“I want to travel more, but it’s just so expensive!” Sound familiar?
It amazes me how many people seem to think travel is out of their reach. They have this mental roadblock that travel has to be expensive. For some reason, when people hear “vacation,” they usually think of the costly hotels or fancy resorts.
Travel can be anything you want it to be, but it doesn’t have to kill your wallet.
One of the best ways to keep your travel expenses down is to live like a local. You hear about people who drop $5,000 for a week-long trip. Well, do you spend $5,000 on a week at home? I don’t think so.
In this post, I’ll let you in on seven rules that will help you live more like a local while you’re traveling. Not only will this keep your travel budget down, but it’ll give you a better feel for the culture while you’re there.
1. Go to the Grocery Store
Keep Food Costs to a Minimum
When you’re at home, you probably don’t go out to eat for every meal. Well, when you travel, the locals don’t do that either. So why do we seem to think we need to eat out three times a day on vacation?
I think a big part of it is that we want to ensure we experience the food culture of a new destination. However, you can still do that from shopping at the local grocery store. You may come across foods and ingredients you’ve never cooked with before that you want to try out.
Maybe you eat out a lot while traveling because you cook at home frequently and want a break while you’re away. Nothing says you have to fix an elaborate meal that will take up a lot of your time. Pick up ingredients you can quickly throw together into a simple, but delicious meal.
If you don’t want to spend much time cooking, don’t. You could always split your time between eating out at restaurants and making food yourself. This would help keep your costs down a little while still giving you a taste of the local restaurant scene.
However, shopping at the grocery store or farmers’ market and foregoing restaurants will decrease your food costs the most. It also gets you out into the city you’re visiting and allows you to see the day-to-day side of things.
Don't Splurge on Expensive Coffee
If you’re like me, you need that morning cup of coffee to get you up and awake. Although it can be fun to try out the local coffee shops while traveling, doing so every day will add up very quickly.
Instead, buy a bag of coffee at the grocery store while you’re there. Nothing says you have to look for the brand you always get at home. Buy the bag of local coffee or a kind you’ve never tried so you’re still experiencing something new.
Skip the Alcohol at Restaurants and Bars
Of course, cutting alcohol out altogether while traveling is going to be the absolute cheapest option for you here, but maybe you don’t want to do that.
Do what the locals do and buy alcohol from the grocery store or a liquor store. That’s what you probably do at home. This is a much more affordable option than buying a drink while you’re out to eat.
If it’s something you enjoy, you don’t have to miss out on the experience of a local bar altogether. Maybe choose to go one time and don’t order drinks when you do go out to a restaurant.
2. Stay at an Airbnb
The Feel of Home without the Price Tag of a Hotel
Staying in an apartment or house as you travel is another great way to live like a local. Since Airbnb has entered the scene, traveling is cheaper than ever before. I will never choose a hotel for lodging anymore if I can help it.
While they now have Airbnb Plus and Airbnb Luxe homes where you can pay more for a luxurious stay, there are still plenty of extremely affordable homes on Airbnb if you’re looking for a cheaper place.
The comfort of choosing Airbnb is another advantage it has over a hotel. Airbnbs usually feel more homey, because they are an actual home, and have more amenities than hotels. What better way to live like a local than to stay in someone’s home?
Kitchen for Easy Meal Prep
Although not every Airbnb has a kitchen, many do.
Being able to prep and cook your meals while traveling will significantly decrease your overall travel expenses. If you’re planning on picking up food at the grocery store, having a kitchen where you can cook is a game-changer. You can always buy sandwich fixings or other foods that don’t need preparing, but it limits what you can eat and makes eating out at every meal more tempting.
Don’t feel like cooking every night while on a trip? Consider cooking something in bulk, so it lasts several days. Having a kitchen available to you gives you more opportunity to live like a local and save money at the same time.
Central Location for Decreased Transportation Costs
Picking an Airbnb close to all the activities you plan on doing is an excellent way to save on transportation costs.
If I’m traveling to a busy city, I like to find an Airbnb within walking distance of the major attractions I’m planning to visit.
Not only will this save on ride-shares or public transportation costs, but walking through a city will help you experience it as the locals do.
3. Stay Out of the Tourist Traps
If you are near a popular tourist destination, whether it’s St. Mark’s Square in Venice or the New Orleans French Quarter, you can bet prices are going to be set higher.
To keep your travel budget down, walk several blocks away from tourist hotspots before making any purchases. Restaurants will be more expensive in the touristy areas as will souvenir shops and anything else you’re looking to buy.
