Budget Travel Hacks Every 20-Something-Traveler Should Know

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Hitting the road costs money. There are very few ways around that — unless it’s literally your job to travel. The thing is, it doesn’t have to cost that much. In fact, traveling is often far cheaper than many would expect (cheaper even than staying home). Especially with a little forward thought and some travel hacking along the way.

When you’re on the road, every 50 cents you spend on a bottle of water and five bucks you spend on a sandwich adds up. Traveling is something you do every single day. There are no weekends where you can take some time off. Five bucks for a sandwich may feel like a convenience, maybe even a good deal. Times that by 30 days on the road and, now, you’re talking $150. Honestly, who wants to spend $150 on sandwiches when you could be spending that money on beer, art, meeting people, and sharing experiences.

Below are some of the keys we’ve learned while traveling the world. Take this list of advice as less cutting corners and more maximizing what’s out there. These are travel hacks, if you will. Yes, it’s good to cut corners but you also want to experience life to its fullest. Saving some cash — even on a bottle of water — will allow you to spend your cash in a way that really means something to you.

ALWAYS CARRY A WATER BOTTLE

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This should be true in everyday life and not just your travel life. You can refill a bottle of water most places around the world. The word you really need to know here is “potable.” Simply Google “is the tap water in x potable?” This should let you know whether you can refill from taps in that country. In the summer, larger cities around the world have public water fountains in parks and on the streets with clear signage for drinking (especially across Europe).

If that’s a little too risky for your comfort, look for designated water filling stations in airports. Are you staying in a hotel? They’ll almost always have water for guests. Ask at the lobby bar for a refill or pop into the gym. The fitness room will often have purified water dispensers in a corner. Fill up that bottle for the day right then and there.

If all else fails, ask at a local coffee shop, bar, or (last ditch) at a restaurant. You might get an off-put look but you’ll also get drinkable water.

A FREE BREAKFAST MEANS A FREE LUNCH

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When looking for a hotel or hostel, always look for a free breakfast. In Northern Europe, for instance, this will be deli slices of ham and salami, white cheeses, bread of some sort, condiments, fresh fruit, and maybe some eggs. In Italy, you can get Prosciutto di Parma.

First, a free breakfast with your bed saves you having to spend out-of-pocket for that meal. Moreover, bread, deli meat, and condiments are everything you need to make a sandwich for lunch. Wrap that sammie up in a napkin, grab an extra apple, and maybe even one more boiled egg in case you need a mid-afternoon protein boost.

That’s lunch sorted. You’ve now saved enough on food to feel good splurging a little bit on a dinner or a night out.

NEVER TAKE A CAB IF THERE’S PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

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Look, it’s really easy to open up Uber or MyTaxi app and take a cab somewhere. It feels safer and faster and it’s damn sure simpler. Yet, the vast majority of cities in North America, Europe, South America, Asia, Africa, and Australia have at least some public transportation. A little extra work? Yes. But you’re traveling with the locals and having a true experience.

Public transportation can vary from London’s famously fast Tube to Thailands commuter trains to trams around Toronto t0 shared taxi busses in Uganda to former Soviet-bloc Marshrutka. (Those are a sort of cross between a mini-bus and a taxi, with a set route and stops but you pay by distance instead of per ride.) The point is: Even if it’s not immediately obvious, there usually is some sort of public transportation most places.

Your best bet is to find the public transportation kiosk at the airport. Buy a ticket that covers the amount of days you’ll be in the city if you can. You’ll have to read a few maps and study some stops but you’ll be paying at least a tenth of what a cab will cost you. Use that money to splurge later!

STREET FOOD IS YOUR FRIEND

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If you’re really on a budget, street food is going to be your play. Find yourself in Berlin? A falafel on the streets is as cheap as €1 (that’s about 85 cents). Granted, the average is closer to €2.50 but still a buck is a buck. Schwarma on the streets of Moscow cost about $1. A plate of pad thai on the streets of Krabi will cost the same, and it’ll be made right in front of you. A pizza slice on the streets of New York is still only $2.50 in most places. Even if you add in a drink, that’s still less than a fiver.

