Sam and I embarked on an 18 month trip with a firm budget in mind, and we did so well at our budgeting that we actually came back with nearly half of our travel budget still in the bank! We erred on the side of caution with our spending to ensure we’d have a cushion of money to come back with, but our frugal behaviours became so ingrained they didn’t even feel like a chore; it was actually really rewarding doing stuff cheap, independently, locally and maximising on the experiences that were so key to our travel goals.
Here are a few of our top tips for how to travel cheap and travel long, split into three parts
1/Activities and Tours
- Go independent if you can! It’s amazing what you can find online from previous travellers’ experiences: do your research, and see if there’s a local or independent way to do something. We planned an independent Machu Picchu trek from online resources that was the same route as the alternative ‘Jungle Trek’ and cost us a TOTAL of £45 all-in (transport, lodging, food, site entrance, hot springs ticket etc) vs £400+ to go with a tour. Equally we went to Galapagos independently (saving £1000s); cycled around Angkor Wat; took local buses everywhere…. this is maybe your biggest money saver. There’s almost always a local bus to tourist destinations, and it will save you TONS.
- Rely on local advice as to what’s good. Ask hostel owners or locals in restaurants or cafes what’s cheap/free to do; what you can do by yourself; what’s not in the Lonely Planet. People are always happy to recommend what they love doing in their home town, and often it’s a lot more interesting than what Trip Advisor tells you to do! Same goes for inspiration on where to go next.
- If you are going for a tour (sometimes it’s the only option) – make sure you’re getting good value for money. Are food and drink included? Will you be picked up and dropped off at your hostel? Are all parts of the travel included? And always shop around for the best deal. Sometimes cheapest isn’t best if the company isn’t reputable (we learned this the hard way!) so check with other travellers first. Be wary of scams especially in over-touristed S.E. Asia! Hostel workers / other friendly locals will often point out the ‘mafia’ or rip-off guys, to try and protect you.
- Ask yourself whether you REALLY want to go on that tour / activity. Sometimes in a really nice town/city/area, you can get a lot from just absorbing that place. Go on some hikes/walks; take a cheap local bus to the surrounding area; eat on the market; take some pictures; swim in the sea/lake; check out any nearby national parks (often very cheap entrance!); sunbathe; drink coffee all day. Don’t feel the pressure to do EVERYTHING in every place – no doubt you’ll see things like canyoning, kayaking and similar activities everywhere but don’t give into the pressure. Just do the stuff you think you’ll really enjoy!
- Only use the Lonely Planet / Trip Advisor as a jumping off point. It’s great for maps, transport info, travel times etc. but in terms of activities, it’s only the bare bones and if you look online/ask around you’ll find more authentic/ up to date info on what an area has to offer. Sadly in recent editions, far too much weight goes to restaurants and accommodation rather than information about the place itself, and most of these are way too expensive for the budget traveller (they often seem sponsored)
- Plan at least a week in advance with the key things you want to do in each area, and don’t overload yourself! Spread out the activities over a few days, don’t jam-pack your schedule, or you’ll stop enjoying the activities, become jaded and exhausted. Give yourself mornings or afternoons to walk around and relax. Once you’ve planned these key activities, you can work out how many days (roughly) you want in each place, which means you can haggle a good deal with your accommodation.
- For when you DON’T feel like doing activities, or you’re stuck on transport, load yourself up with entertainment e.g. download films and TV (even on your basic shitty smartphone via uTorrent app), download Podcasts or Spotify playlists so you can just have dinner / stay in some nights to avoid spending loads on booze and subsequent liver failure!