Let’s be real here, I don’t possess a lot of money and never have. People always are asking me how I’m able to get out and travel so much, and the simple yet very complex answer to this for me lies in priorities. Having the money to travel absolutely doesn’t have to come as the result of having a good paying job, not even close, actually it seems to be the contrary as the people with the good paying jobs are the ones who are unable to get out traveling because of being so tied down to that job, vicious cycle isn’t it!?
Travel doesn’t have to be expensive, the contrary actually it can be much cheaper than everyday life in western countries! I like to categorize my own travel spending around the same ways that the popular travel blogger “NomadicMatt” does, as he has traveled the world nomadically for countless years on a budget, he mentions per day budgets such as Europe: $50, Asia: $25, and so on and so forth. I’ve found that this holds absolutely true if you’re doing it right, going $25-$50 per day while out traveling is just the right amount of budget to live well in the vast majority of places yet still on the frugal side! In some countries in Asia I could easily do $20 per day and live like a king I swear, yet places like New Zealand or Australia it was a bit of a daily challenge keeping it around my $40-$50 mark (I blame alcohol for this in several instances, but a big shoutout to “Goon”, that terrible drink saved my wallet but not my liver or sanity).
Now think about how much you are spending to live in the US daily when you include rent, food, transport, etc. (or any of my European or other reads as well, same same but different). When you add it all up, then you’ll probably come to the astounding realization that doing $25 per day to explore some amazing countries just somehow sounded even better, didn’t know it was possible? Wrooooooooong.
Saving the money to go
This one differs for everyone, about as subjective as it gets because we’re all working for different wages, hours, have different payments, interests and the list goes on and on but I’ll just throw in some random things I’ve done to save up money that might be able to help you guys out.
Think about going out to eat for lunch, dinner, etc. or even just getting your daily coffee, now I’m not saying to stop doing these things by any means but I’m talking about bringing your own from home, make your own coffee and bring it with you, pack a meal or 2 wherever you go. This could add up to $10-$20 per day right there, and let’s do the math on that, $10 multiplied by 90 days worth for example = $900, that would be 36 days exploring countries in SE Asia on a budget, starting to believe me? No? Okay moving on.
Selling unneeded possessions is another one, before my last backpacking trip I sold several of my possessions to bring the savings account up even more, everything from my mattress to my xbox was sold to save up more money. Just think want vs need on this one, and if you haven’t really used that item much recently then do you really need to hold onto it?
Last one I’ll mention will be picking up side work along with your primary job. I’ve worked jobs from all across the spectrum and it’s not even funny, I’ve worked at a bar, been a children’s camp counselor, been a volunteer firefighter, worked concrete labor, done sales, delivery driving, retail, worked at gyms, the list goes on and on, and some of my jobs have been just simple supplementing side work honestly. This side works adds up as weeks/months go by and you find that most of the side work can easily go towards the travel savings, or for it did atleast. One thing that most cities have these days in the US atleast is a temp work agency that will set you up with random gigs around the city for as little as a day or even setting you into a full time position, utilize these to find side gigs if you can, the side hustle cash adds up believe me!
Now getting into the details of actual budget travel tips, I’m chalk full of these things because I’m frugal as hell and have a lot of experience traveling on a budget!
A sometimes overlooked option would be just to walk EVERYWHERE, when you get to a new place it’s financially responsible as well as too much fun just to wander the place on foot, you get a real feel for places, can meet more people, and all that when you decide to walk it out instead of using taxis. One major take home message from reading this would be to avoid taxis at all costs, they’re a rip off no matter where you are. If you’ve got some serious ground to cover and can’t walk then opt for a pedal bike or even a motorbike depending on where you are, these are superior options in the financial department and again a better way to explore places.
If those 3 options mentioned above won’t work, opt for public transit such as the busses or subways, in a lot of places these can be dirt cheap just have to know how to navigate their schedules and stops! This is where apps like Google Maps and Rome2Rio come in handy, you won’t have to know the routes, stops and schedules because these apps already know it for you, cool eh? As you can see in the picture sometimes the local busses can be a total mess, and as I found all over Asia when taking the authentically local busses, they usually look like the busses in the picture above and you might have to squeeze in, most of you aren’t as tall as me so that’s a big advantage and if I can do it so can you! These local busses are also a great way to meet the locals, I already had a consistent icebreaker with having to squeeze myself into the busses and most people found it hilarious!
Once again, don’t take the damn taxis, they’re awful everywhere, just. don’t. do. it.
If you have a lot of ground to cover and don’t wish to take the local transit, then instead of taking the taxis another option would be to use Uber, while still expensive Uber will almost always be a safer and cheaper option than taking the taxis. You won’t have to deal with the driver trying to rip you off like you would for taxis in many countries, and you can pay via card or cash, Uber is a solid fallback to rely on!
