We reached out to a bunch of travel pros--the adventure editor at Red Bull; the founder of one of our favorite indie travel magazines, Boat; a nomadic couple who've been traveling full-time for years--for their best money-saving travel tips. And what they came back with was the kind of head-noddingly smart stuff that makes you go, "Ugh, why didn't I think of that?" Their advice hits everything from booking hacks to hotel-room upgrades to eating like a king for next to nothing--those things you can do before you hit the road, and what to think about once you're on the ground.
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BEFORE YOU GO
1. Pretty simple: Buy less stuff.
"Generally I try not to buy many things--I'd much rather have the time and money to travel, than work like crazy just to buy stuff. Even when I see something I think I'd really love to own, I try to think about the places I've been able to travel and the memories I have, and that helps me put 'value' into perspective." --Erin Spens, editor and co-founder of Boat magazine
2. Opt for off-season.
"This is our number-one tip. Accommodations, tours, and even food will be much higher if you're traveling during high season or the holidays.
We've traveled in off-season many times. It's winter, and we're currently working our way through Eastern Europe. And guess what? The weather has been pretty good, there are basically no tourists, and we've gotten all our apartments and hostels at a discounted rate. We've also traveled through the Caribbean during the summer, which is considered hurricane season, but have yet to come across a hurricane. All we've found are cheap hotels, ferry discounts, and half-price tours." --Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift, full-time travelers behind Goats on the Road
3. Fly on an off-peak day or time.
"Generally, flying earlier in the week (Monday or Tuesday vs. Thursday or Friday) translates to better deals, and the second flight of the day is less expensive than the first." --Justine Goodman, travel and weddings editor of Refinery29
4. Open a travel-friendly bank account.
"You want one that'll give you unlimited ATM withdrawals abroad and won't charge you any transaction fees." --Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift, full-time travelers behind Goats on the Road
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5. Consider renting out your place.
"It can help offset your travel costs and, depending on where you live and where you're going, even turn you a profit. Several years ago, we did the Southeast Asia backpack circuit for a couple months, and rented out our NYC apartment while we were gone. Our travel costs were so low--SE Asia is the trip for the budget-minded--that we actually ended up making money. We found a renter via Craigslist, but you could also list your pad on a site like Airbnb or VRBO, or look into a house swap on Home Exchange." --Kelly Lack, content and community lead at Spot
6. Jump on the "Orbucks" train.
"Of the booking sites, I'm a huge Orbitz fan because their rewards program is by far the most simple I've used. Immediately after you book, you receive 'Orbucks," which you can use on future bookings. If you were visiting multiple cities in Europe, by the time you book your first hotel you already have cash to put towards the next hotel in the next city you plan on visiting! It's as uncomplicated as can be." --Nastasia Wong, founder of women's travel community Dame Traveler
7. Find a home away from home.
"While we do love hotels, sometimes prices are through the roof--especially when you're traveling as a group. That's when a service such as Airbnb can save you money and give you more space and amenities. To make sure you'll get the best possible experience, select rentals hosted by Airbnb 'Superhosts,' those who have the highest ratings." --Howie Rappaport, featured contributor at FrugalTravelGuy.com
8. Book activities ahead of time.
"One school of thought says that booking activities last minute on the ground will nab you a deal, but that's not always the case. Take Europe. Europeans like to plan. This means you can get cheaper prices by helping them plan. Say you're booking a raft trip in Slovenia (highly recommended!) or a tandem paraglide flight in the Alps, you'll generally do better to book ahead online. You'll find group-discount rates you can take advantage of even if you're not traveling in a group. Schools and student groups tend to holiday together in Europe, so pricing is set up to accommodate groups and you, as an individual, can slot into open spots." --Josh Sampiero, adventure editor at Red Bull
9. Avoid renting a car...
"While I leave a lot of stuff--food, sites to see, etc.--up to chance, I always try to figure out a place's public transportation before traveling. Then, when I land, I can get straight to it, not wasting any time standing dumbly in front of a map I can't work out! I try to avoid renting a car unless I absolutely need one." --Erin Spens, editor and co-founder of Boat magazine
10. ...but if you have to rent a car, do this.
