Budget Travel: Tips for Saving Your Cash on the Road

Budget Travel: Tips for Saving Your Cash on the Road

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Budget Travel: How to Cut your Costs on the road

Travel is fun. You get to see new places, collect awesome experiences, try copious amounts of delicious food, sleep in exotic guesthouses, and so on. At the same time, though, it can be costly. CAN being the operative word – because it DOESN’T have to be costly. In fact, many people find out that long-term travel may incur smaller expenses that maintaining your life back home – especially if you live in Europe or North America. Step one is to commit to budget travel, and do it effectively. Curious about how to cut your costs while on the road? If this is a new topic for you, you’re in luck because here you’ll find the budget travel tips you need to keep finances in check and passport stamp count up.

What is budget travel?

Well, this depends from person to person. For some people, budget accommodation may mean a double room for $30, whereas other travelers won’t spend much more than 10 bucks on a budget guesthouse. So it may be hard to draw a conclusive line that would define the term one way or another. However you explain the term, the one thing that we can agree on is that stripping your travel habits to an acceptable minimum and focusing on getting the most out of your money is what budget travel primarily boils down to.

Cheap travel abroad: Start with Budget travel destinations

Would you go to Monaco on a tight budget? Probably no, right? If you want to cut your costs, start with places that allow you to do so. Check out our planning guide for some destination ideas with low daily expenses.

Stock image of a person counting coins

Southeast Asia tends to be newbie budget traveler’s favorite due to the profusion of accommodation and transport options, and generally a solid backpacker infrastructure. Look for countries like Thailand or Indonesia if you want to keep your daily spending low, and take advantage of cheap food and accommodation options. Many times as low as $1-2 per meal, and $10-12 for a double room. Myanmar was another budget favorite of mine. While Mandalay and Bagan had slightly higher accommodation costs ($15-22 per double room with A/C), Inle Lake was an excellent budget spot where we got to stay in a massive fan room at Sweet Inn for no more than $10, including breakfast. A curry at a local eatery will set you back $1.50, not to mention you can soothe your tired body with an amazing hour-long massage for around $7-10 in town.

Choose Cheap Transportation

Cheap travel abroad may also mean that you try to get to our destinations for the least money possible. If that’s the case, weigh your options and preferences in terms of scheduling flights.

Contrary to popular opinion, the highly advertised and oft-suggested round-the-world tickets aren’t always the most budget-friendly option. Yes, it may be less of a hassle with booking your flights, and the option of changing flights flexibly while you are on the road is very appealing. However, you’re most likely going to spend less on your accumulative one-way tickets compared to the price of an RTW due to the absorbed costs for potential changes, plus the commission for the travel agent who helps you set it up. On the other hand, if you do want to have someone you can call or email to arrange everything for you, don’t give up on your RTW ticket dream.

If you do choose to just book your own flights as you see fit, you won’t be bound to flying in one direction (as is generally the case with RTW tickets), sticking to one airline alliance, or following any suggested or preferred route plans. You’ll have a higher degree of flexibility and will be able to look for the cheapest regional flights for whenever fits you. Alternatively, you can opt for bus or train. These are quite often also budget-friendly options, and might be a better choice if you’re not in a rush.

Inside of a local train in Japan
Traveling by train or long-distance bus is an excellent and often cheaper alternative to flying.

Just like in your home countries, there are expensive, standard, and cheap alternatives for transport. Of course, planning to go long-distances with a taxi would be foolish and super expensive. But there are typically other options to consider – for instance shuttles or transport by van, buses, trains, and – on a local level – city-wide ride-sharing options. If you’re interested in southeast Asia, check out Baolau.com to get an idea of prices between bigger cities and regions, and skim over reviews of the transport companies to get a head start on what might be worth your money and what might not. You can use Baolau.com also to search budget flights with regional carriers.

Public transit over Taxis

Exploring a particular destination might add additional costs onto your list – and that’s why it’s important to choose wisely how you get around any city or area. You might be used to taking cabs back home; however, this isn’t always the cheapest option abroad. Countries that make use of various ride-sharing apps like Grab or Oway will give you the chance to snatch up a cab for a cheap price and eliminate the need to haggle every time you need a ride. However, these apps aren’t allowed everywhere – especially in countries where taxi unions are very strong and impermissible (parts of Mexico or Bali, for instance). And even if it’s not a huge expense, multiple cab trips will rack up and blow up your expenses very quickly. Instead, opt for local buses or other transport options like shared vans, jeepneys, or tuk tuks for a local price.

Jeepney in the Philippines
If you visit the Philippines, use jeepneys for short to mid-distance travel.
Double decker street tram in Hong Kong
Even expensive places like Hong Kong offer affordable public transit options – like this double decker tram!

