Maximizing Your Money While Traveling – When to splurge, and when to save

Local breakfast in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Local breakfast in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

One of the first things people assume when they find out I travel frequently is that it must cost a fortune.  This certainly isn’t the case and over the years I have learned many ways to stay frugal but still enjoy myself while traveling.

More importantly than little tips that can save money here and there, you should learn how to decide when to spend and when to save.  This way, you aren’t constantly looking for the cheapest option, but you also aren’t spending too much money.


Where you sleep is important, but when you look at all the various options in most areas, there are a lot of amenities that you may not need, but can greatly increase the price of your hotel or hostel.

This is where doing research can really help.  If you know where you’ll be staying for a couple of days, check HostelWorld for hostels in the area.  You may be surprised how many smaller independently run hostels there are compared to what your guidebook lists.  The reviews on HostelWorld can be very informative as well.

As a general rule, I attempt to spend $20 US or less per night depending on the destination.  Some places, like Paris, are more expensive, and others such as Costa Rica, hover around $10 per night. I need a bed, a bathroom (somewhere, I don’t mind if it’s outside of the room and shared), and a shower.  A common area where travelers can converge is also a bonus.


Food is one of the things you might consider spending more money on.  Many times I’ll be hanging out with other travelers and they insist on stopping by a market to buy some cheese and bread for lunch.

For lunch?!?!

I prefer to enjoy a good meal at a local eatery.  If there is one thing I can really take home with me it’s the experience of good, local cuisine.  A good meal out is a nice treat when you’ve been traveling around all day with a heavy pack.

This doesn’t mean you have to spend a ton of money on every meal, sometimes a picnic lunch or a few snacks is all you need and easy on the wallet, but don’t be afraid to splurge a bit to enjoy some authentic cuisine.


While many independent travelers pride themselves in going off the beaten path and doing things that other tourists don’t do, let’s face it–you’re a still a tourist and sometimes you want to do those touristy things.

Strap on your walking shoes and get out and experience the highlights of your area.  There are often free alternatives to the typical tours and entrance fees associated with popular tourist sites (aka tourist traps).  Check your guidebook and see what they recommend.

While I can’t offer any advice on how to get up the Eiffel Tower for free, you might be able to enjoy it just as much from the ground or from a good lookout from the Siene river.  Extra bonus if you’re afraid of heights!

What do you splurge or save money on? Share in the comments!

6 Replies to “Maximizing Your Money While Traveling – When to splurge, and when to save”

  1. I’ve found travelling to be much cheaper than expected, and it’s funny that it’s often asked question by other people: How much have you spent?

    A lot less than I would if I was home paying rent, bills, transport costs and grocery shopping :D

    Generally food is cheap, the best food often comes from the streets where everyone can afford it. I’ve made the mistake of splurging out a few times in restaurants, convincing myself that a nice dignified meal with a proper table and waiter service would give me a boost, but it’s not true, the food is often an expensive version of what you can buy out on the street, and it rarely tastes as good.

    One money saving tip I can add, especially for the larger countries:
    Don’t forget that trains and buses can be slept on, so save yourself the cost of a night in a hostel and get the overnight train/bus to your next destination.

    A warning though, I tried this for about a week straight and after a few days I started to turn myself sick… You can skip a bed for a good few days, but the same can’t be said about showers. They’re a must.

  2. Regarding the food issue, I think that shopping around and bargaining at the local market not only saves money but is a great cultural experience as well. Checking out the local grocery store is always cheap and fun too.

  3. i’m in greece right now and have prided myself in getting past on 25 euros on the last four days and eating GRANDLY & generally enjoying myself! I’ve recently traveled to London, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Milan & Venice and now Athens (with brussels, dublin and berlin later in my month) and have found that walking is a perfect alternative to catching the metro! A good map, and some patience (getting lost is amazing in most cities, but can be a pain/frightening at times too) do just fine. Although many of these cities have super developed underground which are easily accessible and affordable (London and Paris get pricey!) in case walking gets tiring! I also suggest that if you’re studying abroad that using your abroad uni’s id can get you into a lot of places for the EU-student price, which for a lot of museums is FREE! or at least very discounted. Also, there was a time where I left my ISIC card at the hostel and got by presenting my student visa! Don’t be afraid to ask for student discounts! They are lovelyyy!
    Safe & Happy travels!

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