I used to travel for cheap by cutting corners, but I’ve since found 5 better strategies to save money on trips

The author is not pictured. SolStock / Getty Images
  • When I travelled by myself in my 20s, I used to stay in hostels and cheap out on flights to save money.
  • Now that I’m older, I’ve found better strategies to save on travel without cutting corners at every opportunity, like using a high-yield savings account for my travel fund and taking advantage of my credit card’s travel insurance.
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As someone who has travelled by herself in her early 20s, I know a thing or two about saving money while overseas. There were many times where I’ve eaten at street stalls, stayed in dodgy hostels, and taken alternative forms of transportation instead of flying to and from destinations.

However, as I’ve gotten older, there are so many more products and apps out there that make it so much easier for travellers to save. There are ways I’ve been able to create a budget-friendly vacation itinerary without travel hacking.

Here’s how.

Open a high interest savings account to save for travel

Back when I started travelling over 14 years ago, savings account aren’t what they are now. Back then, I was lucky if I earned any interest, but now there are so many online savings accounts that offer really competitive rates.

I decided to open a high-yield savings account a few years ago to take advantage of its high interest rate. I wanted an account specifically earmarked for travel – that way I knew the exact amount I am able to spend on a trip. Considering I was just going to let the money sit there, I figured I might as well earn some interest on it.

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Use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees

Travelling within the US isn’t a big deal, but fees can really add up when you’re travelling overseas. I used to pay upwards of 3% in foreign transaction fees plus any currency exchange rate markup. As someone who tried to use as many credit cards as possible when travelling, those fees really added up.

Now, I make sure to take a card that doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees – my favourite is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. That way I’m only charged for the actual purchase and hope that the exchange rate works in my favour.

Check which cards have travel insurance

I remember when one of my friends passed away right around the time I was about to go on a trip to Southeast Asia. Not only was I devastated over the loss, but I lost hundreds of dollars because I couldn’t get the money back for my flights and hotels. I regret not purchasing travel insurance, but hindsight is 20/20.

Now, whenever I book travel, I make sure to use a card that offers some sort of travel insurance so I don’t have to purchase additional policies. Again, I use my Chase Sapphire Preferred card because I get things like trip cancellation and baggage delay insurance as long as I book the travel on the card. Luckily, I haven’t had to use any of these so far, but I feel good knowing it’s there if I need it.

Use someone else’s hotel reservation

I’ve often used the usual discount booking websites like Booking.com and Hotels.com to save money when booking accommodation. I’ve also tried out other apps and had extensive conversations with other travellers to find the best deals for hotels and hostels.

One traveller I met told me about a website called Roomer Travel, which allows people to post their non-refundable reservation on the website and transfer it to someone else at a steep discount, hoping to get some money back for their otherwise nonrefundable booking.

When I know I’m headed to a destination, I’ll set a budget and then search for a room based on my travel dates and area I want to be in. I’ve saved hundreds of dollars this way, and Roomer helps you double check to make sure the reservation is transferred to your name so you’re not paying for something you can’t use.

Research how to get to and from a destination cheaply

If you can be flexible in your travel plans, you can save some money by travelling to and from different destinations on public transportation.

Of course it depends on your comfort level and how long you want to be in transit, but travelling by bus or train can be a really great learning experience. A few years ago I decided to travel by boat in Malaysia, and ended up getting an invite to stay with a local family for a few days – it was the highlight of my trip.

To figure out approximate costs, I like to use Rome2Rio or Google Maps to get a few options and an idea of what I might expect to pay.

Yes, booking a vacation can cost a lot of money, but it doesn’t have to.