Updated November 18th, 2017.
Backpackers get a bad rep for being cheapskates… and sometimes deservedly so. But it’s not all about stealing food from hostels and walking everywhere in broken flip flops in the sweltering heat just to avoid paying for a taxi… Here are some real tips that work to take chunks off your budget:
1. Go Independent if You Can – Avoid High Street Travel Agents
When I first booked a backpacking trip to South East Asia at the age of 23 I booked my flight, adventure tours and travel insurance through a travel agent on a high street in the UK. I was inexperienced and nervous about my first solo backpacking trip, and apart from reading each page of the Lonely Planet and annotating every word of the Dangers and Annoyances section, I didn’t have a clue where to start! A friend and I skived a cheeky afternoon off work and booked the whole thing at a travel agent in one day. The whole trip was organized very well and I had no complaints. However, when I arrived in my first destination, Kathmandu, Nepal, I realized that with a little more planning and a lot less haste, I could have done the whole thing a lot cheaper…
You’ll feel on top of the world when you discover the money you saved!
2. Book Each Part of Your Trip Separately Rather Than a Package
Use flight comparison websites such as SkyScanner to find the cheapest flights and check out local tours when you arrive at your destination. Also book your travel insurance separately, rather than as part of a package. When I was in Peru on the famous Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu I met three English guys who had paid five times more for their trek than I had. They had gone through a famous travel company in the UK whose package included flights, trek and insurance. I had booked my trek at the local hostel. Even though you may want to be organized ahead of time to make sure you don’t miss out, it is always worth waiting until you arrive in a destination to check out what’s on offer. There are usually plenty of options and you may end up having a more authentic experience!
3. Couchsurfing / Free Accommodation
Every savvy traveller has heard of Couchsurfing as a fun and interesting way to travel the world and sleep for free – bunking at someone’s place in a new destination can be an amazing, authentic way to get to know the place you are staying from a local point of view – AND save you loads of money. Check out this article written by South America Backpacker Ambassador Will on why you should try couch surfing today! Also check out this article about one backpacker’s experience of couch surfing in Indonesia, along with 10 couchsurfing tips!. If you don’t fancy sleeping on a stranger’s couch check out FOFTravel (Friends of Friends Travel) which is a bit like couchsurfing but with people you know – through a friend of a friend! Basically, it’s a social network to find friends of friends who are willing to offer you a place to stay. Finally, why not put a post up on Facebook and see who lives in Singapore / Bangkok / Paris – you may be surprised that you have a cousin’s brother’s long lost sister that you never knew! The world is a small place in 2015.
4. Work / Volunteer for Accommodation
Check out websites such as Work Away and Help Exchange with listings of places that are willing to offer free accommodation / food in exchange for volunteering. Work that you may get involved in could be anything from teaching english at a local school / conservation work / or even offering your unique skills such as design / website creation to help somebody build their business! Check out more volunteering options here, read this article of one girl’s experience volunteering at an organic farm in Vang Vieng, Laos, or this experience of working at an animal welfare centre in Koh Lanta, Thailand. There are loads of interesting opportunities available that could make your backpacking experience even more unique and richer!
5. Cook / Eat Street Food
Hostels these days have great kitchens, particularly in South America, (check out some of these amazing places!) so why not get some recipes, or take a cooking class, head to the local market and start cooking fresh food as you travel! Before you know it, you’ll be the most popular guy in the hostel. It goes without saying, if you want to save money in South East Asia, avoid Western restaurants and eat nothing but street food – it’s delicious, healthy and so cheap! Grab a whole juicy sliced mango and sticky rice for less than $1 US, fill up on a nutritious bowl of noodles for less than $1.50 US. And, perhaps a backpackers’ biggest guilty pleasure – if you want to save money – don’t spend all your money on beer!
Street food in Thailand
Instead of just taking the overnight VIP buses everywhere, get creative. Take a local chicken bus, hitchhike, or better still – get your own wheels! Travel by bicycle like this adventurous backpacker who spent four months cycling the Mekong Delta in Vietnam – or our ambassadors NOMADasaurus who have been traveling South East Asia by motorbike getting into some pretty amazing adventures! Find out how to buy and sell a motorbike for pretty much the same price as you bought it here on the NOMADasaurus website. If you want to book buses, boats and trains online to avoid paying high commission at travel agents, you can do so here on our website.
Feel the freedom of having your own wheels!
7. Be a Savvy Traveller
There are loads of websites to make sure that you don’t get ripped off while you travel. Has something gone wrong with your trip? Be a savvy traveller and use the internet to make sure you are not getting ripped off by unfair travel companies! Check out FlightRight – who will fight your right for compensation after you’ve lost money when a flight has been cancelled or delayed… making the effort to investigate your rights as a traveller can leave you with more money in your pocket! And most importantly – don’t scrimp on rubbish Travel Insurance. Reading the small print and making sure you’re covered for accidents, thefts, medical treatment could save you a lot of money in the long run! Finally – investigate which ATMs won’t charge you a fortune to draw money out each time and make sure you know the exchange rates and shop around to get the best deal when changing money.
8. Read blogs from Budget Backpackers For Tips!
There’s a lot to be said for doing your research online. A bit of planning about activities to do and places to visit before you travel can she you tones of money. Find out when museums and art galleries have free ‘open days’, read blogs like this one about 10 free things to do in Chiang Mai to get insider tips from locals and expats on free things to do in each place you visit. Read books like ‘How to Travel the World on $50 US / Day‘ by Travel Guru Nomadic Matt, Follow The Broke Backpacker (the poorest backpacker we know), read these 7 secrets to travelling on the cheap and check out alternative ways of seeing the ‘Must-See’ sights, like this great article by Two Monkeys Travel on how to see Machu Picchu independently and cheap!
9. Don’t make yourself a Target
First of all – don’t be a rookie backpacker and get sucked into any of these scams in South East Asia – sometimes, we don’t know how a backpacker gets out the airport without getting themselves into trouble! Learning some words in the local language will make people think that you haven’t just arrived and that you aren’t as inexperienced as you may be! Finally – blend in, particularly if you are traveling to places that have a reputation for being more dangerous. Wearing spanking brand new trekking gear and displaying a camera and laptop will get you mugged. Wear what the locals wear and walk with a swagger.
10. Try House Sitting / Pet Sitting
There’s a new phenomena in the world of budget travel and it’s called House Sitting! Did you know that you can stay in someone’s posh house for free, and you’re doing the owner a favor! Check out TrustedHouseSitters.com and MindMyHouse.com – and start house sitting today! For animal lovers – there’s also a lot of opportunity to babysit dogs and cats and n exchange get a free place to stay! Check out this interesting article by our friends over at Goats on the Road who reckon they saved over $24,000 US by House Sitting! The ‘Goats’ spent 6 months pet sitting an awesome dog called Spare on the beautiful island of Grenada and didn’t spend a penny on accommodation. Now it doesn’t get much better than that does it?
Get your own pad for the duration of your stay!
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