A Traveller’s Guide to Travelling on a Budget

Inspired by: Chris on Tour
Original article: How to Keep Travel Costs Low

Chances are that if you’re travelling for more than a month or two (and you’re not already loaded) then money is going to be an issue. And while you’re on the road, the last thing you’re going to want to do is have to think about money all the time – let alone worry about it. To help you out, we’ve written up 10 tips for keeping those costs down while you’re off exploring. Hopefully these will help you stretch your trip out to the max.

1. Keep a budget

Firstly, set a daily budget and stick to it. Sure, this will mean keeping an eye on what you’ve been spending all day and recording it (perhaps in an excel spreadsheet), but do this and you’ll know exactly what you’re spending. The easiest way to do this is to put a day’s amount in cash in your hand and count what’s left at the end. Record what’s saved, and after a few days of saving you never know, you may have enough money in the green to go on that tour you’ve been wanting or enjoy a nice meal out. Being in the green feels good too.

2. Be selective

It’s important to recognise that it’s not possible to travel cheaply everywhere, and prices are rising all the time. Regions such as South Asia and Southeast Asia tend to be the cheapest, but there’s good value-for-money to be had in other regions too. And don’t just be selective with where you travel, but be selective with what you do while you’re travelling too. Work out which experiences are meaningful to you and worth the cost, and make sure you budget for those experiences accordingly. You may have to miss out on doing some awesome things this time round, but you can always return to that country again in the future, can’t you?

3. Lower your standards

If you’re going to be travelling on a budget (and a small one at that), then you’re going to have to lower your standards – especially if you’re coming from a comfortable, modern and efficient country. Expect cheaper restaurants to be a little dirty and for the service to be poor, for your bed to have broken springs or stains, for the hotel to be noisy and rough around the edges, or for your bus to break down numerous times along the way. Lower prices almost always mean lower quality – although there’s still some excellent value for money to be had in many parts of the world. Just don’t expect such value to be the majority. 


4. Base yourself

Generally, the less you move about, the less you’ll spend. If you base yourself in a location for five days to a week and take day trips from there, you’ll usually save money. Finding a cheap accommodation option that allows you to cook and wash your own clothes will really help too, as will selecting a location that has many cheap (or free) activities. Going off season can also dramatically reduce costs, and it’s not always a complete wash out travelling at these times either. It can in fact be quiet and very rewarding!

5. Travel carefully

Sleight of hand, outright robbery, a casual con, losing your stuff, missing a flight or bus, accidentally overpaying – all of these things cost, and in the long run they can add up to quite a bit. The more careful you are around dodgy people or with your schedule, money and belongings in general, the more you’ll save for doing those amazing bucket-list experiences you’ve always dreamed of. It’s also generally cheaper to create a logical route. If you end up madly zipping backwards and forwards across the country because you didn’t do your research, that’s going to cost you.

6. Share with friends

Travel alone and on a budget and you may be forced to hitchhike, sleep in dorms and only eat the cheapest of things. Travel with a partner or with friends however and suddenly a taxi split four ways doesn’t cost so much, and neither might a private apartment shared between newly made amigos. What’s more, there’s a lot of food on offer around the world that’s just designed to be shared, from Korean BBQs to Turkish meze. Travel on your own with little money and you may very well miss out on some delicious experiences.

7. Prepare your own food

While it’s always pleasurable (and part of the experience) to eat out when you’re travelling – and must be done from time to time at least, if you’re on a tight budget and are moving about for a number of months you’re going to want to prepare your own food as much as possible. Breakfasts are almost always a rip off, especially seeing as local fruit, some oats and a little yoghurt are universally cheap. Of course, some countries just don’t offer up kitchens to guests very often, and in these cases you’ll want to look for where the workers are eating or try do make do with supermarkets. Lunch specials for labourers are quite common (especially in Latin America), and can often be very filling and extremely affordable.   

8. Haggle and research

Do some research beforehand and you’ll be guaranteed to save yourself money while you’re on the road. If you know how much something should cost before you buy it – a bus ticket, taxi or tour for instance, you’ll be in a much better position to haggle down the price. And haggle you should, almost always… unless it’s culturally impolite. But of course be friendly and generous about it; don’t rip the locals off. There are even times where you can offer a ‘tip’ to a member of staff, such as “if you let me and my wife enter for the price of one ticket, I will pay you a tip of X”. Of course, you’ll need a bit of the local language to do this, and will probably also need to be travelling in a country that has high levels of poverty or corruption.  

9. Kick your addictions

OK, so most of us like to drink or smoke or both, but if you can then try to limit this as much as possible. Especially limit store-purchased alcohol and cigarettes, as these can take up a good deal of your daily budget. One beer at a restaurant can cost as much as your meal in some countries. And anyway, there’s usually some local smoke or tipple for much cheaper than the international brands, so keep an eye out for those if you really need to get buzzed. You’re also more likely to spend money without thinking if you’re high or drunk all the time, and like we said earlier – keeping safe will keep your money safe too.

10. Get a good bank

Banks can charge extortionate fees, sometimes at both ends: your home country and abroad. Do some research before you set off about which banks offer the best packages. It’s often possible to find a bank with excellent exchange rates and no withdrawal fees from most ATMs (although this is often country dependant). Of course, such an account may ask you for a minimal monthly fee, but this can often be easily offset by the money you’ll save. If you’re travelling for a year say, ATM withdrawal fees can add up to many hundreds of dollars.