Save money where you can. As much as we’d like every meal to be something as transcendent as Osteria Francescana in Modena, we all can’t afford hundreds of dollars for food every single day. Also, it’s the streets. You’ll meet people waiting on line, strike up convos, and maybe make new friends who can show you their hometown.

ALWAYS SEARCH FOR FLIGHTS WITH ‘+/-3 DAYS’

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There’s a good chance that you’re not going to have to fly on a specific day. Unless we’re flying for business, your departure and return dates ought to be flexible to save you money.

Most travel agent services, like Kayak, offer a service to search the three days before and after both departure and return flights. This gives you 49 flight combinations in one search. That’ll allow you to save money by flying a day or two out from your original plan. Sometimes this is only ten bucks but sometimes it’s literally hundreds of dollars.

Likewise, budget airlines and Skyscanner offer “month wide” calendars with prices on every date so you know the cheapest day to fly. Use this every time. One day can mean the difference between having to make your sandwiches every morning and being able to afford a dope lunch somewhere.

Kayak.com

GET YOUR FREE WiFi GAME ON POINT

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Everyone is going to tell you download and use WhatsApp, Tinder, Signal, Voxer, or any other social app. These help you to communicate back home and with making new acquaintances wherever you may roam. The thing is, you’re going to need WiFi.

Most airports these days will have free WiFi. Some may require you sign in with an email. Our recommendation: Set up a burner email account for these sort of sign ins to keep the spam away from your personal account. If the airport you’re in doesn’t have airport-wide WiFi, trying posting up next to a lounge. The name of the lounge WiFi is almost always the airline. Do a little research before you get on the plane. You can easily find most lounge passwords online via a simple Google search.

Hotels are a little more tricky. Some still insist on charging for WiFi separately (it’s getting rarer in a hurry). You won’t really encounter this in non-chain hotels or hostels, but you may. There aren’t a lot of ways around paying unless you hit up a bar or coffee shop with free WiFi and Google the hotel you’re staying at. You might get lucky. You might not. Either way, we live in a late-capitalist world where a McDonalds or Starbucks is never that far away.

PRE-DOWNLOAD GOOGLE MAPS

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One of the best settings on Google Maps is the ‘Download’ function. All you need to do is search the city or place you’re heading. When the map comes up, pull up the lower menu and “download” should be the button on the right. Hit it. A screen will come up with a box where you can zoom in or out for a map area. Now, you have a map in your pocket with GPS, whether or not you have WiFi access.

PACK LIGHT, PACK SMART

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This is another hard one to get right. We’ve all over-packed for a trip. We’ve all been woefully under-packed. The best bet is to try and pack light, pack for the weather (not the season), and reduce. Remember, everywhere you’re going has laundromats (more on that later).

What do you need of a week? Pack that. It’s plenty.

When you pack, roll everything — a tube-like roll, not a ball. This will allow you to pack more into a small spot. Fill shoes with clothes. Also, leave space to collect shit along the way. You don’t want to skip getting that extra bottle of wine you loved in Tuscany or a bottle of amazing fish sauce in Malaysia just because you have no space in your pack.

BUY A UNIVERSAL PLUG BEFORE YOU LEAVE

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This one is getting less and less necessary as USB takes over. If you’re staying in a high-end joint, most outlets will already have USB ports inside the local plugs. If you’re staying in a hostel, Airbnb, or couch-surfing, you’re probably not going to see those plugs. So, get a single universal plug.

This is the sort of plug that has all the prongs in one little box that’ll pop out from different sides. Also make sure that it has plenty of USB ports to charge everything you need to charge (don’t bring US plugs if you don’t need them). Take the time to head down to Best Buy or pop on Amazon and get one before you leave. Buying them on the road or, worse, at an airport will cost you a premium. You’ll end up spending 30 bucks when you could’ve spent $10.

