If you came here for a recommendation on the best value brand of instant ramen, you’re in the wrong spot. If the thought of spending a little more cash for a lot more pleasure makes your bank account quiver in fear, this may not be the article for you. If you shudder at the idea of not knowing where you’ll sleep tonight, stick with me… We’re here to establish what your comfort zone is and play with it a little.
This guide is for those who enjoy – even require – a good quality of life, but understand the value of saving money where you can so you can spend it where you get the most joy. Digital nomads, hedonists, travel lovers, adventurers… this one’s for you!
“How can you afford to live this way?” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that question, it would fund my entire lifestyle! So I’ll let you in on some of my secrets.
Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in this article, as well as referral and offer codes for different apps and services that I use. Pro tip: Never register for a new app or travel booking site without seeing if you can get free travel credit on it first!
Know your minimum requirement.
Before you make any travel decisions, understand what you absolutely cannot compromise on. Is it fast wi-fi? Hot showers? A bed? Great food? That glass (or three) of wine with your dinner? What could you give up to have more of the stuff you really want?
Accommodation is one of my lowest priorities. I can sleep in a car, at a hostel, on a couch, a plane, the floor, anywhere… and I’m okay with having to figure that out on the fly. Hell, I’ll book a red-eye flight or bus trip to get me from one destination to the next. The off-peak time means I’m usually on the cheapest flight of the day, and I don’t have to pay for a h.otel room. Win. I throw the money I save on my bed into coffee prepared and served with a smile at cafes, food that makes my taste buds do the cha cha, that celebratory drink with new friends and old, and experiences to stock my memory vault.
If you’d rather have comfortable accommodation but prefer to save on food and drinks, rent a lovely house or apartment and invite your friends/dates/lovers over to share a bottle of wine instead of meeting them at a restaurant or bar. Know your absolute minimum requirement, and use that to guide your spending decisions.
If your Google-fu is weak, you’re going to end up spending a lot more money than you need to. If your search skills are on point, you’ll be more likely to find the cheapest flight, the lowest price last minute accommodation, and the best discount codes to cut costs.
Flights: I use Google Flights almost exclusively for airfares. The interface is simple, uncluttered, and pulls data from all airlines. You also have the ability to search multiple nearby airports at the same time to find the best deal or itinerary, so if you’re going to Miami you may search FLL and MIA. For the Bay Area, you can search for SFO, SJC, and OAK. The calendar tool previews the lowest available fares several months out. If you’re feeling a little spontaneous and not sure where you want to go? Try Google Flights Explorer.
Kayak and SkyScanner are also brilliant tools, and ones that I’ve used often in the past and some of my digital nomad friends rely on exclusively. Both of these sites aggregate fares similarly to Google, but they can also be used to search hotels and cars, so if you’re looking for more than just airfare, use Kayak or Skyscanner.
Hotels + Rental Cars: I’m all over Kayak and Hotwire for booking my rental cars and hotels. Hotwire is fun because you don’t necessarily know which hotel you’ll end up in – only the area where it is located (though a bit of sneaky research online can give you a very probable answer). Kayak will search and display pricing from several providers, so instead of searching Hertz for a good rental car price, you can just search Kayak and it will give you results from every agency. Best of all, it displays fares from several locations. I just booked a car for 7 weeks in Vancouver, Canada, and the YVR airport location was charging $2,500 and up, while the city location was only charging $900. Definitely worth the taxi fare.
Private: You can take advantage of private home and car booking options with AirBNB and Turo, where you’re renting from an individual instead of a company. I love the ‘home’ feeling that comes from being in an actual home over a hotel, especially for trips more than a few days. Turo can be a great way to find a fun car to drive like a sexy, sporty Audi or a fully loaded BMW at a price that’s much less than the luxury car option on car booking sites, and of course… you get to pick exactly what you drive! If I’m paying for a rental for some beautiful Sea to Sky Highway driving, I want to know exactly what I’ll be cruising in. Register for AirBNB using this link to get free travel credit on your first stay. Ready to rent a car with a little punch in it? Register on TURO with this link to get $25 off your first booking.
Travel apps are your friend.
Don’t need a rental car? Meet Uber and Lyft, I’m sure you’ll be great friends! Both apps have ride share features where you’ll be placed in a car with strangers, but you’ll save a ton on the fare… not to mention you’ll have the opportunity to meet someone local! Uber Pool and Lyft Line have saved me heaps on transportation. If you don’t already have the apps, you’re loco. Please don’t take that personally.
