From our years of travelling, we’ve learned things along the way that have allowed us to spend less money, and even to acquire some things for free. Learning from experience, we have come to realise most of the things we spent money on in the past were not really necessary to have an exciting adventure. In order to travel for long periods of time, without spending too much money each day, you have to be prepared to sacrifice some of those creature comforts. It will be completely worth it.
You must be prepared to strip your experience down to the bare bones and start with the essentials you will need first – sleeping, eating, transport and activities. It doesn’t mean you will enjoy your travels less, just because you are spending less – in fact, I believe you will be happier because your money will stretch further, allowing you to stay on your adventure for longer.
The truth is, it’s possible for you to travel and visit amazing places around the world without being in a position of financial privilege, it’s simply a matter of being clever with the planning of your trip, learning to be resourceful according to your surroundings and to appreciate the smaller things in life.
The skills you will learn will change the way you travel forever. You will find that by using a bit of charisma, friendliness and trying to establish some trust with people can really open doors for you that lead to saving some money or even receiving things for free. You will become a hustler, but not a trickster. You will become an opportunist. You will learn to consider the needs of others before your own, which in turn, will help you receive the help you are in need of. You will try your chances wherever possible and find that having the confidence to ask people for reasonable requests without being disrespectful can lead to some brilliant things happening that make your trip all the more memorable.
In this budget travel guide, I will take you through a whole host of ways in which you can make your dream holiday possible much sooner than you thought. Of course, there are some places in the world that are generally more expensive than others, but once you know some of the tricks of the trade, these guidelines can apply to travelling anywhere, and ensure that you spend less, enjoy more, and as a result can travel more often.
Because there are so many aspects of travel to be considered, I have organised this guide into categories to make reference much easier.
Money can be saved before you even start your journey! And it’s really not too complicated. If you have some flexibility in what times of year you are able to travel you can surely take advantage of the off-season prices.
- Travel to affordable countries. It’s obvious it seems, but the easiest way to travel cheaply is to visit countries where the everyday cost of living items are low-priced. Countries in Europe like Slovakia, Poland, Bulgaria and Spain all are so affordable in terms of living costs. In the rest of the world Indonesia, Cuba, India and Vietnam living costs are also very low.
- Try to visit in low season. If you can, avoid the tourist-heavy destinations in the summer months and instead visit in early autumn or spring. Prices of flights or accommodation will cost less. Like this you will enjoy the extra space in the cities and see less people on the hiking trails too.
- Book international flights 2 months in advance, at least to receive the best chances of finding lower-priced flights. For tried-and-tested techniques on how to find and book the cheapest flights check out our guide here
- Plan visas in advance – check whether you will need a visa to travel to certain destinations and make note of how much they will cost to buy and how long they will take to be ready. Sometimes you will have to wait weeks, even months for the visa to be ready. Trying to organise these when you are already on the road will just create unnecessary stress and take enjoyment away from your adventure.
When heading out on a trip of any duration, it’s important to travel as light as possible. You don’t want to be weighed down by unnecessary items you don’t need. Many times I have seen tourists arrive in a destination, and barely be able to manage their suitcase by themselves. because they are carrying more than 20kg of belongings! The larger your bag is, not only will it be heavier, it will also take longer to pack and unpack. We have carefully put together a complete guide on how to pack light which you can read here
When it comes to getting about, there are many ways you can save money. You should try to avoid taxis at all costs, considering the rates can fluctuate wildly and instead, carefully plan which are the most cost effective options per mile. Coach companies like Flixbus and Megabus can get you around for a relatively good price. If you are in more remote locations you might have to use local buses. Long distance trains are often the most expensive option so proceed with caution when using trains. The most affordable way to travel overland is of course to drive, you won’t be able to affect the fuel cost but it will give you more miles for your money. Fill up in cheaper countries where you can and steer clear of premium fuels or gas stations on the motorways. Instead, look for supermarket gas stations where possible. Handy apps are also available around Europe that can find you the cheapest fuel in your area.
Hitchhiking is still a very popular option for the more frugal travellers. How safe it is can be hard to measure, but if you are travelling solo you will have to use your judge of character to determine whether you accept a ride or not. Often, local people are very friendly in foreign countries and providing you are polite and act normal you shouldn’t get into any kind of trouble travelling this way, it just takes considerably longer.
Eating is a cost that of course we can’t avoid, we need to eat. We don’t have to spend too much on food though. Here are some tips to survive your adrenaline-filled days without splashing out on expensive meals.
- Free breakfasts – breakfast isn’t as much of an important meal as it’s often made out to be. I wouldn’t recommend paying for a hotel breakfast but if there is the opportunity to have a free breakfast included with your room, take full advantage and fill up.
