Budget travel is often the only way people can travel, but it’s hard to actually accomplish. After fifteen months of seriously low-budget travel, we’ve compiled a few of our favourite tips (which have mostly come from mistakes we’ve made!). Hopefully, by reading on and following our advice, you will be able to get abroad and explore new countries for a longer amount of time by saving money on the go. So without any further ado, here are our 12 top tips to help you travel on the cheap.
Research, Research, Research
Ok, a big one to start with, but the number of times we spent money unnecessarily due to lack of research almost broke us when travelling. For example, we would spend £5 on laundry before walking around the corner to find a place for £2. A saving of £3 might not seem like a lot but if you could save that every time you do washing over a yearly period, it quickly adds up! Times that by a couple more rookie errors a day and well… you won’t be travelling for long.
It’s all well and good us saying ‘get your research done’ to accomplish budget travel, but what exactly do you need to research? That’s where we come in handy.
As per our example, laundry is a good place to get your mind on the right track. Small things that end up costing a lot over time are worth the extra research. Is breakfast cheaper to book with your accommodation or is there a nearby cheap bakery? How much are tours and can your accommodation sort them out for cheaper (we had a mix of results with this)? Is renting a car/bike/bicycle cheaper from your accommodation or nearby rental shops?
Researching these small things might make the difference of £2/3 a day, multiply that by how long you wish to travel for and you’ve earnt yourself a few extra beers!
Some other things to think about when booking your travels include:
- Cheapest transport options to get where you’re going. Should you fly, train, bus? Research blog posts for specific destinations and how to get there cheaply.
When planning, it’s easy to list all the destinations you want to go to and start booking straight away. As much as we would love for there to be cheap transport options everywhere we want to see, realistically this isn’t the case. Especially if you’re seeking the path less travelled. We would love to have visited Sapa in Vietnam when over there, but when weighing up the cost of transport vs how long we had left travelling, we had to sacrifice Sapa so we could see Northern Thailand.
- Cheapest transport options when you’re there. Is it worth spending more money to stay closer to the action/airport or are taxis/tuk-tuks/horse and cart cheap enough to make it worthwhile staying further out?
This little tip always produced those annoying ‘in hindsight…’ moments for us. The accommodation might be £5 a night cheaper further out the centre, but when the only way there is a £10 taxi, it kind of defeats the object. Consider getting to and from the airport and main attractions when weighing up costs.
- Foreign currency. Is it cheaper to sort out before you go or when over there?
First, check out our travel money post. When you’ve done that, research ATM fees abroad. We’re not talking your card provider fees because you’ve just read that post so will save on those, we’re talking ATM fees. We didn’t do our research before getting to Thailand so were stung with £5 fees every time we used the ATM! Knowing this beforehand and we could have sourced Thai Baht before entering Thailand for cheaper. Even if getting out money from ATMs is the logical way forward, with some research you can work out roughly how much you will be spending so you can visit the ATM a maximum of twice instead of, for example, 10 times… (we didn’t do well in Thailand).
Set Realistic Goals and Expectations
Now we’ve got those smaller things out the way, it’s time to set realistic goals and expectations. You’re travelling on a budget after all. It’s easy to get caught up in travel Instagram accounts and long for the hotels with infinity pools looking out over beach sunsets. We’ve been there too and spent too long flicking through luxury hotels working out where we can save money to allow us two nights somewhere with a private pool. Weigh up what you want, would you rather see more places and travel for longer or always stay somewhere with at least 4 stars?
If your priorities are to see more places over a longer period of time then have realistic goals. Our main priority when booking accommodation is cleanliness. Try to treat air-con as a luxury and private bathrooms as a treat. Check recent reviews and if the place is clean, go for it. Accommodation will always be a huge percentage of your budget, save where possible!
Comparison Sites vs Going Direct
Use both! Comparison sites are great to give you an idea on general prices and showing you the cheapest options. Just remember, they have to earn money from somewhere. After using them to get the cheapest companies or an idea of prices, go direct to see if you can get the product/service cheaper. Don’t cut out the middle man, just use him for the leg work.
Walking Instead of Riding
Even when staying in south-east Asia where tuk-tuks to the other side of town were £2 (or £6 if you’re Dan and get confused with currency), we would often opt to walk. There are so many benefits to walking we don’t even know where to start. But to state the obvious, walking is far healthier than sitting and you can see so much more of your destination on foot!
When you arrive in a city see if there’s a free walking tour or see if your accommodation has free/rented bikes. Either way, get out there and enjoy the back alleys and hidden gems of your destination.
This is where we disagree the most. The dreaded time of finding somewhere to eat. Hours and hours of being hangry have passed trawling the streets for a good place to get dinner. Even so, we’ve always found the best places away from the touristy centres. If the locals are there, it’s generally cheaper and better.
