Budget travel will mean completely different things to all of us. Some of us might be full-time backpackers trying to spend as little as possible by staying in hostels, couch surfing or working in return for accommodation. Some of us might be looking to save a little on our weekend away by finding cheap flights and a good hotel deal. Some of us might be able to spend freely whilst on holiday, but still understand the value of hard-earned money and don’t want to waste it.
Because budget travel can have so many meanings, I’m not going to talk specifically about different ways to save money in this post (although there are some generic tips at the end!), but rather ways to be mindful of your money whilst travelling. For some people this will mean reducing spending, for others this will mean simply being aware of what they’re spending.
Personally, I’m in a double income household with no children. My partner and I both earn a comfortable income, but nothing huge – we still have to budget and watch what we spend. We can afford to take a few short breaks a year, and because we choose cheaper destinations like cities in Eastern Europe, we can spend freely whilst we’re there. If you’d like some inspiration for cheap travel destinations, I’ve written a post about my top 15 places for cheap, European city breaks with plenty of ideas for you.
As well as visiting cheaper cities, we only travel when we can find cheap flights and we stay in AirBnBs as these are often much cheaper than hotels. This means that we can eat out for three meals a day and enjoy a few drinks without worrying about the cost.
I’m sure you’ll agree with me that there are loads of ways to save money whilst travelling. That could be finding cheap flights like I’ve said above, sharing a room with 9 other people in a hostel, or cooking your own food instead of eating in restaurants.
The problem is though, that we all prioritise different things. Experiencing culture through food is really important to me, so someone telling me to cook in my AirBnB apartment rather than go out to eat isn’t going to work. I like city breaks with my boyfriend to be a romantic experience, so a hostel isn’t going to work either. This is where mindful spending comes in.
What is Mindful Spending?
Mindful spending is something that can be applied to everyday life, as well as travel. It’s quite often spoken about in relation to physical items such as clothes, accessories, technology, homeware and so on, as these are areas where people are more likely to make impulse purchases that don’t have much purpose other than instant gratification.
Experiences, such as travel, are slightly different because they often have more meaning attributed to them, but mindful spending applies just as much. So, what is mindful spending and how is it relevant to saving money whilst travelling?
Mindful spending involves noticing your spending (i.e. being mindful of it) – I think we’re all guilty of looking at our bank balances and wondering where our money went. The idea is that you become aware of what you’re spending and how it supports your needs, goals and values, rather than just spending for the sake of it or, spending out of habit, or spending to avoid the dreaded FOMO (fear of missing out).
When I think about mindful spending, I see it as assigning personal value to the different things that I could spend money on, and being able to spend more on the things that mean more to me, by spending less on the things that I don’t care as much about.
Mindful spending is also about enjoying your money! Some people say that mindful spending should result in financial decisions being driven by logic rather than emotion, but I have to disagree here. As long as you’re noticing your spending and spending within your means, there is nothing wrong with using your emotions to help you spend on the things that bring you joy.
As travel is something that most of us do for joy, this is a perfect example of this – both in terms of spending money on travel in general but also how we spend our money whilst there. If buying a tacky souvenir brings you joy, don’t let logic stop you! If an overpriced cocktail in a swanky cocktail bar makes you happy, then go for it and don’t let logic tell you to go to the cheap pub next door!
Saving money, especially whilst you’re travelling, is not about feeling guilty for spending money. It’s about saving money where you can, not spending on things that don’t matter to you, and enjoying the money that you do spend.
Notice Your Spending
The most obvious way to notice your spending whilst you’re travelling is to keep a record of it. If you’re using an online banking app like Monzo, Starling or Revolut then this is really easy as your spending is automatically recorded and placed in categories – as long as you’re using that card. If you’re using cash, it’s a little more difficult but still possible just by noting down your spending. Of course, you can always use Budget Your Trip and help contribute to the average daily costs to help other travelers, too.
Now, I’ll admit I don’t take my own advice here. I don’t want to look at my bank account whilst I’m on holiday, and when I get home I just want to enjoy the memories – analysing my holiday spending is that last thing on my mind!
Instead, I make an active effort to notice my spending at the time. Every time I’m about to make a purchase, big or small, I take a second to think about it. I just ask myself whether the purchase fits into one of these two categories: is it a necessity or does it bring me joy? By asking myself this question, I’m forcing myself to notice everything that I spend.
