Exploring the world with a rucksack on your back is a life-changing experience – but it can be a pretty expensive one, too. Savvy backpacking is all about taking advantage of affordable transport, staying on top of your budget and seeking out amazing sights and local eats that don’t cost the earth. These eight tips will make your money go further while you explore.
Eight ways to save money while backpacking and travelling
1, BE A FRUGAL FOODIE
Good food is one of life’s simple pleasures – but it’s also one of the elements of travel that you can really sap your budget if you aren’t careful. Cooking for yourself more frequently than eating out, especially in touristy destinations, can save a lot of unnecessary spending – look for hostels or AirBnBs with fully-equipped kitchens. Buying local produce from markets is cheap and tasty as well as benefitting the local economy, too. Don’t forget that you can try local specialities without having to book fancy restaurants – from wandering in Asian night markets to grabbing a slice of New York pizza, it’s often surprisingly pocket-friendly to try a country’s best-loved street food. And when you do want to treat yourself, look for great deals such as tastecard – for example, in my home city of Bristol, tastecard offer 2 for 1 meals Bristol, a fantastic way to try local fare with a friend. If you’re travelling across the country, your tastecard becomes your one-stop shop for significant savings, allowing you to do more in the areas you visit.
2, PACK IT IN
If you’re headed off globetrotting for the first time, the biggest expense before you even book a plane ticket can be kitting yourself out ready for travel. While you do need to make sure you’ve got some quality backpacking kit to take with you, such as a rugged, roomy rucksack and good hiking boots, there are ways to save here too – look for second-hand outdoor gear, shop for travel clothing in the sales, and borrow kit such as travel adapters from friends. Buy medicines and toiletries at home – they can be expensive and hard to come by on the road. And pack as light as possible – you’ll save on baggage fees if you can fit your life into a medium-sized backpack that works as carry-on luggage.
3, WORK YOUR WAY AROUND THE WORLD
Hop around the globe without paying for accommodation by arranging places to stay whereby you work for your keep. If you’re green-fingered, you could volunteer to work on organic farms around the world with WWOOF – you’ll help out on the land for four to six hours a day in exchange for bed and board, and there are placements everywhere from tomato farms in Tuscany to learning about permaculture in Thailand. If you want a paid position, consider investing in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) training before you leave on your travels – it’s one of the surest and easiest ways to find decent work all over the globe.
4, PLAN AHEAD
Doing your research and making an itinerary before you start your travels really pays off. Visit popular spots out of season and avoid school summer holiday times and Christmas if possible. Book travel and accommodation well in advance for better rates, especially if you do want to be in a hotspot during a festival or event, such as Mexico during Dia de Muertos or New York for New Year’s Eve. Think outside the box (or hip destination) – it can be a lot less expensive to stay outside of the middle of a town or city. In Bali, I often paid half the price of popular AirBnBs in the centre of touristy towns simply by booking lovely places to stay out in the sticks and hiring a moped so that I could pop in and out of the hotspots.
5, DON’T BLOW THE BUDGET
It’s time for the boring tip – no-one likes budgeting, but it can be a lifesaver when you’re backpacking, keeping you on the road for longer. Having a set amount of money to spend each day is a good idea, and keeping track of your spending either on your phone, or with apps such as Money Manager or Fleur makes it simple to stay on top of your money and see what you’re splurging on. Don’t fly too close to the wind – have an emergency stash of savings in case you ever need to book a last-minute flight or replace lost belongings. I also like to set some money aside for ‘treat’ experiences such as a scuba diving or a guided hike in each new destination.
6, TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE
Getting from place to place is usually the most expensive part of world travel, but there are ways to make your ticket to ride more affordable. Always research alternative forms of transport that may prove cheaper than conventional routes – my Everything but the Plane blog post has ideas for finding alternative transport to expensive flights. Taking a bus will often save you hundreds of pounds when crossing borders, even if coaches are a bit of an endurance test. Walking or biking will be cheaper than other forms of public transport in cities and carpooling, shared taxis or even hitchhiking are all options that will allow you to save money in-country.
Skipping that pricy flight can be fun, too – destinations that are backpacker favourites, such as Australia and New Zealand, have overland backpacker bus tours specifically aimed at travellers. These often include group activities as well as scheduled arrivals and departures in locations you’re probably keen to see, so they’re especially good if you’re travelling solo and want to meet new people.
7, SEE IT FOR FREE
Beware the tourist trap – sites that are out to convince backpackers that they need to pay large ticket fees for ‘must-see’ activities. If you’re an outdoors lover, you can simply skip the most crowded and expensive sights in a new country and go hiking and wild swimming locally for free instead. Or if you’re a culture vulture, visit cities such as Rome where you can get under the skin of the place and up close with centuries of history just by walking the streets, or explore sights such as Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar or Barcelona’s Parc Guell, which are totally free. Some cities, such as London and Madrid, have free national museums, and it pays to check ahead even if you’re head to world-famous locations – the Grand Canyon, for example, is free to visit on certain days of the year.
8, BETTER BY BIKE
Forget pricy taxis – one of the very best – and cheapest – ways to explore a beautiful new place is by bicycle, and cycling is totally planet friendly, too. Your hostel may have bikes you can borrow – otherwise, seek out a rental shop with decent-looking models. A rental bike should come with a lock and key, well pumped-up tyres and responsive brakes. Helmets are recommended, and baskets are good if you’re off to the beach or on a day out in the countryside.