Keeping things thrifty so you can concentrate on seeing the world
Travelling the world isn’t just for those who earn a significant salary. Here’s our advice on getting out there without spending the earth!
There’s an old saying “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” and we wholeheartedly agree. Do you want to travel, but don’t have a lot of money? Don’t worry – while flights, accommodation and activities do add up, international travel on a budget can be easier than you may think.
Planning & scanning
Check the websites of travel companies and airlines frequently and follow as many as you can on social media. Many airlines and travel companies advertise great specials where you can get flights, accommodation and more at heavily reduced rates. However, these often arise at short notice, sell out quickly, or only allow potential customers a few days to claim a deal before it’s no longer available, so it’s worth checking in regularly.
If you have a particular destination in mind, find out when off-peak season is (the season in which people are less likely to travel to that particular area). Often, off-peak travel is much cheaper than booking during popular holiday seasons. The weather may not be as good, but you are likely to save a lot, meaning you’ll have more budget for food and activities. Travelling at off peak times also means that accommodation and activity providers need to compete more for business, as there are less people in need of their services. As a customer this puts you in a strong position as you are more likely to be able to negotiate competitive prices.
Once you’ve settled on a destination, it pays to book your accommodation and internal travel in advance, at least for the first few days after you arrive. In most countries, you will be able to arrange travel and accommodation as you go relatively easily, but having accommodation booked for when you arrive means you’re guaranteed somewhere safe to go when you land and won’t have to think about finding a bed for the night while navigating a new city, different language, local customs and jetlag.
Do your research and find a backpackers or hostel offering a good rate. Sites like TripAdvisor and Hostelworld are extremely valuable – you can compare prices, read user reviews and book accommodation and activities, all in one place. Many of these sites also have corresponding apps, which are invaluable for travellers on the go. Keep an eye out for places that offer free breakfast with each night booked. Many hostels and backpackers will offer some kind of breakfast, even if it’s just cereal and a hot drink to cater for hungry travellers. It may not be glamourous, but it’ll allow you to load up on free fuel to keep you going throughout the day, meaning you’ll have more to spend on lunch and dinner!
While perhaps not the most comfortable night you’ll spend away, travelling overnight on a sleeper train is also a great way to save accommodation costs. You won’t have to pay for a bed for the night and you’ll wake up at your next destination! Just make sure when booking that you select a train that has a proper dining carriage, so you can have dinner and breakfast too.
Many budget airlines like Jetstar and Virgin don’t include meals in their flights. Generally, food is easily available for purchase with a credit card while on flights, but it can be overpriced. If you don’t need comfort food, it’s worth excluding the airline food add-on, unless it’s free.
Most border control rules will allow food to leave the country, so long as it’s packaged. Depending on how long your flights are, you can often bring your own pre-packed snacks. Nuts are a great source of protein and will keep you nice and full for a long time. Individually wrapped snacks like muesli bars, beef jerky and rice crackers are also great ways to keep you going. These might not constitute a full meal, but on a flight you don’t expend much energy meaning you won’t need the same amount of food as you might ordinarily. Being prepared to rough it a little means you won’t need to buy expensive in-flight food.
One of the most important things to remember when flying is keeping hydrated. Planes are temperature and moisture controlled, meaning you can become dehydrated quickly if you don’t drink enough water.
While most people will automatically pack a bottle of water in their carry-on luggage, getting it on to a plane can be difficult. Security requirements often mean water can’t be brought onto a plane from a flight lounge. The problem here is that most airports won’t allow water through their security gates either, meaning people will drain or throw out their bottles before going through security, expecting to be able to fill them up on the other side.
Every airport has different rules and there’s often no way of knowing where you will or will not be allowed water. Stay hydrated, but save yourself from buying new bottles each time by ensuring your water bottle is always empty when passing through security gates or boarding a plane. You can always find a drinking fountain or ask a flight attendant to fill your bottle up once you’re seated.
Gather memories, not things
Once you’ve made it to your destination it’s time to think about what you’d like to do while you’re there. Saving money while you’re travelling is great, but find a balance – don’t save so much that you don’t do anything! If you’ve gone to the effort of travelling to a different country, you may as well make the most of it.
It’s the amazing experiences you have while away that you’ll remember the most so we recommend setting aside a significant portion of your budget for activities and things to do. The more insight activities give you into the culture and history of a place, the better. Do some research and see if you can find fun, interesting things to do that really allow you a glimpse into the reality of life in your destination.
Googling your destination and “activities” is a great way to start – many cities will have a dedicated tourist information site with information on great things to do. Many cities, particularly in Europe, offer free walking tours around local attractions. These utilise the knowledge of local guides, giving you an insider’s perspective and allowing you to explore sites on foot, allowing you to see much more than tours by car or bus.
New Zealand ecommerce site GrabOne offers specials and two-for-one deals on local attractions and activities, as well as restaurant and dining specials. To claim deals, you will need to pay and book in advance, but it’s worth looking through what’s on offer to find fun, exciting activities for a reduced rate.
Know what it’s worth
Navigating foreign currency can be difficult, meaning it’s easy to misjudge the value of things while travelling. Some things may appear cheap, but once you calculate conversion rates, you may find
that the price is not as good as you first thought. And while souvenirs are tempting, it’s worth considering what you’d actually pay for something of a similar nature back home.
To avoid shopping mishaps, familiarise yourself with the local currency and conversion rates for your home currency. For the first few days after you arrive, you may find it useful to carry a calculator or you can use a currency converter app. XE is easy to use and offers currency conversion as well as live exchange rates. Once you load a currency into the app, it can also be used offline, which is helpful for travellers on the go.
After you’ve been in a country a few days and have become familiar with the currency used, you can then switch your thinking over to the local currency. Consider prices for food, activities, shopping and accommodation in terms of the local currency and compare and contrast prices that way rather than working out what things would cost in your home currency. Thinking like a local will help you to understand what things are worth and find better prices. It’s also a lot less confusing!
Familiarising yourself with shopping customs can also help you find better prices although this generally only applies to shopping for goods as opposed to travel, activities or food. In many Asian countries people bargain frequently and it will be expected that travellers do so too. Customs differ from region to region so again do a bit of research first. You can also talk to hostel or backpackers staff, tour guides or local people to get some insider info. As a rule goods displayed without a price attached are able to be bargained for, but those displayed with a price are generally fixed. Food, travel and accommodation prices are also generally fixed. If you are looking to bargain, be polite and offer a price that you would be realistically willing to pay. Research a few tips on how to bargain effectively and respectfully to help you prepare.
Travel opens the mind, delights the senses and creates lifelong memories, so it’s worth doing often, and well. Prioritise experiences over things and plan your time and budget in advance. With a bit of foresight, research and planning you’ll be able to get the most from your travel budget to allow you to go further for longer.