The Cheapest Way to Travel and Still Save Money
On the mind of every short and long term traveler will be money, money & money. The biggest basic needs you will have to satisfy will be accommodation, food and travelling about. To keep it cheap requires a bit of a change to your mindset but opens up a new travel lifestyle. Set a budget and stick to it. I set out for 9 months of travel and I’ve managed to stretch it out for 15 months so far and still going! This is how I did it (and am still doing it!).
Whether you are a solo traveler or there’s a gang of you, getting a roof, tent, tarp or thatch over your head will be key to your comfort. It’s getting easier to plan nowadays with so many dedicated websites for hostel, room and apartment bookings. Choosing your home for the night will depend on a few key things that are important to you: Price, location, amenities (breakfast, wifi, pool, book exchange, etc.). It’s not always that necessary to book your accommodation in advance and sometimes it’s better to arrive on the fly. This leaves your options open. So if you meet other travelers on a bus or whatever, you can all head to a hostel together, share a cab, save some money and have instant friends. But, if you are arriving at stupid o´clock, book your hostel in advance, or ask the taxi driver where’s good, they will often take you to the most popular hostel (if there’s a 24hr reception) or to a local place they know that will be way cheaper. The best hostels are often the word of mouth recommendations you will hear from all the travelers you met on the road, so you will have someone’s actual personal experience of it, which is priceless.
If there are a few of you, look into getting a private room in a hostel to share, that way you will have your own space and can still enjoy hostel fun. Obviously, if you’re arriving somewhere where a major festivity is happening, book in advance. Check booking.com, priceline.com or hotwire.com to get last minute deals, and if you have to compromise location for price do it, but know your transport options before you arrive. Also check airbnb.com or plan some couchsurfing in advance and hang out with some locals. If you brought your own tent, find those campsites to pitch up. Some hostels may let you pitch in their garden or roof or wherever, but check in advance. Also, a lot of campsites have tents available to rent out, so this could still be an option if you didn’t pack a tent. Or if you have your own hammock, sling it up. Housesitting (mindmyhouse.com, housecarers.com) Workaway (international), Helpex, WOOFing, Anywork Anwhere (Europe) not only provides free accommodation in exchange for work, but provides an excellent opportunity to learn a new skill or use a skill you already have in unique settings. Keep your mind open and you can stay in some of the most incredible places for next to nothing.
Laundry: This comes down to how many clothes you packed and how good you can be at cycling them around on a daily basis so they never get totally filthy. Pack a small laundry bag to keep your dirty stuff separate from clean stuff on the road. Save money on laundry by taking your smalls into the shower with you; it’s handy to keep a small sachet of laundry powder with you for this. A washing line is invaluable and many places will let you hang your stuff out to dry if they don’t already have drying lines set up. Also, many hostels will allow you to hand wash clothes for free. I do all this, and wear clothes lightly so I really only fork out for a proper laundry session every 3 or 4 weeks!
One of you biggest daily expenses will be quietening that grumbling belly. But never fear, there are many cheap eats out there whether you are a cook or not. Food prices vary depending on the country but there are always ways to keep the costs down.
Street Food: If you are not into cooking yourself, head out for some street eats from local vendors. Always choose a busy stall, as you know that it’s good and hygienic and with the high turnover, the food will not have been sitting around all day. It’s also the best way to get to know the local cuisine of the country you’re in, so get expanding your cultural horizons. If you’re worried about getting a dicky tummy, down a can of coca cola with your food. There’s no scientific basis for this but it works for me. And I had a friend travelling around India who had a coke with every meal and didn’t get Delhi Belly once! See Dave’s article for more tips. Always try new foods when travelling, you may find your next favourite thing to add to your cooking recipes. The best street foods often come out at night, where stalls are set up in squares, lining the streets, in parks or from local families who sell goodies from bikes or motos whizzing around a town. Stick with the local produce as that will be the freshest and tastiest and most representative of the area.
Cook in your hostel: The cheapest way to eat is if a group of you get together and cook up a feast in your hostel kitchen or to take out for a picnic. If you’re not a cook, be the veggie chopper, or the washer upper. Or if you are traveling solo, cook up your own meal, and make enough for leftovers the next day. If you get sick of eating rice or pasta, you will find someone else in your hostel who might switch their lentils or whatever for your never-ending bag of rice. If you’re like me and you wake up hungry, book into a hostel with breakfast included and a kitchen so you can rustle up a snack whenever you want. A lunchbox/tupperware with a silicon seal that snaps shut is a good investment. You can carry your leftovers with you on your day out so you’re not tempted to spend money when you don’t need to. Also, keep a water bottle with you and refill it. In some countries and at airports there are free water fountains, or many hostels have purified water or water filters on taps available. If not, its worth buying a large 5 litre bottle if you’re staying somewhere for a few days and refill a smaller bottle with it.