Street food is always a winner. It’s usually inexpensive, tasty and cooked with years of experience. There weren’t many nights in Asia where we didn’t eat on the street! It’s great to meet the locals and watch your dish being freshly prepared. Delish.
Using Google Maps’ ‘explore’ tab to search for restaurants is also a good way to find slightly more hidden eateries. Be sure to read a few reviews and if possible, see the menu to save time and, hopefully, money.
Another mega easy way to save money on food is to eat your main meal for lunch. There are always heaps of restaurants offering lunchtime deals and set menus to keep the business flowing throughout the day. Take advantage of these and have a smaller evening meal to save some dosh.
Cut out the Booze
Easy for us to say not being big drinkers, but if you can cut out the booze you will save money. Unless you’re in Vietnam where you can find beer for 15p! We didn’t drink for most of Australia because we knew that one beer less in the local pub would equal 10-15 in Asia. It’s worth the wait, trust us.
Work for your Sleep
This is something we haven’t actually done unless you count house sitting as work (coming up in the next tip). However, there are heaps of hostels that will let you work for your breaky and night’s sleep. This could be through cleaning rooms or distributing leaflets and although they’re not the most glamorous jobs, they will help your travels go for longer!
Another great idea is to travel through a HelpX or Work Away scheme. Each job/programme is very different and there’s something to cater for everyone. From teaching English to helping build websites, volunteering with endangered animals to working in a yoga retreat. These usually work on a minimum required hours for a bed and food trade, so you can try something new and get fed and housed!
Ok, we could write for hours on house sitting… and we have! So instead of waffling on, check out our free house sitting guide including tips, tricks and a free printable. You’re welcome! Spoiler, we’ve saved multiple thousands from house sitting.
Use your own Equipment
This isn’t just a money-saving tip but an eco-friendly one too! We’ve received discounts all over the world for having our own coffee cups when going to get our morning cup O joe.
We’ve also saved so much money in using our refillable bottles. We had our bottles for our entire trip to Australia and the only time we had to buy water was when we were out on a remote station stay and they didn’t have clean water to drink. Even in Asia, we’ve only bought 6l bottles when we can’t refill at our hotel/hostel. If you buy a steel bottle they also keep your water cold for hours and when you’re in 40 degrees and 98% humidity you’ll thank your stars for cold water!
Plastic bags is an easy one – every time you get into the supermarket don’t you go “bugger, left the bags in the car”? Right, march back in and save yourself money. That extra two minutes can save you a lot in the long run, plus, and more importantly, save the planet! You have to use your canvas bag 138 times for it to be environmentally more beneficial than a plastic bag, so make it your challenge.
Soap vs Bottles
A tough one to source in less developed countries but if you’re well prepared and have them ready stacked to go before your trip, you will not only save on money, space and weight but also on plastic waste. An average bar lasts about three months and you can get them online, from eco stalls at local markets or from Lush.
A bar of shampoo, conditioner and one for your body will last just as long as a bottle and it’s such a weight saver. If you’re already close to your luggage weight don’t fear! Switch to bars and free up space for more souvenirs!
We were introduced to a fab app called Eat Club in Australia – this gives you discounts on restaurants in your area! We’ve been to places we usually couldn’t afford with a 40% discount. You can’t argue with that. It’s always worth a quick google to see if there are similar apps or schemes going on in the country you’re visiting.
There’s also the usual apps like Groupon to check for deals on activities. We’ve also used Klook for booking discounted Disneyland tickets in Hong Kong and Tokyo, as well as Get Your Guide. It’s worth checking these two sites as they’ve saved us heaps over the months. We know what you’re thinking and yes, proper budget travel might be not going to Disneyland (twice) but where’s the fun in that?
Cashback and Reward Cards
Want one more money-saving tip? Course you do. This one is a no brainer – if you’re booking a flight, accommodation, travel insurance or just about anything else for that matter, check cashback websites to see if you can get a percentage back. We’ve always used Quidco for our cashback and have so far earnt back hundreds (and have a friend who has earnt thousands). Big earners for us have been Alpha Travel Insurance and Booking.com but there are heaps of other big players on the site too. Again, a quick Google search to see what cashback sites are available in our country is definitely worth the effort.
If you’re booking from home – also check whether any supermarket reward vouchers or points can earn you a nice little discount. We managed to book a whole trip to the Peak District with Alton Towers tickets through Tesco Clubcard.
We even signed up for a Woolworths Reward Card in Australia and used it every time we shopped. Similar to Tesco Clubcard, 1 cent was equal to 1 point and after 1000 points, you received $10 off your shop. Better than a kick in the teeth!
Even if you make one or two changes all the pennies will add up (hopefully to your next flight!). We’d love to hear your money-saving tips while travelling. Drop a comment below for us!