By Jenn & Steve
Traveling can be expensive. Very expensive. Any travel budget could be blown through in a week without much effort. But we’ve been travelling for SIX MONTHS now…how? Well, as it turns out a life of adventure can actually be less expensive than living at home, most notably as a westerner travelling in developing countries.
So yes, this blog is all about being cheap, but you do not want your travels to be dominated by saving money each day. You still want to be ready to fork out for some things you can only experience while traveling – $75 for the world’s highest bungee jump or the $50 meal at a classy restaurant. This is about saving on the little things so that you have more money to splurge on those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. So here you have it, quick tips from two well-seasoned (marinated?) travelers on saving money so that you can see, do, and experience more.
If you find yourself doing the garden route in South Africa, you have to try the bungee jump in Bloukrans Bridge; it’s expensive, but totally worth it for the adrenaline rush junkies out there.
BEFORE YOU GO
- First of all, the flight you take to get to your destination will likely be the most expensive part of the trip. Do lots of Internet searches for multiple dates, airports, and airlines. Orbitz.com has been a reliable search engine over the years. Air Asia often has the best deals in, well, Asia. Or, you can book with a travel agent, who might have access to deals that you were unaware of (David at Merit Travel in Halifax has got us some stellar deals with multiple stopovers that we wouldn’t have been able to book online ourselves). Also, collect points using airmiles, aeroplan, credit cards, etc., as these can add up towards free or discounted flights based on how much you fly and/or spend.
- Research destinations. Where you go will have the biggest impact on how much money you spend on a day-to-day basis. Nepal, Mongolia, and The Gambia are all super cheap; Hong Kong, Paris, and Abu Dhabi, not so much.
- Travel with others: with a friend/partner for the whole trip with, or join for group tours when exploring those places you can’t do on your own. You’ll save on accommodation, taxis, guided tours, and meals, and it is generally safer to have a travel buddy.
- Consider volunteering while you travel. Many volunteer placements can cover your meals and accommodation while you are helping them out, plus you get an insider view on local culture and make local friends.
WWOOFing in Vietnam: helping out with landscaping around the property in exchange for a place to stay and delicious, local food
- Avoid touristy areas when possible. Of course you are going to do some touristy stuff because you are, in fact, a tourist. If you’re in Egypt, go see the pyramids! That being said, you end up forking out a lot of cash at each tourist destination/trap, which can add up quickly for the long-term traveler. Cut your costs by hitting up the less touristy spots. Ask where the locals go and/or do a bit of research and you will often be rewarded for getting off of the beaten track. You’ll get a more culturally authentic experience without the tourist prices and circus.
- Develop those bartering skills. Don’t be shy when it comes to bartering – it is part of the travel experience and can be a lot of fun. Know that the seller will often drop the price anywhere from 20% to 50% (Jenn had a curio stall in Kenya drop the price from $350 to $40 once…she’s good at this stuff). The amount will depend on how bad they need the sale and most importantly how much they think you want the item. Before you start to barter, have a set high price that you are willing to pay and don’t get talked into paying more. Don’t show them how interested you are in item, and walk away once you feel they have given their “best price.” They will often call after you with their real best price when they see their sale walking away.
- Always ask the price of something before you use/eat/do it. Whether it is a taxi ride, a meal, or a haircut, always clearly confirm the final price beforehand to avoid being stuck with a ridiculous bill when it is too late.
- Consider camping! It is usually free (or at least much cheaper than a room or bed), plus you can go wherever you like. Awesome.
- You might be able to barter for a cheaper room price. Be aware of when it is okay to do this by talking to other travelers. For example, bartering is almost expected for accommodation in rural China. We once asked for a “teachers rate” (something we made up), and instantly got the price reduced by 25%.
- Booking.com, agoda.com, hostelworld.com, and airbnb.com are great websites for booking accomodation ahead of time. All of these websites have customer reviews and prices listed clearly when you book. Many websites also give you special discounts/bonuses if you book with them regularly and provide reviews.
- Consider staying with locals, when invited of course.
- Research options. Train, plane, slow-boat, taxi, walking, hitchhiking, tuk-tuk, matatu, cycling, etc. There are often many ways to get from one place to another. Do some research, ask around, and weigh your options based on price, comfort, and length of the journey. Once you pick your mode of transportation, prices can also vary based on class (first, second, sitting, standing, etc.) Again, weigh your options – a standing train ticket in China may be the cheapest option, but you may end up squashed and standing uncomfortably close to the toxic sludge leaking from the toilets… you may want to consider a sleeper ticket and travel overnight to save on accommodation.
- Walking, hitchhiking, and biking are great options if you feel safe and have the time. You might go a bit slower, but you’ll see that much more along the way and get a great workout at the same time.
- When taking a taxi, make sure they are metered. If not, make sure to agree on a price before you hop in so that you do not end up being swindled at the end of your ride when you have no bartering power. Ask a local what the price should be if you are unsure.
EATS & DRINKS
- Eat at local restaurants. Just look for where the locals are eating, point to a plate, and ask for 1 (make sure to also ask prices before eating). Tourist restaurants are often double to triple the local price, while local food is at least as good (usually) and always more authentic!
- When buying food/snacks from shops or grocery stores, buy local items, as they will be at a price that locals can afford. Imported or packaged items will be much more expensive.
- Cook for yourself! Going out for every meal gets boring and adds up. If you bring a small cook stove, there are lots of options for easy meals – ramen noodles, oatmeal, rice, etc. If you don’t have a stove, cold meals such as sandwiches, cereal, and salads are other easy meals to prepare on your own.
- Find alternatives to buying water by the bottle. Hostels and guesthouses often have purified water available for guests so that is a great time to stock up. Some rooms will provide a kettle and you can boil a pot, let it cool overnight, and then you have your 2 liters of cold, treated water ready in the morning. Water purifiers, such as chlorine drops or iodine tablets, are also an easy way to treat your own water. Though they may not be much cheaper, you avoid buying (and disposing of) all of those plastic bottles.
- Get money out from ATMs in big quantities. Each time you withdraw, there is usually an ‘international fee’ from the bank (~$5-15), as well as an ATM withdrawal fee (~$2-10), which will add up quickly if you take out $100 at a time. Most of the time it makes a lot more sense just to take out the maximum amount the ATM will let you (usually $200-400). Just make sure to store it in separate places/different bags so that if some gets lost/stolen, you are not out $400.
- Hand wash your laundry. It’s free and you’ll have a faster turnover rate. Do a couple items each night to avoid having a giant bag of rotting stinky clothes to do all at once. If your feeling like a real hippy, shower with your clothes on and wash them at the same time.
- Use free apps, such as Skype and Facetime to keep in touch with friends and family back home, rather than buying SIM cards for each country and using pre-paid cards.
- Research guided versus non-guided tour options. Some places require a guide so you will not have an option, but often, travel companies will make it seem like you need a guide when you really don’t (in order to promote their services). Ask independent tourism offices or research online to find out if a guide is required, you may be able to avoid the extra expense and gain the freedom of exploring an area on your own.
That’s it for now. There are probably many websites out there telling you have to save a buck while traveling, but these are the primary methods we have used to save money on our long term travels. If you have any tips to add, please share!