We shared our travel budget from our 10-month backpacking trip to Asia a while ago. Our average daily budget was less than 15 euros per person, including all the travel costs from flights to accommodation and food as well as other costs. How is it possible to travel on such a small budget then? We gathered our best tips in this article. These tips can help you to travel cheaply too.
Many people think that traveling with a little money requires lots of sacrifices and eating only cup noodles. Luckily, this is not true most of the time. We managed to enjoy our travels fully despite our small travel budget. We experienced lots of amazing things, tried local foods and even went out. Furthermore, we think that you can’t buy the best travel experiences with money.
For us the best travel memories are all those aimless hitchhiking trips, good friends we got to know while volunteering, that mindblowing noodles soup at a shabby street food stall, sitting in a cheap street bar and the nights we spent in Japanese karaoke rooms.
The best thing about traveling for us is meeting locals, gaining new friends and getting to know the local lifestyle. You can spend money endlessly on expensive travel packages and guided tours. Anyhow, you often get the same or even better experience by doing the trip independently. Traveling on a small budget has actually often driven us to situations where we wouldn’t have ended up otherwise. For us the best travel memories are all those aimless hitchhiking trips, good friends we got to know while volunteering, that mindblowing noodles soup at a shabby street food stall, sitting in a cheap street bar and the nights we spent in Japanese karaoke rooms.
Understand the difference between holiday traveler and backpacker
When you are on a long backpacking trip, the most important thing is to understand that you cannot spend money in the same way as on a short holiday trip. You can maybe spend money without thinking too much on a two-week summer holiday. Then again, if you are traveling for half a year, you need to think about the budget from a totally different angle. Where a holiday traveler might want to invest every day in indulgence, sightseeing and restaurants, a backpacker also lives that “normal everyday life” on the road alike as at home. You wouldn’t probably take a massage or eat in a fancy restaurant every day at home either.
Even the small expenses matter in the long run if they repeat every day. If you for example buy a coffee every day in Starbucks, only that raises the travel budget significantly. You should think twice about where you are ready to save and where you want to spend more money. We don’t need any special activities every day when we travel. We like just to relax or do something that doesn’t cost money.
Choose a cheap travel destination
This might be kind of obvious but still essential. We have noticed that it is possible to travel cheaply even in expensive countries. But at the same time, it requires more sacrifices in the comfort and a more adventurous mindset compared to cheap travel destinations. While in Japan we ate cup noodles, slept in internet cafes and hitchhiked, in Vietnam we could eat outside several times a day, party and even do some shopping. And still, our travel budget remained much lower than in Japan where even the cheapest hostel dorm bed costs over 20 euros. In Bali, you can get a private hotel room with a swimming pool for the same price.
The less you want to give up on comfort but still save money, the cheaper travel destination you should choose. Our favorite countries besides Southeast Asia are Eastern European countries like Hungary, Romania, Poland and Ukraine.
Utilize free accommodation options
During our 10-month trip, we stayed for free almost four months altogether which is more than a third of the whole trip. Thanks to that, we managed to keep our daily budget well under the control. Most of the time, we got the free accommodation via volunteering and couchsurfing. We did couchsurfing especially in Japan and South Korea. We also did volunteering in South Korea and Vietnam working in language cafes and in a hostel. As an exchange, we got food and the accommodation. We found the volunteering places through Workaway website.
Other options to get free accommodation are for example housesitting or camping depending on the destination.
Get to know the local price level and bargain
When you make yourself familiar with the local price level already on the first days, you can avoid paying overprices. Once you know the prices for most common things, also bargaining is easier. Bargaining is a part of the everyday culture at least in Southeast Asia so you shouldn’t be too shy to do it.
We negotiated the prices almost every time when we stayed in a hotel or looked for a transport. The same goes with clothes on the markets. What you should be more careful about, is bargaining about food. Anyhow, if someone clearly tries to charge you a double price, it is easy to drop the price simply by telling the vendor politely how much you are ready to pay. Don’t forget to smile while bargaining prices.
Don’t settle for the same as most travelers
You don’t need to stay in that popular tourist restaurants where other backpackers eat overpriced food. Instead of that, you can follow your own path an go to look for local food places. You will probably be positively surprised and eat for the fraction of the price what other travelers spend. And when you are brave enough to join the locals you get more out of your trip anyway.
When we were in Siem Reap in Cambodia, we skipped the restaurants on the tourist street. The meal prices started mostly at 5 dollars. We only had to walk around the corner and we found a one dollar noodle place that was popular among the locals. Local food is normally significantly cheaper in any country compared to pizza and pasta in tourist restaurants. In Vietnam, we normally had a big and filling rice meal for 70 euro cents. One pizza, then again, would have set us back for almost 8 euros (which was actually our average whole day’s budget including the accommodation and everything).
Put time and effort in finding the cheapest option
The cheaper you want to travel, the more you have to do independent research while planning the trip. Finding the cheapest option for the accommodation and transport requires patience and critical thinking. The first option you find is not always the best.
You should consider whether to book the accommodation and transport in advance or on the spot. At least in Southeast Asia the cheap hotels and guesthouses are mostly not available online. Sometimes we booked a hostel in advance on Hostelworld*. Anyhow, most of the time we just looked for local guesthouses directly on the spot.
The best tip is to consider different accommodation and transport options as widely as possible. Sometimes Airbnb can be cheaper than a hotel. Sometimes traveling by bus can cost three times less than a train trip or sometimes another way around. If you travel together with someone, a private room often costs the same as two hostel beds. For single travelers, hostel dorm is the best option most of the time.
You can read tips for traveling from place to places for example on Wikitravel. Tripadvisor discussions can also be useful. We mostly find the cheapest travel options simply by googling “cheapest way from x to y”. You can check more useful websites for planning a budget trip on our Resources site.
Use local public transport and travel slowly
A small travel budget cannot really stand cruising with a taxi so you should mainly rely on public transport. When you really think about it, taxi actually rarely is that compulsory. Unfortunately, there is often a risk to get scammed or to pay an overprice when you take a taxi.
There are buses or trains running from every airport to the city center. In big cities, local buses are often a good way to get around. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City we paid only 25 cents of the bus tickets and also in Bangkok it costs less than 50 cents. Anyhow, if you happen to need a taxi, check if there is Grab or Uber available. In these taxi services, the price is agreed beforehand and the price is often cheaper than in traditional taxis.
Before you book a trip in an air-conditioned tourist bus, you should check if there is a local option for the same trip. In Thailand, we traveled by train in the 3rd class which was ridiculously cheap. In Indonesia again, we sat in fully loaded local buses where we got entertained by food vendors, ukulele players and karaoke videos played on the tv screen. These travel options might not be the quickest or most comfortable ones but they allow you to travel cheaply and experience the local atmosphere.
It also matters where you buy the tickets. Try to buy the train and bus journeys always directly at the station instead of travel agencies. Make sure to use the official ticket counter and not to buy an overpriced ticket from scouts. You can rarely buy tickets to local buses or trains online and even if you can, the prices might contain a big agency fee.
Flights from country to country and visas raise the travel budget easily while staying for a long time in one country or traveling by land save you money. We spend 1 to 3 months in almost every country where we traveled which helped to keep our average daily budget small.
When we took a plane, we used cheap airline companies like VietjetAir, AirAsia and ScootAir. The most expensive flight inside Asia cost us only about 60 euros even though we didn’t buy the tickets a long time before the trip. Traveling with hand luggage only saves a lot of money in the long run and makes traveling around easier. It would have been very difficult for us to hitchhike and walk around with the backpacks if we had had 30 kilos instead of 10 kilos or less.
Write down your travel expenses
If you write down all the travel costs you will notice immediately if you spend too much money. It is easy to lie to yourself. Anyhow, if you promise yourself to keep track of the travel costs, it is easier to keep the travel budget under the control. You will, of course, spend more money on transport and activities on some days but you can balance the spending by taking it easy for a few days, eating cheaply or cooking by yourself. Sometimes you surely want to relax and treat yourself with luxury which is totally fine as long as you are ready to save on something else accordingly.
Keeping track of the costs is not everyone’s piece of cake but you should still try to do it at least at the beginning of your trip. It really helps you to get to know your money spending habits. We also think that budget traveling can be a useful lesson to manage your own economy and not only from the traveling point of view. We feel like our attitude to money has totally changed after our backpacking trip. Even if we buy something small, we easily think that we could get a hostel night in Thailand with this money.
Read also our fellow traveler’s budget post about traveling cheaply in Eastern Europe:
What is your best budget travel tip?
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