A Travel Hacker’s Guide to Finding Bargains and Keeping Your Money

Posted on / by Natalie Sisson / in Business Travel / 4 comments

When you visit bizarre and wonderful parts of the world it’s natural that you want to take a piece of your experience back with you. But sometimes when you’re caught in the moment you just don’t make the smartest decisions.

Below I’m going to offer some of my top travel tips, gleaned from decades of travelling to 44 countries and the experiences I’ve had to ensure you take back only the best.

Before I do however, I have an exciting announcement to make. My good friend and world traveler Chris Guillebeau has just launched his Travel Hacking Cartel membership program and I couldn’t be happier!

Join the Travel Hacking Cartel

For me it’s the perfect membership program because it will allow me to save money on flights and hotels and earn free air miles so I can be a sophisticated suitcase entrepreneur.

It starts at just $15 per month!

Plus it’s backed up by the World’s Greatest Guarantee – you’ll earn at least four free plane tickets for every year you remain a member!

It launches today and I’d like to bring it your attention (yes I’m an affiliate, I’d be crazy not to support such an awesome program).  You can try the 14 day trial for just $1.

Chris is renowned for over delivering on all that he produces and that’s why he’s built a small army of remarkable people well over 20,000 strong now and I got to interview him on how to Achieve World Domination and  Live the Life You Want.

Now sit back, relax, let your mind wonder to far off distant places you long to visit and while you’re at it keep your hand on your wallet!

Finding Bargains That You Won’t Regret Buying

While photographs or videos are some of the best ways to remember your adventures, I know how tempting it can be to buy those local souvenirs to show your friends and family. However, I can tell you from experience that those items often become fodder for your storage cupboard or garage sale because it was bought on a romantic or idealistic impulse.

Remember that fascinating native instrument you bought in Peru that the man deftly demonstrated to you with a captivating melody? Ever played it or figured out how to? I bet you haven’t.

What about that large oversized rug you bought in Morocco that looked amazing in amongst the other ones and never actually fitted into your apartment but did cost you hundreds in shipping taxes?

Ok so I’ve made my point. We’ve all done it. But before you add to your museum archives I believe that to be a truly independent traveler and suitcase entrepreneur, you need to adopt the attitude of less is more.

My latest newsletter talked about 5 ways to declutter your life and business by reducing the amount of `stuff’ you accumulate. This simple act of offloading is really liberating – both for your mind and body.

When you’re travelling the world the last thing you need is more load to add to your suitcase or backpack, especially on long haul trips that will last several months – whether a vacation or working holiday. So I decided to pull together my top tips on what’s best to buy if you really have to – in this fun video and below.

Wearable Arts

This encompasses everything from jewellery – a very personal choice to scarves, bags, hats, accessories and shoes. Often a piece will speak to you, especially if it’s a handmade local piece with a unique indigenous material from the area you’re visiting. What’s more you can wear it – so it doesn’t just hang around in your suitcase.

Don’t go spending large sums of money on potentially fake gemstones in a market. Do pick up a beautifully crafted one-off item that you will treasure and wear for years to come.


If you must buy something on a grander scale then may I suggest one of my favourite splurges – artwork. I’m often enamoured with local artist’s take on their subject matter and surroundings. Often they see their country in a way that you may never understand or get to know. They have kindly summed this all up in some beautiful brush strokes that capture the essence of what you see on the surface. The best thing about artwork is if it’s done on canvas or paper you can roll it up, or lay it flat in your bag and it weights very little or even post it home. Plus it will be a great talking piece – like the tango one I just bought.

Fridge magnets

This may seem obscure and perhaps you hate clutter on your fridge but these are quite possibly the most useful, lightweight items ever. From tacky to individually painted scenes of the city or location you’re in, they’re the perfect reminder of where you travelled every time you open the fridge. They’re also useful as gifts and do not take up much room in your bag.


I’m not talking about surfers baby, I’m talking about coasters you can protect your table with and put your glasses and hot mugs on, that also tell a story about where you’ve been. Every time you go to have a wine with your friend and regale them with your travel tales, you can point to the coaster they’ve placed their glass on and the story behind it.  Useful and memorable plus often low cost and low maintenance.


