How I Plan to Save on Overseas Travel

Please enjoy this guest post from Kali at Common Sense Millennial.

For almost as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of traveling the world and visiting the places I had previously only read about in books. My dream life would involve me living and working overseas, moving every year to a fresh location. I’ve always been fascinated by the UK and Ireland in particular, and I’m pretty convinced I should have been born a Scot. It was only by some sort of mix-up that I ended up being American instead. But I also have a strong wish to go to South America, to India, to Korea – I think if I was anywhere abroad, I’d be happy.

The only thing that has ever held me back from making the dream of travel a reality is money. While one part of me has terrible case of wanderlust, the other half is extremely practical. I felt like I had to save up for so many other things – retirement, an emergency fund, home repairs, etc – before I could go off and have my fun.

Well, I’ve finally checked off all the boxes on my financial to-do list and managed to increase my income to the point where I can continue to contribute to things like retirement and a travel fund. So next year, I’ll finally be able to do more than dream: I’m currently planning a spring trip to Ireland and Scotland! I’m absolutely thrilled to finally have the opportunity to fly across an ocean, but even this momentous occasion couldn’t make me abandon the frugal ways that got me into the position of being able to afford such a trip.  Here is how I plan to save on overseas travel:

Plane Tickets

I plan to save money on my plane tickets by being flexible with the exact dates of my travel. I’m willing to go anywhere from late March to early May and ultimately, the cheapest ticket will decide my exact dates for me. I’m also being flexible on my destination. When I searched for tickets, I researched the prices from Atlanta to a variety of locations in Ireland and Scotland. The best deal seemed to be to fly into Dublin (to fly between Ireland and Scotland once I’m there is only about $150), so the rest of the trip can be planned around the fact that I need to fly into and out of Dublin at the beginning and end of my trip. I’m also researching my prices using various sites, including Kayak, Skyscanner, and CheapoAir.

Food

I’ll save money on food by eating very simply for breakfast and lunch. A banana and a handful of other fruit or granola will be a great way to start the day; a sandwich for lunch should keep me going until dinner. I also want to look for accommodations that provide a kitchen (such as hostels) so that I can prepare my own meals from food brought at the grocery store.

Accommodations

Again, I plan to stay in hostels for at least a few nights to keep costs low. I’m also searching for rooms to rent on AirBnB.com; in some of the cities I’ll visit, like Dublin and Edinburgh, renting a room in an apartment from a local works out to be far cheaper than renting a hotel room. I’m looking for functionality, not luxury. There are whole countries out there waiting for me to explore them, so I won’t be hanging out in my room too much.

Souvenirs

I’m saving on souvenirs by not buying any at all. I plan to take home only the ticket stubs I might end up with, the pictures I took, and the great memories I am sure to make on the trip. I don’t have much need for more stuff, and I would rather save the money I could spend on souvenirs and instead purchase an experience (like a castle tour or museum visit).

I couldn’t be more excited about my upcoming trip to some of the places I have been dreaming about seeing in person for years. But it’s worth the time and effort to research and find the best deals available. I want to have an exciting, fun, and fulfilling trip – but I also want to have enough money left over to do it again and again every year!

Are there any experienced travelers out there who can think of more ways to save money while on a big overseas trip?

 About the Author: Kali blogs about common-sense financial advice at Common Sense Millennial. She’s passionate about personal finance and finding new ways to live well on less. Currently, she is pursuing the ultimate dream of writing for a living and moving abroad. You can connect with her by tweeting @CSMillennial.

 

Comments

  1. Nice work making your dream happen! I’m not a very experienced traveler but just from flying down to Florida so often to see my in-laws I can tell you that travel-date flexibility is definitely a huge money-saver. And if you can save big on plane tickets, it makes some of the smaller day-to-day decisions more manageable and makes the whole trip less stressful.

    • Thanks! As you pointed out, I’m definitely hoping that major savings on airfare will help us have more options elsewhere in trip planning/alleviate some stress. Plane tickets are by far the single most expensive part of the trip, so if I can score a deal there it’s going to make a huge impact on our whole travel budget.

  2. Make sure you bring plenty to do on that long flight from the US to Europe! It can be quite a challenge to keep yourself occupied.

