The Ultimate Guide for Backpacking on a Budget
Although you will come across backpackers headed out somewhere in the world for just a couple of weeks, typically the whole idea of backpacking is to explore a country, a region, or even the whole planet for at least a few months.
One of the most commonly held misconceptions concerning this is that everyone who sets off into the sunset for a longer period must have lots of money to back them up. Of course, if you intend to stay at top-end hotels, fly first class and eat in good restaurants you will indeed need to have a big bank balance to match your style of travel.
However, there are many ways to make your hard-earned funds stretch as far as possible, while still having the time of your life and sometimes actually enhancing it.
PlanningPlanning ahead and ensuring you have all the essential travel items you need for your trip is a great way to save yourself money in the long run! Buying plug adapters, mosquito repellents, and space-saving items, such as microfibre travel towels, prior to your departure will save you some cash that would be better spent on life-changing activities and experiences.
AccommodationHow cheaply you will be able to bed down each night will of course depend to some degree on your destination however all places have budget options. Additionally, consider each of the following to help keep the costs down.
Many countries have different terms to describe their budget accommodation options which might not be familiar to you. Find out what these are to make sure you are not missing out.
If you are headed to a touristy place then typically those options in the center will be more expensive. Consider staying somewhere just a little removed or a short bus ride away for example - chances are you will get something better for a lower price.
Accommodations that place you beach-side, lake-side, or otherwise right next to something naturally beautiful can charge the highest prices so walk a street or two back to get the better deals.
Some countries have accommodation options that include some meals, most typically breakfast. At first glance, these places are often dismissed as being non-competitively priced but some quick maths may actually show they are saving you money.
Popular guides book-listed accommodation options naturally fill up fastest but bear in mind that these property owners sometimes start charging inflated prices as a result.
A dorm room in a hostel is almost always going to be your cheapest option but be aware that not all hostels are suitable for everybody. Some are all about the party, some attract older travelers, some are family-friendly, and so forth. Also, hostels vary considerably in what they offer – some have kitchens for meal preparation, some offer certain enticing freebies (free tea/coffee being one of the more common ones), some include breakfast, and some charge extra for lockers/bedding/towels, etc. So, unless you are happy with a lucky dip approach then do some research.
The traveler who is unwilling to make his way without constant reference to 'The Lonely Planet' is going to miss out on some of the loveliest places around. Often the best and cheapest places can only be found by chance on arrival somewhere and are otherwise totally absent from guidebooks, tourist literature, and websites. If this approach seems too challenging for you then book yourself somewhere for the first night and then scout about for those unlisted (and low-cost) little gems.
Campsites are also a budget-friendly choice where they are available. Don't assume that they are not an option for you if you don't have your own gear – some will offer the hire of everything you need too, including the tent.
Consider traveling during a country's/region's low season when tourists are fewer and prices drop accordingly with greater competition and better deals offered in return for your custom.
Wherever possible buddy up with fellow travelers. Although offering to share a room with someone you have just met might be thought weird elsewhere, when traveling the rules change and among backpackers, it is very common practice. Many travelers, particularly solo ones who might have to pay the same price for their room as couples, are always looking for ways to save money on accommodation costs.
Consider becoming a couch surfer. However, although a free bed for the night might be part of the deal, you won't be very well received if that is all you are looking for. The whole ethos of this rather wonderful social network is all about connecting travelers and locals and having opportunities to see places in a way not typically open to tourists. The website has extensive information and advice on staying safe for those of you concerned about this aspect.
MealsTry and eat food typical of the country you are in. Western options, should they be available, will always cost more.
Watch the locals – they will usually be eating at the best and cheapest places.
Preparing your own food will nearly always work out cheaper than buying prepared food. Many hostels and even some guesthouses have the facilities for you to do this.
There are many countries in the world, particularly in Asia, where temporary food stalls and street carts are a common sight. These places can serve excellent quality food and are usually the cheapest options around by far. Markets are also good for budget food options.
Travel and Getting AboutAlmost every country in the world has its own special and weird and wonderful ways of publicly transporting locals and tourists from A to B as well as options that will be more familiar to you – trains, planes, buses, and so forth. Do a bit of research before you head off to find out what your destination offers so it won't be quite so bewildering once you arrive. The rest will be learning as you go.
Travel how the locals travel. This will nearly always be your cheapest option although admittedly it won't always be the most comfortable. Additionally, you will get to have all sorts of adventures and experience more intimate glimpses into the culture and day-to-day life of the local people.
Get chatting with other travelers to find out any useful local knowledge they have gained or otherwise helpful and cost-saving advice and tips.
Assume nothing. In some places in the world, the most expensive form of travel might be the cheapest where you come from and vice versa. This means traveling by domestic airline might work out cheaper than a long-distance bus for example.
If you need to travel a long distance then consider opting for transport that offers overnight/sleeping options. This way the journey passes while you sleep and you save a night's accommodation.
If there is an attraction or sight that you want to visit then remember that signing up for an organized tour is always going to be more expensive than making your own way there.
Almost anywhere that you can go in the world which has seen travelers and tourists before you, will offer a range of tours, activities, and excursions. The idea of having everything organized for you can seem very appealing but signing yourself up for these can be one of the quickest routes to travel poverty.
Be your own tour guide by arming yourself with free tourist literature and maps available from tourist offices, hostels, and other accommodations, guidebooks, or the Internet.
Some places of interest are only possible to visit through an organized tour because they are remote or hard to get to but this is rare. Typically there will always be ways to get somewhere under your own steam. You can often book tour guides on-site at such places should you want this type of service.
Almost everywhere in the world has a whole range of free things you can do and see if you don't mind doing a bit of research. This might include national parks, museums, carnivals/festivals, historical points of interest, and so on.
Keep your eyes and ears open – talk to other travelers, read street flyers and posters, visit tourist information points, and browse tourist literature available at your accommodation to see what is on offer.
Type 'free things to see and do in ________ (your destination)' into an online search engine and be amazed at your options. Additionally, many countries/regions/cities have their own official tourist websites where free activities and sights are often listed separately.
Be picky – make a list of your own personal 'must-dos' and save your money to do these without being tempted to sign up for everything going.
Working Your Way
Some people who travel plan in advance to work at a particular destination while for others it happens by chance. It is a great option should you find your funds hitting alarming lows or come across something you would really like to do but don't have the funds for. Working as you travel can be on a casual day-by-day basis or something requiring a longer time commitment and covers just about every type of indoor and outdoor work going.
Be aware, however, that in order to work abroad, many countries require the individual to hold a working visa – costly and involved in some cases, easily obtained in others.
Photos via Flickr Creative Commons