How to save money while travelling

Like many of you, I’m a hardcore travel addict enthusiast. However, as a freelancer, I also have to be smart with how and when I spend my hard-earned cash. I’ve previously shared some ideas on how to save money so you can travel more (or do more of whatever you love!), but what happens when you actually arrive at your holiday destination? How do you make sure you have a wonderful time without needless overspending or completely blowing your budget?

Fear not! I am here to give you a ton of tips on how to save money while travelling, which will reduce your spending but not the amount of fun you’ll have!

Let’s get started….

Travel light. Unless I’m going on a long-haul flight (or moving to a new country!), I only travel with a carry-on case. It means I can take advantage of cheap flights provided by low-cost airlines. Often the lowest prices are only for people travelling without checked baggage. If you are travelling from place to place, it is much easier to board trains and buses with a small case or backpack, rather than a cumbersome suitcase.

Be smart with your SIM. Avoid hefty data/roaming charges by either using an internet provider with a generous gigabyte allowance, or buying a local sim card on arrival in a foreign country. Regulations in the EU mean that once you’ve added credit to your SIM card, you can call, text and surf the internet for the same price anywhere in Europe. This is particularly useful if you are travelling to different countries within the same trip. You should expect to pay around €15-20 (usually paid on a monthly basis, but you can top-up as needed). Companies like T-Mobile, 3 and Vodafone offer good data packages. Outside of Europe, I’ve heard AT&T and Verizon have decent plans. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive, so you can insert any SIM card.

Free WiFi is readily available across Europe, in public areas like shopping centres and train stations. Many coffee shops have WiFi that their customers can use (often password-protected – ask a staff member for the password). Connect to the WiFi at your accommodation and use Whatsapp, Skype or FaceTime to talk to friends and family back home. Also make sure you are using WiFi and not data when sharing and uploading photos and videos onto social media.

Top Tip: Have an offline map downloaded onto your phone so you can navigate your way without data or WiFi. I use Googlemaps and

Don’t get ripped off by taxis. Avoid taxis to and from airport unless you are arriving particularly early or late… or have tons of luggage. Regional buses and trains can take you directly to the city centre, for much cheaper than a taxi ride. If you do use taxis, make sure they are the official city ones and not unmarked taxis whose drivers can charge whatever they like. Ask for an approximate price for your journey (before getting in), make sure a meter is being used and check what number the meter starts on. For more advice on avoiding tourist traps and scams, check out this post.

Get out and about. Instead of taxis, use public transport! In many European cities, public transport is very affordable, especially if you take advantage of daily, weekly and group tickets or travel during off-peak hours. Rather than paying for an expensive hop-on/hop-off bus, look for a local bus route which snakes through the city centre. You can buy a travel card and get off the bus whenever you see something of interest. My preferred way to get around the city is on foot. Not only is it good exercise, you can get really close to the landmarks and monuments, explore pedestrianised zones and wander down inviting side streets that taxis and buses can’t access. Many cities have cheap city bike schemes which is another great way around.

Be sightseeing-savvy. Take advantage of promotional codes, vouchers, group tickets and city passes. By doing just a little research before and during your trip, you can really make a saving. Walking tours are a fantastic way to learn more about the city you’re in. Tours take place at least once a day, are tip-based with participants giving what they feel the tour is worth, and are delivered by locals who are really passionate about where they live. Sandemans New Europe Tours is an example of a great tour company; I’ve enjoyed several tours with them.

Don’t feel obligated to visit all the sights, especially those that really don’t interest you. For example, if you have zero interest in modern art, it is a waste of time and money to pay €20-30 to enter a modern art gallery. Of course, it is good to expand your cultural horizons and these tourist attractions often live up to the hype but the entrance costs of museums and art galleries really start to add up if you are doing lots of sightseeing. Be selective and prioritize how you want to spend your time and money. Remember, sometimes you get a better view of the size and scope of a landmark from the outside, rather than from within.

