If you’re a budget traveler and not familiar with Matt Kepnes from Nomadic Matt yet, it’s time to check out his website. He’s a bonafide magician when it comes to booking dirt-cheap travel, and he’s got a wealth of knowledge in his books and blog posts that will help you become one, too. Speaking of his books, his most alluring one, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, just got a major update. “Travel is a constantly changing industry,” he says. “Even when the first edition was out, I still thought about things I wanted to add.” Kepnes first realized his love for travel after a life-changing, year-and-a-half long trip across the United States and to Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia. “When I sat back down in an office after that trip, I realized I never wanted to work in an office again,” he says. Obviously, working as a writer on the road is expensive; that’s when Kepnes learned how to game the system to get the best rates and save money while doing what he loves. Here are his seven crucial tips to traveling frugally while also traveling well.
1. Be flexible. The more flexible you are as a traveler, the better you can catch a deal. If you’re locked into a certain place on a certain date, you’re stuck with paying what you have to pay. The difference of a day for a flight could mean the difference of hundreds of dollars or a great hotel deal or a last-minute tour. If you’re stuck on a certain place, be flexible on time. If you’re stuck on time, be flexible on the place.
2. Avoid booking flights too early or late. The ideal booking time is 3-4 months in advance. If you get over-zealous and book a year in advance, there might be a flight deal you’re missing out on. Definitely don’t book too early. Flight deals like TheFlightDeal.com and Holiday Pirate. Kayak’s explore function is really cool, and same with Google Flights. For overseas carriers, I’d look at SkyScanner and Momondo.
3. Take advantage of the sharing economy. AirBnB, EatWith, Viable. Break out of the whole hotel/transportation model and connect with locals. You can use that sharing economy to get cheaper prices.
4. If you’re sightseeing a lot, get tourism and museum passes. It sometimes comes with free transportation, and if you’re sightseeing a lot, it can add up really quickly. It puts all the attractions into one price. But always do the math, just to make sure.
5. Use the five-block rule: Don’t eat within five blocks of a major tourist attraction. First off, it will be packed. Second, it will be double the price and half as good as other places you can find. If you’re really worried about where to eat, use a website like Foursquare to find local hotspots in the area.
6. Aways use an ATM or credit card instead of cash if you can—you’ll get the best exchange rate. A lot of credit cards don’t have an overseas transaction fee, and I’d just rather get cash when I’m there because I’ll get a better exchange rate. Definitely don’t do it at the airport. Again, sometimes you get stuck with cash that you have to exchange, but if you’re using an ATM or credit card, it’s going to be a better rate. The further away you get from an inter-bank exchange, the worse the rate will get.
7. Pick a cheaper destination. If you’re traveling from the United States, Central America offers the best value: the flights, accommodation, and food is cheap, especially in countries like Nicaragua or Honduras. For a general all-around good value destination, you can’t beat Southeast Asia. It’s one of the cheapest regions in the world. Flights may be expensive, but you can certainly make it up while you’re there.