Budget travel

Many of us are budget travellers, trying to make our money stretch for as long as we’re able to so that we can see as much of the world as possible. But, how do you travel on a budget exactly? I’ve travelled for months on end averaging a daily budget of $30, sometimes even less. So, I’ve put together this blog post with all of my top tips for travelling on a budget in the hope that you might learn something new about travelling on the cheap.

It doesn’t mean that you have to be a backpacker to implement some of these tips. From booking flights to dealing with ATMs in foreign countries and adopting different approaches to travel, there are tips here that any type of traveller can consider for their own holiday. Whether you’re completely broke or just hoping to save some money along the way, here are my top 25 budget travel tips.

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1. Have a bank account for travel savings

When it comes to saving for your trip, there’s really no better way to do it than having a designated holiday fund. Preferably, in an account that might have a high-interest rate if you don’t make any withdrawals or something similar. This means that you can either set up a weekly amount that goes into it or you just transfer money whenever you have it. A little bit every week can quickly add up.

This works for most people, simply because you can see the amount growing and it can motivate you to continue to save for your trip. However, it won’t work if you get tempted to dip into it for an impulse buy!

But having a separate travel account is also a good idea when it comes time to leave on your trip. It allows you to track your spending while travelling more easily than if you were using your everyday account which might have other payments coming in and out. 

Solo travel in Northeast India
Neermahal in India

2. Stick to a budget

Well, this seems obvious, but it can be harder than it sounds. Try to work out how much you might realistically spend per day or per month for a trip and stick to it. If you’re going for a long time and worried that you might lose track of your spending, then you should record it at the end of each day. 

I have done this in the past in an expense tracker app (there are many different ones available on the app store). I would enter how much I spent on accommodation, food, transport and entrance tickets each day. It can be very useful, especially because you can see if you’ve spent a bit too much over consecutive days and need to make up for it in some way. It can also be useful if you’re interested to know what expenses take up most of your budget. Some countries might cost more on accommodation while others might have more expensive transport.

Stopover to Asia

3. Book in advance

If you prefer to plan your holiday in advance, it can often mean that you get better flight prices and long-distance rail tickets. This isn’t always the case, as you can sometimes pick-up last-minute flight deals. However, on the whole, it’s usually best to book major flights ahead of time. 

I’ve been stung with massive price increases by booking last minute compared to months ahead.

4. Consider an extended stopover or layover

When you’re booking your long-haul flights, it’s worth paying attention to the common stopovers and transit routes of certain flights. Then, if you jump on Skyscanner and play around a bit with individual one-way flights rather than continuous long-haul jaunts, it can sometimes work out cheaper to have an extended stopover. This isn’t always the case, but I’ve definitely found that coming from Australia it can be cheaper to do this.

If you don’t know what I mean, here’s an example. In December 2018 I wanted to go to Myanmar. Flying from Melbourne to Yangon one-way was going to cost me around $550. In comparison, booking a ticket from Melbourne to Bangkok cost me around $350 and then a ticket from Bangkok to Mandalay, five days later, cost me $90. Five nights in a cheap hostel in Bangkok cost me $30 total, meaning overall it was cheaper and it meant that I got to explore Bangkok as well. 

It also worked for me on the way home too. From Tbilisi, Georgia, I stopped in Thailand for 10 days again before heading home. If you have a flexible holiday, it’s definitely worth looking at cheap layovers and major flight hubs, which might work out cheaper to stop for a few days in.

Trekking to Phuktal Monastery
Hiking in India

5. Travel with carry-on only

Travelling with carry-on luggage is the best way to save money on flight tickets. It’s always cheaper and can be more convenient too. 

If you do have big luggage that you need to check-in, remember that it’s also cheaper to purchase checked-in luggage before travelling with budget airlines. The prices on the day at the airport for extra luggage can be astronomical. 

6. Travel in the off-season

Travelling in the off-season is always a good idea for travelling on a budget. It often means cheaper flights, cheaper accommodation prices, and even cheaper food prices (I’ve literally been to the same restaurant in Kathmandu over two different seasons and they told me that they had a “high season menu” which was a few dollars more per meal).

Travelling off-season also means that you can enjoy places free of crowds too. The only downside is that it usually means the weather may not be the greatest at that time, although depending on the country this might not always be a bad thing. 

