- Frugal travel depends on flexibility. Be flexible.
- Walk or take public transportation instead of renting a car or taking taxis.
- Hit up local grocery stores and save instead of being sucked into a tourist trap.
For people who are saving most of our income and working towards financial independence, my husband and I travel a lot. We’ve discovered that, like most things in life, there’s a way to frugalize travel. And we’re not diehard travel hackers either. We don’t churn a million credit cards or only visit destinations where we can redeem rewards. Instead, we employ our own unique brand of frugal travel secrets. With the last month of summer right around the corner, here are seven ways to squeeze in one more last-minute vacation on the cheap!
1. Be Flexible
Above all else, frugal travel is facilitated by flexibility—especially when it comes to selecting a destination. Our favorite way to snatch cheap airfare is to be location ambivalent. Rather than having our hearts set on going to say, Budapest, we determine a region we want to visit – such as Eastern Europe. Then we search for flights to that geographic area.
This way we take advantage of the least expensive flights, but even more importantly, we often end up exploring cities we might have otherwise overlooked! That’s how we ended up falling in love with Krakow, Poland.
The same lesson applies for your travel dates themselves—the more flexible you can be, the better. We’ve found wildly different prices just by tweaking our arrival or departure days ever so slightly.
2. Eat Like a Local
Once we’re on the ground in our vacation destination, my husband and I follow the “do as the locals do” motto – and that means hitting up the grocery store.
Browsing the aisles of a local neighborhood market saves tons of money on non-destination worthy or iconic meals – usually breakfast and lunch. Plus, we enjoy the entertaining experience of perusing foreign grocery stores. That’s where we always find the unique signature flavors of the city!
When we do opt for restaurant meals, we avoid tourist traps like the plague. We skip the main part of town and instead scope-out side streets where restaurants are packed with locals. Some of the most authentic meals we’ve had were at restaurants without the flashy exteriors, completely absent from guide books. Lastly, a full dining room is usually a sure sign of tasty food.
3. Walk It
Another way we embrace local culture is by walking or taking public transit. Renting a car is expensive and a hassle (particularly in a foreign country), and taking taxis is a surefire way to run up your vacation tab. By walking we get to experience a city up close and happen upon all sorts of delightful little places along our journey. We’re actually known for simply walking a city all day long—it’s the best free way to immerse yourself and soak up the sights at your own leisurely pace.
4. Know Your Free Days
Many museums and attractions tout a free day (often on a weekly basis). By strategically organizing our sightseeing around these pre-existing free offerings, my husband and I typically enjoy a city’s cultural highlights for next to nothing.
5. Decide on Your Big Spends In Advance
Since this is a vacation and you do want to fully savor whatever city you’re visiting, I find it helpful to plan out our “big spends” in advance. When we were in France, for example, visiting Versailles was a priority, so we budgeted to drop the Euros required. And while in Belgium, we wanted to tour breweries – another planned-in-advance expense. By prioritizing these purchases beforehand, it was easier for us to pare down the list of sights we wanted to see.
In this same vein, it’s important to know what you’re OK with skipping. My husband and I agreed we didn’t need to take an exorbitantly pricey ride on the London Eye Ferris Wheel, but on that vacation we opted for a day trip out to Bletchley Park (sight of World War II British code breaking).
6. Pack Light
We prefer to share one carry-on suitcase between the two of us – especially for international trips. Why? We don’t pay to check a bag, we don’t wait around at baggage claim, and we have no fears about losing our luggage.
Additionally, packing light allows us to roam around cities with ease—if we can’t check into our hotel immediately, it’s no problem to tote our small bag along. Having minimal luggage also ensures we’ll take public transit or walk from the airport as opposed to paying for a taxi. It pays to be a minimalist when going abroad!
7. Go With the Flow
Similar to being flexible in creating our travel plans, going with the flow once we’re at our destination is essential. Rather than adhering to an ironclad schedule, we’re much more inclined to do things on a whim so we can enjoy each other’s company more than stressing about a missed bus ride.
For example, one rainy, cold day in Amsterdam we chucked our sightseeing agenda, holed up in a cozy coffee shop for several hours and read books—it was divine. On an evening in Zagreb, we elected to dine in our hotel room on sandwiches and beer while watching Croatian TV. By not pressuring ourselves to see and do everything on a single trip, we’re able to combine relaxation and frugality in our adventures.
Time To Book It
The key to making on-a-whim travel a vacation and not a last-minute, expensive summer scramble is relishing the unexpected. If you’re not too tied to where or when, this type of vacation is the perfect way to have an adventure – and let the world happen to you.