Budget Backpacking 101

budget backpacking

Are you keen to head out and explore the world but not sure how the hell to do it on a budget? Well, I have a solution for you! Seven solutions to be exact…

Seven tips from the high temple of Backpackistan, tips which will help you stretch your money further so that you can stay on the road for longer and become an expert in the mystical art of budget backpacking!

I’ve been backpacking around the world for eight years and these tips have helped me to stay on the road whilst spending the bare minimum. I have met colourful characters, seen incredible things and journeyed to far flung lands on a budget of just $10 a day. 

Many of you veteran budget backpackers will probably already know all this stuff but, if you’re brand new to budget backpacking or you’ve run out of money on your travels after a month-long bender and want to keep travelling, read on to discover… 

The 7 Secrets To Budget Backpacking! 

1. Find a free place to crash!

For most travellers, one of the main costs on the road is accommodation… Hotel beds and even hostel dorms quickly add up if you are paying for them every night and if you’re on the road for any real length of time it is well worth investing in a tent. I’ve camped all over the world and have seen some truly amazing sunrises and sunsets purely because I was out amongst nature rather than crammed into a hostel dorm. 

budget backpacking

Chilling out in Romania after a long day of hitching

Although I am a big fan of camping, I don’t want to camp every night – especially if I am travelling somewhere cold. I am a huge fan of Couchsurfing and have been using this amazing website for years. to find free places to stay and to make new friends whilst travelling. So what is Couchsurfing?

Stay at someone’s house for free, it really is that simple! Couchsurfing is an epic way to make new friends and to land on your feet with a social life. Some of the best experiences I have had on the road have been through Couchsurfing and I thoroughly recommend it to anybody who is travelling on a budget. I’ve surfed in lots of far out countries including Venezuela, Pakistan and Iran and have found that these are actually the countries where couchsurfing works the best as these countries don’t get many tourists and hosts will be falling over one another to invite you to crash. 

Some budget backpackers travel the world by house-sitting; where they look after somebody’s home (and pets!) in exchange for a cool place to stay. I strongly recommend travelling with a tent if you are on a budget; check out this post on how to choose the best tent for backpacking. 

 

2. Score free transport!

budget backpacking

Hitching a ride in Iran

The second of my budget backpacking tips is get your ass on the road and start hitchhiking; you travel huge distances for free, it really is that simple. Even in a cheap country like India, a bus from Delhi to Manali will set you back at least $20 if you want air con. In Western terms, that’s not a great deal but in India, that $20 will rent you a cheap room for a week if you play it smart. When you run out of money, you will remember that $20 you so frivolously wasted on a bus seat… 

Hitchhiking has a bad reputation in the West which I suspect in a conspiracy between bus and train companies. The reality is that far more people are hurt in bus crashes than are hurt by hitchhiking and the vast majority of people will pick you up either because they are kind or plain curious to speak to a foreigner and not because they want to hurt you. Yes, there are hitch-hiking horror stories (which tend to get turned into films) but there are also bus, train and airplane horror stories.

For a full rundown, see my Hitch-hiking 101 guide but in a nutshell what you need to do is make a sign stating your destination (in both English and the local language) and find a good place to flag down a ride. When you do find a ride be sure to attempt conversation and offer to buy your host a drink or make a token contribution towards petrol costs.

It’s not always possible to hitchhike and where you can’t you should always try to take local transport – long-distance buses and trains can be affordable, it’s just a case of booking a more modest seat rather than the ‘Super Happy Lucky Fun VIP Luxury Comfort AC Executive Lounge’ seats… As many seasoned backpackers will tell you, the longer you have to travel and the less rushed your schedule, the less you will spend. Travel slow and you can travel cheap.

 

3. Eat local!

From Pad Thai vendors on the infamous Khao San Road to the Tortilla ladies of Antigua, local food is delicious, cheap and plentiful! If you eat in restaurants aimed at tourists or in international restaurant chains you will really miss out on some of the best cultures your destination has to offer. Take to the street; search out hole in the wall eateries, pancake waggons and fruit stalls! 