Batumi in Georgia

7. Adopt a slow travel approach

Slow travel is usually something that is advocated for on environmental grounds, but it can also work out better for travelling on a budget too. 

Slow travel means what it says. Slower travel; exploring at a slower pace and spending more time in one spot. It usually means seeing fewer places and unpacking your itinerary, but it can often lead to richer experiences in the places that you do go. There are many reasons why this is a great way to travel, but in terms of budget travel, it can be especially beneficial.

Often accommodation can be cheaper if you opt for long term stays. I’ve negotiated a number of times with guesthouses for a cheaper price if I stayed a week, for example. This can also work on Airbnb, with long term travel options. 

Slow travel also means less flying from one place to another and taking your time. Travelling by road or even by foot are the best slow travel alternatives and this is also ideal from a budget perspective. So, the next time you sit down to plan out a trip itinerary, think about how you can slow down because it can also stretch that account balance too. 

Kashan mosque
Kashan Mosque in Iran

8. Get off the beaten track

Another way of travelling that can save you money is to head off the beaten track. Tourist-oriented places have tourist-oriented prices, which means you’ll be paying a lot more for hotel rooms and meals compared to what you might find in other towns that see fewer foreigners. 

It’s no secret that prices are often inflated for tourists, so the more time that you spend in a touristy place, the more likely that you’re spending more money. 

However, getting off the beaten track isn’t always guaranteed to be cheaper though. For example, remote places might cost more money and time in transport and there might not be hostels or budget accommodation there either. You should do your research before heading off the tourist path but it can often lead to more affordable trips.

9. Stay in dorm rooms or try coach surfing

The backpacking world would be nothing without the humble hostel. Love them or hate them, they are the ultimate budget accommodation. Dormitory rooms can have as few as three beds and as many as 24 (but trust me, the latter is not ideal). This sharing accommodation means prices are very low and you get to meet a lot of different travellers. If I ever book my hostels in advance, I use either Booking.Com or Hostelworld for convenience and cheap deals.

If you want to travel even more cheaply than that then couch surfing is the next best thing. Staying for free in a host’s home is a great way to save money as well as meet locals. It might not always be popular in certain countries though, so you should do some research before assuming couch surfing will be an option for you.

Fabrika hostel
Fabrika hostel, Tbilisi

10. Travel overnight

This is definitely a popular budget travel tip, especially for backpackers. Travelling overnight can be a great way to save on accommodation with overnight buses and trains doubling as beds. It enables you to arrive somewhere new overnight without wasting a day and combines accommodation and transport expenses into one.

I will warn you though, this sometimes doesn’t pay off if you end up sleep-deprived and napping for half the day. It also means that you miss out on the incredible scenery that you might have otherwise got to see during the day. But, if you get comfortable transport or you can fall asleep just about anywhere, then it can certainly save you money and time. 

11. Use public transport or try hitch hiking

After accommodation, transport is the next thing you’ll want to save money on while travelling. Obviously, any form of private transport is going to be expensive and that includes taxis or private day trips. Public transport is the best alternative and can be so much cheaper (sometimes incredibly so). 

For example, a ride on the metro in Baku in Azerbaijan costs $0.20 per trip. In comparison, a taxi ride might be $4 for the same trip. This kind of price difference is similar to many cities around the world, making public transport the easiest way to keep to your budget. 

If you prefer to pay nothing (because who doesn’t?), then hitchhiking is always an option. However, similar to couch surfing, you should do some research as to the popularity, safety and etiquette when it comes to hitching a ride in a given country. Trust me, I’ve got stories both good and bad.

Manali bus station
Manali bus station in India

12. Walk as much as you can

Walking is the best free mode of transport and if you’re travelling on a budget, you should get used to walking a lot. I try and walk almost everywhere I can: from the bus station to my accommodation, from my accommodation to attractions, sometimes from one town to another. 

It’s also the best way to really see the town that you’re in. It makes you notice things you wouldn’t see otherwise, and you can sometimes stumble on places you might have missed. 

Saying that, this usually works best if you carry a backpack rather than a suitcase. It means you can forget haggling for a taxi and just walk without worrying about pulling a suitcase over the ground behind you. 

13. Check out free attractions

Every city has free attractions, from the obvious things like free entry into museums to less obvious sights like street art or public parks. There are always things to do that cost nothing no matter where you are, it’s just a matter of finding them.

