As graduate students with a tight travel budget, we’re always looking for ways to save money without sacrificing the quality of the trip. We’ve learned that you can actually save money with careful packing! These items will pay off once you get there, leaving you more money to spend on the things that matter to your trip.
1) Student/Military ID - Many sites offer reduced or free admission to students (and seniors, military personnel, etc.) - bring your ID card and the discounts will pay off. This is particularly useful in major European cities such as Prague and Madrid, but most sites have student discounts (sometimes you just have to ask!).
2) Water bottle - Unless you’re in a place where tap water isn’t safe, bring a water bottle with you and you’ll avoid spending a lot of money in (probably touristy, overpriced) places getting water. Most hotels and museums have water fountains where you can fill up. (If you find yourself thirsty and water-bottle-less, the cheapest place to buy a drink is at a grocery store).
3) Sheets and Towels - If you’re staying at a hostel, check if sheets and towels are provided - often they’re not, and you can save money by bringing your own.
4) Snacks - Being hungry can force you to spend more than you want and can derail your sightseeing plans. I’m all for splurging on great local food, but the most expensive (and often least authentic) food can be found at the airports and around the touristy sites. First, pack a meal for the plane (sandwiches and salads travel well). Then, on the trip, always have granola bars or dried fruit on hand (pick your snack of choice) so you don’t have to cut your sightseeing short and spend more than you want at the pricey place that’s close just because it’s lunchtime.
5) Tide to-go packs - For longer trips (more than a week), doing your own hand-wash in the sink or bathtub of a hotel is much cheaper than sending it out and usually easier than finding a laundromat. This also allows you to pack a little lighter, by needing fewer clothes, which could save you an extra checked bag fee.
6) Downloaded Google Map - Google Maps has a feature that allows you to download a city map, so that you can access it even when you’re offline. This is especially helpful for cutting costs when you’re paying a lot for data outside the US (and is necessary if you’re just relying on wifi).
Google Maps now lets you download areas for when you don't have a 3G connection
7) Plastic Spoon/Fork/Knife - Some of the best eating experiences don’t happen in a restaurant. Not to mention, eating all your meals in restaurants is a good way to bust your budget. Carrying utensils gives you the freedom to pick up street food or a yoghurt from a supermarket for lunch and splurge on dinner. It doesn’t have to be compromise: In Paris, for example, you can save money by buying a fresh baguette and cheese from a bakery and making a picnic of it (made easier with utensils).
8) A Plan for Getting From the Airport - Most cities have very accessible public transportation to take you from the airport to downtown. In Amsterdam, for example, the train is not only cheaper but also can take less time than the taxi! Even if you’re not a planner, looking into the options before you arrive will save you time and money.
9) Your own travel-sized bottles - Buying specifically travel-sized items often costs more for less. If you want to travel with your own products, pack almost-empty bottles or buy small reusable bottles at the drugstore that you can refill for each trip.
Travel sized bottles (such as these from Kitdine) are a great travel item
10) Tote bag - many stores in cities outside the US charge for plastic bags. Especially if you’re planning on doing a lot of grocery shopping over the course of your trip, it might be worth it to pack a plastic bag or light tote bag from home that you can use.
BONUS TIP: Don’t forget to check the luggage restrictions and baggage policy of your airline before you pack. Some airlines allow free checked bags, others (mainly budget airlines) can charge by weight. Know before you go to avoid getting hit with unexpected fees.
Check out part II - Packing tips to avoid a crisis
Posted by the team at Planit Travel