A roving retirement is an adventurous life, but it’s not all beer and skittles. When you’re on the road for months, even years at a time, having a good handle on your budget becomes a way of life. That doesn’t mean doing away with all the comforts of home or living like a pauper. In fact, many of our savings tips can provide you with an even more rewarding travel experience than splashing your cash around.
The impact of expensive tours and 5-star accommodation rates don’t matter so much if you’re only paying for a week or two. Holidaymakers might go home with a massive credit card bill to show for their experience, but they can slip back into the 9-to-5 grind and gradually pay it off before their next holiday comes around, sometime in the far distant future. But that’s not how we roll.
We ditched the regular ‘holiday once a year’ lifestyle back in 2010, and we’re not about to return any time soon. So, with years of experience to draw from, here are our top five ways to save money and improve your travel experiences while travelling the world long-term.
Self-Guided / Free Tours
Most places are happy, if not proud, to show off the best of what their city or town offers. Usually, with a little research, visitors can access free guided tours or some kind of literature that will enable you to see the sights by yourself. This is usually our first port of call when seeking to learn more about the place we have just arrived in.
When a simple three-and-a-half-hour craft brewery tour in most North American cities set you back over $100, you soon get your smartphone out and Google the hell out of craft beer!
And now there are a heap of apps you can download on your phone for less than a couple of bucks. Products like GPSmycity take itineraries developed by experienced travellers and convert them into GPS guided tours. In fact, they have quite a few of ours available for download for places like Ho Chi Minh City, Sri Lanka and Central Europe.
No smartphone, no problems. Walk into most visitors’ information centres and you’ll find city maps showing all the local sites. Pick up a few brochures, grab a coffee and circle the ones you’d like to see. Join the dots and voila, your own custom-made tour.
Many cities also provide free tours guided by volunteers. We’ve done a free bike tour in Sofia in Bulgaria, a walking tour in Portland in Oregon and a cultural tour in Ho Chi Minh City conducted by international business students wanting to improve their English and connect with visitors from overseas. You get an insider’s view and lots of tips and there’s no expectation of payment. (Although we do usually tip the guide around $5 each.)
Peak season is a great time to travel if you like lining up for everything, paying exorbitant prices and jostling with seemingly endless crowds while you try to weave your way around one of the world’s wonders. When you’re on holidays with the rest of the world, you can’t expect to have too many sites to yourself. Peak season is often at the height of summer or the depths of winter and weather conditions can be quite unpleasant.
There’s nothing quite so memorable as a bad experience when travelling overseas and choosing the high season to visit will almost definitely challenge your sanity, as well as your budget! Unscrupulous vendors shamelessly overcharge for goods and services leaving a bitter taste in your mouth.
With the luxury of time and a little bit of planning, we tend to avoid most of these problems, have a better overall experience and save heaps of money to boot. Travelling off-season will mean not only lower prices on flights and accommodation but give you the chance of staying longer if you choose. Not just that, but you’ll also find the locals have more time and motivation to engage with you.
Travelling to more popular places on the “edge” of the high season can be rewarding. Most high seasons have a definite start and end date based on the period when most people have holidays and not necessarily the best time to visit.
For example, we have just concluded a road trip around British Columbia in Canada in mid-October. While some but attractions had closed and were preparing for the winter season, many were still operational but had had no queues. The weather was cool but sunny and the autumn colours were incredible under bright blue skies.
We had many walking trails to ourselves, hotels had lower rates to attract travellers and paid parking areas were now free.
Eating and drinking take up a large part of your budget while travelling. The cost of dining in cafes, restaurants and bars can add up quickly. We love to sample the local cuisine, but you don’t need to have a formal meal to do that.
Shopping from colourful local markets can turn into a highlight of your holiday in itself. We often reminisce about sitting on the edge of Venice canals sipping good red wine and feasting on Italian salami, cheeses, bread and fruit…with the same view as the diners in the fancy restaurants across the way.
We were never happier than sharing rotisserie chicken, salty cheese, fresh flatbread and olives while overlooking the Bosporus in Istanbul. There’s no need for fancy, expensive restaurants when you have the best view in town!
In places like Japan, Finland, the U.K., the U.S.A. and Canada, you can buy good quality, nutritious and reasonably priced salads, soups, sandwiches and hot meals (and sometimes beers) from supermarkets and even petrol stations. We usually find a beautiful park or lookout to enjoy our meal for a fraction of the cost of the cost in a local diner.
Most hostels have fully equipped kitchens, condiments and utensils for self-catering. And we’ve met many new friends as we’ve prepared and enjoyed our evening meal.
These days we often stay in Airbnb’s with kitchen facilities. We self-cater for breakfast and quite often head back there after a full day out sightseeing and throw together a quick meal and have a couple of drinks at home.
Staying with Locals
Expensive hotels all have a habit of looking the same after a while. They might be comfortable and convenient, it’s hard to tell one from the other. Some of our best travel experiences have been staying with locals who’ve showed us extraordinary hospitality and been invaluable as sources of information about the region.
Nowadays there are many ways in which to enjoy a local experience. Organisations such as Airbnb, Warm Showers (touring cyclists only), home swapping and housesitting are among a few of our experiences. We’ve found Airbnb to be a great way to meet the locals and get a feel for the culture, staying in traditional houses filled with all kinds of personal objects and art.
Housesitting, in particular, has been an excellent way to stay in places for free. We’ve been fortunate enough to house-sit in luxury homes in some of North America’s most expensive cities for free, often with the use of a car. This usually means looking after pets that the owners don’t wish to put into expensive care facilities, but that can add to the experience. We’ve discovered lots of local gems taking the dogs out for a walk around the neighbourhood.
Get Off The Beaten Track
Getting off the beaten track can be surprisingly rewarding. Skiing in Montenegro instead of France or Switzerland, exploring beaches on the islands of Malaysia or in Sri Lanka, rather than in the Caribbean or Europe, learning Spanish in Guatemala rather than Spain. There are cheaper alternatives for almost any activities, it just takes a little research to save a lot of money.
We’ve enjoyed adventurous activities in lesser known locations for much cheaper than mainstream destinations. We’ve scuba-dived on the Honduran Great Barrier Reef, white water rafted Uganda and Zambia and hiked on volcanoes in Ethiopia. All these activities were considerably less expensive than the same experience in Australia, Europe or North America.
All it takes is a little planning and flexibility to save a lot of cash when you’re travelling long-term, but with just a few simple tips you can not only stretch your budget but also have some fantastic experiences the average tourist just won’t have.