9 Free (Or Cheap) Ways To Have More Fun Traveling

Budget travel doesn't have to be boring and saving money while you travel doesn't have to suck! Click through for 9 free or cheap travel ideas you can use in any destination!
 I’m always looking for cheap travel tips and ways to do it better, faster, cheaper. You too, right?

And while I’ve got the ‘getting there cheaply’ and ‘sleeping + eating cheaply’ stuff down, finding cheap stuff to do? That’s been a bit of a learning curve. But after years of paying $15 for museums the bored me and booking $70 day trips I could have done on my own with a map and a bike, I’ve gotten smart (and creative).

9 Ways to Have More Fun Traveling

1. Check out a local grocery store

Peanut butter mochi! Seaweed-flavored Doritos! Sweetcorn ice cream! Grocery shopping has never been this fun. I could happily spend hours pawing through the shelves of a local (non-big box) grocery store.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, buy up $15 of unidentifiable, is-this-a-dairy-product-or-meat-product stuff and then sit in the park and nibble on all of it.

2. Attend a service at a local church*

I’m Agnostic but I really enjoy attending church services in the city where I’m staying – they’re a fantastic way to learn more about the culture and meet people. If you were raised going to church, they’re also a great way to connect with home when you’re feeling homesick.

I have incredibly fond memories of attending Christmas Eve services in Taiwan + New Zealand and a Sunday service in (very devout) Suva, Fiji.*

Of course, be respectful. Don’t attend orthodox churches if you’re not orthodox and make sure you’re dressed appropriately. If you’re not sure what to wear, dress the way the local women are dressing and make sure you’ve covered all the same parts of your body.

3. Visit a cemetery

It’s fascinating to see which names were common two or three hundred years ago – Dorcas? Kesiah? Sometimes gravestones of local notables include mini-bios and (surprisingly graphic) details of their death. Cemeteries in other cultures can also be beautifully, fascinatingly different than what we’ve grown up with.

The cemetery in La Paz, Bolivia is colorful vault stacked on top of colorful vault. Cemeteries in Taiwan are tiled family vaults that are swept, cleaned, and decorated during Ghost Month.

(Even though these cemeteries are extremely photogenic, it’s probably best to refrain from taking photos. I mean, I’d be less than thrilled if strangers were taking photos of my Grandpa’s grave because it was sooooo fascinating and colorful.)

4. Ask the locals if you can join their pickup game

Playing soccer, rugby or basketball with some of the locals (especially if they’re kids) is a shortcut to great memories and new friends.

If no one’s playing, you can always bring or buy a ball of your own and try to play forlornly by yourself while making puppydog eyes at passersby. You’ll probably have a whole team of soccer-playing friends within 20 minutes!

5. Dine with a local

Finding those hidden gem, holes-in-the-wall can be surprisingly hard when you’re traveling (because if it’s on Tripadvisor or in Lonely Planet, it’s no longer a hidden gem) and eating alone every night can be a bummer. Eat dinner with a local!

They’ll be able to recommend a great place to dine and give you all sorts of other great insights. Check out Invite For A Bite, Eat With A Local, or submit 100 words to the Network of Nice.

6. Use public transportation

Sure, taxis are easier and more air conditioned, but they’re also expensive and isolating. Brave the bus/metro/train! You’ll save money, see more of the city and the people who live there, and if you’re lucky, you’ll encounter some amazing buskers.

7. Rent bikes

Most large cities in America and Europe now offer bike sharing programs (here in MSP we love Nice Ride). For a few bucks, you can see the city at a leisurely pace, stop whenever and wherever you want, and get some fresh air and exercise. Just google ‘bike sharing [name of city]’.

8. Check out local events

Sure, Mardi Gras is awesome, but what about the Alligator Festival? Or the world’s longest garage sale? Or a fish house parade? Small towns host tons of hilarious, frequently free events that are just as much fun as the tourist-soaked, hotels-booked-months-in-advance stuff a few towns over.

9. Google ‘free’ (city name)

Oddly obviously? Yes. Something I’ve never done for my own city? Also yes. When I searched ‘free Minneapolis’ I found free tours of three breweries, a tour of the state capitol, Lego world, and several museums and art galleries I’d never heard of.

Have a google of your destination city before you go and schedule some free things in between your guided tours and day trips.

What free/cheap things do you like to do when you travel?  Share ’em in the comments!

P.S. 11 tips that helped me travel for 10 months on $5,000 + all my Cheapskate travel guides!

Photos by Toa Heftiba and Milos Simic on Unsplash

11 Comments

angieeatspeace

These are some great tips.
I have saved so much while traveling my using Air B n B, to book accommodations, instead of hotels. It ends up being much cheaper and many of the places come with kitchens, so you don't spend as much money eating out.

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Rachael Loomis

I can't wait to try some of these out! Thanks for the tips 🙂 Do you ever dabble in Groupon when traveling to different cities? Sometimes you find the fun stuff for cheap on there too!

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Manisha

This might be an obvious one – I like to wander the open air markets, farmers markets and such. Often the vendors will have free samples and lively conversation. Also, we often find our way to a bar and chat up the local bartender for things to do and those have always been the best recommendations. OH, I just thought of another but something I only do in the States: ask around for a free source of natural spring water. We found a source in Moab, Utah and UP Michigan. It was an adventure searching for the source and whenever we return, we always make a point to go there to fill up our water bottles.

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Lola

As an art historian, I'm sad you find museums boring! They don't have to be boring… or expensive, either. Most museums have free days or hours, and often these coincide with live music or other special events. And (at least within the US) by becoming a member of your local museum, you can often get reciprocal free admission to museums all over the place.

If you can't make the museums' free hours, a great free alternative is to visit commercial art galleries. The most famous might be in Chelsea in New York City, but they exist in every city and the more off-the-beaten path, the more likely you are to encounter a quirky neighborhood with real local flavor. I love the Old City galleries in my home of Philadelphia, because they're interspersed between amazing design stores, great coffee shops, and cozy used bookstores.

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kathrynoh

Great list. One of my worst travel habits, if I don't check myself, is spending too much time shopping. Which is fine if they are awesome local shops but going to places chain shops that are the same back home is a waste. I totally don't get ppl who get excited about going to big name designers shops overseas either.

I'm big on walking. I love to just wander around local neighbourhoods, not the big tourist attractions. Also love museums but mainly the weird and wonderful kind, which can be really cheap.

I think it's good to have a mission when you travel. Lately I've been thinking about starting a collection of stuff from my travels but wanted to avoid the usual souvenirs then i realised I have a bunch of scarves from different places so I'm going to make a point of adding to that when I go to Europe this year, which will be a great mission for exploring markets and local designers.

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Sarah Blinco

Great tips! We love getting amongst it and taking public transport. Also the grocery store things is awesome, one of our favourite things to do 🙂

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