The ultimate guide to budget travel

All of my trips around Europe were budget travel experiences and I crammed in a lot of travelling. Not only that all my friends travelled around and so I picked up a few tips for travelling on a budget. These tips will help you save cash whilst travelling, cash which you can later use on more travelling because life was made for travelling right.

Don’t fly
If you can help it don’t fly. Flying around is expensive it cuts severely into your budget and if you find yourself in a continent with a good public transport system which is safe, reliable and integrated there is no need to. You can use the train or travel to your destination via bus. In Germany Flixbus and Eurolines are great options. Sitting in the bus can be irritating for some for me it was good I got to catch up on reading, studying and made travel friends on the bus. I also loved travelling by train to and seeing the changing landscapes through the window.

If you aren’t the type who can enjoy long trips then rather go by train or plane. But, book in advance this way your flight will be cheaper, make use of budget airlines in Europe Ryanair is the way to go. There was a special from Bonn airport to London return fare for €2 that’s €1 to fly from Germany to London and another to get back. If I had a UK visa I would have bought that ticket. Plan ahead find out where your destination airport is located and whether public transport operates from it. Otherwise budget and arrange for a private taxi to fetch you from the airport. Also if you must fly then stay longer at your destination and try to do it less plane tickets aren’t cheap.

Flight to Germany
On my way to board my flight to Germany

Skip fancy hotels I love fancy hotels but if you happen to be on a tight budget you need to forgo this luxury. Thankfully there are a few options available.

Couch surfing
As a South African this one still makes me feel uneasy. I didn’t couch surf and if I ever do I will do it with another person. I’m from a country where crime is rife and that has influenced my nature. Despite this I will try it one day my close friend did with her sister. She travelled through Italy and lived in rooms of kind people who offered their rooms for free. All that these wonderful Italians wanted was to talk to my friend and her sister in English a bit in order to practice. It’s a great setup and you get to save money whilst meeting someone new. However again cautious read be many reviews have cash with you as a backup plan. Have a back plan other couch surfing options, and know where the closest hostel, BnB etc is just in case. I’ve also read about travellers who were homeless a few nights because their couch surfing plans fell through. Plan well for just in case situations. Click here for more information:

Make use of Airbnb just read many reviews beforehand. I used it for my Berlin trip and the room I shared with my two friends was eclectic and had an antique feel. It was fantastic. My one class mate unfortunately had to travel really far to get to her room in Amsterdam even though the advertisement stated that the room was close to the city centre. My friend should have asked directly if the room was within walking distance and she should have checked via Google maps to see how far the place was from Amsterdam’s central district. As a Capetonian I know that sometimes tourists are duped by advertisers who state that the house/room is within walking distance from the beach. In reality a car trip is sometimes needed. So do your research weigh your options and ask questions.

Hostels are great as they are very social spaces where you can meet other travellers. The downside can be that those other travellers can be weirdo’s, or they can snore loudly. My experience at hostels has been mixed as well. Some have been pristinely clean other had dirty bathroom floors thank God for flip flops and thank you to the creator of flip flops. Many hostels are rated and you can read online reviews. I do enjoy the vibe at most hostels and I can get past the yucky floors. It’s a terrific way to save cash and meet new people and even if you do meet up with a weirdo or loud snorer at least you will have a story to tell from the experience.

Budapest view
View from my hostel room in Budapest can you spot the bullet holes and where a bomb exploded during the war.

I wouldn’t recommend this in Europe during winter you could die of the cold although you do find die hard campers who do so. In South Africa our winter days can even be sunny and warm. And there are many beautiful camping sites. Some are budget friendly others are luxurious. Camping is a good way to experience the natural surroundings of the destination you are exploring. If you love hiking, canoeing and just connecting with nature this is a cost effective way to go.

