Every day I get asked how I manage to travel the world for so long on so little money. Even though the answer right now is I am a professional travel blogger, for the first two years of constant travel I wasn’t. I also didn’t have a ton of money to start, and so I had to get really creative. Here are the things I learned, and hopefully this helps to convince you to get out there and try it, even without a huge, comforting bank account.
How to Travel the World for Cheap
-Get a decent guide book
Many hard core travelers look down on a guide book. They want to go off the beaten path and away from tourists. Well I do see their point, but having one can also save you some time, money and heart aches. Investing in a decent guide book can make sure you are aware of scams before you arrive, a decent exchange rate before you accept one on the border, and even tell you the cheapest place to stay if you havn’t already looked. One time I know a guide book saved me some money was when it warned me of the Cambodian border “quarantine” scam. besides, don’t you want to know where to find the best beaches in Costa Rica? Or Italy?
If you are planning on staying in one city for at least a few weeks, then there is absolutely no reason you can’t get out of paying for accommodation. Finding somewhere where you can do volunteer work is not only a great way to save on weeks of accommodation costs, but also the best way to get to know the city. Websites like MovingWorlds.org are your best option. They connect people to organizations that provide free accommodation in exchange for your time and work sills.
Having free accommodation in the city/country you want to get to know isn’t the only benefit off volunteering, there is usually a lot more benefits like meals and tours ect. These sites are free, and they don’t set you up with those places that make you pay to volunteer. MovingWorlds.org does have a membership plan, but i comes with a money back guarantee if they can’t place you And in addition to finding you a match, has a global support team, online training, and great resources. It’s an excellent way to save loads on a trip! I know people that organized a whole year of travel this way, going from city to city, never paying accommodation.
Start a blog! I’m telling you, so many opportunities have opened up for me since I started blogging. Even if you don’t ever plan on becoming a professional, buying a domain name and hosting, and starting a travel blog is such a small investment, that even one free hotel night can far out-weigh the cost. As soon as I started mine and got a few followers on FB and Twitter, I started emailing hostels on my Euro trip and offering to promote their place in exchange for free accommodation. And it worked! Even with less than 500 followers on social media (most family and friends), I was able to get free beds all over Europe. And not just beds but tours,diving and more. So I highly recommend buying a site on Bluehost, which is really cheap at around $4 a month, and just starting to write about your travels. It will definitely pay off, even if you never get very big. And it’s fun!
Lets face it, even if you do a ton of research and find the cheapest flights possible, flights are still going to be one of the biggest expenses. The only way to get around this is to take cheap, local, over-land transportation as often as possible. Maybe your first stop is in Europe, and after that you go to Asia.. Why not take buses and trains across Europe, UK to Turkey, then fly to Asia from there? Not only is it fun, but you get to see a whole lot of culture. its much cheaper, even in Europe, then flying around to each thing on your list to see. And as another bonus, if you take the over night bus or train, it saves you that night’s accommodation. Win win.
-Have good stories
One of the most expensive parts of traveling is drinking. I know guys that will hitchhike, camp on the side of the road, cook their own food, and spend almost nothing to travel. But they more then make up for all that money saving by blowing it each night in a bar. Going out on a night on the town is great and for some, nearly impossible to give up. So my advice is to be interesting to the locals, and have good stories. If you are an American, hitchhiking to Iran, I guarantee you will have good enough stories to keep you in free beers forever.
The locals will think you are crazy, interesting, and want to show you how hospitable their country is by buying you a drink. Trust me, it works. As an added bonus, lots of times you can network at the bar, meet some new friends (or lovers), and mention that you are looking for a place to stay. 9 times out of 10 someone will drunkenly slap you on the back and proclaim that you are staying with them! Score, your interestingness just got you free drinks AND a free bed.
-Eat street food
Lots of new travelers cringe at the though or words “street food”. They see entertaining videos and images of their favorite bloggers eating fried crickets in Cambodia or guinea pig in Peru and think no way! Then they blow their budget on restaurants. Little do they know, I have a really weak stomach, but hardly eat anything BUT street food. It is some of the best tasting food there is. You aren’t living until you’ve had pad Thai in Bangkok, served from a tiny cart on the side of the road. Or barbecued lamb sausage fried in a park of Bogota. Or street churros doused in chocolate sauce in rural Mexico.
