How to travel cheap while on the road

Travel is never a matter of money, but a matter of courage. Too often people put off their dream trip in the hope they’ll afford it later. Later never happens because fear gets in the way. Instead, here at Workaway we want to promote how affordable travel can be! How you can travel longer, slower and for less than you’d ever imagine once you’re brave enough to take the first step.

Making sure your money lasts the duration of your trip is one of the toughest challenges with life on the road. However, we have some tried and tested tips that are the reason so many people like me and you can afford to make their dreams a reality. In fact, a small budget can even improve your trip, not hold you back! This guide covers 20 ways to save money while travelling, to help your budget last and those epic memories last even longe:
group of hiking travellers pose happily on snowy mountains

1. Save on the basics

Before you get brave enough to make that first step, it’s important you start off on the right foot. Having the right money mindset as you plan your trip, will set you up for success before you even arrive at your destination. In order to achieve this, it’s important that you don’t splurge on the basics. Here’s how:

  • Find cheap flights – Some people say money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy plane tickets so we’d have to disagree. What makes us even happier is when flights don’t take up the biggest chunk of our budget. We have put together the best ways to find cheap flights to help your money last longer and open a whole world of possibilities!
  • Free accommodation – When you join Workaway, the membership fee is for an entire year of adventures, with over 50,000 experiences available at the click of a button. This means a whole year of accommodation for less than the price of one night in a standard hotel.
    Occasionally hosts request a contribution towards food or living expenses but the majority provide food, accommodation, and play tour guide in exchange for your time and skills. Workaway also offers housesitting opportunities as well as paid experiences to save you even more money while travelling.
  • Make a plan – How can you stick to a budget if you don’t know what your budget is to begin with? Read our advice on how to afford your big trip for small changes that will have a big impact on your travel budget. We also cover over 20 money saving tips for those who are planning to travel on a budget to maximise their adventure fund before they’ve even hopped on a plane!
    Being spontaneous is all fun and games until you realise your budget has lasted three days not three months. If you want to keep your costs low, PLANNING IS ESSENTIAL. It enables you to plot a route and book bargains along the way. It also means you leave less to chance which usually means unexpected expenses. We recommend using these great websites to save money during your travels as they will help plan accommodation, activities and transport on a budget.
solo long term traveller motorbiking through vietnam roads

How to save money on activities

2. Avoid tourist traps

While those tourist hot spots are popular for a reason, many are overpriced or overhyped. Instead, travel like a local and avoid the tourist traps to save big bucks. By venturing off the beaten track you’ll not only save money, but you’ll uncover hidden gems that allow for a far more rewarding travel experience. Money can’t buy the joy of beach all to yourself or a crowd free campsite, it pays to be adventurous!

3. Get to know the locals

If you’re wondering how to avoid the tourist traps when you’re a tourist, it’s simple – ask the locals! Locals are a fountain of knowledge and one of the best ways to save money while travelling. They’ll know shortcuts, free tours, authentic restaurants, the best hikes and so much more. 

Locals are also the most reliable for up to date information, whereas blogs or books may have been written a few years ago. By asking a local before you book or set off you’ll save yourself so much effort and expense.

workawayer sat in a circle with local children warming hands around a fire and smiling

4. Make the most of free attractions

Just because an activity is free, doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile. Free walking tours are one of the best ways to get to know a new destination. Hikes, beaches and waterfall swims are all free yet such enriching activities. 

Some venues may even run free events during the week, or galleries run free exhibitions for students. Simply search for “free things to do in [your destination]” and you may be surprised what pops up!

5. Opt for DIY excursions

When it comes to those unmissable, bucket list activities, you may be tempted to book a tour. However, one of the best ways to save money while travelling is to book it yourself. Tour operators need to make a profit, so although a package tour can sound like a good deal, always compare it to a DIY option.

Would it be cheaper if you used public transport and packed your own lunch? Would it be cheaper if you hired a car and split the cost between a group of you instead? Are their hidden fees or added tips expected? Group tours also mean you have to stick with their itinerary whereas you’ll have more freedom to go off the beaten path by planning your own excursions.
workawayer on tourist excursion while walking two huskies

How to Save Money on Food & Drink

6. A reusable water bottle & coffee cup

When it comes to saving money while travelling, sometimes the most simple ideas are the best. This includes taking a reusable water bottle and coffee cup with you on your trip. Not only does this help you become a more sustainable traveller but it will save you money too! 

