Cheap Travel Hacks For The *REALLY* Frugal Traveler

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cheap travel hacks

Cheap Travel Hacks For The *REALLY* Frugal Traveler

Having spent most of my time travelling as a student or freelancer that doesn’t have money to burn, I’ve gathered a few seriously cheap travel hacks over the years. And by seriously cheap travel hacks, I MEAN seriously cheap.

This isn’t a blog about how to find cheap hotels or cooking your own food whilst you’re on holiday to save some cash, using your air miles or getting fewer taxis. These are some tips for the serious money savers and the super scrimper. And some may not be for the faint-hearted!

These are hacks that I’ve picked up, learnt, or come across over years of basically trying to travel as much as possible for as cheaply as possible. That may not be the way you want to travel – which is entirely fine.

So for those looking for travel experiences without the price tag, look no further.

These are a few cheap travel hacks that helped me travel to almost 50 countries whilst saving up the pennies.

How To Wash Clothes For Almost Nothing

Don’t pay for laundry services. Wash your clothes in the sink in your accommodation. Or, if you’re even more skimpy and haven’t got a sink in which to wash them, go on – take them into the shower with you. There are even clothes made specifically for backpackers that dry very quickly.

You can buy “travel wash” but it is a lot cheaper is just to buy detergent before you go and bring a small packet with you.

Stay In Hostels If Paying Cash

More often than not, hostels will be the cheapest accommodation around. I’ve stayed in them all over the world. But, you want to make sure to do some research; especially if you’re a solo female traveler. Not all countries are safe, and some you might want to make sure you at least have a single room in.

tonga paradise

Pack A Padlock

Some hostels offer padlock rentals. Cut this out by bringing your own padlock for the lockers!

Pack A Travel Towel

Bring your own towel. Again, some hostels offer towel rentals. Bring a small flannel or travel towel with you – you don’t need a big one, honestly.

If you haven’t brought a towel, then use your clothes to dry yourself off, or just drip dry if it’s a hot country. Not going to lie, I’ve done this hundreds of times.

Special Deals

In hostels or hotels, you’ll often find special deals for tours and packages – make the most of these! But also make sure to shop around and make sure you’re getting the cheapest price. Sometimes “deals” are in name only.  Think of jewelry stores marking up the price of their items so they can say they are 30% off!

cheap travel hacks
A street vendor in Antigua, Guatemala selling pupusas, roasted meat and other foods.

Eat Like a Local

Forget dining in fancy restaurants. Eat in local places. If you have a sensitive stomach, you may want to consider just cooking for yourself. But eating the local food is part of the travel experience and will definitely help save some dollars.

Enjoy some street food while you’re at it, too!

Free Walking Tours

A lot of countries, especially in Europe, offer free walking tours. It is expected at the end to give the tour guide a tip – especially if they do a good job.

So be a good human and give what you can; this is their income and they’ve just spent a few hours with you. But even with the tip it is a lot less expensive then booking a paid tour.

Work & Travel

Travel and work at the same time! You could consider getting a job before you leave for your travel that you can do online. Or, if you’re short on cash in a country, you could consider working while traveling and picking up jobs as you move to different places. A lot of hostels offer free beds in exchange for cleaning services, and you may be able to pick up other jobs e.g. on a farm or in a café.

Make sure to check your visa allows this, though!

breakfast

Hostel / Hotel Breakfast

If it doesn’t offer a free breakfast, I’m out!

A massive range of hostels all over the world offer free breakfast with accommodation. Make sure yours does too! We have seen how much people value this in hotels too.

If you’re trying to be skimpy and feeling a bit cheeky, too, why not REALLY load up at breakfast and eat tons, and maybe grab a few slices of bread to keep you going for later. That way, you’ve got a couple of meals in you already!

Free Meal in the Evening

Some hostels or hotels even go so far as to offer free dinner, too! This won’t be fine dining, but it will fill you up! Lounge access in hotels if you have it can be a life saver as well. You can often get this simply from carrying a specific credit card.

Alternative Accommodation

Think outside the box. Tent? Hammock? Sleeping bag?

