Not sure if I’ve quite said this enough, but I’m a traveller, guys. I travel a lot, I travel solo and I never have any money so I travel on the brink of being broke. Which means I’ve cut literally every money-saving corner I possibly can to spread that money as far and wide as I can. I’ve never related to a F.R.I.E.N.D.S. ep more than when Ross goes to town on the free hotel stuff.
Are they completely revolutionary? No. But they bloody work and they’re not completely insane. Now that I’ve done the groundwork, please benefit from my results.
1. Plan Ahead Vs On The Fly
There is a perfect balance in terms of saving money on a trip that happens somewhere between planning ahead and making it up as you go along.
I personally have found that, unless you have friends in every country you’re travelling to fall back on, doing a whole trip on the fly is actually a luxury for those with a bigger budget. Particularly with flights and accommodation.
It’s true that hotels etc sometimes have last-minute deals for walk-ins, but there’s no guarantee. In fact, having worked in a hotel I can tell you that sometimes last-minute prices go up. You’ll want to be aware of average prices before you walk-in, and you’ll have to be prepared to walk away. If you have no other options you don’t have a lot of power here.
If you genuinely can’t afford being caught with a higher bill for the night, and you can be a little more flexible with when you go, plan wayyyy ahead and keep an eye out for when there are sales to the area you’re going.
2. Maximise Carry-On Baggage
Ok, I’ve met people who manage to get their whole backpacks as carry-on luggage, but they’re also five-foot-nothing. I’m six-foot. A short person’s whole outfit takes up the space of a pair of socks for me.
However, for those of use not petite enough to make carry-on work easily, I have a solution. You know those seven kg carry-on limits your tight-arse airlines are cracking down on now? I can help you make that shit work.
On my last flight, I had everything I needed for four days – outfits (day & night), makeup, straightener, a book in case my friends got boring, etc. All in the carry on, I was almost at nine kilos. What did I do? Pockets guys, it’s all about pockets. Fill up every damn nook and cranny with items, and always take a jacket on the plane, even if you’re a weirdo who never gets cold.
If you want to take it to expert levels, put a jacket inside your other jacket to you have double the pockets to fill. Then carry it on slung over your arm – boom, that’s a whole lot more stuff you can carry on tucked up under the jackets. No-one will ever stop you.
Some also swear by the ‘carry a few things in a plastic shopping bag’ method, which works about 80% of the time but there is a higher risk of sleuth flight attendants catching on.
3. Buy A Local Sim Card
Those international sim cards travel agents always try to sell you? Usually absolute money wasters. Wait until you’re in the country and buy a local sim card. If you can, wait until you’re out of the airport though – it’s yet another thing that can end up being more exxy in an airport.
Make sure you do you research before you go so you have an idea of legit companies, prices and plans. If you’re in a country where they haggle, I can almost guarantee you’re not getting the R.R.P. price as first offer.
4. Abuse The Buffet Brekkie
The included-with-the-price-of-your-room buffet breakfast is literally the best thing that ever happened to the shoestring traveller. Ever. I’ll admit that it’s particularly exciting if you sprung for a hotel over a hostel for ‘variety’ reasons, but it’s all good.
Be sure to take you largest bag along with you, within reason. Large tote back or backpack you’d legitimately be carrying around with you all day? Perfect. Duffell bag? Too far, they’ll spot you a mile off.
The whole point of a buffet is to stuff yourself, but you’ll want to especially overdo it if you don’t have a food budget for the rest of the day – so you can stay full for as long as possible.
Every time you go up for another course, shovel extra onto your plate. When you get back to your seat, SUBTLY wrap it in a napkin and put it in your bag. Or just shove it in your bag without the napkin but you’ll pay for it later, you animal.
5. Give Couch-surfing A Go
People have such weird notions around couch-surfing. I remember crossing the border from Vancouver to Seattle and making the mistake of honestly telling the US Border Security guy I’d be couch-surfing instead of lying and making up a hotel. He fucken grilled me. Not because he didn’t believe me, but because he had some sort of warped idea that this was a Tinder-esque setup.
I kid you not, his exact words to me – at the time a 27-year-old grown-arse woman – were “do your parents know what you’re doing?” and “just don’t end up on the news.” Um…I haven’t run my plans by my parents for over a decade now, but ok.
Anyway, my point being that actually the guy whose couch I slept on was absolutely lovely and respectful and plutonic. He had cats that insisted on sitting on my face, but that’s literally the only mildly annoying thing that happened. And it’s all free.
I will put some parameters on couch-surfing for safety though.
Always pick a host with lots of positive feedback, whether you’re solo, in a group, or whatever gender. If you’re a solo female traveller though, make sure there are reviews from other solo female travellers who’ve actually stayed with them – you’ll start to notice that sometimes their experiences were a little different.
Also be aware of the local culture re: gender roles. In countries where they tend to be more ‘traditional’ – once again, particularly if you’re a solo female traveller – just upgrade to a hostel dorm. Just trust me – fight the patriarchy later, your immediate safety and comfort come first.
6. Walk As Much As Possible
Even if I had a million dollars I would still swear by taking a free walking tour as soon as you settle into a new place. Besides the obvious fact they’re free, they’re an awesome way to orientate yourself and get an idea of what you want to explore further.
Plus, in my experience, your guide is working for tips so they’re doing a really good job. And you should tip, even if you legitimately can only afford a little bit.