11 Ways to Save Money When Traveling Solo
Traveling alone may seem daunting at first, but it can be rewarding and even have financial benefits, whether the budget includes relative luxury or weeks of backpacking and hostels -- especially for those who plan ahead. Here are some tips for planning and saving money on a solo trip.
It's smart to spend some time poking around the travel section of a bookstore and websites such as Independent Traveler before embarking on a solo trip. For a totally uncensored conversation and a chance to ask questions of more experienced travelers, try the /r/solotravel/ forum on Reddit. This subreddit attracts dozens of posts a day from people interested in talking and sharing experiences, and the advice can range from the general ("Solo travel involves some VERY lonely times even if you're super gregarious … there are times you might go 2-3 days without having a proper conversation," one Redditor says) to the super specific (locations, prices, and other concerns).
Domestically or abroad, hostels are an inexpensive option for lodging. Even high-quality hostels can be booked for a fraction of what a hotel would cost. Solo travelers can save more by booking an open bed in a dorm-style room, which may not always have more than one bed available, especially when booking close to travel dates. Hostels are also a good way to meet other people who are traveling alone. Check out websites such as the aggregator Hostelz for prices and reviews of hostels worldwide.
For the solo traveler who doesn't feel up to the hostel experience, Airbnb is another lodging option that can save significant money compared with a hotel. Full apartments can be found for low prices, and a room in a home or apartment can be rented for even less -- an option that might not provide enough space or privacy for a couple but can work great for solo travelers and provide a way to meet people.
Airlines can be sneaky with hidden or unexpected fees for checked luggage -- or, on some airlines, even carry-ons -- so the best way to skip the extra financial hassle is to pack light. Traveling alone is an especially easy time to bring only what's needed on a trip, because nobody else's belongings are spilling over into your suitcase. Packing light also leaves space to bring back souvenirs for loved ones who weren't along for the trip.
Going alone tends to allow a bit more flexibility when choosing travel dates. To find a good deal on a flight, track dates and price changes with an app such as Hopper or a website such as Kayak. (Keep tabs on sites such as Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline, as well, to ensure no good deal goes unnoticed.) Solo travelers can wait a while, if needed, to book the right flight at the right cost, or snag the last reward ticket with miles.
Skip the expense of trains and accommodations (almost) altogether during good weather by road tripping, renting a wagon big enough to allow for sleeping in the back. Many European countries have extensive highway services that include cheap public showers, which can delay the need for a hotel or hostel. One traveler reports spending only $350 for three weeks of car rental -- the cost of a Eurail global pass alone. Not up for sleeping in a car? Rent the smallest one that will accommodate just you and your luggage, to save on rental costs and gas.
With most rates based on double occupancy, cruise vacations can be expensive for travelers sailing alone. Some cruise lines offer programs for solo cruisers. Holland America Line, for example, has run a program matching up solo travelers of the same sex who want to share the cost of a double room. Many cruise lines also offer special activities for single travelers.
Some solo travelers swear by Workaway, where volunteers work for a few hours a day in exchange for food and accommodations -- with no minimum stay, although some arrangements can last for months. Listings in more than 135 countries are accessible after a $30 signup. "Workaway is pretty sweet, [with] lots of options and places," one redditor says. Another says that stints volunteering or working at farms, campsites, and as an au pair and English teacher were "some of the best experiences I've had."
Dining out morning, noon, and night gets expensive fast, eating away at a tight vacation budget -- and it's unnecessary when there's so much delicious street food in so many countries. Travel with another person and restaurant dining may seem obligatory; go alone and experience the delight of grabbing some fast falafel or crêpes from a cart. It's also easy to save money by grocery shopping for some meals instead of dining out for every meal. Search for hostels with free breakfast and a kitchen, consider buying food to prepare at an Airbnb, and try to eat lunch or dinner at home a few times during the trip. Especially when traveling alone, the amount spent on groceries will be low.
Use the web to meet other solo travelers and join up when it will save money -- avoiding the "single supplement" that hits when tour companies and other businesses quote per-person prices assuming there will be two or more travelers. (Solo travelers can wind up paying such a premium that there might as well be a second person, tourism experts warn.) In addition to listing cheap places to stay, Couchsurfing connects people and hosts events. The Travello app makes it easy to find other travelers and see their events, and female travelers can use a setting that lets them be seen only by other women.
A taxi might be a cost-efficient option for a group, but for a solo traveler, it's cheaper to ride public transit around town -- and a good way to interact with locals and get a feel for a place. Major cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco offer multi-day transit passes that offer unlimited rides for a certain number of days, which can be cheaper than paying per ride and sometimes even be bought in advance of arrival.