In our many years of travel, we have learnt a thing or two about budgeting. In fact, our destination has frequently been determined by our budget. Travelling in some countries is substantially cheaper than others. Choosing to explore cheaper countries has enabled us to travel for longer periods of time. In Vietnam, we secured a pretty luxurious double room for only $20.00 a night. A similar room in New York City would probably cost at least fifteen times that amount, probably more. Scandinavia is notoriously expensive, and much as we would love to spend an extended amount of time there, it is way above our budget for more than a weekend.
South East Asia, Central America and some South American countries are known to be good value for travellers and are consequently popular with backpackers and budget travellers. Of course, there are ways to travel in more expensive countries on a budget, but doing so requires a high degree of savviness and discipline.
Budgeting isn’t fun, but it’s an integral part of long-term travel and one that shoestring travellers have to get to grips with. Here we take a look at some of our favourite ways to save money while travelling:
Trawl through the Accomodation Websites
Agoda, Trivago, Booking.com, Airbnb and other accomodation websites can be great for bagging a bargain. We once found an extremely decent hotel room in Chihuahua, Mexico for a bargain $6.00 per night! If you search hard enough, it is likely that you will secure yourself a nice little deal. Make sure that you are aware of any local taxes or additional fees which aren’t included.
In New Zealand, we frequently opted for camping as motel/hotel prices were really steep. What we hadn’t taken into account was the amount of rain that New Zealand receives! Admittedly, we had a few soggy nights under canvas and on more than one occasion, we ended up sleeping in the hire car. Camping is, however, a good way to conserve funds if you are travelling in a more expensive region of the world. However, it should be noted that in most of South East Asia, it isn’t worth schlepping camping gear around with you as accommodation is so cheap.
The more you move around, the more you will spend. Consequently, unless you are hitchhiking, you are constantly paying out for transport. By slowing down and staying in one place for a while, you have more control over your budget. Not only that, but you are given the opportunity to get to know a place really well.
Eating local food will be cheaper, and often safer and tastier than mocked up western dishes. On T’s Birthday in Hampi, India, she chose a local thali, while Ku went for a ‘Maxican’ Burrito! It took several days to recover from making the mistake of trying a burrito in India. Not only is local street food usually tasty, but it’s substantial and cheap.
Shopping in local markets is not only fun, but it’s usually super-cheap. If you have cooking facilities, markets are an ideal place to shop for fresh ingredients.
Taking local transport will cost less than using tourist transport and taxis. Sometimes, it can be more challenging. Admittedly, we’ve occasionally arrived at a destination late at night and it’s been both easier and safer to jump in a taxi. Furthermore, we wouldn’t recommend a third class ticket on a long train journey through India. Having said that, if you are up for the challenge and you are on an ultra-tight budget, you could potentially save lots of cash and additionally experience a train trip like no other!
Subway systems are usually a cost-effective way to get around in major cities. The metro in Mexico City is one of the cheapest in the world. What’s more, it’s easy to navigate and extensive.
Sometimes it’s difficult to get your head around local buses, especially when you are unfamiliar with a city. However, if you are staying somewhere for longer than a few days, it’s worth getting to grips with, as usually buses are great value and convenient.
Walk when you Can
When we arrive in a new city, we always check to see how close the bus or train station is to our accomodation. If we possibly can, we walk rather than taking a tuk-tuk or taxi. In fact, whenever we are able to walk rather than taking a bus or taxi, we do so. Not only is it free, but it keeps us fit!
Buy Cheap Books on Kindle
For those who read (and travelling is an ideal time to catch up), it’s possible to download lots of free books on kindle. Classics are often free and there are usually plenty of other deals to be had. An additional bonus to taking a kindle is that you don’t have to carry bulky paperbacks.
Look out for free Wi-Fi and you can avoid paying to use the internet, which in certain countries, can be exorbitant. Tracking down free internet in New Zealand, for example, was quite challenging. although we were told that in McDonalds the internet is usually free. Most hostels provide free internet, although many mid-range hotels throughout the world charge for Wi-Fi.
Accomodation is the biggest expense of all. If you can save on accomodation, it’s half the battle. Couchsurfing, housesitting and volunteering are all great ways to save on accomodation. Often when volunteering, you will be provided with meals too. Working on your travels helps to supplement your kitty, and occasionally includes lodging. Many hostels will give a free night’s accomodation in return for a couple of hours of work.
Travel Out of Season
If you don’t mind travelling out of season, it’s great way to save money. Not only is accomodation cheaper, but it’s less crowded everywhere. Flights are generally better value too.
Travel in a Pair or Group
If you can join up with one or more people to travel with, it really cuts the costs, especially when it comes to accomodation expenses. Additionally, it can make car hire and taking taxis much more affordable, especially when it’s a group situation. The more the merrier!
If you are travelling on a shoestring in western countries, it’s worth considering dumpster diving. So much edible food is needlessly thrown out every day, it’s a shame not to take advantage. Many travellers survive quite happily living off excess from supermarkets. Be warned, however, that in some countries dumpster diving is illegal (and this is always the case if you have to force your way into the dumpster). Check out environmentalist’s Rob Greenfield’s website for more information relating to dumpster diving and moneyless travel.
Long-term travel is very different to ‘being on holiday or vacation’. We once heard a holiday being aptly described as a fast-food version of travel. Travelling long-term isn’t as intense an experience as being away for a week or two when you attempt to pack everything into that timeframe. Instead of spending money on activities every single day and partying hard, long-termers try and do things that are cheap or free e.g. hiking, exploring cities on foot, visiting galleries or museums on their ‘free’ days. Rather than eating out (unless in cheaper countries when it makes sense to), self-catering or living off street food is the way to go.
Treat Yourself Occasionally
It is a good idea to establish a happy medium as far as your on-the-road budget is concerned. If you want to go jet boating, on a safari, take a tour or experience doing something that you wouldn’t normally have the chance to do, it’s nice to have enough money to do it. You don’t know when and if that opportunity will arise again.
Every traveller has different priorities as far as spending goes. Some prefer to pay a little more for accommodation and cut back on eating or alcohol consumption. Others would rather stay in a basic beach hut, but go for a few beers every night. There is usually something that you can cut back on, allowing you to prioritise and spend on something else.
Credit and Debit Cards
These days, most people rely on debit cards to access their accounts. A debit card and a pre-paid currency card, such as Caxton, is an ideal combination. Try and avoid credit cards, unless you are able to clear the balance every month. Even then, charges tend to be higher for withdrawals. Funds can be distributed between accounts, and at least two cards should be taken in case of loss or malfunction.
Be realistic about your budget. Try and keep within your spending limits and make sure you have enough behind you to have a little fun every now and again.
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