Free walking tours are a popular offering in many major cities around the world. You can usually find them advertised in hostels or just simply Google them. They tend to cover major sights in a city for a couple of hours and operate on a donation basis.

As well as free entry into attractions, you might also find places that have certain days where entry is discounted. For example, some museums will have one day a week, like a Sunday, when entry is free or at least heavily discounted. 

Similarly, students often get heavily discounted tickets for some museums and UNESCO sights all around the world. If you’re a student, you should never travel without your student card. There is an official international student card that you can get, but I always found that my university ID card was enough. 

Kathmandu stupa

14. Travel to budget-friendly countries

Another obvious one, but travelling on a budget is certainly easiest when going to cheaper countries. But don’t get caught up in thinking about the same, well-known affordable destinations. There are plenty of places that might surprise you in their affordability. 

For example, India, Nepal and Thailand are known as some of the best budget-friendly countries in the world which is why there’s a very well established backpacking crowd there. However, you might be surprised to find that countries like Georgia and Iran are equally affordable and great for budget travellers. If you prefer offbeat destinations, there’s still plenty of budget-friendly options to explore.

15. Weigh up the trade-offs between planning ahead and just winging it

There are proponents for both planning your trip in detail or simply just booking a last-minute flight and working it out as you go. There are pros and cons of both approaches and both can actually work for budget travel too. 

Planning ahead of time can help save money on flights and rail tickets, with many of these long-haul travel options working out better in advance. However, planning and booking your entire trip can also mean that you miss out on last-minute deals and the ability to be more flexible.

While on the other hand, travelling on a whim can mean that you take advantage of the cheapest options that you can get at any given time. Sometimes this can be a more exciting way of travelling and it can offer last minute deals or the ability to join tours as a last-minute addition.

It really comes down to your preference and how it works for you.

Exploring Bagan temples
Bagan, Myanmar

16. Should you go solo or try group travel

Another age-old debate in travel is solo vs. group travel. This also comes down to personal preference at the end of the day. However, in terms of budget, both can work out affordable options if you do it the right way. 

Solo travel is generally cheaper than joining a fully organised group tour option. This is because you have more control over your daily expenses, and you can decide where you stay and eat. Generally, group tours will have a set overall price that can work out more expensive when broken down per day.

But solo travel is not always the cheapest option. For example, if you’re alone, you often can’t split meals or rooms with anyone, and you sometimes struggle to join into group tours or get where you want to go without paying a premium for it. Travelling with a friend or two can mean that you can share costs, which can work out better overall. 

However, as a solo traveller, I’ve often had some pretty good luck with being able to join day trips at the last minute or paying less because I was “just an extra person”. People are also generally more sympathetic to solo travellers, and I’ve saved plenty of money simply because people are nicer to me. I’ve had locals pay for my taxi ride and groups offer for me to join them for a day trip for free. You can get pretty lucky as a solo traveller!

GUM Market
GUM Market, Yerevan

17. Cook your own meals or self-cater

Eating out at restaurants is often what increases your daily expenses the most. If you eat at restaurants for all three of your meals, it’s quickly going to add up. To avoid this, staying in hostels or places that have kitchens or cooking facilities is a great way to save money.

It’s also really fun to head down to the local market to purchase fresh produce for your own meal. It’s also a nice thing to do if you’ve been away from home for a while and miss a certain meal that you usually make. 

However, eating out is often one of the highlights of being in a foreign country, and there are ways of making food experiences cheaper. Street food or local restaurants away from the tourist sites will be more affordable in general and are the best options when searching for affordable eats.

Night market in Chinatown
Night market in Chinatown, Bangkok

18. Don’t purchase drinks with your meal

Ask any backpacker and they’ll probably tell you that half of their daily expenditure is spent on beer. Drinking, whether it be alcohol or even non-alcoholic beverages, can add so much to your food bill that you often don’t realise it.

Avoiding drinks at a restaurant is one of my favourite budget travel tips. It’s basic and once you start doing it, you can easily get used to it. You’ll be surprised how much it can save. Each country can be different, but in some countries like India, alcohol is quite expensive in comparison to other things and you can easily spend a few bus tickets worth of beer in one night.

There’s nothing wrong with having a beer with some new friends though. Try heading into a local liquor store and then taking it back to your hostel instead, if you’re allowed.