Friends place
I made kind hearted, funny, and loveable and all round magnificent friends during my year abroad. I’m still in regular contact with quite a few of them. Being a student based in Germany made it possible for me to meet many other international students. I also met other South Africans who also received the same scholarship as me, the Erasmus Scholarship at a pre-departure event which was hosted in South Africa. I made friends and stayed in touch with a few people from this event.

I also had a good family friend Monique from the Netherlands who I call my other big sis. This meant that I had many options when it came to accommodation and where I wanted to go to. I stayed over with different friends in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. I also travelled in Germany to a place which was in a whole other region.

And I was invited to go to Spain, Greece, England, other parts of France etc; as a student I had to manage my time well and pass my course so even though it broke my heart I didn’t go to all these places. I’m hoping that one day I will get to visit my friends whom I didn’t get a chance to visit. The point of this long story is that if you have friends living at your travel or vacation destinations contact them and ask if you can stay with them. Having a friend who is also a local allows you to experience the culture of the place in an exceptional way.

Ghent Belgium
My friend Bliqees in the front and Liesel. I visited and stayed with Bliqees in Ghent, Belgium
Tilburg zoo
My Dutch friend Monique see how short I am in comparison

As a student traveller I splurged sometimes when I ate other times I stuck to cheaper options. I tried traditional food whilst travelling in every place I visited and sometimes the food and I didn’t understand each other. Other times the food made me feel blissful. I deeply miss the authentic Belgian waffles I had which I cannot find anywhere in Cape Town. I had them in Ghent and these Waffles had caramelised brown sugar inside of them yummy . This could continue on for forever so let me stop making myself hungry as I type this. I’m stressing the point that when it comes to eating eat local. This matters as you can have a Big Mac almost anywhere in the world but when will you ever get to eat Rigó Jancsi in Budapest again. So how do you eat well and not waste cash?

Eat street food, if the locals are eating it and if kids are eating it then it should be fine. Buy food from street vendors you can always observe how they are cooking and check if the stall is clean. It’s a two for one special cultural immersion and cheaper dining.

Make your own food if you are living in a hostel/ Airbnb place where you are allowed to cook. Find out before where the grocery shop is and plan your route, and how you will get there. Ask on online traveller forums about grocery shopping options or find an expat community site for the place you plan on travelling to and ask there. The female solo travellers’ network on Facebook is a brilliant place to ask if you are a female traveller. But there are really so many similar forums. Cooking for yourself allows you to save, it can become a bonding experience if you share your food with your fellow hostel dwellers and you get to eat what you want.

Eat out if you want, don’t limit yourself. I ate out many times. I never ate at places which were full of tourists or close to tourist attractions. I walked into side streets and listened to the language diners were using whilst talking to each other, and I checked the prices of dishes. Many people use Tripadvisor and yes it can be helpful but, at times prices of meals go up as the Tripadvisor ranking goes up. Be aware of this and don’t be fooled.

Make lunch your main meal. Lunch and breakfast is often much cheaper than the cost of dinner at most restaurants. So if you intend to cost cut eat a bigger meal at lunch at a nice restaurant then grab something lighter for supper time.

Know about the tipping policies. In Germany service staff are not tipped their wage covers everything. In South Africa it’s standard practice to tip 10-15 percent of your bill total. In Italy restaurants charge Coperto I wrote about this in my post about Florence. Coperto is where you get charged for sitting, you also have to pay a separate service charge. Ask when dining in Italy if they charge Coperto and check the prices if they don’t sometimes the fee is sneakily added to the cost of the meals. So yes know about tipping so that you don’t under or over tip. You could also find yourself shocked at your bill in places like Italy. Foreknowledge means you can save more.

Don’t buy food from garage stops. Food at garage/petrol stations shops are always overpriced avoid buying things there. I packed lunch or travel snacks and rarely bought things at these stops when I travelled by bus.

Carry a water bottle this way you don’t have to buy water. You can refill it as at public water fountains and save on expensive bottles of water. Just check which kind of bottle is allowed if you plan on boarding back plane.