Sign up for Uber and enter code ‘crystalv94’ to get your first ride free. On the Uber app, go to the payments menu and select ‘Add Promo/Gift Code’. If you want to be crafty about this one, save your first ride for a longer trip on an airport ride! On Lyft, you can use code ‘CRYSTAL578792’ to get $10 in credit when you take your first ride. This code can be entered in the ‘Promos’ section of the menu.
If you’re in a city and neither grocery shopping nor going out appeal to you, try UberEats. I find this app especially useful when I’m working and don’t want to break the flow, or if I don’t have access to a vehicle and there are no satisfying food options nearby. I’ll often order enough food for 2-3 meals to lower the average cost for delivery, and stave off any chance of getting hangry waiting for food! You can use code ‘eats-crystalv94’ to get $10 off your first order with UberEats.
An easy way to find coupon codes or discount codes when shopping online – for travel or anything else – is to use Honey, a Chrome browser add-on that will automatically search and apply discount codes to basically any site. It’s legitimately the easiest way to save money. My favourite feature is the Amazon integration, which automatically tells you if the item you are looking at is actually the cheapest option on Amazon based on combined price and shipping. If you don’t do anything else today, install Honey.
Learn to love the no plan plan.
Last minute travel can be both thrilling and easy on your bank account. If you’re up for a challenge and excited by the idea of winging it, the no plan plan is for you. Keep in mind that this is less effective during peak season or peak travel times in busy tourist spots.
Flexibility is everything. For accommodation, I’ll often message AirBNB hosts and see if they’ll offer a last minute booking for tonight or tomorrow at a discounted rate. This works especially well if you take the time to write out a thoughtful message, and works even better if you target properties that don’t have reviews yet and commit to writing a thorough and detailed review. If you have a strong record of leaving honest and carefully written reviews for previous hosts and positive reviews from hosts you’ve stayed with, you’ll have more luck. I’d recommend contacting several hosts as you’re unlikely to get it on the first try!
HotelTonight is another app that offers last minute deals, but I’ve never actually found an affordable enough option on there that beats Hotwire, which is my go to for last minute. Booking.com also has a very intuitive platform for searching last minute hotel deals, and will more than likely get you a nice, comfy bed to tuck into much quicker than the AirBNB option!
Happy hour is the happiest hour.
Here’s the thing.. I love eating out. Cooking at home is not my jam. The energy of being around other people is invigorating, whether I’m by myself or with friends. The hustle and bustle of that local foodie hotspot adds an element of fun and interaction to my travel.
If you haven’t been clued in to the happy hour game yet, get ready! Many restaurants and bars offer happy hour discounts – sometimes it’s up to 50% off drinks and menu items. If you don’t have to eat at peak times, you’ll save a bunch of money by hitting up happy hours. A little bit of Google action on restaurants and bars near you should give you the intel you need on when/where to go get a great deal on a meal. Do a little search for what establishments are nearby, pick up the phone and give them a quick buzz to see if they have a happy hour and what it includes. Have fun, and cheers to cheaper beers!
The size of your trip, that is. There are always opportunities to save on accommodation and rental cars if you make bookings for a week or a month at a time. I can often rent a car for a month for between $400-900 in most major cities, compared to $200-400 per week. Hotels and AirBNB’s typically offer significant discounts for monthly rentals as well. I’ve found places that will take 50% off and sometimes more. It helps to actually reach out to hotels or AirBNB hosts if this discount is not publicly offered. Speak to the owner or manager. You never know what’s possible until you ask!
When it comes to food and drink, long term trips mean that you can actually go grocery shopping! Novel idea, right? Buying a week or month’s supply of food will cost a lot less than trying to feed yourself for a few days at a time. And of course, buying a bottle of whiskey and mixers will be much cheaper than buying by the shot or cocktail!
The size of your luggage matters, too. Can you manage with carry-on only? You’ll save buckets in luggage fees. Traveling with sports equipment and worried about overweight fees? Yeah, they add up quick. I travel with a digital luggage scale so I can avoid unhappy surprises at the airport!
Traveling is supposed to be fun. There’s no need to deprive ourselves of all of life’s comforts. But we can and should save money wherever possible.
So get out there! Have fun, and embrace the idea of cutting costs in some areas so you can spend with a little more freedom in the ones that really make you smile.
Do you have any tricks that you use to save money while traveling? Please share! I’d love to hear your own little tips and tricks.
Bon voyage et bonne vie!