Budget Travel Tips
PART 1 OF 4
This is the first part of our ‘budget travel’ series.
This post is all about our general money saving tips when travelling. We’ve written very detailed posts about how to save money on food, accommodation and transport whilst travelling. So, make sure to check out each post in the series to maximise your travel on a budget.
Parts 2, 3 and 4:
PART 2: Travel on a budget: ACCOMMODATION
PART 3: How to travel on the cheap: FOOD
PART 4: How to travel on a budget: TRANSPORT
One of the most challenging things when researching how to travel, is finding out how to travel on a budget. It’s not generally something that people explain in detail. And, it can be hard to find information on how to travel on the cheap.
In truth, it’s something that we picked up whilst travelling. It took a lot of practice and experience for us to find our budget travel tips. But, we’ve picked up heaps of tips on the way.
Many years, countries and funny stories later, and we like to think that we’ve learnt basically all we can about how to travel the world on a budget. We’ve learnt the hard way how to maximise our dollars.
So, we’ve brainstormed all the ways in which we travel in a budget conscious way. Below, we have compiled an in depth list of all our best budget travel tips to maximise your money.
From taxis to haggling, this is all of our many years of budgeting experience on the road, in one detailed post!
The Big Three
Whilst travelling, your biggest unavoidable expenses can be narrowed down to three main groups: accommodation, food & transport.
All of these will likely account for 80-90% of your overall travel budget. As they are all necessary expenses, in order to save money, you’ll need to find smart/ budget alternatives.
Our personal travel philosophy is that we would rather spend less money on these three necessities, and subsequently have more money to spend on doing things. It’s possible to save yourself a huge amount of money by making a few changes to where you stay, what you eat, and how you travel.
Saving money on one or all of these areas will reap more monetary reward than any of the other budget travel tips.
Luckily, we’ve written a post for each of these aspects of travel. Each post outlines the ways in which you can save money in each of the three areas of travel. Because they are such big subjects, we’ve put all of the information into separate articles.
They are: accommodation, food and transport. For very in depth budget advice on these three subjects, check out each post.
Budget Travel Tips
Outside of these big three areas, there’s hundreds of other budget travel tips. So, we’ve compiled a big list of them. Each of these helpful tips has been learned by us the hard way. From being conned and scammed by taxi drivers, to washing our pants in the shower, we’ve worked it all out ourselves whilst on the road.
Some of these budget travel tips will seem a little obvious, but are worth noting anyway. Others will be much less obvious, but are equally as important to remember.
So, in no particular order, here are our best budget travel tips.
#1: Travel to a cheap country
This is probably the most obvious budget travel tip, but also overlooked much of the time:
If you’re planning a long trip, choose a cheaper part of the world.
Some areas are so much more expensive than others. For example, if you’re thinking about travelling around Europe but you’re on a tight budget, head to Eastern Europe. Much unlike its Western counterpart, Eastern Europe is much more budget friendly. And, your travel budget will stretch so much further. In Western Europe, you’re not going to be able to travel for as long or as comfortably.
Obviously, there are even cheaper alternatives. Because less developed countries tend to be much cheaper for us visitors from Europe or the US, they are a great place to head to if you’re on a budget. Here, your dollar will stretch so much further than if you were to travel in more developed areas.
Everything will cost less; food, accommodation, transport, entry fees, attractions. For example, in India, you could stay in a guest house for 1 week and it would cost you half as much as just 1 night in a B&B in the UK.
This is the most influential decision on how much your overall trip is going to cost you.
Some cheaper areas to start researching are: South East Asia, India, South & Central America and Africa.
#2: Doing things is always expensive
No matter which part of the world you end up travelling to, doing things will always be expensive. However, it is almost always worth the expense.
When we first began travelling, we would save every single penny that we could in order to prolong our travels. This meant eating jam sandwiches and staying in the cheapest dorm room in town. It wasn’t always pleasant, but it was usually worth it.