Street food in Srinagar
Street food in Srinagar, India

19. Try a working holiday

If you’re really strapped for cash and want to travel long term, then working holidays can be a great option. Many countries have working holiday visas that require you to do a certain amount of work as well as allow some time to travel. The work might not always be glamorous with a lot of farming and seasonal work, but it means you get to earn money in a foreign country and use it to travel when you can.

Australia, UK, New Zealand and Canada are all popular choices for working holidays. 

20. Volunteer in a hostel

I’ve never done this myself, but I know plenty of people who have. Many hostels have a volunteering program where you get free accommodation and sometimes a meal in exchange for work. It usually includes working at the reception desk or at the hostel bar or room cleaning or all three. It can be a great way to save on accommodation and meet some new people. 

The hours usually aren’t very demanding, and most people get plenty of time to explore the city in their free time. Try staying at a hostel first before committing to it, as this will give you an idea of what it might be like.

Main bazaar in Sulaymaniyah
Main bazaar in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq

21. Ask the locals

No one knows a place better than the locals. You can certainly search for budget travel options or cheap restaurants on the internet, but your best bet is to simply ask people. Ask the staff at reception or someone you met on the train or a waiter at a restaurant and you might just find some insider tips for cheap eats or free attractions.

One of my favourite budget travel tips is also to ask locals what certain prices should be. For example, before leaving your hostel for the day, ask how much a tuk-tuk ride should cost from A to B. This will give you a good advantage when it comes to haggling with drivers.

22. Try DIY day trips and independent travel

Day trips with a hostel or local tour company are usually fully organised group tours to a certain place or around a city. As much as these can be a fun way to meet other travellers, they can sometimes work out more expensive than if you just did the same tour on your own.

DIY day trips are often my favourite things to do because it usually means navigating public transport, asking local people for directions, eating at a local restaurant and having no idea how you’re going to get back. They’re often the most memorable day that you’ll have. They can also be stressful sometimes if you’re heading to remote places, but if you ask people before you leave, you can often get certain assurances about buses or other transport to ensure that you can get back.

View on the way to Zhabeshi
View on the way to Zhabeshi, Georgia

23. Avoid ATM fees

ATM fees can be one of the biggest hidden costs of travelling. It varies wildly depending on the country that you travel to, but they can sometimes run up to $8 per withdrawal. 

For example, in Nepal, all ATMs charge a withdrawal fee for most international cards of between 250 and 400 rupees or $3-5. It quickly adds up but unfortunately, you can’t really avoid it there. To lessen the extra costs, I always withdrew the maximum amount that the machine allowed me to avoid withdrawing so many times.

In comparison, in India, only some banks charge ATM withdrawal fees for international cards. I found that most banks in India had zero fees with SBI being the most reliable. Some foreign banks like Standard Chartered charged between 150 and 300 rupees or $3-6 per withdrawal for my card, so I simply avoided them unless absolutely necessary.

It pays to do some research before you go or simply try a few ATMs in a big city to see what the fees will be. You’ll soon learn which banks have the lowest fees and which ones to try and avoid.

Iranian rial
Iranian rial

24. Learn to haggle and bargain respectively

The secret for many budget travellers is haggling. This is a real skill that you’ll need to refine if you want to avoid paying inflated “foreigner prices”. You’ll never really know how much something is inflated unless you’re with a local, but you can sometimes bargain prices down to a quarter of the starting price in some countries.

It can be particularly tiring sometimes to be constantly haggling, but it really can save you a LOT of money. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve heard from other travellers who have been ripped off even just by buying a simple SIM card at the airport. 

On the other hand, you have to be respectful when haggling and be aware that what might only be 10c to you might be a lot for the person that you’re purchasing off. I tend to think of a price that I’m willing to pay for something in my head and then try to bargain down to that point. It still might be overpriced but if I’m happy to pay that price and it means the vendor will earn a little more, I’m okay with that.

You should always research the etiquette for bargaining in a certain country before you go. Sometimes it’s not actually appropriate or respectful to do so.

Dry Bridge Market
Dry Bridge Market, Georgia

25. Carry a reusable drink bottle

I simply can’t understand travellers who don’t travel with a refillable water bottle. It not only saves you money but it’s one of the best ways to be a more responsible traveller. There is no excuse anymore for purchasing bottled water. Even if you’re a little worried about water quality, there are some great water bottles with built-in filters available now.

I personally use LifeStraw and after five years of adventures and three bottles, I wouldn’t travel without one.

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