Ways to Stretch Your Drifting Dollar

Most of us don’t have the financial fortitude to travel long-term as  care-free spenders. 

During my last trip, there were many ways that I was able to cut costs.  I’d like to share a few of them with you:

Stay in hostels: They’re probably the cheapest bet around, especially for the solo traveler.  Couples can often fare better sharing a room. A private room, even if slightly more than double the price of one in a dorm, is often a better value. In some countries rooms are cheap enough that hostels tend to be nonexistent.  If the hostel serves free morning coffee or tea, perhaps complimented by a meager breakfast, then more value is added.   Bring a towel, or sarong which is lighter than a towel but can be used in lieu of one, especially in warm climates.  Many hostels don’t offer free towels, some will charge for towel rentals.  A hostel is more apt than a hotel to have a kitchen.  Food can be relatively cheap if you shop properly at markets and grocery stores.  I think eating street food and trying cheap local eateries is a great part of the travel experience.  But if you really wanna stretch that drifting dollar, stay in hostels that have kitchens.  Bonus:  More than likely you’ll eat healthier if you cook yourself.

Wash an article of clothing by hand as often as possible:  It takes a few minutes to soak and manually scrub a bit. Rinse and hang anywhere you can, ideally out in the hot sun.  It only takes a few minutes a day.  The bar of by-hand laundry soap that I purchased cost $.35.  Every now and then it’s worth it to shell out a few bucks at a place that will do a load for you cheaply.  It’s nice to get the clothes super clean now and then.

Adapt the When in Rome Attitude:  Try to live as the locals do, especially the poorest people.  In Panama bus travel is very affordable. Panama City buses cost $.25.  If you get a seat, it’s a bargain. If you have to stand and come into close contact with people while the bus slows and speeds, dropping off and picking up as often as it increases velocity and slams brakes, then you get what you pay for.   Buses traveling outside of Panama City for stretches throughout the country cost roughly $2.50 per hour.  In Nicaragua, bus costs average about $1.00 an hour.  Living like a local can stretch your dwindling dollar beyond belief.  Look for staple eateries where residents eat.  It’s probably the best value in town.  If you’re in a tourist area, be patient, walk outside of the tourist zone.  When you see something interesting, check it out.  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Eat street food:  Hawker food is almost always cheaper than restaurant fare, and in some places, more inexpensive than cooking yourself in a hostel kitchen or apartment.  Try to focus on healthy stuff.  It’s fun.  I’ve had crappy, mediocre and phenomenal food from street peddlers in various lands.  It’s always interesting to try something new.  If it’s stupendous, I try to return.  Ceviche from the Mercado de Mariscos is an amazing value ($2) for a generous helping.  I found this to be phenomenal fare.  Eating at cafeteria-style Panamanian or Panamanian Chinese can provide an amazing value too.

Travel less/Stay in places longer:  Travelling less means paying transportation prices less often.  Staying in a place longer means you can negotiate deals with places of accommodation.  In El Valle de Anton, Panama, I saved $6 by staying for three nights at $13 per night as opposed to the $15 nightly cost.  At the Landing Hotel on Ometepe in Nicaragua, the first night in a hostel bed is $7, second night $6 and every consecutive night thereafter it’s $5 a bed.  They do similar price-drops with private rooms too.  It’s often possible to negotiate weekly prices.  If you can rent a place for a month, it’s possible to save over 50% compared to paying by the night.   The other economic advantage to staying in a city or town and getting to know it, is that you find out about better deals and spend less the longer you’re there.

Share with other Travelers:  Sharing food or accommodations with other travelers can often save you a couple to a few bucks.  This is especially true in expensive lands, and for solo travelers; but, even couples can save by going in with other drifters and cooking in a hostel kitchen. 

Take Overnight Transportation: Save on a Night of Lodging: This savings can be a small financial asset for the long-term traveler who has a day of being exhausted to waste.  However, for a short vacationer, it might not be worth having to spend a day potentially beat.  You know yourself and how overnight transportation affects you.   Or, if you don’t, give it a shot.  Get to know yourself.  The worst case scenario is that you killed two birds with every dollar by getting transportation and a night’s accommodation for the price of one.

Know a Few Words in the Local Lingua, especially the Numbers:  Taxi Drivers, bus drivers and people handling Money don’t always know how to speak English. If you can’t communicate in the local tongue, learn how to say the numbers.  With an hour or two of memorization over a couple of weeks, you can automate them into your brain.  Then you can haggle and easily set a price before venturing off in a cab.  Or, if someone blatantly rips you off, you can say the numbers and maybe yes and no and that may be enough to get your money back if you’re calmly diligent about it.   In San Jose, Costa Rica a woman double charged me for a pastry.  Although the overcharged amount was only $.90, I was easily able to get it back by saying,

No, noventa extra. Dame noventa atras porfa.”

Granted I used a grammatically incorrect sentence.  However, the key word was noventa meaning ninety.  With that word alone I would have been able to get my money back.  It’s not fair that people can blatantly rip you off.  Invest a little bit of time in the language and you’ll be taken advantage of less.  You’ll also be more respected, and your overall experience will be enhanced.

These are a few ways to stretch your currency.  Can you think of any more ways to get a better bang for your travel buck?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Great ideas.

    Reply

  2. I like this post a lot!

    Reply

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