When people ask me what my favourite food is I always answer “Whatever’s local… or a burger”. Restaurants are expensive and even in cheap countries, they will eventually eat up (pun intended) your budget. Street food, on the other hand, is cheap, delicious and a great way to get to grips with the local culture. My advice is to try and find a stall which is busy with local people, these are the places you want to eat. 

budget backpacking

It’s usually not worth cooking your own food in Asia but when you’re travelling in Europe, Australasia or South America, you can save a ton of money by cooking your own meals. You can always buy noodles, pasta and vegetables cheap and if you have a pocket rocket stove then you can cook no matter where you are. I often travel with some herbs and spices or a bottle of tobacco to enhance a boring meal. You can still visit cafes and restaurants, just don’t get into the habit of making it the default option. 

 

4. Learn To Haggle!

Haggling is the ancient art of negotiating a discount off a souvenir, meal, room or ride… In some parts of the world, it’s possible to haggle for absolutely everything. When I first hit the road in India, I quickly learnt that if you didn’t haggle you would constantly be paying about seven times more than you should…

budget backpacking

Buy one get one free?

My advice is to try haggling on absolutely everything; clothes, souvenirs, hostel rooms and transport… The worst thing your haggling opponent can say is “stop been silly” and you have a good chance of saving money. Remember to keep it light, friendly and fun – you have a much better chance of scoring a discount if you do. Check out my Haggling Guide here for more info. 

 

5. Network like crazy!

“Your mum’s sister’s friend’s cousin lives in Bangkok, awesome…. can I visit?” This may sound silly but I’ve crashed with people who I really have only a very tenuous connection with. Whether you make awesome friends on the road or know a friend of a friend in the country you’re visiting, meeting up with people you kind of know can be a great way to save cash, land on your feet with a social network and really get to grips with the place your exploring! 

Another great way to cut down on costs is to get yourself a backpacking buddy. It sounds obvious but if you have a travel buddy, your buying power has just doubled! Suddenly, hostel rooms are half as much, taxis cost less and you can even share meals. If you can’t convince any of your friends at home to come with you then take a look online. The Couchsurfing forums are a good bet and you are bound to meet lots of cool people. Alternatively, simply choose the most popular hostel you can find for the first couple of days; you will meet lots of epic people who are heading in the same direction as you… 

Budget backpacking

A bunch of Pakistanis I met on the train…

If you’re good at networking, you will also be in a prime position to pick up work abroad. Whether it’s working in a hostel for four hours a day in exchange for bed and board or pulling in hapless tubers on the river of Vang Vieng (still my best job to date!) in exchange for a burger, $5 and unlimited beer there are tons of travel jobs available out there! 

 

6. Get a Job!

budget backpacking

$10 a day and free beer!? I’ll take it!

Ok, so you worked hard to hit the road and the last thing you want to do is end up working in a new job. I totally get it… The good thing about travel jobs though is that you can pick them up for just a week at a time to supplement your income and they tend to be low-stress and fairly fun.

The most obvious choices are bar or hostel work but farm work is another great option for budget backpackers wanting to stretch their cash that bit further. I’ve worked on farms in Israel and Laos, bars in Turkey and Vietnam, construction projects in Europe and India and have picked up dozens of other random jobs whilst backpacking. Picking up a job on the road is usually as simple as just spending an afternoon asking around.

You can work at hostels and in exchange for 3 – 4 hours graft a day you get free digs and often free beer. You will often find that backpacker jobs are not even like real jobs, they are so much more relaxed and informal that it doesn’t even feel like work.

If you want something a bit more long term, formal and better paying then consider teaching English as a foreign language. A TEFL certificate can be obtained pretty easily and will enhance your employability ten-fold.

7. Start an online career!

budget backpacking

Attempting to answer emails in the Karakoram Mountains…

The internet is probably the most powerful tool any of us have at our disposal and there are countless ways which you can use it to help you travel for longer… Ultimately, starting an online career is the best way to maintain a life of adventure and will give you the chance to build your own business empire.

Before you begin, I must warn you; becoming a digital nomad will change your travel experience forever and it’s not for everyone. There are no get rich quick schemes. Personally, I would strongly recommend that you go on a backpacking adventure before you start your online business. Starting an online business whilst hitting the road for the first time would be incredibly overwhelming and you would miss out on some of the experience.

Once you have decided that a life of travel is the life for you, then you need to think about how you are going to fund your lifestyle. It’s possible to travel the world on an extreme budget but ultimately this isn’t something you will want to do forever and there will come a time when you want to move on to something more…

Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible…

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