29 Travel Tips for Exploring the World on a Budget
I bet your list of where you want to go is longer than the list of where you have been.
Almost everyone has a travel dream. It could be Paris, it could be Cambodia.
For me it was India. And Japan. And Marrakech...
To name a few places.
Those places are no longer my travel dreams, though. Those places are on the list of where I have been. Because I don't dream about going places anymore.
I go places.
And when I do, I get asked the same question over and over again:
How can you afford it? I wish I could travel like you do.
My answer is always the same:
However, people who ask me that question almost always seem to confuse travelling with vacationing. They imagine comfortable hotels, swimming pools, beaches and shopping. They imagine treating themselves to whatever they want on a restaurant menu, for every meal. ...And they imagine doing it for 2 weeks a year, because that is all they can afford.
Well, if that's how I would travel, I wouldn't be able to afford it either.
What matters more than your resources, is your resourcefulness.
This is how I travel.
29 Travel Tips for Exploring the World on a Budget
Book early, but not too early
So-called travel experts say that you get the best prices if you book your flights between 6-2 months before departure. In my experience this rings true. At around 2 months before your departure, prices tend to rise again the closer you get to the travel date. Also, it's always a good idea to use a site such as Kayak, that allows you to check dates both +3 and -3 days before and after your chosen travel date. You can save a lot just by choosing the right date to leave and return.
Go through a major hub
Often you'll find cheaper flights from the major hub airports, just because the planes that land and take off are generally larger, and the frequency of the routes are also higher. If you don't live near a big airport, check what it will cost to get a low-cost-carrier (LCC) between your home town and the major hub. Some major hubs in the US are LAX, New York (NWE, JFK), Atlanta (ATL), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW) and San Francisco (SFO). Major hubs in Europe are London Heathrow, Paris Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt Airport and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. I've saved a lot of money by travelling to big hubs in Europe such as Frankfurt or London Heathrow, but by flying there from Oslo with a LCC such as Ryan Air.
Get the long layover tickets
These tickets are cheaper for a reason! I'll be the first to admit that spending 8 hours in any airport isn't fun, especially not when you are tired and jet lagged. However, these tickets with long layovers are usually significantly cheaper, so if you're on a really small budget it might be worth it. For long layovers, I suggest checking out the options you have to leave the airport and go into the city. Not only will time pass much faster, you'll get to see a part of the world you otherwise probably wouldn't have visited. If this is not an option for you, I suggest wandering around the airport until you find a the quietest spot to crash for a few hours. Bonus points if you can find a place with power outlets and an empty rack of chairs you can sleep on!
Pack your own food for the airport
Airport food is expensive! To save money, I suggest packing your own food in the comfort of your own kitchen. Just remember to don't pack any sauces or dressings in boxes that won't make it past security.
Get overnight flights/trains/buses
Yes, I know they are a pain in the a** (literally!) but overnight flights, buses and trains are much cheaper for two reasons: not only are the tickets cheaper themselves compared to other departure times, but you'll also save a nights accommodation. This way you'll save double, and the long journey may feel worth it after all.
Do public transport
You'll save lots on money compared to taxi's, car rental, Uber or the hop-on-hop-off. The public transport system in any given city usually works in the same way everywhere. You find out where you want to go, locate the right route number, locate the right stop, buy a ticket with the driver, and get off at your destination. Easy peasy!
Stay in hostels and guesthouses
Did you know that hostels often have private rooms for a fraction of the price of a regular hotel? Guesthouses are another great category to check out if you want more personality and lower prices.
...or do homestays, friends, coach surfing or AirBnB
Personally, I have had great experiences with staying with friends and I absolutely LOVE to use Airbnb both to find a place to stay, and to rent out my own home
Do five star hotels in developing countries (only)
If you want to travel the world on a budget, but still love yourself some luxury, make sure you get your fix of lux where the prices are good. My rule of thumb is to only spend time in 5-star hotels when I'm in developing countries. Not only are the rates cheaper per night, I also appreciate it way more when I've been backpacking for a month and haven't had a hot shower in weeks.
Get a local pre-paid sim card
There is an easy way to avoid paying for expensive roaming charges: get a local sim card! Go to the nearest tele-store and ask for a pre-paid sim with a data plan. It will keep you connected, it is safer for you to have a working phone, and you'll save money that way too. It's a no-brainer!
Avoid paying for luggage on flights by travelling light. If you can do hand-luggage only; go for it! Otherwise, make sure you stay under your airline's luggage weight limit, because paying for those extra pounds are pricey as h*ll.
Eat street food
Not only is street food much cheaper, it is often an important part of the local culture as well. Snack on some fried tempeh in Indonesia, amazing pancakes in Thailand or dig into some amazing samosas in India. I promise you, you'll be happy you did.
Rent out your home while you are gone
Travelling on a budget doesn't just mean to focus on your expenses on the road. Think about what you are leaving at home too. Renting out my apartment on AirBnB is by far the best decision I have made in order to fund my travelling. You can do it to! Go here to get started today.
Cancel your subscriptions
If you're planning to stay away for a month or more, consider to cancel or pause your subscriptions for things such as newspapers and magazines, gym memberships, hi-speed WIFI, Netflix etc. It all adds up, even for just a month!
