THE BASICS OF BUDGET TRAVELLING
Travelling on a budget/broke is almost a right of passage when you're 18 and fresh out of school. You're young, excited and ready to explore anything that you can, even with nothing in your bank account. I couldn't tell you the number of times I used to look at my bank account, knowing there would be next to nothing in it, yet still booking that £20 flight, well, just because I could.
After finishing school I wanted to constantly be socialising, which meant late night McDonalds runs with friends and online shopping for the next Friday night outing, which didn't leave a lot of room for the travel money saving. However, I always managed to squeeze a trip in, even if that meant living on the bare minimum while I was there, I remember I made £100 last a WEEK while I was in Barcelona the first time I visited in October on 2016.
Through my years following graduating high school, I became pretty masterful in the art of scraping by on a trip, but still having the best time possible. So this is a written guide on the basics of budget travelling, even if you have the bare minimum saved up.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE LEAVING
YOU'LL HAVE TO MISS OUT ON SOME THINGS
There are some sacrifices you'll have to make if you do plan on travelling with little money, this could be as simple as missing out on a tour other people from your hostel are doing or it could mean missing out on a destination you were hoping to visit. Whichever it is you'll have to weigh up what is really worth your budget.
With a limited budget you really have to think about what you're spending, because although £10 wouldn't even make you bat an eye at home, that £10 could mean the difference between a bus between cities or an extra night's stay at a hostel. Being selective with your money will really be the difference between a 2 day long trip and a 14 day long trip.
BEING INSPIRED AND THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
Budget travel means you live off the bare minimum, which essentially is just food and a roof over your head, everything else is an extra. Even in the most expensive of cities there are ways to get around spending too much money on an overpriced meal or a rip off taxi ride, and this is where you need to get inspired and start researching for some cheap/free alternatives.
I tried out this theory in London, and you can check out my 3 Days in London on £100 post for some inspiration on how to make your money go further. Try Googling 'Free things to do in...' or 'Cheap activities in (city name)', this will give you a great starting point to start noting down some affordable options for you to consider while you're there.
Travelling cheaply isn't easy, and it's definitely not always fun, so if you're expecting life to move ultra smoothly while you're budget travelling, you'll probably get a shock! Being stripped of excess money leaves you with a growth of wit, a sense of adventure and an indescribable excitement for the unknown, so strap yourself in!
Often it's the £14 5am flights and £2.50 street food that you picked up in a rush that gets you through your broke travels, so let them come to you and don't hold too much thought to things working out 'perfectly', because it's the weird, unexpected moments that make budget travelling so much fun.
Being flexible helps your money last a lot longer, this can be anything from the date you're travelling, to your accommodation, destinations or even the spots you eat. Again, it's about prioritising your budget, so make sure you're keeping in mind the most important things you MUST be spending money on, and don't worry too much about the extras!
PICKING THE RIGHT DESTINATION
Picking the right destination can mean the difference between a one week trip and a whole month away, so spend your time researching, and particularly look at the recommended daily budget of the places you are visiting. Travelling on a budget is doable in every country in the world, but some are definitely harder than others.
Places like Greenland, Norway, Singapore, Japan, etc are on the higher end of the scale, whereas regions like Eastern Europe, South America and South East Asia are going to allow your budget to stretch a lot further. These may be more expensive to fly to, however weigh out the benefits to being able to spend £20 a day in Thailand compared to £70 a day in Denmark.
If you're restricted with how much money you can spend on a flight, take advantage of Skyscanner's 'Everywhere' tool. After you put in your departure airport it allows you to see all the cheapest flights from that chosen airport to anywhere in the world, going from least to most expensive. You can check out my finding cheap flights Youtube video for more tips!
Destinations that pretty much always have relatively cheap flights to fly to;
CREATING A BUDGET
I'm a firm believer in not sticking to a daily budget, and I'll explain why. Say your daily budget is €30 a day, but all the friends you met at the hostel are doing a €35 tour that day... are you really going to miss out?
I create a daily budget as a 'guide' for what I should be spending on average per day. This means if I do spend €35 on a tour, plus an extra €15 on food for the day, I'll spend less over the days following so the budget 'equals out'. For example €20 the next day and €15 the day after, this will help balance out your spending so you stay on track with your budget.
