Hot! Five Things About Me That Keep My Travel Costs Low

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A big part of how I keep my travel costs down has to do with who I am, rather than some sort of travel hack or trick. Life has worked out in my favour in that the things I value are usually free, and the things that cost most people a large part of their budget are things I don’t particularly enjoy. I would be amiss if I didn’t talk about these things when talking about my extreme budget travel, so here you go. Here are a few things about me that help to keep my travel costs down:

I don’t really drink.

A rare photo of a drinking Kelsey in the wild! Yes, I'm wearing a vest over a sweatshirt. Is there a problem?

When you think about the cost per calorie, alcohol is one of the most expensive things out there in the food/drink category. I’m also not a fan of the feeling of loss of control that alcohol gives me (though it does result in some rather amusing behavior). Why would I spend exorbitant amounts of money on something that loosens up the social atmosphere but ultimately gives me a feeling I hate? Over the years I’ve just learned how to be extremely social and friendly without alcohol, and as a result, on the rare occasions that I do go out, my bar tab typically includes no more than one alcoholic drink, if that. I enjoy going out to bars with people, but I rarely drink much myself. It works out, because that way my friends know that there’s always someone sober to watch their backs. Over the years I’ve also mastered the art of acting drunk, and I’m a pro at matching the people around me. In the end this means that even though I’m usually the only sober one in a group, I don’t drag things down, and I can socialize with the best of them. The only time that my drinking (or rather, non-drinking) habits have been a problem was in Korea, where alcohol is part of the work culture. Dinners with coworkers aren’t optional, and neither is the copious amount of soju that goes around. I learned to discreetly fill my soju glass with water, and that fixed the problem.

I rarely ever eat at restaurants.

This was my breakfast every morning in Switzerland. I miss it SO MUCH.

In expensive countries like France, Switzerland, Argentina, Russia, etc, I rarely eat at restaurants. Don’t get me wrong: I love food. I come from a family of foodies. My aunt is a chef with 3 restaurants and 5 cookbooks under her belt, and my mother almost opened a bakery when I was a kid. However, I tend to treat restaurants as luxury treats when I’m traveling. If I’m having an absolutely amazing day, I might top it off with dinner at a cafe or restaurant, but other than that, I tend to cook my own food and eat things like yogurt, sandwiches, and energy bars from corner stores and bodegas. In places like Southeast Asia and Central America where street food is abundant and cheap, this isn’t as much of a money-saver, but in more expensive countries, it saves me a bundle. Does it mean that I miss out on some things? Of course. But then again, so does any sacrifice that a traveler chooses to make in the interests of being able to travel longer. Plus, it makes me really appreciate those restaurant meals! It also allows me to get to see what the locals in each area eat at home, which is not something you’re going to get if you have most of your meals prepared for you in a restaurant or cafe.

I prefer small towns to cities.

Do I want to go shopping in Interlaken? No thanks, I'll just stay here in my spring-fed, wood-fired hot tub with a view of the alps, thanks.

If you look at my travel history, you’ll notice that I’m rarely in places with more than a couple thousand residents. Often, there are considerably less. The two “hameau” I’ll be staying in this summer in France (Lagamas and Billy-Chevannes) are both right around 100 residents. Gimmelwald in Switzerland where I spent upwards of a month has, I believe, 103 residents. Eschenz, one of my other favourite places in Switzerland, seemed to have no more than 1500 residents. Even the county seat of Jindo where I lived in South Korea only had around 6,000 people (and I kept trying to get my school to move me out to one of the “Ri”, which generally have no more than about 300 people in them). Small towns are usually off the tourist grid, which keeps costs low, and there’s usually not much around to spend your money on. While that may be a negative for some travelers, since I generally get my kicks by wandering around neighborhoods taking pictures, it’s fine with me. Don’t get me wrong though: I do enjoy a good city every once in awhile and I think they’re awesome when I visit them, but I get worn down by them very quickly and find them quite taxing, so I prefer to stick mostly to smaller towns and rural areas.

The world around me is my entertainment.

A river, a beer, and a sandwich. Sounds good to me

In an entire year in Korea I went to a grand total of three museums. Three. The best times I’ve had while traveling generally involved wandering aimlessly around the countryside on foot or by motorcycle, and people watching from a streetside cafe. I’m endlessly fascinated by the world and the people in it, and witnessing it (and documenting it with my camera) is my primary motivation for travel. I’m easily amused, and I’ll be as fascinated by the contents of a foreign grocery store as by a tourist site, and I use that to my advantage. I also tend to spend a lot of time outdoors and I just let things happen. In Eschenz, Switzerland I went for a walk and discovered that the Rhine flowed about 100 yards behind my guest house. I went for a swim and even swam over to the German side of the river (yay for illegal border crossings!). I got out, grabbed a beer and a sandwich from a corner store, and had dinner on the river bank as I watched some Swiss soldiers do manuevers in pontoon boats in the river. It was one of the best evenings of my entire trip.

I’m a “make do” kinda gal.

Duct tape fixed this problem with my floor in Korea.

“Is it perfect? No. Does it work? Yes. Okay, let’s use that.” This is a conversation that goes through my head at least five times a day while I’m traveling. A real meal is better than a hunk of bread, but if a hunk of bread is what I have, I’ll eat that rather than trying to find something else. In Switzerland having wheels on my duffle bag would have been a lifesaver, but I didn’t have them, so I attached a piece of car tire I found along the side of the road to the bottom of the bag and just dragged it down the streets instead. When traveling, we see the locals “make do” all the time, but it seems that for many travelers, it never occurs to “make do” themselves. I’ve never really had that problem due to the DIY upbringing I had, and it has helped me endlessly.

Most travelers have some personality trait, quirk, or personal preference that makes travel easier, cheaper, or better. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments.

7 Comments

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  1. I spent a month in France for fairly cheap by staying with family. That’s my preferred way to travel: go somewhere where I have family and stay with them. It saves me a huge amount of money and gives me the chance to really get to know my family, too.

    • Yep! I’ll be covering that exact topic in my “staying for free” post for my cheap travel series. I rarely ever travel somewhere that I don’t have a connection and thus a place to stay, be it family, friends, or a friend-of-a-friend. Tapping your offline social network is invaluable in travel.

  2. I second letting your environment being your entertainment. I find the longer I travel, the less likely I am to visit sites like museums and galleries. It really is much more fun to get lost in a market or in the back streets.

    • Yep. These days I only visit historical sites (because I’m a big history geek), or museums that seem truly amazing. They’re good in small doses, but you’ll learn more about a culture by going to a park, a market, or even something mundane like a grocery store than you will in most museums.

  3. I cut my own hair (I can almost feel my hairdresser sister cringing!), I don’t buy clothes that are in fashion or don’t go with everything else that I own and I buy the cheapest possible product in the supermarket. I really like your post because I’d never thought about how it’s actually a personality trait that enables us to save money while travelling rather than tips and tricks that don’t apply to everyone.

  4. Hi There, great post. I love to travel, it’s the main goal in my life right now, but I’m also someone who likes spending money on eating out, going to art galleries, going to the theatre etc – all really expensive things! I think cutting back on alcohol is one that I can stick to… and also trying to ‘make do’. Thanks again for the tips.