Just make sure; safety first.

The best accommodation I ever stayed in was a manga cafe in Japan. Meant for manga-fanatics who wish to read all night long, there are small cubicles you can call your home for the evening. You can even pay to get a shower, too! These places are great because you’re RIGHT in the middle of the city, for such a cheap price.

cheap travel hacks

cheap travel hacks
Inside A Manga Cafe Booth

cheap travel hacks

Free Hostel Food in Fridge

Hostels usually have a shared kitchen and dining area. It’s good practice for everyone to write their name on their own food. Most hostels have the policy that if there is food on it without a name on, it’s up for grabs!

Often, you’ll also find people have left behind food for other travelers to use.

Go on then!

Sleeping in Train Stations/ Airports

Again, safety first with this one. But I have slept in way too many train stations and airports. Even train station bathrooms and airport check-in areas.

This is a good idea if you only have a few hours to wait and don’t want to waste money on going to a hostel and also paying to just stay for a few hours. I wouldn’t recommend doing this for more than one night, and it is the last resort for me. Airports are much safer, but either way – make sure you are in a safe place to do this.

car

Hitchhiking

Once again, safety first! Do some research first about hitchhiking in the country you’re staying in. Otherwise, hitchhiking can be one of the best ways to get around! It’s free and you could get to meet some amazing locals.

The best hitchhiking experience I had was in Japan. You never wait for more than one minute, and the Japanese always want to take you for food or drinks afterwards!

Friends with Locals

The best travel experiences are those with local experiences. You shouldn’t make friends with local people JUST to save money, but a great knock-on effect of this is that you will probably save money. Maybe that’s through locals giving you tips on a cheaper way to do things, or them inviting you to their house for dinner.

Either way, be a good human! Don’t just make friends with people to exploit them. It’s a nice idea to travel with some small, cheap souvenirs from your hometown you can give to people who help make your experience memorable or who help you out. Maybe a keychain with your home country flag on it!

Sharing with Travelers

You’re not the only one! Everyone is trying to figure out the best cheap travel hacks, so most travelers will be happy to help each other out. Getting a group together and sharing rides or day trips is a great way to save cash!

Enjoy Yourself According to the Date

Is Wednesday a student night or ladies night? Take the opportunity and go for a few drinks whilst they’re cheap! In some countries, there is one day a week where all museums are free, too! 

cheap travel hacks

Travel According to Your Budget

Travel to the countries you can afford. Do research beforehand and figure out how cheap or expensive that country is. You’d be surprised how much this can vary! Even with countries so close to each other, you could find that one would take a much bigger chunk out of your budget than the other.

Bring Your Own Food

Great if you don’t mind carrying around a lot of luggage and you’re not travelling for too long, consider bringing some of your own food to keep you going. Some snacks or even protein shakes that can double up as a meal.

Cook Your Own Food

Why not go down to the local supermarket and cook your own food with local ingredients? Make sure you stay at an accommodation with kitchen facilities.

You could consider cooking with some people at the hostel too or other travelers you might have met. It’s always cheaper cooking big batches!

Or maybe cook big batches and freeze the rest of it for the following days if you’re staying in the same place for a long time.

DON’T CHECK IN LUGGAGE

An absolute no-no for anyone that wants to super scrimp. This will rack up your bill by hundreds or thousands of dollars, especially if you’re planning on doing a lot of air travel.

This is particularly so with budget airlines. Often they offer super cheap plane tickets, and your luggage add-on could be double the price of the ticket!

Minimalist

Be a minimalist. You don’t need a GoPro or fancy camera. Just bring your phone with you and capture your memories there!

cheap travel hacks

Go On, Walk It! 

Good for the health, and the purse!

Make sure you have a good pair of shoes and walk to more places instead of getting a taxi. If it’s too far, consider getting public transport – but make sure you know where you’re going, especially if there is not much English around!

Final Note…

There has been a trend popping up recently for western tourists in poorer countries to perform or sell things in the street in order to have their travel funded. This is not a tip in here since it is a controversial way to travel, and not one I support, especially for westerners from richer countries who go to poorer countries and “beg” for money in this way. Sometimes, it is done in good taste; skillshare and cultural exchange. But most often, it is an exploitation of the locals. I don’t think travel is a right. It’s a privilege that many of us have forgotten but hopefully have been reminded of since the pandemic.