    We’re starting to look around at places to travel next summer. One thing I’ve found that really helps is to start by comparing all the flights first, then picking out the hotel. With a family of 4, flights can fluctuate from $400 to +$1,000 per person depending on the day, which makes a huge difference in the bottom line.

    • Thanks for the tip! The flight itself is actually one of my biggest concerns right now – I’ve never been on a plane ride that lasted more than 3 hours before! I’m a little nervous about it. I’ve tried to look for flights that leave in the afternoon and will fly through the night, and hopefully that will encourage me to just go to sleep :)

  3. That’s a good reminder that we don’t have to go “all out” spending-wise in order to enjoy an exotic vacation. Hope you enjoy your upcoming trips!

    • Thank you! If I want to reach our goals – to travel overseas to a new place once a year – extravagant spending just can’t happen. We’ve got to be strict with our budget and save wherever we can to make sure our travel fund is something that’s sustainable. I think getting frugal with travel is well worth it if it means getting to travel more!

  4. Kali, sounds like a super fun trip, and good for you for making your budget work so that you can fit in retirement planning AND travel. We’ve never traveled overseas, so I can’t share much in the way of tips, but we would love to go to Ireland if we got the chance. Can’t wait to hear your trip recap after you get back. :-)

    • Thanks so much, Laurie! It’s been difficult to save for ALL of our major goals, but I think it’s well worth it. It’s amazing where being frugal can get you! I hope you guys do get the chance to get some traveling in, and get to go to Ireland :)

  5. These all sound like great ways to save money on travelling. I definitely would not call myself an “experienced” traveler so I have nothing to add to your list, but I have to agree that doing things like staying in hostels can really keep costs down when you travel.

    • Thanks David! I know a lot of people can’t imagine staying in hostels, but there are some great options out there – including private rooms with en suite bathrooms, just like you’d get at a pricier hotel. And I don’t mind sharing a communal kitchen, especially when it means saving on meals.

  6. These are all great options Kali! You’re going to love Ireland & Scotland! We went to London and Ireland for our honeymoon and absolutely loved it. We did not make it to Scotland, but that just gives us an excuse to go back. :) In terms of accommodations, you can also look at B&B’s. We did that a lot on our honeymoon and it was a great cost saver for us. You usually get at least one meal out of it and you get the chance to stay with locals which can provide some good insight as to things to do/see.

    • Thanks for the tip, John! I hadn’t looked into B&Bs yet because I was thinking they’d be too expensive (in our area, any B&B is like a luxury accommodation and has a price per night to match) – but I love the idea of staying with locals and learning a thing or two from them. Even better if they’re not as expensive as I was thinking!

      I really wanted to include London in this trip, but I just don’t think there would be time for everything. But like you said, it just gives me a perfect excuse to go back!

  7. Once you get to Europe there are a ton of cheap travel options too, if in Ireland/UK check out Ryanair and Airlingus. My brother in law is from Northern Ireland and often flies to London (or other major city) for cheap like 10 euros! Sometime the discount airlines don’t fly directly into the major airports but still worth it!
    http://www.ryanair.com/en
    http://www.aerlingus.com/

  8. I went to Italy with a friend for a month after college and that was really an experience in frugality. We did not have much money to spend but regardless it was one of the best experiences of my life. We, too, ate light for breakfast and lunch, also often preparing breakfast in our hostel kitchen. Hostels get a bad rap but most of them we stayed in were really awesome. We also tried to do as many free activities as possible. When it got right down to it, there were very few things we wanted to see that were worth paying for. For example, we paid to get in the Colosseum and the Vatican but rather than paying for fancy art museums we visited TONS of churches which all have beautiful art and they are free to visit!

    • Great tips! I think trying to check out the free stuff instead of paying for the better-known tourist destinations is an excellent idea. I’m interested in seeing the “real” places and people instead of the attractions – and while I’m traveling on a budget, that’s going to be the plan. Thanks for sharing about your experiences, it sounds like you had a great time in Italy!

  9. You probably don’t want to or might not have the time, but credit card churning can cut out a lot of expenses. We were just in Ireland in September and all our hotels were free from points.