- Buffet restaurants – they often offer cheap prices, great selection and the added bonus of being able to eat all you can! Research buffet restaurants and give one a try around lunchtime, if you fill yourself up, it will keep you going for the rest of the day and even remove the need to have an evening meal.
- Trade for food – if there is a way you can help someone out in exchange for a meal or snack, then offer your helping hands. Locals are much more likely to offer you some food in exchange for some help instead of cash in hand.
- Daily snacks – quick bites to eat that boost your protein and sugar levels are a great idea that are often overlooked. Dried fruits, nuts, cured meats and cheese snacks are all great for eradicating those moments of hunger, they can be carried for a long time without going off and prevent the need for wasting time looking for somewhere to stop and eat. Visit local grocery stores, supermarkets or penny markets for compact travel snacks that will keep you going throughout the day.
- Avoid tourist traps – restaurants located in main squares, on rooftops or with views of countryside, sea or famous monuments often come with hiked-up price tags as you are also paying for the location. It’s free to observe these places, so why pay extra to eat and look at them? Look for quieter backstreets and eatieries without an incredible view, your wallet will thank you.
Finding a safe, comfortable place to sleep every night is often the biggest daily expense we encounter when travelling. Nowadays, there are so many different types of accommodation available – your options do depend on your location however. Cities often offer the greatest range of accommodation from hotels, to hostels, rentable aparments, whole houses – some even feature places to camp within the city! Think Central Camp, Prague.
If your adventure leads you away from big cities and civilisation in general, your options often become more limited. However, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a nice place to stay at a good price.
Hotels are often thought to be the most expensive nightly option. It doesn’t mean you should rule them out entirely though – sometimes they are a very cost-effective option and often offer unrivalled safety.
- Popular booking sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com allow you to customize your parameters to search for the cheapest hotels in your area. Make sure you don’t choose rooms that include services you will not require or have time to use, as these will be included in your price.
- Avoid the mini-bar in your room like the plague. Everything will be overpriced.
- Don’t pass-up on free breakfasts. If they are provided, fill up as much as you can. If you have no shame, pack some food in napkins and save it to keep you fuelled up during the day. If you have to pay for the breakfast, it often isn’t worth the extra cost!
- Visit the hotels for deals. By speaking to the hotels in person, you can ask them if they can beat the deal put down by the booking site. Many of them are not big fans of these sites.
- Ask for last-minute cancellations to see if there are any cheaper rooms that have recently become available. These are often not shown on booking websites.
Hostels are definitely one of the cheapest types of accommodation you can get in most places. Hostels offer a more communal experience than hotels and often include other useful services such as laundry, kitchen and printing from a PC.
- Popular hostel booking sites like Hostelworld.com and Hostelbookers.com are a great resource for finding local hostels all around the world at very good prices. It includes helpful reviews and ratings that can make your decision making easier. Download their app for easier navigation and to save hostels to find later.
- Find your perfect hostel by sorting options by cheapest first, then look at the review score and view some photos to get a feel for the place. I often look at a few reviews before making a decision.
- Staying in larger dorms saves you some money, you will have to get used to being around more people but I’ve never had any trouble sleeping in any hostel.
- Avoid private rooms in hostels, there’s really no point as you can pay as much as a hotel, sometimes more. If you don’t want to share the space with others, go for a hotel. Simple.
- Don’t feel like you are too old. Many travellers associate hostels with the youth and as a result feel they might not be welcome or fit-in if they are not in the same age group. I’ve found from experience this is not true whatsoever. Hostels have such an interesting, dynamic environment because you are surrounded by people of all ages and backgrounds, even families.
- There are so many kinds of hostels available, from beer hostels, party hostels, nature hostels, cyclist hostels even boutique hostels for the more bourgeoisie who don’t mind paying hundreds for one night.
- Select a hostel that reflects the mood you are in. When I want to relax and regroup myself after a manic few days, I wouldn’t decide to stay at a party hostel. If I wanted to meet fellow travellers and hit the town to experience the nightlife, I wouldn’t pick a zen-palace full of hammocks and yoga mats. Maybe everyone has met that traveller that chose a wild, animated hostel environment then complained that they couldn’t sleep because everyone else in their room arrived home at 6am.
- Be mindful of security in hostels. Keep your belongings close to your bed and use the lockers provided, add your own lock if possible. Try to avoid hostels where dorms can’t be locked.
- Bedbugs bite. If there is any mention of bedbugs from previous visitors, avoid it at all costs! Even if it is a cheap night’s sleep. The last thing you want is to be scratching your body all over whilst trying to relax.
