10 Unconventional Money Saving Tips

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10 unconventional money saving tips

Every article I read about how to save money when traveling gives pretty much the same advice:  Stay in hostels, eat local food, take local transport.  These are the big 3 backpacker hacks that everyone will tell you.  But the fact that a bus will cost less than a taxi, or that a bowl of curry will cost less than a double bacon cheeseburger, isn’t exactly rocket science.  I think any backpacker who travels long enough naturally abides by these money saving mantras.  In order to stretch your dollar even farther, you need to resort to more creative methods.  Here are 10 less conventional travel hacks that we use to get more bang for our buck.  Some of these only work some of the time, but when used situationally, and in conjunction with one another, the savings can really add up over months of travel.

1. Travel in Low Season

sunset in north bali

Discounts with a view

This one is easily the biggest money saver, and also requires the most planning.  If you can manage it, try to travel during the low season.  For example, if you’re planning a trip to the Philippines go in August-November instead of during the peak season of December-May. On the flip side, travel to Indonesia during their rainy season of November-March; instead of the dry season (May-August) when hotspots like Bali will be packed to the gills with tourists.  Sure, you might get a few more rainy days, but in return you’ll get discounts on lodging, food, and tours, and will have more leverage when bargaining due to the reduced number of tourists. 

2. Do a work-and-stay

workaway on negros island philippines

We loved our Workaway experience in The Philippines

Another powerful strategy for saving money is through work-and-stay programs like Workaway.  Through these programs, businesses and individuals offer free, or dramatically discounted meals and accommodation, in exchange for a few hours of work each day. 

You won’t be sleeping in a 5-star resort, but you’ll save a ton of money, make new friends, learn skills and have unforgettable experiences.  We did a Workaway for a week on the island of Negros in The Philippines, and basically the only thing we spent money on was beer.  I slept in my hammock and was totally comfortable.  We got to eat amazing local meals every night and it was a really special opportunity to get to know some of the locals on a more personal level.

3. Hitchhike

hitchhiking in the philippines

What’s cheaper than free?

Though frowned upon in The United States, hitchhiking is much more socially accepted in other parts of the world.  It’s often more convenient to just stick out your thumb and hitch a ride, rather than wait around for the next bus to arrive (if it ever does).  On BohoI, we hitched a ride from our guesthouse to the bus terminal and saved at least $10USD each on a tuk-tuk.  I overwhelmingly find that the locals in SE Asia are kind, giving people.  They will often decline payment, but it’s nice to at least offer a small tip.  If you use your common sense, hitchhiking is totally safe.  If you feel uncomfortable for any reason, politely decline the ride.

4. Ridesharing (with friends or strangers)

carpooling in cambodia

Traveling with friends or even a group of complete strangers is a great way to spread the cost of transportation.  Especially in Asia, local transport is often a fixed price, regardless the number of passengers.  When traveling by yourself or as a couple, it’s hard not to feel ripped off when you’re paying for the full price of a taxi or tuk-tuk.  When you’re leaving your hostel, coordinate with other people and try to share transportation.  If you are travelling to/from popular areas like airports, bus stations, or tourist areas; try to share a ride with people going the same direction as you.  Even if it doesn’t get you all the way to where you’re going, its much cheaper to share a ride some of the way than it is to pay for an entire van or taxi on your own.

5. Don't book lodging ahead of time

guesthouse in mae sariang

You won’t find places like this on Agoda.

This one is dependent on the location and time of year, but if the situation is right it’s a great way to save money.  It’s been my experience that the hostels/guesthouses you find online are usually the most expensive for that area.  Some booking sites also charge you fees on top of the room price (I’m looking at you Agoda!). You can save on booking fees and find cheaper local options by arriving in a place and shopping around.  Whenever we get to a new destination, we always find countless hostels and guesthouses that aren’t advertised online.
A good strategy we use is to find lodging we like online, then get to where we’re going, have a look around, and use that guesthouse as our fall back if we don’t find anything better.  Even if you book in person at a place you found online, you’ll often save on booking fees and can haggle for a lower rate.  We’ve employed this method to save money in every country we’ve traveled to.  It requires a bit of patience, but the payoff can be huge in terms of savings.


6. Be patient and shop around

guest house in ayutthaya

You have to do some digging to find gems like this.

