If you’ve ever gone abroad before, you’ll have almost certainly thought at some point that you’ve spent more than you wanted. Maybe it was a holiday where you spent too much on gifts and souvenirs. Or maybe it was underestimating the relocation costs when moving into a new place for the first time.

Either way, going abroad for the short or long-term has a way of squeezing our wallets even when we think we’re frugal.

If you’ve never been abroad before then this post should help you avoid the experience of buyer’s remorse that so many of us have had and set you on the right path to saving money while maximising your experiences. If you’ve been abroad before, this post should help you go one step further to avoid overspending.

The tips here are mostly focused on travellers, digital nomads and shorter-term visitors abroad but they can also apply to long-term residents who’ve moved overseas.

Book all flights as soon as you can

The first step when going abroad for most of us is flying. If you’re a traveller, the flights will constitute your highest expense for your trip along with the accommodation. The ability to obtain good prices for flights is an art in itself.

Fortunately, I wrote a guide that contains all you need to know about booking the best flights possible for your journey.

It’s best to follow this process of booking flights as early as you can. The reason for this is because flight prices are notoriously difficult to time. They fluctuate according to the whims of the market forces which include the airlines, customer behaviour and everything else in between.

The only reliable constant with flight prices is that they’ll tend to rise closer to the date of the flight. Therefore, buy your flights as early as you can.

Don’t listen to those who claim definitive hacks for timing flight prices such as booking a flight on a particular day of the week or leaving it to the last minute. There’s no guaranteed trick for success—you might be lucky to snatch a good deal every now and then with such tactics but in the long run the odds are against you. Your best bet is to follow the guide’s process as soon as you know where you’re going abroad to.

Saving Money Flights

Consider alternatives to hotels

Up until the last decade, travellers who weren’t staying with family or friends overseas were essentially forced to use one option for accommodation—hotels.

Now, the growth in software-as-a-service platforms (SASS) on the internet has disrupted industries in ways never imagined to provide more choice to consumers and the accommodation industry is no exception.

At the time of writing, you’ll no doubt have heard of major players providing alternatives to hotels such as Airbnb.

Airbnb is the worldwide leading SASS platform for rental accommodation. It allows property owners and leasers to rent out their homes to visitors for short or long-term stays. Instead of isolated copy-paste rooms, you can share the home of a local and achieve a more authentic experience in the country (although there are private accommodation options as well). Many Airbnb hosts offer hotel-esque services such as daily room cleaning so you don’t have to miss out in that regard either. Due to the range of hosts willing to rent out their homes, prices on Airbnb are competitive with those of hotels.

Another similar platform is Vrbo. Unlike Airbnb, Vrbo only displays whole houses, apartments or condos, you don’t share the space with the property owner or resident.

The improvement in customer options SASS has provided is not restricted to C2C platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo. As with online flight bookings there are aggregator sites that capture a wide range of accommodation options on the web and compile them together in one place for convenience. The strength of these aggregator platforms is that they include a variety of accommodation options depending on your needs. They compare hotels, homes, apart-hotels, villas and more against one another without you having to switch between different websites.

Booking.com is a go-to aggregator platform for many. It has a massive scope of accommodation options across the globe. It’s impeccable filtering options allow you to hone in on what’s important to you in where you stay whether that’s price, size, distance from specific areas etc. Of course, in filtering by price, you’ll quickly be able to see the cheapest options that meet your minimum parameters.

Agoda is another aggregator platform. It shares many of the features of Booking.com and offers a similar range of accommodation options. In particular, Agoda is strong for accommodation options in Asia.

Last but not least are the cheapest possible alternatives to hotels—homestays and hospitality exchanges. They’re the cheapest because in most cases, they’re free. With homestay options, like Airbnb and Vrbo you’re staying in the homes of locals but unlike those sites, the convenience factor is usually low since you often don’t get your own room or space. A local is offering you a free roof over your head with no extras. In trading off quality and convenience in where you sleep, you get to meet locals and share a more authentic experience with natives from a country than even Airbnb can provide.

One of the most famous hospitality exchange platforms is CouchSurfing. As the name suggests, many of the homestays on offer are locals offering a visitor the chance to sleep on their couch although due to the popularity of the platform since it began, there are hosts that give individuals their own rooms. In recent times, CouchSurfing introduced a subscription fee for the use of its platform, however the fee is much lower than paying for any type of accommodation on another platform and so maintains its reputation as one of the cheapest options.

Another hospitality exchange platform is Couchers.org. The platform formed as an alternative to CouchSurfing after it introduced a subscription fee. Couchers.org is growing in membership and vows to maintain a free to use service making it the pure zero cost option on this post.