    As far as Ireland, personally I would say skip most of Dublin. It is a nice city, but in the end it is a city like most everywhere else. To me the only thing you really shouldn’t miss there is the Book of Kells. Depending on the time of year you go, you should try to catch a Gaelic Football match or a Hurling match. Those two sports are very deeply rooted in Irish culture and unique to that country. I could talk for days about things to do there but I’ll keep this comment as short as possible.

    You should have a great time in Ireland and enjoy my homeland!

    • I know signing up for credit cards and earning points is a great way to cut expenses – I’m just on the fence about going down that rabbit hole! I’ll have to do a little more research first before I try that (figuring out what cards give the best rewards).

      Thanks for the tip on Dublin – the reason we’re flying in and out of there is because that destination offered by far the cheapest flights. I’m not an experienced traveler at all, so I don’t think I’ll notice if it is like a lot of other cities. I’ve never been to Europe, only around some of the States, a little bit of Canada when I was young, and Mexico and the Caribbean. For me I think it will be a new experience! I will add the Book of Kells onto our must-see list and I’ll try and see if we can make it to a sporting match – either one of those sounds fun :) Thank you for the advice, and feel free to shoot me an email if you have more tips!

  10. That sounds like an amazing trip. I think photos make the best souvenirs, so that’s really smart to plan on not buying things other than food. When we went to Italy, we took carry on bags only, mainly because we were moving around lots and didn’t want to lug suitcases or pay for cabs. One thing that was great was these little Tide packets that you can use to wash clothes in the bathtub and hang to dry. I got by on 3 shirts and two pairs of pants for the whole trip.

  11. Thanks for the excellent tip on the Tide packets! I’ll be on the lookout for those, as our plan is to pack light and only take packs that can be carried on the planes. I’m so glad you shared that – I’d love to have some nice clean clothes near the end of the trip :D

  12. Ugh I forgot to do the f’ing math and have to retype this comment! Grrr! I really want to go to Ireland/Scotland! That’s very high up on my list! I use credit cards to earn points towards travel, and I’m looking into either doing a home exchange or some type of overseas housesitting in the future.

    • I would love to get into housesitting! I want to look into that as a way to help us travel all over, once I can be a freelance writer full-time and have my work be completely location-independent. Having “free” housing like that would make a lot more trips possible! A house exchange is another interesting idea – I’ve never known anyone personally with experience in that, so you’ll have to write up a post on your thoughts/experiences if you do it!

  13. Hostels are a great way to save! I stayed in a bunch while in Fiji a few years back and they were dirt cheap and a lot of them were really nice. Souvenirs are also generally a waste of money. Most people buy them just so they can show off to other people that they went somewhere. It follows the line of thinking, “Spending money on crap you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.”

  14. You have great ideas on saving for your trip. Research the range at which flights to Ireland cost and then start searching for your tickets early. It is also advisable to travel during the low season. When I travel to Kenya in December, I usually buy my ticket around August because tickets are expensive in Dec. But the rest of the year, I can normally get cheap tickets even 3 weeks to the trip.

    • Thank you! I agree, traveling in off seasons or anytime that’s NOT peak season is the way to go. Everything from flights to accommodations will be cheaper, and you get the added benefit of not having to deal with the crowds full of tourists on holidays.

  15. We took sleeper buses in Asia rather than planes, couchsurfed and volunteered when we could, and travelled in off season as much as possible. We also never take tours (and try to stick to free or cheap attractions) or buy souvenirs – though we do often splurge on food depending on where we are since that is our vice! And be sure to look out for specials on certain things – ie we got into the Louvre free on Friday night as we are under 26.

    • Great tips! I’m with you on the food – that’s our vice as well, and why I’m not planning on skimping too much on dinners. I think by trying to eat light and simple breakfasts and lunches, we’ll save enough to justify doing what we want for our dinners.

  16. I love this Kali. I have found that the flexibility in travel days and departure times is by far the best way to save on travel. With 3 kids it is a bit trickier for us, but I did use this method to save about 20% when we flew to Australia a few years ago.

    • I can imagine having three children to take into account would make arranging travel much more tricky! I’m very grateful that it is going to be relatively easy for us to be flexible on our dates – hopefully big savings on airfare will make a huge positive impact on our travel budget overall.

