A long time ago, on a windswept isle of crappy cuisine and crappier weather (England), an anxious 19-year-old boy looked out at the rainsoaked horizon and thought to himself:

Nope. I need a tan…

And so that nervous wreck of a boy grabbed his backpack, tent, boots, and gas stove. He grabbed his wallet too, but there was nothing in it.

Fast forward more than a decade later and that boy became a man. Tougher, smarter, and more confident. Confident in himself and his abilities. He could even grow a real beard.

That, my friends, is the POWER of budget travel. And that’s why everybody should try budget travel at least once.

Because sink or swim, budget backpacking will teach you a lot. Becoming more dependent on your own abilities, roughing it through the cold and dark, and learning how to reach your goals without simply throwing cash at the problem… this is how you grow.

And, ultimately, that growth? That’s why we travel.

Today, amigos, I want to tell you the 7 reasons exactly why you SHOULD go budget travelling. And then you will.

And then, at the end of that long journey, you’ll reflect too.

And you’ll feel pretty darn awesome.

The hardest journeys reap the greatest rewards.
Photo: Will Hatton

The 7 Reasons to Go Budget Travelling NOW

I’m a firm believer that everybody should explore this weird, wild, and wonderful planet at least once in their lives. AND I’m a firm believer that that journey should be accessible to everyone, no matter where they come from or what their background is.

Enter budget travel.

If your circle of friends back home doesn’t involve any loveable vagrants or international men of mystery, you might not even have a clue that it’s possible to travel the world with little to no money. You might have been taught that travel is a bougie hobby for people that drink chilled chardonnay while chortling from behind the curtains of first-class at the plebs in economy.

WRONG. Travel is for everyone.

But while learning to travel while spending as little money as possible is a delicious banquet, that’s not today’s main course. Nay – today is about why you should throw caution to the wind and hit the road now.

Starting with my top reason…

Look Mum, I’m a backpacker!
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

1. Budget Travel Makes You More Resourceful

The trade of budget backpacking is not all butterflies and unicorns shitting out rainbows – in fact, more often than not, it’s challenging as hell! When the going gets tough… well, a lot of less resourceful people will just toss cash at the problem hoping to buy their way back into that scrumptious unicorn poop.

But when your wallet is filled with more mothballs and bartenders’ phone numbers than actual dollar bills, that option goes out the window.

Budget travel is a game for the clever people. It’s figuring out where to sleep that night, how to get your next meal, and how to keep going with seriously limited resources. Your biggest resource is your mind.

hitchhiking in Sri Lanka for budget backpacking
Makin’ it work.
Photo: @_as_earth

The thing is… stuff goes wrong on the road all the time. But one of the first lessons you learn as a budget traveller is that you WILL survive it. Look at you go, amigo – you’re a champ!

Coddling yourself with luxuries is the biggest mistake you could make in life. Sure, it’s nice feeling safe and secure, but it also gets kind of boring. You never grow as a person when you keep yourself sheltered away from the discomforts of life.

Travel should be all about forcing you out of your comfort zone – that’s when you find that sweet spot for some spicy and excellent self-development.

2. Budget Travel is Travel in Its Rawest Form

Before backpacking became such a rite of passage for half of the Western world (and some of the rest of the world too), the scene was dominated by hippies and vagabonds who had big dreams in place of big money. When you let go of luxury, you get to experience travel like it was before.

Side note: if you want to know how backpacking and “being a backpacker” have changed over the years, check out our backpacker statistics guide!

You get to experience travel as it should be. Raw and uncut.

The experience puts you through a washing machine of emotions: it’s exhilarating, exhausting, crazy, fulfilling, rewarding, at times, dangerous, but most of all… it’s endless fun. The lows are very low but the highs are so fucking high. Isn’t the whole point of leaving your home to experience things that really make you feel alive?

