Backpacking can be really expensive. Once you’ve booked your flights, got vaccinated, sorted your visa and booked accommodation for when you first arrive, you’ll find much of your budget has disappeared already. Once you arrive at your destinations, however, there’s some good opportunities to save some dosh as you travel. Read on for our top tips to making your backpacking budget go further.
Don’t Over Pack
Your flights are booked, your jabs are done and your thinking about all the kit and clothes you need to buy to fill up your travel bag. Stop! Keep in mind that many items you’ll need will not only be cheaper at your destination but will be better suited to the climate. It’s never a good idea to buy DEET or medicines locally as you cannot guarantee their quality and safety. However, you don’t need to go and buy a whole new wardrobe for your trip. Buy some affordable clothes at your destination and you’ll likely be much more comfortable and will blend in a bit better with the locals. It might be tempting to take that waterproof coat in monsoon season, but you’ll be better off waiting to see how to weather holds and buying a poncho locally – you’ll be much cooler, dry and wont have been lugging around a jacket for weeks or months.
Trains, Planes & Autorikshaws
Try to be flexible when booking your flights, often a day or 2’s difference can save £100s. The same applies to destinations, an airport in a neighbouring country or region can often be the cheaper option too. Obviously, looking at flight search websites can find you get deals but sometimes you can find even better ones! Find a cheap flight on one of those sites then go on the airline’s website and check if they have the same flight for even cheaper. If there’s no cheaper flights online, try calling the airline in case they can give you a deal.
If there’s an airport or region you’re really set on getting to but you just can’t afford the flights you might be able to afford it doing layovers – find a combination of cheaper flights (or coaches) and take the opportunity to check out a destination you weren’t expecting on your way. It takes some time looking through flight websites and checking accommodation prices but it’s a good money saver.
Don’t splash out on taxi’s when you can catch buses around many places for just a few pennies. Know where you’re going and a local should be able to tell you which bus to catch. This will take more time but you’ll save a lot of cash, meet locals and you might even share a ride with some farm animals!
Before you hop on a tuk tuk, mototaxi or auto rikshaw make sure you research the local prices. Knowing how much the average cost per kilometre in that area is a major bargaining tool and will help you get a fair price. Take your time, make sure they know where you want to go, always agree on the total price for everyone getting in and have the correct change. This sounds much easier than it really is sometimes so be prepared! Remember no matter how friendly, polite and funny they are never let your driver know you are hungry or in search of a hotel! You’ll often be pushed into restaurants and hotels that the driver wants a commission from and its often very difficult to get out of that situation. Politely decline any sales propositions as soon as you get an inkling of them.
Save Cash by Coaching
Taking public night coaches for long distances can be quite an exhilarating experience with arctic A/C settings, non-existent toilet stops and drivers going a million miles an hour round corners but after one or 2 you’ll get used to the experience. You save on accommodation, do all your long distance travel while you sleep and on some journeys you’ll have dinner included! Remember when buying your ticket to head to the local coach station and avoid any touts trying to sell you tickets on the way. Don’t buy tickets from hotels or shops in tourists areas and check prices online beforehand to avoid inflated prices.
You’ve made it to your destination after a rough night on the coach but don’t leave the station just yet! Make sure you get a photo of timetables, destinations and prices if you can. This will help you budget and plan for your next destination without being tempted by that super convenient ticket shop right by the hotel and you might even find some hidden gems off the tourist trail.
Why Not Walk
If you’re not in a rush, forget about paying for transport and walk. Ask locals for directions or use maps.me. You’ll often come across some interesting sights and snacks you weren’t expecting. Get maps.me, download the regional map and set your destinations for the day. The app uses your GPS (even with no SIM) to guide you so you don’t need to use any expensive data or visit internet cafes to get around.
Shop Around for a Bed for the Night
If you know there will be a lot of hotels around your destination, you’re usually better off showing up in person and asking the price for just one night. $7 a night? Maybe you can haggle 3 nights for $15. If you look around for a while you’ll often find hidden away homestays that you can’t find online. Don’t be afraid to barter, you have nothing to lose and valuable currency left over to spend on trying the local delicacies.
Eat Like a Local
When in Rome, do as the Romans do! The same applies to budget dining, avoid the pricey tourist spots and scope out where the locals are chowing down. You’ll be sure to find delicious, well prepared authentic food at local prices. Another good tip is to research the average price of a meal. For example noodle soup in Thailand is 30-60 Bhat so remember that before accepting defeat and paying three times that for a substandard meal in a tourist restaurant.
You’re 2 weeks into your long haul backpacking adventure and your living way over budget – It’s time to start self catering! You really don’t need to eat out at every meal to experience a place. Get yourself some foods that can be easily prepared (fruits, vegetables, breads, instant noodles), use the hostel kitchen and pack some lunches. You can go a step further and get yourself a hot water pot or even a small rice cooker and really get in to cooking. You’ll get to experience the joys of buying groceries in local markets and trying ingredients you’ve never seen before whilst helping out people that don’t usually benefit from the tourist industry. Most of the time getting a good price for groceries will be easy, but it’s good to find out the local average prices using websites like Numbeo. Having a good stash of cheap food can be incredibly helpful when you find yourself on an island without any shops or on an unexpected holy day when everywhere is closed!
Easy on the Booze
Don’t drink alcohol! In many countries alcohol is insanely expensive compared to standard food & drink prices. Drinking too much in a foreign place is never a good idea – it makes you an easy target and can get you arrested or worse. Keep safe and save some money in the meantime by avoiding a booze up.
Research Your Trips and Excursions
It’s easy to find excursions and day trips wherever you travel, you’ll see advertisements at all the tourist-y spots and will likely be hassled non-stop with offers of paid trips. It’s worth taking the time to research and look beyond the obvious excursions. You’ll find cheaper and often more interesting things to do than the obvious if you ask locals for tips and look online for recommendations.
Many mountain trails require all tourists to hire a guide but if you do your research you can find safe and simple trails for free. You might not get to the highest peaks but you’ll get to experience the mountains without having to shell out a ton of cash. When trekking without a guide, make sure you have lots of time to get to your destination before dark, have food and plenty of water and never be too far from people that could help you out. The same applies to scuba diving which is way out of many people’s budget. If you cant afford to scuba buy your self a snorkel set and check out safe snorkel spots in your area – You don’t need to miss out on seeing those turtles!