Traveling solo can have it’s cons (check out my post on the 6 cons of solo travel here). But one of the biggest drawbacks is the cost. Everything costs double vs. traveling with a friend or significant other which means traveling solo isn’t very cost effective. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re relegated to sleeping in tents, hitchhiking, or working on your vacation. Sure, that’s fine if you don’t have any other commitments at home, but if you’re a working professional and limited in your time off, none of these options are really reasonable .
So, here are 8 great ways to save on cost when traveling solo.
- Off-season or shoulder season travel
- Have a flexible destination
- Eat like a local
- Use public transportation
- Think about getting a city pass
- Free activities
- Vacation rentals
Travel during the off or shoulder
The great thing about solo travel is that we can go at any time. As long as you can take the time off, you can leave at any time. This means you have total freedom and control on when you decide to go on vacation and by deciding to travel during the off-season, you’ll be able to save a lot of money.
Often times, you can find amazing deals when you’re willing to travel during the off-season because demand is low. Winter in most worldwide cities is a low travel season so prices will be lower. When you consider half the world is in winter when the other half is in summer, there will always be a low season to travel to somewhere.
I almost always travel during the off or shoulder season because that ‘s when prices are lowest and crowds are scarce. However, that also means you’re going with the weather is usually not so great. But I think the amount you’ll save on the airfare, hotels, and even admission tickets will be well worth the poor weather.
Be flexible with your destination
Sometimes, the cheapest place to go is the place you find a great deal. However this may mean you’ll be traveling to a destination that otherwise wasn’t on your list of places to go. Now, I’m not saying you should throw caution to the wind and visit Syria or Yemen (although depending where you go in those countries can be incredibly rewarding). But if you see a great travel deal, you should absolutely jump at the opportunity.
A great resource to find travel deals is secretflying.com. It shows great deals on airfare, hotels and everything else in between. Now it may not show deals from your specific city, but if you’re in a position to get to a city where the deal is occuring, you can see some substantial savings. Now, the thing with these deals is that they go very fast so you have to act quickly so I recommend booking the flight and then figuring out the time off afterwards. Now in the US, you have 24 hours to cancel a booking and receive a full refund so you should book the flights and then find out if there are any issues. If there are, you can easily cancel the flight. You could also book a few flights around a few dates spread out so you have a range of dates to choose from and cancel the rest.
You should also keep an eye out for error fares. Now error fares occur but that doesn’t mean they’re always honored so if you’re lucky enough to book an error fare, you should refrain from booking any nonrefundable expenses like hotels until about a week or so after you book the flight. If you do see an error fare, you’ll have to book it immediately and pretty much ask questions later.
Know where eat
As much as I love to eat at restaurants (and I do think it’s important to splurge every now and then, especially when you have a once in a lifetime opportunity) but that doesn’t mean that’s the only place I eat. To be honest I don’t eat at restaurants very often when I travel. Even if there is a perfectly fine and ordinary restaurant near my hotel, I will gladly go out in pouring rain to find a good street food vendor.
Street food is both cheap and amazingly good. It’s where you’ll find locals eating and that’s a sign of good food because a street food vendor’s primary client is the local. A restaurant in a tourist area is mainly going to serve tourists. Locals don’t want to spend a ton of money, especially when they can get the same food for cheaper a few stalls down. There aren’t many times I’ve eaten at a food stall where the food wasn’t as good if not better than any meal served in a restaurant.
I know that street food can be a little scary because you don’t know what you’re eating (when in doubt, it’s chicken…it’s always chicken) or know how to order. But here’s the thing. I’ve never met a street vendor who wasn’t proud and enthusiastic to have a foreigner come up to their stall and try their food. They know you may not know what it is but the fact you’re brave enough to point, smile, and eat makes them smile like no other. And when you stand there and ask for more, I swear they look like they’ve won the lottery.
Also, absolutely seek the advice from the locals. Ask the front desk staff, the tuk tuk driver, or even someone at a coffee shop. Locals know where the good places to eat are and they’re the ones looking for value. Just like you don’t want to spend a lot of money to eat something mediocre at home, they won’t either. They’ll point you in the direction of hole in the wall places or places that aren’t in any guidebooks. And if you can’t read or understand the menu, just whip out your translation app and ask for a recommendation.