But, the biggest mistake that we made back then was skipping the main activities & events and not doing the things that we really wanted to do. Usually, the thing that you want to do most is really expensive. Like a skydive, or quad biking or swimming with dolphins. However, that thing is usually the main reason that you’ve travelled all the way there.
Our travel philosophy now has completely changed. If we spend all that money on transport and accommodation to get to that part of the world, we may as well spend the $50-$100 on doing that one thing that we came here for.
When we trekked to Everest Base Camp, we were apprehensive about paying so much money for our flights to the start of the trail. At $400 US dollars each, they were really expensive. But, the only reason we were in Kathmandu – and in fact Nepal – was because we had wanted to trek to Everest Base Camp more than anything. If we had chosen not to go on our Everest Base Camp trek, we would have wasted all of that money on flying to Nepal and staying in a guest house in Kathmandu for 5 days.
Disclaimer: we did do the EBC trek, and it was probably the most amazing thing we’ve ever done. So, it was worth it.
Our new travel philosophy is that, no matter how much that thing we really want to do costs, it will always be worth it. That’s the reason we travel: to do those once in a lifetime things that we will never get a chance to do again.
I guess my point to all this is that you should do your research before making a decision on where to go. If the thing you want to do when you get to that country is really expensive, make sure you budget for it. Because, if you don’t do it, you’re going to be absolutely gutted when you get back home at the end of your trip.
So, even though this is a guide to the best budget travel tips, you should always budget the expensive parts into your budget travel itinerary.
#3: Don’t trust everybody
We have experienced some of the most incredible hospitality on our travels. We’ve met so many amazingly generous and kind people that have shown us some of the most astonishing kindness we’ve ever received. However, we have also met a lot of people that have tried to scam us. Not everybody can be trusted.
This is definitely something that everybody learns the hard way. Not every person that is smiley and friendly and helpful is actually trying to help you. A lot of them just want your tourist dollars.
In many countries – particularly less developed ones – tourists are viewed as very rich. And, quite rightly so. We are afforded the luxury of travel because of where we are from. That’s a huge privilege. However, many locals just see us tourists as money.
When we first set off on our travels, we naively believed that all locals that approached us were doing so to help us. We must have looked like we were lost and needed help, because we were constantly being approached by people offering us help and advice. We soon realised that it was mostly an act, designed to lure us into a false sense of security before either demanding something from us or attempting to sell us something we didn’t need.
Again, I will reiterate that there are also so many genuine people out there that will offer you assistance and guidance if you need it. But, it is important to approach every situation with a little bit of caution. You don’t want to be forced to part with your cash because you let some guy give you a ride or offer to give you a tour of a temple.
Being smart and a little cautious could potentially save you a lot of money in the long run.
#4: Invest in good gear
Another lesson often learnt the hard way, investing in good gear is not something that a lot of travellers are keen to do. On some of our first trips abroad, we brought with us the cheapest gear that we could find. And, most of it ended up being replaced at some point during the trip, which often cost more than just buying good quality stuff in the first place.
Granted, not everything you buy has to be of good quality, but some of the main things that are worth investing in are: backpacks / suitcases, shoes / flip flops, packing cubes, underwear and sunglasses.
Find out how we travelled the world with just carry on luggage here.
All of these items (with the exception of a decent backpack) can be picked up abroad for a reasonable price. However, not only is it not worth the hassle of searching everywhere for the particular thing you want sometimes, it can also be expensive in a foreign country.
It’s usually easier to find good quality stuff back home, where we have a good understanding of where to go to buy particular things. We know where to shop to get the best deals, and we are often more knowledgeable of what brands are better quality.
It can also be difficult to find certain products in certain sizes in some places. For example, in Asia it can be difficult to buy shoes in the right size if you have large feet. As their feet are generally smaller, it’s really hard to find big shoes for us Westerners.
The same goes for underwear, particularly bra sizes for women. It can be impossible to find bigger bra sizes, as the vast majority of the population there require sizes much smaller than our average size back in Europe/USA.
Check out our list of things to bring travelling here.