  17. B&Bs!!!

    Great way to stay in a city for cheap, get a good meal and have some local flavor. They sometimes offer discounts on local businesses too.

    • That’s the second mention for B&Bs, so I will definitely be looking to these more as accommodation options! I was afraid they’d be expensive so I hadn’t really considered that route. But I would love to be able to stay at a B&B and get more time to interact with the locals. Thanks for the tip!

  18. One of my best travel tips is to consider non western european destinations- Asia, South America, even Eastern Europe (except Russia). The cost of living is so much cheaper. And you can really enjoy the cuisine, which is possibly my favorite element of travel.

    • Those are all locations that are absolutely on my list! Since my spouse and I have only ever been to Mexico together we figured our first overseas adventure should be somewhere where we know the language (I speak enough Spanish where that wasn’t a huge issue in Mexico). We thought it would reduce some of the stress if we could read the road signs! When we have a little more international travel experience under our belts, we’ll start branching out to more exotic locations :)

  19. Congrats on making your dream a reality! I love to travel and it ranks very high on my list or priorities. How long are you planning on traveling? If you have the time, take it slow. You will get more out of your trip and it will end up costing you less on a per day basis, definitely the way to go.

    • Thanks so much! For this trip, we’ll only be traveling for about 11 days – unfortunately! I wish it could be longer, and hopefully if I can ever make the switch to full-time freelance writing we will absolutely be taking longer trips.

  20. We are really wanting to do some major traveling as well. We are trying to save up as much as we can right now so that we don’t feel poor while we are on the trip!

    • I know what you mean! We wanted to take a big trip overseas when we graduated from college, but decided to wait until we were more financially stable. We didn’t want to drain our savings in order to travel nor did we want to skimp SO much on the trip that we really limited ourselves on what we would have been able to see and do.

  21. Sorry if this gets a bit long, but my mom is from Europe, so we’ve been back and forth quite a bit over the years :) Since you are planning ahead, we typically pay everything using credit cards that accumulate sky miles (purchases on card give points towards travel), and you can purchase extra points if needed to get to a ticket. This has saved us a lot. Back when my brother was in college, my parents paid his tuition on a credit card (and paid off the balance right away) which resulted in an almost free ticket to Europe every year.
    Also, Tuesday flights seem to be the cheapest. Evening flights are great, but it seems that the 5-8pm ish departing flights have the most little kids on board. I love to take a later (10ish) departure, less kids and I’m more tired by the time I’m on board. Remember to pack extra socks, eye drops and lotion in your carry on :) If you will be flying in-country check the luggage limits for the smallest flight you will be on- it might be less than 45lbs. Ryanair, and other smaller European-only carriers can be cheaper. Also check out train fares, and purchase a multi-day pass when you are there.
    Exchanging money is the most expensive at the airport. Many banks do not accept larger than a US $20 bill when exchanging money. (Always make sure to call your credit card company before leaving the US to tell them which countries you will be in so your card does not get deactivated). Some banks will allow you to transfer a small amount of money before you leave (it doesn’t hurt to have a bit of cash for where you are going in-hand. nothing stinks more than getting somewhere new tired and not having money for a cab if something is wrong with the currency exchange at the airport).
    Check out the cities you want to go to- many have a bundled admission price for the more popular museums/tourist sites (ie 5 museums for $100 instead of $25/ea). It also wouldn’t hurt to look into when Easter is, and when the school break during the spring is (many other countries do a smaller summer break and have 2 week breaks in fall and spring) and avoid those dates.

    • Wow, thanks for so many excellent tips Heidi! I appreciate you sharing – I’ll take all the advice I can get from the seasoned travelers out there. I’m making a conscious effort to save wherever we can and I know every little bit is going to help. I am definitely going to jot some of these down. Thanks again!

  22. I love to travel and I’m thrilled that you’re making your traveling dreams comes true!! Like you, we value experiences too. While I can’t pretend we didn’t pick up a few mementos from our last vacation, we chose to splurge on taking private tours over upgrading our cabin (it was a cruise). The great thing is one of our new friends had this absolutely amazing cabin and my youngest wondered why our cabin wasn’t as grand. So it was a great lesson to teach her about mindful choices and how we prioritized the tours over a nicer cabin.

