13 Top Budget Travel Tips
The most frequently given reason for not traveling is that it is too expensive. People have this idea that traveling, especially long term, is reserved for trust fund kids or Instagram models. Travel is often considered to be a luxury past-time: something you do after months of slaving away at a job you hate or even waiting until you retire from that job; something young kids do in between years of school as a release from social pressures and an excuse to blow off steam for a few months by recklessly partying in other countries before returning home to get a real job.
However, travel doesn’t have to be like that. It can be a legitimate lifestyle and you don’t have to have a stacked bank account to do it. In six years of traveling we have found that the most expensive things are transportation, food, and accommodation. By following a few life hacks we have learned along the way, you can maximize your travel time without maxing out your savings account.
Probably the easiest way to save money while traveling is by ditching the public transport and sticking out your hitchhiking thumb! Hitchhiking gets a bad rap in a lot of Western countries and most of the concerns are ill-founded or hyped up by a few bad experiences. You can check out our guide to hitchhiking or our ongoing series in which we hitchhike through Africa. Hitchhiking requires tenacity and patience, but if you are willing to walk, wait, and be (or at least look) merry, you are sure to score a ride and save on your budget! We have ongoing stories about our hitchhiking adventures here and here.
Join A Boat Crew
If you are in the right place at the right time, you can often get lucky and score a ride with a boat crew looking for an extra set of hands. Go to ports and marinas and make friends with sailors posted up in the area. It is a slow-going process and having experience is definitely a plus but if you meet the right people, it can be a great option to catch a free lift. Don’t expect to get anything on the first day, it is unlikely (and probably pretty sketchy) that people will accept to take a total stranger into international waters with them. There are a few Facebook groups you can join as well, but the people who seem to get any responses are people with sailing experience. If you’ve got it, you’re working with a big leg up and you can check out sites like FindACrew! If not, put on a smile and buy a round of beers for the boat-owners, it will go a long way. Know the sailing routes beforehand so you don’t make an ass out of yourself asking for a ride during the wrong season!
In keeping with cutting down on your transportation costs, Couchsurfing is an amazing resource for connecting you with locals for a free place to stay. Keep in mind that there are many different kinds of Couchsurfing hosts and sometimes people aren’t interested in hosting a freeloader who’s just trying to score a free night’s stay. Be kind and courteous in other people’s space, offer to cook a meal, bring beers, make time to get to know your host. Couchsurfing hosts are usually fellow travelers with interesting stories. Other times, they are genuinely lovely locals who may not have the opportunity to travel themselves and use the site to live vicariously through other people’s adventures.
In keeping with the “saving on accommodations theme”, do yourself a favor and invest in a good tent or hammock. We don’t leave home with our Hennessy Hammock. It cost a pretty penny but the amount of money we have saved in accommodation by using this bad boy far outweighs the money spent on it. We prefer hammocks because of the ease of set up, the inconspicuous nature of the hammock, and the small space it takes up in a backpack. However, if you plan on doing mostly urban camping or desert camping, think about investing in a tent. We have friends who swear by the MSR Elixir tent.
If you get out of the mindset that camping has to be done in specified areas, it opens you up to a world of options that cut back on your expenditures. Urban camping is possible in most cities as long as you take a few extra safety precautions such as putting your bags inside your tent or hammock when you sleep.
Seek Out Religious Buildings
If you’re really in a bind, you can go to churches, mosques, and temples and ask to stay for the night. Most of these places offer free sanctuary, especially at Buddhist monasteries in Asia. If nobody answers the door, it is usually safe to sleep outside, while taking a few extra precautions to ensure the security of your belongings. Gabe has had success with this method of urban camping in Myanmar and Central America. Depending on where you are, police stations are also a safe bet. Gabe had luck with this method in Costa Rica. Be polite when asking officials and don’t assume it is okay without getting approval.
Join a Facebook Group
Facebook is a great resource for traveling abroad as there are countless groups that will put you in contact with locals. Joining the expat groups of different cities you are planning on visiting will give you inside access to events and potential places to stay. Groups such as Host-A-Sister are great resources for ladies and couples to find accommodations. There are also pet and house-sitting groups, which are useful in places that experience inclement low seasons where residents decide to travel abroad themselves.