For flights I’ll keep this brief and touch on it more in future posts, utilize SkyScanner and Google Flights websites and apps, they do all the work in comparing every single flight in the world for every date, so if you can combine utilizing these with flexibility in your scheduling then you will save wads of cash on your flights.
In Western more developed countries if you’re living the hostel life which typically include kitchens, buy your own cheap groceries, shop for deals/quantity, and eat what’s local those are usually the best deals and not to mention the freshest option, aka bananas in Queensland Australia, kiwis in New Zealand (the fruit not the people, please don’t eat New Zealander’s I don’t condone this), and durian fruit in Thailand. Make meals to take with you on the road as well, bring some little plastic containers and load up on whatever you make in your hostel kitchen, it pays off in your daily budgeting.
In more developing countries such as all over SE Asia, one piece of advice for saving money would be to avoid touristy places that serve western food especially, these are a money trap. These places will be about 2-3x more expensive than the real local options and the added benefit that the local authentic food is typically better and much more traditionally prepared (these include things like side of the road cafes, food carts, little food stands, people’s houses that they turned into restaurants, etc).
For instance, let’s say you’re in Nepal, you have the option of going to a nice place that serves burgers and fries and looks delightfully western, across from a smaller hole in the wall place that serves the local cuisines. The hole in the wall is the authentic and budget friendly option of course, so opt for the Buffalo Mo-Mo’s and Dal Bhat (I’m going to level with you all I have no idea how to spell it but it’s Nepalese lentil rice curry and it’s amazing), don’t go for the western food. Another thing that should be mentioned is that western foods in developing countries are not usually prepared the same as you would be used to and run the risk of being prepared incorrectly as they don’t know how to make these strange foreign dishes quite like their own traditional cuisines, go with what they know!
In areas where English isn’t prevalent, I enjoy playing a game that’s the equivalent of throwing a dart at a board of food, if I have no idea what it says on the menu I just go for the one that either looks or sounds fun. Has this gotten me in trouble? Yes. Has it gotten me some interesting dishes, also yes. Did I get a stomach virus off of this once, yup, but it’s still a fun and random way to experience some real local cuisine!
The Big 3 of Travel Budgeting
If you can manage to save day in and day out on these three things; food, lodging, and transport then your greenbacks will go infinite times farther than you could ever even imagine. So long as you’re okay but sacrificing some of your standards at times and getting away from your comfort zones, but at the same time this should all be part of the fun in traveling to foreign lands anyway, try something new you might love it!
For the topic of lodging, much like the taxis in transport that I avoid like the plague, I avoid hotels at all costs as well. I have nothing against hotels, I love hotels when I’m with a big group of people and can all split the cost of rooms, that’s all well and good but when it’s just me or me and like 1-2 others then it’s challenging to justify the expenses of a hotel once you know how many other options are out there! Hostels are my go to but that doesn’t hold true for everyone, and let’s say you’re not into the whole couch surfing scene as well, then an amazing outlet to utilize is Airbnb. With Airbnb you’ll find amazing and delightfully authentic places to stay all over the planet and often for a fraction of what hotels will cost you!
(I think i’ve touched on summarizing transport and food enough for now, so there you go, the big three simplified!)
Cell Phone & SIM Cards
Using local SIM cards for your cell phone is crucial for utilizing cheap data wherever you go, as most countries have their own SIM card companies and the prices are way less than any phone plan will cost you in the US (Verizon, AT&T and friends are awful companies, I’m sure my American readers all know this by now). The phone providers in the US will always try to give you sales pitches that you need to have their international plan in order to use your phone abroad, this is a false claim. All that you need to do is go to your provider and ask for your phone to be unlocked before leaving abroad, if you have a newer iPhone then congrats your phone is already unlocked and you’re good to get on that plane and leave!
In places like Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand where I got SIM cards I was provided with a decent amount of data each time and it always costed me $10 usd or less, this does not hold true in developed western countries where it’ll be more like $20-$50 but I digress. If you are comparing what you get for the money in just about every country except for the US and Canada, you will instantly want to send a hateful middle aged woman asking for a manager-esque email to your nearest Verizon or AT&T store.
Group Tours (avoiding)
Group tours can be a money sucking trap, and honestly just avoiding “touristy” things in general will not only save you a good chunk of change, but will also free you to experience the real authentic culture of where you’re traveling, but all this is dependent on the traveler and what you want out of it, you do you Boo-Boo!