OPEN THE RIGHT BANK ACCOUNT, USE THE RIGHT ATMS

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Taking money from an ATM when you arrive is the easiest way to convert your money into local currency. It’ll also cost you if you’re not careful. International fees can cost up to $5 for every transaction plus a conversion rate. Be smart about your cash. Find a bank account that offers zero foreign transaction fees. A lot of big banks offer this without telling you. They figure that you’re rarely going to be out of the country for more than a week or two every year or so. That means it’s not that big of deal to them.

If you’re already locked into your bank account, search their ATM partnerships. For instance, Bank of America has an ATM partnership with banks all over the world where that pesky foreign transaction fee doesn’t apply. Most major banks will have this option. Simply open your banking app, click ‘Find ATM,’ and then hit ‘International.’ You should see a long list of banks around the world where you won’t be charged withdrawal fees.

BUY A PORTABLE CHARGER

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This is pretty simple. Traveling with devices is just how we travel: Tablets, phones, wireless headphones, cameras all require battery power. Look, you’re not always going to be around an outlet. Invest in a good portable charger and plug it in every night. This will save your ass more times than you can count on a long trip.

SIGN UP FOR HOTEL & AIRLINE LOYALTY PROGRAMS RIGHT NOW

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This is the best and fastest way to start saving money and getting upgrades. If you haven’t already signed up for a airline, hotel, or airline group loyalty program, do so right now.

When you join one airline, you’ll get access to other airline perks in the same group. That also means that if you randomly fly an airline somewhere and they’re in your airline group, you’ll get your points. Oneworld, SkyTeam, and Star Alliance are the main groups that cover the vast majority of major airlines around the world.

Likewise, don’t sleep on hotel loyalty programs. Groups like Hilton Honors often offer steep discounts or price match guarantees. Those perks can add up to 50 percent off their normal rates. You can’t beat that.

Look at it this way, every time you fly or book a hotel without being a member of a loyalty program, you’re leaving money and upgrades on the table.

USE APPS FOR THE BEST HOTEL RATES

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Hotels are a different beast than airlines. Flights are often priced on an ascending scale with seats increasing as fewer become available. Hotels, on the other hand, become cheaper as rooms don’t sell out. Hotels want to be at maximum occupancy, so they’re willing to do a lot more to get you in their rooms. Apps like HotelTonight are great for finding a bed, well, tonight. Booking.com is another great choice for finding last-minute discounts on hotels through their regular in-app search function. It’s a bit of a roll of the dice but you might get lucky.

Then, of course, there are always big aggregators like HostelWorld and Airbnb if you’re looking to score something cheap, convenient, and fast. If you’re planning on staying for a week or more, make sure to check for weekly and even monthly rates (this is a great time to negotiate at your gueshouse in Krabi, for instance). You can save some serious cash.

FIND THE LAUNDROMAT

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You’ve packed light. You’ve found a cheap pad to crash in. It’s been a week or so and now it’s time to do that laundry. Google a laundromat. Get some coins from a corner shop and spend a little time watching the wheels go round. Grab a beer, say hello to someone, make a new friend.

If the laundromat doesn’t have a soap dispenser, ask a local to borrow a cup. Meet new friends. Or just take a little quiet time to yourself to reflect. You do you.

HAVE A JET LAG PLAN

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This one is pretty easy to hack. If you’re flying west to east, wear sunglasses to reset your light. Flying east to west, soak up the sun.

Another good trick is to go on a run. Putting in a quick three miles helps you tell your body what’s up and gives it a bit of a reset. Moreover, keep your routine in check. Consider your new timezone your own. Eat when you’d usually eat. Exercise when you’d exercise. Sleep when you’d sleep. Don’t let jet lag kick your ass. You need to kick jet lag’s ass.

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