Happy almost-Friday! In case your week hasn’t brought enough spoilers courtesy of Game of Thrones or whatever television show you’re currently hooked on, I’ve got another for you. Are you ready for this? It’s a pretty big one…
In less than 5 weeks I’ll be back stateside! It’ll only be for a few weeks for weddings and family events and whatnot (and, let’s be honest, more puppy kisses from Louis than my heart can handle, I’m tearing up just thinking about it because goodness knows I’ve missed that bundle of love) but I’LL BE THERE!
So, what does this announcement have to do with budget-friendly travelling? It’s no secret that I love discovering new places, and returning to favourite haunts time and again. I also, of course, adore my family and have missed them dearly-Skype and FaceTime dates can only go so far. That said, trans-continental trips can be expensive. I’ve fawned over Pinterest-worthy vacations and dreamed up my travel bucket list, only to look at actual prices and cringe. With all the temptation to find new adventure while saving at least a little money, what are you to do? This is by no means an exhaustive guide, but I’ve put together a few of my tips for booking (and enjoying!) international travels without completely breaking the bank.
1. Don’t be afraid of budget brands: When Sara and I booked our flight to Norway our thought process was, I kid you not, “hey Norwegian airlines has really good deals from Orlando and LA to Oslo, so let’s go.” Impulsive? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. I had to pay a little extra for flights to and from Orlando, and elected to bring food on board instead of splashing out on their food-budget airlines often charge for everything extra (how else would it be so cheap?)-but even with those extra expenses I spent half of what I did when moving over to the UK. And guess what? I slept fine on the plane, I made it safely, and my luggage didn’t get lost. Budget brands can sometimes be a hit or miss depending on the deals they’re offering at the time, but it’s always worth checking!
2. Pack lightly: You’ve probably heard it a hundred times, and I’ll make it one hundred and one: make your suitcase light. Many airlines, especially budget ones, will charge a ridiculous amount for checked luggage. If you’re already checking luggage, weigh it so you don’t get charged for oversize at the airport-handing over more cash before you even make it on the flight can put a damper on even the most exciting trips. Pack the essentials for where you’re going and look up the weather a few days before you go so you don’t get stuck with only jumpers in the midst of an unseasonal heat wave…or buying a heavy coat because you didn’t realise there was a weird cold front forecasted. Once you’ve done that, leave your third black t-shirt and pair of statement heels at home…I promise you won’t need them.
3. Pick unpopular travel times: With over 7 billion people in the world chances are you’ll never be the only traveller in one place…unless you’re visiting Antarctica, in which case well done. However, you can still pick off-season (or even off-days) to travel, saving plenty of cash. I can’t tell you the amount of times Sara and I explained to locals that we were just visiting Oslo on holiday, only to be met with a perplexed look and an astonished “but why now??” The weather might not be absolutely ideal, and you shouldn’t go to Spain in January if you’re looking for a toasty Mediterranean getaway, but pushing a trip to the very end of peak season for that area could save more money than you think. Even booking tickets on off-days (think Tuesdays and Wednesdays instead of the weekend) is useful.
4. When in Rome…: I know, I know, but it’s a cliche for a reason. Meeting locals, or simply going to restaurants and city areas they frequent, can help you avoid tourist traps that suck money out of your wallet faster than a supercharged Dyson. Look for restaurants with a small menu in your language rather than signs advertising “________ spoken here”-I’ve often found that, while there’s nothing wrong with these places per se, you get a better feel for the city you’re in (and can keep hold of your money more easily) if you seek out places local residents seem to favour. If all else fails, hop on a dating or friendship app and make your profile say “visiting for [insert time here] and want to get to know the area”…in other words, how I wound up meeting my now-boyfriend. (Feel free to leave all jokes in the comments, if I get one I haven’t heard I’ll get a nice chuckle out of it!). Making friends with locals can help shed light on the real sites of the city, inject some adventure you weren’t anticipating, and even earn you some new travel pals, which leads me to number five…
5. Use your connections: I’m pretty sure if my parents didn’t let me stay with them for my upcoming trip I wouldn’t be going, if only because Fraser and I can’t afford a trans-Atlantic flight and three weeks’ worth of hotels (grad life). BUT, even if you don’t necessarily have family where you’re travelling, get in touch with any friends or distant relatives! My friend Gigi, who you may remember from my posts a few months back, stayed mostly-if not entirely-with friends and family members during her travels around Europe and Asia last year. It’s a wonderful chance to catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while, they’ll be able to show you a slice of their home city, and your bank account will breathe a heavy sigh of relief.