Tip appropriately. Research the tipping culture of the country you are visiting. In my home country (England) tipping is not mandatory in most restaurants, so people decide if they want to leave any extra money (usually around 10-12% of the total bill) or round the bill up a little (e.g for a £18 meal, you might leave £20). Whereas in Italy, the bill often includes a servizio charge, so you don’t need to leave an additional tip. I found it very complicated adding tax and service charge when travelling in the United States and Canada (especially as the tax % varies depending on the region you are in). Of course you should pay what you think the level of service deserves, but remember that restaurant staff are paid varying salaries from country to country. Some receive a fair living wage…. and some don’t. A little research beforehand can prevent you from undertipping or leaving an excessive amount because it’s the norm back home.

Withdraw wisely. Rather than carrying large sums of money with me, I prefer to withdraw cash as and when I need it. This means I don’t carry around wads of notes (a pickpocket’s dream!) or end up with lots of unused currency at the end of the holiday. I monitor my spending day-by-day and budget accordingly. Find a bank which offers free withdrawals overseas. I bank with N26 – I have five free withdrawals in Germany (where I live) and unlimited free withdrawals around Europe. I only pay whatever the Mastercard exchange rate is on the day.

Eat in, from time to time. Dining out three times a day can give your bank balance a real beating, especially once multiple courses, drinks and service charges have been added. Additionally, if you eat out repeatedly, you may find that your waistband starts digging in and you begin to crave a simple, home cooked meal.

Most Airbnbs have kitchens (which may or may not be shared with your host) and many hotels have communal kitchens, where you can prepare and store food. When you arrive at a new destination, find an affordable supermarket (such as Lidl or Aldi) and buy some essentials, like coffee, tea bags, cereal, milk, bread and some kind of spread. When I visited Copenhagen earlier in the year, my friend and I decided we would prioritize dinners and coffee & cake breaks over breakfasts and lunches, so we had breakfast at home and made sandwiches to eat on the go. You can read more of my budgeting tips for Copenhagen here.

If you are a hotel guest, check if there is a fridge in your room to store cold drinks and snacks. Every morning, get your money’s worth by eating a king-sized breakfast! If you can, take some fruit and pastries to snack on later.

Make it to the markets. For the best value fresh produce, visit the markets where the locals do their weekly shopping! Compared to large supermarket chains, markets usually offer higher quality fruit and vegetables, at a lower price. Bring a canvas bag with you and fill it with delicious food to snack on during the day. It’s a good idea to buy fruit with a peel, like bananas and oranges, as they won’t get squashed in your bag and can be eaten without washing them first.

Drink al fresco. Here in Europe, there is a huge difference between the price of a bottle of wine in a restaurant and in a supermarket. A €2-5 bottle of wine in the supermarket might cost between €18-30 in a restaurant! If it’s legal to do so, buy wine, beer or cider in a supermarket and drink outside in parks or piazzas, by rivers or viewpoints overlooking the city. It can be much more atmospheric than drinking inside a wine bar, and costs significantly less. If drinking in public is not permitted, have pre-drinks at your accommodation before heading out for dinner.

If you do want to drink in a restaurant or wine bar, the house wine is often best value for money. It works out cheaper to buy a bottle or carafe of wine (house or otherwise), rather than by the glass.

Reuse and refill. Rather than buying bottled water from supermarkets and kiosks, bring a refillable water bottle with you. In many European countries, the tap water is perfectly safe to drink. Lots of cities have public water fountains and staff in coffee shops and cafes will be happy to fill up your bottle. I should point out that it’s normal to drink tap water in restaurants in some European countries (such as England), but unusual or unheard of in others, where customers order bottled water with their meals. Restaurant staff might look at you a bit strangely if you request tap water – but it doesn’t hurt to ask! It is much better for the environment and your wallet if you drink tap water whenever possible and make use of reusable bottles.

If you have any other money-saving travel tips, please leave them in the comments!

Ciao for now

The Curious Sparrow

Photo courtesy of

One comment

  1. Good post! Another tip is that if you are using a credit card abroad and are asked if you want to pay in the local currency or your home currency, always say you want to pay in the local currency so that you will then pay using your bank’s exchange rate (and I assume you have chosen a bank card to use abroad which gives you a good rate of exchange and minimal or no transaction charges). If you opt to pay in your home currency you have no choice about the exchange rate used and you can bet it will be a poor one!


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