19 Hacks to Save Money While Traveling Solo
I couldn’t believe my eyes. After days of browsing destinations for a last-minute weekend trip, with flights in the $600s and hotels in the $300s glaring at me, I couldn’t really be seeing a one-way flight from Savannah, Georgia, back to New York City on JetBlue via Travelzoo for just $48.20. The “1 seat left at this price” alert toyed with me, and I couldn’t resist. Without thinking, I booked it.
I built an entire itinerary around that crazy deal—aiming to save money at every step without sacrificing safety or quality. My itinerary included a free walking tour around the historic district through Free Savannah Tours, a ghost tour for $19 (while others I saw were easily $30 to $45) by using a code on Ghost City Tours’ site, and a night at a 4-star oceanfront hotel for $99 at Westin’s Hilton Head Resort—with no additional resort fees, plus a free upgrade to a beach-view balcony room!
While solo travel may seem uneconomical since car rental, cab, and lodging bills aren’t split among fellow travelers, these tips and tricks can turn your trip for one into a money-saving journey.
Be Flexible on Destination
Since you don’t need to wait for others or consult anyone, you have the luxury of snagging last-minute deals. Use search tools like Kayak, Skyscanner, or Adioso, or an app like GTFO, which allow you to search flights to “anywhere.” I explored destinations as diverse as Ireland, Bermuda, and Nashville before landing on that one-way ticket return flight from Savannah on JetBlue for $48.20 (there was always the 24-hour cancellation policy, if I needed an out). After poking around further, I found an outbound flight for $73.20 on Delta, so the whole flight cost $121.40.
Travel in the Off-Season
While January is generally one of the cheapest months to travel, also consider the low season for your particular destination. That doesn’t mean just going to Costa Rica during the rainy months or the Jersey Shore when everything is boarded up. But if you’re considering a ski trip to Vermont, try for mud season—that sweet spot just after the peak powder season, but before the lush summer hiking weather begins. Or try for destinations south of the equator during their winter, when the climate might be cooler and damper—and thus, tickets will be cheaper.
Check One-Way Flights from Area Airports
Nowadays, there isn’t always a cost advantage to booking round-trip flights. Using a flight aggregator like Momondo, click the “timetable” option to look for the best deals on each leg. This may mean considering nearby airports (like flying into Paris’ Orly and out of Charles De Gaulle), but it’s also an opportunity to explore a different artery into the city.
Go Where the Exchange Rates Lead
By keeping an eye on the current economy, finding locations with the best exchange rate to cost-of-living ratio can add up to huge savings. For instance, with the Euro to U.S. dollar’s rate being so favorable for Americans now, you’ll save a significant amount when you travel to E.U. countries. And then take the cost of living in a country like Portugal, and those dollars go even farther. During my trip in November, I found the average entree at a decent sit-down restaurant to be between 8 and 12 Euros and a glass of fine wine to be about 4 to 5 Euros. And even “splurging” on a nice steak dinner at a crowded hot spot like Lisbon’s Sala de Corte meant cuts of meat started at just 16 Euros.
Take Advantage of Cities with Free Museums
For museumgoers, the price of entry to institutions like Paris’ Louvre (15 Euros) and Chicago’s Field Museum (topping out at $36 for an all-access pass) can add up. Opt for cities where you can breeze in and out of museums without admission fees. In Washington, D.C., the 19 Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo are all free, as well many of the key museums in London, including the British Museum, National Gallery, and Tate Modern.
Join A Solo Travel Group
Hang onto the savings of group travel, but leave the logistics to the professionals by searching for tour companies with a focus on attracting solo travelers. Travendly connects fellow young professionals in your hometown, while Flashpack caters to 30 to 45 year olds, and Eldertreks focuses on those 50 and up. Small group specialist Intrepid Travel offers solo-only departures, but say that more than half of the customers on their regular tours are single travelers. On these tours, you’ll meet fellow travelers to share expenses with. For example, the bulk of my group on a G Adventures Morocco trip stayed an extra day—so we ended up sharing cabs and guiding ourselves on a tour of Marrakech.
Avoid the Single Supplement
With solo travel on the rise, many companies are dropping the old school philosophy of single supplement fees. Both G Adventures and Intrepid Travel don’t charge extra fees—but offer the option of getting your own room for an additional fee, varying by destination and trip type. Premier River Cruises also guarantees no penalties for traveling alone.
Thanks to the trend of upscale hostels, these co-sleeping places now rival boutique hotels in chicness—at a fraction of the cost. Even though I arrived past sundown, it was simple to find the Tattva Design Hostel, right around the corner from the train station in Porto. The aquarium lounge, rooftop terrace with BBQ grills, and a DIY crepe station at the breakfast buffet were just a few of the surprises in the hostel, with beds starting at $14.27. Chains like Generator Hostels, with 12 locations in Europe, focus on design, while Che Lagarto, in 21 South American cities, place an emphasis on community.
Check Hostel Calendars
The added bonus of staying in a hostel is access to the programs and activities they offer, often for low or no cost. For example, the Lost Inn in Lisbon is in a centrally located 18th-century palace and has weekly cooking classes on Mondays, sangria night on Saturdays and Mama’s Soup meal every Sunday. In Taipei, the Meander Hostel hosts pineapple-cake-making nights, while the Community Hostel in Quito hosted an American-style Thanksgiving dinner for travelers away from home on the holiday.