Go be a strong independent man/woman who don’t need no man/woman and do your own tour of such places that offer group tours. You can self drive/walk yourself around most places you go you will just need to do a little bit of research before hand to not be completely lost, but the rewards are well worth this research. You can even show up to the location they’re doing group tours at, jump into the group tour already in motion stealthily, and you just got yourself a free group tour, just make sure that you act like you belong/befriend the people there and with those simple steps I’ve never had any issues with it but hey that’s just my own personal experience. If I had one more lovely piece of advice for that devious tactic it would be if the tour guide is onto you, run, there you go now I’m done.
Now let me start by saying I’m no expert on this one, yet, as I have only hitchhiked in New Zealand (though I did do it here like 10 times), but in my upcoming travels throughout Europe I’m planning on doing a good amount of hitchhiking so we’ll see if this advice still hold true after that!
Anyway, if you have the courage, are atleast a moderately friendly person, and love to meet new interesting people of all sorts then try hitchhiking!
This should go without saying but definitely do a little research before hitchhiking in certain countries/locations. For instance hitchhiking in New Zealand is widely known as the safest place to hitchhike in the world besides Iceland (be there soon to test this statistic), seriously nothing in NZ wants to harm you except for some drunk Australian named Angus with a Bintang tank top (jumper) who’s about 12 beers deep and doesn’t like your face for no particular reason. But honestly think about it what in New Zealand is poisonous or truly harmful? Kiwi birds? Kiwi fruits? Sheep? I rest my case so go hitchhike there and you won’t regret it one bit *mic drop*.
Then again if you want to go hitchhike in some sketchier areas like, oh I don’t know, say Somalia. Then let me just put it this way, you’re going to have a bad time my friend. #SpringbreakSomalia2k17, it’s trending, it’s been called the new Cabo San Lucas of the East, by literally nobody ever.
In order to hitchhike you just need a few simple things, a working opposable thumb, a friendly smile (seriously don’t look grumpy when hitchhiking nobody wants to pick you up), look like you’ve bathed recently, and if you really want to up your chances of being picked up carry some beer with you!
I went back and forth with using a cardboard sign, ultimately I think it’s a good idea if you can make it readable enough so in the end I opted towards using it everytime just make it short and sweet especially if the place you’re going to has a long name just use your best judgment and shorten it.
Last thing once you have a smile, opposable thumb, a sign, and have taken a damn shower every once in awhile; would be to stand on the road going towards your intended destination, be sure to look up what the best main road will be for getting to your location, and it’s about as simple as it gets!
Sleeping on the go
Sleeping in airports if you have a red eye night flight is a fiscally responsible way to avoid paying the cost of accommodation for what will basically be 2 nights; the night before and the later that night, which sucks but that’s how it works. This bodes so much better if the airport is nice and has couches or atleast long benches, for a guy who’s 6’3″ it’s not always easy to find pieces of furniture in airports large enough to sleep on, especially in Asia, I’m twice the size of the furniture in Asia I swear.
My personal favorite being the Singapore airport which is consistently rated as the world’s nicest airport, that place is the ritz of airport sleepovers, 5/5 yelps would sleep here again! They have a massive butterfly garden and a free movie theater with all the amenities, why leave the airport for a hostel? I fell asleep in the theater itself, it’s that cozy and I didn’t want to leave! But hey that’s just Singapore in general, everything is over the top eccentric and well done, they’re a little too good at that kind of thing.
Another pro-tip for saving on accommodation would be taking cross country overnighter busses for when you need to make up some serious ground in a country and want to save on a night’s accommodation at the same time, two birds one stone.
A good majority of countries have these for getting from place to place and often will have such amenities as a reclining seat, movie (not always in English, I watched the new Independence Day movie in Filipino, I don’t have a damn clue what they were saying but still loved it), snacks of some sort, a blanket, etc unless you take a REALLY local bus on the cheaper end in some developing countries in which case you’ll be happy to just have a window that opens, sometimes you will share your seat with a chicken, that’s right a live chicken, I’m looking at you extremely local bus I took in Cambodia. On a side note that chicken was one of the best friends I made in Cambodia, I’m pretty sure he was going to be his owner’s dinner later that night but we became tight on that 6 hour bus ride, I wonder how he’s doing?!
I’m an absolute broken record with this concept but I feel the need to repeat it often as it is a valuable piece of information. Spend less on material possessions and more on experiences. This means when you’re traveling less/no souvenirs, limiting everything you purchase, and really taking a look at everything you’re paying for. You will have much more cash to spend on the things that really matter and as an added bonus you’ll have less weight to lug around on your back, and trust me when you’ve been hauling a backpack as your mobile home on your back for months on end every little ounce in that thing can be felt, so it’s a win-win losing the materials!
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