Travelling to airports can take up a huge chunk of the entire budget for your trip - you think you’re being all financially savvy and then you drop $100 getting to and from the airport because you forgot to do your research. My advice is to always spend time looking into the cheapest public transportation options before you leave home, because when you arrive at your destination tired, jetlagged and confused, that $80 cab ride into the city is going to be very appealing. It’s also easy to get ripped off when you’re in countries where you’re patently a tourist who doesn’t speak the language – if you can, get a local friend to book the cab for you in advance.
IN THE AIRPORT
Airports themselves are such big money drainers - you can fritter away $30 on pretty much nothing. I recently decided I wasn’t going to do that anymore, and it’s very easy to avoid if you plan ahead. Make a list of everything you typically buy in an airport and then just take it with you – water, snacks, painkillers, an eye-mask, a travel pillow… Basically, anything you might be tempted to pick up because you need it, or just because you’re bored and you want to kill time. That goes for books and magazines, too – I take a copy of The New Yorker because it’s light, easy to carry and contains enough reading material to last a week.
This tip is less about being a budget traveller and more about being a savvy traveller. When you travel light, you’re more comfortable and less likely to blow money on stuff (cabs, food, hotel rooms) to alleviate your discomfort. When you need to get around using alternative methods then you need to stay light on your feet - there’s nothing more ludicrous than lugging a body bag of a suitcase around a city when you can barely afford lunch. I literally travel with one, large carry on with a strap, which I prefer to a rollie suitcase because it makes me feel more mobile. Trust me, long haul travel with a carry on can be done - I survived Paris Fashion Week with two pairs of shoes.
BE CELL PHONE SAVVY
Think about your phone use before you travel. AT&T have a pretty good international plan but many networks don’t. If you can’t buy a phone and data bundle in advance then pick up a cell phone card when you arrive at your destination. Most people don’t realise that phone cards aren’t just for landlines: you can use them with smartphones too. Just be sure to get your phone unlocked wherever you buy your phone card (at any of those generic phone shops you find in major cities) or ask your network to do it for you – often they’ll be happy to oblige if it’s strictly for international use.
If you forget to keep tabs on your data use when you’re abroad and come back to a horrendous phone bill then call your phone network and negotiate! Flat out deny it if you have the guts (there’s no way for them to know) or explain that you made a mistake and ask for them to reduce the charges. Everything is negotiable. [Editor’s note: I recently made the same mistake and also managed to talk my way out of a hefty phone bill by asking my phone network to retroactively apply an international data plan. That way, I paid an additional $30 instead of $300. Phew.]
TREAT YO’ SELF
Finally, when you’ve got budget brain drain, head towards the nearest gym and sign up for a free trial. When you’re staying with friends, sleeping on a couch and going out every night really wears you down. While I’m on the road, the gym is a piece of home, my little refuge and a welcome break from always feeling like I’m invading someone’s space. A posh gym trial is like having a spa day for free.