Cheap travel without a cheap experience – that’s the goal.
When you travel solo, when you’re not sharing the cost of a room or you’re facing the single supplement, saving money is important. You need to get the most from your travel dollar. After all, a little low cost luxury is nice.
But cheap travel is a moving target. How to get a deal or just generally save on the cost of travel is changing all the time. Here are some of my best tips along with some resources and advice from other travelers and travel bloggers.
The Basics of Cheap Travel
Travel at the right time – Travel on the shoulder or off season to get the best deals and miss the crowds. This is easier for solo travelers than for couples or groups.
Budget your trip – It’s important to know what you can afford to spend on your travels and set a budget. When doing so, plan to spend on what really matters to you and save on what doesn’t. Maybe accommodation isn’t that important to you but expensive restaurants or scuba diving are. Save one place to spend another.
Choose your destination to save – Certain destinations are definitely more expensive than others. You can save thousands and get the same satisfaction out of the trip. This year I went to India rather than Africa, mostly because it was cheaper and I knew that I would enjoy India just as much. Read When Travel Is the Goal, Not Destination.
Transportation that Won't Break the Bank
First class is an option – Ok, it will cost you but there are times when first class travel can be cheaper than others. This article on BBC Travel gives you the scoop.
Get a preferred seat flying coach – You’ve seen it yourself, not all seats in coach are created equal. Yes, for the same price, one person gets a better deal than another. Seat Guru gives you the scoop on individual seats by airline and flight number. It rates the seats as “good”, “some drawbacks”, “poor”, “standard”… Very useful.
Be flexible with your dates – the difference from one day to the next can be a few hundred dollars. If possible, be flexible with your dates when booking flights.
Check and check again – Check the travel search engines to find the best deals on flights but, before you book, see what the price of your preferred flight combination is on the carrier’s website. You could save money.
Get a free Upgrade on Rental Cars – Book the cheapest car rental available and you have a better chance of an upgrade. Learn why and other tips in this article on Lifehacker.
Try a Vacation Rental – The price of the vacation rental is usually less than a hotel – even for a short term stay. Kate from Trip Logic. says: “what is really helpful is that I can cook my own food which allows me to control the cost of eating and check out the local super markets while I'm at it.” Check out Homeaway, airbnb and VRBO.
Stay in a university or college residence – If you are traveling during the summer, try to stay at university and college residences. They're always clean, convenient and inexpensive. Breakfast is available and these residences are usually on a bus line. This tip is from Evelyn of Journeywoman. Here’s a link to university sleeps on her website.
Consider Package Deals – Gibson Goff says “Don't automatically overlook package deals, from well known sources like AAA. Gibson says: “We signed up for a week's worth of travel, at 2 locales. First, at an all inclusive Dude Ranch in New York (3 days), then a ‘Honeymoon' couples weekend at the Tropicana in Atlantic City. Dinner, wine, shows, slot comps, a great luxury suite with hot tub! And all for the price of less than others we sat with at the Dude Ranch paid for 2 days with meals!”
Try a hostel – I love hostels for the social experience and for the price. Read Sleeping with Strangers: The Hostel Experience to get a sense of what a hostel is really like.
Beat the single supplement – There are many ways of tackling this problem that solo travelers face on packaged vacations. Here’s a link to the post that explains them all. Avoiding the single supplement. You may also want to sign up for the Solo Traveler Advisory that we send out on the third Monday of every month. It delivers a list of trips with no or very low single supplements.
Couchsurfing is an excellent option – Many people dismiss couchsurfing swiftly. But our special couchsurfing advocate on Solo Traveler explains how to do it and how to use couchsurfing to connect locally.
When booking a hotel – Read Save on Hotels? Yes You Can with These 10 Tips
Eating In and Out
Experience the Top Chefs in Town – Restaurants typically have less expensive menus for lunch than dinner. However, your food comes from the same kitchen and is managed by the same executive chef. Take your main meal at noon and save.
Street food – You have to be careful with street food but if the stand is busy and the food is piping hot, it's a great bet most places in the world.
Become a temporary vegetarian – The vegetarian dish on the menu is almost always the least expensive item on the menu. Travel as a vegetarian – even part-time – and save.
Eat from the local grocers – This is another tip by Gibson Goff. “Eating can take up a lot of your budget! Go to the deli counter and get meats and cheeses, then the dairy area, or cold drink area for liquid refreshments.” Do you have a pocket knife? You can cut up veggies to get what you need in that department as well.
Check Living Social / Groupon for your destination cities – If your trip is a few weeks away, subscribe to one of these discount deals services and then unsubscribe once your trip is completed. Prana of Travel Whimsy says, “we've had remarkable luck with excursions and food offerings that otherwise would have flown under our radar.
Check out Restaurant.com – Again, from Prana…“Restaurant.com frequently has discount codes (at any given time 50-80% off) so you can purchase a $25 voucher for about $2. After a 20% tip on the original purchase amount and taxes, a nice sit down dinner for two often comes out to be about $20 out the door. Make sure to call ahead and confirm that the restaurants still accept the vouchers (restaurants tend to come and go but the listings on the website aren't always the most accurate).
Carry your own water bottle – Peggy Coonley at Serendipity Traveler suggests that you carry your water bottle empty through security and refill on the other side. This saves purchasing pricey water at airports
Never ever ever purchase food from hotel mini bars – Again from Peggy… instead go out for a walk and find a local shop for munchies.
Pack an easy recipe and cook dinner at a hostel – Another tip for Journeywoman– Tuna casserole is a cinch to make, the ingredients are inexpensive and the finished product can be shared with new travel friends. You'll not only save money, you'll be the star of the hostel.
Sites & Attractions
Free City Tours – Europe, check out Sandeman's New Europe. New York City, check out Big Apple Greeters. San Francisco, check out San Francisco Walking Guides. Google free tour and your destination to find more.
Free Days at Museums – Just about all public museums have times when entrance is free. Check it out for specific museums but you may also want to Google “free museums” and your destination to find other museum opportunities that you hadn’t thought of.
Mobile Phones – Sarah at Travel Bite says: “Switch to a local SIM card. This is the cheapest way to use a mobile phone abroad. All it requires is an unlocked phone or an old/rented phone (if you’d rather not take your fancy new iPhone). Simply buy a local pay-as-you-go SIM card or purchase a multi-country SIM card (depending on where your travels are taking you) and away you go!
Free Wifi – Counter-intuitively, wifi tends to be free at budget hotels and cost up to $10 a day at chain hotels. (They'll figure it out eventually.) If you don't want to stay at a budget hotel you can get free wifi at any Starbucks, most McDonad's and independent coffee shops.
Skype and Facetime – Download these two apps for your phone and when you have free wifi, stay connected face-to-face with family and friends.
Reduce the cost and the weight – Travel guides are heavy and expensive. Do you need the guide for an entire country or just for certain regions? Buy just what you need and get it in electronic format. Find Kindle travel guides here and carry it on your phone, tablet or computer giving you instant access to the same information you would have in a heavy book.
25,000 concise and free travel guides – There are many free travel guides online. Toowist is one source your can check out.
Free travel apps for your smart phone – From subway navigation apps to translation apps, there are thousands of free phone apps that are great for travel. Read Travel Apps that Save Money and Make Travel Easier.
Travel Stuff You Want to Know
Every month in the Solo Traveler newsletter, I share links to budget travel tips and cool travel info. That's on the first Monday of the month. On the third Monday, I send out the Solo Travel Advisory with deals that come my way that are great for solo travelers. Sign up for them here.