As I mentioned in previous posts, one of my best friends, Linds, is going to meet me in Italy this fall. We have a few places we HAVE to go and a few more that we want to go so right now, we’re just working out what is the most important to us and making it fit within our budget. Thankfully, we are both on the same page when it comes to the money. She is hoping to go for 9 days (though I’m going to try to talk her into a few more…shhhh! don’t tell her! Oh right, she reads my blog…) and has a budget of about $1500 US for everything including flights. I’m going to try to show her that with that budget, she could travel for closer to 14 days. It might sound difficult, but I think this is totally doable if we use our heads. Here are some tips we can use to stretch our budget a little further.
One of the easiest ways I’ve found to save a few bucks without sacrificing your experience is to switch up your meals. This is such a great tip, especially for single travelers who don’t have the luxury of having anyone to split a meal with. Instead of having your big meal of the day at dinner, have it at lunch. A lot of places offer a slightly smaller version of their dinner menu at about 2/3rds (or less) the price at lunch time. The portions may be a bit smaller, but how many times do you finish everything on your plate when you eat out anyway? For dinner, grab something lighter, like some yummy street food or a sandwich from a local deli. You still get to experience the local cuisine and have some killer meals, but by switching up when your big meal is, you can easily save 3 or 4 or more bucks a day. Add that up over a week and you have an extra night at a hostel!
Take advantage of free food. By this, I do not mean you should line your pockets with plastic bags and stuff any food you see lying around into them, though I guess if you’re desperate, that’s one option (gross). What I mean is, if your hostel offers free breakfast, take them up on it. Even if you aren’t hungry right that second, there will probably be something you could discretely put in your bag, like a piece of fruit or a roll, for later when you’re jonesing for a snack.
Travel slowly. This is by far the best way to save money. Trains, planes, and automobiles (and boats) all cost money, so when you hop from one place to the next, you usually end up spending more money then if you just settled in one place for several days, really got to know the place, and then moved on to the next.
Walk. I love getting into a new city or town, dumping my stuff at the hostel, and wandering aimlessly until I am good and lost. It really helps me get a feel for the city and many times I end up finding a beautiful park, historic building, or charming local dig that I never would have found had I taken a bus or a guided tour (which cost moolah and many times are more of a safety blanket than a necessity).
Research ahead of time. This should be a no-brainer, but researching a place ahead of time can really save you some cash, as well as some unwanted stress. You can find a cheap hostel in the cool part of town, learn which museums have free days, look into multi-day bus passes, and more. That’s not to say you shouldn’t leave room to be spontaneous — you absolutely should! But getting an idea of what to expect from the place you’re visiting can really help you make those spontaneous decisions.
Eat away from the tourist sites. Think about tourist attractions in your own town and the types of restaurants that are close to them. Many are overpriced and usually a watered down version of what the regional food is really like. Walk just a few blocks away and you could find some delicious and authentic food for about half the price! The best example I have of this is when I was in NYC with my college choir. A bunch of us had gone to MOMA and afterwards, were trying to figure out where to eat as we walked back to Times Square. My friend Jen and I were walking in the back because everyone else was arguing and getting snippy with each other and seemed to resent the fact that the two of us were just happy wandering around. We were both pretty hungry and getting tired of all the drama going on in front of us, so we started looking on our own. We pointed out several possibilities to the rest of the group, but everyone else wanted to go to some were more “New York” (aka touristy). We were fed up at this point and just about to give up when a door opened. Literally. A door. To a little mexican restaurant on a street far from the action with salsa music blaring out of it. Jen and I looked at each other, ditched our group, and enjoyed one of the best mexican meals we’ve ever had. We each got a full meal (though the portions were so big we took about 2/3 of our food back to the room) and a ginormous fishbowl margarita for a total, with tip and tax, of under 30 bucks. We spent less than 15 dollars a person on a great dinner in one of the most expensive cities in the US and would have spent about 7-8 dollars a person if we had known the portions were that big. All that just by going away from the tourist zones.
Stay somewhere that is what you want to do. I realize that is really awkwardly worded, but this is what I mean. In Italy, I think Linds and I are going to stay a couple nights on a farm stay. It’s conveniently placed right between two places we are definitely going, so makes a great stopping point, and is in a beautiful location (in Abruzzi National Park). More than that though, the farm stay is also the activity. We can take hikes in the park, learn about organic farming, and even pick our own fruit…for free. There is a chef at the farm who makes all the meals for a very reasonable price (about 15-18 euro for 3 meals a day plus all the fruit you can eat) and they even sell homemade wine (just 4.50 euro a litre). If we don’t want to eat there, we can easily walk the 40 minutes to the village and get something there, or maybe hitch a ride. Add in 19 euro a person for the double room we’re sharing and we’ll be spending just 40 euro/person/day.
My last tip of this post is that while saving money on your trip is good, don’t fall into the trap of saving money…and sacrificing your experience. Remember, you traveled here for a reason. You want to experience the culture, food, life, etc., not just camp out in your hostel and do nothing for fear of parting with a little moolah. What’s the point of traveling if you don’t go out and see/do/taste/drink/touch what the destination is about?