After biding your time and buying your tickets, how do you save even more money on a trip? One of my favorite ways is to live like a local, including avoiding hotels, taking public transit, cooking meals, and finding inexpensive entertainment along the way.
Stay in hotel alternatives
I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of hotels. In many cases they’re overpriced or you’re paying for extra, unnecessary amenities. I don’t need a concierge or a 24/7 staff, but I sure would like a free or low-cost way to do laundry, a kitchen to cook my own meals, and a refrigerator to store leftovers.
For these reasons and more, I vastly prefer staying in AirBnBs (referral link). In addition to the above, they:
- Are cheaper than hotels and bed & breakfasts in the same areas
- Are often located in super-awesome central locations
- Prove cost effective regardless of whether you’re traveling on your own (rent a room) or with a group (rent an entire place)
- Have money-saving amenities like a washer/dryer, a kitchen, and a refrigerator to store groceries and leftovers
- Give you the experience of living like a local
I’ve stayed in AirBnBs all over the world, from in my home town of Seattle to Israel, Italy, London, France, and beyond; I’ve had phenomenal experiences with warm, welcoming hosts who were eager to share their home cities with travelers, while still having the independence to travel on my own terms.
For my travel research, let’s compare between a hotel in Tokyo and an AirBnB in the same area. One of the cheapest, well-rated hotels I can stay in Tokyo is $109 a night. Other hotels are more expensive, anywhere from $112 to $500/night, depending on how fancy it is.
On AirBnB, if I filter for “Entire Place” (i.e. I don’t want to rent a room, but want an entire apartment, condo, or house), the average cost is $107–a bit cheaper than a hotel already:
Fairly comparable pricing so far, but if you take a look at amenities, AirBnBs in this area become even more worth it. For example:
- This lovely, centrally-located apartment has a washer, dryer, kitchen, and sleeps 4 people for $115/night.
- This bright unit is just a few minutes from a train station. It doesn’t have a kitchen, but has a washer, dryer, sleeps two people, and is just $50/night.
- This beautiful, modern unit has a hot tub and refrigerator for you to store leftovers, for just $83/night.
(Prices are current as of November 2015)
If you want to cut accommodation costs even more, many people recommend hostels. Personally, I’ve never stayed in them because I prefer a bit more privacy, but I know some people who swear by them. If hostels are your cup of tea, then Hostel World may be for you. Otherwise, I’m an AirBnBer through and through.
Take public transit
Trying to get around town? Skip the rental car and go for the bus, train, light rail, subway, or other major public transportation network. Sites like TripAdvisor have city-specific Q&A forums (like this one for Tokyo) where people ask a variety of questions, including ones about public transit.
Worried about how it’ll all work out? Google Maps is your friend (it has great public transit route planning tools), and, in a pinch, you can always use a taxi.
Chances are good that unless you’re visiting a very car-centric city, many folks are using public transit (or walking/biking) to get around. What better way to get a feel for a city (and learn how to navigate it) than that?
One of the great joys of traveling abroad is food, but it doesn’t all have to be from restaurants: unfamiliar grocery stores with intriguing new kinds of junk food, street and farmers’ markets, and produce stands all offer ways to explore your new culinary landscape. Better yet: if you have an AirBnB, chances are good you’ve got a kitchen. Why not pick up some delicious local ingredients and make some food there? It’s cheaper than eating out, and you’ll get the true local experience.
Find inexpensive (or free) entertainment
Go on a self-guided tour or visit free parks, museums, and libraries. If you want a little more guidance from a local, there are also plenty of “free” (read: tip-based) walking tours available around the world; I’ve done them in both Amsterdam and Paris, and I know many other cities have them as well. They’re cheaper than your average tour and offer a great way to get your bearings in a city during your early days there without breaking the bank.
Not sure what’s free or low-cost where you’re going? TripAdvisor is one of my go-to research resources; just go to the “Things to Do” section for your destination and you will often be able to get an idea of expense, or filter for cheaper activities.
Everything in moderation, including moderation
Saving money is great, but it’s still nice to treat a vacation like, well, a vacation. Don’t feel bad if you want to go out to a show or a nice dinner. After all, locals do those things, too! One of the great benefits of cutting costs in all these areas is that your budget will have more wiggle room for a night on the town. Cutting costs in one area to splurge somewhere else is a totally valid choice.
And there you have it!
It ends up vacations don’t have to be about driving everywhere, going on tours in giant buses, and eating out all the time. If that’s your thing, more power to you! But the most fun I’ve had in other countries has been when I get a chance to get a feel for local life.
Perhaps that’s also why I feel so attached to the places I visit: I settle in, get comfortable, and fall a little bit in love with them. Even if only for a short while, I immerse myself and view each and every place as home. Give it a try and see how you like it!
This post concludes my “budget travel” blog series. What are some of your favorite tips, tricks, and hacks for traveling inexpensively?
Note: I’m not affiliated with AirBnB or TripAdvisor, but I do happen to really like their sites. Hopefully you’ll find you agree!