We’re not talking skydiving here – budget travel puts you into REAL adventures way off the beaten-down tourist trail, and that’s where all the best stories come from.

girl at rush lake backpacking in pakistan
Views like this? Absolutely free.
Photo: @intentionaldetours

When I’m backpacking, I don’t have any clue what’s going to happen that day. Hitchhiker’s luck might land me hundreds of miles past my wildest goals or five minutes from where I started. I never know who I’m going to meet that day. In a world of wannabe Instagram influencers and people tethered to their smartphone screens, raw and slow budget travel remains the most authentic way to travel.

I live for the uncertainty. Things often go wrong in the best ways possible, and when you’re able to walk through the new doors that misfortune opens wide, you find yourself in the middle of adventures that are definitely not listed in your Lonely Planet guide.

3. Budget Travel is Social

I get it: the idea of going solo can be terrifying. Landing in a foreign country alone, braving new lands lone wolf style, or even just those cold and wet nights shivering, tent pitched somewhere in a moonless forest. But that’s not all solo travel is, and that’s where budget travel is your knight in shining armour.

Ladies and gents, I welcome thee to the hostel life. A strict travel budget often means staying in cheap hostels and sharing dorms with a bunch of strangers. (Or as I like to call them, your-soon-to-be amigos). And hostels are downright bloody fantastic!

A point of connection for all travellers, hostels do a fantastic job with helping you make friends on the road. From pub crawls to organised tours, quiet movie nights to debauched party nights, and even just jamming and smoking up together in the common room, there’s always something going on at a hostel!

The very function of the hostel is to bring people together. Hostels collect like-minded adventurous soloists from all over the world, and soon you’ll feel silly for ever thinking you’d be lonely on your backpacking trip.

people hitchhiking on a motorbike
Try as hard as you want: you’ll never be alone.
Photo: @themanwiththetinyguitar

Travelling by Couchsurfing is another excellent option for both accommodation and meeting people, albeit usually local people. AND it’s totally free (though a gracious guest always brings the drinks). In the past, my hosts have always been able to show me the best spots around town, give me tips on the local area, just provide some wicked (and often rather deep) conversations. Budget travel is the reason I have a lot of the life-long friends I do now.

Let alone the fact that to get by as a budgeteer, you HAVE to talk to people. I started out as a painfully shy kid scared of even striking up a conversation with a stranger until budget travel forced me to learn how to talk to people. Now, you couldn’t pay me to shut up!

No matter what, I guarantee you that you’ll make friends when you travel. When you’re working on a minimal budget, you need to dare to ask for help – whether that’s finding an odd job for an extra bit of dough or just hitching a ride to the next town over. At first, asking for help feels awkward as hell, but you’re gonna be surprised at just how many kind souls out are there ready to help a traveller in need.

And talking about restoring faith in humanity…

4. Budget Travel Connects You With People – Real People

There are good people everywhere: that’s something budget travel taught me very early on in my backpacking career. It’s also the reason that questions like Is budget travel really ethical?’ grate on my nerves so much. Because questions like that don’t seek to break down systemic barriers between people: they seek to create them.

Everywhere I’ve travelled over my years, I’ve been shown kindness from people from all walks of life. Liberals and conservatives, the wealthy and the poor, Western, Eastern, Southern, and Northern – it doesn’t matter. Because time and time again, I’ve been shown that most people are good.

The best part about travelling is getting to know the local life and culture – and there is literally no better way to do that than to rub shoulders with the people that live in a destination and call it home. The locals.

ladies sitting in pakistan
Expensive tours and resorts just won’t lead to spontaneous experiences like this.
Photo: @intentionaldetours

Unfortunately, luxury travel separates travellers from the local side of things. In Western countries, locals deride the rowdy, nosy throngs of tourists ruining the idyllic hideouts of their city (looking at you, Amsterdammers); in developing countries, you’re already richer than the majority of the population simply by being able to be there. And if you only go for the high-end opulent experiences, that divide deepens into a chasm.

girls riding on top of a truck backpacking pakistan
Spontaneous things happen most when you spend the least.
Photo: Samantha Shea

Budget backpackers, while no doubt still tourists, don’t often feel like tourists. Even the word ‘traveller’ vs. ‘tourist’ carries completely different connotations.

