Last year Samuel wrote an article describing 4 ways to save money while traveling. Those tips are pretty much timeless, but I say there are more ways you can keep your costs down while exploring our planet. First of all let’s acknowledge the inescapable fact that, while there are many ways you can stretch a budget – unless you have a magical flying castle – traveling internationally requires a fair bit of cash. And I don’t know many people who have a magical flying castle.
Sure, you can stretch your dollar while checking out Ko Phangan to less than $25 a day, but if you’re a Canadian like Samuel and I, you need to fly to the other side of the world to get there. And, let’s face it, now and again many of us have the irresistible urge to splurge on some more expensive privileges – like a nice dinner or a night in a pricier hotel – when traveling cheaply in unfamiliar lands (don’t judge, we all have our weaknesses!). In other words, you can’t always rely on economic advantages (i.e. a favourable currency exchange) to keep your adventure going longer.
So let’s take a look at some of those unavoidable bank-account-draining costs and think about how to minimize them.
A decent hotel, by Western standards, is fairly pricey no matter where you go in the world. Which is why, as a backpacker, you tend to opt for the less expensive $10 hostel option. But, if you travel for long enough, you’ll almost certainly find yourself paying for a night in a decent hotel. I once arrived in a city too late at night to find an open hostel bed because my train had been delayed and re-routed due to a collapsed tunnel – all of the budget accommodation was booked so I was forced to pay for a hotel room, or sleep in the train station. Exhausted as I was, I opted for the room. And let’s face it, unexpected events aside, when you’re a softy westerner in a foreign land sometimes you yearn for the “soul food” of a private, clean air-conditioned hotel room.
When you find yourself in a situation like this, turn to the internet to keep your costs down. The really good deals are often found on sites like Hotwire, but these tend to be better for booking rooms in Western cities. Websites like Hotels.com are pretty international, and often offer coupons to save you a bit of cash. Again, just take the time to hit up a wifi hotspot and shop around for options to save money – just watch those wifi costs!
Seasoned backpackers are practically professionals at finding the cheapest options for getting around by train, rail, bus or whatever mode of transportation is available. But air travel is often the single biggest expense for a backpacking excursion, particularly when you need to cross oceans and continents.
First of all, shop around. Check out the websites of the airlines themselves – Air Canada for example often has sales and coupons on offer. If you’re lucky, you might find a deal for an airline and route that fits with your plans. Take some time to research which airlines fly the routes you want to fly, and check them all out to see who’s offering the best price. You’ll also want to check out travel booking sites, like Expedia, to compare – but in my experience those kinds of websites are usually better for things like flight+cruise or flight+hotel deals, not straight-up flights.
And, maybe this one is obvious, but it’s always much cheaper when you fly during off-times, like Tuesday morning at 5:00am. Avoid peak hours and definitely steer clear of holidays when everyone else wants to fly too. Also, if you tend to fly a lot, look into frequent flyer miles – you may find yourself able to get a free flight or two after a while.
While budget activities will probably make up the bulk of your leisure agenda as a backpacker, the simple fact is that you’re out to experience the lands and cultures you’re traveling through. And often those can’t-miss experiences will cost you – sometimes dearly. Hiking in the Swiss Alps is completely free, but hitting up a Full Moon Party in Thailand is going to cost you at least a few hundred bucks, probably much more when all is done and told. Getting access to the ancient ruins of old Rome is going to cost you around twenty bucks, and let me tell you, you don’t visit Rome without visiting the Coliseum and the Forum.
First of all, understand what kind of cost you’re getting into and think about whether the experience is really worth it. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t – it totally depends on what you want and what your budget is. Next, think about how you could do it cheaper. Often when you visit tourist information offices or kiosks, you can find booklets full of coupons for local attractions. You might find a discount for an attraction or event you’d like to see – or you might discover a totally unexpected and awesome alternative. I once randomly found myself attending an outdoor drama performance in Innsbruck, Austria with a stunning cathedral façade as the backdrop – sure, it was entirely in German, but it was a memorable cultural experience and a lot cheaper than paying for a pricey art museum entrance fee.
Clothing & Gear
The cost of travel gear and clothing tends to be a bigger issue for newbie backpackers than the seasoned pros who already have it. That said, I’ve met more than one backpacker who has had everything stolen – it happens, watch out. You don’t want to have to buy all new gear halfway through your trip.
Spend some time researching the gear you really need. While you don’t want to cheap out on quality for some critical items, like a solid backpack and sturdy comfortable shoes, overspending before you even board the plane is really going to cut into your adventure. So, only buy what you need, and look for ways to spend less on it.
Having phones when you’re traveling can be reaaaally handy if you’re traveling with other people. You don’t necessarily want to use a phone to call internationally, but having the ability to split off and go in different directions, and easily meet up again afterwards, can be really great. Consider buying a couple of really cheap phones that allow you to swap SIM cards. In most countries you can buy a SIM card and a bit of pre-paid airtime for fairly cheap. Just keep the talking to a minimum and stick to text messages when you can.
The other thing of course, is internet. It’s the 2010’s, you can find internet access pretty much everywhere. What isn’t everywhere is free internet. So keep an eye out for it, and use it to get your internet fix when you can, to avoid paying for it as much as possible.