How we pass time (cheaply) while travelling!

Travelling can be fun, interesting, mind-blowing, awe-inspiring, and life-changing.
When we are thinking about and planning an up-coming trip, it can be really exciting thinking of all the things we want to do and how to squeeze them all in to the time we have.

However, often not talked about or planned for, are the times when travel can be stressful, expensive, very tiring, at times lonely and also boring. We’ve often found ourselves in a new city or place with not a lot to do, whether we were in transit, or passing through a smaller town with not a lot happening, or sometimes we were in a bigger city but didn’t want to blow all our money at that point in our trip.
Something we have learned (and are still learning…) over the last couple of years, is that just because we are travelling to a new place or on a trip, doesn’t necessarily mean we have to have the mentality of “I’m on vacation!” and “Treat myself!”.
When we are travelling on a tight budget, carefully planning out and thinking about how to use the funds we have means we will have more money to spend on the things that really matter to us and the things we really want to go to, rather than just paying to go see or do something to pass the time.

As said earlier, travelling can be REALLY TIRING! The endless walking, the navigation of new public transport systems, the anxiety of trying to understand a foreign language or hoping the locals don’t hate you for not speaking theirs; and of course, the weather being really hot and humid so you break out in a sweat as soon as you walk out of the hotel, or the weather being freezing cold and having to climb hilly, cobblestone streets in an ice-storm! All of this can make for amazing and memorable trips, but can also be extremely tiring on us humans.
We have also learnt not to feel bad about allowing some down-time while travelling, especially when you’re away for an extended period of time. If you pack a trip full of non-stop experiences it can be draining on your energy-levels and your overall well-being.

Here are some of the things we do to pass the time while travelling, that give our minds, our bodies, and our travel wallet a bit of a break.

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Public Libraries

Not just for the book-worms

Public Libraries are available in many cities and small towns and open to everyone, even if you don’t live in the city/town you are visiting. They usually have free WiFi, places to sit and plenty of books, magazines etc. to help keep you entertained. Most libraries will also have power outlets so you can charge devices, some will have computers for use even if you are not a member; and they will also have bathrooms and fountains for drinking water or filling your drink bottle.

You can easily pass time in a library for free, or for the small cost of getting there via public transport or parking near-by if you have a car. Sit back, relax, read a book, flick through a magazine, browse a cook book for recipe ideas, catch up on your emails, message family or friends, or use the internet or the travel book section to research the next stages of your adventure.
They will sometimes also have information about the local area you are visiting, which can be interesting, and may have local support contact information should you need it.
Look out for free events that might be going on while you’re there too e.g. information talks, workshops, presentations, cultural festivals.

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Shopping Malls

A rainy day haven

Yes, a shopping mall isn’t the first place you think of when wanting to save money. However, being in a mall doesn’t necessarily mean you have to spend money. They often have free parking if you have a car (though watch for time limits) and will sometimes have free internet (or at least a McDonalds or Starbucks to slyly hang around outside).
For rainy days or when you have nothing else to do, it can be a warm, dry, easy way to pass the time; do some window shopping, grab any items you might need, use the free bathrooms and water fountains, or find a cheap meal at the food court.

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You might learn something new

Some cities, particularly small ones, will have museums that cost very little or even nothing at all to enter. They will usually be found in the centre of a town. It might not be the most exciting museum you’ve ever visited, but if you’ve got nothing else to do, why not pay one a visit. It might be interesting to read about the history of the place you are visiting, and you might be pleasantly surprised - these small museums still have some really interesting stories or information to learn.

In larger cities, you will usually find a few museums or art galleries to choose from, so decide which one interests you most or which one is more value for money and go for that one. Spend time reading and looking through the exhibitions rather than rushing through.