HERE IS A ROUGH GUIDE TO WORKING OUT YOUR DAILY BUDGET
Once you've decided on where you want to go, have a look around on the internet on the suggested daily budget of that country/countries. I always find these are a good guide on how much you should be aiming to have for a trip. For example if you're going to Croatia, the suggested daily budget for budget travelling is around €30 per day, so just simply times that amount by the amount of days you're going for (if you were going for 10 days you would need around €300)
2. WORK OUT YOUR EXPENSES
Firstly, work out what you HAVE to spend money on. Accommodation, transport, flights (although I normally don't put flights into my expenses), and any tours that you can't not do (day tours, etc). I never calculate it perfectly (although you're more than welcome to), I will just average out the price of the hostels (so if the hostels you've booked range from €10 - €15, I usually calculate it around €12.50), I will then work out how much the major transport is going to cost, which includes ferries, coaches, trains, etc - I don't include the initial flights as that's shouldn't impact my daily budget. Lastly I will add on any tours I want to do so I have money saved for them.
If I was going to Croatia for a week, this is what my expenses would look like.
1 WEEK IN CROATIA
7 Nights in hostels - €12.50 x 7 = €87. 50
2 coaches intercity - €17 x 2 = €34
1 boat cruise day tour - €50
TOTAL = €171.50
The rest of the money you have leftover is for food, drinking, local transport and activities
3. HOW TO STILL DO THE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO
Some people get put off by the idea of budget travelling because of the monetary restrictions it can lead to, however like I mentioned previously, you can still do the things you want to do, just in moderation. You'll quickly learn the art of 'travel balance'. If you do plan on doing a big night out, day tour or a family style meal with your new friends, limit your spending the next day.
Some simple ways to have a 'cheaper' budget day is to cook for yourself or eat foods that you can pick up from the grocery shop, do a free activity like walk around the city, visit a park/beach or even check if there are any free galleries or museums (London's are free!). A simple Google or Pinterest search can provide you a list of free/inexpensive options that can fill your time.
An alternative option is to set your budget to 'per week', this means you could spend your money however you please over that amount of time!
One of the main costs you need to consider when you're budget travelling is accommodation. It's one of the necessities you must consider when planning and it unfortunately can be a massive blow to your budget if you choose the wrong place to stay. There are 3 main options you can consider. Hotels are pretty much out of the question when you're budget travelling, so it's either Airbnb, hostels or Couchsurfing.
AIRBNB - £££
Airbnb's, presumably the most luxurious option to choose, will range in price depending on where, what season and what type of place you're looking at staying in. Unfortunately, you'll never find an good option for less than £20 (and that's super cheap), most decent places are around £40 a night, however this can actually work out cheaper than individual hostel beds if you're able to split the cost between a few people. Airbnbs are a great way to feel like you're really living like a local and you get more of the 'authentic' vibe, however it can be a little antisocial, especially if you're by yourself!
Click here to get £50 off your first Airbnb stay! (or just use the email you made in 2008 ;))
HOSTELS - ££
Hostels are my personal preferred accommodation option, whether I'm budget travelling or not. It's by far the most social option and it's an amazing way to meet people - you can check out my Youtube video all about how to make friends travelling!
The price of a hostel can range drastically, I've paid £3 for a hostel room in Marrakech but I've also paid €50 for a dorm in Paris, so it really depends. Most of the time you can get a dorm room for £10 - £25. There are heaps of perks to staying in a hostels from free breakfast, cheap 'family' dinners, pub crawls, discounted tours and happy hours at bars. Generally the larger the room, the cheaper it will be, so if you don't mind being a little cramped and stuffy, then you'll be able to save an extra little bit of cash to spend on other things!
COUCHSURFING - £
Couchsurfing is your final option and is the cheapest (as in... it's free). The concept entails travellers letting other travellers stay at their house for free. It sounds a little sketchy and pretty weird, but there is a community of thousands of people who do this all over the world. I have done this twice, once in Luxembourg and once in Paris.
Now you might be thinking, how is this safe? The Couchsurfing website holds themselves to an incredibly high safety standard and they help ensure you're reaching out to reliable hosts. The website allows you to type in a city or place you're looking at visiting and then they will provide a list of hosts in that area who have listed themselves. These hosts will have a full profile with a breakdown of who they are, their interests, some photos and reviews from other travellers who have stayed at their house - make sure you read through these before you message them!
Transport can be another big money stealer, especially if you're travelling from place to place every few days. The best way to make your transport budget last longer is to travel slowly. This might not work for everyone's itinerary's, however if you can spend 3 - 7 days in a place compared to 1 - 3, you won't be having to fork out that extra bit of cash every few days.
