One of the things that kept us from traveling earlier in our relationship was the perception that we couldn’t afford to see the world. Traveling seemed like something reserved for either the uber-rich or people with no responsibilities and no timelines, the type that could travel cheaply because they had the time to bus or backpack instead of buying a flight from one location to the next. We had no idea we could be a couple that would travel the world together. There are many travel tips for couples we could give, but keeping your vacations affordable and spending intelligently makes it all possible.
Another barrier was the obvious – there are two of us. Everything, or so we thought, cost double to travel as a couple. Two plane tickets. Two meals. Twice the drinks. Twice the tickets. Twice the entry passes. At a surface level, this is obviously a true statement – traveling as a couple does require you to save money more creatively because you’re paying for two of everything. However, when we stepped back after gaining some experience as a couple on the road, we found that there were a few ways we were wasting money while traveling. There are plenty of ways to save money for travel, and especially while traveling.
The relieving part of this realization is when we recognized that, for the most part, these were simple fixes. We didn’t have to sign up for any credit cards. We didn’t have to take additional risk. We didn’t have to go without doing what we really wanted to do when we traveled – we just had to be a little smarter.
With that said, we would rather you learn from our mistakes than make your own. Take note of these tips for saving money while traveling as a couple, no matter how simple they are. It’s been our experience that very often it’s the most simple tips and ideas that saves us the most money when we’re on the road!
This is a very simple, practical tip that will cut your food cost in half with little effort. Most places you travel in the world serve large portions, although some seemingly think that America is the only country that serves meals on plates that look like trash can lids, but it isn’t true. If you’ve ever had a plate of Schnitzel in Germany or a traditional Irish breakfast, you know this to be a myth.
What happens very often with couples who travel is that they will order two meals, have left-overs, and box food that goes to waste. It’s wiser to either get one entree or two appetizers and split it. The benefits are beyond financial also, as one of the things that bogs down enjoyment while traveling is spending too much time in bars and restaurants, over-indulging from the menu and then feeling too sluggish to do anything in the city.
Dine Less, Snack More
This is similar to the point above, but really requires more of a change in philosophy and the way we think about eating when we travel.
What I mean by dining less and snacking more is simply this – instead of every meal having to be a true meal, think about it as grazing. Too many travelers have the concept of eating “three squares” per day while they travel, and it’s something Tracy and I generally disagree with. If you can have a few bites of something in the morning, maybe take a snack during the day, split a lunch and have a cheap snack in the evening, you’re going to save considerably on your food cost. You may even be able to splurge for a nice meal or two, something that is worth sitting down for a few hours and enjoying, instead of eating three squares on auto-pilot.
A great way to do this is by finding the local or regional market where you can find easy, to-go meals that are inexpensive and portable. When we’re in London, grabbing a few Tesco sandwiches has saved us more than a pound or two, and allowed us to have something quick without breaking the bank and stopping our sight-seeing adventures around the city!
Free Walking Tours
A great thing to do on Day 1 in any new city is a Free Walking Tour. You can find organizers of these meet-ups in virtually any city with a tourist presence, who work on tips or up-sell opportunities (free walking trip on which they sell canal trips, etc…). These are always safe, informative, and provide a great scan of the city without spending a single dime.
When we were in Munich, we started our trip with a free walking tour in the center of the Marienplatz, which lasted over two hours and did a wonderful job of getting us acquainted with the city. Not only was it historically informative, but all along the way the tour guide gave great tips and locations for some of the less-touristy, more authentic locations to enrich our experience. We’ve made these Free Walking Trips a must since that experience.
Buy Alcohol at Duty Free
Most people enjoy having a few drinks on vacation and we’re no different. Like all couples, when we’re on vacation we’re also drinking for two. While there’s always time for a Guinness in an Irish bar, buying all of your drinks in bars and restaurants is an absolute budget buster.
Luckily, Duty Free is a great option for stocking the (hotel room) bar. Duty Free is an international-flights-only shop in most major airports around the world that sells various goods without paying local taxes. You’ll see a variety of items in these stores, from perfumes and souvenirs to high-end chocolates and alcohol. Alcohol can normally be bought for 30-50% cheaper than what it typically sells for in independent liquor stores.
In some countries where the government owns the liquor supply, such as Iceland, a bottle of liquor costs near the equivalent of a plane ticket making it beyond wise to pick up a bottle for the room in Duty Free. If you plan on having more than just a few drinks, do your pre-gaming in the room and “add-on” with the local fare in restaurants when you go out. Doing so will ease your bar tabs by at least 50%, saving you possibly hundreds of dollars over the span of a long vacation.
Speaking of budget busters that make no sense, let’s talk about cabs for a moment. .
First, in many cities (in America and abroad) cabs are an absolute racket, especially when the driver can tell that the rider isn’t a local. We’ve been in situations, when we were less experienced, where a cab driver managed to turn a five-mile drive back to the hotel into a a $60 loop around town. “There’s construction,” he said. Was there? I wouldn’t know because I’m not from there, and that’s the issue.