Search for a Single Room
If hostels aren’t your style, you can still shave money off your stay by finding a hotel with a single room meant for one. Five years ago, I scored a twin-bed room in a charming Victorian townhouse in London’s Notting Hill at, what was at the time, a Shaftesbury hotel, for an average of 57 pounds a night. Admittedly, there was barely enough square footage for me and my suitcase, but it gave me the experience of waking up in the heart of my favorite London neighborhood. In Berlin, I stayed in a roomy modern single for 80 Euros in the centrally located Circus, which has both a hostel and hotel. Cruise lines including Norwegian Cruise Lines and Lindblad Expeditions offer single occupancy rooms for about 30 percent less than a regular cabin.
Find a Roommate
Leave those extra pairs of shoes at home! Avoid baggage fees by traveling with only a carry-on bag (here are some of the best things to pack when traveling solo). With fewer bags, you’ll be able to easily navigate public transportation or walk around. When I was trying to get to the bus station a few kilometers away from my hotel in Stockholm, I started looking for a cab, then a metro, but soon realized even with my rolling suitcase over the cobblestones, walk was more direct (and scenic).
Purchase a Local SIM Card
When traveling alone, the ability to look up maps and information on the go is invaluable. I used to splurge on the cheapest international plan AT&T had to offer at the time, usually running upwards of $30. But after the stress of counting megabytes when I was turned around on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, trying to find my way to the Quai Branly Museum, I started looking for other options. My cousin, who was studying abroad in London, mentioned he paid only about $15 for SIM card and just kept adding on when it was low, so I unlocked my old cell phone and gave it a shot. Without speaking the language, I found my way to a cell phone store in Casablanca, where I got a week-long card for less than $10. The staff installed the card for me, so that I didn’t have to navigate the Arabic language. After testing a few different apps, I was good to go. I still turned off all the background refreshing apps, including email, and kept the phone on airplane mode when I wasn’t using it, so that the card lasted me the week.
Strategize Your Meal Plans
Take advantage of hotels with free breakfast to fill up—if you go toward the end of the time period, the big meal can tide you over through lunchtime. Then eat off-peak again with a late lunch/early dinner where you can take advantage of happy hour deals or enter a buffet (common in Las Vegas) during the end of lunch pricing. Those two large meals not only save the cost, but also afford you more time to explore. Or if two isn’t better than three, during your late lunch, take your leftovers with you and save them for dinner. For instance, when I ordered a pulled pork platter at Wiley’s Championship BBQ in Savannah at 2:30 p.m., I first loaded up the two pieces of Texas Toast with meat to make a sandwich for dinner, before digging into my lunch.
Split Your Rides
Time is money—or rather, spending a little extra time can save big money. Uber has turned global travel into a cinch, since you can direct drivers without struggling with a language barrier. In countries like Argentina, the exchange rate is so favorable to Americans that I zig-zagged around Buenos Aires for a week and the most expensive trip was a 37-minute ride across town during rush hour for $9.30. And in certain cities, you can cut the cost down further with UberPool. By pooling on an airport ride back home, a $31.56 ride turned into a $24 one—with just a 10-minute detour to drop off another rider. In New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., the savings can be even greater with apps like Via, which have set rates ($5 in New York City, $3.95 in Chicago, and $2.95 in D.C.).
Look for Free Walking Tours
The Free Walking Tours model that started in Europe, where the guides operate on a pay-what-you-can basis, has gone global. I’ve experienced them internationally in Stockholm, Lisbon, Reykjavik, Quito, and Rio, and domestically in Austin and Savannah. The tours are always genuine and in-depth, but the biggest benefit is the recommendations from the local guide, who understands the budget of a traveler seeking out a “free” tour. In pricey Sweden, where a simple restaurant meal could easily surpass $30, our guide suggested Kajsas Fisk, in a food hall basement, for top-notch quality fish soup for about $12—with free refills and all-you-can-eat bread and salad.
Snag Single Show Tickets
That lone seat in the middle row could be your ticket to a cheap seat at a concert or show. During a solo trip to Vienna, I bought a single ticket with obstructed views to a production of The Sound of Music at the Volksopera Wien for 7 Euros, During the break, I followed a few others to a lower section that was mostly empty and enjoyed the second half there. It was such a great experience that I immediately bought another ticket for the next night—this time an 11 Euro ticket for Arabella at the State Opera. The seat was in a second row of a box off to the side with obstructed views. But a few minutes into the show, half the people in the box suddenly left and the rest of us moved forward into the coveted (well-over $100!) seats.
Don’t Pay Foreign Transaction Fees
Currency exchange kiosks can suck a huge chunk of money out of your wallet, as can foreign transaction fees on most credit cards. Depending on your level of spending and travel, there’s a wide range of no-fee cards to look into: Bank of America’s BankAmericard Travel Rewards has no annual fee, Barclaycard’s Arrival Plus uses chip-and-pin technology to eliminate issues using machines abroad, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with a hefty annual fee of $450, but the benefits (include $300 of automatic travel credits) pay that amount off quickly.
Google for Discounts Before You Buy
Before paying for anything, I always do a quick Google search with the words “discount” or “code” to see if anything pops up. For traditional Korean spa King Spa in Palisades Park, NJ, this led me to a $20 admission on Groupon, compared to their regular price of $45. And when I was looking for ghost tours in Savannah (a must in the so-called most haunted city in the U.S.!), I found that by subscribing to Ghost City Tours’ newsletter, I got a 20 percent off coupon to use immediately. This may seem like a hassle, but the savings quickly add up.