"Use AutoSlash. It will find you the best rate for a rental car you don't have to prepay. Once you book with them they'll continue to search for better prices. Even better, if you booked with someone else, you can submit the rental information to AutoSlash and they'll search to make sure there's no better rate available. Best of all--their service is completely free!" --Howie Rappaport, featured contributor at FrugalTravelGuy.com
11. Give WiFi-to-go a go.
"Little, rentable mobile routers--nicknamed 'pocket WiFi'--are becoming more available in places like Europe and Japan. Typically you reserve one, then pick it up at the airport or have it delivered to your hotel. They cost a low per-day fee, and will save you from international roaming charges, paying for hotel WiFi if it's not gratis, or having to buy a coffee every time you want to use a cafe's WiFi but you realize that it's password protected so you can't 'borrow' it from outside." --Kelly Lack, content and community lead at Spot
ON THE GROUND
12. Sweet talk your way to a room upgrade in person.
"You can't negotiate with a computer. So even if you've booked online, I'd suggest trying to negotiate upgrades or special requests--like a late checkout--in person. You're more likely to get the best possible deal when you're talking to someone (kindly) face to face." --Justine Goodman, travel and weddings editor of Refinery29
13. Expand your "hotel" horizons.
"Whether it's a B&B, farm stay, or houseboat. Right now I'm based in Europe, and Europe's best hotels aren't actually hotels. They're mountain huts, and you have to walk to get to them. From Austria to Avoriaz and beyond, the Alps are dotted with them. Half hotel, half hostel, the huts can serve as a basecamp for serious climbers (think ten bunks to a room, usually €14 to €18 a bed) or as a lovely romantic getaway (a room for two goes for around €50 a night, and often includes breakfast). While the more remote huts may take many hours to trek too, there are tons of options within a couple-hour hike. One of my favorites is Rifugio Vicenza." --Josh Sampiero, adventure editor at Red Bull
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14. One word: Walk.
"There's no better way to get to know a new city than by walking everywhere. That you'll end up saving a fortune in taxis is a nice bonus. And when you do need a ride, opt for public transportation and know that frequent-travel cards--the Oyster card in London, the Octopus in Hong Kong--are much smarter than single fares." --Pavia Rosati, founder and CEO of travel-site Fathom
15. Give the local supermarket a spin.
"I love shopping in foreign supermarkets--you'll experience real life, plus you'll save a lot of money. I typically try to stay in places that have a kitchen so that I can cook at least one meal a day." --Erin Spens, editor and co-founder of Boat magazine
16. Pull together a quick picnic.
"It beats throwing money away at a pricey, mediocre restaurant. One time my husband and I shopped the local market in Venice and hung out on the dock for hours drinking wine and snacking on cheese and fruit. It's hands down my favorite dining experience, ever." --Nastasia Wong, founder of women's travel community Dame Traveler
17. When in Rome--eat like the Romans.
"Not only are local dishes cheaper than international cuisine, they're usually much tastier. If you choose to eat western food while traveling (pizza, burgers, etc.), it almost always costs more as the ingredients aren't locally sourced. Go for the curry, the dumplings, or the tacos. In Mexico, for example, we always only eat traditional plates of food and street-stall snacks. It ends up costing just a few dollars and we leave with full bellies." --Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift, full-time travelers behind Goats on the Road
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18. Go big at lunch.
"Plan for your 'nice' meal to be at lunch instead of dinner. Lots of places have lunch dishes similar or identical to dinner offerings for a little cheaper. In Europe especially, multi-course lunch specials are common and won't cost you much at all." --Kate McCulley, blogger behind solo-female travel-blog Adventurous Kate
19. Drink responsibly.
"Never touch the mini bar." --Pavia Rosati, founder and CEO of travel-site Fathom
20. Take in top performances for the price of a Starbucks.
"Many performance venues sell standing-room-only tickets. You just have to do your research. A great example is the Vienna State Opera. Tickets are tough to get and not cheap--a decent seat goes for €150. Unless, that is, you queue up for the €4 standing-room tickets, which will have you standing directly behind a guy who paid €150. While there are 600 standing-room tickets, you will have to come early and wait for a while in order to get a better view of the stage." --Josh Sampiero, adventure editor at Red Bull
21. Work those free-admission days.
"Tons of museums, galleries, and sites have free-for-everybody days. Many Italian art museums, like Florence's Uffizi Gallery, have free admission on the first Sunday of the month. Paris's Louvre is also free on the first Sunday of the month, but only from October through March. And then Bogota's Gold Museum is free on every Sunday. With free admissions come long lines though, so plan accordingly." --Kelly Lack, content & community lead at Spot
22. Think of churches as free museums.
"They're old and full of art. That's basically a museum, right? From the famous Dom in Cologne to Notre Dame in Paris, soaring cathedrals are a sight unto themselves, and worth checking out, even if you'd rather pay homage to the Flying Spaghetti Monster than any traditional deity. Since they're churches, they're mostly free--some may ask for a donation (and maybe you should give them one, you heathen) but they're a great place to shut up and think about how small you really are." --Josh Sampiero, adventure editor at Red Bull
23. Rely on locals--a lot.
"Whether it's my Airbnb host, the barista I'm buying a coffee from, or the market-stall owner I ask about what they're selling, I make a point to talk to locals. My favorite travel memories have come from locals sharing advice or inviting me somewhere, which winds up being so much cheaper than booking into a tour, and loads more fun!" --Erin Spens, editor and co-founder of Boat magazine
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