Our favourite museums so far:

  • Museum of Pop Culture - Seattle, USA

  • Ghibli Museum - Mitaka City, Tokyo, Japan

  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum - Hiroshima, Japan

  • Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum - Nagasaki, Japan

  • Museum of Anthropology - Vancouver, Canada

  • Museo Nacional de Antropología - Mexico City

Some surprisingly interesting ones:

  • Historic Village of Steveston (including a historic cannery!) - Richmond, BC, Canada

  • Kyoto International Manga Museum - Kyoto, Japan

  • Musée de la Civilisation - Quebec city, Canada

Parks & Gardens

Enjoying nature and some fresh air

Look for public parks or gardens to visit in the town/city you are in. They are often free, or might have a small donation or fee. If the weather is nice, you can find a nice bench or patch of grass to relax in for a while and enjoy watching people, animal or clouds! If there are gardens, you can wander around looking at the plants they have growing there. Depending on where you are visiting, the flora might be very different from what you are used to seeing in your hometown, or if not, it’s still nice to just get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature.

The Waterfront

To be beside the sea-side (or lake… or river…)

Many places that are built around or on water-fronts will have a walk-way stretching along part, if not all, of it. Big towns might have a built-up walk way (e.g. the Vancouver Sea-Wall), small towns might have a small lake front or wharf area to walk around. Or, if you’re somewhere coastal, try a walk along the beach!
These walks are most likely free, and provided the weather is nice, are a lovely way to spend some time outside and a good way to walk around, particularly between long journeys via car, train, plane etc. You might even catch a beautiful sun set or some wildlife viewing, depending on when and where you visit.

Some will have attractions along the water-front too, like playgrounds, parks, gardens, sculptures, seating, public toilets and more.

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Walking or Hiking

Stretch your legs and get your body moving

Similar to hanging out at the water-front, check out any local walking or hiking trails to visit. Many places will have somewhere nearby to walk around and enjoy nature, with varying difficulty levels.
Make sure you do your research before you go, particularly if it’s a trail of higher difficulty.
Some things to keep in mind/plan for:

  • Do you have plenty of time?

  • Is there any particular wildlife or plant-life to look out for?

  • What’s the weather looking like?

  • Season/time of year - is it open and is it safe? Is it going to be really busy?

  • Do I have what I need? e.g. wet weather gear, boots, food and water

  • Will I have cell-phone service if I need help or navigation?

  • Who will I be going with? Is it safe to go alone? Do I need to tell someone where and when I am going?

  • Are there particular sights on this walk I don’t want to miss out? Should I take a camera?

If you can’t find a good trail to visit, then why not just walk around the city. Just picking an area, a suburb or street and walking around looking at the local life can be a good way to pass time, get outside, familiarize yourself with a city and get your body moving.
Again, just be mindful depending on the city and area you are in; do your research to make sure you are safe and also respectful of the locals.

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A place of both pure excitement and painstaking boredom

It’s inevitable that at some point during your travels you will be stuck in an airport for a painfully long period. Whether you’re between flights, stuck due to delays or just waiting to take off, it can be hard to make time pass enjoyably while in this situation.
A key thing is to plan ahead! Take something(s) with you to do, like a book or a magazine, hand-held game console, puzzle book or whatever you like to do. And don’t forget to make sure you have the chargers, adapters and ear/head phones you need to keep your devices going.

Wear comfortable clothes, you might be in them for a while! Wearing layers, or having them easily accessible in hand luggage is a good idea, so you can warm up or cool down as necessary. Take small necessary items with you rather than in your checked baggage e.g. medication, lip balm, travel size toiletries, painkillers.

One good thing is that airports are becoming a lot more technologically savvy, so you will often find somewhere to plug in and charge your devices. They might have free WiFi available also, even if it means hanging out in the food court for a while.
Try to walk around a fair bit, particularly if you have a long flight coming. Drink plenty of water to prepare your body for that notoriously moisture-sapping cabin air and make use of the spacious, many-cubicled bathrooms before your only option is the tiny airplane toilet with a terrifying flush that seems like it might suck the entire aircraft into a black hole.
Walk around and look at the shops to kill some time, get something to eat if you need to, do some stretching and accept that you are in the lifeless void of the airport terminal for now, so you’ve just got to wait it out…

