I often get asked if I am rich to have had travelled so many Countries. Erm, no. Not at all. For me, travelling and backpacking is about stretching out those pennies….
Get your head around the currency of the Country.
For a start, you have to think about everything in relation to the local currency. We all know that we may have to fall prey to the mandatory skin tax of being a foreigner, but never too much and as little as possible. Figure out how much wages are for locals, what do they spend a day? Sometimes it takes a good few days to get your head round the prices of things. Personally I take trips to supermarkets to get my first idea, and you get to see the type of different cuisine stocked. Check out how much things are everywhere that has fixed prices.
Remain calm in high pressured environments.
Let’s say you arrive somewhere on a plane, you’re bombarded with people wanting to help you with your bags, grabbing them from you, rushing you and desperately scrambling for tips. Remain calm. Do not lose your cool. Ever. Be firm and polite, you don’t have to use these services, neither do you have to take the taxis that await outside that the punters are shouting for you to take. From personal experience there is often bus services around airports for locals, a lot cheaper and for sure you can ask the people in the airport for information. If not, I hardly ever take a taxi from the airport, I prefer to head to the main road and flag one down. Either agree on a price (that maybe you’ve already checked online or asked about in the airport) or use a meter.
Buses, the best way to travel… (depending on the bus)
I am a huge fan of travel as the locals do. Such as in Bangkok, Thailand, it’s already cheap enough to take a TucTuc from place to place, but so much better to find a bus stop, with map in hand and ask the locals which bus gets you to your destination. Not only is this a 5th of the price, you get to observe the locals and this, in my opinion is the best way to travel. You might have an arm in your face for the journey, but hey ho. Plus if you’re like me, you’ll enjoy getting lost and the adventure of having no idea where you are.
Finding travel buddies is perfect for sharing costs if you set out alone! If you’re open to being in close proximity to people you’ve just met, sharing rooms is a big bonus. If you’re doing the usual back-packing route and there is more than one of you, sit someone with the bags and send the best haggler to search out accommodation and come back with the best price. Under pressure with heavy backpacks leads to being seriously mugged off.
Ask for offers and discounts!
Be prepared to ask for discounts and offers, as well as finding the fine line between polite and fun haggling and really peeing people off. Ask everyone you meet along the way the prices for things until you get an idea of how the currency works.
The best way to Haggle…
I steer away from my British roots in the fact I absolutely love to haggle. For me, it’s an art. It’s a game. It should be taken lightly. Cross culture exchange is beautiful, even if you think they’re getting the better of you, always smile and be friendly. First rule. Have an idea of what you’ll pay in your head, your maximum. You’ll have an idea of how much things are worth, because you’ve already checked out the local currency. Look at many things, not just one, don’t show too much interest in your desired object. They may want to show you more and more things they have, go ahead have a look, take your time. Shopping this way is less stressful if you go with it, it’s about the whole experience..
In most cultures you’re not obligated to buy and you don’t have to feel guilty if you genuinely don’t want the goods. If you decide to get more than one thing from a persons shop, haggle the first thing down as low as possible, then maybe you can get more discounts after if you buy more. Remember not to take this too far, it is a game and people need to make a living after all- you just don’t want to pay 5 times the amount it’s worth. Actually if I’m honest about it, all around India every time I went into a shop, I put on a very extreme Israeli accent. The top dogs of bargaining in my opinion. I could see the face drop of the shop merchants when I said this, preparing themselves for some bargaining fun! I love the interaction of haggling.
Nightly accommodation can really add up when you’re travelling, so sleeping on over-night buses and trains saves you money. In Vietnam I took a 24 hour sleeper train, I’ve taken a few around India too. In Australia in 2011, to stay in a hostel for one night in Melbourne was 35-40 Australian dollars. Way too expensive! A lot of people hire camper vans, sleep in there and use the free showering services at the beach.