Laval France
Having my cake and eating it to in Laval, France

Shop local I’m on repeat by saying this but it contributes to the local economy. Do avoid expensive novelty shops and shopping malls. These souvenirs are often made in China if you look closely at the hidden labels. Rather buy things from street sellers who are locals and who are talented. Again avoid buying things close to tourist hotspots. I paid double for key chains or the Eiffel Tower when I bought them close to the Eiffel tower I only bought 3 and paid €1each. At another part of Paris I paid €2 for 10 of the exact same key chains learn from my mistakes.

Buy budget friendly items key chains, postcards and other smaller items like fridge magnets, bookmarkers or shot glasses tend to be cheap. My mom has all the magnets I bought from different places on her refrigerator. People who love you will value the fact that you bought them something even if it’s small. The people you love are the people that matter so maybe splurge on an item or two and keep the rest of the gifts cheaper items bought with little cash but lots of love.

Beware of shopping scams for example you get offered a rose and told how beautiful you are once you’ve touched it you are forced to buy the rose which you my dear unsuspecting traveller thought was a free gift. You walk down the street and get stopped to have an arm band attached to your wrist it’s colourful but not to your taste and try as you might you cannot unknot it now the person who tied it insists you pay for it. You thought it would be marvellous to buy real Italian leather sandals in Italy but then you find out later that your bargain buy is a fake. Things like this happen everywhere in the world. Know how to spot fakes again by researching and find out about scams read blogs, search online and ask locals at the tourist office or friends which you make along the way about scams.

Just like with eating look where locals are shopping and follow them. This way you will skip tourist trap prices and find markets which are special.

Free Wi-Fi
Some countries have free Wi-Fi spots. Austria has signs up at free Wi-Fi spots. In South Africa many shopping malls, public libraries and some parks have free Wi-Fi. Most countries will have public libraries with free Wi-Fi. Lots of restaurants will have free Wi-Fi to in most places and you can just order a cup of coffee or two and use it.

Austria Salzburg
Free Wi-Fi zones are advertised in Salzburg, Austria

Get a local sim card for your phone and or an international calling one.
Roaming charges are crazy. A German boy recently racked up €12,000 in roaming charges because he used the phone service line on a cruise ship. That’s the amount of my whole stipend for an entire year of living costs in Germany from 2015-2016. So just get a sim card for the destination you are in. There’s also a number of great sims which allow you to make cheap international calls. I used Lyca mobile to call my mom whilst I lived in Germany and paid so little. Lyca mobile operates in a number of countries and provides excellent service.

Be a travel ninja and go incognito
Before searching for flights, accommodation and all your travel related things change your internet browser settings to incognito. If you don’t know how to do this check the link:

Clearing your cookies isn’t enough because you might forget. Your browsing history can be used to automatically charge you more for flights because it shows you are looking around and interested in travelling.

Package deal
For some people booking packages is how they travel it’s a standard practice. I’m not here to completely bash this as I to used student travel bus companies which included breakfast snacks, sometimes buffet breakfast, walking tours, postcards, maps with extra information and if the trip was long accommodation all in one package. I saved so much by doing this and had a blast with both companies which I regularly used for short trips. Me being me though I always asked my Dutch big sis Monique whether I was being ripped off before I booked my tickets. She also travels around Europe with her family and could provide me with helpful information. I also compared costs online and then booked my package deal trips. In most cases these trips can be overly expensive they are convenient for a reason and if you book your own plane tickets, use budget friendly accommodation and eat at cheaper street food places your trip would be much cheaper. Keep this in mind.

To learn more about the companies I travelled with follow the links:

Another tip is to not buy package deal cards when you arrive at your destination. I’ve said this before if you plan on taking a canal cruise and visiting at least 3 museums in one day it will be worth it to buy the Amsterdam city card otherwise don’t buy it. This card also doesn’t allow you to access all museums for free it excludes two including Anne Frank’s house which is majorly popular. Calculate the cost of all the things you want to see before hand and then compare it to the package deal card to see if you really will be saving. It takes more effort but if you want to save it’s worth doing.

