15 Easy Money Saving Travel Tips

Waiting in line for a museumAugust is a big month for travel. People from around the world use the end of summer as an excuse to take last-minute vacations with their families before the school season begins and the cold weather returns. Europe practically shuts down as people take the month off to travel. So there is no better way to start August with some great travel tips to make your vacation go a bit easier, more enjoyable, and a lot cheaper:

1. When booking flights, sometimes it is cheaper to fly into airports other than your final destination, and then take a train or bus. This is especially true during peak travel season or festivals. For my recent flight to Valencia, the cheapest flight was $700 (with 2 stops) as everyone is traveling there for La Tomatina. Even Ryanair was $200 to fly just from London. However, it was only $550 to fly into Madrid and then another $50 to take the train. I saved myself $100 USD and 6 hours in layover time getting to Valencia before I would have otherwise.

2. Always get behind business travelers when in security lines. Families have more stuff and move much slower. Frequent fliers know exactly how to move through that line quickly and have everything ready even before they grab the x-ray machine tray. I also try to avoid older travelers because they always seem to forget the liquid rule.

3. Always find out what type of plane you are flying on so you know how nice the seats and amenities are as not all planes are created equal. For example, American Airlines MD-80s have wi-fi installed, but as of right now, smaller Boeing planes do not. Newer versions of planes also tend to have more leg room and nicer seats. Not all aircraft have personal TV screens either. When booking your flight, the airlines will tell you what kind of plane you are flying on and you can check its quality at the site Seat Guru, which lets you know the amenities and configurations of every plane out there. No one wants to be on a long flight in an old plane.

Find out more about airline tickets at my in depth article on how to get a cheap flight.

4. If you like hotels, last-minute deals on Priceline or Hotwire can get you rooms over 60% off the normal price. You can bid for your rooms and if you decide to do this, use the website Better Bidding to see what others have bid on recently so you don’t overbid. I got a room in Times Square during the Christmas season for $90 USD per night this way. That is a steal. You don’t need to be a member of the forums in order to see the bids other people placed but you do need to be a member to post on the forum.

5. When you check in to the hotel, ask for an upgrade. Tourism is very bad right now and you are much more likely to get free upgrades and goodies just by asking. They want to keep customers happy and have them go home recommending them to others. Use that to your advantage.

6. If you are traveling with 3-4 people, consider getting a suite. Couches usually fold out into beds making that Priceline/Hotwire negotiated room even cheaper. Four of us split a king suite in a 4 star hotel in Chicago for $50 each per night.

7. If you are in a city for a week or more, renting a furnished apartment can be cheaper than a hotel. You can find a lot of great rented apartments through websites like AirBnB, Wimdu, Home Away, and 9Flats. You’ll be renting out people’s apartments and they are always cheaper than a Hilton plus come with a kitchen so you can cook your food and lower your expenses more. I’ve written more about this style of travel here.

8. You can also use sites like Couchsurfing and Hospitality Club to stay with locals for free. I love these sites. I’ve used Couchsurfing close to a dozen times and have had nothing but good interactions on the sites. Not only is it a great site for getting an inexpensive place to stay but you get to hang out with locals and learn about the city in a way no guidebook could ever teach you.

9. Most hostels offer private rooms that are cheaper than hotels. You will have your own bathroom, new sheets each day, free Wi-Fi, and sometimes even a T.V. In New York, my private hostel room was $80 per night. The closest one star hotel in the area (Central Park) cost $120 and did not include wi-fi (but probably some bed bugs).

You can find more information at my article on how to pick the best hostel and how to get free and cheap accommodation.

10. Always visit the local tourist office and get a tourism card. Local tourism offices (think London Tourism, Paris Tourism, New York Tourism, etc) issue cards for all their attractions, tours, and some restaurants. This card gives you free entry or substantial discounts on all the attractions and tours in a city, free local public transportation (a huge plus), and discounts at a few restaurants. By buying the Paris museum pass, I saved $85 USD off the normal price of the museums. Most major cities around the world offer these.

11. Libraries, Starbucks, and most cafes have free wi-fi or internet if you are stuck having to pay for it somewhere.

12. Lunch time is the best time to visit historical sites. Tour groups always head to places in the early morning or late afternoon, but around 1 pm, they break for lunch, leaving much shorter lines for major attractions. Conversely, if you are an early riser, you can be the first one in line and beat the wait time.

