Guest Post on Frugal Travel

Would any of you like to travel more often than what you are traveling right now? Would you like to go and see the world and not break the bank to do it? I think we all would, it's just finding the time and money to be able to go. It's all a priority just like everything else.

A friend of mine loves to travel and has a wonderful blog all about her experiences and places she would love to go. May I introduce you to Krista Spurr, our frugal guest columnist. As you read on her blog she will place in you a wonderful desire to go and see what the place is all about. I asked her if she wouldn't mind sharing with all of us her tips on how to travel frugally so that we too, can travel and enjoy our vacation while having the money to do it and without dreading the credit card bill afterwards. Without further delay, here is Krista's advice and afterwards please go to visit her blog at

Please share your ideas here on the blog or on our Facebook page (see the righthand side of this page) to join the discussion.


Frugal travel the Bite-sized Travel way

When Liz suggested I should write a post about frugal travel, I was delighted to be asked. I've made travel a high priority in my life and I like to think I've learned a few tricks along the way to save money, maximize fun, and enjoy more authentic travel experiences by being closer to the people who live where I travel. I call this traveling "low to the ground" and it's a lot of fun. 

Unfortunately, frugal travel rarely coexists in a world of spontaneity. It requires planning, awareness, and a little bit of work.   

Saving: I start frugal traveling with frugal living. I don't own a car and keep my daily expenses as low as possible by making lunches and taking coffee to work from home. That's the easy stuff. Since my travel planning window is usually a year or so, I have months to figure out trip costs and work out a budget. I have an automatic transfer that sends money to a travel account each payday, as well as any "found money" (occasional earnings and tax refunds). To manage my day-to-day spending, I rely on cash, hanging on the loonies and toonies I get for change and depositing them back in my travel fund.  

Destinations: With a few exceptions, you can travel almost anywhere in the world and not break the bank. Often, the key is to know when to go. Traveling in the off-peak or shoulder season is the easiest place to start. For example, Florida in the middle of February or March is going to be expensive. Avoid major holidays like Christmas - both at home and abroad - and you'll find your travel dollar goes a lot further. I like to travel in the window between mid September and early November. In most of the world, that's off-season, but the weather is still pretty nice and the lines are shorter. At some of the biggest and busiest tourist destinations in the world, I just walked in the front door, because I was there in the middle of October.

Once you decide on a destination, travel costs are divided into major spending categories: transportation, accommodation, food, and activities. 

Transportation: Transportation options are largely dictated by the destination. Whether traveling by air, land, or sea, you can be ready for deals by signing up for email newsletters from airlines, railways, hotel chains. Since I've done a fair amount of business and leisure travel, I've picked some favourite vendors and signed up for their loyalty programs. Membership usually has some advantage and it costs nothing. 

For airfares, I have watches set for and Air Canada. Doing this well in advance of a trip gives you time to learn the fare patterns for your destination. It also helps you learn what is a good fare and what is a great fare. When it comes time to fly, I save by traveling with carry-on baggage. People bring way too much stuff with them when they travel. I have couple of changes of clothes (doing laundry along the way), basic toiletries, and my writing gear (iPod Touch, camera, journal, pens). It all fits nicely in a small backpack which conforms to airline carry-on dimensions. Carrying less stuff on a plane has the added benefit of having less stuff to lug around when you land. An outfit for every day of a trip or four pairs of shoes may seem like a good idea until you have to carry it up six flights of stairs in a European budget hotel without an elevator. I have a 30L pack I use for trips of one week or less, and a 50L pack for longer trips. This can fill up over the course of a multi-week trip, and doesn't always make it home in the overhead bin, but at least I always start a trip with a light, mostly-empty backpack.

If I'm in an urban area, I only use public transit. In cities in every corner of the world, transit goes everywhere people do, including parks, attractions, and shopping areas. It's infinitely more economical than renting a car, with insurance, gas, and parking, and I never have to learn the driving rules in a foreign country.

Accommodations: The idea of luxury accommodations is nice, but I'm rarely in a room for anything other than sleep or showers. Rethink accommodations. Hostels are clean, safe, well-located, and more of them have family-style rooms than ever before. There are plenty of websites that let travelers meet one another for home exchanges. Couchsurfing is also growing in popularity and it's an opportunity for frugal accommodation with a personal touch. For hotels in North America, I normally look for places that cater to European budget travelers for one reason: shared bathrooms. I've saved 50% and more on rooms in North America because I stayed on floors with shared facilities.

Food: The easiest way to save money on food is to avoid places recommended to tourists. Eat where locals do: food markets, farmers markets, bakeries, food stands. Learn the best local spots by asking people where they eat, not where they recommend you eat. Some destinations have unique food cultures that can be hugely beneficial for budget travelers. In Granada, Spain, for example, you get the better part of a meal free with beverage purchase, almost anywhere in town. That's about 2-3 per meal. I was there for four days, and never spent more than 25% of my food budget in a day.

Activities: Here's another area where research pays off - find out what's free and what's cheap. Many museums have a regular time of week when admission is free or greatly reduced. I generally avoid tour packages and discount cards unless I figure out how to get value of them, like with the Paris Museum Pass. It covers almost every major museum and attraction in the city, and I was able to hit enough of them that I was almost making money by the end. I was exhausted, but I would have skipped a lot of things if I had been paying admission at every stop. 

A great source of free entertainment that lets you experience the local culture is a festival. When you decide where you're going, find what's going on while you're there. There's plenty of entertainment, usually at no cost, and cultural holidays will let you experience the song, dance, costume, and tradition of the local cultural in a very tangible way. 

Public parks are always fun and free. Have a picnic and people-watch, just like the locals do. For example, Central Park in New York is basically the city's playground, and it's so large, you'll never see all of it in one trip. 

While I believe in being selective about activity spending, I would never deny myself an experience. For example, I knew when I went to Paris I'd have to go up in the Eiffel Tower - it's an iconic experience. I did, however, save time and money (almost 50%) by climbing the stairs to the second-level observation deck instead of taking the elevator and waiting in a line that was about 90 minutes long. 

After the major spending categories, almost everything else is discretionary spending. I apply the same rules when traveling that I do at home. 

I hope these tips will do two things: inspire you to get out and see the world, while giving you some new tools for travel that will let you save piles of money and have better experiences when you're out there. Bon voyage! 

No comments: