10 Tips For Cheap International Travel
In my last post, I explained how to score international flights for a fraction of their normal cost, but how do you keep your budget down once you’ve arrived? By selling a kidney and/or pick-pocketing other tourists, obviously. But if you’re already down to your last kidney and have clumsy sausage fingers, here are some other tips to save money while traveling abroad:
1) Tourism Offices – Virtually every major destination city has a tourism office staffed by (ideally) friendly, knowledgeable natives whose job it is to make sure you enjoy your stay. They’re a great resource to learn about local festivals, free museum days, and other special discounts. For example, at the tourism office in Nida, Lithuania, they sell shirts that say “You went to Lithuania! Now why?” Seriously.
2) Hostel Privates – Traveling couples (or solo travelers who like a bit of space) often don’t realize that most hostels also have private rooms that are much cheaper than hotels but still include the impressive list of amenities, such as wi-fi, free breakfast, laundry service, and an overly upbeat guy in the lobby wearing a hemp sweatshirt.
3) Older Student Discounts – In Europe and other parts of the world, students are much older much more often. Still got your old college ID? Bring it along! Nobody will think twice about your goatee (except, obviously, your parents). Or, if you lost your ID years ago, consider dropping about $20 for an International Student ID Card. The student discounts add up fast, plus you get another opportunity to take an awful, over-lit photo of yourself.
4) Market Meals – Some of the tastiest, cheapest restaurants are located inside or on the periphery of local produce markets. Take a seat (or a stand) and – just like you’re meeting the mob – don’t ask questions.
5) Rent A Bicycle – Rental cars and taxis are expensive, but public transportation in foreign cities can be intimidating. If only someone had invented some sort of middle ground, like a Segway, only with two wheels, no motor, and without the constant sense that people are muttering “Look at that moron” under their breath.
6) ATMs – ATMs usually have a much fairer exchange rate than exchange bureaus, and many banks don’t charge foreign transaction fees. But even with a 2-3% foreign transaction fee, using ATMs can still be cheaper (not to mention less frightening) than exchanging a ton of cash. Remember that when in Eastern Europe, it’s customary to tip your ATM.
7) Overnight Travel – Consider booking overnight trains or buses. First-class sleepers can be quite swanky (porters!), are a great way to experience local culture, and are almost guaranteed to be cheaper than the cost of a daytime ticket plus a night in a hotel. If you’re ever on the Orient Express, however, remember that 9 out of 10 passengers get murdered under mysterious circumstances.
8) Train/Bus Station Lockers – Need a place to store your stuff for cheap? Most train and bus stations have all-day (and often overnight) lockers. If you’re only in town for a day, just get off the train, sling your stuff in a locker, spend all day exploring, and then pick up your bags as you leave. Please note, this isn’t great advice if your luggage is full of bundles of hot dogs tied together with alarm clocks.
9) Cheap Communication – Before you throw down cash for an internet cafe, make sure there isn’t free wi-fi at a local civic institution. By which I mean the library, but could also include the DMV, a middle school, or the Prime Minister’s private bathroom. Also, for the love of God, don’t get a cell phone or international calling card when you can Skype.
10) Be Loud & Friendly – Don’t be ashamed to talk loudly about your plans while hanging out in your hostel or hotel lobby. Next thing you know, you might be splitting a cab, or splitting the bill at a restaurant, or splitting wood on a poorly planned lumberjack outing.
Secret 11th Tip – Save a wealthy person’s life.
Nick von Keller is a writer living in Los Angeles. His work has been featured on Comedy Central, Fark, Funny or Die, Cracked, Mondo Media, Current TV, and Channel 101, among others. A Watson Fellowship recipient, he has also won the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival Screenwriting Competition, placed as a Finalist in the LA Comedy Fest Screenwriting Competition, and had the highest rated comedy pilot on The Black List as of December 2013. He is not to be trusted.