13. Never eat in a tourist area – the food will be half as good and twice the price. This is a simple enough tip, but one often forgotten by people. Just walk three blocks in any direction and you’ll find cheaper and more local restaurants. Getting off La Ramblas in Barcelona, my friends and I found this tapas restaurant where we ate like kings for 7 Euros each, about half as much as it would have cost on La Ramblas.

14. Locals don’t eat out every night and neither should you. Visit the local supermarket to see what the local palate is like and cook yourself a nice dinner. If you don’t have a kitchen where you are staying, hit the markets and make yourself some sandwiches for a picnic in the park.

15. Eat at expensive restaurants during lunch. Most restaurant offer lunch specials much cheaper than those on the normal dinner menu. This is especially prevalent in Europe. I’ve also found great lunch deals in restaurants in Singapore and Australia. You get a set menu but what you lack in choice, you make up in savings. Don’t know where to go? Don’t look in the guidebook. Ask your hostel or hotel staff.

Check out my article on how to eat cheap food when you travel for more tips.

When you plan your next holiday, remember some of these tips. Traveling doesn’t have to be a time consuming and expensive process. It should be easy, cheap, and, most importantly, fun.

  1. My favorite tip: pack light! For a 10-day summer grad school course in Prague and Bratislava I brought only a carry-on suitcase and a large purse. Everyone else was bogged down with a bunch of stuff in huge suitcases they didn’t need. Traveling light is the only way to go. Unless of course you’re moving to Brussels…

  2. JoAnna

    Regarding tip #7, do you know of any websites that post apartment/condo rentals for people who will be staying in a city for a week or longer?

    As always, thanks for the great suggestions!

    • JoAnna – I’ve used vrbo.com (vacation rental by owner) and have been very happy with them! I found renting a nice cottage in Santa Barbara, California for a weekend much cheaper (and nicer) then most of the motels in the area. And I am now renting a house at the Jersey Shore with my family the same way.

      I live in NYC and was curious to see what is listed for the city. I found some really great brownstone apartments in the Village that were also cheaper than hotels, and would make anyone feel like a local! I think it is a great option for anyone and any length of stay.

    • magda lootens

      I have rented several times an appartment through booking.com.
      Last time ( June 2012) in Boedapest and it was great !!!! Before in Granada, Sevilla, Cordoba in Spain.

  3. Deborah

    Packing light is a definite must, but also be sure to pack for comfort. Leave the fru fru clothing at home along with the high high heels.

    @JoAnna I recommend http://www.vacationrentals.com/ they list by per night, weekly as well as monthly in all the major cities throughout the world.

  4. “Locals don’t eat every night.” Really? THAT’s how I’m mean to lose a few kg’s then: become a true local :)

    Good tips here, Matt. One thing to note is that Starbucks doesn’t have free wifi everywhere. Here in New Zealand, where they’ve been canibalising an established coffee culture, they charge NZ$10/hour to use wifi, Aussie is also not free (and, as we all expect, they serve caffeinated sugar rather than coffee).

    • NomadicMatt

      Sarcasm noted craig but most locals have kitchens and tend to cook some meals. However, I am sure some locals do eat out every night.

      RE: Starbucks. That’s why I added Cafes too but in America, they just rolled out 2 hrs of free wi-fi. Also, we have a place called Panera Bread (sandwich chain) and they have free wi-fi.

      • JoAnna

        Starbucks signed a contract regarding their WiFi in the U.S., which I believe is stuck for a few more years. However, you can find free WiFi in a cafe called the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and occasionally McD’s has free WiFi. I believe the McD’s WiFi is just in certain cities because I ran into one that wanted to charge me, but it didn’t even have an outlet for me to plug in to.

  5. Another tip: College cafeterias will often provide a regular restaurant meal in a foreign city for much less than most restaurants. When you see a university, look for food outlets. Beer tends to be cheaper too.

  6. Hi Matt!
    Great tips!
    Just some notes:
    on 3. I would never change a Boeing for an AA M-80, not even with free wi-fi…
    on 4. and 6. sometimes it’s worth dealing directly with hotels; they may give you some personalized attention they don’t usually provide to what they name «allotment people»…
    on 9. and 10. OK! But beware: discount cards could perfectly be the first step for tourist traps!
    finally, on 14 «Locals don’t eat every night and neither should you», I’m with Craig… ;))
    Enjoy your travelling!

