Part of traveling the way the locals do is recognizing that an expensive trip isn’t necessary for a “rich” travel experience. In fact, budget-friendly traveling often lends itself to a more authentic experience.
Personally, I travel too often to be extravagant in my daily choices while I’m on the road. Plus, traveling is about the experience, not how much you spend. Here are my favorite tips for traveling on a budget and ensuring you experience a place as authentically as possible:
1. Decide your budget ahead of time. Make it a hard number (“I will not spend more than $800.”). Convert the amount into the currency of your destination so you’re not constantly having to do calculations. During your trip, save the receipts from each day, and in the morning tally up how much you spent the day before. This way you keep track of your budget and know how much you have available for the remainder of your trip.
2. Eat street food. It’s usually delicious local cuisine, and it’s way cheaper than tourist-trap delis or restaurants that charge inordinately high prices for basic fare like sandwiches. And on that note…
3. Don’t eat at the restaurants inside or near major attractions. They tend to be rip-offs. Instead, bring food with you or wait until you’re done at said attraction and venture back into local areas, where the food will be properly priced (and probably more delicious.)
4. Make your first stop the local grocery store. This is one of my favorite parts of traveling anyway. Buy snacks you can nosh on throughout the day so you won’t end up wasting money on overpriced on-the-go food. If your lodging has a kitchen, buy some local meat and produce and cook yourself a few meals.
5. Pre-game before you head out to celebrate. Buy wine, beer, or liquor at the store, and make yourself a few drinks before you go out. I’ve probably wasted thousands of dollars throughout the years buying expensive cocktails that I could have made myself and just nursed a few drinks later.
6. Take public transportation. What fun is it taking cabs everywhere, anyway? You get a much more authentic experience if you take the local trains, buses, trolleys, etc. Check to see if your destination has multiple-day transportation passes (example: NYC has weekend and 5-day passes, Berlin has 3-day passes). They can often be a tad cheaper than paying for passes by the day.
7. Look for flea markets. If you want cute items for yourself or need souvenirs for friends and family, ask locals about outdoor flea markets or thrift shops. No sense paying a ton of money for cheaply-made souvenirs or clothes and accessories you can get back home.
8. Don’t pay for day trips or tours you could do yourself. A lot of companies provide expensive day trips or tours, but with a little research, you could experience the same things yourself inexpensively or for free. Do a little digging and make sure it’s not something you could arrange yourself for much cheaper.
9. Google it. I always Google “free things to do in [X]” before heading out on a trip. Internet forums can provide a surplus of ideas for really authentic experiences for next to no cost, such as free live music or local plays. Take advantage of the web and city or neighborhood forums that have lots of information about inexpensive activities.
Traveling doesn’t have to be expensive, but it should be fun. Take some steps to save money, so you don’t have to worry about it when the adventures begin!