How to save money for and during travelling

Posted on February 10, 2011


On how to save money for and during

I was inspired to write this post by a couple of similar ones which have been published recently on two of my favourite blogs, namely The Road Forks and Todd’s Wanderings. While the amount of time I’ve spent travelling is little compared to many out there (my first trip abroad was when I was 21), in the past few years I’ve been able to travel a lot, and not because I earn a lot of money or have someone to fund my travels for me. So here is a step-by-step description of how my partner and I managed to travel often.

We don’t choose our destination. We let it choose us.

I am very blessed travel-wise because my partner and I happen to have friends and family spread around the world, which means we’ve often been able to get accommodation for free (we usually leave a bit of money behind for bills, but it’s nothing like what we’d pay in a guesthouse or Hotel). Our destination choices are often affected by whether we have someone to put a comfortable free bed at our disposal or not. Last year, we went London and stayed at my cousin’s flat, while our trip to Amsterdam was timed to coincide with my best friend’s one-year-long residency there. In Istanbul, we were very lucky to be invited to stay at my partner’s friend’s house, and to accompanied around Istanbul by her and her husband (where we’d otherwise have got lost many many times). Finally, we also spent a week near Hungary’s Lake Balaton last December, as my partner’s parents live there, and we plan on going back in summer when we can actually enjoy the lake and the view without freezing to death.

Photo by Peregrino Will Reign


When we do pay for accommodation…

Say what you want, but we’re just not the kind of people who want to stay in a stinky hostel dormitory with a shared bathroom we have to queue for. On the other hand, given the fact that we’re not rich and we work hard for our money, we don’t understand either how someone can spend over 100 dollars per night just for a room they’ll probably only sleep in. Our solution? We scour the internet to find a hostel or guesthouse which offers private rooms with en suite bathroom for a low price. This does not sound as impossible as you might think…you just need to be ok with having a small room with often outdated decor, but clean facilities. In Budapest, we managed to get a centrally located room for 32 Euros a night (2 people), while during my travels in South Korea, I got accommodation for 30 days in a weird-looking but clean and warm private room for about 600 Euros (they offered a 20% discount on stays of one month).


I moved to a country with one of the highest salaries in the world.

Ok, so this happened completely by chance (my partner is Swiss), and I never managed to find a full-time, full-paying job, but to tell you the truth, with 7 hours of working here in Switzerland I was earning as much as I did back in my country with a 30-hour week. Granted, the cost of living is much higher, but if I’m careful enough, now that I’m working about 25 hours, I can still save a bit of money for my future travels each year. Logically, since Swiss people earn so much when compared to other nationalities around the world, it’s easy for them to take their cash abroad and do loads of things with it.

Photo by Jonnyphoto

I have learnt that material things are not important.

So you really want to travel the world, but you don’t have money, right? How about that Iphone you just bought? I have a 20-dollar mobile phone which can only send SMS and make and receive calls, and that’s all I need. When I need to speak to people for a long time, I use my free Skype. If I want entertainment as I commute to work, I read a book. And that expensive car to which you keep adding stuff? Granted, we often need cars, but does it have to be so expensive? Can’t it just be something that takes you from A to B? And to the ladies out there – does a wedding really have to cost that much? During my first year in Switzerland, I worked very little and thus earned little. I soon had to prioritise, and had to spend my money on things I needed, like supermarket bills, transport to go to work and medical expenses. I learnt that a huge wardrobe or a thousand pairs of shoes for every occasion were useless. When I started earning more money, the extra cash did not go on frivolous things which I don’t need, but in my bank account for my future travelling. Last week, the zip of my 160-dollar winter boots broke (this is a ‘cheap’ pair of shoes, by Swiss standards), and instead of buying a new pair, I simply took it to a shop and got it fixed.


I don’t use credit cards.

Using credit cards to fund your travels gives you the feeling that you have more money than you will actually have in the future. To travel, we only use money which we have saved over time, and we often get creative with the little money we have and still managed to go on some great trips.

Photo by reallyboring


 I budget…a lot.

I don’t go on holiday without a budget, because otherwise I’m guaranteed to overspend big time. This happened to me during the first couple of trips I took, and funnily enough, I overspent because, while I wouldn’t get myself to go to a normal restaurant and enjoy a mid-range meal, I kept buying stuff I didn’t need because they were things I thought looked cool and I didn’t have in my country. I never used these things once back home.

So that’s what I do. My partner and I decide how much money we can afford for our next holiday. Then, according to our accommodation specifications and love for local food, I do tons of research and see which destinations would actually fit. For example, we recently decided that we could spend 2000 dollars each on a 2-week trip. He wanted to go to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, but we soon realised we wouldn’t managed to do or see anything on this sort of budget. In the end, we discovered that a flight to Bali, fourteen days of (beautiful) accommodation and all the other bits and bobs were totally doable for that price. For our second yearly trip, we’re planning to go on a multi-country tour to Vienna, Slovakia and Hungary, as we have free accommodation in each and train travel from one spot to the other is cheap. Our Bali trip will be done in shoulder season, which means we were able to get between 20-50% off our accommodation, and our Europe trip will be in the high-season summer months, but only because we don’t need to book accommodation and therefore don’t have to pay inflated prices.


So you guessed it…we never travel during high-season unless we can get free accommodation.

Travelling during high season is uncomfortable anyway. I don’t want to queue for hours to see something. I don’t want to pay double for a room, or jostle for space with thousands of other tourists. I don’t need to travel during Christmas and New Year to feel happy, or go on a weekend break during Valentine’s Day when thousands of others have had the same idea. Instead, we simply decide when we both can take time off from our jobs, and we travel accordingly. Plus, if summer is actually the only time when your own country is sunny and beautiful, what’s the logic behind leaving it during this time? (our Summer trip is centred around a friend’s wedding, hence the reason why we’re actually going to travel at this time).

Photo by Harald Groven

I don’t even consider RTW trips.

RTW trips cost as much as a small mortgage. It takes years to save up for them, and often in the meantime you feel like you can’t splurge on anything. Budgeting for such a long trip can also be hit and miss, and being on the road for so long also means you’ll often feel a bit down and want to overspend a little to improve your mood. Most importantly, I believe that I’d rather travel a little and often than binge on a year of travelling, only to find myself completely broke at the end, as well as completely overwhelmed by all that I have seen and experienced. Better still, I chose to move to a different country to my own, which also gives me the feeling of being continuously travelling, as it takes years to discover a new country properly, to turn a corner and not find something which you hadn’t noticed before.


There are a lot of free things you can do around the world.

Finally, if you really want to travel but are on a tight budget, the world is bursting full of things you can do, see and experience for absolutely no charge. I wrote an article about this for which you can read here, and with the help of fellow Lonely Planet blogsherpies, I was able to sprinkle it with links to blog posts about destinations across the globe and all the free things you can do there for free.


 Photo by markgasparovic

So there you go. Unless you are so rich that you don’t have to compromise on anything, travelling more is about removing the unnecessary from your life (and about connecting with people), and it is really up to you to set your boundaries. Some people are ok with sleeping in dormitories, while my partner and I consider it our worst nightmare. However, letting go of material things might seem difficult at first only because we are constantly bombarded by ads and messages which urge us to consume, and it needs time and thought to be able to break free of this cycle of overspending.

All in all, while travelling is partly about having money, with a bit of patience and planning, it can be about much more than that.

-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis