So you wanna know how to travel cheap?
So you worked hard all summer, or all winter, or maybe you even worked hard all summer and winter. You worked every hour you could in a tedious, low paying job and saved every last penny. You denied yourself life’s little luxuries choosing to abstain from Friday night beers, hot meals, and new underwear. Now you’re ready, you’ve hit your savings target, ditched your desk and are walking out the door, it’s time to begin your adventure…
This scenario may or may not describe your situation.
Backpacking is a great way to travel firstly because it’s fun and educational but also because its pretty bloody cheap. You travel as minimally as possible by tossing you rucksack on and off battered busses and check it in and out of flophouse dorms. But on the other hand it can also be subtly expensive, $100’s for Visa’s, replacement Smartphones and organised tours can all take their economic toll so if you’re not careful the money can dry up much sooner than hoped and before you know it, you’re back home begging for your old job back. Basically, you need to know how to travel cheap!
I have been travelling for eight amazing years and in that time I learned quite a few simple but effective cost-saving tips along the way which made my hard earned money go a hell of a lot further and allowed me to keep travelling a damn sight longer than I otherwise would.
And because I love you my dear readers I will happily share the fruits of my experience with you and impart some top tips for travelling longer…
The first of my Top Tips To Travel Longer is get your ass on the road and start hitchhiking; you travel huge distances for free, it really is that simple. Even in a cheap country like India a bus from Delhi to Manali will set you back at least $20 if you want air con. In Western terms, that’s not a great deal but in India, that $20 will rent you a cheap room for a week if you play it smart. When you get to the end of your money and it’s time to go home and you’re saying to yourself If only I could just have one more week here” you will remember that $20 you so frivolously wasted on a bus seat.
Hitchhiking has a bad reputation in the West which I suspect in a conspiracy between bus and train companies who want their monopoly. The reality is that far more people are hurt in bus crashes than are hurt by hitchhiking and the vast majority of people will pick you up either because they are kind or plain curious to speak to a foreigner and not because they want to hurt you. Yes there are hitch-hiking horror stories (which tend to get turned into films) but there are also bus, train and airplane horror stories.
For a full run down and How To, see my Hitch-hiking 101 guide but in a nutshell what you need to do is make a sign stating your destination (in both English and the local language), stand by the main road where you can be seen by cars but not hit by cars and wait.
Be smart and keep your wits about you, trust your gut and don’t be afraid to turn a lift down if you get a bad feeling.
When you do find a ride be sure to attempt conversation and offer to buy your host a drink or make a token contribution towards petrol costs.
Stay at someone’s house for free, it really is that simple! Whilst hostels are a great way to meet people so is Couchsurfing as you meet your host who has clearly expressed great interest in meeting you! You generally also get to meet all of their friends and they will show you the best and cheapest places in the city to hang out so it’s a triple whammy.
Couchsurfing is free to use. Make your profile as interesting as possible but also be yourself and make it reflect who you really are; that way you will find hosts who want to meet the real you who you will have a better chance of clicking with.
The beauty of Couchsurfing is that hosts and travellers can review one another and leave feedback so be sure to check testimonials. Couchsurfing is a great way to land on your feet with a social life in more off the beaten path countries like Venezuela.
Again, get into the habit of treating your host to a cheap meal, a few beers or make a small gift; it’s good karma.
3. Eat Cheap
When people ask me what my favourite food is I always answer “Street food”. Restaurants are expensive and even in cheap countries, they will eventually eat up (pun intended) your budget. Street food, on the other hand, is cheap (except in Western Europe where everything is expensive) and is almost always safe. My advice is to check out at the stall, make sure it looks clean-ish and avoid food that has evidently been left out for a while.
If your hostel or guesthouse has a kitchen then utilise it. You can always buy noodles, pasta, and vegetables very cheaply but meat can be quite costly (consider going vegetarian. It’s good karma). I sometimes travel with a little sachet of essential herbs and spices such basil, chili powder and pepper as these can enhance any meal. Good luck explaining what these strange herbs and spices are when you get to customs though!
