1) Use Public Transit
Although challenging at times, public transit is more of an adventure and it gives you a good insight into how the locals live. New York City’s subway during rush hour, a packed combi in Lima– something might just happen that you’ll be talking about forever. Sure it may smell bad but if you’re really interested in getting to know the culture you should know what their vomit smells like.
2) Cook your Own Meals
A hostel with a kitchen can be your best friend when traveling for long periods of time. A supermarket in a foreign country is often more interesting than a church or museum and sometimes offers hilarious product names (level of hilarious depends on maturity level).
3) Don’t Book through the Hostel/Hotel
Yes, booking a bus ticket at your hostel is much easier than going to the bus station and doing it, but it isn’t as adventurous and it will cost you more. Hostels frequently offer tours that are more expensive than if you book directly with the company. A boat tour of Lake Titicaca cost us $5 more because we booked it at our hostel instead of going directly to the tour operator. That doesn’t seem like much money but in Peru that could buy you a bus ticket from Puno to Cusco.
4) Avoid Heavily Trodden Restaurants and Bars
Lonely Planet and Frommer’s are great for the first 10 minutes after they’ve been published, but their restaurant recommendations become outdated and inaccurate once the establishments’ owners receive a huge boost in customers. The dark depths of the internet will often have better information. Avoid eating on main squares or in tourist districts. Sometimes walking three blocks will save you money and offer a more authentic dining experience.
5) Educate yourself about Tipping
Tipping in a foreign country is tricky. Sometimes they include the tip on the bill; sometimes tipping isn’t customary in the country. Many countries pay their customer service jobs a reasonable wage so tipping isn’t necessary. I’ve been to places where the tourist books told me to tip but when I did the server was totally confused by it. She looked at me like I was trying to give her one of my kidneys and refused to accept it.
6) Be Prepared When Exchanging Money
Exchanging foreign currency can be as frantic as losing your virginity. Don’t just deal with the first random person that approaches you in the bus station (both with your currency and your virginity). Have an idea how much the exchange rate will be ahead of time and figure out how much you should be getting back with the money you are changing over. Two minutes of math can save you from getting ripped off in the frantic world of foreign currency exchange.
If you’re an alcoholic a lush like me you can save big money by buying your booze at a supermarket then drinking it at the hostel. Common rooms are a great place to meet people, it’s safer, and it’s easier to find your way home. Be careful when booking a place, many of them have bars and won’t allow outside alcohol to be brought in (unless it’s in your belly).
8) Research your Banking Options
Find out what your bank’s service charge is for taking out money in the country you are going to. It may be cheaper to use your credit card. Also, exchanging money before your trip may not be a good idea. The airport you fly into will most likely have a bank machine and the fees for using it may be cheaper than the ones your bank charge you for the currency you need. You may also want to do some research on the banks that are present in the countries you are going to. In Peru and Chile they have many Scotiabanks (a Canadian bank). Opening an account in Canada saved us from a ton of withdrawal fees.
Sometimes avoiding overpriced touristy restaurants is impossible. Day trips to popular, out-of-the-way attractions leave you with few eating options and you’re going to need both of your arms and your legs if you want to hike that trail. Some of my all time favourite lunches consisted of some vegetables, squeeze cheese, and buns. A dollar store cooler bag is cheap, light, and will keep your beer just cold enough.
10) Do Your Research
The internet has so much information and it is always being updated. Figure out what you want to see and where it is then plot it on a map and print out some information on each attraction. This will save you from taking over-priced walking tours. Also, with Google Translator and a bit of deciphering skills, you can access foreign language sites and find out where the locals are going. Chances are these places are cheaper and the adventure you have will be greater.