#5: Wash your underwear in the sink or shower
Okay, so this is a bit of a random one, but it doesn’t just save money – it also saves you stinking. In order to save space, you’ll probably only bring a limited number of clothes and underwear in your backpack/ suitcase. If, like us, the thought of wearing dirty underwear makes you cringe, then you’ll need to keep on top of washing it.
If you’re washing it by hand in the sink or shower, that means less trips to the launderette. And, this means more money saving. Win, win.
My personal recommendation is to throw your underwear in the sink and let it soak for a few hours. You can wash it with shampoo, soap or shower gel – there isn’t really much difference.
Some people put their underwear in the bottom of the shower whilst they wash themselves. That way they soak in soap suds by your feet.
Many hostels / hotels won’t have sink plugs, so make sure to bring a plug blocker of some kind. Or, just stuff a dirty sock in the plug hole to stop the water from draining.
#6: Stay in a place with a kitchen
This is a pretty big money saver that I have also slightly covered in our budget food post.
However, it’s worth pointing out here too.
This tip is more relevant to travel in developed areas like Europe, Australia and North America. That’s because eating out in these parts of the world is really expensive. And, when you’re travelling, it’s really hard to avoid eating out for every meal of every day.
That is unless your accommodation has kitchen facilities. Even if you just use the kitchen to cook one meal a day, your savings are going to be huge.
Usually, the best accommodation choices with cooking facilities are on Airbnb, or an apartment search on Booking.com. I’ve covered various search options on our budget accommodation post. However, no matter where you choose to book, there are always results filter options that include apartments/kitchen facilities.
Our personal preference is to make our own breakfast in our accommodation, eat lunch out (either street food, a snack or at a cheap eats restaurant), and then make our own dinner. This saves us heaps of money on food costs, and it also takes a lot of the stress out of finding numerous budget food options nearby.
Obviously, you’ll need to be somewhat proficient at cooking for this to work. But, if you’re not a good cook, you could also use the space to eat take-out food. Most hotels / guesthouses don’t allow guests to eat in the rooms. That makes it impossible to order a take-out, or come back with hot food without being noticed. So, an apartment with plates and utensils is exactly what you need. And, it’s much cheaper than eating in a sit down restaurant.
Our personal approach is to just take a trip to the local supermarket, buy a few staple ingredients (rice, pasta, fruit, vegetables) and head back to our apartment / hostel. Then we cook what we can with what is available.
#7: Research transport from the airport
Most people assume that in order to get to your accommodation from the airport, you need to pay for a taxi. This is not the case. In fact, this is by far the most expensive way of getting out of the airport.
Most airports across the world are well connected to the towns and cities around them. Every person that works in the airport needs to be able to get to and from work everyday. So, there is usually a host of transport options from there at all times of the day.
If you do a little research beforehand, you’ll make sure that you get the best option for you and your budget. Usually, you’ll find there are buses or train/metro/subway lines to the city. If you just google the airport name and transport options, you should get the information you need.
Generally, there is free wifi at most airports, but our experience shows us that it can’t always be relied upon. Sods law dictates that the one time you forget to research transport options, there will be no wifi and a crowd of loud taxi drivers chasing you through arrivals.
If you are in doubt, there is usually an information desk with an English speaking person. They will be able to direct you towards transport options, and inform you of roughly how much a taxi should cost to the city.
In many countries, taxi drivers are relentless at trying to get you into their car. Don’t feel pressured to get in a taxi because you’re being shouted at by the driver. Also, don’t accept an outrageous price just because he says that’s the lowest price you’ll find.
If there is a metered taxi stand, head towards that. When you get in the taxi, make sure the meter is on and set to 0. If the meter is covered by something, ask the driver to remove it and zero the meter. Or, get out and wait for the next taxi.
If you do get a taxi into the city, metered or otherwise, ensure the driver gives you the correct change. Most tourists that land at an airport won’t have a full grasp of the currency yet, so a lot of taxi drivers take advantage of that and might try to shortchange you.
#8: Use Uber
On the subject of taxis, I should also mention Uber. Uber is now available in pretty much every major city across the world, and a huge number of towns in many countries.