Couch Surfing, an amazing way to travel and meet people. Couch Surfing is this beautiful community where you can have people stay on your couch or stay on theirs for free. I want to make it clear that it is not about free accommodation, although it does help you a lot, it’s about culture exchange and paying it forward. When I went to India for the first time, I was hosted by and Indian family who gave me the most incredible experience ever! I couch surfed a little through Malaysia and opened up my couch when I got sorted in Australia. Not only is Couch Surfing a great way to meet locals, you don’t have to surf with anyone at all, in fact you can use the forums to ask the locals and other travellers their tips and advice, the best place to eat and where to go. I rate couch surfing 100%. After a while couch surfing though, you may opt for hostels, as a surfer you are always a guest and although you don’t pay for accommodation, it’s always best to leave a gift of some kind, make a dinner, help clean etc. In a hostel you can lay around in bed all day if you really want as long as you’re not lying next to that plastic bag rustler who somehow turns up in every hostel dorm.
Make contacts and lovely friends!
Making friends and contacts is the best option for travelling, not only with other travellers, but with locals! In Argentina I met my good friend, Eugenia, and within a couple of weeks she’d offered me to house-sit for her while she went travelling in Europe! Wow! As it happens I had a friend for her to stay with when she got to Brussels so she also had somewhere to stay. Perfect!
For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s a farming work in return for free food and accommodation. Actually it’s not always free, you may have to pay some money towards your accommodation or food, I have done it twice, once in India where I contributed money and again in Argentina. You have to pay a sign-up fee and then you get the details of all the WWOOFing farms in the area you travel, I believe there’s a certain fee for every country. However I found out through word of mouth and so I’m not a member. I did some other random things in the farms, in Argentina I helped more with the cooking for 12 of us, which I loved and in India one of my tasks was to make a video on spiritual ecology.
Alternative ways to travel..
I’ve heard of friends travelling for free by boat in Australasia. You can turn up on the docks and wait to see if people want crew in exchange for passage to the country. Some of these however, I am told you will be also contributing to food, and others you will be working as a deck hand as you sail across to your destination. Seems like a really cool way to travel, I’ve never needed it yet but its something I’ll look into for the future.
Work as you travel on Cruises
Working on Cruise Ships, lets you travel and gives you a job, plus you get to save for some serious traveling after if you wish. You don’t get to pick where you go and there is a whole heap of elements that goes with working on cruise ships.
Carpooling and sharing spaces in cars with people is not only a cool way to meet people but also a wicked way to go in on the petrol and minimise your environmental footprint. Check online if its available in your chosen area, even if you’re not travelling!
It may sound obvious but, making your own food can be so much cheaper. Do you normally eat breakfast in a restaurant at home? I don’t. They are quite often overpriced especially in hotels just because of the convenience. I’ve noticed that supermarkets next to a hostel are usually overpriced, consider going a bit further out and stocking up, then make your own food or make friends and go in the money and have someone else make it for you! Perfect! Cheap dinner party!
Check out the prices of Visas
Backpacking around Southeast Asia for example, you’ll need to get visas for the next country as you go along. Have a look into it on your first day of arrival, if you leave it to the last-minute you’ll have to pay more for a fast track service. Although don’t take the first price you see. I remember travelling with some Dutch girls who were so desperate to buy their visas for Laos that very day, they bought visas from the hotel, where the next day me and my pal strolled the streets and checked the prices in some other places and found the same thing for half the price.
Take your time.
Rushing around to make pre-booked flights or meeting places/people can often lead you to make last-minute expensive decisions. I say, take your own sweet time as you travel…
Pit-stops to extend your time…
Consider ‘working’ in a hostel. To extend your travel and have another experience, you may find hostel work which will have you working on reception, bar work, cleaning or doing many duties night or day in exchange for your rent. Some places do give you some pocket-money but most people are prepared to work for food and rent. You can find signs or information if you enquire.
These are some ideas from just some places, depending on where you’re headed they might not all apply to every country, but the themes remain the same. I’m not someone who budgets each day, nor am I someone who does a lot of research before I set off, which has held me back at some times, but I’ve become so used to travelling cheaply my best recommendation is to ask and share information with everyone you meet!