Travel | My ultimate tips for backpacking on a budget
For months on end you slog your guts out working crummy jobs to save as much money as possible. You while away the hours stacking shelves or getting groped as you pull pints in some bar, always thinking of the paradise waiting for you. After working a job you thought would never end, you’re finally handing over your uniform and catching that flight to the other side of the world. The dream is finally becoming a reality and already you never want it to end, so how can you keep it going as long as possible? It all comes down to the money – all us backpackers say “if travel was free, you’d never see me again” and I can tell you it’s true. Travellers are always looking for the best ways to cut corners and make sacrifices so we can have just one more adventure, just one more day in paradise. We’d rather sleep on someone’s floor for a week than stay in a hotel if it means spending another week living a life of complete freedom and excitement. When you’re starting out on your travels, it can be difficult to know how to save money and where you can cheat to make your cash last that little bit longer. After 18 months of travelling solo and backpacking across Asia and Australia – one of the cheapest and one of the most expensive places to backpack in the world – I think I’ve picked up some good techniques for saving money. After all, I planned to go for a year and managed to keep going an extra six months AND came back with lots of money saved! Here are my top tips for backpacking on a budget:
- Before you go, make a short term sacrifice and give up everything to save. I worked five jobs before I went which was bloody hard, but it meant I saved £10,000 for my adventure and went nine months without working.
- Work in different types of jobs to get experience – I made sure I had recent bar work and nanny work on my CV which scored me instant jobs in Australia.
- Invest money in getting a good quality backpack – it will save you a lot of money on lots of cheap replacements later on.
- Don’t waste money on buying “travelling clothes” and accessories, it’s much cheaper to buy them along the way – keep packing practical and useful.
- Spend money on items that will last you – things like solid shampoo can be a great way to make more space in your bag and will last for ages so you don’t have to constantly buy bottles of shampoo.
- As soon as you know when you aim to be flying somewhere, start looking at flights and get an idea of how much they will cost. You can get apps to track the cheapest flights to your destination and Skyscanner is great.
- Hitchhike – not something I have done but some of my friends travelled the length and width of Australia safely like this and had an amazing experience.
- Don’t be surprised by visa costs – they can be pricey and you always need to budget for them in advance to avoid being caught short.
- Be flexible – most backpackers don’t mind what day they travel on, hell they usually don’t know what day of the week it is. This can save you a lot of pennies if you’re happy to delay travel to save money.
- Don’t pay for expensive buses and trains – often they’re no safer and a lot more boring than travelling with the locals. You haven’t travelled until you’ve been on a bus with goats and chickens!
- Try Couchsurfing or similar options for a chance to stay with the locals for free, you get a more authentic experience and free digs!
- Work for accommodation – it’s an option available in most hostels and can be a great way to cut costs getting a free bed for just a few hours work.
- Visit family and friends – no matter how loosely related people are always welcoming to visitors and want to help out. A few nights in a proper bed with family meal can do a world of good for a backpacker.
- There are websites that look for house sitters for while homeowners are away – free accommodation, plush homes and potentially even food thrown in.
- Camp – there are so many amazing locations around the world to camp and get closer to nature, if you pack your own tent you could save a fortune in hostels!
- Find a hostel with a free breakfast or free/cheap dinners, it can make a world of difference to your budget if you are getting one free meal a day.
- Street food – trust me it is the best way to cut costs and it’s easily the tastiest food on offer. Check the stalls for hygiene and don’t eat food that has been sitting out, but most of it is cooked to order in front of you.
- Save eating out in restaurants as a treat for with friends – having that attitude will make you appreciate it more and will save a lot of money.
- Prepare your own dinners and live off instant noodles – its an easy way to save a lot of cash if you want to splurge on rock climbing or a boat trip.
- Go veggie – I barely ate meat when I was in Australia because it is quite expensive and you can’t keep it for long in a hostel. I saved a lot of money and felt really healthy.
- Be prepared to sacrifice your favourite drink. I had to give up wine and cider in Asia and lived off cheap beer and spirits to save money.
- Scrimp on quality to get drunk – goon is disgusting but it does the trick, so do the $5 bottles of wine in Australia, good for pre-drinking before heading out.
- Don’t waste money on bottles of water – keep on with you and fill it up at water points – unless you’re in Asia and water bottles are the safest option.
- Take advantage of backpacker bars and cheap deals, enter competitions and try to win booze – it’s worth embarrassing yourself for a bucket.
- Skip the lovely coffees and smoothie bars when you’re in the cities – do you really want to waste precious money on a drink that is gone in seconds when you could save it for your next adventure?
- Whether you’re in Asia or Australia – trips can quickly add up. It’s important you research and ask around to get the best deals. Don’t be afraid to haggle.
- Think carefully about what trips you want to do, some trips will often double up on experiences so by not going on one you won’t be missing out.
- Look for group deals and discounts, often you can save a lot of money by getting a group of mates together and filling up seats on a boat/bus.
- Go independent – often the trips are expensive because they use specially-chartered boats/buses etc, going it alone by hiring a car with your mates, or paying a fisherman for the day can work out a lot cheaper.
- Take advantage of free activities – whether you’re in a national park or a city, there’s endless free things to do. Check the newspapers/online for free activities in the cities or ask at your hostel. Or head out into nature and go hiking or exploring waterfalls for the day.
- Why not check out voucher code sites like DealsDaddy for bargains when shopping – that way you can save your money for other fun activities?
- Working along the way can really help keep your money topped up – whether you stop and work a more permanent job in a bar/restaurant, shop or something else.
- Run an online business – whether you’re a good writer, blogger, coder or social media expert, there’s loads of jobs you can work freelance around your travels and earn good money
- Teach English, it’s fantastic money in the right job, I have friends working in Dubai and they earn a fortune and have their accommodation paid for.
- Find a job that helps you travel – whether it’s a career that takes you around the world or just work for a tourist attraction. One of my friends worked on a catamaran that cruises around the Whitsundays for months – her dream job!
- Woofing can be a great way to support organic farming in the country you are travelling while getting free food and accommodation. If it doesn’t appeal, there are lots of other volunteer organisations that might be able to take you on in exchange for room and board.
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Looking for other ways to cut costs? Check out VoucherShops. Or, in case couch surfing, eating veggie or fruit picking gets boring – there’s always the chance you’ll marry a millionaire or get a royal flush in the World Series of Poker!