Parting Words of Advice for Cheap Travel Hacks

While these tips and seriously cheap travel hacks will help you to travel more, it’s also important that you ENJOY your experience. You should also be smart about things. Don’t starve to save money. Don’t exhaust yourself by walking everywhere. Don’t miss out on experiences just to have a few extra pennies.

Be Smart.

A lot of it is about being sensible and also figuring out your surroundings. For example, a taxi in one country may cost just a few dollars for a journey of a few miles. So instead of walking for two hours, I would rather spend a few dollars on a taxi. For me, 2 hours is worth a few dollars. In the next country, taxis might cost 10x as more, but eating out in restaurants is just as cheap or only a couple of dollars more than cooking for yourself. So in this country, I’d treat myself to eat out in a restaurant in the evening or during the day, but make sure to avoid taxis when possible.

The next country might offer cheap single accommodation in a hostel, just a couple of dollars in total more than being in a 6-bed dorm. Here, I’d definitely grab the single room whilst I can!

Treat Yourself.

And… sometimes, you just need to treat yourself, too. You’ve been on the road for a few weeks or months and you’re sick of bedbugs and snoring roommates? Maybe you’ve had a rubbish day, you’re feeling lonely, or maybe you just deserve some rest and a treat. That’s fine. Don’t waste energy worrying about saving money. Sometimes you need to just relax and splash out a bit. Get yourself a nice hotel room for the night and spend the day enjoying the space and being in a nice room.

Travel is about enjoying your time. Cheap travel hacks help to make travel accessible to everyone, but don’t forget to enjoy yourself. That’s what travel is all about.

Zoe Stephens
Zoe is a freelance writer from Liverpool, UK. She spends her time traveling between China, where she is based, and North Korea, where she works as a tour guide for Koryo Tours. You can follow her journey and see her content from North Korea on Instagram (@zoediscovers) and YouTube. You can see more about her life stuck on Tonga on Instagram @tongadiaries.

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4 COMMENTS

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4 COMMENTS

  1. You could save even more by just sleeping in parks or alleys and skipping the expensive cell phone but the most cost savings would be to skip flying altogether. Walk or stowaway on ships, sign on as contract labor on sea going vessels to globetrot around the world for cheap.

  2. A man is much less vulnerable than a woman. Violence against women has increased dramatically. I repeat what I say-don’t hitchhike if you are a woman! The world today is a different place than it was 10 or 20 years ago. And not hitchhiking doesn’t mean you are living in fear, rather it means you are taking sensible precautions while you travel.

  3. Living in fear is no way to travel. Safer to stay home. Hitchhiking in many countries is overall safe and a great way to meet people. It’s about more than saving money. It’s about truly learning about other people and places and is enjoyable in its own right. I’m 70 and thus “vulnerable”, but I gladly hitchhike under the right conditions.

  4. I, too, am a solo female traveler. However, I am also a criminal defense attorney. As such, and having read these tips, I agree that most all of them are excellent except for two. First, I would NEVER, EVER RECOMMEND any woman hitchhiking-whether she is traveling alone, or with other women. Things have changed too much. You just don’t know any more. Mass transit is not that expensive. If you can’t afford mass transit by bus or train, then you should not be traveling. I don’t care what country you are traveling in, or if there is a woman in the vehicle as well as a man. In the same light, if you stay in a hostel, either stay in a private room, or stay in a all women’s dormitory-NOT A MIXED DORM! If you have a room with a shared bath, make sure you can lock it on your side, and make sure you are sharing it with a woman. It’s probably true that there are very few bad incidents. But do you want to be the one who ends up getting beaten up or robbed or worse? My last vacation, the night before I arrived to my Carribean island, someone was murdered there. People get murdered there very rarely-maybe once in every 5-10 years. And they were murdered no more than 1/2 mile from where I stayed for 9 nights. So you never know, and you can never be too careful!

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