Many attractions and outdoor spaces now allow visitors to refill their water bottles for free, which saves plastic use and paying for water. Coffee shops usually offer a discount when you use a refillable coffee cup too – every penny makes a difference!

7. Eat like a local

You know those overhyped tourist attractions we mentioned earlier? These are usually surrounded by overpriced places to eat. When you’ve queued for hours to get in somewhere, it’s only natural to want to jump into the nearest restaurant afterwards – but restaurant owners know this so they bump up the prices. They know footfall is guaranteed so they don’t need to be competitive with their pricing.

Food will be cheaper the further out from touristy spots you go. You may even find that the food gets more authentic too, as restaurant owners don’t need to cater to all tastes, only locals’. A little extra travel time can save some major money while travelling so it’s worth the effort.

8. Don’t eat out all the time

On the topic of dining at restaurants, another way to save money while travelling is not to dine out for every meal. This may sound like common sense but it’s so easy to get tempted into splashing the cash when the food is new and exciting. 

By staying with a Workaway host or in a hostel, you’ll usually have access to a kitchen which will allow you to prepare your own meals. Alternatively, opt for street food or markets as they will offer local food at a fraction of the cost of a restaurant meal.  
two workawayers at host's garden making homemade pizza

How to Save Money on Transport

9. Carpool

Carpooling is another easy way to save money while travelling. Whether it’s a dream road trip or simply getting to the airport, by sharing the journey with others you’ll find it's often cheaper than public transport. 

There are several carpooling platforms such as Bla Bla Car that help you find drivers going in the same direction. Similarly, if you’re headed on a road trip and have space in the car why not split fuel costs by finding others to carpool with you?

10. Walk everywhere

While it won’t be an option for all, one of the best ways to save money while travelling is to eliminate transport costs completely and walk everywhere! Walking is not only the cheapest transport, but it’s so much easier to discover hidden gems and head off the beaten path on foot. It also means zero carbon emissions proving that sustainable travel can boost your health and the planet's too!

two travellers hiking up a sand dune

More Ways to Save Money While Travelling

11. Work as you travel

This may sound obvious, but one of the easiest ways to save money while travelling is to make money while travelling! By interlacing paid work with Workaway experiences, you will be able to travel slower and longer. Just remember to factor in costs required for you to acquire the correct visa, which depends largely on the travel regulations of the countries you are from and going to. There are SO many ways you can combine work and travel, here are a few of the most popular:

  • Working holiday visas – Countries such as Australia or New Zealand welcome travellers with open arms and offer generous pay for roles such as fruit picking, construction or farming. These are called “working holidays” and usually allow you to work for up to 6 months.
  • Digital nomad – Alternatively you could become a digital nomad and make money from your laptop. Digital nomads are people who travel the world while making money online. Offering assistance with anything from admin to accounts, web development to customer service. Sounds like fun? Read our top tips on how to be a successful digital nomad to top up your bank balance in no time! As a tip, many of our hosts are happy to accept digital nomads, simply filter using the accommodation info button.
  • Au pair – Another great option for those hoping to save money while travelling is to become an au pair. The term au pair is French for "at par" or "equal to" and essentially means you become an equal member of the family (although temporary). The role typically involves caring for children, housework duties and cooking in exchange for accommodation, food and a stipend. 
  • Paid Workaway – While the majority of Workaway experiences are on a volunteer basis, you can find paid opportunities on the platform too! You can add this to your app search filter or look for the “paid position” icon in the listing. 
local workaway host teaching two workawayers how to pick cacao beans

12. Save and Share

There are numerous ways to save money while travelling thanks to the sharing economy. Also known as a peer-to-peer economy, a sharing economy involves the sharing of goods and services via online platforms. This collaborative consumption model means people can save and/or earn money by exchanging or renting out their items and services to individuals who would rather rent or borrow for a cheaper fee.

Apart from Workaway, there are so many ways you can use this to save money while travelling. For example, renting snowboarding equipment, relocating campervans, borrowing bikes or even dining with locals. Intrigued? Read our guide on how to save money using the sharing economy now!

13. Get a local SIM card

This may sound simple but you’d be surprised how often people forget to turn off their data or assume they’ll just buy WiFi as they go. Instead, buy a local sim as soon as you arrive as it will save you so much money and effort. Hostels and hotels often crazily overcharge for WiFi and data roaming can be an expensive add on.

