Travel does not have to be expensive, but it does require a different way of thinking. Often you can even travel very luxuriously by paying attention to small details! Many small expenses combined become one huge expense, and while you’re travelling you are less inclined to count your pennies. The more you save, the more you can spend on longer trips or fun attractions.
If you follow these tips you will notice that it is not that difficult to travel on a limited budget.
Save up before you travel
This is the best tip I can give you. In many countries life is cheaper than in your home country. A euro that you don’t spend at home is sometimes worth twice as much abroad! Make sure you spend as little as possible in your home country and you can last much longer on your journey! Think about your daily expenses and remove as many of them as possible. Instead of buying a sandwich and a Starbucks coffee every day, make your own lunch and coffee at home. You will be surprised how much you save and how much you can do with that money. With the amount you’d spend on one fancy coffee you can spend the night in Thailand in a hostel dorm. Now imagine what you can get for all those Latte Macchiatos together!
It is important to stay hydrated, especially in warmer destinations. Have you ever counted how many bottles of water and soft drinks you drink during your trip? And have you calculated the combined cost? I can promise you it’s huge. It is therefore advisable to bring a drinking bottle and to top it up whenever possible. Your wallet will thank you! Do make sure however that the water that comes out of the tap is potable!
I’m not exactly a morning person, and very often I miss the breakfast that is included in the cost of my hostel or hotel. But if you have to go to a bakery for a croissant and coffee, that will cost money. Save your well earned euros and eat from the breakfast buffet you already paid for. And before you book a hostel or hotel, check if breakfast is included and keep this in mind when you compare prices!
If you are really bold, make a packed lunch. Some hostels don’t have a problem with this, others prefer that you wait until everyone has eaten before you scrape the leftovers to fill your lunch box. If, however, they let you know that they do not appreciate this, respect the wishes of the owners and find a different solution for your lunch.
Prepare your own meal
Do you stay in a hostel, apartment or Airbnb with a kitchen? Why don’t you prepare your own food? Eating out is sometimes a bigger bite out of the budget than you think, and with what you save, you could do a nice activity that might otherwise be too expensive. Check in advance if all supplies are present in the kitchen, and be courteous and do the dishes after you finished cooking.
Even when you are camping, making your own meal can be amazing. Nothing feels better than warming up a can of soup on a Campingaz-stove under the Eiffel Tower or on top of a mountain in the snow in Norway, these are moments that you will never forget.
You should not always go to a fancy restaurant (or a boring burger chain like McDonalds) to fill your stomach. In many countries you can eat local food at cheap night markets. It is preferable to go to the stalls where the locals also eat, they often know best which stalls are delicious and healthy. Pay attention to food safety! Only eat food when you can see how it is prepared, check if it is well cooked and hygienic and avoid ice cubes because they are sometimes made from local contaminated tap water. !
Personally, I rarely need hotels and luxury. I usually travel alone, and often there are cheaper options, which might even be more fun!
Not everyone likes sleeping in a dormitory. However, it is a great way to save money. On top of that, hostels have some advantages when you are travelling alone. In hostels there is often a social vibe: you easily meet people and before you know it you spend a whole evening with a group of strangers. I have made friends for life in Belgrade and Berlin, they were all solo backpackers as well. In Macedonia we had formed such a cool group of people that I met half of them again in Western Europe!
You pay per bed and not per room, which can reduce costs. Hostels often also offer private rooms. I recommend this if you travel with your partner or with friends. Thus you combine the best of two worlds: the privacy of a hotel and the social aspect of the hostel.
Hostels are generally safe, but check if lockers are present when booking, and bring your own padlock. Bring a sleep mask and earplugs, you never know if someone turns on the lights at night or if there are snorers. I myself have spent a lot of nights in hostels, and I’ve only had one bad experience (A crazy drunk Australian started screaming in the middle of the night, .
Completely free is Couchsurfing. www.couchsurfing.com is the largest online hospitality network. As a couch surfer you can sleep for free on the couch or in the guest room of hosts all over the world. In return, you can also offer your couch to guests. The system is based on trust, but you can leave feedback. I have met fantastic people through couchsurfing. I have had guests from New Zealand, Poland, Ireland, Quebec and other countries or regions, and I was hosted by great people abroad. You really get to know the local culture this way. The hosts usually know the best places, the cheapest eateries and can give you the best tours. You do not have to pay anything, but you can, for example, prepare a meal for your host or give a small gift. On www.couchsurfing.com you will also find people who don’t offer a bed, but want to show their city for free and want to have a coffee with you. Be sure to check this out if you are not sure about the whole concept but want to get to know the local culture.
