Budget travel advice often encourages people to seek out the least expensive destinations in the world. While there are lots of exciting places where prices are budget-friendly, what if they're not the destinations you want to visit?
What if you were hoping to travel to and visit places that are widely regarded as expensive – according to several travel surveys – like Switzerland, Singapore, Japan, Norway or Iceland?
“It's an unavoidable fact that the cost of living in some countries is more than it is in others. With some solid planning and a few compromises here and there, however, it's possible to go virtually anywhere on even the most meagre of budgets,” said Richa Dev, a Dubai-based travel consultant and blogger.
It's possible to go virtually anywhere on even the most meagre of budgets
1. Choose the right neighbourhood in the city you are visiting
You've probably heard the phrase "location, location, location" and nowhere is this more accurate than when traveling to expensive countries.
“Choosing the right neighbourhood to stay in can save you huge amounts of cash, not only when it comes to accommodation, but also on things like transportation and buying food,” added Dev.
“Staying right in the heart of the most popular tourist district will always be the most expensive option. However, you usually only need to head a few blocks out to find a better value.”
Residential areas are ideal because they will have local stores, restaurants, and cafes that aren't aimed at tourists, and therefore don't have the inflated prices that come with them, Barber further explained.
“When my husband and I were trying to decide where to stay in Rome, we ended up saving a lot of money by finding a beautiful hotel in a less popular area, which was still a short bus ride or a walk from major sites,” shared Dubai-based Shani Tom, who backpacked across a few countries in Europe last month.
“We often resort to finding a cost-effective solution with a quick internet search of the best budget areas near our chosen location and this has usually offered some good options.”
2. Find the cheapest accommodation well before you plan your trip
Accommodation will ordinarily take up the majority of any travel budget, and even more so in countries with a high cost of living. But it's possible to cut that down, or even eliminate it altogether.
“’Couch surfing’ is a wonderful way to get free accommodation, with the added bonus that you get to stay with a local and see things from their perspective,” explained Sophia Sanchez, a travel itinerary planner at a UAE-based European tour operator.
However, travel experts caution that travellers need to be aware that ‘couch surfing’ is very competitive in expensive countries, so they advise that you'll need to contact hosts weeks, if not months, in advance to secure stays. Another alternative provided by the above-mentioned platforms is ‘house-sitting’.
“House sitting is another brilliant, budget-boosting option that can land you in high quality accommodations for free. When you house sit, you’re typically looking after a person’s pets as well as their home,” added Sanchez.
“You’ll need to sign up with a couple of different house sitting websites and fill out profiles on each of them. You’ll usually be charged a fee for the service, but it’s worth it if you end up getting free accommodations.”
Although Tom was aware of new trends like ‘couch surfing’ and ‘house sitting’ service platforms, she said that they made use of more traditional ways to save money on accommodations like Airbnb and one of its many alternatives like Vrbo, Booking.com, Expedia, TripAdvisor and Agoda.
“We found this to be way cheaper than directly approaching hotels or hostels and seeking rooms. This way we could book everything from a room in someone's house to an entire apartment. However, it depends on how many people you're traveling with – we travelled as a couple, so it was easier.”
3. Walk, bike, or take buses as often as you can, everywhere you go
Dev further explained that transportation is typically another high cost in expensive countries, but she also explained how there are also plenty of ways to save on this expense.
“While the easiest way to cut down on transportation costs is to walk as much as you possibly can, and also good way to get to know an area, renting a bike is a good way to go longer distances is usually less than the price of a cab or public transportation,” she said.
“Many cities now have bike rentals that are both low cost and convenient, allowing you to pick up and drop off bikes at various locations.”
For UAE resident Aditya S., who travelled alone to the UK and Japan in 2022 and 2017 respectively, aside from being a fan of taking long walks in the countries he visits, bus was always a less-strenuous option for him.
“When I was in Japan in November 2017, I walked pretty much everywhere, and actually preferred it. In cities like Tokyo, where the topography is flat and there are broad sidewalks, walking was a fun and easy way to get around and see the local way of life,” said Aditya.