Fancy farers usually only meet locals in service positions: waiters, tour guides, hotel receptionists, and that’s one of the biggest travel mistakes you can make. There’s no way to have a real connection with somebody if you put yourself above them.

Broke backpackers dine in dingy street kitchens and packed food markets. Places where menus are in the local language and the best bet to get a delish feed is to just truck your luck and point at something that looks good. (There’s that adventure again!)

Budget backpackers catch public buses, get hella lost, seek help, and sometimes get caught out having to ask locals where the bloody hell they can even get a room in town. And people want to help – somebody always cares.

By adjusting your budget to local levels, you’re accessing, at least in part, the life locals live. And once you start living that budget travel life and stop questioning it, you’ll find that by far and large people everywhere don’t give a shit. They just want to connect.

And that’s a good feeling; it’s warm and tender. It’s like a hug from the universe every time.

5. Budget Travel Gives You More Unique Experiences

If you want to travel properly off the beaten path – and really into the sticks – often the only way is through roughing it. There are no five-star hotels or flushing toilets in the most remote corners of the world. What you’ll find instead are grand tales of adventure, moments of sincere human kindness, and the truly unique experiences of our planet.

Making new friends in Hunza Valley, Pakistan.
Photo: Will Hatton

Many countries don’t yet have a solid tourist infrastructure, so travel in places like Iran or Pakistan (both a couple of my faves!) is often only possible on a budget. In fact, when I first went backpacking in Pakistan, online information about travel there simply wasn’t even a thing. I really couldn’t find any info about backpacking in Pakistan AT ALL – and that did, I admit, make it somewhat scary to approach. But luckily, it wasn’t scary at all; travelling in Pakistan has been one of the absolute highlights of my life so far, and I try to go back every year.

When you dare to chase after the areas outside of the glitzy over-developed tourist mumbo jumbo, you’ll be rewarded with stories of unparalleled glory. The best tacos in Mexico are not served by the poolside at the Marriott but at a hole-in-the-wall down the street. And with an open mind and a couple of shared shots and cheeky smokes among the locals there, you might just get whisked away to a secret midnight tequila fiesta.

6. Budget Travel is Accessible

Instagram influencers on their caviar and champagne-lined superyachts lied to you: travel is not just a lifestyle of the rich and famous. Almost anyone has the funds to travel as long as you’re a savvy sailor and willing to trade creature comforts for genuine experiences.

a guy with his backpack on as he hitchhikes in costa rica
Just you and your backpack.
Photo: @amandaadraper

The most common excuse I hear from folks who want to travel but don’t is that they don’t have enough money. However, a lack of funds is rarely as big of a problem as you think. Travelling without much money is entirely accessible to nearly everyone. It can even be as easy as getting yourself a bikepacking bike and just bloody setting off and seeing where the road takes you!

In many cases, travelling is actually cheaper than staying stuck in the hamster wheel of your life. I can guarantee that the monthly rent of your LA shoebox apartment costs three times more than a month backpacking around Southeast Asia – and that’s including scrumptious feasts, bi-weekly foot massages, and the absolute blackout blast of a hedonistic nightlife.

Stretching your cents to their max allows you to travel longer, better, and more often. There’s no reason to break your back working all year for one all-out inclusive getaway on a private island off the Amalfi coast when you could have the most epic adventure of your life travelling in India, Nepal, or other places equally as cheap for the same cost of entry – and instead of five days, you’ll be gone for five weeks… Or five months. 😉

And there’s no better time than right now. With the explosion of low-fare airlines, killer online resources to help with budget trip planning (like, say, this one), and hostels popping up all over the globe, travelling without spending much money is easier than ever before.

7. Budget Travel is More Responsible Than Luxury Travel

Mother Nature is a friend to everyone who’s travelling on a $10/day budget. Broke travellers are often more sustainable than fancy tourists by nature: both from the perspective of the local economy and in regards to environmental sustainability.

