If you’re planning a short or extended trip this summer, well done. You deserve it. Maybe you’re thinking of working for a bit to save some money before going away, which is the smart thing to do, of course – otherwise you might be funding the trip from your last student loan payment, which is less wise.
Don’t think you need to be a ‘flashpacker’ (big budget backpacker) or to go ‘glamping’ (glamourous camping) to have a good time. Certain members of the Blackbullion team remember backpacking with a budget of precisely pittance per day, surviving on bowls of steamed rice and coconuts, and staying in grotty dorms infested with cockroaches. Ah, those were the days…
Here are 8 tips (that really work*) for travelling on the cheap:
*trust us, we’ve tried them all 🙂
Avoid package tour deals
On most package tours the guides herd the tourists around like sheep and give them no time to soak up the culture. You’ve definitely seen them before. Piecing the trip together as you go is not only cheaper, but will give you far more flexibility and a more authentic experience.
If you’re travelling solo it’s natural to worry about meeting other people, but there are plenty of opportunities to do this in hostels, Couchsurfing meetups and on free walking tours, to name a few.
You can find cheap hostels all over the world, but to get free accommodation, sign up to Couchsurfing. Make sure you fill out your profile well; be witty, honest and offer something in return for the free stay – maybe you can cook a traditional meal from your home country or play an instrument for your hosts? Or you can always offer to tidy the house, wash up, or take them out for drinks.
An added benefit is the opportunity to stay with locals who can offer you an insight into their country, culture and customs that no guidebook can rival.
Most hostels and Couchsurfing apartments will have kitchens you can cook your own food in, which is usually cheaper than eating out. We say ‘usually’, because some countries are so cheap anyway that you may as well dine at cafes and restaurants. But in pricier countries, it’s a good idea to buy ingredients from a local market/shop and cook up a big batch to eat over the next few days. Or cook together with others in the hostel, cutting down on price per portion even further.
What we will say is don’t skimp on eating nutritious food, otherwise you’ll be at risk of getting sick, which will cost you money in medicine or even hospital visits.
Free / cheaper museum days
Hitting all the cultural highlights on your trip can get expensive, unless you’re savvy about it. Many world-class museums, galleries and other attractions offer free or discounted entry on certain days. The Louvre in Paris, for example, is free to visit for under-26’s on Friday evenings. And remember, take your student card with you for reductions even on normal-priced days.
Overnight trains / buses
It’s worth looking into taking overnight transport if travelling long distances, especially on extended trips. Not only does this save money on a night’s accommodation, but it maximises time spent exploring during the daytime. The only possible downsides to night travel are not being able to see the views along the way, and potential restless nights (usually trains and buses are fairly comfortable, though).
Weigh up the options based on where you are – a sleeper train in France is going to cost far more than one in China, for example, so will it be worth it?
Get an appropriate bank card
Challenger banks like Monzo or Revolut (there are loads of others) have excellent money exchange rates, will not normally charge for overseas cash withdrawals, and you can keep track of your spending on their Apps. Keep an eye on market rates, too, and if your home currency suddenly makes a surge in value, this is the best time to withdraw.
When in Rome…
Do as the locals do (no matter where you are) – they know how their city or town works better than anybody, after all. Ask around for the cheapest eats, drinks, and transportation (it’s always good to practise a few words in another language, too), and check out local fairs or festivals to capture the local spirit and culture of wherever you are.
Prepare in advance
As well as making sure you’ve bought everything you need before you leave (you know where to get the cheapest stuff at home, after all), and remembering to not pack liquids of more than 100ml in your hand luggage (will be destroyed at airport security), you should also plan before arriving to a new place on your trip to find out the cheapest way of getting around. It would be better to know the route from the bus station to your hostel, and walk it, than rely on an expensive taxi, after all. It would be smarter to book a hostel dorm bed in advance than just turn up on the day to discover the only room they have left is the expensive double ensuite.
However, don’t prepare too much! The secret is to plan for the nuts and bolts of getting from A to B so as to make it as cost-effective as possible, while not ruining the surprises of the scenery, attractions and people you’ll encounter.