  7. Also food in the tourist areas might just be bad. The only bad meal I have has in Italy was directly across from the Vatican. They were not relying on return visitors.

    • NomadicMatt

      Totally. If you eat in Thailand, the worst food is in the backpacker area. Head two streets over and you get delicious local food.

  8. Jase

    If you get one of the Starbucks rechargeable cards (the gift card types) and register it online, you can get 2-hrs of free wifi a day. All you have to do is make one transaction (using, reloading, etc) a month to get the free hours. It may not allow you to spend the afternoon in the Starbucks, but two hours is a good amount of time for checking e-mails, uploading photos, Tweeting, and blogging. The wifi works with mobile devices too. I use my iTouch to access the web at Starbucks.

  9. I would recommend that you prepare your itinerary and produce it at the customs when requested. A friend of mine who’s visiting me in London was nearly barred from entry when she didn’t know which attractions she’ll be visiting. lol

  10. good tips buddy anything to make travel to and from your destination more pleasurable is good news for sure
    i have started to dislike flying more and more if only i could afford to fly all 3 of us business then maybe i would start to enjoy it again

    • NomadicMatt

      Lately, I’ve noticed a growing trend of free wifi where I have been going. Maybe I’m just getting lucky!

  11. great tips! also, many museums, university cultural events and art institutes have free days or ARE free. just check around and you can score big!

  12. >>Priceline can get you rooms over 60% off the normal price

    I have never had luck booking cheap(er) accommodations (or flights) through big websites. I’ve always found better deals on the ground. In China, one of the major booking sites charges foreign tourists more than residents.

    Great list, Matt. Thanks!

  13. or simply look out for the best deals – there are quite a few flash sales happening in the recession. If you want to overland in Africa why not check them out tomorrow between 12 and 5pm bst – they’ll be offering 55% off the African Insight and 25 % off all their other overland tours. Here’s a great video to give you a taster of the Acacia overlanding experience: http://bit.ly/info/4DNDNy

  14. Good idea on tip #1. I’m also a big fan of packing light and will only take what can fit into a daypack. If there’s something that’s absolutely needed later, I’ll go buy it.

  15. dibs

    can anyone tell me where to find the article on special buses in uk sited by matt
    I can’t find reference and will be there for 3 months and need his cheap transport iblog

  16. Great tips! I’ve used similar techniques when travelling as well. For example, I’ve flown alternate airlines that included a stopover, but were of higher quality.

  17. Great List for traveler but also a good IDEA for tour guide’s like me. I will write down all these travel tips for my clients to help them making their trip more enjoyable.
    Thanks Matt

  18. Interesting tips – thanks. When I went travelling round Europe for the summer we always got out food from supermarkets. It can be very dangerous to get in the habit of eating out for every meal – it’ll cut your trip down by at least half, if you’re not careful.

  19. Here is another tip guys -:

    Take only half a tube of toothpaste rolled up tight, store shampoo in small containers, only take half a roll of toilet paper (for emergencies only) and crush it so the middle is folded.

  20. The Howells

    I LOVE Couchsurfing! We haven’t had the chance to do it but we’ve accomodated a lot of people and you meet really fantastic and interesting people! I got the idea from this site and honestly, it’s priceless! (Literally!) Thanks for the tip!

  21. Funny how I just recently discovered this blog and found out that this is one of the top travel blogs in the world. My own travels have been limited so far in my own country the Philippines, but I certainly could use some of your tips here. Thanks Matt and more power!

  22. I’d like to add two more tips, due to travelling i experience two major issue.

    1) loosing my wallet (or it was stollen, don’t really remember) Make copies of your passport details, insurance policy, travellers cheques, visas and credit card numbers. Carry one copy in a separate place to the originals and leave a copy with someone at home

    2) Keep in contact with friends and family back home and give them a copy of your travel itinerary so they know where you are.

  23. These are great ideas that will help anyone on their next trip! I especially agree with eating away from the tourist areas. It never hurts to ask a local where they would like to eat.

  24. TJ

    Heya, Matt. Myself and six others are doing a group holiday to Italy in August (I’m organising it) (we’re staying in Rome). For them, it’s a holiday, but, for me, it is also a little taster of what travelling around Italy and Greece will be like for my Gap Year next year. Any advice about travelling specifically in/to/from Italy?
    Also, what are the most common items people pack into their suitcases which they really don’t actually need?
    Thanks, sugar!

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