Travelling on a Budget – 5 Tips

Normally I rarely get my writing done at my hostel – I much prefer being in a coffee shop surrounding by art or aesthetic inspirations. But here in Lyon, most of the coffee shops are closed. And the hostel I booked is about a half hour walk from anything open. It’s almost 9pm and the last metro runs at midnight, so, looks like I’ll be writing here.

I’ve written before about how important a hostel can be in shaping your travel experience and I still totally stand by that. But I knew that this wasn’t going to be the best hostel: it was the cheapest in Lyon, it’s location on Hostelworld said it was 2.5km from the city centre, and the reviews weren’t great. So luckily, at least I knew what to expect. I picked a cheaper hostel in Lyon so I could have a great hostel in Vienna, and I know I’ll enjoy Vienna so much more not only because of the hostel but also because it’s a much larger city. The students have all left Lyon for their breaks, and with them it seems they’ve taken the soul from the city.

Also, most of the guests here speak only French. I, do not speak a word of French past bonjour and merci.

Great, now that my complaining has been aired out I can start with the actual topic of my post: travelling on a budget!

When I started this trip I had just quit my job bartending and moved all my things from Vancouver the week before back to my mom’s house, so there was nothing tangible to come back to. The only two things that dictated when I would return home were my financial situation and myself (although the 90-day visa should loom much larger than it does). A week before I left, after I moved my things out of Vancouver, I decided that I’d travel for as long as my money could take me. In other words, if I could stick to a budget I could travel for up to six months.

I’ll probably only travel for three since I certainly don’t want to face any legal issues with overstaying my visa when I go home. I’m also really looking forward to the prospect of putting down roots in a new city; I’m definitely not homesick, but I am genuinely excited about what life at home will hold for me.

Since the only real constraint I face is the financial constraint, here’s how I’ve been staying under-budget on my trip so far.

1. Make your own food!
Cooking your own food is such a great way to save money. Generally I cook my own breakfasts and then pack a lunch. For breakfast I’ll usually have fried eggs and toast (the same as I would at home) and a piece of fruit. When picking fruit, think something like an apple, nectarine, pear, etc. Something dense that’ll keep you full for longer than, say, grapes will. It’s also so important to have heaps of protein in the morning to get you through the day. I for one like to pack my days with touristy activities like sight-seeing or hiking and definitely need a big breakfast to help fuel all the activities. If you’re a vegetarian yogurt with fruit and oats is a great, cheap option too. For lunch I’ll usually pack a sandwich (usually just an easy ham and cheese), something sweet like a chocolate croissant, and some fruit. And always a 1.5 litre water bottle! Pasta and tomato sauce with a couple vegetables can also last you three meals and cost you under 5 euros! The tomato sauce jar is also a great little thing for storing your food on-the-go!

2. Check ahead for when museums or art galleries are free
About half the time, museums or art galleries will have times when they’re free. For example, in Lisbon the Colecao Berardo Museum of Contemporary Art is free on Saturdays, and the Prado National Museum and the National Palace in Madrid are free during the last two hours of the day. Although you’ll face longer lines and might have a shorter time period to explore around, it’s a trade-off.

3. Opt for pre-drinking at the hostel or outside instead of at a bar
This one’s a given in Europe. You can purchase wine by the bottle for as little as 2.50 euro in Lisbon, 1.80 euro in Spain, and 4 euro in Lyon. In Madrid you could buy massive tootles of beer for under a euro and in Portugal you could buy a six pack of beer (tallies or tall boys too!) for three euros. Drinks at a bar are 6 euro at the least. There’s also something really nice about sitting in a park, on the beach, or by the river that’s just so much more preferable to drinking at a bar.

4. Use local transportation over taxis and Uber
I generally walk everywhere – I experience much more of the city by walking to places rather than taking the metro, but when walking isn’t feasible taking local transportation is so much cheaper than taxis or Uber. Of course there are times when you’re tired as hell and just need the luxury of a chauffeur, or taxi driver. For example, my trip from Madrid to Lyon was over eighteen hours by bus and included a two hour layover in Bordeaux where I realized my shower gel exploded in my bag. At the end of all that there was no way I was going to take the metro for 45 minutes or walk to my hostel – that seemed like a wonderful time to take the taxi. But don’t take a taxi or Uber for everything if you’re trying to stick to a budget! Consider it a luxury if you’re trying to stretch your dollar.

5. Pay for experiences, not things!
Some people might disagree on this one. I think most of us would agree that fashion in Europe is much better than fashion in North America, but it really depends on what you’d rather leave you trip with: a great new purse or pair of shoes, a cool experience somewhere, or being able to visit an extra five art galleries with your savings. It’s all individual preference but for me, I’d rather spend my money on a really great meal at an expensive restaurant or visit a museum or pay for a day-trip somewhere rather than add to my wardrobe (although I’m a sucker for flea market jewelry!)

Staying at a hostel is also another one, but I’m taking for granted that if you’re on a budget you’ll be choosing a hostel over a hotel. Although in every trip there’s going to come a time when you splurge in order to have a proper sleep undisturbed by the five to fifteen other roommates you generally have.

What are your cost-saving tips when travelling? Do you stick by all these tips too when you travel? Share your traveller tips in the comments!

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