One of the biggest travel myths I hear that keeps people from traveling is that it must be expensive. Between the flights, ground transportation, food, lodging, and all the sightseeing and tour costs you have to be a millionaire! I even heard it from a bank teller who said he wished he could be a millionaire to travel like me, and he could very well see the balance in my bank account was not $1 million. Well, I am Nikki Chi, Amateur Mythbuster at your service. I am here today to tell you that as a mindful traveler you won’t be going into debt to see the world. In reality, you can spend less money traveling than you do at home and many of you can actually make money from your travels. I learned from personal experience that it is all about making mindful money choices.
One of my favorite mindful money moments was realizing that just like the cliché, “The best things in life are free,” some of the best travel experiences are free. Anyone who knows me well knows that I love freebies, and I’m always searching out free activities everywhere I travel. I’m a firm believer that you don’t have to spend money to have a great experience and really get to see and know the place you’re visiting. As a result, this has given me a long list of some of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had.
I could go on and on about all the freebies I’ve discovered around the world, but I will keep it brief by sharing some of my favorites with you. (Check out the full list here.)
- Khmer New Year in Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Papakōlea Beach in Naalehu, Hawaii (one of only four green sand beaches in the world)
- Cité de Carcassonne in Carcassonne, France
- La Boquería market in Barcelona, Spain
- Watching the sunset from the top of Montmartre in Paris, France
- Sensō-ji Temple in Tokyo, Japan
- Traditional Muay Thai boxing in Bangkok, Thailand
- Cityfolk Festival in Dayton, Ohio (a very cool multi-cultural music festival)
This is just a small fraction of all the free experiences I’ve had while traveling!
There is so much more, and I’m constantly finding new freebies wherever I’m at. There is such a wide variety of free things to do, so take that as inspiration to seek out these activities at home or abroad. I never found any of these experiences—even in my hometown—until I shifted my mindset and realized that I don’t have to spend money to have a good time. After moving away from home, I came back to visit over a summer and suddenly Ohio was cool! I was finding free music festivals, live music, street fairs, and hiking that I had never heard of in my 19 years of living there. I was shocked at how much there was to do; but, it didn’t just appear once I left the state, it was all there all along.
You’re probably wondering by now how I come across these things. Well, it’s easier than you may think. There are tons of resources on the internet (like my blog) and apps to help you along the way, but here are my personal tips and tricks to quickly send you on your way with a long list of free things to do.
One of the first things I do when planning to go to an area is a quick Google search of “best things to do in [city]” or some variation of that. This gets the initial ideas flowing, especially if I don’t know anything about the area. This usually gives me a few free activities and a general overview of what kinds of things there are to do in a place. For example, if I Googled “best things to do in Austin, Texas”, I would likely find out it’s the live music capital of the world and the state capital of Texas. There’d be plenty of paid activities that come up, but I now know I can easily find plenty of live music for free and there will be some historical spots to visit (like the Texas Capitol Building).
2. Refined Google Search
Next, I narrow my search. I Google “best free things to do in [city]”, “free events in [city]", as well as any more specific things that I learned from step one. In this example, I would add searches for “free live music in Austin”, “free museums in Austin”, and “Texas State Capitol”. At this point, I’m able to start building my list and sometimes I will stop here, especially if it will be a short visit.
3. Roadtrippers and TripAdvisor
If it will be a long visit or I don’t have much on my list yet, I head over to Roadtrippers and/or TripAdvisor. First, Roadtrippers works best for locations in the US and some limited international locations. (It even has an app to put all of your great finds right at your fingertips.) In the “Search Roadtrippers” box, you just type your destination, then click on the logos for the attractions you’d like to see listed. I do one at a time, looking at attractions & culture, outdoors & recreation, points of interest, and entertainment & nightlife. Anything fun can be saved to your account or just add it to the list you have going. Second, TripAdvisor is good for pretty much every location anywhere in the world. Many people think of TripAdvisor just as a review website, but it is a great resource for finding activities. In the first search bar type “Things to do” and your destination in the second one. TripAdvisor is great at narrowing your list because everything is sorted by category, you can apply filters to only see things of interest to you, and you can see all the options in a list sorted by their review rating.
4. Free Days and Free Tickets
That usually completes my search for freebies, as it will typically provide you a long list of activities! But, say there is a museum or attraction that you’d really like to visit but is not exactly priced in your budget. It is possible to find discounts, free days, or free tickets to a lot of popular attractions. For example, many of the most popular museums in Paris, even the Louvre, are free the first Sunday of every month! This is easy to find with a Google search for anywhere you’re traveling. I Googled “free days at museums in Los Angeles” and found a list of 36 museums that are either free or have free days on a monthly or weekly basis. My other top tips for finding free tickets or free days are to check with the local Public Library and the Chamber of Commerce. I lived in Arizona for five years before discovering that I could go to the local library twice a month and get a “culture pass” that provides free admission for two at participating arts and cultural institutions. The public library is also a great resource to check out their events calendar, and they may even have a list of the free museum days in the area.
Making a list of free tourist activities is a great tool to use in budgeting for trips because a huge list of free activities makes more money available for food and lodging. Doing this research in advance definitely pays off in the long run, as you may discover you already have enough saved up for that dream trip or your hometown is a lot more interesting than you thought. So with that in mind, I encourage you to make more mindful money choices by visiting those free sights. It may take you off the beaten path, occasionally going where few tourists have gone before, and your wallet will thank you for it!
Leave a comment or share a photo on social media of your favorite freebie with the hashtag #MindfulTraveler. If you’d like to see the full list of my freebies around the world, check it out here. I update it monthly with any new finds and it is organized by country, state, and city to make it easy to find things I’ve done in your area or somewhere you’re planning a trip to.