All the options covered show how empowered customers now are in finding better deals for places to stay abroad in. You may end up staying in a hotel (hopefully getting the best price via an aggregator platform) but by being aware of strong alternatives, you should never have to rely on expensive hotels again if you don’t want to.

Saving Money Hotels

Lean towards the high estimation side when budgeting

No guide on saving money abroad would be complete without mentioning budgeting.

A budget acts as an accountability partner you thought you didn’t need but are grateful is around later on. It’s the overview on finances that frames your spending habits in advance allowing you to know how lavish or tight you can be with your money. Without it, it’d be impossible to calibrate your use of money overseas resulting in the buyer’s remorse all too many are familiar with.

A budget can be as simple or as detailed as you’d like, the key is to make one and make it before you head abroad.

However you make your budget, I recommend erring on the high estimation side.

What this means is take the spending estimates in your budget and assume that you’ll exceed them during your time abroad.

In practice, you may have a line-by-line expenses list in your budget that calculates how much you think you’ll spend on particular categories (transport, accommodation, food etc.). Whatever your total estimation per category, assume you have underestimated the cost and weight it higher.

Do this even if you think you’ve been stringent with your estimations.

For example, let’s say you expect your total cost on food for a two week trip to be: $280. Err on the high estimation side by multiplying your estimate by a constant to weight it higher. An assumption that in reality you’ll spend one and a half times more than your estimate yields:

£280 x 1.5 = $420

Do this for all spending categories to give yourself a broader estimation of what you might actually spend overseas.

The reason for this higher weighted estimation is the planning fallacy. The planning fallacy is one of the most pernicious biases humans have. We have a tendency to underestimate how much time and money we’ll spend on our endeavours whether they’re for work or leisure.

Even if you consider yourself to be the most precise and disciplined person when planning, you’ll likely succumb to the planning fallacy at some point. Experience has shown that knowing the bias isn’t enough to counter it completely. Therefore using a factor to err on the higher estimation side future-proofs your overseas spending.

You don’t have to use a factor of 1.5 to weight your cost estimates but a range of successful individuals use this factor even if it seems high.

Regardless of whether you use a factor of 1.15, 1.5 or a figure in between, make sure you’re erring on the high estimation side when budgeting for spending. It’ll provide a buffer that prevents you from being caught off guard with unexpected costs when abroad.

Saving Money Budgeting

Use an expense tracking app

If you’ve prepared an idea about expected costs pre-trip, you’ll want to know if you’re in line with them during it. This is where expense tracking apps come in.

Expense tracking apps allow you to input your spending on the go on your smartphone allowing you to see in realtime your total spend per day. Monitoring your costs this way is quick and convenient—you don’t have to open up a spreadsheet each night and guess how much you spent earlier.

My go-to expense tracking app is TravelSpend. Along with the ability to update your expenses with no stress, it provides visualisations of your spending categories so you can follow the line-by-line spending on your budget (as above) if desired. It’s convenience extends to currency conversion—you can input your expenses in any currency and it’ll convert it into your home currency even offline so you know exactly how much you’re spending.

There are other applications available too; whichever you use they’ll allow you to check and adjust your spending in realtime rather than play a guessing game on how much you’ve spent in a different currency which is typical of many people’s trips.

Water bottles for the win

This is a small tip but impactful nonetheless. Drink costs are something most people don’t consider when budgeting with the assumption that drinks are a minor expense included with food. 

But the reality is most people spend more on drinks than they realise. Yes, this is excluding alcohol.

Many people need a ‘caffeine fix’ several times a day or get caught thirsty while walking. In particular, if you’re out during summer you’ll need to rehydrate often. All those minor water and coffee purchases add up. If you track your expenses as above, by the end of your trip you’ll probably be surprised at how much you spent on drinks.

There are advantages to carrying a good quality water bottle. For one, it helps you avoid caving in and buying drinks here and there when out. It’s also better for the environment compared to the single use plastic bottles of drinks from shops.

There are many high quality water bottles out there to research, you can even find foldable versions if saving space in your suitcase is paramount.

As an added note, if you’re in a country where the tap water isn’t potable (drinkable), consider boiling it before adding it to your bottle. If you can’t do this or don’t want to drink tap water anyway, make sure you factor in non-alcoholic drinks as an expense in your budget so they’re accounted for.

Learn how to avoid scams and touts

It isn’t nice to hear but in whatever country you visit, there’ll always be scammers and touts looking to take advantage of people. Travellers and non-residents are their primary targets due to the lack of knowledge those people have about the area.

Avoiding scams alone can be the most valuable thing you can do for your bank balance when abroad. There are horror stories about the amounts people have been ripped off for on holiday, amounts that far exceeded what the people spent on their flights or accommodation.

