Travel on a Budget
How can you save money as a backpacker?
It's a challenge to travel on a budget. A challenge faced by every gapper, because backpacking costs money. To travel and see the world you’ll need to work, save, borrow and possibly even beg to raise the funds for your life-changing trip. Don’t steal, though. That would be bad. And get us in trouble.
So how do you legally you make your backpacking kitty go as far as it possibly can? How can you stretch the pennies and save your hard-earned pounds? Here are some top tips from experienced backpackers and gapyear.com members on how to travel on a budget...
Paying over the odds before you’ve even left home is usually a bad start to your gap year budgeting. What can you do to prevent this? "Book as soon as you find the flights you want," advises experienced 25-year-old backpacker Lexi Quinton. "Airlines don’t often sell off flights cheap closer to departure. Quite the opposite; prices can triple."
To travel on a budget Lexi advocates basic principles of ticket price comparison, but urges eager travellers to ask about the fine details. "Remember to ask what’s included," she says. "Are they going to add on admin charges, taxes and other fees to the quoted price?"
She adds: "If you’re booking round the world flights and might want to change your flight dates, how much do they actually charge you to do so? "
Buying your backpacking gear can blow a major hole in your hard-earned travel funds. How? Well, you might just feel compelled to buy lots of stuff; stuff to wear, stuff to use, stuff as a back-up in case other stuff breaks. And then, on top of all this, you’ll probably want to buy stuff to carry all the stuff you’ve already bought.
Now, you do need some of these things; most backpackers buy a decent amount of kit, like a backpack, walking shoes, sleeping bag and other equipment. But there are simple ways to keep the costs down and help you travel on a budget.
"Keep it to a minimum," says seasoned 31-year-old gapper Martin Garratt. "You can buy pretty much anything while travelling, so don’t buy it all especially for your trip. All of these gadgets and gizmos soon add up in cost and weight and you never use most of them."
Lexi Quinton adds: "Outdoors shops always have sales on so don’t buy anything full price unless you’ve left everything to the last minute. Also, ask for discounts! If you don’t ask, you won’t get."
Unless you’re some kind of machine-person you will eventually need to sleep on your gap year. Traditionally - but not always - travellers sleep in beds. And beds can be found in hostels. There are many fun, comfortable and safe hostels around the world, but what if you want to travel on a budget? What if you can’t find one in your price range?
"Don’t panic!" says 28-year-old traveller Daisy Ashworth. "You will find accommodation to suit your travel budget. Just make sure to book ahead if you’re going somewhere busy. Always compare booking sites to see what deals are available, and check whether it’s worth getting a YHA card or Nomads MAD."
Daisy adds: "Be smart with planning around accommodation. Book flights/trains/long bus journeys so they fall overnight. It may not be the best night sleep you’ll ever have, but it’ll save you paying for a hostel!"
Veteran globetrotter Warrick Howard, 29, has some alternative advice for backpackers looking to travel on a budget whilst also eyeing some relative luxury. "Don’t be afraid to walk into a four-star hotel in South East Asia and say, ‘I’ve got £20, can I have a room?’" he says. "I did this no end of times when I wanted a comfortable bed for a night." Does it actually work?
"I got a room more often than I was turned away," says Warrick.
The whole point of travelling is to get out and experience things. You’re on your gap year to absorb all the world has to offer. Of course, once you’re actually in the thick of the action you still need to get around, and transport in a lot of countries can be pretty overwhelming. It’s something that as a backpacker you get used to, but what’s the best method of getting around when you’re trying to travel on a budget?
A good place to start is to do some research before you even get there. "Look ahead to see what deals and discounts you can find online before you arrive," advises Daisy. "Australia, New Zealand and the USA all have bus passes and they often do deals like ‘buy one get, one free’. If you don’t have a travel mate to go with you can use websites like gapyear.com to meet people and share deals with!"
Sounds good, but what about when you’ve arrived? "Private transport like taxis, tuk-tuks and rickshaws can be useful, especially if you can share with others," says Martin. "But they also tend to be more expensive than public transport." What does he suggest?
"Trying to work out the local buses, trams, trains and subway systems in towns and cities can be tough and a little stressful, but they’re also a great way to experience local culture, and you get a great sense of accomplishment."
Lexi offers some practical tips for gappers attempting to travel on a budget and avoid classic pitfalls. She says: "When you’re in countries where local people don’t speak or read much English, ask staff at your hostel to write in the local language your travel plans to help you book your tickets. This will save you getting overcharged or buying the wrong thing."
Whether it’s a ruined settlement, an ancient temple or an awesome natural phenomenon, most countries have some ‘must-see’ places of interest. Visiting some of these sites can be like investing in a bottomless money pit. How can you save cash and still get the full experience?
"Many places of interest have tourist days or free days so find out when they are," says Alexandra. "Also, if you’re a student - or, at least, have a convincing student ID - ask for student discount. Many places offer a discount but don’t advertise it."
In the competitive world of tourism, Daisy recommends weighing up different operators for backpackers looking to travel on a budget. "If you intend to book tours rather than doing things yourself, look around," she says. "Don’t arrive in the first shop you see and accept the price. You can usually barter for money off or get extra activities included."
Martin endorses a more independent method of sight-seeing. "Can you do it cheaper yourself?" he asks. "DIY Travel is far more enlightening, rewarding and always has unexpected turns."
Garratt accepts that sometimes going with a tour is the only way of seeing a place, but advises: "Hotels and hostels often do tours, but you can often get it cheaper going direct to a local agent. If you’ve seen it cheaper online then tell them; they might match or even beat it."
Food and Drink
Eating on your gap year is advisable, even when you want to travel on a budget. World cuisine is culturally nourishing and life-enriching, and it’s also life-sustaining. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re travelling and forget to put enough (natural) fuel in your body.
So you need to eat, but how do you eat cheaply? Food, as with everything else, will cost varying amounts around the globe. However, there are universal backpacker food survival principles that will serve you well.
"Keep it simple," says Martin. "Eat street food or cook your own meals. Eat local ingredients, as western food will normally be much more expensive."
Lexi agrees, adding: "Eat at street stalls, but pick the busiest ones so you avoid stomach problems! Also, eat local snacks like fruit throughout the day rather than forking out on one or two expensive main meals."
Daisy has some more great examples of backpacker thriftiness to help you travel on a budget. "When travelling around try and pre-empt food purchases the day before," she says. "For example, buy cereal for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. Use cooler bags to keep food fresh and available on coaches."
So there you have it, gappers; some great advice for how to travel on a budget. It’s more of a guide than a rulebook, so pick and choose which tips you follow and which you ditch.
Feature image by Kirstie Dyke
Want more hints for saving money while travelling? Read Rupert Bedell’s Travel Money Tips.
Looking for some inspiration to build your travel budget? Check out Tori Oram’s A-Z of Fundraising Ideas.
Just need some general advice on money and travel? Check out Gap Year Fundraising.
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