Local sims are usually available at the airport, though you may find them cheaper at a local shop or supermarket. Cheap texts, calls and internet will help you navigate and plan on the go as well as keep in touch with home. Just make sure your phone is unlocked before you leave home so it is able to accept other sim cards first!

14. Be aware of ATM charges

Another simple detail that so many people forget when heading abroad. Although it is often cheaper to take out cash from a local ATM rather than exchange the money before you go, the ATM charges can soon add up.

You can either take out larger sums of money to avoid multiple fees (making sure you store the cash in different bags, pockets etc. don’t keep it all in one place) or research into banking apps such as Monzo, Revolut or Wise that offer free or reduced fees when paying in local currency.  

15. Try and haggle

You may have heard the term “tourist tax” used to describe the higher prices tourists pay in comparison to locals. While sometimes, these extra fees or higher prices are justified as they help to combat overtourism, other times it's acceptable to haggle for a discount.

In some countries for example India, Morocco and Turkey, negotiating a discount (haggling) is part of the culture, where in others such as Japan its not. Some places also view haggling as unethical, so do your research beforehand, and always be respectful. The aim is to reach an agreement that both the buyer and seller find fair.

local knelt on the floor selling vegetables and smiling

16. Learn the language

One of the best ways to save money while you travel is to learn the language. A few phrases can help you find the hidden gems, ask for discounts or where to find the cheapest coffee for example. It can also help avoid being ripped off in the first place if you know the language. 

Additionally, locals may be more likely to share their secret sunrise spots or where to find best street food as they appreciate you making the effort. By going the extra mile, you’ll save those precious extra pennies which can make or break your trip.

17. Concession Discount

Many countries offer “concession” discounts on entry fees, tours or tickets. These are usually for students, those under 18 or over 60. Some places will ask for proof such as a student ID, while others only offer concession discounts on certain days. Before you book any tickets especially for galleries or museums it is worthwhile checking for these discounts to save some extra money while travelling.  

backpacking couple hold hands and stare at Eiffel tower paris

18. Travel Insurance

Travel insurance does essentially mean spending money to save money. Your entire travel budget can be spent trying to replace lost luggage, rearrange cancelled flights or repair a broken phone. With travel insurance you have that safety blanket should any unexpected issues pop up. 

This includes medical expenses which can climb into the thousands depending on the destination. No one wants to put that pressure on their family or cut their dream trip short, so always book travel insurance as financial protection for your trip.

19. Stop the souvenirs

A tip for the shopaholics among us, but if you want to save money while travelling you need to stop the souvenirs. Often people assume souvenirs are proof of the places they’ve visited. In reality, they take up valuable backpack space before sitting collecting dust at home. Once you stop the souvenir shopping you’ll quickly notice how much money you can save.

Instead invest your time in taking photographs as these will serve as precious reminders of your amazing trip, not material objects. By all means, spend your money with local businesses, but if you are buying make sure you aren’t purchasing imported, counterfeit or perishable goods that will cause you more hassle than it’s worth.

solo female traveller smiling at camera while sitting at the river with feet in water and fish swimming around them

20. Track your spending

How can you expect to save money while you travel if you don’t even know how much you’re spending? This is a common mistake many travellers make and one you can easily fix – for free! There are so many budget tracking apps or digital wallets that help to streamline your spending. If you’re not keen on downloading yet another app, good old excel or Google Sheets can do the same.

They can show where the biggest chunk of your budget is going (hello, beer) helping you to see where you can cut back, or also aid with currency conversions and withdrawal fees. Budget tracking apps can help you set daily targets making sure your funds will last the duration and also where you can afford to splurge and when you need to save. They’re also great to look back on as a record of your trip should you need to make recommendations to friends or return.  
couple hugging while gazing at the mountains after a hike

While all this talk of saving and spending can feel daunting, there is one thing you should always keep in mind. You can always make more money, but you can never make more time. How you choose to invest your time is so important as you can never get that time back. By all means these tips will help you save money while travelling, but the experiences, people and memories you’ll make are truly what will make you richer so spend your time wisely!

budget travels

About Lauren

Growing up in a small coastal village in Scotland inspired Lauren to seek adventure and challenge the norm. Armed with just her backpack and trusty travel companion Darren, she quit her day job to liv... show more...

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