Slow on the Cheap: 5 Ways to Save Money with Slow Travel

(See also Quick and Slow: 5 Ways to Slow Travel on a Tight Schedule.)

One of my pet peeves with the way Slow Travel is usually depicted is that it comes across as an activity for the rich and idle. Articles like this one in WSJ Magazine talk about barge rides in the French countryside costing more than six thousand dollars. But what’s in it for the rest of us who don’t have a few grands in the bank?

Fortunately, there is something in Slow Travel for everyone, regardless of their budget. As a matter of fact, Slow Travel can easily be cheaper than regular travel. One major reason is that Slow Travel is not about luxury, but about life; things start costing a lot less when you travel with that goal in mind.

Here are 5 ways in which you can spend less and Slow Travel at the same time.

1. Rough it up a little

You don’t need all the luxury that modern tourism tempts you with. You can still travel in relative comfort by spending a lot less. Instead of booking a room in an international hotel, check out a local guesthouse, hostel, or family-owned hotel. Rough it up a little! Even if it’s a bit less comfortable, it’s just for a little while anyway. You don’t need to abandon your comfy travel habits all at once, either! Try it out gradually: if you’re used to fancy hotels, why not try a boutique hostel for a change?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to pamper yourself when you travel, but unfortunately, luxury tends to isolate you from the real world. By forsaking a bit of comfort, you’ll not only save money on your travels, but you’ll have a richer, more satisfying experience as a result.

 2. Eat simple meals

Shawarma in Old DamascusIf someone visited your home town or city and wanted to sample a local delicacy, would you send them to a no-frills neighborhood joint, or to a swanky hotel? You’ll never taste the real local flavors if you eat in fancy spots. These are not only expensive, but if they target tourists, then chances are they forego local flavors in favor of tastes that are not offensive to international palates.

Instead, check popular hangouts. If a place is packed with regular folks and it smells delicious, you’ve probably hit the jackpot. The less you pay for a meal, the more chances it has to be authentic.

Another great way to Slow Travel on the cheap is to do your own groceries. Whether you visit a local supermarket or a farmers’ market, you’ll experience a piece of daily life for people in your host country. Fresh markets in particular are a fantastic travel activity, filled with friendly exchanges and photo opportunities. Just be sure to open your mind to new possibilities; don’t seek out the familiar, try something new.

3. Move around less

One of the simple truths of Slow Travel is that travel is cheaper the less you move around. Whenever you move to a new place, you not only have to pay for transportation, but you have to relearn all the tricks you acquired at your previous destination.

When you spend a lot of time in one place, you start figuring out which parts of town have cheap accommodation and which rip off tourists. You learn where are the best and cheapest restaurants in town. You stop paying for a new sightseeing tour, and enjoy life instead. Ultimately, your appreciation for a place will deepen the longer you stay there.

4. Lighten your load

Look: you don’t need all those travel gadgets and accessories. You don’t need specialized clothes or a DSLR camera. Just dress the way you would back home in equivalent weather. Go light on gadgets. You’re visiting another country, not planning an expedition to Antarctica. We’re so used to thinking of travel as a gear-intensive sport that we forget how little we need that gear in the first place.

Souvenirs are another area where we spend tons of cash to just burden ourselves. Collect memories, not souvenirs. If you must bring a little something back for yourself or for friends and family, focus on the “little.” Your close ones will be just as happy if you bring them a small token of appreciation, and it’ll burden them less.

5. Embrace the ordinary

Never mind the expensive tours to the great sights: the best things about travel are right there in front of you, and they’re free. Talk to people you meet on the streets. Visit a regular, working class neighborhood. Sit in a park and watch parents play with their children. Have a picnic. Watch a sunset from the roof of the hotel. Ride the city bus instead of the tour bus.

These are all things that don’t cost a penny, and they’ll tell you a lot more about life abroad than any guided tour of an ancient ruin. This is the real culture of a place, as it exists here and now, and not preserved in museums. This is the authenticity so many travelers are looking for. And sometimes, what’s authentic is a couple of teenagers playing on their smartphones on the subway. It might not be as pretty as centuries-old monuments, but it’s as real as it gets.

Can you think of a time when spending less led to a better travel experience? Share it with us in the comments!

(Featured image source)

About Daniel Roy

Daniel is a writer, backpack foodie, slow traveler, and endurance runner. He is the author of the upcoming book, "The Way of Slow Travel: A Hands-On Guide to the Best Travel of Your Life."

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