For starters, be aware that scammers and touts operate in common areas. They’re not looking to carry out intricate heists, they want to play a numbers game with who they can trick. This means they frequent popular tourist sites. If you’re vigilant in tourist spots and read other people, particularly those who approach you offering something, you’ll evade being scammed.

There are many types of scams out there but some of the most common across the world include:

– Individuals pretending a venue or attraction is closed for the day and offering you an alternative such as a tour which will involve you paying a lot more than you bargained for.

– Promoters offering you ‘amazing’ discounts at bars or restaurants but the real bills are substantially higher due to ‘add-ons’ or worse, mark-ups enforced by local mobs.

– People offering you a flower or ‘gift’ on the street only to ask you for money once it’s in your hands.

By far the most common scam not restricted to tourist areas is being overcharged by taxi drivers. Depending on the country, certain taxi drivers have a range of tricks including pretending the meter is broken (it never is) or deliberately taking customers the long way round to squeeze as much as they can from them.

Before getting into a taxi, make sure the driver turns the meter on or agrees a fixed price you’re ok with. An extra tip is to show prices on Uber or another ride-hailing app to the driver to haggle their price down. If the driver doesn’t turn the meter on or seems shady, don’t get in. There are other taxi drivers who won’t scam you.

It’s best to research potential scams in the country you’re going to in advance. The upside of this research is staggering when you think about it—it doesn’t take long, often only a handful of minutes, yet could save you from a horror scam where you lose hundreds if not thousands.

A site I like for research on a country is Wikitravel. It gives free comprehensive insights into countries and is often updated by residents in those places. This includes information on common scams so is worth checking.

Saving Money Taxis

Travel isn’t an excuse to become a consumerist on the fly

I get it. Travelling is fun and liberating. A chance to escape the rigmarole of daily life back home and indulge in a type of freedom you don’t always get in your home country.

But I’ve never understood why this indulgence extends to buying typical products when abroad.

By typical, I mean branded items you can find in your own country such as high-street clothing, big brand cosmetics and well-known electronics.

With few exceptions, almost all the categories mentioned along with many others can be bought in a person’s country of origin. The same brands, the same products. If not on the high-street then almost certainly online.

Too many tourists and travellers buy goods when overseas from brands that are perfectly available to them back in their home country because ‘why not, we’re on holiday’. Yes, this factors in duty free considerations.

The problem is this attitude is a surefire illogical way to drain your bank account. It’s illogical since you could do the exact same thing back home but instead you’re doing it after paying for flights and accommodation elsewhere.

The worst culprits are tourists who indulge in luxury goods purchases overseas such as fashion or watches. If there’s one type of industry whose brands are ALWAYS present wherever you go in the world, it’s the luxury goods industry. You know the brands, I don’t have to name them. This means those people could have bought the same luxury items in their home country but thought it made sense to only do it when abroad.

Don’t equate the feeling of wanderlust that travel brings with liberal spending.

Sure, spend on local goods, artisanal products and unique items you can’t buy anywhere else. Indulge in one-of-a-kind experiences in a country even if they’re pricey.

But avoid purchasing the same old stuff you get when in your own country. It won’t make you happier and it’s a one-way ticket to buyer’s remorse, remorse often only discovered once you unpack your suitcase back home.

In addition, avoid instant gratification and don’t purchase the first items you see. This means if you’re buying products abroad such as souvenirs or local items, don’t rack up a collection of them within your first few days.Explore and weigh up different options first and then buy them towards the end of your trip. Along with saving money, you’ll avoid the annoyance of running out of space in your suitcase too soon.


Most of us know the feeling of spending too much when abroad. We tell ourselves that we won’t spend us much next time but find our wallets squeezed for more than we bargained for in the same way when the time comes.

There are many things we can do to course correct for saving money abroad.

Following a process for booking flights will maximise saving money while allowing you to get the flight you want. Use the process as early as you can for best results.

Booking alternative types of accommodation than hotels can lead to significant savings as along with flights, where we stay is often the biggest expense. Rental accommodation platforms, aggregator sites and hospitality exchange services empower customers with a broader range of options helping them find better deals on accommodation.

When budgeting, assume your estimated costs are lower than reality and lean towards higher estimated costs by multiplying your estimates by a factor. This will help you avoid the planning fallacy and create a more realistic budget.

Use an expense tracking app to log your day-to-day spending abroad. This will help you see if you’re on track with your budget and prevent overspending.

Use a water bottle instead of buying bottled drinks or coffee every other hour. It’ll save you a lot in minor expenses that add up by the end of your trip.

Do prior research about the place you’re visiting to learn about any common scams there. Avoiding scams is just as valuable to your bank account if not more so than anything else.

Last but not least, avoid the mindset of hyper-consumerism many travellers hold which seems to amplify when abroad. Put your money towards unique items or experiences a country offers and avoid typical products on the high street which you can get back home.