Travelling on a tight budget is more viable than ever before and it can be an extremely valuable and memorable experience. Anyone who says that you need to have vast financial resources in order to spend several months or even a gap year travelling the world is probably confusing travelling with holidaying. Of course, it is essential to have something saved up, but not as much as people may think. In fact, travelling can even pay for itself. If you have dreams of having a long trip around the world, or even to a few countries nearby, consider some of the following tips for saving money while on the road.
In much of the world, flying is far more affordable than it used to be. To travel between different countries in Europe, flying is often cheaper than any of the other options. Cheap flights require flexibility and advance planning, however. The mode of transport you will use in different countries will vary considerably when it comes to spending less on transport. In some countries, trains are an absolute bargain whereas here in the UK, travelling by train can be outrageously expensive. Always take some time to do your research on the Web and find out which is the cheapest way to get to your next destination. If you are flexible with your dates, you will often have more options.
Another option, and a favourite among true backpackers, is hitchhiking. Many travel guides do not recommend this, particularly for solo travellers. For those who are doubtful about hitchhiking but would still consider it, there are various online resources which offer organized hitchhiking. This tends to be safer and more convenient as well as offering all of the benefits of traditional hitchhiking such as free or very low-cost travel. See Hitchwiki, Hitchhikers handbook and Backpacker Resources.
My preferred means of travel is by bike. Cycle touring allows you to fully immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and true feel of your route. A bike and tent provide ultimate freedom, stay where you want and travel at a speed that suits you. Cycle camping is a very cost effective way of travelling. Camp sites are generally inexpensive. It maybe possible/safe to camp wild or you might be invited to camp on someone’s land for free. Check with airlines and railways regarding travelling with your bike. Also consider folding bikes or a full size touring bike fitted with couplers. Bikes that fold or break down small enough to fit into a suitcase will be a wise investment if your route has a lot of connecting flights. See more cycle touring articles on Cycle Tour Store. Toms bike trip and Travelling Two are excellent bicycle touring resources.
Depending on the type of places you stay on your travels, you should meet plenty of other people along the way. If you have flexible plans or, perhaps even better, no solid plan at all, you may occasionally find opportunities to share a ride with a group of people. Sometimes there are group discounts for long-distance train and bus journeys while, on other cases, you may find someone travelling by car who wants to share fuel costs. This often works out cheaper than taking public transport.
Accommodation is likely to be the single biggest expense on any long-term trip, but sometimes it is actually avoidable. Budget travellers tend to stay clear of hotels, guesthouses and pensions unless they are travelling with a partner or a group of friends in which case such accommodation options can be much more affordable. Generally, budget travellers will stay in backpackers’ hostels. Not only do these offer very cheap accommodation relative to almost all other options; they are also great places to meet people including potential travel partners. Travelling solo can be a very lonely experience for many people and this makes hostels a lifesaver. Hostels are usually very cheap and finding accommodation for less than $15 per night should not be a problem in most countries. But you will usually get a dormitory bed at these sorts of prices.
For the more adventurous, there is also camping. Be sure you familiarize yourself with the camping rules in each country you go to. In some countries you can pitch a tent almost anywhere without spending anything while in others you can only stay in designated campsites and the rules may be strictly enforced.
There are also ways to spend absolutely nothing on accommodation. International hospitality clubs such as CouchSurfing provide a way to sleep for free and meet people. There are others, but CouchSurfing is by far the most popular. People create profiles on the CouchSurfing website, provide pictures and information about themselves and offer accommodation to each other. To beginners, this might sound dubious but the system does actually work quite well. People attend meetings to get to know others and to get reviews on the site. People with more reviews and those who participate in the community more will find it easier to find accommodation. CouchSurfing has 3.6 million members in over 250 countries and it has had a largely untarnished reputation since its launch in 2003. If you plan to use CouchSurfing, it is a good idea to check if there are any local meetings in or near your hometown and attend them to get some contacts, reviews and learn more about it first-hand. Warm Showers is another traveller hosting community that is used by cycle tourers worldwide
Food and Drink
Budget travellers often end up partying far more than they should when they are on their long-term holidays, making food, and especially alcohol, account for a large amount of their budget. Saving money on food is relatively easy. Avoiding restaurants as much as possible usually contributes to the biggest saving. When it comes to buying food, try to stick to local brands and traditional markets rather than supermarkets. Places such as farmer’s markets often offer cheaper, better and healthier food.
It’s not unusual for drinking to appear fairly high up on the expenses list when travelling abroad. Buying local brands, drinking at the place you are staying and avoiding expensive nightclubs will save you a lot of money.
No matter how much you try to cut costs on your big trip the biggest factor is where you actually end up going. Some countries are extremely expensive while others present a paradise for budget travellers. To provide some examples, transport in the UK is often extremely overpriced while in most of Eastern Europe or South America, it is usually very affordable. If you like nightlife, you can drink in Czech Republic for £0.80 for a beer while in Norway, you can easily spend around £7! A hostel dorm bed in the peak holiday season in Croatia can cost upwards of £20 per night while in China; you should be able to get a bed for around £6.50 in most cities.
Some countries are simply not budget travel-friendly. You will inevitably spend more money in countries like Norway, Sweden or Iceland than you will in countries like those in Central Asia. While you may have a dream to go to a specific place, you might find that you will have to compromise in order to travel at all.
Some costs cannot be avoided. This includes medical insurance cover. Many of the more stubborn budget travellers go without it but, falling ill or getting injured abroad can be absolutely disastrous if you don’t have insurance. The United States presents the most infamous example. If things go wrong there and you have no medical insurance, you could end up with a 6-figure bill. On the other hand, some countries have reciprocal health agreements. If, for example, you are an E.U. citizen, you are entitled to free emergency medical care anywhere in the E.U., in which case you do not need an additional medical insurance policy.
Visas are another unavoidable cost in many countries. Visa regulations vary enormously, so you should always be sure to check whether you need a visa to get to your destination beforehand. Some countries are very strict too. The last thing you want is to take a £650 flight from the U.K to China only to be sent straight back because you didn’t have the right paperwork. Finally, don’t ever try to illegally sneak across a border – in some countries; you could end up in prison or worse.
What greater way to save money on a long trip than actually paying for it along the way and going home to a healthy bank account? Working holidays provide a great compromise between seeing a new place and working at the same time. But many working holidays organized by companies are only voluntary. In spite of this, there are opportunities to earn money while you’re on the move.
If you travel with a laptop computer, you might want to consider working online. If you have a skill in writing or Web design, you can combine Internet freelancing with travelling. The two can go rather well together, provided that you can discipline yourself to work enough to earn enough.
Finding a regular job abroad is often much harder. Teaching English is one of the most popular jobs for native or fluent English speakers in countries where the first language is something other than English. However, in order to earn a decent amount of money or, in some places, to even get a job at all, you usually need a certification such as CELTA.
Another way to fund your travels is to rent out your flat or house back home. If you own your own property, you would be forgoing a valuable income if you leave it empty when you are on a long-term trip abroad.