Rent a property
Rent a nice room, a whole apartment, a bouthouse or a goat farm even. The options when it comes to renting a property are huge. You can easily rent an apartment and pay less than a hotel, with the added bonus of having your own lounge space and kitchen.
- Use a booking site like Airbnb which is the most popular platform for renting properties. I advise using this service with caution, as more scams are emerging all the time. Avoid any hosts with a low score or none at all.
- Renting can save you money – if you are planning to stay somewhere for more than a week, often hosts offer discounts the longer you want to stay.
- Cook for yourself – take advantage of the fridge and cooking facilities in the property. You will save a fair amount of money compared to eating out and this can be freed up for other things.
- Consider the extra fees. When comparing properties, take note of their service/cleaning charges. Sometimes this isn’t included in the room price that you see at a glance. When added up, some of the properties that initially looked like a great deal can actually be hiding unreasonable service charges.
- It’s cheaper for staying in expensive cities. Some of the more pricey cities will often have average hotel prices that reflect this. Instead, search for a property you can rent that will still allow you to visit that place without paying the high hotel costs.
Pitch a tent
This option might not appeal to all, but if you are a keen camper, or want to try a new experience in the great outdoors – why not consider camping on your trip? Get yourself a tent and some equipment and get out there.
- Find the cheapest campsites with sites like Pitchup.com – it’s a great website, that works much in the same way that hotel or hostel booking sites do. Simply enter the location you want to visit, and have a browse at the large range of campsites and unique nature areas to pitch your tent in the UK, Europe and the Americas.
- Campsites are cheap. Daily rates for places to pitch your tent can be as little as £5 in Europe. Even less in cheap countries. Some campsites even offer laundry and places to charge your devices.
- Work out a deal with the operators. If you are planning to stay at a particular campsite for more than a few days, have a chat with the staff and see if you can wiggle a deal to get a little discount. Maybe offering to lend a helping hand around the site for an hour or two could help your chances. The worst that can happen is they say no. Don’t ask, don’t get.
Camp in the wild
For the more adventurous travellers out there with a rebellious desire for freedom, why not head off-the-beaten track and camp somewhere wild? With regards to saving money, this is of course the cheapest option because it is 100% free!
- Use your map to find green areas and head away from paths to find a place with good coverage where you can’t be spotted.
- Check the laws on fires. In many countries, wild camping is not allowed – if you are caught however you will usually be asked to leave without any further consequences. If you decide to start a fire however, and get caught, you could face a hefty fine. In Germany and Austria, fines for starting fires in the wild, especially in the summer can be in the region of £415/€500/$540!!! quickly ruining your holiday and any chances of staying on a budget.
- Ask farmers/landowners if you can pitch on their land. It might sound extemely cheeky, but this method actually works! If you are struggling to find somewhere discreet to pitch your tent, try asking someone with a house that has some land or a large garden if you can pitch your tent there for the night. Make sure you don’t leave a trace of your existence when you pack up and leave!
To save the most money possible on your travels, try to avoid attractions that have an entry fee. Keep in mind that there is so much you can see and experience from outside that often venturing inside a touristic place like a gallery, museum or cathedral by paying for a ticket isn’t often worth it. Instead of paying for a tour of a town or city why not look for some free walking tours that kindly ask for an optional donation.
Our favourite way to experience amazing places for less is to walk a lot and to explore for ourselves. We find the gratification of self-discovery addictive and researching the history and stories behind places can easily be done with a smartphone or laptop, you don’t need to pay someone to tell you the same information. Activities that can be done as a group are often cheaper. For the best insights try to befriend some locals and find out what they like to do, they might even be able to find you cheaper, or free ways to access certain attractions.
The key to spending less and travelling for longer is to take full advantage of the resources around you, most often the local people. You don’t need to trick or exploit people to acquire the things you want, you simply need to be kind, honest and just ask. Keeping your daily cost as low as possible will ensure that your budget stretches a lot further. Soon you will realise that a lot of the tours, tickets and experiences you have been paying for are not so worth it, and there is plenty of fun to be had by being creative and trying new things.
Avoiding destinations that are popular with tourists means you will not encounter inflated prices and experience a different side to a country that most will not see. Head off the beaten track, study your maps and visit places you have never heard of – only because you haven’t heard people talking about visiting a certain place, doesn’t mean there aren’t things worth experiencing that you will enjoy. Give it a go, carve your own path and tell stories that set you apart from other travellers that all seem to head to the same places like a sheep. Don’t be a sheep, be a lion and lead!