    • Thank you! I’m really excited :) And that’s so neat that you had that opportunity to teach your daughter about how to prioritize your spending and how to make thoughtful choices about what to do with your money! What a great way to illustrate the different choices you can make.

  23. Oh and don’t skip all the souvenirs- they’re fun to have later. I have tons of stuff from travels around the house! I love to collect something inexpensive and easy to pack- like postcards- and pick up one or two things per trip. I have fun framed prints that are also cheap and easy to pack. We also love to collect masks from places, and will pick up one per trip if it reflects the culture of where we are visiting. It doesn’t have to cost much- I might set aside $20 or $30 for souvenirs total, but it’s a fun way to remember trips by! Free maps from museums and headlines from a daily newspaper are great to snag too.

    • I like small souvenirs! My favorite thing to get is a refrigerator magnet from all of the places we visit. They don’t take up much space and they make me happy!

      • That’s a good point – I might be able to make an exception for a few small mementos :) Postcards are a great idea!

        • My most recent post is actually on picking up memorable souvenirs. I like to get a little something from every place I visit, but I don’t like things that will just add clutter. Lately I’ve been into scarfs: they are easy to pack, can be found at a variety of prices, and are easy ways to dress up an outfit. I picked out 3 scarves at a London vintage store for $25 total – having so much fun with them.

  24. Flexibility is HUGE! Even when booking reward travel I have the same thoughts. It can save you hundreds right up front.

    And food is the other killer. A meal plan may not seem to sexy for international travel, but allowing one meal out a day is a great way to reduce the bill in half!

    • Well, if a meal plan isn’t sexy then saving money sure is!! :) I think it’s worth it to just be smart and plan ahead if it has the potential to save that much money. I’m hoping my approach will keep everything balanced – small and simple breakfasts and lunches in, fun dinners out. Maximum food enjoyment for a minimum cost!

  25. Congrats! So excited about your new adventure. I’d get a credit card that gives you miles. The times you are going are off peak for Europe and you can sometimes find flights for 20k miles each way. Just one 50k mile business credit card will get you there and then that’s it!

    • Thanks so much, Cat! I will have to look into a reward credit card for miles. I was unsure if we should choose that option, but I know just about everyone swears by it. And if I get a free flight out of it, that would make a HUGE difference to our travel budget, as airfare is by far the most expensive line item! Thanks for the advice :)

  26. These were great tips Kali! The most important thing about them is that they will keep you from going in debt for your awesome vacation. The best vacations are the ones you don’t have to pay for after you have returned home.

    • Excellent point, Brian! Even though it’s always been my dream to travel, I knew it was best to wait until I could truly afford it. Making a plan to save for both long-term goals, like retirement, AND shorter term goals like travel is essential to stay financially on track both when you’re off having grand adventures and when you’re back home :)

  27. Plane tickets has always been our biggest expense when travelling internationally. I signed up for a free site called Airfare Watchdog and they will send me emails when their are deals to the destinations we are wanting to travel to. It is pretty sweet!

    • Thanks for the tip on the site, Deacon! I will be sure to check that out – it sounds like a great way to score a good deal, especially when you’re flexible and have multiple places you want to travel to. Thanks so much for sharing!

  28. I travel overseas every other year. I am at a point in my life that I am not willing or can stay in hostels. I have stayed in B & B’s and they are great. I usually use miles to travel and go first or business class. It is my way of saving money.

    • I’m definitely going to be looking into B&Bs as an option – lots of folks have mentioned that they can be budget-friendly and of course have the added benefit of getting to interact closely with locals. I know some include a breakfast, so that’s a bonus!

  29. Great job on waiting until you were financially ready to go on a fun trip overseas! I am really jealous as I’d love to go to Ireland and Scotland one day. It seems like you’re determined to make this trip both adventurous and affordable, which is what I would do. There are so many beautiful sights to see and culture to take in that you don’t need lavish accommodations and don’t need to dine out for every meal. I would probably look into rewards cards as well, but I haven’t the faintest idea which would be best for you. Good luck with the planning!

    • Thanks EM! I completely agree, there’s so much to see and take in that there’s no need to blow cash on upgrading to luxury class on everything. Hopefully we won’t just be hanging out in a hotel room – we’ll be out and about as much as possible, so a well-appointed accommodation just isn’t a priority.

