Considering a trip abroad but not sure if you have the funds available? It doesn’t have to be as expensive as you think. If you think “outside the box” a little, you can drastically cut your travel costs. We’ve put together our top seven tips for international travel on a budget.
1. Volunteer or do a Work Placement
Accommodations are usually one of the largest expenses when you’re abroad, whether you’re staying in hostels, hotels or Airbnb style rentals. So if you’re going to be traveling for extended periods, consider signing up for programs like WorkAway or HelpX where you will get free accommodation (and sometimes meals) in exchange for a few hours work each day. It’s a great way to travel on a budget while having a really immersive experience in your chosen destination and getting to meet the locals. Both programs have a really broad range of projects to choose from, or if you know that you want to learn about organic farming, then give WWOOFing a go.
Another affordable option is a volunteer abroad placement where you’ll have all of your accommodation, meals and in-country transport organized as part of your program fee. Volunteer abroad placements are particularly good for those that want a greater insight into environmental and developmental issues or if you’re considering a career in the humanitarian sector. Budding architects should consider a volunteer abroad placement in a sustainable building program, which will provide invaluable skills and look great on your resume.
2. Eat on the Street
Forego the overpriced tourist restaurants where you’ll get westernized versions of local dishes and head to the street establishments where you’ll find the “real deal”. There’s often a lot of fear surrounded with eating at local restaurants or street food stalls when abroad, but most seasoned travelers will tell you that it’s the best food you’ll find and the stomach complaints are minimal.
You can find authentic dishes and snacks that cost a fraction of the price of what you’d pay in tourist restaurants and (if you’re eating at street food stalls) you can see exactly what’s going on in the kitchen. Hygiene standards might not be what you’re used to back home, but if the locals are flocking there, then it’s probably not going to do you any harm.
3. Shop Around and be Aware
If you are planning on purchasing souvenirs or handicrafts, always shop around before making a decision, particularly if the initial price seems expensive. In some cultures bargaining is expected, so don’t be afraid to get your haggling skills on in the markets. But keep in mind that the vendors are trying to make a living, so don’t talk them down to a price that’s not fair on them.
It’s also important to be aware of touts that might try and persuade you to do things that will inevitably result in you handing over a lot of money. Before you travel to a destination, always do some research online about common scams experienced by other tourists so you’ll be on high alert if you get approached by someone offering the same.
4. Consider Alternative Activities
In some countries with a dedicated tourist trail, it’s not uncommon for hostels and hotels to be signing guests up for activities in the destinations they are heading to. But before you commit yourself (and hand over your cash), consider that there might be other more affordable (or free) activities that will interest you just as much.
If you’re trying to travel on a budget, it’s always good to spend at least a half day exploring a new destination on foot, poking your head into museums and shops and just getting a feel for the place. This also gives you the opportunity to decide what you really want to do with the time you have there, which might not be the expensive sky diving or white water rafting adventure you almost committed to. Keep in mind that many small businesses don’t have the means to market their services, so you might stumble upon something fantastic if you explore a little yourself.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t pay good money for activities and support local tourism economies. But make your own decisions about where you want to spend your money and what you want to do, rather than being swayed by peer pressure or a persuasive hostel worker who’s getting a commission.
5. Be Money Savvy
Being money savvy doesn’t just mean considering what you buy and spend money on while abroad, but organizing your means of accessing money before heading overseas. Most ATM debit and credit cards will wrack up serious fees for overseas transactions (up to around $30 for a single withdrawal), so chat to your bank as to whether they have a special travel money card that reduces these fees. Alternatively, you can find travel money cards with another institution that you can load with funds before you go or even do direct deposits from your bank account.
Carefully check what the fees are for loading funds (some cards charge to load), as well as the set fees or % the bank will take each time your withdrawal. If it’s going to be better to withdrawal large amounts in a single transaction, you need to consider where you’re going to stash the cash. Also, check whether your bank has an association with a bank overseas that might exempt you from some fees. It’s hard to find a card with no overseas withdrawal fees, but with a bit of shopping around, you can find affordable alternatives to the card you use back home.
When it comes to changing money overseas, it’s a good idea to shop around. Airports tend to have some of the worst rates as they know that visitors will need cash as soon as they arrive. You can usually find out how favorable airport rates are by searching in online forums and seeing what other travelers have to say about your particular destination. If the rates at the airport are bad, you might be better withdrawing directly from an ATM in the Arrivals hall. You can also exchange some money before heading overseas, but it’s a good idea to check against the official exchange rates at www.xe.com to make sure you’re not getting ripped off.
6. Sign Your Parents (and Grandparents) up for Skype
It used to be that you’d make an expensive international call home once every few weeks to check in with family and friends. But now when you’re traveling abroad, there’s no reason why you can’t chat on a more regular basis (and for free) with services like Skype. While this might seem almost second nature to you, make sure you get your parents and grandparents on board before you go as it might be completely new to them.
Help them install Skype and explain how it all works, then do a few test calls so they are comfortable with using it. Then you can stay in touch whenever you have a decent internet connection and not have to pay a cent for it.
The availability of Wi-Fi also means that you can probably ditch your SIM card from back home that will wrack up soaring fees if you use it abroad. There are so many different online messenger services to chat easily with friends back home and all they require is an internet signal. If you’re a bit of a phone addict, traveling abroad is a great opportunity to get away from the screen for a while and just live in the moment. That doesn’t mean you won’t still have regular contact, but it does mean you can get out on day excursions or even multi-day trips and be blissfully un-contactable!
7. Take Advantage of Apps
Apps are a great way to stay on top of your finances while abroad and travel on a budget. Whether it’s an app to monitor your spending or an app to access your account balance, they’ll make sure you’re not spending more than you have available. An app with the day’s official exchange rate can also be useful so you know what you should be getting for your money at a bureau de change or bank.
Spending apps like Trail Wallet are a useful addition as you can easily enter any receipts or purchases as and when they happen. Rather than trying to remember what you spent when you return to your hostel or hotel each evening, you’ll have an up-to-date expenditure list with you everywhere you go.