Converting money
Rather convert your money at home as some money converting places charge a lot to do the converting. If you are converting at your destination then ask a local that you can trust such as a good tour guide where to go. In Budapest I did this and ended up going to a place which wasn’t in the city centre which charged reasonable rates. If asking a local sounds unappealing then search online for places and read through blogs to find out where to go.

Budapest cash the forint which made me I had thousands to spend but it’s just a few Euros 🤭

Dumpster diving
I have absolutely no experience when it comes to dumpster diving and free cycling and many people look down at their noses when they think about scratching in a bin for food. But, follow this link: https:/ read more about it the guide is pretty comprehensive.

Getting around inside place
I walked so much whilst travelling. This is why I always refer to my travels as travels not as vacations/holidays. I walked my tiny legs off. All over and when I didn’t walk because the distance was much too far I used public transport. In some places Uber and Taxify is an option in Germany Uber is banned so no go there. There’s something called a blabla car where you drive with a person who’s going to your destination with their own car find out more by clicking the link:

I only used a private cab once because all the trains, buses and trams to my dorm had stopped running. I arrived back late from a trip to Amsterdam and paid €11. I shared the cab with two other guys I knew so it wasn’t that much. If you must use a cab try to split the cost like I did.

Travel light
Find out about baggage policy but do try to travel light. It makes you more vulnerable to theft if you are distracted by carrying many bags. Travelling light also gives you space to pack things which you want to take back home once your trip is done. This matters because you don’t want to pay for extra bags.

There are places which also provide you with a student discount, if you are a student remember to carry your student card with you. In Germany there is a coffee shop in Bonn which charges less for students.

Free activities
All over the world there are free activities and free events which you can attend. Visit a public library, a park, go hiking, look at statues outside, visit places of worship churches, mosques, synagogues…. , attend a free concert, free film screenings, go bird watching, whale watching. In a previous post I compiled a list of 45 free things you can go do in Cape Town. It’s easy to find free things to do.

Split costs with friends
The cost of a gondola ride in Venice is hectic. I suggest splitting it. I split it with two travel friends and paid € 11 for it. If you are in Cape Town and plan on traveling outside of the city many holiday resorts around the city allow you to book shared chalets. You can then divide the cost of your accommodation. I did this when I visited Arniston and paid R800 for the entire trip. All my meals, accommodation and getting to Arniston was included in the price.

Arniston waenhuiskrans
Got to stay at 13 on main in Arniston. I split the costs of the trip.

If you are going to be living in Germany for a longer time you should recycle. And you could even make some money from being a green warrior. Pfand is the money you get back after recycling certain types of glass bottles which are marked with the Pfand sign. You can spend this money in the supermarket on anything you want. The process is simple as most supermarkets have the Pfand machine inside of them all you do is put your bottles in the machine one by one and then a print out of your cash back slip is printed by the machine. When you go to the cashier just give them the slip and the amount will be deducted from your grocery bill. You can even buy items by just using this slip and if you want you can purchase airtime/calling minutes for your phone. Find out about recycling and do it when you are on your next trip to save cash.

Travel in your own backyard

I don’t mean that you should pitch a tent in your backyard and roast marshmallows although that is a cute idea. I mean travel around your own city take a walking tour or bus tour. Visit the parks you’ve been meaning to see. If there’s not much to do in your home city then plan a roadtrip to a place close by. I’m planning on going to Hermanus which is just over 2hours away from Cape Town I can’t wait to go whale watching once I’m there.

Thanks for reading my top list for low cost travel and how to get more travel for your buck. If you have anything to add please do. I love reading comments and I try my best to incorporate the feedback in order to improve my blog.

Wishing you happy travels through the journey of life

xxx Nikki xxx