I’m usually a slow traveler. I like to take my time in a particular country or region to really get to know the culture and its people. I generally travel anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months. While I travel light as it is because of this, I love it when I can lighten my load along the way.
I’m also a firm believer that budgeting for a trip starts well before the trip even begins. Much like planning the itinerary, excursions, and other logistics, so too can you begin to budget and save before you leave.
These are a few of my tricks to save money before I go and to lighten my load as I roam.
1. Thrift Store Clothing
A big way I save up for a trip is by going thrift store shopping — for nearly everything. Not only is thrifting good for the environment (hello memories of a “reuse, reduce, recycle” T-shirt I wore back in high school), it is also very wallet-friendly.
You’d be surprised by the variety of treasures you can find at your local thrift store. I buy all sorts of things, but my main purchases tend to be clothing and books (see point two). What I like about thrifting clothes for my travels is that I can find very cute, season-appropriate, and cheap clothing.
What’s more, because I paid so little for it, I’m not so attached to it (hello favorite sweater that I still wear from college). When I’m not attached to the clothing I bring on my travels, I’m not worried about leaving it behind; thus, freeing up space in my tiny rolly suitcase for the treasures I might find along the way.
2. Books And Magazines
I’m a writer, and as a writer, I’m also a huge reader. On any given trip, you will find my personal item backpack loaded with all sorts of books and magazines. Most of these books and magazines are also thrifted back home before I leave, saving me some money.
When I finish a book while traveling, I simply search for a hostel or hotel with a book exchange. Admittedly, this is not as easy to do these days with the invention of e-books and the like, but I assure you, they are still out there. It is a special sort of joy to finish a book abroad and find an exchange from which to select your next read. I love to put a note on the inside cover saying where the book has traveled in the hopes that the next reader will do the same when they leave it behind.
The magazines I will simply leave in the hotel room upon my departure to my next destination. I like to think that maybe the cleaning crew might enjoy having something to read and practice their English (hello former ESL teacher). At any rate, the magazines disappear one by one, and my bags get lighter and lighter.
Another big way I save while budget-traveling is to bring my own food. Don’t get me wrong, a big part of traveling and being a part of a new culture is absolutely the food for me. I do splurge on a nice meal here and there. But I also bring snacks with me.
Within my backpack, you can usually find granola bars, those nifty little tuna packets that apparently last forever and come with a handy little spoon for eating right out of the package, microwave popcorn, and various hard candies and chocolates. These are great for long bus rides, layovers, and unexpected delays.
I keep these all in various plastic bags to keep bugs and the elements out. When I’ve eaten them, I simply throw them away and revel at the new space in my backpack.
On the rare occasion that I stay in a fancy hotel (ok, or even just a nice hotel), I am sure to grab up all the fun little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotions. This is not just because I love anything free, but because these bottles are often easily refillable and the perfect size for traveling.
I know you can buy some great travel-size bottles for your trips, but when you’re a budget traveler, you only buy what you have to. This way, all that money you save can go toward your adventures.
Not only do I have free toiletries for the next trip, I have free bottles to reuse (I’m sensing a theme here) and refill for other trips. When I finish a bottle, I can simply throw it away, or keep the empty bottle to refill later. Either way, my load is lighter.
It’s rare that I return from a trip with extravagant souvenirs. When I’m traveling, I like to buy a few specific items that I find unique to that country. They can be great conversation starters once I’m back home. I like to find one-of-a-kind rings, bracelets or pendants that I can’t get back home. I rarely spend more than $20 on any of the pieces I find and I wear them often upon my return.
I also love to purchase art to frame and display in my home once I return. It’s even better when I get to meet the artist that painted or made the art. It’s a story I get to take with me and retell anytime someone asks about the colorful art on my walls. The jewelry is a wearable reminder of an amazing journey and the art is a daily visual motivator to get back on the road.
The souvenirs I get for friends and family are postcards from my various locations. I love writing them as it helps me remember the highlights of my adventures. I also love searching out a post office and seeing how much a stamp costs in each place. My friends and family love getting these postcards, and not just because it lets them know I’m alive. Who doesn’t love getting actual mail?
I can wear the jewelry, so it doesn’t take up space or add weight to my bags. The artwork I get is usually a wall-hanging of some kind. I recommend bringing along your own poster tube to protect it, otherwise, you’ll be forced to buy one there. This tube can easily attach to the bungee cord that is usually found on the outside of most backpacks. In this way, it is not taking up space inside your bags. The postcards are sent back home. Even the ones I buy for myself can easily slide into my final book of the trip and make great bookmarks.
Perhaps, separately, these budget tricks and load lighteners don’t make too much of an impact, but together, they can. With all the money I save ahead of my trip, I can plan splurges like a meal at a nice restaurant or a special tour without guilt.
For more tricks of the trade when it comes to travel, check out these articles: