After all the planning and preparing, your gap year begins! While your taking your gap year, there’s some important stuff to remember, especially if you are traveling solo.

You really want to watch your budget. If you’re not careful, you might spend too much money in the first month of your trip! What I’ve been doing during my gap year is create a spreadsheet of all my expenses, shown below. It includes expenses divided by category as well as the daily sum, monthly sum and daily average. Of course not all of this is necessary to record, but I kind of made it into a little game for me. Each month I’d try to beat my record of spending less money. The least I spent in a month was $514 and the lowest for 1 day was $5. Thanks couchsurfing!

Spreadsheet of my travel expenses in October
Spreadsheet of my travel expenses during my time in Morocco and Spain in October

Keeping track of your expenses is good, but won’t be worthwhile unless you’re actively trying to lower your daily expenses. Below I’ll show you my tips for saving money will traveling.

I like to think of travel expenses as divided into 4 parts:

1. Lodging
2. Food
3. Transportation
4. Sightseeing


1. Finding Cheap Accommodation:

  • Hostels– Depending where you travel to, this can be the largest daily expense. On your gap year you won’t likely be staying in hotels, but something called hostels. Hostels have dormitory rooms, that usually hold anywhere from 4-16 people in each room. There is usually a common area and kitchen. Private rooms are also available for a slightly more expensive price. The one thing hostels have, that hotels don’t, is atmosphere. They’re not just a place to sleep but a place to meet people and have fun!
    • To find hostels, I always look on HostelWorld. They have the largest selection of hostels with 35,000 properties, and verified guest reviews on each hostel.
    • Occasionally I will also use to search for accommodation. They show all kinds of accommodation from hotels to hostels, but more importantly guesthouses that HostelWorld won’t always show.
  • Airbnb- In some places, it might be cheaper to use Airbnb, especially if you are with other people. Airbnb is a service where people put their home or a room online for people to stay in. It’s usually cheaper than a hotel and it can make you feel more like a local. Click here to sign up and get $40 off your first stay!
  • Couchsurfing
    • Couchsurfing allows people to host and stay with hosts around the world for free. The premise is that when you can, you will host someone in your house to give back to the community. For some people, this idea may seem somewhat sketchy, but each host has to be verified and each host can be reviewed. If you’re worried about couchsurfing, choose a verified host and read all their reviews. I’ve couch surfed a few times, and each time was a really great experience. I got to meet locals and they even took me around their city. If you want to feel less like a tourist (and save money!) try couchsurfing! Join Couchsurfing here.

  • Work Exchange- Finally, there’s also websites like Workaway, WWOOF and WorldPackers. These are all volunteer programs where in exchange for work, you get free food and lodging. (However, in developing countries, you may have to pay a small fee for food). WWOOF is only for working on farms, while Workaway and Worldpackers have a variety of volunteering opportunities such as building, tourist work, language practice and more! There is a large variety of volunteer listings that vary from short stays like a week to multiple month stays.


2. Saving Money on Food

Always my favorite expense! One of the coolest things about travel is eating foods from various cuisines around the world. Forget sightseeing, when you can just eat all day! However, you have to be careful because sometimes food can be a fairly large expense.

  • Cook your own meals- Many hostels will have kitchens that are usually fully functional. If you really want to save money, cook your own food! In some places, I’ve spent only $5 a day on food by cooking my own meals. However, don’t be that person that just buys a can of beans for dinner. I’ve really seen people do that in hostels. Try to eat healthy and have whole meals. Some of my favorite foods to cook in hostels are different kinds of pasta, rice and beans and more. Get creative! See what local ingredients they have in the store and make your own meal. In Spain, they had Spanish tortillas (like an omelette with potatoes) in all the supermarkets for €1 each. They made great easy hostel dinners!
My delicious self-catered breakfast at Durmitor National Park
Easy cheap breakfast: Rice cakes, nutella, yogurt and relaxing mountain lake in Durmitor National Park, Montenegro!
  • Eat street food- In many places, especially SE Asia, street food is common and delicious! Eating street food can be a great way to sample the cuisine of a certain culture and usually it’s fairly cheap, albeit not always too fulling. Sometimes they’ll even have some interesting kind of foods, like these snails in Morocco! I’ll be honest, they were not my favorite!
Man serving bowl of snails in Marrakesh, Morocco
I’m not saying you have to try this kind of street food… Snails in Marrakesh, Morocco
  • Bring your own water bottle- This technically isn’t food, but if you can, bring a reusable water bottle from home. In many places, especially Europe there are water fountains where you can fill up your bottle. Otherwise you have to keep buying water bottles, and although they might be cheap, overtime the cost of each water bottle starts to add up.


3. Finding Cheapest Transportation 

If you’re traveling around a lot during your gap year, transportation can be a big part of your expenses as well. Sometimes, there’s no way to really avoid paying a certain price. If you really are on a low budget, then try to limit the number of places you visit during your gap year.

  • Search multiple websites- When looking for transportation, often there will be various prices on different websites. There are websites that list different bus companies like Busbud or GoEuro in Europe. There are also the websites of each bus company that you should check too to see if the price is lower.
  • Look for train/bus passes- In some places where ground transportation is frequent there are bus and train passes. In Europe for example, there are Rail Passes. They have different types for different regions in Europe. You should only buy a rail pass if you know you are going to be traveling around Europe a lot, otherwise it might not be worth your money. Calculate the cost of traveling without the rail pass and then compare it with the price of the rail pass to see which one is cheaper.
  • Hitchhike- In some places around the world, hitchhiking is an entirely safe and effective way to travel. Not only is it cheap but it’s fun too! I’ve hitchhiked in Greece and Montenegro and met Germans, Australians and locals along the way. However, always be cautious when hitchhiking and if something gives you a bad feeling, don’t hitchhike with that person.
People at the lookout on Lovcen in Montenegro
I hitchhiked with a friend to the top of Mt. Lovcen in Montenegro


4. Be Smart About Activities

If you’re doing the whole tourist scene, then you’ll have to pay for lots of attractions around the world. Some places even make you pay to use the bathroom! Sometimes it’s just a few dollars to enter a museum or other times it’s $20 to climb a wall in Dubrovnik!

The old city of Dubrovnik, Croatia
What the heck Dubrovnik! Why so expensive? Well, maybe because Game of Thrones was filmed here!
  • Student discounts Many places will have student discounts that can even be half the price. Some places require you to show your school ID, but most don’t care as long as you look like a student. I carry around my old high school ID and if they ask I just show that to them. Always works for me! There is also the ISIC Card, but in my opinion it’s not worth it, because if you say you’re a student, usually they’ll trust you.
  • Find cheap alternatives- Think outside the box when it comes to what to do in a place! For example, instead of paying the exorbitant price to walk on the wall in Dubrovnik, Croatia, I hiked up a nearby hill for sunset. No cost, and a much better view!
Sunset atop Srđ hill in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Free sunset view after hiking up Srđ hill in Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • See if your hostel has free group toursSome hostels will organize free group tours that usually operate on a tipping basis. Not only are they a good way to see a place for free but you get to meet people along the way!

 Lastly, on your gap year remember to enjoy it and try to reflect on your experiences and challenges along the way. Journaling might be a good idea, or you can take lots of pictures to remember your experiences. There are lots of lessons to be learned along the way, and many of the challenges you will face are just that, lessons.
Let me know your experiences traveling or taking a gap year in the comments below. Also, if you have any questions feel free to ask!
Keep on Daring to Explore!

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