Fancy dans eating at Restaurants: A nice occasional treat will keep your taste buds happy and if you can’t resist the lure of those main street luxuries, here are some tips to eat out for cheap. Try out the local restaurants that often have meal deals during lunch time. If you’re in a group, order sharing platters and keep an eye on the pricing to keep in budget. If there’s a fancy restaurant you absolutely must try, always go at lunchtime to grab a lunch special deal.
Overland it all the way. It may take longer but it´s always the cheapest, the most fun and the best way to see the country you are in. You get to meet other travelers and share the experience with them and watch the locals going about their daily business. Many countries have overland bus companies that can get you from A to B, ranging from a few hours to overnights depending on the distance you want to travel. If you´re going overnight, it’s worth getting a decent bus with reclining seats (semi cama in Latin America). Your main bag will go into the compartment below the bus and usually you get a bag ticket for it, so it’s pretty trustworthy. Local and inter-city transport like collectivos (shared buses) are a great way to get around for cheap and the drivers are really helpful letting you know when your stop is. But some are pretty small so if you have all your stuff with you, make sure your backpack fits. Sometimes there is a dedicated space at the back of the bus, sometimes you can fit it in beside you, or it has to be rammed into the overhead compartment if the bus is busy and sometimes it gets strapped to the roof. My 55L backpack has been shoved and stuffed into every kind of transport. The only stickler was trying to hooch it over those a mini turnstiles some buses have but there was always a local who gave me a hand. Always keep your small bag and valuables with you. Payment can either be before you get on the bus, pay the driver, or someone comes around and collects your cash. At bus counters buying a ticket, I have managed to negotiate a cheaper price, for example if a ticket was 215 Brazilian Reals, I have gotten away with only having 200 Brazilian Reals to pay!
If you must fly, it’s always cheaper to fly domestic than flying between countries. Train networks are excellent in some countries and non-existent in others. Mark Smith’s site, the Man in Seat 61, is an excellent resource for train networks around the world. If walking and exploring is your preferred way to discover a new city, check out any free walking in major cities to give you orientation, learn a bit and meet other travelers in the area at the same time.
If you must take a taxi, know whether it´s metered or not. Often prices can be more expensive at night. Ask at your hostel for an estimate of the price to your destination. Always, always, always agree a price before getting in the taxi to avoid getting ripped off. And where possible, it’s always better to share a taxi, so ask other likely-looking travelers when you arrive into an airport or bus station or whatever if you are going to similar areas to keep costs down. They will be happy about it too. Renting a car may also be a great option if there is a group of you willing to share the cost. It gives you the freedom to go wherever you want without sticking to any pre-determined schedule. So it is worth bringing your driver´s licence with you in case the opportunity pops up.
Fun Times, Socializing, Drinks
Sneaky extras like shopping and socializing can also be a drain on your wallet. If you’re in a party hostel, they can often have a tab system running, so it’s a pretty good idea to attempt to keep track of your spending so you don’t have to deal with a big shock at checkout. Anyway, it’s best to do your prinking (pre-drinking) in your hostel, as many will have either a reasonably priced bar, happy hours and/or will let you bring in your own drinks to enjoy. It’s also a great way to get to know your hostel friends. If you’re heading out, make note of any happy hours and get there for drink promotions. A lot of clubs also have ladies nights, where girls can have free entry and sometimes also a free drink. For boys, get there early before an entrance fee is charged.
For tour bookings or activities, shop around for the best deals and listen to what other travelers have to say about tour companies. There are often group discounts available so go with friends or if you are looking for more people to make up a group, post a note in your hostel or get talking to people there at breakfast. People will always be interested in keeping costs down doing the area’s coolest activities. Look out for promo codes on company Facebook pages or in local free publications dotted around bars, restaurants and stores. Also, don´t always settle for the first price, especially if you are paying cash. I just did a 2 hour horse riding tour for 200 Mexican pesos when the first price quoted me was 600 Mexican pesos 🙂
Never do your shopping on the main streets. You will always pay a premium. It’s often better to head to a side street or back street where the prices will be competitively lower. Anyway, always shop around as many stores will have the same items for sale and you can knock a few dollars off here or there if you look hard enough. The best bargains are always to be found at local markets, second hand stores and flea markets. Know your numbers in a foreign language to make the most of any haggling opportunities. Many market stalls offer a discount if you are buying multiple items. And you can often get great deals if you head to a market around closing time, when prices can drop a bit at the end of the day. If you are collecting souvenirs for yourself or to post home, buy small and light things so you won’t have to carry too much extra stuff or get overcharged on a postal service. Again, never settle for the first price given to you. Sometimes there is no budging on price but it’s always worth a shot. If something is 300 whatever currency, say you only have 200 or something and stick to your guns. You will usually get away with it.
Travel opens your mind and your wallet. You get better and better at pinching those pennies so you can travel longer. The key is to separate your needs from your wants without compromising on fun. Sure, the occasional splurge is a great treat but choose when, where and what wisely to get the most out of it! If you would like to share any of your own tips to help other travelers, please feel free to post a comment below!
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