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Coffee Shops

Coffee and Chill

We are biased towards coffee…but this can apply to many people. Coffee shops can be a great place to pass some time for little cost. You can get the cheapest drink on the menu; a cup of tea, a drip/filter coffee. Even your favourite latte, mocha or hot chocolate doesn’t have to be super expensive (depending on where you go) and then you can sit and pass time in a warm, relaxing cafe. If they have free WiFi (as is often the case) you can make use of that, if not you can people watch, read any magazines they might have sitting around, or chat to your travel buddy if you have one.
For us, we like to choose independent coffee shops, they are more relaxing in our opinion and we get a chance to taste the local coffee scene and get more of a local feel. You can chat to the staff behind the counter for tips and ideas on what to do and see in their town/area.
But, if that isn’t to your liking, or there isn’t anything else available, you can always go to a coffee chain.
Just be mindful of how long you stay, particularly if it’s a small, independent coffee shop or a busy spot. Don’t hog a seat for a number of hours if you’re only going to buy one small coffee - spend a little time there and then move along.

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Movie Theatres

Catch a movie

Like malls, movie theatres don’t usually come to mind when trying to save money, however if you don’t mind spending a little bit of money, a movie is a great way to spend some time.

There might be something showing that you’ve been wanting to see, or if not, see what else is on. Most theatres will at least have a few films showing, so you will likely find something to enjoy. Don’t be afraid to give that lesser known art or foreign film a try, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Many cinemas have discounts on certain days of the week or even during school/work hours or weekdays, so look around and see if you can time it to catch a good deal. Different cinemas might offer different prices and deals too, so if there are a couple to choose from nearby, see which one has a better offer.
Skip the concession stand and instead take a water bottle and some snacks you already have, or visit a supermarket beforehand for more reasonably priced treats.

Your Accomodation

Hotels, motels, AirBnB’s

One of the biggest expenses of travelling can be accommodation. This varies greatly depending on where you go and what your budget is, but you will probably spend a good deal of money on where you are staying, so why not make use of it as a place to hang out or pass time?

Some hotels and motels have really nice lobby areas where they might offer complimentary coffee, tea or other drinks. Some may even have entertainment rooms, pools, fitness areas, rooftop patios, reading rooms and more. You have the convenience of all your things being a short distance away in your hotel room, and you might have access to free WiFi anywhere in the hotel.
If your accommodation doesn’t have a lot of areas like that to relax in, then you can always stick to your room and put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign.

When we stayed in Austin, we often found ourselves back in our hotel lobby for a short while to enjoy the air conditioning and also use the WiFi to research where to go and what to do next. Other times, we have stayed in AirBnB’s that are quite cosy and have had quiet days or evenings just staying in where we have cooked cheap meals for ourselves, watched some TV or a movie and caught up on emails or contacting friends and family.

Sometimes a day of rest is necessary, or you may have even picked up a cold or other illness along your travels. These things DO happen! Don’t feel bad about it or try to fight it, just give yourself a bit of a rest and it will hopefully mean your next full-on day of travel is easier to manage.

Another helpful thing to note, is that many places of accommodation will also be happy to hold luggage for you if you arrive before the check in time or aren’t leaving the area until after check out time. This is very useful if you want to make use of time in the place you are visiting without lugging around bags and suitcases.

A key thing to remember, is that every adventure is different, and just because you have less money for a certain trip doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t bother going or that it will be less enjoyable. You can still experience a new place and a new culture and you can have lots of fun even without spending a lot of money.

And apart from the financial side of things, there is often some expectation or pressure to fit a huge amount of stuff into a trip; taste as much as you can, visit as many places as possible and see as many sights as you possibly can squash in.
But that isn’t the only way to travel. Slow down, relax, be more realistic and easier on yourself. Ask yourself what is it you REALLY want to do in this place? And spend more time enjoying doing that, rather than cramming your time with lots of things just to put on social media or be able to say “Been there, done that.”