Sometimes it can seem like travelling on a tight budget can take away a bit of the magic. Opting for the slowest most inconvenient way of getting somewhere and sleeping in the odd dingy hostel room is hardly as glamorous as Instagram might suggest.
But, while being a bit of a tight-arse on the road might cause the occasional frustration, it can also be pretty great. It has a way of forcing you to think like a local, get creative with self-directed activities and generally, you’ll have one hell of an adventure trying to figure it all out and a richer experience to take home with you.
These are our favourite budget travel tips to help you stay savvy with your spending.
Set a daily budget based on what you expect to spend each day or by how long you plan to stay on the road for and be sure to consider your expectations for the trip.
Planning to stay in chic hotels and mopping up every bucket list item that comes your way will obviously require a little more spending than say, staying in a hostel dormitory and splurging on the occasional must-do activity.
Set your travel budget for to the type of trip you want to have. Sometimes you’ll go over, sometimes you’ll be way under, but with a little discipline your daily spend will even itself out.
When you’ve decided on your travel budget, the best way to stick to it is by recording every cent spent on a budget app. We use XpenseTracker to record everything we buy – from accommodation and transport costs to sweat treats from the corner store.
Everything is jotted down and every few weeks we check it over to see exactly where our money is going and where we may need to cut back.
Trying the national food is an essential part of experiencing a place, a trip to Mexico just doesn’t count if you never eat a taco, but for your bank accounts sake, you don’t need to eat out for every meal.
Visit the local market, select the best fresh produce and whip up a storm – even if the dinky hostel kitchen only offers you a handle-less pan and one fork.
Generally we try to prepare our own breakfast, or find a hostel that has it included, eat out for either lunch or dinner and cook for the remaining meal.
On trips to popular tourist destinations where restaurant prices are often inflated, it can also pay to plan ahead – pack a picnic or bring snacks.
In our younger days, drinking every night, joining every hostel party and staying up until the wee hours of the morning being those obnoxious idiots throwing their shoes across the street at 4am was a common occurrence in our travel lives. Nowadays, as we edge that little bit closer to the big 3-0, we feel a new place is far better enjoyed without the raging hangover.
But hey, maybe that’s just us.
We’re never going to say no to sharing a €3 bottle of red on the beaches of France and we made no attempt to fend off the mojitos coming our way in Cuba, but… it can also quickly add up.
From taking the chicken bus and eating in grandma’s tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant to shopping at the local market and staying at a family-run guesthouse, keeping it local is the best way to go. You are far more likely to get a better price for things, as well as getting up close with the culture and supporting the local economy, rather than big multinationals.
Since many tourists stick out like a sore thumb, you may be hit with a tourist tax but by honing your haggling skills, it’s easy to arrive at a reasonable compromise for both parties.
Sticking to a tight travel budget doesn’t mean you can’t do the things you love, but when you do, make it count and lay low the days before and after to even out your daily cost.
For Freya it’s scuba diving and good food, for Chris it’s a good bed with the ocean right outside, and after a few days or weeks of frugality, we’re more than happy to go over budget to have them.
Whether it’s accommodation, a day trip or the best language school in town, don’t be afraid to ask around to find the best fit for you.
Honestly, we often just couldn’t be bothered lugging our backpacks around town looking for the cheapest hostel, but when we did, we almost always found a better deal than the first place we happened to stick our noses through the door. And chances are, if they’re in the Lonely Planet they’re going to cost a little more anyway.
Travelling on a budget often becomes an arm wrestle between time and money, and money almost always wins.
Stopping somewhere for more than just a few days is one of the best ways to keep your budget in check. You can better spread your transport costs, sometimes get long-term discounts in hostels, find all the best and cheapest eating (and drinking) holes and really get under the skin of the place you’re in.
Tours and organised day trips can sometimes seem like the easiest most straightforward option, but there’s almost always a cheaper way to do it yourself.
With a bit of research and planning you can experience a place in a different way, often with less other tourists around and best of all, in your own time.
Tagging along with bigger spenders is one of the easiest ways to undo months of haggling and taking convoluted transport routes just to save a few bucks.
We’ve definitely been in the situation where we’ve met someone at a hostel and headed out for a bite to eat only to realise they’re on a two week vacation and want to eat at the best place in town, and we’re trying to stretch your final pesos as far as possible before having to run to the ATM.
Sitting awkwardly gawking at the menu, realising everything costs more than what we would normally spend in a day is not fun and for us, this sometimes meant skipping those fun ‘lavish’ nights out with others and completely blowing our budget in favour of a quiet night in.