How to Save Substantial Money While Rocking the Expat Life

One of the biggest barriers holding people back from traveling is cost. Paying for hotels, eating out, and buying attraction tickets may seem like a fast way to hemorrhage money, but while many refrain from traveling because they believe they can’t afford it, the truth is that you actually can save quite a bit while traveling, especially living abroad for an extended period of time.

Rolling in the Romanian lei. Never mind the fact that one Romanian leu equals about 23 euro cents.

Rolling in the Romanian lei. Never mind the fact that one Romanian leu equals about 23 euro cents. (photo credit: my travel buddy Lauren)

Of course, you’ll need savings to get yourself started, purchasing flight tickets, covering your food and lodging until you’ve found a job, etc., but I’ve found that there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to earn that back and save loads on top of that. Here are seven ways you can live life to the fullest as an expat without emptying your bank account.

Choose the dates, not the destination.

If you’re living abroad for a while and have a lot of flexibility, holidays, or long weekends to travel, be open-minded about your destination! I knew I wanted to see as much of Europe as possible while I was in Spain but didn’t care in what order I saw it, so I would simply scour the internet for the cheapest flights for a certain time frame to places I hadn’t yet been, and off I’d go. This meant deals like round-trip flights to Menorca for €15 or Brussels for €34, places I may have otherwise never visited.

I would usually manually check Ryanair and Easyjet’s flights from Madrid/Sevilla to all of their destinations, but Skyscanner will allow you to search for flights from your location to “Everywhere,” giving you the best deals for a particular set of dates.

Take advantage of traveling in the offseason.

Flights and lodging can be significantly cheaper in the low season, plus destinations are often far more enjoyable when they aren’t plagued with trillions of tourists. Many people choose not to travel outside of peak season because the weather isn’t as ideal, but autumn and early spring often have great weather without the crowds. Plus, inclimate weather can make for some unforgettable trips!

Snowy, foggy Paris may not be what you normally dream of, but we had a blast.

Snowy, foggy Paris may not be what you normally dream of, but we had a blast.

Find inexpensive accommodations.

Lodging can often be the priciest part of a trip, so cutting back on that spending can make a big difference. Hostels are usually far nicer than people make them out to be. Couch surfing is also an option if you’re comfortable with it, and Airbnb can save you money as well if you’re looking for a step up from hostels. If you’re set on staying in a hotel, you can often find good deals with enough online research. Hotelclub is one source for deals on luxury hotels, and you can combine those deals with this coupon to save further.

Earn extra money in a side job.

If your main salary just isn’t cutting it, look for extra work on the side. If you’re a native English speaker living in a non-English speaking country, regardless of whether you have a work visa, private conversation classes are easy and pay well. Or check out these seven other ideas for earning money while traveling the world.

Teaching in Spain

With one of my favorite private lesson students last year

Keep an eye out for coupons.

Being abroad, you obviously want to take advantage of activities and attractions in your new city. This can often add up, so subscribe to sites like CupoNation, Groupon, or Livingsocial for deals on trips, activities, tourist attractions, and restaurants.

Be smart with your money transfers.

You’re patting yourself on the back, proud of how much money you’ve managed to save while traveling. But then it comes time to transfer money across borders, and you’re suddenly smacked in the face with how much money you’re losing in the process. Over 50% of people say exchange rates and fees are their biggest concern when transferring money, and these can hit you pretty hard if you’re not careful. Before you transfer money—whether you’re sending or receiving cash from family and friends, transferring funds to or from an overseas account, making a foreign investment, or processing some other type of international payment—be sure to research your best options for speed, convenience, and security. Doing so can make a world of difference.

Eat at home when possible.

I’m a big believer that one of the best ways to experience a new culture is to enjoy its food, but alternate meals out with home-cooked meals. If you’re based in a city, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy its restaurants, even if you eat at home for 90% of your meals (plus, you can always try your hand at cooking local favorites!). If you’re traveling, cooking at your hostel gives you a chance to take a break from the hustle and bustle and meet fellow travelers.

Obviously salubrious, all-American Fourth of July feast we prepared in a castle-hostel in Hvar, Croatia

Obviously salubrious, all-American Fourth of July feast we prepared in a castle-hostel in Hvar, Croatia

Keep track of your spending.

Writing down literally everything I spend and earn when I’m abroad is probably overkill, although if you’re willing to do it, it’s great to have a clear record of your budget. Otherwise, giving yourself daily targets can keep your bank account healthy. For example, if you’re going out, give yourself a limit on how much you can spend on drinks. A €5 nightly alcohol limit in Spain will get you far but keep you in check. This may seem like it’s putting a damper on your experience, but, for me, more often than not it reminds me that I can spend more without feeling guilty about it.

There’s nothing that says traveling has to be expensive, and keep in mind that the more you save, the more you can spend on future trips!

What are your best travel money saving tips?

8 Responses

  1. Paige Miller says:

    Great tips, especially when it comes to food and drinking. That can be such a black hole, and if you’re not prepared, you’ll spend anything when you’re really hungry.

    Unfortunately, working on a school schedule, the dates I usually get to travel for more than just a weekend are when everyone has a break, so the prices are higher. I remember going to Paris for Semana Santa, and I saw so many Spanish tourists there I felt like I was back in Spain!

  2. …Sound advice–livin’ day expat life doesn’t have to break you!!…

  3. These are great tips! There really are so many ways to travel cheaply if you do a little bit of work when you plan your travels. That’s why I always end up going places in the wrong season – it’s just so much cheaper. And like you said, you can often get nice weather without the crowds.

  4. this is soo complete!! I’ll also publish an article about the best ways to travel in Europe soon

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