Cab drivers have a tendency to take advantage of ignorance, not only through elongating trips but also by making the correct trip at an inflated rate per quarter-mile or picking a route that may not be necessarily out of the way, but one where they know they’ll hit traffic.
There are a few cities in which we’ve taken cabs and felt like we were being dealt fairly abroad, namely Dublin and London (use only the black cabs), but for the most part you would be wise to use the train, subway, metro, or even walk. A handful of cab rides can easily run you $100 or more simply from the airport for two people, and in most cities there are far better options available.
So, when is it right to use a cab? When you have to, or when you know exactly where you’re going. In these cases, tell the cab driver up front, in a kind way, that you know where you’re going. Say your address, and tell the cab driver the first couple of steps on how to get there. “We’re heading to the Harding Hotel. Just take a right on this street and you’ll cross the Liffey – it’s at the end of Grafton Street next to Temple Bar.” (This didn’t happen in Dublin, just using it as an example) They’ll know that you know, and they’ll bypass you for the next unsuspecting victim.
Obviously, if you are out and the trains or buses are no longer running, you may have to opt for a cab ride. My advice? If you do have to get a cab in this situation, and you don’t know by heart where you’re going, use the GPS on your phone to keep the driver honest. If you see them getting quirky or getting off track, tell them you have it pulled up and there’s a better way (don’t be immediately accusatory). Sometimes the driver may actually know a better way and is trying to accommodate a faster route – but, sometimes they aren’t.
Go for the Greenery – Visit Parks
Parks are incredible for couples on vacation, not only from the aspect of their beauty, but from the variety of scenery in and around parks.
In most cities, parks double as cultural icons and places where history is commemorated through statues, gardens named after famous citizens and myriad other artistic expressions. Another bonus? Romance is off-the-charts in most parks. All you have to do is pick up a few snacks and a bottle of wine, grab a blanket, walk through a charming neighborhood, enjoy the scenery and set the stage for a memorable and romantic experience.
Outside of most parks, there will be small shops and museums that coincide with the park and its history. Through these shops, you’ll often find unique experiences that won’t be available through most of the city due to its relation to this park specifically.
As touristy as they might be, we’re huge fans of using Hop-On Hop-Off buses in larger cities.
Think about the cost. Two tickets for a Hop-On Hop-Off might run you $60-70 for two days. One cab ride across town and back can cost you that same amount. With unlimited trips on the bus, they make for an ideal method in getting around town, seeing the major tourist locations without having to search for them, and experiencing the area around those landmarks.
Additionally, if you work through your hotel or the local Tourism Office, you can get tickets for the Hop-On Hop-Off bundled with museum tickets for other attractions for only a few dollars more.
Free (and Cheap) Museums
Museums contain literal treasures about cities and their histories, and most museums are cheap on entry and heavy on entertainment. Many are even free.
Our advice? Do a search on the top two or three museums in the city of your choice where you would like to go, then do another search for “free museums“. Mix the list up and visit some of each. You might be able to see as many as five on your trip for as little as $40 or $50 for both of you, and truly immerse yourself in the local culture, art, and history. In addition, there’s something very connecting and romantic about museums when traveling as a couple.
Take Your Camera for a Walk
You don’t have to be a travel blogger or professional photographer to enjoy taking pictures. An absolutely free way to enjoy a city is to just get lost in it, walk around with your camera in tow and allow the city to sweep you both away.
Too often when we travel are we going to or from something, and allowing yourselves to just roam around looking at architecture, art, and even the passing-by of the day. The pictures you get will document your trip, give you a little something to brag about on Instagram (perfectly acceptable), and you’ll find yourself more acutely aware of the city in which you’re staying without having spent a dime.
Food and Arts Markets
Food and Arts Markets are rich with cheap, affordable, or even free ways to pass the day and have a beautiful, romantic experience.
Especially in most European cities, one can find open-air street markets with artists, street food, local works and vendors for multiple blocks alongside riverbanks and popular city streets. Your commitment to spend a dime is nil, and these markets often afford opportunities to meet locals, experience local artistic flair and pass hours in what can seem like minutes.
These also give you the chance to buy real souvenirs. Instead of buying an over-priced key-chain in the airport, visit these markets to find small trinkets, normally for just a few dollars, and take a real piece of culture home with you.
You and your love can pick up a little street food, perhaps some wine, and sit along a park bench watching the activity of the market in full swing as you feel the true energy of the city come alive – all without breaking the bank.
Most couples tend to get frivolous with travel spending in impromptu ways, but this is well within your control! Understanding how to get the most out of your experience while also saving money affords you the opportunity to easily fix a bad trend – and enjoy it even more. If you’ve found yourselves getting to the end of your vacations low on funds and even lower on real experiences, these ten tips will give you everything you need to save money and travel the world together as a couple.