It’s pretty obvious that being smarter with your backpacking budget should allow you to travel longer. For many of us, there’s a constant battle between time on the road and time saving for the next adventure. So, if you can half your monthly travel spend, then you can travel for twice as long!
When I first went backpacking in my teens, I wasn’t very ‘street wise’ with my travel funds. However, countless adventures and harsh lessons later, I’d like to think I’ve picked up some very useful tips and tricks that can help you travel smart and spend less money while you travel.
So, here are my top backpacker budgeting tips:
1. Get a travel debit card
When you go travelling you basically have 2 options for currency: Transfer actual cash before you arrive, or go with a travel bank card such as a TransferWise card.
It’s extremely important that you make the right call here and get the best rate possible.
The right option for you depends on where you’re going and for how long, but 9 times out of 10, I would strongly recommend getting a TransferWise card.
This is essentially a debit card that allows you to withdraw your funds from ATM machines worldwide without incurring fees (that your normal cards would incur). You get an app on your phone where you can instantly load more money onto your card from your backpacking budget in your bank account. Once your money is loaded on, you can easily transfer it into the currency of wherever you are, at very competitive rates.
The benefits of this are that you don’t have to carry loads of foreign cash with you (which is prone to theft). Instead you just act like you’re at home and withdraw funds from ATM’s as and when you need to. It’s also much safer in the fact that if the card is stolen you can cancel your card, whereas if someone steals your entire backpacking budget, you’re going to be in trouble.
There are a few different companies that offer these cards, but the one I like the best is Transferwise. The card works everywhere, and even has contactless payments!
2. Know the right prices
It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you’re a backpacker then you’re an easy target to taxi drivers, tour guides etc. They assume that you don’t know how much things actually cost there, or that perhaps you’re just too polite to argue. So, as a result you can end up paying 2,3,4 times the actual going price for something.
While you will find, especially in poorer countries, that there does tend to be a ‘locals’ price that even savvy tourists can’t achieve, you can still save a lot of money by being clever…
Use taxi apps, but don’t book with them!
When it comes to taxi’s, my top tip is to use apps like Uber or equivalent to check your prices.
Speaking from experience, this tactic worked wonders for me in India. I would use the Indian version of Uber, called Ola. The reason this was so good is that it allowed me to select my mode of transport to rickshaw rather than car (much cheaper). Then I could enter my route and it would tell me, before booking anything, how much the journey would cost.
This meant that when I got into a rickshaw, I could say ‘I want to go here, and I’ll pay this much’. If they say well that’s not the price, you can show them the app to prove you know your stuff.
If you’re currently thinking, why didn’t you just book the rickshaw on the app and save the hassle? The answer is that I did try! I think about 1 in 5 of my attempts to get an ola actually showed up, and even that took 20 mins+ during which time about 15 rickshaw drivers pulled over asking if I needed a ride.
Obviously that trick isn’t unique to India, it applies all over, whether it’s with Uber itself or the country’s own version of it.
3. Travel out of peak season
This is basic economics, if the demand is high, the price will be high. This relates to everything from plane tickets to beer prices.
If you have the flexibility, try to avoid backpacking in countries during their peak times of the year. You’ll be amazed at just how far your backpacking budget can go once the bulk of the tourists have left.
To give you an example, a few years ago I spent a month in Thailand during ‘monsoon’ season. I put ‘monsoon’ in quotation marks because it didn’t really feel like monsoon season at all.
It was mainly hot, sunny and beautiful! Maybe it’s because I’m from the always wet UK, but it didn’t even seem to rain much! The picture below was from the only time a real storm came in, but only the next day it was back to sunshine.
Anyway, while I was in Thailand, I basically lived like a king for next to nothing. I’m talking luxury beach apartments for under $10 a night and gorgeous meals out for $3. If I was trying to save as much as possible, I could’ve easily spent $5-10 a day in total, including some activities etc.
4. Stay where you can cook
Food will always take up a big chunk of your backpacking budget, after all we gotta eat!
Eating out 3 times a day, everyday can quickly start to dig a hole in your pocket, especially if you’re in more expensive countries.
To save a lot of money, try and find an apartment or hotel room that has a kitchen, or at least a microwave and a kettle. If you can cook 1 or 2 of your meals a day yourself, you’ll be cutting down your food bill substantially. I found that in Sicily last summer, by largely cooking for myself rather than eating out, I saved over $100 a month.
5. Travel in the night
I’m referring to those long, 8 hours+ journeys that we all take regularly as we travel on a budget.
I first did this when I wanted to get from Jaisalmer to Jaipur in India, which is an 11-hour train journey. We ended up going through the night, setting off in the evening and arriving in the morning. We got a sleeper carriage so managed to get some rest on the train.
The result was that we saved money by not needing a night in a hotel, and also didn’t miss a day of travelling. Win-win!
Since then, I’ve done this loads of times, most recently from Berlin to Amsterdam on an overnight bus. I wouldn’t do a long-distance journey any other way now.
6. Location, location, location!
This refers to both accommodation and restaurants.
Before you go somewhere, research the city or area thoroughly and find out exactly where all the stuff you want to be doing is. Then, make sure the place you end up staying is in or near that precise area.
A common mistake, and one that I have fallen for many times, is focusing on getting the cheapest accommodation and not paying enough attention to where it is. The result is that you actually end up paying the same amount or more money than if you just stayed in a better location, because you’ll be spending money on taxis and buses to get anywhere!
This tactic is even more relevant in massive cities. For example, when I was in Beijing I got a really cheap place on the outskirts of the city. What a stupid move!
It took me ages to get anywhere and cost me loads more money than I’d budgeted. I severely underestimated the size of Beijing (I was only 18 so don’t be too harsh on me)! The next place I went was Shanghai, and as you can imagine, I made sure the hostel I was staying in was a stone’s throw from the Bund…
Food is always more expensive in the busy, tourist parts of town. You’ll be amazed how much the prices come down only 5-10 minutes out of the tourist hotspots. Also, you tend to get a much more authentic meal at these places as they aren’t tailored to tourists, which is another bonus.
7. Work on the way
This point is more about keeping your backpacking budget topped up rather than making it last longer. As a backpacker in this day and age, there are literally hundreds of ways you can make money alongside your travels, both on and offline.
In my experience, online income is ideal because it gives you complete location independence, but offline work such as teaching kids English or working in a bar can be thoroughly enjoyable options as well.
I’ve done a lot of work both on and offline to be able travel more often, and our entire website is dedicated to sharing our experiences and the experiences of others as well, to help you earn income as you travel.
If you’re interested in hearing about the ways people are making their incomes alongside their travels and how you can do it too, subscribe to our mailing list to never miss a thing!
It’s a topic area that I can’t really go into detail in this article, but my number 1 recommendation is, think about what your goals are, think about what skills you have, and find something that you can do which fits.
For example, if you’re only looking to travel for 6 months and have experience in hospitality, then perhaps the best way for you to earn on the road would be bar work or waiting tables in different locations. If you’re looking to make a career out of traveling and have a way with words and IT, maybe a travel blog would be the thing for you!
I hope you find these backpacking budget tips as useful as I do! If you’ve got any other tips or tricks that you use to save money while you travel, please let me know either in the comments or via email and I can add it in!
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