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Travel Like a Minimalist and Save Big

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If you’re looking to save money on a vacation, you could spend hours researching and budgeting every minute of it — or you could simply try traveling like a minimalist instead.

Minimalists generally live with fewer possessions, freeing up time, money and other resources to focus on things and experiences they value more. The lifestyle also saves them money on consumption when they travel.

» MORE: Planning a trip? Let NerdWallet help

You, too, can adopt minimalist travel habits and potentially hang on to hundreds — or thousands — of dollars. Consider these travel tips for your next vacation.

1. Shop intentionally before a trip

If you’ve got an upcoming vacation, it can be tempting to shop for new outfits, swimsuits or luggage — but that can easily add up and eat into your budget for the trip itself.

Consider whether the items you’re eyeing will serve a long-lasting need, and avoid “just in case” expenses.

“Most of the time, I do just wear pieces that I already have,” says Sarah Settanni, blogger at Abundantly Minimal. “If you’re wearing your favorite pieces when you’re traveling, you already know how they feel. They’re comfortable.”

If you need items for certain activities once you arrive at your destination, weigh the cost of renting instead.

2. Stick to one carry-on per traveler

What you pack will be your financial and physical burden to carry.

Packing light and sticking to one carry-on bag can save at least $25 per checked bag each way.

But your savings don’t stop there.

“It saves money on checking bags, it saves money on having a bellhop, it saves money on a taxi because (if you don’t pack light) you have so much luggage that you have to pile it into one car,” says blogger and online coach MJ Gordon.

The bare essentials in Gordon’s minimalist wardrobe make packing easy. She considers the weather, trip activities and everyday essentials for her family of four. She doesn’t pack makeup unless she needs it for work.

As a blogger, she needs her DSLR camera and laptop. Her family of four brings four or five sets of clothes per person when there’s access to a laundry. For her kids, ages 4 and 6, packing also includes snacks, a few books and a personal choice of theirs — usually a stuffed animal.

3. Use public transportation

Packing light also leaves walking or public transportation as easier options. Walking saves on transportation costs, and it allows you to take in your destination at a slower pace.

“I walk whenever possible, in part because I enjoy walking,” says author and minimalist Colin Wright. “Walking allows you to see more of those accidental, serendipitous types of things you might otherwise skip because they’re not marked on your Google map.”

Wright’s next choice, public transit, can also be more economical than using a taxi or rideshare service, depending on where you’re headed. And it lets you experience a destination like a local when your feet need a break.

4. Spend less on accommodations

If you simply want a safe place to sleep that meets your basic needs, a hostel or Airbnb could offer more savings than a traditional hotel.

“I will usually choose the Airbnb because of the kitchen,” Wright says. “You can save money if you cook your own food, you can have the option of bringing home leftovers, you have a refrigerator — things that you wouldn’t necessarily have at a hotel.”

And if you’re traveling with a family, this method can save even more money per head. A few years ago, Gordon stayed at family-friendly hostels in New Zealand and Australia, where she says she paid between $20 and $30 per night for a shared room. When she stayed at a well-known hotel brand in these same countries, she estimates that the cost was about $120 to $150 per night, depending on the location.

5. Grocery-shop like a local

Dining out every meal can get expensive, especially if you’re in a popular tourist area with higher prices for food. Venture out to a grocery store instead and shop like a local. Not only can it help you save money on meals, but it also can offer a window into everyday life at your destination.

Approach grocery shopping with as much intention as the travel planning process. Before moving to the next destination, Gordon asks herself: “What do we need to eat for the next five days? What is going to last longer than five days? And can we take it with us?”

6. Avoid tourist traps

There are plenty of shops, businesses and restaurants competing for your wallet near popular attractions. When Settanni visited the Alamo in San Antonio, Ripley’s Believe It or Not attractions were charging for tickets near the free historic site.

Pausing to consider the attractions you really value can help you avoid costly distractions.

7. Skip the souvenirs

Decide whether souvenirs are worth both the price tag and the checked-bag fee you might pay to carry them home. Digital photos can be great souvenirs, and they don’t cost much beyond the initial investment of the camera.

“We will take our money and, rather than spend it on souvenirs, spend it on an experience that we’re going to enjoy and that we’re going to be able to continue and keep with us for a lifetime,” Gordon says.

8. Personalize your experience

Some minimalist habits may not align with your ideal vacation. If you don’t like cooking during your time off, for example, treat yourself to a restaurant — or even a food stand or food truck, which can be considerably cheaper.

And remember: You’re on vacation. So if you want to sprinkle some luxury into your trip with a one-time massage, a fine-dining experience or a memorable adventure, your minimalist habits in one area can offer the financial freedom to splurge in others.

After all, traveling like a minimalist doesn’t mean you never spend; you just spend intentionally on what’s valuable to you.

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