Slow Travel + Frugal Travel = Money Saved & Time Enjoyed
So you want to travel cheaply, and have the time to do it. Slow travel is the perfect way to get traveling done on the cheap, especially if you are practicing frugal living.
Since I (Cathleen) live in Hawaii, and travel anywhere involves an airplane, this is geared more towards air travel. These tips have been garnered over the years starting from my college days of travelling across the country and halfway across the Pacific 3-4 times a year, having to travel from Hawaii to DC every month for the last 5 years, plus the Mister’s extensive travels around the world.
Y’all didn’t come here for my life story, so let’s get to it:
Slow Travel + Frugal Travel Tips
The library is a really good place to start with travel books. Keep in mind these are likely older, so probably aren’t up-to-date on restaurants and hotels, but should be a good source for a general idea of what you need to go, tried-and-true attractions, etc.
The second best thing is to use the internet – just Google the location you want to go, and things like “free things to do” or “cheap places to stay”. Generally, I make a list of places I’d like to see, with instructions on how to get there from my hotel or major transportation hub, to take with me on the trip.
If you are travelling internationally and you don’t speak the language, Google Translate is a must. You can get the Google translate app on your phone, and set it from English to whatever language you are doing (assuming you speak English).
The best part is you can record someone speaking, and google will do a terrible, but somewhat understandable, translation. And vice versa. You can also take pictures of words on signs and such and do translations- though they are hilariously terrible.
Frugal Access to the Internet
Rent a WiFi puck, or get T Mobile or Google Fi. A Wi-Fi puck will let you use your phone on Wi-Fi (no using data or calling), without having to pay the ridiculously high temporary prices for “using” your cell phone out of country. If you have T-mobile, you can make wifi calls from anywhere in the world back to your home country.
If you have Google Fi (which I do, and I have successfully used it’s international feature from Japan several times), you don’t even need a wifi puck in most of the developed world- you can also make phone calls and use data at the same price as you pay at home. I have used both T-mobile and Google Fi- each to progressively reduce my monthly cell phone bills.
Saving Money on Lodging
Shop around for lodging or get in on house sitting. You can cancel most hotel reservations up to 24 hrs before, so if you keep looking (though at some point you’re going to get tired) you can cancel the more expensive location. If you are taking public transportation, my rule of thumb is no farther than 0.5 miles from a transportation hub.
Places like hostels for not-20-year-old college kids can also be a great deal, so consider those. There are people that swear by Air BnB, but I’ve never used it, so I can’t speak towards that one way or the other. If you’re traveling in Japan, the homey Ryokan (traditional inn) can be inexpensive, usually at $50-100 a night.
Bonus: stay at places that has a laundry facility. This will let you save $ on dry cleaning, and not have to bring so much stuff. If not, wash your undergarments in the sink , and wring dry.
Slow Travel to Cheaper Places
Places like Thailand, Prague, and Portugal are all awesome and quite cheap to travel in. Just get a good deal on the airfare, and you’re set for a cool adventure.
Often, this will be the most economical way of travelling. It might not be the fastest, but it will usually be much cheaper than renting a car, getting a tour bus, or using Uber. The cheapest option is to walk everywhere. You will also have the added bonus of learning to love your car again.
Japan Rail has a pass where you can ride unlimited rides on their system, including the Shinkansen Bullet Train- so if you want to travel between cities this can be a great deal. Similarly, EuroRail has a pass for Europe, but it seems that more and more restrictions are being placed on the Eurail pass.
What to Pack for Slow Travel
My Packing List:
- Day bag, wallet clutch, empty bottle, and cosmetics
- The blue rectangle is my collapsible duffel.
- My two pair of shoes, and tops
- Bottoms (maternity tights fit awesome)
- Dress, Silk Scarf, Leather Jacket, and fleece
This is literally ALL that I packed for my trip to Japan in May. Plus a pair of shoes I wore on the plane
Try to Carry-on Only
Carry on only, with a collapsed bag for souvenirs on the way back. This will save you money on checked baggage fees. Though many international flights permit free checked baggage, if you have any plans of taking public transportation or domestic flights within your destination, you’ll save time, frustration, and money by just travelling with a carry-on.
