7 Small Changes You Can Make To Maximize Any Travel Budget
I guess you could call me a habitual life-quitter. Every couple of years — without fail — I quit my job, sell all my furniture and buy a plane ticket to a new corner of the world. The travel bug bit me at a young age, and it hasn't stopped since.
I always have the same attitude: I go as far as I can, for as long as I can. This means being very mindful of my spending habits while I’m traveling, in order to stretch my money out over as many months as possible.
Personally, I'm a fan of skipping winter. I leave in October and come back in March. I've become kind of a pro at chasing the sunshine.
You know the basics. You need to save money, and quite a bit of it. You will have to make some sacrifices and work some extra shifts.
The good news is, once you have enough for plane ticket, the rest is spending money. Seeing your travel fund grow is the best motivation there is. I promise.
It's really not that hard. If I can do it, I know you can do it.
Once you've booked your ticket, you are ready to go. Here is my advice on how you can travel the globe cheaply:
1. Go somewhere affordable.
There are a lot of countries in this world. A lot of them are hot and tropical, and you can live there for as little as $20 a day, depending on where you are and how thrifty you are.
Guatemala, Laos, Bolivia: The world is your oyster. For me, that puts things into perspective when I am at home and trying to save money.
A new pair of boots versus a week in Bali? Easy decision.
2. Shop around for accommodation.
Generally, I arrive at my destination and find a place to stay when I get there. Yes, that means lugging around my backpack in the blistering heat sometimes.
But in this way, I get to find the very best accommodation for the best price. This is something you can't do if you book ahead of time. Many places also have super cute little guesthouses that don't have websites at all, so the only way to find these gems is to hunt them down yourself.
Another tip: Have lunch at a restaurant, and ask the owners if you can leave your luggage there for an hour while you find somewhere to stay. As long as your bag is locked and you have your important stuff with you, it shouldn’t be a problem. Usually, people are happy to help.
I remember the night before my best friend and I left on our first trip overseas. Our parents were nervous about us leaving. We were 21.
“Where are you going to stay when you arrive in Bangkok?” they asked. We shrugged.
“No idea. We'll figure it out when we get there.” We did. Within minutes, we had scored a room with two beds in a guesthouse on Koh San Road. It was $6 a night total, and we split that in half.
Granted, we did have to shower out of a bucket. But for $3 each, we had no complaints.
3. Take local transit when possible.
I promise you that the chicken buses in Central America are much more fun than the air-conditioned shuttles that are full of tourists. This is an insanely cheap way to travel.
You may have to wedge yourself besides buckets of fish and crates of bananas (true story), but you will know you’ve made the right decision when you find yourself singing along to Bob Marley with a crew of Belizean fisherman. At some point, people will usually get on the bus and sell fresh fruit, buns, meat-on-a-stick or some other tasty, local tidbits that will cost you under a dollar. So if you forgot to grab breakfast, fear not.
One of my favorite travel memories is sharing snacks with a girl from Laos. She sat beside me on a long bus ride and, despite not speaking a word of the same language, we had the best time using “sign language” and laughing to communicate.
4. Take the overnight route.
If you have a 12-plus hour journey (hello South America), an overnight bus or train will save you money on accommodation, and you can sleep the whole time. Check out your options: Some buses are more comfortable than others.
Be careful with your belongings, of course. On a train to Croatia, the conductor came into my cart where I was trying to sleep and exclaimed, “No sleeping, no sleeping. Bandito, bandito.” I took that to mean that there were train bandits, but I continued to sleep.
I woke up to find that, indeed, my stuff had been rifled through. I had, however, the good sense to keep my passport and money in my pocket, so nothing had been taken. Trains also usually have food carts from which you can eat and drink, should you not wish to sleep the entire time.
5. Stay somewhere for a long time.
Settling in one spot will give you a better price when it comes to accommodation. Generally, places will offer a discounted weekly or monthly rate. Ask. This also gives you time to get comfortable, scope out the cheapest places to eat and find out which markets to shop at.
You can also volunteer. Going= somewhere with a yoga centre? Email before you go and ask if they need a volunteer. Free yoga and accommodation? Yes please.
There are many websites devoted to volunteer opportunities all around the world. Use Google to your advantage, and find one that’s right for you.
Many guesthouses and hostels have full kitchens. Hit up the markets for lentils and veggies, and whip up a huge pot of soup. It will feed you for days, and will probably cost around $3.
Another good place to eat on the cheap is the market, which usually includes a wide variety of local food. It's fun checking out all the produce and bartering with the locals.
Also, don't be afraid of the street food. I've gotten food poisoning from a Thai restaurant in Sydney, but never from a street vendor in Thailand. Go figure. It's delicious and cheap.
7. Get fancy on a budget.
If you are near the ocean, you will generally see some nice-looking resorts around. If you're on a budget, you probably wouldn't consider staying at any of them.
However, if you dine at said resorts — or even just order a couple of beers — you can stay and enjoy the amenities all day. Infinity pools and speedy WiFi? Worth it.
So, now that I’ve told you all my secrets, you are going to have to make a decision: Where do you want to go?