Getting out of the spots heavily visited by tourists and into more local areas will keep costs down significantly and often give you a more authentic experience.
4. Walk or Ride a Bike
If you’re traveling to a larger city, you’ll see many locals walking from place to place or riding bikes to get there. Do the same! After all, the best way to experience a new location is to get out and explore it at your own pace.
Yes, you’ll save money not paying for transportation, but you also open yourself up to new adventures. If you walk or bike around a city, you’d be surprised how many things you’ll stumble upon that you would never have found otherwise.
What if you didn’t bring a bike along on your travels? No problem! In many major cities around the world, bike-share programs abound. You can rent a bike at one station and dock it at any one of the many stations they have around the city when you’re finished. Each program is a little different. Some let you rent by the hour; others offer weekly or monthly rental options. So be sure to check out the rental plan that works best for you if you’re thinking of biking around the city.
5. Seek Out Free or Cheap Entertainment
Check Out Community Events
Community events hosted by a city’s Chamber of Commerce are usually either extremely affordable or free. Whether it’s a concert in the park or a craft show downtown, the point is to get people out supporting local businesses while they have a great time.
Discover all the upcoming community events in your travel destination by checking out their chamber of commerce events calendar online.
Go on a Walking Tour Your First Day
Although locals don’t usually go on walking tours in their city, I’ve added this to the list because you will most likely travel more like a local once you’re finished with your walking tour.
I recommend going on a locally guided walking tour on your first day in a new city. Walking tours are usually either very affordable or only cost you the tip for your guide.
When a local is giving a tour of their city, it’s because they’re passionate about where they live and want to share it with you. Guides can provide you all sorts of tips and little-known facts about the city that many tourists may not know.
Besides getting the insider facts about where to go and fun things to do, a locally guided tour can give you a good lay of the land on your first day in a new place. Then, as you continue exploring, you have a better feel for how to navigate and find the places you want to see.
Look for Activities with No Admission or Admission-Free Days
Keep in mind that locals don’t spend hundreds of dollars in entertainment in the span of a week or two, and you don’t have to either.
There are plenty of experiences you don’t have to pay for, like exploring a downtown scene or hiking nature trails. With a little bit of online searching, it’s easy to find the available free activities.
Even activities that charge admission like a museum or aquarium sometimes have admission-free days. It could be once a month, or they may offer free entry once a week.
Always check for free admission days. If you can move that museum visit from a Saturday to a Wednesday and save thirty dollars, you’ll be thanking yourself.
6. Do Laundry
Do you pack a set of clothes for every day or more than that when you travel? That takes up a lot of space in your suitcase, especially if you’re flying.
For ease of travel and to skip checked baggage fees, I recommend packing everything in a carry-on bag. To save space, bring fewer sets of clothes.
At home, you do laundry, and so do the locals where you’re traveling. It’s not like you have to stay inside an entire day doing laundry. Go to a local laundromat one evening after dinner or book an Airbnb that has a washer and dryer and set if off before you go to bed one night.
7. Keep Track of Your Budget
No matter where you travel, there will be locals who keep a budget, just like you may at home. Continue that habit while you’re on vacation.
I think it’s easy to get into a spending mindset when you’re out having fun in a new city. Going to dinner here and booking this activity there can be enticing when you’re in the moment, but it can add up to a lot of expense. If you wait to tally the numbers until you get back home, your wallet may not be happy with you.
I understand not wanting to whip out your laptop and spend an hour looking at your finances while you travel. That’s not what I’m getting at here.
However, it’s crucial to track your expenses while on a trip just like you keep an eye on them at home. You know what your travel budget is, so stay on top of it by downloading a travel budget app to enter purchases on the go quickly.
You’ll naturally spend less when you’re aware of how much you’re spending. It’s easy for us to get into a splurge mindset on vacation, but your bank account will be thanking you for budgeting on-the-go when you get home.
Now, are you ready to travel like a local? These seven tips will help you cut your travel costs significantly, and cheaper travel means more travel!
I challenge you to add up how much you spend in a typical week. That’s your budget for your next trip, excluding flights and lodging. Try to keep your day-to-day spending the same as it is at home. If you can’t take a week-long trip, do the same thing for a three or four-day trip.
It might feel a little restrictive at first, but I think you’ll find traveling like a local is easier than you imagined. Plus, if you have a passion for travel, isn’t the point to do it as much as possible?