These are the best local food you can eat, and the absolute cheapest prepared food there is. As long as you are smart and can see it’s fully cooked, you’ll be fine. Don’t be the American that goes to McDonald’s in Cairo. Go to the cheap hole in the wall you can’t pronounce, or the little falafel lady on the street and pay pennies. (And help support a regular guy)
In my opinion, the biggest budget killers are as followed: 1. flights, which I already covered. 2. Alcohol drinking, which I’ll cover soon. 3. Accommodation, covered. And 4. Souvenir buying. There really is only one solution to this: just dont buy any! Ya maybe you think you have to buy that Mayan ceremonial mask in Guatemala for &50, but if your goal is to travel a long time, then that money could go to a lot of things! Such as 10 good meals. Or five nights in a dorm. A long haul bus ticket. Flights all over Europe on cheap airlines. You name it!
On top of that, then you will have to carry it everywhere. Eventually your backpack is going to weigh way too much because if you feel you have to have that mask in Guatemala, then you’ll feel the same about that alpaca blanket in Peru on the next stop or the bottle of wine In Porto. Just stop. Flights will start charging more for heavy luggage, some buses will make you buy 2 seats, it never ends. All you need is your memories and photos. When you are finally home and working a real job, you can buy everyone of those things on Amazon and collect what ever you want.
-Surf some couches
I’ve written about Couchsurfing before, ad undoubtedly mentioned it a lot. I think it’s one of the greatest resources a budget traveler can have. If you didn’t know what it is already, it’s a website that connects travelers to locals who are willing to offer a free couch to crash on. Ya maybe to some it sounds dodgy, staying with a stranger, but the site allows you to brows through many many profiles of couch hosts in the city you want, and you can see their good or bad references.
Anyone with a rapey-vibe kind of reference or who was ever inhospitable at any time quickly disappears from the site, and the quality people stand out. If you are still afraid I will tell you that nearly every major city has couchsurfing ambassadors who have hosted hundred and even thousands of travelers. These you can trust. I’ve stayed with a few and they were awesome. I once couch surfed my way around Europe for 2 months, and seen most of the continent, never paying for a bed once. If you do the math, even at a super budget hostel of say $12 a night, that adds up to $720 in the 2 months. Imagine if it was for a year trip!
-Bring a small laptop
This seems counter productive to backpack and to what I said about packing light, but having a small laptop can save you loads of time and money. The number one way it can save you money, is that you dot have to keep going to Internet cafes to check your emails or to book the next hostel or to check exchange rates etc. another reason to have it is because you want to start a travel blog, and you’ll need it. I will write up an article on a long train ride, then publish it when I have wifi. You can also upload all your priceless photos, just in case your camera gets stolen. The benefits are endless. (Send an emergency, last minute couch request, from the free wifi at a McDonald’s). My tiny travel laptop has save and entertained me countless time.
There are so many ways to save or even make money on the road that there’s really no excuse any more. I’ve run into some insanely creative, albeit alternative people who found ways to live their dream. Here’s some inspiring examples I’ve seen: putting up a sign in a hostel offering $10 haircuts. She was so successful she put the flyers in many other hostels and got calls all day. -then I met a girl who braided hair for $5 on a beach in Australia. She made ok money.
Her boyfriend had no talents so instead he took a squirt bottle of water, and walked around the very hot beach offering a cool-down squirt and a hug for $1. People thought it was so funny that he made more than she did! -another guy I met ran out of money and put up signs in the hostel offering to cook for $3. Enough people signed up that he ate free and made more than he needed to pay for his bed. There are so many more, and all you need to do is be creative.
Some of you might send me some angry messages, but this is sometimes a big expense, yet a must see for most people. You can’t go to Jordan and not see Petra, even though they charge about 50 euro. So sneak in to places! There’s no armed patrols at national parks. They don’t check your ticket from when entering Machu Pichu from the west. The Taj Mahal is open for free on Fridays for Muslims, so why not find a cheap galybaya and save some money. Got caught sneaking into to Pyramids of Egypt? Guards can be bribed! The ones I seen were pretty bitter that all the Bedouin guides were making loads on tourists, and were happy to take a bribe.
-Get a student Card
Maybe this could go under “be creative” but whatever. Having a student card has saved me loads. There are so many museums, landmarks, galleries and monuments that offer free or discounted entry to students, that its hard to ignore. Not a student? Who cares! No one is going to check authenticity, get a fake one! I lost my card, so had a fake one made on Khosan road in Bangkok for $5. And ever since it has saved me loads. You should also checkout these places’ schedules, as most have free days.
There you have it, some of my favorite ways on how to travel the world for cheap. If you would like to see the list of travel resources I made, click here.