the budget traveler’s survival kit

So, you’re going on a trip.  Woo Hoo!!

You’re flights are booked, you’re bags are packed and you’re even a savvy enough traveler that you’ve got your expired passport or a copy of your ID stashed in the bottom of your bag in case your current ID gets stolen.  Go you.  :)

Now, I can attest to the fact that our tastes and tendencies have definitely evolved over the years as it comes to travel.  But old, frugal habits die hard and after multiple international trips and even more road trips around the USA here is our budget traveler’s survival kit.

budget traveler's survival guide

8 little things we’ve found over the years that have helped us save money on many a vacation.  And you know how I heart saving money.  :)

#1 – corkscrew (or something like this)
budget traveler's survival guideNow, it’s no secret we like a beverage or two in this space, and it’s definitely not any different on vacation.  But one thing we have realized over the years is that we’d much rather sit with a bottle of wine in a park or on a bench by the sea than in a restaurant. Or even on the ground while watching the row of street vendors set up for the evening just outside of old town Cartagena, Colombia.
budget traveler's survival guide

And it just so happens that wine, or any beverage of choice, is much more economical at the grocery store than at a restaurant anyway.  And it always tastes just a little better when you’re exactly where you want to be with exactly who you want to be with.  Am I right?!?

Better views + lower prices = happy vacationers.  :)

#2 – zip lock bags
budget traveler's survival guideNow, if you’re going to want to have lunch while you sit atop a cliff near La Manga, Spain, you’re going to need something to put your leftovers in.  When we’re at the grocery store we’re not only buying booze … we tend to really like meats and cheeses with bread to go with our wine and nice views. And with the help of a few zip lock bags, we can pull it out throughout the day for a tasty treat wherever we find a spot we want to chill for a while.

And, if it looks like I had been sleeping in a car for a week in this picture, it’s because I had. We dubbed our little Spanish adventure ‘noche en el coche’ … a direct translation to our sleeping accommodations for the trip. ‘night in the car’
budget traveler's survival guide#don’task #likeIsaidtasteshavechanged

#3 – binder clips (you know, these guys)
These little suckers are handy.  Keep closed any bags of food you don’t have in a zip lock bag. Hold your pants together when you lose a button.  Hold your backpack closed with its zipper breaks.  Hold all of your travel paperwork together if you’ve preplanned a number of different activities.  Keep power and charger cords bound.  Like I said, these suckers are just handy to keep around.

#4 – travel sewing kit (one option here)
budget traveler's survival guide

This one is kind of obvious in how to use it.  But the way it can save you money is if you’re a super efficient packer like we tend to be.  You’re only checking one bag, because that’s all you get for free on international flights and your one long sleeve shirt rips. Don’t succumb to local prices and buy something you don’t really love but just NEED right now.  Be prepared, you never know when you’re going to bust a seem.  Literally.  And those little scissors can home in handy for many things, too.

#5 – compass (like this one)
budget traveler's survival guide

I also happen to have an eagle scout husband to work with this fancy tool.  It’s just one of those things that helps you keep your bearings in unfamiliar territory.  Renting a car?  Save money on the GPS and just bring a compass.  A compass is really helpful when trying to orient your own way and exploring around a country on your own whether you’re driving, hiking or just trying to get from where you are to that little local place they say is south on 2nd Street.  We can’t all be Indiana Jones and follow the sun.  😉

#6 – good quality rain gear (ours are from LL Bean)
I can’t even tell you how many times this has saved us.  Maybe you’ve just paid the entrance fee to a national park in Monteverde, Costa Rica and it starts to rain.
budget traveler's survival guideOr you know you’d rather explore around Buenos Aires, Argentina than spend the day inside or buy a ticket to a museum.  #wedon’treallydomuseums
budget traveler's survival guideGood quality rain gear just opens up your options exponentially, as long as you’re not afraid of melting, they take the weather right out of the equation.  You’ve spent good quality money to get where you’re going, don’t lose out on any time while you’re there. Get to it, rain and all.

And my own little rain gear tip … it’s lightweight, rolls up small and tight and I keep it in the bottom of my day pack over any other layering items for mostly mild weather locations.  Rain gear keeps this cold weather light weight warm!

TIP!!!  You’ll notice in the pic at the top of the post that we actually roll and pack our rain gear in a zip lock bag.  Remember those space saver bags?  Zip locks essentially do the same thing, and then I know my gear is dry when I need to pull it out to keep me dry.