Possibly the most useful lightweight item that has several uses you could ever buy. One they’re cheap, two they don’t cost that much to send, three they show your friends and family you still think of them – from time to time. Four you can send them to yourself with your favourite memory of the place you were and read it again on return home. Five you can stick it up on your fridge with your handy fridge magnet. Six you can make a collage for your wall that encapsulates your entire trip made out of postcards – after all a picture is worth a thousand words.

Street Smarts for Staying Safe

One of the only downsides of travelling is that as tourists or for those of us living a location independent lifestyle, is that you are prime fodder for being a victim of robbery, mugging or even violence. If you’ve just gone and bought all those lovely items above, the last thing you want is to lose it all from a sheer act of stupidity or plain bad luck.

No matter where I am I always aim to try and fit in and thought I was doing a good job of that here in Argentina. That was until I had my wallet stolen just weeks ago. Never a fun event but always a good lesson learned. I should have been more careful so it’s great that I’m now more aware.

In all my years of travel I’ve been incredibly lucky on this front, but I’ve had my fair share of items taken from me and kicked myself for not being a little more street savvy. So here are my pearls of wisdom spoken from experience for you to benefit from:

Be aware:

I’m not saying you have to overly cautious as in my mind that kills all the fun and adventure of travelling. Just be cogniscent of your surroundings and watch out for abnormalities. In packed places or popular tourist spots acknowledge that you are a prime target for robbery and stay focused.

My friend recently caught a pickpocket red-handed while travelling on the subway because he was aware that something was not right. Two young men hanging out with a much older man was his first alert. One of these men then moving right next to him to start dry reaching was another especially as this `supposedly sick’ man was, at the same time, attempting to push my friend closer to the other young man who was now standing right beside him.

The plan that failed? Distract the unsuspecting tourist to be concerned about the sick man so that the other can pinch your cash and cards out of that pocket in your shorts or pants.

Cash or Carry

Bright shiny new objects are targets for thieves - this however is Florales Generica in Buenos Aires!

Depending on the country you’re in you may not want to carry your cash, cards or passport in a wallet or purse. A money belt is still a great way to hide your most valuable documents and cards while walking the streets of less desirable areas of the country you’re visiting.  For us ladies I still recommend the bra!

Separating out your cards and keeping them in different locations is also smart, especially if you’re leaving bags in storage lockers, or in hostels or hotels. The last thing you want is to lose every possible means of supporting yourself. I was lucky that when my wallet got stolen it had little in it. Just two days earlier I had taken out all excess cards and IDs that didn’t need to be in it – phew.

Close Calls

The other thing to watch out for is making calls on your cellphone, especially in countries where such items are highly valuable. If you don’t have to make a call on your fancy phone and show it to everyone then don’t. Thieves have quick hands and many strategies to whip it out of your hand while you’re using it!

Top Tip: Buy a sim card for the country you’re in  – it will save you a ton on phone bills. If you have an iPhone use the free app Cydia to jailbreak it first so you can unlock it from your current contract.

Bodyguard your bags

When it comes to bags taking less is more. If you have your handbag or man wallet on you always keep it really close in dodgey areas with one handy firmly grasping it. Where possible keep it under your arm or in front of you. This is especially so with small backpacks when you’re walking through airports, train or bus stations. Of course it doesn’t look cool or trendy to wear your backpack on your front but its way cooler than finding your zips open and all the contents craftily removed while you were walking.

For larger bags, suitcase or backpacks use a padlock if you want to feel extra safe or deter quick entry or consider the shrink wrapping services if you’re bag is going on a long haul flight with lots of connections.

For a brilliant post that sums up all sorts of wondrous things travelers need to know and top websites to use then do check out my friend Tyler’s latest post on How To Organize An International Adventure – it’s a mini eBook in a post!

And don’t forget to check out the Travel Hacking Cartel if you’re serious about earning miles and travelling the world for less.

What’s your favourite travel hacking tip or item to purchase to remind you of your journey?