Learn and use public transportation
Many countries have an amazing public transportation system and often times it’ll get you to where you need to go much faster than a taxi. However, I understand that taking public transport (especially during rush hour) can be daunting. Taking public transportation during rush hour in any city can be a pain if you aren’t confident in where you’re going. However, a lot of cities now have apps that will tell you exactly which subway or bus lines to take. These apps take all the guesswork out of which metro lines to take and when they’re scheduled. It’s simple.
Taking public transport is the cheapest way around a city because it’s meant for everyone. I know that it’s simpler and easier to take a taxi or Uber but if you’re willing to take a few moments to learn the public transport system, you can really save money and sometimes time, especially if it’s a congested city.
Another tip about public transport is many cities will have daily or weekly passes which provide unlimited rides for a specified amount of time for rider. Now you want to make sure you fully understand what “one day” means. Does it mean 24 hours from the time of purchase or one calendar day regardless of purchase time? But these passes can really save money. Being able to jump onto any bus, subway, or sometimes ferry without having to purchase a ticket every time is a huge time saver. But you’ll also see that you don’t have to ride the metro that often to make up the cost of the pass.
A lot of cities will have a set price that allows visitors visit a lot of the major tourist sites for a set price over a specific amount of time. Now this isn’t always going to be a great value and it’ll be up to you to do the math to see if it’s worth it (please see my post on the Stockholm Pass here and the Jordan Pass here. But often times, the passes turn out to be a good value as long as there are enough attractions that are included with the pass that you want to visit.
City passes also allow you to visit sites that you may not have otherwise visited or known about. That helps save money because you end up spending time at an attraction that you otherwise would have spent doing something else and spending money. Since it’s already included in the price of the pass, there’s no harm in checking it out and typically you’ll find a couple things of interest there. Even if you spend money to buy a coffee or snack there, it’s still cheaper than going shopping or doing an expensive activity that isn’t included. And you never know, you might end up really liking the attraction.
Do free activities
There are a ton of things you can do that are completely free. A lot of cities have attractions that aren’t really attractions but have turned into attractions. Walking across Shibuya crossing in Tokyo, taking photos in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and walking to Times Square in New York are just a few of the countless things you can do in a city that are not only popular tourist activities but also completely free. Not only that but those are iconic images of that city so everyone wants to see it.
Depending on your hobbies, you can also get great enjoyment out of things like photography, hiking, or swimming depending on where you are. Photographs can be taken anywhere and at any time so depending on what type of photography you’re into, you can wake up early to catch the perfect sunrise over a mountain range or walk down the street and find the perfect backdrop for street photography. Hikes are free and the only thing you have to do is get yourself to the site and back. Finding secluded waterfalls or hidden caves are all great things to do. And if you’re into swimming or snorkeling, you can do that in some crystal clear waters right off the beach in Hawaii, Belize, or the Galapagos to name a few. There are so many things to do that don’t take any money but can add so much to the value of your trip.
Another thing you might consider doing are free walking tours. These tours usually last about an hour and a local guide will take you around a section of the city and provide a talk. The only thing it costs is a tip at the end. It’s a great way to see the city as well as learn something interesting about the area you’re in.
There are so many vacation rental companies now the choices are staggering. From Airbnb to Turnkey to Homeaway, the possibilities are endless for people who either don’t want to stay in a hotel or are looking to save money by staying at a home vs. a hotel. And the savings can be significant.
For the solo traveler, I think renting a room is going to be better off than renting an entire house or condo since the price of the entire house will probably be comparable to the price of a hotel (depending on the quality of home). But there’s no denying that there is a market for these types of rentals and that their popularity has exploded over the years. They certainly do offer a significant savings depending on where you’re going and I have friends who almost always stay in these vacation rentals over a hotel.
Of course, there is always the option of a hostel. This would certainly have to be a personal choice because some will always swear by hostels and others will never set foot in one. As a solo traveler, hostels are a great way of meeting people and certainly a cheap way of traveling. And you always have the option of renting a private room if you so choose and that would still be cheaper than a hotel. I don’t think I really need to dive deep into this one so you’ll have to decide if it’s worth it or not.
Solo travel can be tough and although there might be emotional factors like loneliness that you’ll have to overcome, it can also take a hit on your wallet as well since you don’t have anyone to split the bills with. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t save money in other areas. Hopefully I gave you some ideas on how to save money on your solo travels and you can see it’s definitely possible to travel without a large bankroll.