All this vacation talk is making me want to plan one …

#7 – travel coffee mug (I really want these collapsible ones)
This is just another one of those ‘so many uses for one little thing’ item.  Most places will let you fill up your own cup to take to go. And if you like coffee in the am like I like chocolate we like coffee in the am, then this is invaluable.  No need to hang around getting your coffee fill.  Fill up your cup and get on the road.

And … they keep cold drinks cold, too.  Probably enough said on that.  But many a beverage can be disguised in a travel coffee mug.  Want to bring your grocery store bought beverage to the pool? Want to walk around town with a chilled beverage?  Want to get a bigger portion than the usual at the all inclusive?  #notthatwewouldeverdoanyofthat

Speaking of coffee … we had the most awesome front porch in one location in Costa Rica where we could sit with our coffee and watch the sunrise envelop the Arenal Volcano with light each morning. #sorryforthe5:30amdaze
budget traveler's survival guide#8 – collapsible cooler (something like this)
Not just because it’s handy to carry your budget traveler’s survival kit in.  You’ll want a place to keep all of your grocery store bought goodies.

Now, apparently it keeps coming back to the food and beverage for us.  But, think about it, they are necessities, and an area where you can save a lot of moolah if you’re not dead set on experiencing designer dishes in renowned restaurants every meal.

And I think that even more than the money saved (is there ever anything more than the money saved?) is the flexibility provided by having your own food and beverage at your disposal.  It enables us to truly wonder with no timetable or plan in mind.  And stop along the way in a small fishing village in the Dominican Republic to make friends.
budget traveler's survival guide

For the record, we’ve found plastic cups to be easily attainable in many a location obviously.

Now, who’s ready for a vacation? What are your tried and true travel tips that any wanderer needs to know?  Who can give two cheers for frugality!?

I just might share this at Tip JunkieBNOTPDIY Show OffPositively SplendidHome Stories A to ZHouse of HepworthsShabby Creek CottageThe 36th Avenue and Savvy Southern Style.
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  1. Nancy Carr says

    Thanks for the great tips. I always find many uses for zip lock bags when traveling, but I had not thought of the binder clips. Love the picture of you at the ceiba tree. Thanks for your great posts.

  2. julie says

    A small tube of rubber cement! For when you favorite hiking boot cracks across the sole because you’ve had them for 15 years and they were due for repair/replacement about 5 years ago. Or to make an instant cupholder in the car that can be peeled off without damage when you turn it in.

  3. says

    Dude, I totally guessed that was the D.R! Any idea what town you were in?
    (Um, Karah, did I just call you Dude?)

    I so need wet weather gear. Love el noche in el coche. We did something like 9 states in 9 days on our honeymoon – and we should have just given in and pitched the tent we had in the trunk. it was amazing though.

    I did a similar post about our Blue Box for the car.

    BTW, the coffee in the D.R. – to die for, no?
    ~ Dana

    • says

      DUDE!!! I love it! You seriously leave the best comments. I think the town was Miches, or one near it. Definitely a place that hadn’t seen many people who looked like us. :)

  4. says

    I am a terrrrible packer. My suitcase space is usually mostly taken up by shoes.

    PS – You guys are so cute, and it just seems like you have the neatest adventures. :)

  5. says

    Great travel tips, thanks for sharing :-) The binder clips are an especially good idea – they can come in handy in lots of different ways! Not very glamourous, but one thing I always pack is Immodium. Really. If the tummy rumbling starts, I want to be ready for it – especially when there are lots of place to go and things to do and see!

  6. says

    I’ll have to bookmark this for when Mike and I are empty nesters …. I’m seeing a whole lot of world travel in our futures …

    Hope you have a fabulous Thanksgiving … not sure how you celebrate in Curacao? Or are you in the state with your family?



    • says

      Sounds like the perfect empty nester plan! It’s just another work day for my husband here so I’m trying to get caught up after a month of vacation and house guests. Hopefully you are having a wonderful day with your family!!

  7. andrea cammarata says

    Wishing you and yours a wonderful Thanksgiving. Hugs to The M&M gang and I sure hope they are happy and healthy : )

    • says

      And to you and YOURS! I’m taking the day to get caught up after a month of vacation and house guests … since it’s just another work day for my husband today. I need to head over and get caught up on what you’ve been up to. Happy Thanksgiving!!

  8. says

    Costa Rica, Spain, South America….you are the world travelers!!…I loved the pic of lunch on the cliff…so beautiful…and great tips…After spending a fortune for a flimsy cloth backpack at the hotel in Costa Rica for our hike through the rain forest, we make certain we include it in our luggage from now on..

  9. Barbara in CT says

    I never leave home with a couple of plastic coffee can lids to use as plates or cutting boards. My Swiss army knife lives in my suitcase. No chance of leaving that behind.


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