Advice for the frugal: Save money when you’re already there!

So you’ve bought your plane ticket and your reasonably priced accommodation is booked! You’re proud of yourself for spending as little as possible on the basics without compromising on comfort. You’re all set to go! But another hurdle awaits you. This one has the potential to leave you bruised by the time you get back home! And that’s your spending behavior when you reach your destination!

It’s easy to have a “You-Only-Live-Once” attitude when you’re in a new country. To get swept up in the excitement and say yes to everyone and everything but there is no need to be over the top at your own expense when traveling (not vacationing) to another country! Sure enough, some of us are really good at planning for our splurges but for those who aren’t, listen up. Reality is you’ll have to come back and deal with the consequences of depleting your bank balance. When it comes to money, stay in your lane. Also, saving money on a trip is an active exercise but it can also be fun!

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Enjoying local beers at Road House Grill, Upper Hill Nairobi

From my experience traveling with guys, I now know what not to do when it comes to my money while on a trip so here are some tips. In this blog post I share some tips based on my recent experience in Kenya but also from previous trips so this may or may not be applicable to other areas.

  1. Declare your budget upfront

Firstly, you should save towards your spending money in a dedicated “Trip Spending” account, rather than free-style it. If you’re traveling with people (and even if it’s a solo trip) decide what you have set aside for spending and declare up front what your budget is. You need to be honest with yourself about what you can afford and what you’d like to do while in that country. And it’s perfectly okay to have a smaller budget than others.  You’ll still have a great time I promise! Check prices for those activities that you absolutely have to do, put money aside for them and commit yourself to doing them.

Remember to decide how you will pay for things as a group and if everything shared will be split and then communicate what you are comfortable with. You don’t want to be taking care of an expensive bill at the club while someone else pays for the street food,especially if that was not the agreement.

  1. Consider a daily budget

Sounds childish I know but it’s super useful! After paying for all major expenses like flights and accommodation, calculate a rough “daily budget” from your entire spending budget by doing some research about the cost of living, how strong your currency is, and what the daily cost of living is BEFORE your trip. I use LonelyPlanet travel guides. This is only a guideline but I enjoy that they give different ranges for different budgets. Of course you will randomly want to buy something but the better you plan the less you waste and the less guilty you feel. Calculate roughly how much meals, beers and transport costs and divide your budget up accordingly. Also have some extra money just in case something unexpected comes up. For example, one day in Mombasa could include the following:

  • Tuk tuk to Shanzu beach at 250KSh (35 ZAR or 10 ZAR p/p)
  • Private taxi to Mombasa CBD/Old Town at 1000KSh (140 ZAR or 35 ZAR p/p)
  • Damascus Chicken Shawarma + Tamarind Juice/Soda costs 250-300KSh (42 ZAR p/p)
  • Walking through the Old Town free
  • Dinner at Forodhani Restaurant – Mutton Biryani costs 420KSh (60 ZAR p/p)
  • Matatu back home (because our local friend showed us how easy it was) for 50KSh (7 ZAR p/p)
  • TOTAL: 2020 KSh (288 ZAR)
  1. Multiple ATM withdrawals are a trap!

On a recent trip to Kenya I probably made close to 10 ATM withdrawals, which is ridiculous if you ask me! And all because of my lack of planning. This can set you back some hundreds of rands which could be used on an activity or eating a really good meal. In Kenya, there were some places we visited in Mombasa and Lamu that only used M-Pesa or cash for payments. Swipe in the places that accept cards. Some banks like Capitec charge you zero for card swipes and conversion fees. And then withdraw enough money to pay for public transport, food and shopping in the places that mainly accept cash. Aim for no more than 2-3 withdrawals.

FYI M-Pesa is a mobile money service launched by Vodafone for cellphone network providers like Safaricom, which I came across in Kenya. You can pay for anything using it as virtually everyone in Kenya has a registered M-Pesa account, from the street vendor selling snacks to your taxi driver.

  1. Public transport is your best friend!

Use public transport as far as possible, whether that’s a tram or walking in Bonn, Germany; a train in Portugal or a matatu (public taxi) in Kenya! It is so much cheaper than private transport and will save you lots of money. It’s also just a real and simple way to live and feel like a local and to immerse yourself in the county’s way of life. But also, why spend 1000 Kenyan shillings on a private taxi when you can spend about 300 shillings on an Uber or 50 shillings on a matatu? Unless the distance you need to travel and the size of your luggage requires a private car (e.g. from the airport to your accommodation) don’t do it.

I must add though – every time I have used public transport in another country I had a friend explain or show me the way until I was confident enough to do it independently. If you don’t have any friends in the country you’re visiting, ask security personnel to guide you or someone else who seems to know what’s going on but don’t let not knowing the system stop you. It’s a liberating feeling knowing you’re able to hop on local transport and save cash while doing it.

  1. Food can be a big expense!

If the airline overfeeds you take that food or those snacks with you (one meal less to have to pay for right?). Another idea is to buy non-perishable snacks back home like breakfast bars, dried fruit, rice-cakes, pretzels, etc. I did this for my Kenya trip and it was helpful for those lazy mornings or when the next meal was a couple of hours away. If you stay at a hostel that offers a buffet style breakfast, make an extra sandwich to-go (really, don’t be shy) and lastly, eat street food mostly and then eat out occasionally when you know it’ll really be worth it. If most of your meals are cheap or you save on breakfasts and lunches, you’re better able to treat yourself to a really good dinner guilt-free.

  1. Negotiate!!!

While in many countries the prices are fixed, there are plenty more where the culture of haggling is normal. I prefer the word “negotiate” but you get what I mean. This was the case in Bali and in Kenya. Sometimes we were asked “How much do you want to pay me?” and our host in Lamu who took us on a day excursion to various islands charged us a low price but said if we felt the experience was worth more, we could always top it up afterwards. Most times you get much more than what you paid for and if the service is good and people were really good to you make sure you tip! I literally wrote down the price of every item I was interested in at the market in Kenya and then walked around comparing and looking for the best price. I also made it clear to vendors that I was a fellow African who doesn’t work with dollars. This created a level of understanding and common ground. I did so confidently and saved about 1000 Kenyan shillings in total.

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Just as an example, at one store I was charged 2000KSh for a bag and at another I was charged 1500KSh for the same bag after negotiating. I then bought another bag to show support and appreciation for his good prices. It takes some work to write notes, take photos so that you remember but it makes you less of a tourist and more of a traveler. It’s also fun to see that vendors are impressed with your negotiating skills!

I hope the above tips helped you realise that there are ways to save money but still enjoy the country you are in and that whatever your budget, you can travel and have a great time! Every trip is different and so your attitude towards money will be too. The most important thing is to have a good time! Feel free to share your experiences with money while traveling and if you need any more advise The Lived Experience is happy to help.





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