The first option is often the most expensive.  This is the case with food, lodging, transportation, and shopping at markets.  If you’re willing to walk around and see what’s out there, you have a much better chance at finding a good deal.  I’ll be honest, this requires patience.  Instant gratification is a real thing, especially when you’ve been traveling all day and just want a place to sleep.  It can be really easy just to say yes to that $15 dorm bed with fan because you’re there and just want to be done with it.  If you can remain diligent and look a little harder, you’ll be able to find more value for your money.

7.  Haggle haggle haggle

Haggling can save you big money on things activities like boat trips.

Bargaining has different prevalence from country to country, but the ability to cut a deal will save you money anywhere you go.  A simple fact of traveling is that you’re going to be quoted marked-up prices because you’re a foreigner.  The only thing you can do about it is try to haggle your way closer to the local price.  Depending on the item or service, I usually try to bargain my way down to 50-75% of the quoted number.  Haggling requires patience, and it’s a skill you improve at over time.  Having the patience and willingness to walk away is the ultimate bargaining tactic. 
A note on haggling:  try to be aware of the dollar equivalent you are fighting over.  Chances are, the local merchants need the money more than you do, so try not to haggle over any amount less than $1USD.

8. Ask to sleep in the lobby when arriving late

 When set up properly hammocks are surprisingly comfortable to sleep in!

An inevitability of traveling as that somewhere along the way you’re going to take a redeye flight, or a night ferry, or an all-day bus and arrive to your next destination in the early hours of the morning.  I have a hard time feeling like I’m getting my money’s worth paying the full cost of a room when I’m not getting there until 3 in the morning. 
On these late-night arrivals, we’ve taken to calling or emailing ahead and asking if we string up our hammocks for a few hours before moving to a room in the morning.  We don’t have to pay for the night on which we arrived, and can check into our room for the next day as soon as it is available.  Even if you don’t have a hammock; most hostels/guesthouses will have couches, chairs, beanbags, etc. in the common area that you can ask to crash on for a few hours.  I also think that because you’re there sleeping in the lobby; they tend to get your room cleaned and let you check in as long as it isn’t currently occupied. 
If you can survive not being able to plop face first into a pillow for a few hours after a late night of traveling; this is a good way to save a bit of coin.

9. Move slowly

jeepney local transport in the philippines

Slow and uncomfortable, but super cheap!

If you’re trying to visit 4 countries in 6 six weeks, you’re going to be doing a lot of flying.  You’re going to be moving often to get to all the places you want to go in time, and the cost of those flights really add up.
 Travel days end up being some of our most expensive days.  They usually require transportation to an airport or ferry, a flight or ferry ticket, eating expensive airport food, and paying for a place to sleep at the end of the day.  If you have the time, stay in one place longer.  Linger in locations for weeks or even months; instead of jumping from place-to-place every few days.  Traveling this way allows you to get to know the area, its people, its customs, and its hidden gems on a level you would never be able to if you only stayed for a couple days.  When all you’re paying for is a hostel bed and food, it’s really easy to travel cheap.
On a related note, transportation costs tend to go up as the speed of the vehicle increases.  Airplanes are more expensive than ferries which cost more than a taxi, which is more than a train, which is more than a bus, and hey walking is pretty much free right?  If you have the time, taking slower modes of transportation will (almost) always save you money.  For example: after a four-day boat trip to Komodo Island, we had the option to either fly or take a bus/ferry combo back to Lombok.  The flight was only a couple hours but cost around $100.  We took the bus/ferry route and though it was 24 hours of travel time, it only cost $24USD.

10. Talk to locals

exploring caves with locals on bohol

 This is what they mean by “it takes a village”.

When talking to locals outside of buying-and-selling situations, they will usually shoot straight with you about how much things should cost.  Ask the guy at your hostel how much a local beer should be.  When you’re getting a meal, ask the owner how much a taxi to such-and-such location is, or a fair price to pay for a certain activity.  I think this goes a long way with people because you are showing genuine interest in their way-of-life, and how things work in their community.  Make it a goal to find out what the “local price” is everywhere you go.  If anything, it gives you a good reference point to start from when bargaining for goods and services
camping on my rinjani

You could always try camping?

Stretching your dollar to the max requires creativity.  It not always easy, and sometimes the individual savings seems inconsequential.  It sounds cliché, but it really does add up.  Saving a dollar here, 50 cents there, paired with shopping around for the cheapest hostel, combined with taking local buses, throw in haggling your way to discounted activities and you’re talking savings to the tune of hundreds of dollars over the course of your travels.

how to spend less and travel more

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