Work from the road
If you can work while you are travelling, you can stretch your budget to make your trip even longer, or with a better standard. If you're in a regular job, check with your boss if there are some simple tasks you can do while you're on the go – to add some extra hours to your income. More conveniently though, find a way to make extra income on the side. Fiverr is a great platform to do a little extra work and you can easily make a few 100 bucks in very little time if you go for it. I have!
Volunteer or do internships
A great way to travel on a budget is to do work-trades, volunteering or internships. When I stayed in India for three months, many of the people I stayed with were there on an internship – and although they didn't get paid for their work, many of them got free food and lodging. There were also amazing places to volunteer, such as at a school for disabled children, or at a reforestation project. Basically, volunteering or interning is a great way of seeing the world, learning about a different culture, and maximising your budget.
Split costs with friends
Travelling with a friend is often cheaper than to travel alone. You'll save on accommodation, transport and other expenses it makes sense to share and split in two. Plus, it is so much more fun!
Cook your own food if you can
If you stay in hostels or at an AirBnB rental, you can also cook your own food, which will help you save money as well. Do as the locals do and go get some groceries at the local place around the corner. Foreign supermarkets are superfun, and supercheap compared to restaurants. Bonus points if you can cook all your meals at your place and bring a packaged lunch!
Don't save on safety
Let me say it this way: ending up at the police station to report a theft, having to find a hotel on a moments notice because your couchsurfing host is a creep, ending up in the hospital (or worse!) – it's all way more expensive than to just follow your gut feeling and paying up front when you need to. It's just not worth it to save on safety. Period.
Stay longer, not shorter
Contrary to popular belief, it isn't cheaper to stay shorter, but to stay longer. Most likely, you're travelling to a country where the living expenses are lower than in your home country. Given you are renting out your home and working location-independently, if you stay longer and live like a local you'll save money compared to being at home. Also, accommodation and other expenses are significantly cheaper the longer you stay.
Avoid costly tourist attractions
Remember, you are not a tourist, you are a traveller. Do you really need to see every museum? Most likely, the locals have never even heard of those places listed in your guide book. Instead, focus on exploring all the great things about a place that are free: the parks, the trails, the beaches, the neighbourhoods. Then move on to the really low-cost things such as the best coffee shops and the best free or low-cost local events and happenings.
If you are in a country where haggling is the norm: do it. You'll save money, and you'll be way more respected and included in the local culture.
It saves you money to plan ahead. If you are travelling from place to place, make sure you have your accommodation sorted for a few days ahead, to avoid arriving in a place where the only option is an expensive hotel. It also pays to plan ahead of your trip: for example, the only way to get the cheaper train tickets for Shinkansen in Japan is to buy the tickets before you arrive in Japan.
Travel off season
Although the weather may be more unpredictable, travelling during off season or shoulder season will save you some serious cash. Pick your destination based on where there's a shoulder or off season at the time of your travel, or pick your time of the year to travel based on the seasons at your destination. Just beware that some things may be closed during off season or close earlier than usual.
Learn the art of stopping the shopping
I know it's tempting to buy all those souvenirs! But take it from the girl that has carried half her body weight in a backpack: you don't really want or need them in the long run. Remember, the amazingly beautiful shabby chic tapestry you fell in love with in India may look slightly more shabby and less chic among all your other things once you get home.
Treat yourself with experiences, not food and things
It goes without saying, but experiences create amazing memories that you'll carry with you for the rest of your life. And hopefully, you won't be carrying that indian tapestry for the rest of your life! Instead, spend your money on amazing experiences – and remember, the best experiences usually come (almost) for free.
Get used to fans instead of air-condition
When travelling in hot climates, get used to fan rooms instead of air-conditioned rooms. You'll save A LOT on accommodation that way. If you are used to a colder climate, or if you struggle with the heat, remember that your body will acclimatise within about a week.
Go to developing countries
If you want to make your money last, visit countries with low living costs such as developing countries. Not only will you be able to travel for longer and cheaper, you will also support the country by contributing to the country's economy. Consider to give in other ways as well, such as by volunteering or giving to a charity or local non-profit.
Visit places after a disaster
While I haven't used this as a strategy consciously, I have found myself visiting the US right after 9/11, Madrid right after the train station bombings and Tokyo right after the earthquake and Tsunami. Because other tourists may cancel their trips and stay home, prices are usually much cheaper than normal. And just as with developing countries, your presence will help rebuilding the country's economy after a disaster. However, use common sense and follow your local government's travel advice, as I mentioned above, it is never worth it to save on safety.
I'm writing this sitting on the porch of an indie hippie trailer, in a little sleepy village called Indianola, on the Olympic peninsula opposite Seattle. I didn't plan to go here, but I was invited and I jumped at the change to wander off my city path for a bit. And I'm so glad I did!
It is beautiful here, with both the forest and the sea embracing you simultaneously. It's opening and grounding at the same time, and I'm really enjoying my time here before I'll keep going, over to Seattle, down to Portland and then eventually down to California.
Where do YOU want to travel next? Share it with us in the comments!