5 Affordable Items That Save Me Money When I Travel

I love to travel, but I also love to save money. Unfortunately, those two things don’t often go hand in hand. Scour all the flight deal websites you want, but you’re still going to have to pony up some cash to get a plane ticket. And that beachside hotel, or guided mountain hike, or five-star restaurant meal? Don’t expect those to come cheap, either.

Since I’m not willing to stay home and leave the world unexplored, I’ve started testing out other ways to save money while I travel. Here are a few that work well for me.

1. Packing cubes

Give me the option of checking a bag or going carry-on only, and I’m picking carry-on. I prefer to keep all of my possessions within eyesight for several reasons: I want to avoid the waiting game at the baggage carousel, I don’t want to stress about lost luggage, and I don’t want to pay a checked bag fee. 

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The average cost for a single checked bag is $30 to $35 — one way. A roundtrip flight can cost an extra $70 with a checked bag. A set of compression packing cubes, on the other hand, can cost less than $20 and shrink down your wardrobe into a small enough pile to fit in a carry-on bag. 

After one trip, you’d be ahead $50. And since these bags can last as many years as you can take care of them, you’re in a good position to save hundreds of dollars on checked bag fees.

2. Bar of laundry soap

Another trick to keep my packing list down for longer trips is to wear items more than once. That way, I can stick to my carry-on bag rather than bring half my closet with me. One really affordable way to do this is to pack a bar of laundry soap. Again, this small investment can save me $70 roundtrip on checked bag fees.

I purchased a solid laundry soap bar for around $12 a year and a half ago, and it still has a lot of sudsy life left. It tucks away easily into my luggage and allows me to hand-wash some of my clothing items while I travel, meaning I get to pack lighter. It’s also great for spot-cleaning small stains and spills while on the road, so I can eat salsa-covered tacos al pastor to my heart’s content.

3. Google Maps

Affordable is great, but free is even better. I like to save the offline version of Google Maps for the areas I’ll be traveling before I head out on a trip. This allows me to search and navigate without having to pay for wifi or cell service.

I spent a week driving the south coast of Iceland last summer, and Google Maps was a great money saver. Rather than paying my cellphone service provider $10 per day, I just downloaded Google Maps for the area ahead of time, saving me $70. I was even able to get directions to a crepe truck next to a glacier lagoon with zero cell service. Technology is wild.

4. Travel guidebooks from the library

I interned one summer at a travel guidebook publisher, so I still have a soft spot for doing some of my trip planning out of a book. However, I don’t love the idea of paying for an entire guidebook that I’ll likely only use part of, and only use once. 

My husband came up with the idea of checking out travel guidebooks from the library to do some of our research before a trip. This gives us access to a lot of well-vetted travel tips and detailed maps for exactly zero dollars, all while supporting our local library. Win-win, I say.

5. Rewards credit cards

I don’t have a very deep roster of credit cards in my wallet, but it’s a very targeted collection. For travel credit cards, I’ve selected two that match my spending and travel habits to not only earn me rewards but also provide perks I’ll use for my vacations.

I have a cobranded credit card for an airline that I fly with often. It includes free checked bags, priority boarding, and two annual airport lounge passes among its perks, saving me quite a bit each year. I also have a general travel credit card that earns bonus points on all my travel-related spending. I’m able to earn extra reward points that I can then redeem for future travel, making my vacations cheaper. 

Many rewards credit cards come with an annual fee, but depending on how many of the perks you can benefit from, you can come out well ahead in the end.

Save money without spending a lot

If you’d like to travel more but have trouble making it work for your budget, give some of these tips a try. By keeping your checked baggage fees down, taking advantage of free planning options, and making rewards credit cards work for you, you’ll be able to get out and see the world with a lot less worry.

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