Traveling has been a huge part of my budget ever since I started earning an income back in University while working at Starbucks. I love to travel and am happy to drop a decent amount of money on a fun trip! But that doesn’t mean I want to waste my money or be reckless with it. Instead, I save up and plan my trips carefully to maximize my dollar.

I’m a firm believer that there are some things that are worth your money and others that just aren’t. Here are my top 4 things to save on and top 4 things to splurge on during your next vacation.

When to Save

Strategic savings in some areas can help your money stretch further, so you can splurge on things that you truly love! Here are some areas to save some money:

1. Food

No, not all food. And no, I am not advocating eating at McDonald’s in every country (though that is also a fun experience to try out their different menus!). What I mean here is that too often we get caught up with the fun experience of trying new cuisines that we get carried away and go out for every single meal.

While I firmly believe you should be trying new foods in each country, you don’t need to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at a restaurant. Instead, try one of these tips:

  • Grab some food at a grocery store and have a picnic in a local park! My sisters and I had a picnic lunch of baguettes and cheese every day in a park in Paris that had a view of the Eiffel Tower. Cheap and memorable!
  • Go for lunch at a fancy restaurant instead of dinner. Many places offer lunch deals, so you can try the same great food at a lower price.
  • Get some street food! Yes, you need to be careful to choose something that is clean and safe, but street food or small hole-in-the-wall places can offer the most delicious and affordable food out there!

2. Discount Days

A lot of popular attractions such as museums or art galleries will have free or discounted days throughout the week. It’s always worth a few minutes of research to see if where you want to go is offering this and then plan your schedule accordingly.

Another thing to check out is if the posted price of entry is suggested or mandatory. For example, most museums in New York are just suggested prices, and many in London are by donation. This way you can choose to pay what you can afford.

Of course, these are amazing places that could use your money to keep up the great work, but it also makes sense that you are on a budget and may not be able to afford the full price. Just be aware and decide what is worth it to you!

3. City Passes

This one might be seen as a little too touristy, but I do think that getting a tourist city pass can be a really valuable experience. I only had a few days in London, and so decided to get the London Pass. It gave us access to SO many of the top attractions around the city, and was definitely cheaper then purchasing them all separately.

Not only did we get to see some famous sites like the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral, but there were some lesser-known things we got to try as well. One of our favourite days was taking a boat down the canal in “Little Venice” – it was fun and we saw a totally different part of the city! We only knew about it because of the Pass, so it was totally worth it.

4. Souvenirs

I know, I know, shopping is fun! And souvenirs are important memories! Believe me, I get it. We all want something tangible and unique to remember our amazing trips by.

But honestly, most souvenirs just suck and are way too overpriced. And if you are shopping at any market, tourist shop, or the airport, you are getting ripped off. Instead of buying overpriced (and often tacky) souvenirs, consider these options as something to remember your trip by:

  • Photos. I mean, obviously.
  • Currency from the country. Take back a note or a few coins to keep and remember your trip by. I have a jar of this at home, and even made some coins into magnets on my fridge.
  • Quality items. If you do need to buy something, focus on quality items that you will use. I love my scarves, purses, and shoes I’ve bought in other countries, because they are totally useable in my every day life, and yet help me remember my trip by!

When to Splurge

Life is all about balance. Just as important as saving on things that don’t matter so much, is splurging on things that really matter. After all, you’ve worked hard to save your money and afford a nice trip, so let’s make the most of it! Here are four ways to splurge on your next vacation:

1. Unique Experiences

There is no shortage of fun and unique experiences while traveling. Even just walking around, exploring different areas and trying new food can be a unique experience! But beyond that, there are so many cool options that are only available in that country, perhaps because of the culture or environment.

When researching things to do, make sure to keep an eye out for experience that are a little different then what you would normally do. Here are two of my favourite experiences in a new country:

  • Something active. I love getting outdoors and doing something active while abroad, such as hiking or renting a kayak or something. One of my favourite unique and active experiences was our zip line and hiking tour in Croatia! This was so fun. We went on about 7 zip lines in the gorgeous hill side overlooking the ocean, with short hikes in between. It was a super cool way to experience the region, with a solid adrenaline kick to boot!
  • Food tours. this is one of my favourite things to do in a new city. Two stand-out tours were in Lima, Peru and London, England. Food tours are fun because of the food, obviously, but also because it takes a while to complete, usually about four hours, so you can connect with some other people and really get to know more about the country.

2. Safety

This may seem a little weird on this list, but I think it’s important to mention. In fact, before leaving on any trip, my Mom would always make me promise that I wouldn’t “cheap out” and avoid spending money when it came to things like safety, comfort and security.

Money can be very useful in getting out of potentially sketchy scenarios and staying safe. For example, if you are accustomed to taking public transit, you may be hesitant to splurge on a taxi. But if you are traveling alone at night, it may be the safer choice to get a taxi or go with another reputable transportation service, despite the additional cost.

Likewise, if you are uncomfortable in your shared hostel accommodation, definitely spring for a new private room or hotel. I’ve had my fair share of weird hostel roommates, and even one time where my and my friend didn’t feel safe around someone who cam back wasted. We left pretty quick and the hostel was super understanding, upgrading us to a private room.

There is no amount of money that is worth feeling unsafe or staying somewhere you are not comfortable.

3. Tours

Some people might think that going on a tour is a short cut and not something “real travelers” should do. While I also like to come up with my own itinerary and plans while traveling, or just explore at a slower pace, there have been a few times that tours have been the perfect decision.

Here are a couple reasons to choose a tour, even though it can cost more than a DIY approach:

  • Convenience. It is SO nice to just have someone plan something and tell you where to go and what to do. Show up at this time in this place? Easy enough! Tours are a very stress-free approach to traveling because you don’t have to do all the planning and booking yourself.
  • Maximize your time. Tours are a great option if you are short on time in any given location. I went on a 2-week trip to Peru a few years ago and we booked with Peru Hop, a hop-on hop-off tour company, so that we could see as much as possible in a short time.
  • Travel buddies! After graduating university, I really wanted to go traveling, but didn’t have anyone to go with. At that time, I wasn’t ready to venture out on my own, so I booked a 6-week tour through Southeast Asia instead. It was the best choice I could have made, because my tour buddies because friends to experience an awesome trip with. I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of it going by myself.

4. Accommodations (sometimes)

This one honestly could have been on both lists, because I also feel that it’s an area to save on. When you are spending most of your day sightseeing, do you really need to spend a ton of money on your accommodations? But then on the flip side, poor accommodations can really make or break your experience (looking at you, disgusting hostel in Glasgow…).

So, I recommend choosing a moderate accommodation 90% of the time – something clean, within budget, good location, etc. – and then splurge 10% of the time. An example of this is when I was in London by myself for a few days. I booked a few nights in a hostel to save some money. It was fine – clean, cheap, no weird people in my room. But on my last night in the city, I sprung for a hotel room. This was obviously way more expensive but was 100% worth the splurge. I slept amazing and felt so well rested. It provided a much-needed reset for the rest of the trip.

So, there you have it! This list is obviously non-exhaustive, but provides a place to start. I really see traveling as an investment – an investment in yourself, by expanding your horizons and providing memories for a lifetime! You work hard to be able to afford a trip, so might as well make the most of it by being selective in how you save and splurge!

Let me know your own ideas on how to save and splurge when traveling in the comments below!

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