Top Ten Tips for Travelling on a Budget
How much money do you need to travel? This is a question that crops up a lot and one that I tend to avoid answering because it’s a very grey area. In short, you can travel for as much or as little money as you’d like - it’s not a matter of money really, it’s a matter of pride and how much comfort you’re willing to give up as well as the order of your priorities.
There is a myriad of clever travel hacks out there and lots of different ways you can save money or earn money whilst travelling. There are people who get paid money to travel and stay in hotels, others might exchange their skills and services in return for experiences, while some may opt for hitchhiking, Couchsurfing, living in a car/van or freedom camping and living off supermarket commodities as ways to save money. I am the latter two and yes, it often feels like a constant hustle to fulfil that incessant travel bug of mine. But the good thing is that when you have the pressure, you find the motivation to be more resourceful and to think outside the box. It’s because I travel on a budget and am constantly outside my comfort zone, that I’ve learnt so much in what feels like a rather short time.
Granted, if you have job security or a full time job and can afford a certain standard of luxury then you will most likely want to enjoy that instead of spending your precious time hustling - which is perfectly fine! But for those who want to know how they can travel longer on a budget, this article is for you.
Every country is different. Obviously if you’re going to Norway, then you should be budgeting 10 times more than if you were travelling to South East Asia. Research is indispensable to travelling smart and on a budget - and by that I mean things like public transport, road tolls, hostel prices, currency exchange, maybe car or scooter rental, food prices, where are the student hubs and the non-touristic spots etc. So over my 3 years of (more or less) full time travelling, here are my top 10 budget tips to help save you those precious $$:
Go to Supermarkets or local markets for Food instead of Restaurants and Cafes. Also adapt and eat local food because that’s going to be cheaper than whatever food you’re used to in your home country. I saw some Europeans in Thailand dining at an Italian restaurant which cost about 10 times more than what a delicious local Thai dish would cost! I mean, if you have the money, go for it. But if you’re on a budget and travelling South East Asia for three months, then perhaps that’s not the smartest way to make your money go longer.
Consider Car Sharing/Pooling apps such as Blablacar which cost a fraction of train prices for longer journeys. Works kind of like Uber but it’s for longer road trips and not for getting around the city. The drivers list their destinations and stops - and you choose which stretch of the journey you want to tag along and pay for. (Therefore, if you have a car, you can make decent money just by taking extra people on board your road trip - and these people tend to be very open minded and great company). It’s an app you can download on your phone, drivers and riders have reviews, you can choose to accept or decline, you can message them and ask them to pick you up from a specific place as well. Payment is made in cash at the end or you can link a bank card to your account and money will automatically be deducted - so you don’t have to carry cash (and if you don’t end up riding with them, you get your money back in just a couple of days). Another alternative is to hitchhike, of course. But for some reason, this is a very controversial topic, so will elaborate more in a future post about my experience and how you can protect yourself when hitchhiking.
If you don’t like spending money on accommodation but don’t mind staying with strangers and making new friends - then Couchsurfing might be for you! It’s an amazing platform in my opinion and some of the people (both hosts and surfers) I’ve met through Couchsurfing have turned out to be amazing long-term friends who I still keep in touch with :) You make a profile, put some nice photos on there, write a little bio and if you want to stay with someone, then you take the time to read their profile and their reviews, then write a personal request (don’t just copy and paste) and they choose if they accept or decline your request. Send out as many personalised requests as you like but remember quality over quantity. The usual length of stay can be anywhere between 1 day to a week. Also, please don’t just see it as free accommodation - which it is and still blows my mind that people can be so generous. If you’re not going to bring good energy to your host, then you’re better off in a hostel. You have to be willing to put in the time, effort and good energy to get to know your host and spend some quality time with them - because if you do, I promise you will get back so much more than you could ever have expected. The idea of Couchsurfing is “pay it forward”, so you stay with people for free, but then when you go back to your home city, hopefully you would also like to host passing by travellers as a way to keep in touch with different cultures. It’s not obligatory - but I suppose, you could call it passing on good karma?
Bring a reusable mug and your own favourite tea bags - then just pay for hot water at cafes or restaurants. Best travel hack ever, especially in winter! Tea often costs 3.5-4 Euros and it’s basically hot water, so paying that much for the tea bag itself is just not cool. I usually bring some tea bags with me and ask at cafes if they can just fill it up with hot water. Most of the time its free, sometimes it’ll cost you 50c. If you have to pay more than that, then just leave and find another place. After all, you’re just paying for hot water!
Seek out student hubs if possible - always a good bargain. You often find great eats at super affordable prices. Also drinks tend to be much cheaper here and I just love the student vibes.
If you have a skill you think you can provide to a company, send out emails and ask to work with them. It’s not being stingy, it’s being smart. Especially if it’s mutually beneficial and could be a long term relationship. This is basically how I get around freelancing. Be prepared for a lot of rejection emails and no replies - but that tiny percentage that does get back to you, is just the best ever!
Invest in some lightweight camping gear and opt for freedom camping in between accommodation to decrease your living costs. I almost always carry with me this lightweight tent from NatureHike, a 3 Season Lightweight (850g) Sleeping Bag from Qeedo, my favourite Cocoon Inflatable Travel Pillow, this super lightweight Hikenture Inflatable Sleeping Mat and of course, my Hawk Outdoors Olive Green Hammock. So I carry approx. an extra 3-3.5 kgs with me but this means that, in the case I find myself in the middle of nowhere with no real accommodation, I always have the option of camping out and am not reliant on others.
For vehicle rentals - consider renting a scooter over a car if you can ride one. It’s much cheaper and so much more fun, easier to park and easier in high traffic areas too. Bring a backpack with all your camping gear and just freedom camp, or consider the money saved from renting a scooter and use that to offset your accommodation costs. Cars are great too for budget travelling as you can sleep in the car and avoid accommodation expense.
Ask locals for tips on how they get around, where their favourite restaurants are, and their favourite spots/hikes in the region and this helps you veer away from the more touristic places and it also helps you save money whilst discovering some hidden gems.
For foreign currency exchange/money transfer, foreign ATM withdrawals, card payments in different currencies - consider TransferWise instead of your normal local bank (who charge extra fees and have terrible exchange rates). I have been using TransferWise for the last three years now for ALL my international transfers and this is what I rely on most. Their exchange rate is basically on par with the market exchange rate and their fees are so small and so affordable. This has saved me hundreds and hundreds of dollars over the years.
I wrote a more extensive article about different scenarios with TransferWise, which you can read here: How To Manage Foreign Currencies.
You can sign up and get your first transfer for free using my link here: TransferWise - Emily Peilan
So basically, travelling is as expensive or as cheap as you want to make it. My biggest tip would be to set your priorities and know which costs are necessities and which are luxuries. What are you willing to give up and how can you go about that?
For me, accommodation is a luxury, not a necessity. I simply need something over my head and something to sleep on - for me a tent + sleeping bag will do (or the back of the car + blanket). The money I can save on accommodation goes towards another day of adventure or a whole day’s worth of food, or a treat at a cafe. For some reason, I value my food and cafe time more than I do accommodation! But everyone is different :)
So, here you have it! My top 10 hacks for travelling on a budget! Hope you found them helpful and if you have any additional tips or travel hacks, please share below! This article contains my recommendations in the form of affiliate links, so if you use those links and follow through with the transactions, then I get a small commission and it doesn’t change the price for you at all (except by TransferWise where you get a free transfer!). And as always, if you have any questions about any of the points I made above, just drop a comment below and I look forward to responding!