The biggest draw to Uber is the fact that you can’t get scammed. As mentioned above, a lot of taxi drivers in some countries are known to try and get extra money from tourists. With Uber, that possibility is completely eliminated, as you’ll pay a set price through the app.
Ride hailing apps like Uber work out cheap in both developed and less developed countries. We’ve found that it seems to be the most consistently cheap way of travelling from A to B in relative comfort. We usually use Uber to get to bus/train stations with our big backpacks, and to get around cities where using the public bus can be a nightmare (a big Indian city for example).
It is also worth researching what other taxi/ride hailing apps there are in the area you’re travelling in. Sometimes there are cheaper alternatives to Uber, but what exactly those options are is usually location dependent. For example, in California we found Lyft to be the cheapest option, and in London we use FREE NOW or Bolt.
You can also usually find discounts on various apps online. These are usually for first time riders and can actually save you a lot of money. If you switch to another app once your discount runs out, it can really help the travel budget. So, have a little Google and you will probably save yourself a bit of cash.
#9: Haggle sensibly
In many parts of the world, it is customary to haggle. For us Westerners, it can be a little uncomfortable if we are not used to it. Some people love to haggle, and others hate it. I fall under the ‘hate it’ category.
However, sometimes when you’re travelling, you don’t really get a choice. Sometimes you’ve just got to haggle. It can’t be avoided.
There isn’t really any way of getting better at haggling other than to practice it. I’m sure there’s loads of tips online about how best to haggle a price down. However, I’m definitely in no position to offer advice on the matter. I avoid it at all times.
My personal theory on haggling is that you should always go into a situation with a price in mind that you’re willing to pay. If you do end up getting down to that price, you should pay it and be happy. If both parties are happy (you and the seller) then it’s the right price. There’s no point in pushing a price even lower for the sake of a few pence. That’s always seemed to work for me when I do happen to get myself into a haggling situation.
So, be prepared to haggle. Otherwise, you may end up paying up to 5 times what you should. Some of the prices that vendors start at is genuinely hilarious. But, they always seem to get lower after you start flexing that haggling muscle.
#10: Get a currency card
Embarrassingly, it took me a few long trips abroad to realise this budget travel tip. It was only after an 18 month trip backpacking through Asia that I even considered looking into currency cards. I was very late to the game. However, it has now saved me so much money over the years.
During my first 18 month Asia backpacking stint, I was simply using my home debit card to withdraw cash from cash points. I was then using the cash to spend, avoiding using my debit card where possible.
I thought that this was saving me money. However, I wasn’t aware of the huge charges that were coming from my bank account. They were charging me for: withdrawing cash in a foreign machine; making a transaction in a foreign currency; and then they were giving me a terrible exchange rate on the currency I was being charged in. All in all, I was being ripped off.
So, what is a currency card? Well, usually it is simply a credit card that you top up with cash straight from your regular, current account. You then use that card like your regular debit card. Spend it abroad and you wont get charged anywhere near as much as you will using your home debit card. And, before it runs out of cash, you just top it up again.
Most currency cards give you the ability to top up using a currency of your choice, essentially locking in the exchange rate on the day you top up. You then spend it in that currency. Or, you can top up and spend in your home currency, and you will be given the exchange rate on the day of your spending.
The problem is, once you’ve left your home country, it’s really hard to get a currency card sent out to you. You’ll need to get it sent to your home address. Then, you’ll have to find someone to ship it out to where you’re staying. My advice is to get one before you leave.
There is a lot of advice online about which currency card is the best to get. Usually, this depends on your home country. Personally, we both use a Caxton FX card. We found it had the best exchange rates available and lowest fees at the time. There may be better options available now, and different options depending on geographical location.
So, there you have it. Our best budget travel tips.
Obviously, I’ve missed out the big three: accommodation, food and transport. I’ve written individual posts on each of these. Check these out to get the best budget travel advice!
PART 2: Travel on a budget: ACCOMMODATION
PART 3: How to travel on the cheap: FOOD
PART 4: How to travel on a budget: TRANSPORT
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