Stop comparing prices to back home

This is the first step towards overspending – most likely you’ll find everything cheap compared to back home, especially if you’re coming from western Europe or North America. Stop thinking in Dollars, Euros, Pounds, etc, and adapt to the local currency. Just because something would be considered cheap back home doesn’t make it cheap where you are. I can get a good and very cheap pad Thai in Berlin for 5€, however you’ll never see me in Bangkok paying more than 60 Baht for one.

Empty plates at a circle sushi restaurant
This 100-yen sushi was definitely a cheap option, compared to local standards in Osaka!

Get a feel for local prices

Use the first day in a new country just to explore. Stop at that travel shop and ask for a bus ticket to Hoi An even though you’re not planning on going anywhere within the next days, or ask the tuk tuk driver for the price downtown from your accommodation although you want to walk. Check for prices with the hosts at your guesthouse of hostel, or consult some fellow travelers. You’re getting the idea – find out what is a fair price for your location, but keep in mind that there’s still a chance you’ll pay a slightly higher ‘tourist’ rate someties. If there’s no budging, just make sure you don’t overpay TOO much.

Eat Locally

Choosing an eatery frequented by locals will always put a smaller dent in your finances than opting for a ‘proper’ restaurant. Likely, that restaurant caters to mainly tourists, so the prices will hardly reflect local standards. And while it’s nice to treat yo’self every so often, doing that for every meal will stack up very fast. Look for hole-in-the-wall places, plastic chairs, lunch deals, and daily menus written on whiteboards. Evening markets are an excellent option in some countries, too. And no, you don’t need to stress out over getting sick from ‘street food’. 9 times out of 10 you’ll be just fine if you use some common sense: eat cooked food and avoid fresh salads that might have been washed in less than safe tap water. Again, here it depends on location. If you’re worried about health standards from street and market vendors, apply this rule of thumb: if you can’t peel it, cook it, or fry it – forget it.

If you’re drink-happy, I’m sorry to disappoint you – in many countries having a beer or two with each meal will hurt your wallet a lot. (Luckily, not everywhere, though! Looking at you, Vietnam!). Sticking to water or soft drinks might be a more economic option, with the former being the best since many countries around the worlds offer free water. Even at outdoor markets, like, for instance, in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Two glasses of wate
Choose water over soft drinks or alcohol to cut down your meal costs. Many countries offer free water!

If you can, cut your costs by cooking some of your meals. You don’t have to go all out – just taking care of 1 meal a day at home will reduce the strain on your wallet at least somewhat. If you have the option to choose a place with a kitchen for guest use for the same or just a tiny bit more per night, go for it. In the long run, you will save money eating out less. Even in more expensive countries like Japan, we managed to find a perfect budget apartment in Kyoto, with a full kitchen, which truly helped us cut our costs!

Image of a small kitchen in an apartment
If possible, choose accommodation with a kitchen and self-cater!

Extend your accommodation in person

Of course you’ll want to book for your 3 am arrival in Sri Lanka to make sure you actually have a bed waiting for you or secure the last free bed in a dorm during Melbourne Cup before the city is booked up and you’ll be left with the Hilton as your only option. But, for most other situations, walk-in rates are usually much better than what you see online. Besides, agreeing on a price in person gives you a chance to negotiate a special deal for staying a longer time or because it’s low season and prices are half of the advertised price. Bonus: you’ll get to check out the rooms (always ask to see 2 or 3) and choose the room that seems the most suitable to your needs.

Almost everything is negotiable

In most countries, especially on the usual backpacking routes, that is. Don’t get discouraged by the fact that the price is printed on flyers or giant posters. Just because it’s written down doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. That’s one of the key rules of cheap travel abroad – though some countries are more flexible than others in this regard. For example, on Bali you often find fast boats to the Gili Islands advertised for about a million IDR per person – and yet we’ve never paid more than 850k for 2 people return (including pick up and drop off in a location of your choice).

Travel slow

Usually the biggest portion of a backpacker’s budget is used on transportation and lodging. and while the latter is necessary, you can cut down on the former by moving around less and taking the time to enjoy a particular place for a longer time. Plus, staying longer will give you the negotiating power to get a better deal on your accommodation – because everyone likes to secure an occupied room! Besides, you’ll get to immerse yourself into local life more and stress less about sticking to a particular schedule!

Budget Travel has never been so easy!

Did you like our budget travel tips? Did we forget anything? Feel free to let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear what methods other travelers employ to get around on the cheap. Obviously, Couchsurfing and hitchhiking provide additional ways to make your wallet happy – and you should do so at your discretion. For more budget travel ideas, explore our list of destinations and places and check out the latest blog posts for additional useful travel tips.

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