I am not advising you to never to frequent restaurants or cafe’s, just don’t get into the habit of making it the default option. Rather, only visit one when you will value the whole experience such as if you are dining with friends, the place has a great view or atmosphere or if it comes highly recommended.
4. Get a Job!
Ok, so you worked hard so that you could travel and you don’t want to end up working like that again for at least a while but a bit of work along your way will actually do you a lot of good.
Firstly, it will help prevent travellers lethargy which usually kicks in after 2 -3 months and compels travellers to stay in bed until 11 am and then spend the day sat in a guesthouse doing fuck all. More importantly, though it will help stretch those dollars, dimes, and nickels.
You can work at hostels and in exchange for 3 – 4 hours graft a day you get free digs. Alternatively, you can even get a little bar job where you will earn beer money instead of spending it. You will often find that backpacker jobs are not even like real jobs, they are so much more relaxed and informal that it doesn’t even feel like work. A bit like being a travel blogger…
If you want something a bit more long-term, formal and better paying then consider teaching English as a foreign language. A TEFL certificate can be obtained pretty easily and will enhance your employability ten-fold.
5. Utilise The Internet
The internet is probably the most powerful tool any of us have at our disposal and there are countless ways which you can exploit it to help you stay travelling for longer.
Finding an income, there are online jobs out there which you can do from anywhere in the world as long as you have access to the internet. Transcription, voice over’s and proofreading are just a few ways where you can work online using only your English language skills. Don’t even consider travel blogging though, this niche ain’t big enough for the both of us and I was here first.
Use the internet to research your desired destinations, using destination guides. It may sound obvious but the internet is your best friend for long-term travel planning. Examples include, but are not limited to, mapping out a route of visas that will allow you a lengthy stay, researching exchange rates and local costs (yes every dollar counts for long-term travel), browsing flight comparison sites like so you can work out the cheapest dates on which to fly – in general, the more flexible you can be, the more you can save. It’s also worth looking into round the world tickets as you can sometimes find some real gems. It’s also worth checking out accommodation comparison sites for finding hostels, guesthouses & hotels for those occasions when Couchsurfing just isn’t possible. Sometimes you can pick up awesome accommodation for silly money if there is a promotion on…
Coming from Western Europe where things are properly priced I used to despise haggling as a silly waste of time. Now, however, I love it and see it as a great opportunity to practice my negotiating and my drama skills. By haggling effectively you can sometimes get things for half of the asking price which means you can travel for twice as long; it is, therefore, a truly powerful skill to perfect and possibly the single most important of my top tips to travel longer.
My advice is to try haggling on absolutely everything, clothes, jewelry, hotel rooms, busses and even restaurants with printed menu’s. The worse they can say is stop being silly and the best thing is that you save money! You can see The Broke Backpackers full Haggling Guide here.
7. Buy and Sell Stuff
Ok, so there will come a time when the homestretch is in site and you’re reaching the end of your journey. Your feelings will be mix of excitement at going home, sheer crushing, inconsolable depression at going home and a vague stirring of What next?
If you are anything like me at this point you will already be mentally planning your next trip. You will however also be flat broke and in all probability even when you do get a job back home your first pay cheque is going to be paying off your overdraft.
However, in most destinations (other than the West) there are tons of local items, wares and handicrafts which you can pick up for a song (although I once tried singing the first verse of “Hey Jude in exchange for a kaftan..it didn’t work) which you can sell for way more money back home.
Leather bags, indigenous jewelry, hippy clothes and local art are all guaranteed to sell back home whether on eBay, at music festivals or at local markets and the profit margins can be as high as 1000%. Make as much room in your bag and carry all that you can. Customs in your home country may want to levy duties on these goods which will negate your profits so have a look online at the laws and regulations regarding this and you will able to find a way around paying anything. I don’t condone tax evasion but there are ways which you can legitimately reduce these costs by taking a look online and understanding the position.
If you’re feeling truly industrious then you can even consider a filling a box with these goods and posting them back home to maximise your haul. Just be sure to work out postage costs and once again check the position regarding import laws by using the internet.
Well there we have it guys, these are my top tips to travel longer. There are of course lots more ways but these are the essential skills and habits you need to acquire in order to become a true Broke Backpacker.
See you on the road guys!