There are 5 main transport option you can look into when travelling on a budget, and they can all end up being a cheap option in their own right. These options are flights, trains, buses, carpooling/hitchhiking and taxis. Typically buses and trains will always have some of the cheaper ranging prices, so these are the options you should look into first.
HOW TO CUT DOWN THE COSTS OF TRANSPORT
FLIGHTS - £ - £££
In Europe we are pretty spoilt in the fact we can spend £10 on a flight and be halfway across the continent, however that isn't the case for everywhere else in the world. Asia is also known for some relatively cheap short haul flights and you can also strike some good deals domestically in most countries, but those pesky long haul flights can easily cost £500 +!
I would argue that finding flights should be one of the parts of your trip that you take the most time in and you should check out my Finding Cheap Flights blog post for some more tips ( + there is a link to my YouTube video, too). When finding cheap flights being flexible is the biggest advantage you'll have to getting to the best deals.
TAXIS - ££ - £££
I used to say taxis were a no go when it comes to travelling on a budget, however I don't necessarily think that's true anymore. No, you shouldn't take a taxi everyday, because that will be a waste of your budget (unless you're talking about rickshaws in India or tuktuks in Thailand), however splitting a taxi between a few of you can actually work out cheaper than public transport.
The price of a taxi obviously depends a lot on where you are and how long the journey is, however if you're splitting the cost between 4 of you, or even up to 8 - 10 of you in a maxi taxi, then it could only be a £2- £10 ride! Make sure you agree on a price with the taxi driver BEFORE you get into the car.
BUSES AND TRAINS - £ - ££
These 2 options will be your go to's when you have no money. I couldn't tell you the amount of overnight buses and all day train journeys with 3 changes I've had, so strap yourself in, because this is all part of the adventure! Deciding between train journeys or a bus journey really depends on where you are, for example Europe has one of the best train systems in the world, and you can go pretty much anywhere within a few hours.
Trains tend to be slightly more expensive and they are seen as the more 'luxurious' option of the two. It's fast, efficient and a lot more comfortable than a bus - except if you're going on a sleeper train in India, that was a whole adventure in itself. I love finding my trains on Trainline, it helps you find the best deals, live departures and you can book directly from their app! They deal with 45 different countries, so you'll likely be able to find a train journey that you need!
I actually really enjoy bus journey's not only do you get to drive through some lovely parts of the country you're visiting, it's also a very cheap option for backpackers! It is typically the slowest way to travel, which is why it's so cheap, but if you don't mind that, then it's amazing. The popular routes run very frequently, and most of the time the bus isn't overly full so you can stretch out and relax. If you're someone who is SUPER tight on money, you can also look into overnight buses, this means you won't have to pay for a night of accommodation and you'll get an extra day in your next location. Depending on where you are in the world there will be different coach companies, however if you're travelling around Europe I would recommend Flixbus or Eurolines.
CARPOOLING AND HITCHHIKING - £
If paying for coaches doesn't really sound like your cup of tea, perhaps carpooling and hitchhiking is more your style. Companies like Bla Bla Car or even just the classic stick your thumb up on the side of the road can easily get you from A to B and if you're looking for a real adventure then that will definitely give you one!
In some countries it's very common for both locals and travellers to hitchhike, so it's incredibly safe. While there are countries that you probably wouldn't want to risk it. Make sure you do a good amount of research on this and only do it if you feel comfortable enough to. I have hitchhiked with some friends a couple of times while in New Zealand and had a really safe and fun time. The first guy who picked us up was a really cute kite surfer boy!
Please be safe with this option and never feel obliged to get in someone's car if they are making you feel uncomfortable.
There is a common saying people say, and that's 'eating your money away'. While I love eating out and trying new restaurants, unless you're in a region like South East Asia, India, Eastern Europe or South America where you can get away with spending £3 - £5 per meal, it's not feasible to be doing that every day while you're backpacking. It is single handedly the fasted way to blow through your budget, without even realising it.
As a foodie myself I would never tell you to NEVER eat out while you're budget travelling, but you do have to be cautious about how much you're spending on food. Try and moderate going out to eat to once every other day or even less than that.
Cooking for yourself can help you save A LOT of money when you're travelling. Simple, wholesome ingredients are really cheap to buy in the grocery shops and you can pick up fruit and veg from market stalls or small grocers for next to nothing. Buying basics like rice, pasta, couscous or bread that you can keep on hand over the course of a few days (things that won't go off are best), then you can go out and buy fresh veggies and add ons when you need to! This is a great cost saving method and it helps you not waste any food.
