Tips for Traveling on a Budget
When traveling on a tight budget, it makes a lot of sense to pay attention to global economic trends and to plan your destinations accordingly. However, it also makes perfect sense not to change your itinerary just because a place is said to be a bit pricey. I think it is very possible to travel anywhere in the world inexpensively. Here are some tips for how to travel successfully on a budget.
1.) Speak to as many locals as possible - Whether you’re sitting on a park bench, browsing at a marketplace, reading at a cafe, or just wandering aimlessly, you’ll have countless opportunities to interact with the locals. This activity is obviously free…and the very best way to get to know a country and its culture. Locals will also likely be more knowledgeable about the fun, free activities in their hometown than any guidebook. If you have questions regarding the correct price to pay for taxis, lunch meals, and lodging, they’re also often the best people to ask. And who knows - maybe they’ll even offer to show you around. From my experience, talking to strangers while traveling has often resulted in personal invitations to parties, family dinners, and even weddings.
2.) Avoid traditional hotels - If you don’t have a travel companion, staying in hotels is usually not the cheapest option. It’s possible to find some inexpensive places suitable for one person, but these deals are not always available. And without someone to split the room with, you’ll be left paying full price for a double room intended for two.
Here are some ideas of alternative sleeping arrangements that are more geared towards independent travelers. By taking advantage of these opportunities, you can save money, meet interesting people, and have many more life changing experiences than you would in budget hotels.
- Cultural Exchange and Hospitality Networks - By making a personal profile on these web site communities, you can host other travelers, search for kind people willing to host you, join forums inhabited by like-minded folks, and build a network of friends from all over the world. Don’t simply think of these sites as search engines for free places to stay (although that is a large part of it). The big idea here is cultural exchange - you learn about other people’s cultures and in exchange they learn about yours. It’s a pretty great deal if you ask me.
Check these sites out for yourself:
Couchsurfing.com - This is the only hosting site I’ve had personal experience with. I’ve hosted several people through couchsurfing and have always had a positive experience. Here’s my couchsurfing profile.
- Hostels - Hostels offer beds in dorm style rooms, often with lockers or cabinets for storing your stuff. Many hostels have a communal kitchen and a shared living room area, which make them great places to exchange information, share guidebooks, or make plans with other travelers. Even if you don’t end up staying at a hostel, it may be a good idea just to pop in, as hostelers are usually helpful in answering questions, planning group activities, hosting parties, or guiding you in the right direction based on your interests. Many hostels also have libraries with guide books, maps, and lists of things to do in the area.
- Local Hotels - Stay in hotels owned and frequented by locals. Not only are you supporting local businesses, but you are saving money (as many popular tourist hotels charge inflated prices). I’ve had great experiences staying in locally owned hotels - often paying no more than $2 per night in some countries.
3.) Don’t eat out at every meal - Aside from transportation, food is obviously one of the biggest (and most important) expenses you’ll incur while traveling. While it’s fun to splurge every once in a while, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at restaurants can be expensive and isolating. Instead, you should stock up on food from local shops and markets. It’s a great way to save money, discover fun new food items, and get a feel for what daily life is like in the country you’re visiting. It’s good to buy foods that don’t require cooking, but if you have access to a kitchen (like at a hostel or your host’s house), you have the ability to be a little more creative. You can also save a lot of money by buying bulk foods and other items that won’t go bad easily. If you know you’re going to have a long day, bringing along high energy snacks like a homemade trail mix, fruits, or raw vegetables will help keep you energized and prevent you from traveling around on an empty stomach.
4.) Eat where the locals eat - When you eat out, you should seek out places that have a large percentage of locals eating there. Not only are these usually the tastiest places to eat, but they often have the best deals as well.
5.) Use local transportation - Determine the cheapest method of travel in the country you’re visiting and use that as your primary way to get around. Seriously. Ditch the fancy air conditioned bus and take the local train instead. You’ll see more of the local landscape, save money, and feel much more immersed in the culture you traveled so far to learn about. Sure, cheaper modes of transport are often slower and more of a hassle. But they’re also much more fun! When else will you get a change to travel by rickshaw, tuk tuk, songthaew, motor taxi, bullock wagon, or longtail boat? Seat 61 is a great resource for country specific ground transportation. It covers fares, departure times, details about how to buy your ticket, and sometimes even pictures.
6.) Use discount cards - Many museums, tourist attractions, and places to stay offer cheaper rates to people with student IDs and discount cards. It’s a good idea to read up on these discounts before you go so you can take full advantage of them. For example, if you plan to travel all over the country for a month, it may be best to buy a train or bus pass rather than buying individual tickets for each small trip you make. Or if you think you’ll be staying at lots of hostels, you may want to consider getting an ISIC or HI (Hostelling International) card. However, it’s probably best to think through your trip first before going all crazy buying passes and cards. If you aren’t sure you will be needing them very often, you may save money by not getting them.
7.) Avoid peak season - If possible, do not travel during peak vacation season (as prices often double or even triple during these times). Also, pay attention to major holidays and festivals so you can avoid traveling during those days.
8.) The best things in life are free - Have a picnic in a local park, peruse the stalls at street markets, visit museums during free days, go on a search for pretty-colored leaves, find a great spot to watch the sunset, make a new friend and go for a walk, wander around aimlessly taking pictures. If you think about it, there are endless possibilities to enjoy yourself without spending any money at all. And really - these are often the very best things to do anyway.
List of Possible Travel Expenses:
- Travel insurance
- Travel supplies
- Misc (tips, departure taxes, souvenirs, etc.)