If you are concerned about safety, read the reviews of the host or hostess and if necessary pick a verified profile. With a verified profile, the identity of the user is checked and, in combination with good feedback, you’ll have peace of mind when you go to sleep.
- www.warmshowers.org: specifically aimed at cycling tourists. You get a hot shower and a place to sleep.
- www.trustroots.org: an alternative for couch surfing.
- www.bewelcome.org: another alternative for couch surfing.
- www.hospitalityclub.org: a rather craigslist-like alternative to couch surfing.
Airbnb and rooms in people’s homes
On Airbnb (save money with this link), houses, apartments or rooms are rented individually. It is part of the digital sharing economy and hugely popular. Often prices will be way cheaper than hotels, and with some luck you’ll rent a room in the house of a sympathetic host who’ll help you discover the city!
If you don’t like all that digital stuff and would rather find your bed for the night in a more authentic way? No problem, in some countries old women with a sign on which you can read the words ‘pension’ or ‘room’ will wait for travellers in the big train and bus stations . They offer a room at very low prices. Since you do not know exactly where you will end up, do not hesitate to leave if the room does not suit you or if you do not feel safe.
Camping is the best summer sport. At least, that’s what we used to sing when we were in the youth organisation. Camping should be the cheapest way of spending the night: all you need is a tent, mat and sleeping bag and you can enjoy nature. Campsites are generally not expensive but there are free alternatives. You could ask a farmer if you can put up your tent on his land, and usually he will allow it. Wild camping is also an option, in countries such as Scotland and Norway this is completely legal. In other countries it is not always allowed, but as long as you hide your tent no one will care. I camped for a week in the Bois de Boulogne, a park in the middle of Paris!
Transport costs money but if you’re smart about it you can save a lot of money.
The cheapest flights can be found through websites such as www.skyscanner.com or www.paperflies.com. Book well in advance, and change your destination according to the prices of flights. A good tip is always to check flights to airports near your destination. For example, if you want to fly to Vienna, flying to nearby Bratislava is often the cheaper option.
Also remember that many airlines charge a lot of extra money for checked luggage. Travel exclusively with hand luggage and your beach cocktail budget will grow exponentially. As an added bonus, you’ll be relieved you don’t have to drag all that extra baggage along when you reach your destination!
With an Interrail Pass (Eurail pass for those who don’t live in Europe) you travel through Europe for a fixed rate, but nowadays on many trains you’ll be paying a supplement on top of your expensive pass. This means that this is no longer the best option. Sometimes you are better off buying ordinary tickets.
In many other countries, however, train travel still is the cheapest and often most pleasant way of going from a to b! If you travel by night train, you also save an overnight stay. Do not expect the high level of reliability and luxury you’re used to in Western Europe, in many countries the train is a subordinate but charming means of transport. The most comprehensive information about train travel can be found on the website of The Man In Seat 61 (www.seat61.com).
In many countries buses are the cheapest and most often used means of transport. Although buses are not the fastest way to get around, you can score great deals here! You can travel cheaply in Europe with Flixbus and Eurolines. In Eastern Europe and the rest of the world you should buy a ticket at the local bus station one day in advance. People at the reception of your hostel or hotel can help you with timetables or can tell you where to book your tickets. Remember that sometimes you’ll have to pay per piece of luggage and most of the time your backpack will be put in the cargo hold. Try to guess if this is safe (if you have a bad feeling take everything into the bus with you), and always keep your valuables and passport on your person or in your hand luggage. Clothing and toothbrushes can easily be replaced, getting a new passport is less easy!
Ah hithchiking, according to some it’s a shortcut to being killed, according to others it’s the ultimate travel experience. One thing’s for sure, hit are the cheapest and most adventurous way of travel. In many countries, such as Slovenia, the local population are avid hitchhikers. I was eighteen years old when I tried to hitchhike to the Czech Republic to buy cheap cigarettes. It is travel at its most extreme, but definitely worth it.
Nowadays you can use apps like BlaBlaCar to share rides for a small fee with drivers whose identity is known. This is definitely worth a try!
Are you sporty and do you have a lot of time? Then take your bike. It is slow travel at its best, you get to see the landscape change steadily. I know several people who travelled around Europe by bicycle, and they all thought it was a fantastic experience. Take a lightweight tent with you to really get the feeling that you are one with the world and nature. Be sure to check out the Camino de Santiago!
Travel does not have to be expensive. I once travelled through France for a month, and spent a total of 100 euros! Do you have any tips? Leave a comment below, I’m curious!