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How to travel cheap - travel on a budget

Updated on March 31, 2010

I love to travel. It is always exciting to visit new places, meet new people and experience new cultures. But travelling can be very expensive. You often run into unexpected expenses, like going out to expensive bars and clubs, extra activities or tours or replacing broken cameras, or lost battery chargers (I lose them all the time!). But if you want to travel cheap, there are plenty of places you can save some money. This money then can be used to do some extra tours or interesting activities, or you can use it for your next holiday. So look at these low budget travel tips and see which ones you can apply to your next trip!

Couchsurfing

If you can’t afford accommodation, or would prefer to spend your money on something else, why not stay with some locals at your destination?

The word couchsurfing stems from the website couchsurfing.com. This website connects travellers from all over the world, and it basically connects travellers looking for accommodation in a city, with people offering up their ‘couches’ for you to sleep on (don’t worry most people have beds too). It is very easy to sign up and create a profile page. Next, decide on your destination, for example London. Now you can look for people living in London and whether they offer a accommodation. On people’s profile they will describe in detail what they can offer you, how long you can stay and the maximum number of guests they will take. Some people are not be able to put you up for a couple of days, but they might have offers to show you around the city, or other special activities. Of course you do not want to stay with just anyone, and how do you know the person offering is even trustworthy? Couchsurfing created an elaborate system for this. After you have stayed with someone, you can both write a review about each other. So read other people’s reviews before you contact someone. Have a look at their profile page to get a feel of the person. There are also some special awards and badges that are given out to top couchsurfers. Just have a good look around the site and make yourself familiar with its system and the community before you contact anyone. And when you do contact someone, be polite in your request, and see if you have anything to offer in return. I always offer to cook them a typical Dutch meal when I’m over, or take them out for a drink. You should always try to give something back. Think about your emails and requests before you send them, as people are allowed to refuse to take you in.

Stay with friends

If you have friends who live in interesting places, go visit them. This is a great way to catch up with people who have moved away, and it means free accommodation. Just be sure to bring them something nice in return, like some food from home, flowers or a good book as a thank you. Staying with people who live there will give you a better feel for the place. They know all the best tourist spots, but they can also take you to places that are less known. They usually know the best parks, the best walks, the best restaurants and bars, and the off the beaten track places you should visit.

If you do not have any friends living abroad, you could also visit friends in your own country. You do not always have to go far away for the best holidays, sometimes towns and villages in your own country can be just as interesting. And as you will stay with locals, they can give you all the inside scoops and knowledge about the place!

Stay in hostels and backpackers

Hostels or backpackers are relatively cheap places to stay. The dorm rooms are the cheapest, but if you do not want to share your room with people you never met, and sleep in bunk beds, most hostels also offer double or single rooms. These are slightly more expensive, but still a lot cheaper than your average hotel. Another thing I find a big plus is that hostels and backpackers usually have kitchens where you can cook your own food, as opposed to staying in hotels, where you have order or go out for dinner. Which brings me to the next point.

Cook your own food

A big chunk of your travel budget usually goes to food. You can more than half this amount if you cook your own meals instead of going out all the time. For example for the same price you pay to have breakfast at a local cafe, you could probably eat breakfast you buy at the supermarket for a whole week.  The same goes for lunch and for dinner, these costs can add up quickly. But if you just buy normal and simple food at the supermarket this can save you a lot of money. Of course it is nice to go out for dinner every now and then, you are on holidays after all, just don’t overdo it.

Make a realistic travel budget plan before you leave

It helps to create a realistic budget plan before you leave home. If you have an idea of how much you money you have, and what the limit of your average daily spending is, you won’t be surprised to find you have no money left halfway through your holiday.

Research what you will have to spend on accommodation. This is easy if you have already pre-booked everything. If you haven’t booked anything yet, just look at the average prices of hotels, hostels or campsites in the country and multiply this by the number of nights you are staying.

Now look at food. Will you eat out a lot, or do your own cooking. Are looking at going out to bars and clubs a lot, because drinks can be expensive and need to be included in your budget. Calculate how much you can spend on food every day.

That brings us to your holiday plans. Are you going to spend every day on the beach, or doing hikes? This is free, so you won’t need to budget for this. But if you want to do a lot of tours, a skydive, scuba diving or other things you need to decide how much money you are willing to spend on your activities.

And finally, never make your budget too tight. Usually when you travel you will run into some unexpected expenses. Make sure your budget allows for this, or you have enough back-up money in an account somewhere to cover these extras. Nothing is more frustrating than to run out of money when you are somewhere exotic with plenty of great (expensive) things to do.

Plan some free activities

Not everything you do while you are away has to cost money. Sure there are many great organised trips and tours, lovely cultural workshops, and activities like rafting or swimming with dolphins that will eat a hole in your budget. But there are heaps of free things to do as well.

You could go for a walk or a hike. Many places have great surroundings, with some beautiful spots and amazing views. Just ask the local information centre for a map and some directions. Sometimes they have free bikes (or bikes you can hire fairly cheap), so you could do a bike tour as well.

Go to the beach, or visit a nearby lake. This will make for a great cheap and relaxing day. Be sure to bring your sunscreen though, as getting sunburned is very unhealthy.

A lot of countries and towns have free museums you could visit. Find out what museums there are, and pick one that interests you. This could make for a very educative and interesting day.

Find cheaper flights

It really pays of to look around for cheap flights for yourself. Most people book all their flights (and also hotels) through travel agencies. But these agencies often only work with a limited number of airlines, and you pay an extra commission, because they need to earn some money too. If you just get online, you can often find cheaper flights for about half the prices some travel agencies offer. It does take a little bit more time to find a good deal, but I find this is usually worth it.

Try to find out which budget airlines fly to your destination of choice, and whether they fly out from where you are. I often visit one or two travel agencies for a quick consult on flights and costs, because they will often find the best and easiest routes (in case you can’t fly to you destination in one go and need a stop-over). Back home I then put the print-outs next to my computer and start searching my own flights. You do need a credit card if you book your own flights online.

A very cheap airline that covers much of Australasia is Air Asia. For Europe I like EasyJet and RyanAir as budget airlines to facilitate cheap travel.

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    • World Travel profile image

      World Travel 8 years ago from Earth

      Great tips. Thanks, Mieka.

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