It’s great to get away once in a while. Traveling abroad for a vacation or adventure trip can help us to recharge our batteries, broaden our horizons, or simply spend some quality time with loved ones.
But all that doesn’t come cheap. With the average spending on travel increasing each year, travel can be a huge drain on your expendable cash.
According to data from TrekkSoft, Americans now spend around $6,000, on average, for an international trip – an amount which makes up a significant chunk of the average household income.
It makes sense, then, to try to reduce this as much as possible, especially if you’re trying to live a frugal lifestyle. But what exactly are we spending that $6,000 on? Where is it all going?
Well, according to this Consumer Expenditure Survey, the top three vacation expenses are:
These are the main three costs you’ll have to contend with when planning a frugal vacation.
We’ve already written extensively about how you can spend less on or get free accommodation, and about ways to cut down on food costs, but in this article, we’ll be focusing on the biggest vacation cash drain of all – transportation.
Fortunately, it’s possible to dramatically decrease the amount you spend on transport without sacrificing on the quality of your trip by following some simple transport spending advice, which we’ve prepared below.
With that in mind, let’s get into it!
Here are 6 ways you can save money on transportation whilst traveling.
1. Travel Light
Any backpacker worth their salt knows how important it is to travel light. After all, nobody wants to be lugging around more weight than they need to, particularly when they plan to be traveling for a long time.
However, many people forget that traveling light isn’t just about convenience – it’s about cost too.
And I don’t mean the cost of buying a large suitcase or the cost of all the extra laundry you’ll need to do. No, I mean the cost of actually transporting all that luggage around the world.
Whilst many airlines include hold luggage in the price of the ticket, particularly for long-haul flights, there are several budget airlines that don’t, and these are the airlines you’ll want to fly with if you want to keep transportation costs as low as possible.
Here’s a list of just a few popular budget airlines that usually charge extra for hold luggage:
Some of these airlines charge a small fortune – as much as triple the price of the actual ticket – for checked baggage.
I had a first-hand experience of this on a recent trip around Europe. I was lucky enough to find flights from London to Warsaw for just £13 through Ryanair, but when I proceeded through to checkout, I noticed that the fare had jumped to £37.40 after I’d added a 20kg check-in bag – almost triple the original price.
Of course, this makes sense from a business perspective. Budget airlines deliberately price their airfare as low as possible in order to attract more customers and then add hidden fees, such as hold luggage charges, to make a profit.
Fortunately for us (and unfortunately for them), it’s possible to take advantage of this by planning ahead and steering clear of those hidden extras.
The vast majority of flights will have personal carry-on baggage included in the price of the basic ticket so you can avoid checked-luggage costs completely if you can fit everything into your carry-on baggage.
You’re usually entitled to 10kg of carry-on baggage, so buy a set of scales and a small suitcase and only pack what you absolutely need.
If you can keep it under 10kg and within the allowed size dimensions, you’ll only ever have to pay for the basic airfare.
Here are some helpful tips for packing light:
Pack Clothes Made From Lighter Materials
Synthetic materials are typically much lighter than cotton. They also dry quicker, so you can do laundry more often and pack less. Merino wool is a super-lightweight option which is suitable for all types of climates.
Only Pack Enough For 7 Days
Most people are comfortable doing laundry at least once a week, so you don’t need more than 7 days worth of clothes to keep you going.
Pack Clothes That You’ll Wear More Than Once
If you’re going somewhere hot, you’ll probably be spending a lot of time by the pool or on the beach. That means you’ll be wearing swimwear an awful lot. For men, this means you can probably afford to pack fewer pairs of casual shorts and just wear your swim shorts more often.
Wear Your Bulkiest Clothing on the Flight
What’s the point in putting that thick jacket that weighs a ton in your carry-on baggage when you can just wear it and save the weight? Even if it’s too hot for a jacket – don’t worry. You can take it off once you’re on the flight.