I love making simple meals that are easy and fast, things like veggie pasta, stir fry, sandwiches, salads, even risotto is super simple and filling, too! To make your meals even cheaper, try and find someone (from the hostel) that you can split the cost of groceries with!
I love the simple pleasures in life, like ordering something you're not really sure what it is or going out for dinner with people you met 20 minutes prior. Eating out is a full time hobby of mine and that is no exception when I am travelling. To keep prices down I never eat out at anything too fancy and I would spend €25 maximum on one meal (and that's a more expensive option), I typically keep the price range up to €15 - €17. Street food and local eateries are always the way to go, whether it's a Parisian bakery or pitas to go, I find these always have the cheapest, tastiest options that are great for when you've not got a lot of money!
Try and avoid eating in overly tourist areas, this is where you'll find the over priced options, that frankly, aren't that good. A quick look on someone's blog, Google search, asking someone working at the hostel or just getting a local's recommendation is the best way to find the ultimate spots to eat - and usually they would be places you'd never find by yourself.
For the vegans and veggies I highly recommend downloading Happy Cow, it's my favourite app for finding vegan eateries and vegan options in whatever city I'm in!
ACTIVITIES TO DO ON A BUDGET
It's time to get creative! Tours could potentially cost you upwards of £50+ for a full day outing, and it's up to you to decide if it's worth it. However not to worry, each city will have plenty of activities you can get involved in that are either free or very inexpensive! You might have to do a little bit of research and think outside the box, but that's all part of the fun.
During my 3 days in London on £100 I went to a £1 comedy show, so anything is possible!
IDEAS THAT YOU CAN FOR FREE/LOW COST WHILE YOU'RE TRAVELLING
MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES
Museums and galleries are a great way to spend a morning or afternoon, especially if the weather isn't great. The price of entry depends on the city, in London most museums and galleries are free to enter, however in Stockholm if you want to visit a museum, such as the Vasa Museum, it will cost around €25.
If you have a student card often you can get discounts and sometimes you can get in for free if you're under 26/25/21 depending on the museum/gallery! The Prado Museum in Madrid let me in for free because I was under 25.
Also double check the website of the attraction, sometimes they even have free time slots, for example the Louvre in Paris is free Friday nights and the Royal Palace of Madrid is free from 4 - 6 on weekdays (you should bare in mind these times are extra busy).
FREE WALKING TOURS
Without a doubt each city will have some sort of free walking tour that will be running daily. Typically these tours can be 1 - 3 hours and will show you through the main city sites with some background history of each spot. Now, I'll be honest, sometimes these tours can be a little tedious and dare I say... boring. So go with an open mind and if it's not for you then you can leave midway through if you really want. However if you did enjoy it, make sure to leave a tip at the end!
A lot of major cities, particularly in Europe, Australia and New Zealand, have council run bike programs that you can rent for the day. Typically you can rent them per hour or there will be a flat rate for the day/24 hours. It's a great way to get around the city and places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where the cities are designed for cyclists, it's so much more efficient than walking.
You can find these bike docked at different points around the cities, usually in the centre near parks or walkways. Most of them can be accessed with a smart phone app or credit card, so it's easy to just tap and go!
While you might not be able to afford the pricey all day tours, there are plenty of small tours that can cost as little as €10 - €15. Local tour companies do tours for much cheaper than the big named travel brands to entice tourists, and most of the time these tours are way better anyway! You could choose anything from food tours (tapas, tasting menus), cycling tours, historical walks and wine tastings - I went on a great one in Tuscany for only €15, you can read about it here!
I do have a little soft spot for picnics and they are a great, affordable way to spend an afternoon. Get some friends from your hostel, go to your local supermarket and grab some bread, fruit, dips, snacks and maybe even some wine - a speaker and some cards is also a good idea. You could dock anywhere from the beach to a park and it's just super wonderful and wholesome!
GET OUT IN NATURE
Whether you're going paddling in the ocean, going on a long walk in the forest or cycling along the rice fields, take some time to enjoy your beautiful surroundings and enjoying nature! Depending on where you are visiting there could be anything from national parks, glaciers, rainforests or under water caves, if you're stuck for ideas ask someone working at your hostel!
SEE THE ATTRACTIONS
Tourist spots are popular for a reason, so why not indulge yourself in some of the 'must see's' that make the city so famous. The price of entry will vary depending on what you're doing, however sometimes you don't even need to go inside to enjoy the beauty. You should priorities attractions that you REALLY want to go in and see, and others that you don't mind checking out from the outside.