How to Travel the World on a Shoestring Budget

by Petrina Darrah

Whether you’re traveling domestically or internationally, budgeting can be a nightmare: you want to think about all the fun you’re having, not the deep, deep hole you are digging in your bank account. However, with a few budget travel tips and tricks you just might find yourself saving money and feeling better about what’s left in your wallet at the end of your travels. By planning ahead, searching relentlessly for the lowest price, and budgeting your time and money, you can travel the world on a shoestring budget and be assured of a memorable (and meaningful) trip abroad at a surprisingly low cost.

Not sure where to get started? Don’t worry, GoAbroad is here for you! Read on to learn how to travel the world on a shoestring budget.

Couchsurfer

Be savvy with accommodation.

Unless you have a penchant for five-star hotels, finding cheap accommodation can be much easier than you think. Couchsurfing is the ultimate money-saver when it comes to finding accommodation abroad; you can find places to stay quite easily with this fabulous network of travelers, and you’ll be surprised at how gracious and accommodating hosts can be. You could also consider signing up for a language or skills exchange program, which would allow you to share your skills and get accommodation for free at the same time, or explore homestay options abroad.

Alternatively, you can keep accommodation costs to a minimum by choosing accommodations such as guesthouses or hostels, which provide basic shared rooms for a lower cost. Just be sure to check your expectations at the door if you choose either of these accommodations, as cheap prices usually mean sacrificing location, cleanliness, or atmosphere. On the upside, it’s at these establishments that you can meet other budget travelers, get the low-down on the best activities in the area, and of course, make traveling on a shoestring budget easier.

Shop around for transportation.

Finding cheap flights to specific destinations can be tricky, but there are a plethora of fare-comparing websites that make finding the cheapest deal easy. These websites typically include a notification system you can opt into that can send you an email when flight prices drop below a certain level for your target destination. Talk about a budget traveler’s dream site?!

Flexibility is usually the key to finding the best airfares, so prepare to get spontaneous or change your plans in order to take advantage of cheap deals. Try to book flights in advance, but not too far in advance. Fares can dip down closer to your departure date if the airline needs to sell seats, but don’t expect a rock-bottom price the day before you fly.

If you hone your packing skills until you can get all of your belongings into a carry-on bag, you can save money by avoiding the added fees for checked luggage on budget airlines too. If you are flying with a budget airline, be aware of all the ways they sneak in extra fees and charges though. If you are not careful, you could end up paying through the nose to print your boarding pass at the airport or for something as simple as a glass of water onboard!

Once you’ve reached your location, using public transportation, walking, or renting a bike for the day can be the most thrifty way to get around town.

Man eating a local dish

Eat like a local.

You can save pots of money by cutting your food prices. Splurging on local delicacies is fine, but dining out in posh restaurants isn’t really feasible for the average budget traveler. Many hostels have a kitchen available to their guests for this very reason, so take advantage of it by buying your own food and cooking for yourself. When shopping for food, look for markets instead of chain supermarkets; if you fancy a piece of fruit for your snack, it’s probably fresher and more local in the markets, as well as significantly cheaper than supermarket equivalents.

If you feel like you aren’t exactly a culinary genius, you can also save cash by buying food from street vendors. If you get sick of (or sick from) street food, look for the restaurants where locals like to eat (hint: look for the uber long lines; these places will be worth the wait). Usually, simple, straightforward lunch or dinner spots will be the cheapest, and will serve up huge helpings to boot. In regions like Western Europe, many restaurants will offer a menu of the day, which packs together a three-course meal for a set (and very reasonable) price, so keep an eye out for these.

The cardinal food rule of budget travelers? Always avoid overpriced tourist restaurants in main sightseeing areas!

Take advantage of free activities.

Depending on your interests and what you want to do, finding free activities may not be as hard as you think. You’ll be surprised by all that you can see and do in different cities just by walking around. Adventurous travelers may actually love wandering around soaking up the local ambiance even more so than doing organized activities or attending scheduled events. You’ll get a chance to see less touristy areas and meet locals more easily if you choose to explore in this way, and guess what? Wandering around is free, making it the perfect way to travel on a shoestring budget!

If you tend to like a more structured schedule, ask around or look at local publications to learn about free activities in the area. In some countries, visiting churches, cathedrals, and museums is 100 percent free. Others may offer free entry on holidays, or on specific dates (such as the first Sunday of every month). In many places, you can find free walking tours (but you should probably give a tip at the end if your tour guide is great).

If you think creatively and ask around, you’ll be surprised what you can do for free while traveling abroad.
A woman inside a museum

Get the right apps.

Start with the app for your bank. No matter where you are in the world, if you have data or WiFi you can check your account balances from your mobile device. This will not only be super convenient, it can also help you keep track how much money you have and how much you’ve spent. Thought it might hurt to know your balance so frequently if funds are running low, you should buck up and check your account often, because it’s easy to underestimate how much money you are spending. The last thing you want is to get caught red-faced when your card declines.

It’s also helpful to track your expenditures in an app like Trail Wallet. Because you almost always have your smartphone on you, using an app to track your expenses is fast and convenient. Whenever you get a bill or receipt, you can just enter the amount into the app, instead of trying to hoard scraps of paper. Adding up every cent you spend will help you stick to your shoestring budget, and let you know when you can splurge (a little).

Be money-smart.

We might need banks, but we don’t always have to love them. Transaction fees extracted by banks can make even the healthiest bank account wither under pressure. Particularly when traveling internationally, ATM fees can be more than you expect. In many countries, you get charged an ATM fee for every transaction you make, but when you’re in a foreign country, your bank will usually charge a “foreign transaction fee” on top of that. You could be paying up to $30 just to get ahold of some cash! This means that it is often best to withdraw money in large amounts, so you only have to pay those nasty ATM fees once. But, you’ll have to make sure you have someplace safe to stash your cash until you need it. Make sure you know what to expect from your transactions. Will you be charged fewer fees on your credit card or debit card? Are you eligible for a travel card that won’t be subject to foreign fees? Does your home bank have connections with any overseas banks, exempting you from certain fees?

Despite transaction fees, ATM cards are often still better than converting hard currency, because exchange rates and conversion fees can eat up your money quickly.

Are you ready to become a real-life budget traveler? The best thing to do to ensure you can travel the world on a shoestring budget is DO YOU RESEARCH, so get started now! And then, find the program of your dreams on GoAbroad.com