In fact, travelling on the cheap can be an amazing adventure – you’ll be more in touch with the locals, meet many fellow travellers and foster the feeling of independence and freedom. If you’ve never been travelling on a budget, it’s about time you leave your pre-planned tours, fancy hotels and rental cars behind and experience travel in a pure and simple way. It might change the way you look at the world, and it will definitely let you keep going for longer…and on and on and on… I have travelled for as little as $600 a month in Asia and India – and you can too!
If you want to have a fun time and save money, hostels are your best bet. They are without doubt the best places to meet other travellers and feel the spirit of being on the road. Sleeping in dorms is a special experience for the unexperienced, but if you look beyond their disadvantages (sometimes crowded, chaotic and loud) they will be your cheapest option and a great base to meet other peeps. Most hostels also have community kitchens and lounge rooms, where guests get together for chats, drinks and a good time. Many hostels offer group tours and activities, which can be loads of fun and a great opportunity to make friends. Check out Hostelworld, the best and most comprehensive hostel booking website.
You want it even cheaper than hostels and also get more in touch with the local flair of you destination? Awesome, that’s the spirit. So go and sign up over at Couchsurfing and find yourself a host (or host other travellers!). By staying with ‘real’ locals, Couchsurfing is one of the best ways to get closer to a country and its culture. I’ve had some incredible encounters and adventures staying with people in Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam or even Borneo (Malaysia). And even if you don’t feel like staying at someone’s place, go and meet people for coffee – on Couchsurfing everything is possible, nothing a must.
Apart from the fact that most (paper) guidebooks are expensive and heavy, they also tell you a lot of crap and cloud your mind and eyes with preconceptions and pre-fabricated one-dimensional images about your destination. Why don’t you just go with an open heart and no expectations? My advice: Do your research before you leave online in forums (Bootsnall and Thorntree for example) and check out Wikitravel and Travelfish. Print off some maps or other valuable information to take with you. Once you’re on the road let your fellow travellers and locals be your guide – and go with the flow. I had the best times without a guidebook: I made new friends asking for advice and ended up in amazing places that weren’t even mentioned in any of the big travel publications. And besides, do you really want to be one in a million walking around with a Lonely Planet in their face all the time, following the same trails and seeing the same things? No? Thought so.
If you’re from the US of A, you might be appalled to the idea of public transport. If you are, we probably won’t become friends. In any case, public transport, apart from being a sustainable and green way to get from A to B, is a cheap way to get around almost anywhere in the world. Only your own personal steam engine called body, sweat and muscles will take you for even less moolah (also recommended). Rental cars and taxis are for the lazy and affluent. Not us then. However, public transport can be 1) a great way to see a city or a country on the cheap and 2) a unique experience, especially in countries where chickens and as many people as possibly possible are allowed on buses. The best website for anything related to public transport around the world is Seat61.
Local food is ALWAYS the cheapest option. And besides, it’s always the tastiest one as well. Especially in less developed countries, Western food can be incredibly expensive and crap at the same time. And besides, eating the local cuisine is part of the travelling experience and can end up in an awesome adventure (e.g. In countries where you can’t read the menu!). In Western countries, I’d recommend buying food in the supermarkets (another adventure possibility!) and cooking in the hostel kitchen.
By travelling slowly, I don’t mean crawling from A to B – I mean stop moving so much, don’t be an ADD traveller on ecstasy who wants to tick off places and sights like an attendance list. It won’t make for better stories back home, trust me. You know what makes for better stories and experiences? Chilling the heck out and by doing that opening yourself to new possibilities.
The best and craziest things happened to me when I least expected them, when I had no plan and just hung out. Make yourself accessible for great experiences, don’t rush from place to place purely consuming your surroundings. If I could only give you one advice in this blogpost, it would be to slow down. And take resting days (or weeks) – don’t end up becoming a burnt-out traveller; they are the saddest kind. Most people stay in a place for about two to three days, which is at least two to three days too short of the minimum time I would recommend. Oh, almost forgot: Travelling slowly also saves you $$ of course: You get better accommodation deals for longer stays, you don’t spend so much on transport and resting days keep you from spending money on activities.
Europe, Oceania and North America are awesome continents to visit, but the probability of you coming home early dead-broke is pretty high. If finances are tight, check out Central America, India or South East Asia – your home currency goes a lot further in those regions. Hostel beds or even whole bungalows can be as cheap as a few dollars a night (even less in India!) and you can eat three times a day for less than a tenner. Apart from the $$$ factor, many cheap destinations are incredibly exotic and culturally fascinating. Being somewhere completely different from what you’re used to can be challenging but also highly rewarding.
Want to extend your time abroad? If you are prepared to make bit of an effort, you can easily volunteer your time in exchange for a bed and food, meet awesome people and make a positive impact on the local community you are visiting. Keep you eyes open as you travel and you will morethan likely come across places that can use your help: teaching English, helping out on farms, spending time with orphans, providing computer help – the list goes on. Also, check out WWOOF or Workaway in case you don’t come across any other opportunities. Be cautious of volunteer organisations that charge thousands of dollars to let you work with them – know that there are cheaper and better ways (unless you can find out exactly where your money goes).
Take care, Conni, xoxo.
About Conni Biesalski:
Conni is a free, minimalist world & life adventurer. She started her nomadic lifestyle at the age of 15, and has since been living, working and travelling around the world.
On her blog A Life of Blue, she blogs about strategies for unconventional, simplistic and nomadic lifestyle designs.