The strategy here is to pack your lightweight stuff, and wear your bulky stuff on the plane. I also pack a small cross body purse that I can take out and use when out and about.
Here’s what to use:
- A backpack
- 1 rolling carry-on bag (that can expand, to hold your extra goodies)
- Plus, 1 collapsible duffel bag for bringing souvenirs back.
- Optional: 1 lightweight collapsible day-bag or cross body purse.
Trust me, after traveling with my parents thru Japan where my mom INSISTED she needed a check in luggage each person and the carry on…lugging all that luggage thru Tokyo sidewalks was not fun. Not. At. All.
Drive vs Fly – Slow Travel Wins
How do you determine when it’s cheaper to drive than to fly? First, you need to determine how quickly you need/want to be there. If the total drive time isn’t too much more than the total flying time (including security, waiting in line, waiting for you luggage, and getting a rental car or finding public transportation), then generally it’s cheaper to drive, even accounting for gas.
Think about it- for even a tank-full of gas, you can transport 4 people comfortably, or 5 people less comfortably, plus your stuff. If you take the plane, then you need tickets for each person, plus a way to get to the airport (or pay for parking if you choose to drive yourself), and a rental car or public transportation at the destination.
If you take public transportation, you can discount the cost of parking (unless the place provides it for free). So adding on an hour for showing up in time to go thru security, and an hour after to get yourself sorted out, even a 1 hour flight from say, Houston to Dallas, takes up to 3 hours of your life, anyway. So why not just drive?
Slow Travel Flights
You can use mileage points, or shop around. Or, as the ultimate cheapskate way of traveling, you can just see what deals there are and be flexible about when you go.
You’d be surprised at the strange airfare pricing structure airlines have. You’d think that a trip from NYC to London would be more expensive than from NYC to Chicago, since it’s further. But there are often times that it IS cheaper to travel to London than to Chicago.
So if you are flexible on where and when you go, some pretty cheap airfare can be found. This is how my friend does it- she regularly travels 6+ times a year to exotic places like Johannesburg, London, Thailand, Australia, the Antarctic.
Should you waste miles on cheap flights?
My thoughts are, no, I have better use for the miles. This is dependent on your situation: how often will you fly, and what’s most important to you. If it’s going a couple of states over to visit family, then by all means, spend the points.
If it’s going to Hawaii, then just buy the $300 tickets to see your family. Save up the points to offset a $1000+ ticket instead. I’ve been going back and forth every month from Hawaii to DC for work the last 5 years, and I’ve had at least 2 free trips per year from miles (BTW United needs at least 45000 miles to get a free trip. Some airlines use more or less miles)
Every single one has been tried by someone (maybe not necessarily me). I cannot vouch for the safety or sanity of some of the ways.
Extra bonus: if you’re retired military, military dependent, or current active duty, you can FLY FOR FREE on Space-A (Space Available, formerly known as MAC or Military Air Command) flights. I am not an expert on this, but Doug Nordman over at The Military Guide is. He has some really good tips (like you have to be VERY flexible about timing, and bring a down sleeping bag since it gets cold on some of the military cargo jets). He recently got back from a trip to Portugal.
Suck it up and stick it out on economy/coach
Unless you get a free upgrade, the cheapest option will usually be economy. Especially for international flights. I know, economy is incredibly uncomfortable-but just think- the extra $2000 for first class would really go nicely towards the rest of your travel, and buy a lot of massages on vacation.
Have I just flat-out paid for first class? Yes. Would I do it again? Probably (but not very often. The times I did pay for first class I was pregnant). You may also be able to pay for first class for only a portion of the trip by upgraded either at the time you buy your tickets or at check in.
It’s a good strategy to pay for the longest portion of your ride or for red eye flights where you’d like to be able to sleep (maybe), but cutting out the extra expenses of the shorter flights. Although this isn’t a guarantee that the first class flights will be available. (this does not apply to those that have medical conditions that make economy class extremely uncomfortable or medically dangerous).
Check if yours cover international trips (like Medicare Advantage or some Medigap plans) or the areas you plan to travel. If it does, yay! you don’t need to buy extra coverage for travel health insurance. If it doesn’t, boo- you might want to look into purchasing extra travel health insurance coverage, just in case.
