Holiday Money Tips for Thrifty Travellers

Holiday currency Cuba

You’ve managed to save up and pay for your next adventure – congratulations – but there’s one more financial challenge ahead. How do you keep tabs on your holiday money and stretch your budget when you’re away?

Being an inherent cheapskate, I feel duty-bound to pass on some of my advice, which hopefully you’ll find useful. Here are my top tips for fellow travellers:

Thai markets
Want that souvenir at a knock-down price? You’ll have to work for it.

Become a Champion Haggler

Obviously this isn’t one to pull off if you’re visiting a posh department store abroad, but when you’re heading for markets and smaller shops then it’s worth remembering your bargaining power. When the seller gives you their opening price, offer them about 50% less, which will show them you’re not looking to pay more than you should have to. You’ll then have some leeway  when it comes to negotiating a final price, whereas if you’d immediately offered the seller 75% of the original price then you’d be unlikely to get much of a discount overall.

If you do feel like your bartering is getting you nowhere, tell the seller you’ll have to think about it, then begin to walk away, at which point they’ll probably give a further discount. To get an even better deal, hit the markets at opening or closing times, when they’ll be more likely to sell for less – this worked particularly well in the markets in Thailand, which stayed open until late at night.

Times tables
Even this horse can do maths. Credit: Rookie Mag

Learn your Times Tables

Master the conversion rate in a flash by simply using your times tables as a guide. All you need to do is find out the value of one dollar, or baht, or Euro, or krona (etc.) against your own currency, then you can work out the equivalent value of anything else. For example, let’s take the Euro – I’ve just found that €1 = £0.809899 (correct as of 23/05/2014), or 80p. I’ll therefore be using the 8 times table to work out all of my costs, multiplying the Euro prices by 8 to get a fairly accurate figure.

Therefore if a souvenir was priced at €2, I’d see that 2 x 8 = 16, so I’d be paying £1.60; if a meal cost €9 then I’d make it €7.20. Obviously things get trickier once you get into bigger numbers, but for everyday items it can be pretty handy.

Use Gadgetry

If you can’t really get the hang of maths on the go, you could try a currency converter app (though this will mean whipping your phone out at every opportunity instead of enjoying your environment). Before you travel, it’s worth taking a look at the Holiday Spending Calculator by NatWest, seen above, to get a guide price for the things you might be looking to buy.

This means you’ll be able to budget accordingly and you’ll know if you’re getting a raw deal on anything from a cappuccino to a pair of Levis. Whilst not all of the globe is covered, there’s a good chance you’ll find your destination on the Holiday Spending Calculator if you’re heading somewhere popular like Marrakech, Prague or Sydney.

Peruvian souvenirs
Don’t wave your money around like these little guys.

Stay Safe

It’s one thing to spend your money wisely, and quite another to store it wisely. Having been robbed in Havana last year, I know all too well how frustrating and upsetting it can be to lose your cash along with your belongings. Money belts and neck wallets might not look very fashion-forward, but they’re definitely not to be sniffed at if you’re travelling – funnily enough, I didn’t have mine on when I was targeted.

When you’re prepping for your holiday, remember there’s no way you’ll need a huge purse and loads of different cards, so just downsize to the bare essentials, along with a daily allowance of money, and keep it all safely hidden. The rest of your money for the trip can be stored in a hotel safe, if there’s one available, or a very inconspicuous part of your suitcase, and then you can add some small change in your pocket for everyday tipping or transport costs.

Czech food
I picked up some nourishing traditional Czech food for next to nothing in Prague, by going local.

Think like a Local

When you’ve been traipsing around all day and getting to know a place, it can seem a bit of an effort to decide where to eat, but I’d largely recommend stepping away from the restaurants within spitting distance of top tourist attractions. Those businesses pay a premium to be there, and they’ll pass that premium onto you, in the shape of your bill.

Of course, there will be exceptions to the rule – I loved eating in a Brussels restaurant overlooking the Grote Markt, for example – but generally it pays to explore the smaller side streets in search of dinner. If you’re looking for recommendations, check out Trip Advisor, but also consider sites like Spotted By Locals, which I’ve always found really reliable. Don’t be afraid to ask locals in person as well!

Do you have a money-conscious travel tip that you’d like to pass on? Feel free to share it below. My wallet and I would love to hear from you…