fares, tipping, etc. Shop around for the best exchange rates. This could be an ATM machine, an exchange bureau, or your home bank prior to travel. When you find a good rate, withdraw plenty of cash so you don't have to pay the fees again for a while. Just be sure to store it wisely, divided up in your luggage and on your body.