6 Ways to Travel On a Budget While in Expensive Countries

Budget travel advice often encourages people to seek out the least expensive destinations in the world. And yes, there are lots of exciting places where prices are far lower than those in the U.S., but what if they're not the destinations you want to visit? What if your heart is set on experiencing places that are widely regarded as expensive, like Hong Kong, the U.K., or Japan?

It's an unavoidable fact that the cost of living in some countries is more than it is in others. With some solid planning and a few compromises here and there, however, it's possible to go virtually anywhere on even the most meager of budgets.

1. Choose the right neighborhood

You've probably heard the phrase "location, location, location," and nowhere is this more accurate than when traveling in expensive countries. Choosing the right neighborhood to stay in can save you huge amounts of cash, not only when it comes to accommodation, but also on things like transportation and grocery shopping.

Staying right in the heart of the most popular tourist district will always be the most expensive option. However, you usually only need to head a few blocks out to find a better value. Residential areas are ideal because they will have local stores, restaurants, bars, and cafes that aren't aimed at tourists, and therefore don't have the inflated prices that come with them.

When my wife and I were trying to decide where to stay in Rome, we ended up saving a lot of money by finding a beautiful hotel in a less popular area, which was still a short bus ride or a walk from major sites.

A quick internet search of the best budget areas near your chosen location will usually offer some good options. (See also: 8 Most Affordable Beach Towns in Mexico)

2. Find the cheapest accommodation

Accommodation will ordinarily take up the majority of any travel budget, and even more so in countries with a high cost of living. But it's possible to cut that down, or even eliminate it altogether. Couch surfing is a wonderful way to get free accommodation, with the added bonus that you get to stay with a local and see things from their perspective. Be aware that couch surfing is very competitive in expensive countries, so you'll need to contact hosts weeks, if not months, in advance to successfully secure stays.

House sitting is another brilliant, budget-boosting option that can land you in high quality accommodations for free. When you house sit, you’re typically looking after a person’s pets as well as their home. You’ll need to sign up with a couple of different house sitting websites and fill out profiles on each of them. You’ll usually be charged a fee for the service, but it’s worth it if you end up getting free accommodations.

If you're looking for more traditional ways to save money on accommodations, then consider Airbnb or one of its many alternatives, which can be cheaper than hotels or hostels. Airbnb is extremely flexible, so you can book everything from a room in someone's house to an entire apartment, depending on how many people you're traveling with. (See also: 13 Ways to Get Free Travel Accommodations)

3. Walk, bike, or take buses everywhere you can

Transportation is typically another high cost in expensive countries, but there are plenty of ways to save on this expense. The easiest way to cut down on transportation costs is to walk as much as you possibly can. It's completely free and a good way to get to know an area.

Renting a bike is a good way to go longer distances and is usually less than the price of a cab or public transportation. Many cities now have bike rentals that are both low cost and convenient, allowing you to pick up and drop off bikes at various locations.

For traveling farther afield within a country, consider going by bus. In places like the U.K. and Japan, trains are readily available but they come at a high cost. The equivalent journeys by bus can save you a significant amount of money, with trips available for as little as a couple dollars if booked early.

When I was in Japan in November 2017, I walked pretty much everywhere, and actually preferred it. In cities like Tokyo, where the topography is flat and there are broad sidewalks, walking was a fun and easy way to get around and see the local way of life. Even if it was a 40-minute walk to another neighborhood, I'd take on the challenge and was rewarded with views, brisk air, and interesting local experiences along the way. (See also: 8 Simple Ways to Travel Greener That Could Save You Money)

4. Take advantage of free activities

There's no need to spend money when you don't have to. Most places have regular events, attractions, and activities that you can take part in for absolutely nothing. It pays to do a bit of research on the location you're visiting beforehand to check out what will be going on while you're there. Good places to look are on local authority websites and local news publications online.

In larger cities like London, you'll find the majority of museums and art galleries have no entrance fees for their regular exhibitions. Tokyo has a number of viewing decks in skyscrapers with spectacular views over the city that are free to access. No matter where you are in the world, walking around a beautiful park or watching the sunset in the evening are great ways to spend time with no cost attached. (See also: 8 Free Things You Can Do on Any Vacation)

5. Travel during off-peak times

Even the biggest, most visited destinations in the world have lulls in their tourism. These lulls are like gold dust to the budget traveler, as attractions become far less crowded while prices for everything from hotels to restaurant meals drop. The savings can be the difference between being able to afford to visit and not. In my experience, I've found prices to be up to 50 percent lower.

It's important to do your research on the location you're visiting, though, because in some places attractions simply shut down outside of peak season. If your sole reason for visiting somewhere is for specific attractions that are closed during the offseason, no amount of savings will make up for that disappointment. (See also: Why Timing Is Everything When Saving Money on Travel)

6. Use rewards points and discounts

Travel rewards from credit cards, airlines, and hotels are the secret weapon of any savvy traveler, and can allow you access to places that may ordinarily be way out of your budget. They're particularly good to save up and use in expensive countries, and can make or break your travel budget. (See also: How to Use Travel Rewards to Get Free Trips)

You should also try and tap into as many discounts as possible, which can bring down the cost of everything from flights and accommodations to food and attractions. Check out local discount sites like Groupon, or even search whatever it is you want to get a discount on to see if there are any available online. For example, searching "local aquarium discount," can yield some amazing results.

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