Remove The ‘What-If’ Items
A lot of people pack more items than they ever use based on ‘what-if’ scenarios. You’ll probably never use those teabags, and your hotel probably has a hairdryer already, so those items are most likely just wasting space.
2. Use Comparison Sites to Compare Flights
Now that we’ve talked about traveling light to avoid hidden fees on cheap flights, let’s talk about how you find those cheap flights in the first place.
The absolute best way to do this is by comparison shopping, a topic which we’ve written extensively about here.
In a nutshell, comparison shopping is when you compare several different quotes from different service providers and select the one which offers the best value for money.
When it comes to flights, you can do this through comparison websites and apps which show you prices for the same flight from several different airlines in a single search results page.
Skyscanner is one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to getting the best deals on flights. You just put in the dates you’re looking to travel, the destination and departure airport, and the number of passengers, and it will bring up a list of all the available flights along with their prices.
Here are some quick tips for getting the most out of your flight comparison searches and finding the best deals:
- Don’t limit your search to direct flights only; multiple stop flights may be cheaper.
- Check the days before and after your ideal departure date as they may be cheaper.
- Check the ‘add nearby airports’ button as it might save you money.
- Buy during periods of low tourism as flights are likely to be cheaper.
- Select ‘whole month’ if you’re really flexible with dates and compare prices across the month.
- Set up ‘deal alerts’ to be notified of any price changes.
It’s also worth remembering that flight costs vary throughout the year, so if you don’t find a good deal the first time around, try again at a later date.
The best time to buy flights is debatable and varies depending on the season and destination, but a good rule-of-thumb is to book your flights around 7-13 weeks before your departure date.
This post on Forbes has broken down the best time to buy flights by season and in more detail, so it might be worth checking that out if you’re keen to be more precise about when you buy.
Now that we’ve covered flights, we’re ready to move on to other travel transportation costs.
There’s a lot more to say about flights though, so for further reading, I’d recommend checking out:
- This post on how to avoid paying for flights completely.
- And this one on getting compensation for canceled flights.
Now without further ado, let’s move on to the next tip, which is…
3. Use Local Taxi Apps
Since Uber first hit the market back in 2009, hundreds of similar taxi apps have sprung up; all of them hoping to emulate Uber’s success.
Some of these, like Lyft, have been very successful, and have become well-known amongst the general population. However, most people are still unfamiliar with some of the more regional taxi apps.
This is a shame, as regional taxi apps can be a great way to save money on local transportation when you arrive in a new country.
Uber isn’t always available as it’s banned in certain countries, such as Hungary, Denmark, and Bulgaria. It’s also voluntarily pulled out of operations in other countries like Vietnam and Thailand.
Without Uber, booking taxis can be difficult when you arrive in a new country as tourists are often easy targets for overcharging scams and fake-meter taxis.
To get around this, you can use regional Uber-alternatives. These apps usually provide a set fare in advance and track your trip, so you get both a fair price and peace of mind.
A great example of an app like this is Grab – South East Asia’s answer to Uber. It works more or less exactly the same as Uber and is the taxi app of choice in countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand.
You can save even more money on these apps by opting for the single-rider vehicle option. This is listed as ‘Grab Bike’ on Grab, and ‘Uber Moto’ on Uber.
If you choose this option, you’ll have to sit on the back of a scooter or motorbike for your journey. But if that’s something you’re comfortable with, you can enjoy fares that are potentially half that of regular taxis.
Here are some of the best local transportation apps for different countries:
- PassApp – Cambodia
- Ola – India
- Didi – China
- Line Taxi – Japan
- Blue Bird – Indonesia
- KaKaoTaxi – Korea
It’s also worth noting that there is usually more than one taxi app per country, and there may be several taxi operators in the area you’re traveling to with their own dedicated app.
It’s often a good idea to ask locals who live in the area that you’re visiting for their recommendations and check several different apps to find the one which offers the best value for money.
We’ve now covered the best way to save money on taxis for short distances, but what about transportation for longer distances within a country?