As a budget traveller, you end up picking buses and trains over private cabs and planes. You barely have any extra cash so say bye to spending money on tacky souvenirs made in sweatshops (and give a bright and happy middle finger to consumerism in the process).

Nic and Shorty playing with a kid in Bagan, Myanmar/ Burma.
Smiles for miles while meeting locals in the northern reaches of Myanmar.
Image: Nic Hilditch-Short

You carry your own water bottle instead of buying plastic ones at every corner, cook your own food with cheap local ingredients, and stay in local family-run guesthouses or hostels where the biggest electrical consumption comes from the disco ball at the bar. (You’d be shocked to learn how much water and power it takes to run a luxury resort.)

Being broke puts you closer to the local folks, and there are tons of reasons just why that’s so excellent. You often hear about how you should be leaving money in the spots you visit (the famed “tourists dollars”), and by eating, staying, and shopping at locally owned places, that money goes directly into the pockets of locals in full rather than trickling down from some foreign investor.

In a word, budget backpackers are conscious and responsible tourists by design.

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Final Tips for New Budget Backpackers…

Backpacking on a budget is EPIC. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t at least give it a go and see how you like it (unless you prefer nights on the couch watching Ross and Rachel umm and uhh for the 16th-billion-time over raw and thrilling journeys into distant lands).

It’s easy to get caught up in all the unreal awesomeness though, so here are a few golden rules to keep in mind when you embark on your adventure:

REI Coop Half Dome Tent
Your tent should become your best friend as a budget travel.
Photo: @amandaadraper
  • Experience, don’t exploit. Budget backpacking means compromising on your own comfort – e.g. sleeping rough instead of staying at a fancy hotel – but saving money should NEVER come at the expense of other people.
    While the art of haggling is a cross-cultural tradition, bartering for fifty cents over some trinket is poor form when the vendor definitely needs that money more than you do. Even if you’re staying somewhere for free through Couchsurfing, it’s always nice to invite your host out for a drink or cook them dinner as a thank you.
  • Ask nicely, but don’t mooch. Similar to the last point, you’ll find yourself having to ask for favours, whether it’s hitchhiking a ride or asking for the throwaway produce from a fruit market. Take all kindness with gratitude and appreciation but don’t expect anything – budget travel is your own choice and, ultimately, no one owes you shit.
  • Learn the language. Learning a few words of the local language is always appreciated, but when you’re roughing it, it can be absolutely vital. Asking for help becomes ten times easier when you can actually understand each other. And gratitude for the help received from a local is always better shown by saying ‘thank you’ in their native language.
  • Check your privilege. Just the fact that you are travelling in another country makes you incredibly fortunate. While budget backpacking is more accessible than luxury travel, even that form of travel is still out of reach for many. Particularly when you’re exploring developing countries, be respectful, be mindful of your impact as a tourist, and leave behind at least a little money where appropriate… and a big fat smile. 🙂
  • Budget travel is tough – and you’re not a wuss for feeling like that. Most of the time, travelling on a budget is not a holiday. The uncertainty can really stress you out, and the constant flux of moving around, meeting new people, and sussing out where to sleep that night can become exhausting. I promise you, it’s all worth it, however, travel burnout is real – there’s no shame in calling for a timeout in the middle of your trip and just treating yourself to a peaceful hotel room for a few nights to recharge.

Trust me when I say that budget travel has been the best and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life, and it’s solely responsible for where I am now.

I’m extremely grateful for the person I’ve become over the years of counting pennies and chasing low-cost adventures and off-the-charts experiences. I had some hard times on the road but ultimately budget travel has made me more resourceful, smarter, more positive, open, worldly, tougher, and it kicked the shyness out of me pretty fucking swiftly too. And that’s exactly what it will do for you – I promise.

So stop worrying about your bank balance and get the hell out there – there are mountains to climb, babes to romance, and adventures aplenty. And they’re all gonna seduce the pants off of you. Have a grand ol’ time.

Boom budget travel!
Photo: Will Hatton

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