Conventional wisdom tells us that travel has to be expensive, but as you know if you read this blog with any regularity, I don’t consider such wisdom to be so wise. Remember when I traveled the world on less than $50 per day?
Even if you can’t manage to squeeze your daily travel budget down to such a low number, be strategic to minimize the amount of money you spend on the road without compromising your travel experience.
1. Drink and eat selectively
When I say “drink” here I mean alcohol, not water. No matter where in the world you travel, drinking alcohol has the potential to be your biggest expenditure. While it’s OK to throw back a few from time to time, you are literally pissing — and probably sleeping — your money away.
The same goes for food. Eat to try new things (remember my culinary adventure in Singapore?) and to nourish yourself, but don’t be excessive. A good rule of thumb I use is limiting myself to one “proper” restaurant meal per week and the rest of the time either cook for yourself in your hostel or eat street food.
2. Keep track of what you spend
This one is always important as far as I’m concerned, but is especially so when you’re on the road. When I was a novice traveler, I would count my money every few days and be surprised how little of it was left. The solution, I found, was to keep a detailed ledger, which allowed me to be tighter with my money if I’d been frivolous and freer with it if I’d been well-disciplined.
When I first arrived in Melbourne at the beginning of my recent trip to Australia, for example, I was purchasing 1-2 Red Bulls per day, at AUD 3-4 a pop. To counter this expense, I made a point of eating cheaper meals every day I had a Red Bull then, after my initial jet lag wore off, stopped drinking the stuff altogether.
3. Compensate for large expenses
Although I don’t believe that travel, on the whole, needs to be expensive, there are certain experiences you want to have that you can’t really do cheaply. Recent examples for me including camping in Morocco’s Sahara desert and touring Australia’s Great Ocean Road.
Contrary to popular belief, being a budget traveler doesn’t mean you can’t do expensive things — it just means you have to cut elsewhere to pay for them. Let’s assume you’re in Peru right now and want to scale Machu Picchu, which costs about $150 overall the “cheap” way. If you have 10 days left in the country, simply cut $15 per day from what you would usually spend to defer the cost over time.
4. Take overnight transport
Lodging is one of the “big three” expenses you incur when you travel, the others being transport and food. One great way to seriously reduce your lodging expenses is to combine them with transport. Of course, I’m talking about taking overnight transport.
The level of comfort you enjoy taking said transport will vary from place to place. If you travel the coast of Vietnam by bus, for example, it’s not likely that you’ll enjoy the same quality of sleep you would in a proper hotel or hostel, while overnight trains in Europe — and certainly overnight buses in South America — afford you the luxury of a lie-flat bed. No matter how you sleep, you can rest assure knowing that you’ve saved on a night of accommodation.
5. Look for freebies
Of course, combining expenses isn’t limited to transport and lodging. In some instances, you can also combine lodging and food. Most hostels in South America (Loki Hostels, for example) and Europe include breakfast free with the cost of a dorm bed. In Australia, you sometimes even get dinner!
Many hostels around the world also offer free walking tours and excursions to guests. These are great to take first and foremost because they’re free, but secondly because they allow you an inside look into places you visit. Free walking tours are proof that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a great travel experience.
6. Be aware of extra charges — and avoid them
On the flipside, extra charges and fees can be your downfall, particularly if you aren’t aware of them. Don’t assume, for example, that your hostel has free Wi-Fi. If you book a cheap hostel and find out it doesn’t have Wi-Fi, it might be more economical to stay at a costlier hostel that does have WiFi, since by-the-hour Internet abroad can be expensive.
Many low-cost airlines in foreign countries (AirAsia in Southeast Asia, RyanAir in Europe and Virgin Australia, to name a few) charge you to check baggage — and charge more to check baggage the day-of than if you book in advance. If you think your baggage might be too large to come on board, go ahead and pay for it in advance to save yourself the hassle.
7. Bring your own toiletries and medicine
This last one is essential not only for saving money, but also for saving a lot of hassle. When I visited Myanmar in December 2010, I fell ill with the worst food poisoning I’d ever had. Although the cost of a doctor visit and a shitload of medicine wasn’t astronomical, it would’ve been much easier to take pain reliever and stomach medicine right in my room if I’d had it, rather than having to stress my sick body out by taking a rickety old taxi to the doctor’s office.
Ordinary toiletries can often be expensive — and you may not be able to get brands and products you love abroad cheaply or at all. In Switzerland, for example, a bottle of contact lens solution costs a cool CHF 41, or about $45. Even in cheap China, a small bottle of Pantene shampoo or conditioner cost around 35 yuan, or $5.