Here are the two biggest techniques I use to save money whenever I go on super-long trips abroad (1-4 weeks).
1. Make sure your room has a small refrigerator, and buy as much food at the grocery store as possible.
One of the reasons so many people get murdered in their travel expenses is because they eat all three meals at restaurants. If you’re going away for a fun weekend vacation, that might be fine. But if you’re living abroad part time, that’s not going to work.
I always make sure that wherever I’m staying, regardless of it’s a hotel or an Airbnb apartment, has at least a small refrigerator. This is mandatory or I don’t stay there.
Then, when I arrive the first thing I locate is the nearest grocery store, even if it’s a smaller store like the equivalent of a Walgreens or CVS. I’ll make a quick trip over, buy one or two gallons of drinking water, some cheese for snacks, and perhaps a few pre-made cheap salads. Raw, unsalted nuts are also good because they satisfy hunger well and don’t need to be refrigerated.
I am constantly trying to force myself to eat grocery store food when I travel. The next best option is the cheapest place to eat salads I can find. If you hunt hard enough you can find salad bars with big yummy salads for just $8 or $9 a pop. Often I’ll buy three of them at a time and eat them over the next day or two.
I’m not saying I never go to a fancy restaurant when I travel. Believe me, I’ve dined in some of the most expensive restaurants in the world. But I consider that the exception to the rule and a once-a-week fun event.
2. Track every dollar you spend.
Whenever I travel internationally, every dollar I spend on incidentals (food, taxis, Uber, trains, and entertainment) gets tracked on a spreadsheet on my phone. This sheet shows me the average total expenses per day as well as a total for the trip. My goal is to always spend $70 USD per day or less, on average, for the entire trip. I try to get that to $60 if I can.
Why track these expenses? Because if you track it daily, it forces you to be careful. It forces you to stop and think before you just whip out some money to buy whatever. It makes you aware of buying a burger at a restaurant versus at a fast food joint where it will be one-fifth the price.
Even with my occasional fancy restaurant or other event, I always come in at under $70 per day on my international trips. I’m the only man I know who can regularly pull this off. You can too if you focus on it.
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