Here are some examples:
- Getting from the airport to your accommodation is a necessity – whether that’s public transport or a taxi
- If you’re thirsty with nowhere to fill up your reusable water bottle, buying a drink is a necessity
- If your favourite part of being on holiday is enjoying a few glasses of wine in the sun, then buying a that wine brings joy
- If you love admiring art, then entrance to the local gallery will bring joy
This is just my own way of spending mindfully, but there are plenty of other ways to achieve a similar outcome. Some people like to think about the time they spent to earn their money, and deciding whether the purchase they’re about to make is worth that time that they’ve already traded for that cash. You can work out the money you earn each month divided by the number of hours you work, and see how long it takes you to earn whatever you’re about to spend.
Others like to think not just of the money, but of the wider impact of the purchase they’re about to make. An example of this might be visiting a popular tourist attraction, not because it’s of interest but because you’ve been told that it’s a must-see in that destination and you therefore feel like you should see it.
You’ll save money by not visiting it, but you’ll also have more time to enjoy things that mean more to you and reduce overcrowding and queue times for others. Who knows, maybe it’s a sold out event/attraction and you’ve just allowed someone else to take your place, who’s always wanted to go!
Work Out How You Want to Spend Your Money
I mentioned above that I ask myself whether what I’m about to spend will bring me joy, and that we all have different priorities when it comes to travel and therefore different things that we want to spend our hard-earned cash on.
I’m sure that you already know what you do and don’t enjoy spending money on, so there’s no need for me to tell you how to work this out. However, I’d encourage you to make a list of these things – either physically or just in your head – to bring it to the front of your mind. As an example, here’s the kinds of things that I think about when deciding how to spend my money when travelling, but of course this is likely to be different for you:
- Discovering local cuisine is one of the main reasons that I travel, so I’m happy to spend money on eating out
- I enjoy a good bottle of wine (especially if it’s local) so spending money on this brings me joy
- On the contrary to the above, I hate drinking shots or cheap alcohol in nightclubs!
- I love to travel but I don’t really mind where to – so I’ll save money by choosing places based on flight prices rather than whether they’re on my bucket list
- I prefer discovering my own version of a place, rather than visiting busy tourist attractions – I might save money by missing out on these busy sites
- I’m not much of a shopper – I’m unlikely to spend on souvenirs or new clothes whilst travelling
- I like my own space – I’ll spend a little more on an apartment or occasionally a hotel rather than a hostel
Avoid Unnecessary Costs
I’m sure you’ll have understood my main point now, that the best way to save money is to only spend it on things that are necessary or that you love – spend money on what you like, save it on things that don’t matter to you.
That makes money saving tips more complicated, as many of them don’t apply to everyone. However, there are some ways that unnecessary travel costs can be avoided, meaning that we have more money to spend on things that are necessary and bring us joy. Here are a few tips that might be obvious, but are things that we sometimes just don’t notice we’re spending on.
- Avoid unexpected airline fees by researching what luggage you can take with you and sticking to it
- Make sure you know where you stand with your mobile data plan, and avoid using it if it’s going to cost you!
- Take an empty, reusable bottle to refill in the airport after security – airport water is so expensive!
- Don’t eat and drink at the airport (unless you love a pre-flight pint!) – eat before you leave and take snacks with you, leaving you more money for beach cocktails or discovering local cuisine
- Pre-book museums, galleries and experiences – sometimes it’s much cheaper!
- Shop around for everything – travel, insurance, flights, accommodation, car hire
- If you pay for things on card, make sure that you don’t get charged for international purchases. If using cash, compare rates in your home country and abroad as it can sometimes be cheaper to take cash of your own currency with you and change it there
- Unless you’re visiting somewhere with unsafe drinking water, ask specifically for tap water rather than bottled water at restaurants
… the best way to save money whilst you’re travelling is through mindful spending. Notice what you’re spending, consider the purpose of the purchase you’re about to make, and look for small ways to save money that won’t impact your enjoyment of your trip. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide to summarise how you can spend more mindfully whilst travelling:
- Consider the things that are important to you before your trip – why do you travel and what do you enjoy spending money on whilst you’re away?
- When you’re about to spend, take a second to pause and notice
- Ask yourself if this purchase is necessary or will bring you joy
- If your answer is yes, enjoy the experience of spending mindfully!
I hope this has been helpful for anyone wanting to save money whilst travelling without having to miss out on the things that are important to them! As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the main ways that I afford to travel, alongside mindful spending, is by choosing cheaper destinations. Poland is a particular favourite for me, so I’ll leave you with a post about things to do in Wroclaw with the hope of inspiring you to visit.
Nell is a UK based travel blogger at adventureswithnell.co.uk. She creates content to inspire busy, young professionals to make the most of their weekends, limited annual leave and hard earned cash. She writes about part-time, mid-budget travel and her main focus is on European city breaks full of food, wine and fun. You can also follow her on Instagram.