How to Exchange Money
Do a currency exchange at the bank, or get a card with low atm transaction fees and no foreign fees for atm access there. Those kiosks at the airport are a ripoff, in my opinion. Your best bet is to get a debit card from a bank that does business both in your home area and in the country you want to visit (for me, it was Central Pacific Bank, since they do business in both Hawaii and Asia), or get a credit union that goes international, like Pen Fed or Navy Fed, if you can. Often times the ATM fees are cheaper than paying a conversion/transaction fee.
Don’t eat at tourist places
Find out a place office workers go, follow your nose. If you see a bunch of people in sneakers and day bags…they’re tourist and you’re in a touristy spot.The Mr., who’s filled 3 extended passports during his travels for work, follows his nose. If it smells good, then it’s probably a good place to try. Google maps is a great resource to see what’s close to you.
Stay at hotels that offer free breakfast or cocktail hours for dinner to cover ⅔ of your food expenses. You can also find hotels that have kitchenettes and cook for yourself. Farmers markets and local markets are pretty awesome especially if its a foreign country.
Shopping – Slow Travel Style
Don’t buy souvenirs, only buy quality. I don’t know as if I really have to say much more on this subject matter. You have to be selective on what you buy if you’ve only got carry-ons and are taking public transportation and carting stuff around yourself. It’s much easier to buy a bunch of junk when you’ve got a porter. That’s a completely different tax bracket than I roll.
Bonus: if you’re in Japan (sorry, I love Japan!), and are a crafter, go to Tokyu Hands. It’s like a Hobby Lobby on steroids, with high quality craft supplies, each department has its own floor.
Miscellaneous Slow Travel Tips
- Be flexible and have alternatives- sometimes you miss the bus. Literally. Having options on getting around can keep you from panicking and grabbing a more expensive option. Being flexible can also lend itself to slow travel- where you can find the best deals and opportunities.
- Do a little research to know the area’s specialty, it usually will be cheaper. Bordeaux in France is higher quality and probably cheaper than getting it back at home. Same with pineapple in Hawaii. Seriously, it’s regularly on sale for 89 cents a pound, and super fresh. You’d be surprised at what’s at the local farmer’s market or grocery store.
- Travel with a water bottle and some snacks- this will keep you from buying overpriced snacks and liquids on the plane, at the airport, or at convenience stores. If you’re flying, just bring an empty bottle, and fill it up at the airport wherever it’s safe to drink the water. There’s usually water bottle filling stations around. This will easily save you $3+ per person. Take into account the $9 sandwiches and $7 snack packs, for a plane ride, you’ll save about $20 per person, each way. If it’s 2 of you, that’s $80!
- Travel with a secondary debit card not attached to your primary account to limit how much can be drawn if it’s lost or stolen. Leave your main one at home. If you’re traveling internationally, see if they have low or no foreign transaction fees so you can get money out of the local ATM.
- Car rentals: though I really don’t like renting a car, sometimes, it’s necessary. When you’ve ruled out public transportation, walking, or Uber, a car rental might be the best thing. That said, you can also typically cancel car reservations up to 24 hours prior- so continue to shop around. I’ve had really good luck with Enterprise, finding a location not at the airport, and just having them pick me up at the airport, and drop me back off at the airport. You can also try booking through your travel site or the airlines- I’ve also had good luck booking through Alaska Air (while not even having a flight reservation with them!). And if you have a travel reward card, it typically will include car rental insurance, so there’s no need to add on the extra insurance that the rental cars push. Your car insurance will likely also have a rental car provision, as well. So read up on those to save yourself potentially a couple hundred bucks.
- House sit– for longer stays, find someone to house sit for. This usually entails caring for a pet (dog or cat), though. For more details on House Sitting gigs, Tim and Amy at Go With Less have been doing it for years, and plan on making this their current permanent Early Retirement living situation. You can also reverse this, and have someone house sit for you to watch your dog or cat, instead of paying for a kennel. Though I mentioned house sitting already, I think that this strategy saves so much money that it warrants it’s own area.