  30. If you’re flexible on the dates, the best tool to use for flights is the Matrix Airfare Search (http://matrix.itasoftware.com/). It’s the service owned by Google that’s used as the backbone that powers sites like Kayak. You can select to see a calendar of lowest fares; when you choose your departure date and length of stay, it’ll display the cheapest prices for your stay length for two months from your departure date. You can’t actually buy tickets there, but if you arm yourself with the information, you can then look for specific flights for which you know the rates will be cheap.

    • Great tip, Daniel! Thanks so much for sharing – I will be sure to look into that. I know being flexible on dates is one of the best ways to save, so we’re trying to be as flexible as possible. It sounds like this will let us view all sorts of options and will be really helpful. Thanks again!

  31. I often use airline miles and hotel points earned from my credit card for overseas travel. The conversion rate is around 3 cents a point as opposed to a penny a point here.

    • Lots of people have mentioned using credit cards that give you points and miles for airfare/hotel rooms, so I will have to add that to my list of things to research. I hadn’t really considered it before because I felt like we just didn’t spend enough to rack up the rewards – but I know many people simply open cards for the sign up bonus and then never use them or cancel them before the annual fee kicks in. I’m absolutely interested in saving all I can, so I need to consider this option!

  32. I think the pictures are way better than taking home a simple key chain or t-shirt. Nothing is better than capturing memories. I plan to travel to Italy next year this is some great information..

  33. Hostels in Scotland are great! When we went, we used a backpacker’s hostel bus to get around – the bus drives between all of their hostels around the country (with sightseeing stops in between), but you don’t have to stay in them. If you think you’ll be staying at any of the official Scotland hostels (or really any that are part of HI), join hosteling international and you’ll get a discount. However, I’ve found that most of the hostels I want to stay in are not “official” members, so there’s no discount.
    Look online at the country/city visitor’s sites – many of them will send you a free brochure for planning and have coupons in them. If you plan on using trains to get around, check on rail passes to see if that’s a better deal for you. The buses in Ireland are just as nice as the trains, and cheaper too.

    • Fantastic tips, thanks so much for sharing! I will be sure to check out Hosteling International – love that “discount” word :) And we are planning on taking some public transportation, so thank you for the tips on the buses in Ireland. I think we’ll rent a car for a day or two while in Scotland, but everything else will be public transport. Again, thank you so much for sharing, this was great advice!

  34. I wouldn’t consider myself an experienced traveler, but have traveled a little bit. Not really a money saving tip, but I like to bring a sleep sack with me to sleep in when I’m away from home. Sometimes I get a little grossed out sleeping in bed that aren’t mine (particularly if you’re in a hostel or somewhere that has a high volume of people coming in an out and you don’t know how well the sheets have been washed).

    • That’s really smart! I’ve seen those at REI in the travel section and thought it might be a good idea to pick one up. They’re so light and small it would be easy to pack. I was thinking I might need it because I get cold easily, but you bring up another good point about having your own nice little sheet to sleep in when staying in a high traffic place like a hostel. Thanks so much for the advice!

  35. I’m an American living in Ireland, and I would suggest: Aer Lingus has great deals on direct flights from Orlando if you can get there. Delta has a direct from Atlanta to Dublin that isn’t the cheapest, but is the most pain-free. We use Ryan Air for budget flights ($35 return from Dublin to London, same for Edinburgh) while in Europe. There are a TON of cheap B&B’s and Hostels in Ireland. We use the train if possible (you can buy a commuter pass), but a rental car is the best option for saving time and fares. Ireland is a country that you need to drive in to see the most beautiful places. Centras and Spars (petrol stations) have great budget sandwiches that are delicious (€3-5, with breakfast deals). Also, Aldi and Lidl are everywhere in Ireland. Even the small towns usually have one. And AirBnB has great deals in most Irish cities. Also, our Yaris takes €50-60 per fill-up. And….great restaurants will have early bird (5-8pm) dinners that are €35 for 3 courses. We usually share. There’s my travel guide to Ireland in a comment. :)

  36. You should check Travelodge, they have hotels in the city center that start at 19 pounds a night, I subscribed to their newsletter to be made aware of the sale when I went to the UK.

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