That brings us on to tip number 4…
4. Consider Buses
Buses and coaches are often overlooked as viable transport options. Many people forsake them in favor of trains for long distances across a country.
This is probably because buses are often mistakenly seen as an uncomfortable, slow, and inconvenient mode of transport, but this isn’t always the case.
On the contrary, buses can often be the best option – in terms of both price and comfort.
Long-distance buses/coaches have to compete with trains and planes for business, so coach operators try to make them as appealing as possible to the customer.
This means that it’s not uncommon for long-distance coaches to come equipped with a huge amount of legroom, reclining seats, inbuilt entertainment systems, free food and drink, and many more luxuries.
And all that often comes at a much more affordable price than train tickets or airfare for the same journey.
To prove this point, and to provide a concrete example, I ran a quick search for both train and bus fare for a journey from London to Paris on 03/09/2018.
The lowest fare for this journey on the Eurostar train was £101, whereas the same journey by bus, on the same date, was listed at only £17 on the National Express website.
In other words, it’s more than five times cheaper to do this journey by bus than it is by train. Not bad, right?
Here’s an extra frugal-bus-travel tip: try to choose an overnight bus for long journeys of 8 hours or more. That way, you can sleep on the bus and save on the cost of a night’s accommodation. This might even cover the cost of the bus journey.
5. Ride Share
Ridesharing is kind of like the modern version of hitchhiking.
It’s a way of getting around by splitting the cost of a ride with other passengers. If you’re the kind of person that doesn’t mind sharing, it can save you a lot of money on transport costs whilst you’re traveling.
What’s the point of paying for a 4-seater taxi journey all by yourself when you can split that fare 4 ways?
This concept is nothing new – carpooling has been around for centuries – but these days, it’s easier than ever to do thanks to modern technology.
There are already lots of different smartphone apps that allow you to find a rideshare at the touch of the button, with more being released every day. You can take advantage of these to reduce travel transportation costs and save on taxis.
We’ve already written about Via – a $5 ridesharing app that’s cheaper than Uber And Lyft, but there are plenty more.
Here are some of the top ridesharing companies operating in countries across the world:
If you’re heading to a country not listed above, search online for ridesharing apps in that region and you’ll usually find something suitable.
If not, there’s always good-old-fashioned communication to fall back on. By that, I mean that it’s also possible to find rideshares by just speaking to others and asking if they want to share a taxi somewhere.
This is especially effective if you’re on vacation and staying somewhere with lots of other tourists. If you want to get a ride to a popular tourist attraction, the chances are someone else in your hotel or hostel will too.
Another option is to join social media groups for the area you’re traveling through and asking on there if anyone wants to rideshare.
6. Use Local Vehicles and Public Transport
In the US and the UK, most people get around in cars, motorbikes or vans, but there are plenty of regions around the world where this isn’t the case.
This is especially true in South East Asia, where scooters are the primary mode of transport. We’ve already talked about how using Grab and Uber to book journeys via scooter is cheaper than by car, but what about other modes of transport too?
Well, if you’re traveling to Cambodia, you’ll find that tuk-tuks are much cheaper than both cars and scooters. If you’re the adventurous type and you’re willing to try something new, you can reduce your transport costs by using these vehicles to get around.
Similarly, if you’re in India, rickshaws may be the cheapest option, and in Thailand, songthaews – red public buses that pick up multiple passengers.
These can be incredibly cheap – it’s possible to take a songthaew in Thailand for as little as 20 baht ($0.60).
It’s also worth looking into public transport options, but it can be difficult for tourists to find information on these options in certain regions and bus routes may not be listed on sites like rome2rio or google maps.
In these situations, it helps to ask the locals for information about public transport as they may be able to point you in the right direction.
There you have it – six ways to reduce transportation costs on your next overseas adventure.
Hopefully, this will help you to get more out of your next vacation for less.
There are plenty of other ways to cut down on costs too, so for more frugal travel tips, check out our frugal travel section.