“Even if it was a 40-minute walk to another neighbourhood, I'd take on the challenge and was rewarded with views, brisk air, and interesting local experiences along the way. But for traveling farther afield within a country, I considered going by bus as I found that to be more budget-friendly.
“In places like the UK and Japan, trains were readily available but they come at a much higher cost. The equivalent journeys by bus saved me a significant amount of money, with trips available for as little as a couple dollars if booked early.”
In places like the UK and Japan, trains were readily available but they come at a much higher cost. The equivalent journeys by bus saved me a significant amount of money
4. Keep regular tabs on free activities and take advantage as much as you can
There's no need to spend money when you don't have to. Most places have regular events, attractions, and activities that you can take part in for absolutely nothing.
“It pays to do a bit of research on the location you're visiting beforehand to check out what will be going on while you're there. Good places to look are on local authority websites and local news publications online,” explained Sanchez.
“In larger cities like London, you'll find the majority of museums and art galleries have no entrance fees for their regular exhibitions. Tokyo has a number of viewing decks in skyscrapers with spectacular views over the city that are free to access. No matter where you are in the world, walking around a beautiful park or watching the sunset in the evening are great ways to spend time with no cost attached.”
Tom and Aditya both agreed that they were able to take advantage of free-of-charge events as much as they possibly could, and they also made it a point to plan their travel itineraries to accommodate such events.
Aditya further explained that on his trip to the UK this year, he went sight-seeing with minimal help of from tourist guides by studying up on places before he took each trip. In doing so he added that he was able to make nearly Dh1,000 in savings.
5. Travel during off-peak times can help save big, UAE residents reveal how much
“Even the biggest, most visited destinations in the world have lulls in their tourism. These lulls are like gold dust to the budget traveller, as attractions become far less crowded while prices for everything from hotels to restaurant meals drop,” added Dev.
“In my experience, I've found prices to be up to 50 per cent lower when comparing travel and non-travel peaks,” evaluated Tom.
However, both the travel consultant and the traveller stressed the importance to do research on the location you're visiting, though, because in some places attractions simply shut down outside of peak season.
“If your sole reason for visiting somewhere is for specific attractions that are closed during the offseason, no amount of savings will make up for that disappointment,” added Dev.
Credit card rewards, specifically travel rewards, are an extremely useful resource to help you save money on your travel expenses
6. Using rewards points and discounts will add to your savings with rising inflation
Travel rewards from credit cards, airlines, and hotels are the secret weapon of any savvy traveller, and can allow you access to places that may ordinarily be way out of your budget. They're particularly good to save up and use in expensive countries, and can make or break your travel budget.
“Credit card rewards, specifically travel rewards, are an extremely useful resource to help you save money on your travel expenses. They can lead to nearly free flights and hotels stays or allow you to take luxury vacations that you wouldn’t be willing to spend the cash on,” said Sanchez.
While inflation primarily applies to cash in your pocket, inflation can also impact the value of your travel rewards, caution travel and financial planners. This is why Aditya opts to use miles or points instead.
“I’ll be using credit card points or airline miles to book my next adventure abroad, even if it is a costlier destination. I’ll pay using a credit card as I have been planning to earn more travel rewards rather than spending what I have especially as inflation rises,” added Aditya, who works as a financial analyst.
You should also try and tap into as many discounts as possible, which can bring down the cost of everything from flights and accommodations to food and attractions, opined Sanchez.
“Check out global discount sites like Groupon, or even search whatever it is you want to get a discount on to see if there are any available online. For example, searching ‘local aquarium discount’ can yield some amazing results.”
While traveling is a great way to expand your horizons, learn more about other cultures, and experience new things, it can become costly if you are not careful, travel planners reiterate.
“Even the most experienced travellers tend to spend too much money when planning their trips. Making use of such cost-saving strategies while traveling can help you reduce your expenses without sacrificing enjoyment,” Sanchez added.