Hit Up Places At Closing Time
This method is hit-or-miss. Bakeries and sushi restaurants tend to be the most reliable places. These establishments usually make their products fresh each day. When closing time comes around, items that didn’t get sold will often get trashed to make way for tomorrow’s selection. If you show up right after closing time, you might be able to persuade the employees to put all of the would-be-waste into a bag for you. Be polite as some places have strange protocols about giving away food. In the US, some companies have strict regulations that prevent people from giving out food for legal liability reasons. Large corporations are unlikely to help out your cause but it never hurts to ask!
Use Food Waste Reduction Apps
Especially in Europe, there are now apps, such as TooGoodToGo, which are attempting to cut back on restaurant waste. While these apps usually don’t give away food for free, they are a great way of getting quality food for a cheaper price.
In the West, dumpster diving is a totally viable way to score free food. Businesses often have to abide by ridiculous protocols when it comes to food safety and will trash perfectly good food because of health inspection regulations. We have enjoyed meals that would have cost waaay more than we could afford simply by swallowing our pride and fishing it out of the trash.
Generally speaking, food is placed in a clean trash bag (around closing time or at shift changes, which usually happen in the late afternoon) and are taken out to the dumpster where they are still perfectly fine for consumption.
BE AWARE of the condition of the food. You are an adult. If it smells off or feels off, it has probably gone off. Don’t eat anything sharing a bag with unidentifiable restaurant paraphernalia that isn’t food.
This method is not advised in non-Western countries because of obvious food safety concerns. Swallow your pride but maintain your wits.
Collect People’s Leftovers
Have you ever been in or walked by a restaurant and seen an absurd amount of leftovers on an empty table? These are 100% headed for the trash and are up for grabs. A good way to claim this food is by walking into the restaurant and asking for a to-go box. Having worked in restaurants for years we can assure you the majority of employees don’t get paid enough to care about who has actually been dining at an establishment. Ask for a to-go box and hit up the table with leftover food. If employees are wary about giving you a box, use the ole “it’s for my dog” excuse. Everybody loves a dog.
Get A Job, Punk!
Hit Up a Hostel
A great way to cut down on expenses when traveling is to work as you go. Hostels are often looking for short-term help, especially in high season, and will generally offer free accommodation (and sometimes meals and drinks) in exchange for work. If you are an artist or a musician, see if these places will trade commission work or performances for a place to stay and some free perks! Make friends with the staff first (buy some shots, tell some jokes) and then ask if there’s space available. If one place is fully staffed, there is a good chance people there know of another establishment looking for employees. The expat scene is usually tight-knit so use your resources!
There are many different websites such as Workaway, CoolWorks (US only), and GoAbroad where people post different job and volunteering opportunities. These websites use a review and profile system so you can check out each organization or business to make sure the ones you work for fit with what you’re into. Usually the jobs on these sites provide either monetary payment, accommodations and food, or both in exchange for your services. Be sure to double check and be explicit in asking about the specifics of any position you apply for, especially if it is a new position without any reviews!
Beg, Busk, Sell
Okay so I truly hate the crust-punk kids who sit on the side of the road and chastise passerby’s for not “donating to the cause”. However, if you are in an affluent country and have no other option, make a sign (like “begging for compa$$ion”) and ask people for money. Don’t be a dick and become a “begpacker” in third-world countries, asking for money to continue your holiday through Thailand. Begging for change is an option (and can be a humbling experience), albeit one that I wouldn’t choose first.
Busking is a great way to make a few bucks (and friends). If you have an instrument, put out a jar, play a few tunes, and you should do alright. Be aware of local laws regarding busking as some places, especially in the US, have laws specifically prohibiting busking in public spaces.
Selling handmade knick-knacks such as jewelry, art, ashtrays, wallets, or clothing is a good way to support your travels. People are often interested in and sympathetic to artists selling their crafts. Be cautious about where you are setting up your shop and make sure you find your own space. There are people who make a living off of their crafts. Don’t deprive people of their livelihood in order to make your travels easier.