- Bring less junk: (I wanted to say “cr@p”, but this isn’t my blog, so I’ve toned down the swearing. A lot.) Keep your valuable stuff at home or wherever you feel is safe. You don’t need your 6 carat diamond ring or your Cartier watch to travel. Just more to worry about and keep track. The less you have to cart around, the better. Unless you plan on staying in one place. Even then, if you are taking public transportation (and you really should be if you want to save money), you’ve got to get all that junk to and from your lodging.
How to Maximize Travel Rewards:
- Get a travel reward card. Choose FI has a good comparison chart (they may or may not get referral money at no cost to you should you sign up with a card through their site).
- Pay all your expenses on this card, and pay it off every single month. This is important- you want to gain points, but don’t want to have to pay interest to get it. So make sure that you aren’t changing your spending just to get the points. It’s no good to have travel points but be too poor to enjoy them.
- Travel with a single group or carrier- and get a mileage account (this is not the same as a travel reward card) that is linked to your travel reward card. This will earn you miles as you travel, in addition to earning miles for buying the tickets in the first place.
- When travelling, volunteer to be bumped for the travel vouchers every single time. This is very easy to do if you have a flexible schedule and you’ve only got carry on luggage.
- Keep an look out for “bonus miles” earning periods. You usually have to sign up with the card company, but you then spend as normally. If you reach the goal amount (ex. $5000 in 3 months), you will automatically get the bonus miles (ex. 2000 more miles).
- Buy the tickets or book the rooms when it’s the slow season for that area to get the lowest mileage-cost booking.
Extra Slow Travel/Frugal Travel Tips
- Keep copies of your important documents somewhere separate from your wallet, just in case you lose it or it gets stolen. Credit cards so you can call your company, your passport, and your itinerary. At least this way you can get home.
- Bring a USB power bar (charged) with you out and about so you can charge up your phone or wifi puck and still be able to use google maps.
- Google maps is pretty accurate, especially for the developed countries, to figure out how to use public transportation. For the most part.
- Bring at least 2 pairs of shoes (in case one gets gunky or breaks). Wear one on the plane, and pack the other. One genius idea: one guy I saw tied his sneakers to the outside of his backpack to carry on the plane!
- Bring a thin silk sheet– it can double as a wrap, a scarf, or keep you warm on the plane.
- Packable down jacket– if you’re going anywhere that’s kinda cold (compared to what you’re used to), this is super convenient. Wear that on the plane, too. I’ve seen that Tumi and Marmot both have very good packable down coats. I can’t really say because I use a packable down vest I got on super clearance, but I have other friends that regularly travel all over the world that swear by them.
- Bring detergent sheets to wash laundry.
- Bar soap doesn’t count towards your permitted liquids, so I usually use that to soap up with, and just bring minimal shampoo/conditioner all in one.
- Bring meds you may need– even over the counter stuff for stomach ache, heartburn, allergies, especially if you’re going to a foreign country where you can’t read the language. Caution: make sure that the over the counter meds are permitted in the country. For example, Japan does not permit psuedophedrine or codeine, even if it’s over the counter meds in your country.
- Comfortable supportive shoes are a must. If you’re sightseeing, your feet will thank you. I generally bring a pair of supportive boots (I love Vionics), and a pair of sneakers with supportive insoles. High heels suck for doing any type of walking.
- Be friendly– you’ll be surprised how much a smile and a thank you (in the host language) will do.
- Be safe-be situationally aware of where you are. Don’t go out into the ocean if the surf is rough and don’t turn your back on the ocean. Stay on the hiking trail, bring water and a cell phone with you. Deviate from trails and you might get lost. Explore, but pay attention to where you are going. Look both ways before you cross the street (don’t forget to look RIGHT first, then left, if you’re in a country that drives on the other side of the road). I can’t tell you how many tourist I’ve seen here in Hawaii disregarding basic safety common sense. Just because you are on vacation doesn’t mean you can’t get hurt- so please be safe.
Conclusions on Slow Travel + Frugal Travel
Slow travel can be done on a budget- even for free (you’ve probably seen plenty of people bragging about credit card churning to get bonus miles for free vacations. I’m not really into that, but, if you are…have at it).
Slow travel and frugal travel comes down to 4 basics:
- Be flexible.
- Take public transportation
- Eat/shop local.
- Enjoy the experience
I wish you joy and fulfillment on your next trip.