6. Take advantage of travel accounts if you have them: Alright, so maybe you don’t know people in the area you want to visit or just signed up for a travel site on impulse. Use your travel website accounts! A lot of sites might not reward you right away, but if you can find the best deal on places like Trivago or Hotels.com, the rewards will generally add up eventually. I use Hotels.com for affordable accommodation whenever I can-they have a range of prices if you dig around a bit-and every time I stay 10 nights at hotels through their site I earn a free night worth the average of those stays. Fraser and I were able to use these free nights to splash out on a nicer-than-usual hotel in Edinburgh around Christmas, and we’ll be using the ones I’ve earned since to make our weekend in London a lot less stressful on our debit cards. Even if you don’t get rewards right away, using your membership through some of the sites’ apps can get you a discount; I’ve saved 10% on hotels just by booking through the Hotels.com app which, believe it or not, can add up over time.
7. Exchange your money before you go: It’s worth looking at your bank’s exchange rates compared with other currency exchanges in the area, but I’ve always gotten the best rate-and service-through my own bank. Once you’ve done your research, let them know how much you need at least a week ahead of time. Banks usually have a bit of the most widely exchanged currencies on hand, but smaller or less-travelled countries may have a longer waiting period. Take it from me, dashing to the teller window three hours before your flight in a panic because your money only arrived that morning is not the way to start your holiday! You can always exchange more when you arrive, but it’s worth having at least some local currency when you step off the train, plane, or ship just in case. Otherwise you may find yourself bargaining with the only cabbie in the arrival area at 5:45 am, begging them to drive you to the city centre in exchange for you leaving your shoe in the car while you hit up an ATM (sorry mom, I promise I learned my lesson!).
8. ATMs beat credit cards: This, along with exchanging money before you travel, can help you keep track of how much you’re actually spending. We tend to be more careful with our money when it’s actually in our hands rather than floating about in an intangible bank account or credit line, and you have the added bonus of not wincing when you see an exchange fee for every. single. transaction. Your bank may charge you an exchange fee even if that ATM doesn’t, so I’d recommend larger transactions (think £100 for the week instead of £10 for one night out) but that’s another thing worth asking about when you talk with your bankers about exchanging currency. Added bonus for my fellow Americans: you won’t have to sign each receipt and have the bartender or cashier verify your signature, as most places will do that abroad even if you have a chip and pin card. Time and money saving? Yes please!
9. Plan ahead: You already know I’m not a fan of planning every single detail on my trip, and like leaving at least a little bit of adventure up to chance, but knowing exchange rates and average local prices, major events going on in the area, and the like can keep you from unintentionally overspending once you’re on holiday. If reviews online seem to note that restaurants in the area bring out bottled water unless specified otherwise, note to ask for tap water to avoid a surprising bill. Likewise, finding out about events like Russefeiring or football cup finals in your destination city can help you plan what you want to do while there, and budget accordingly.
10. Guide books are your friend: Yes, I’m serious. While I don’t often stock up on guide books, preferring to peruse them for a few minutes to find inspiration for my destination of choice, these tomes can be quite handy. This is one instance where buying the most recent edition is worth the extra money, and really can save you money on underwhelming attractions or point you toward hidden gems you’d have missed otherwise.
Did I miss any of your favourite budget travelling tips? Let me know!