There are dozens of small ways to trim prices off your big, intimidating travel budget. Flight costs, hostels, food and tours can all be modified and pared down using a few techniques, but doing so requires accepting one simple fact:
Backpacking is scrappy, no-frills, and occasionally grimy work.
If you’re serious about traveling a budget, you’ll have to be okay with occasionally sub-standard conditions. That is a given and it’s pretty non-negotiable; it’s just the nature of the beast. I’ve stayed in stuffy and steamy shared dorms filled with 11 other smelly people, some of whom were getting…intimate. I’ve taken budget buses cross-country, where i was cramped between locals, many of whom would just got on the already full bus en route. To make backpacking affordable for the thrifty twenty-something, you’ll have to accept that you’ll likely not be eating at any Michelin star restaurants, or taking luxury coach buses around the country. You’ll be doing it the local way- eating street food and making broken small talk with budget taxi drivers. And trust me, it will be so much fun.
Once you accept these terms, you’ll free up your mind to quite literally dozens of ways to trim down your budget. Some techniques will require you to think ahead, and some you’ll enact during the trip itself.
En Route Cost Reduction
1. Don’t be scared to use budget airlines: remember that the flight is a means to an end, not the attraction.
2. Use airline comparison sites when booking your flights (I’m a big fan of cheapair.com)
Choose countries that favor your exchange rate (Southeast Asia & South America are great starting points)
3. Choose countries where the daily cost of living is under $40 USD
Find hostels that cost no more than $10-15 a night
4. Opt for local/street food rather than familiar western food. It’s significantly cheaper and tastes way better.
5. Opt for the buses that locals take over the ones that tourists take
6. Use apps like Uber, Lyft and GrabTaxi instead of succumbing to inflated tourist cab prices
7. Haggle with taxi drivers, souvenir shop owners and street vendors. In many countries, this is the norm.
8. Book tours a day in advance and in-person rather than online (I booked my Macchu Picchu trek a day in advance and saved $150).
9. “Shop around” when booking a tour. Even hostels and tourist centers will occasionally hike prices up for tourists, while other, more budget-friendly ones, will provide you with the same exact experience for a cheaper price.
At-home Cost Reduction:
1. Sublet your apartment for the duration of your trip to reduce/eliminate the cost of rent
2. Put your phone plan on a temporary pause.
3. Put your gym membership on a temporary pause.
4. Put anything on pause that you can. There’s no sense in paying for services you’re not using.
There are so many ways to reduce your spending, both whilst planning and on the road, so don’t be scared off by finances! Travel can seem daunting for so many reasons, but the biggest and most pervasive misconception is that it has to be expensive. I’m telling you from experience and from the bottom of my heart- it doesn’t.