Travelling can be quite expensive, especially when paying for flights, accommodation, clothing, backpacking gear, vaccinations, food, drink and of course any trips/excursions along the way, but if you’re wise with your money; there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy yourself and not spend every penny you’ve saved for so long for. Below are some tips on how you can save money whilst enjoying the world in all it’s glory…
1 – Protect yourself financially
Before you do anything else – get good travel insurance. The cost will more than outweigh any fees you will have to pay should something go wrong, or your bag doesn’t turn up, or if your flights are cancelled. Travel insurance can also cover medical expenses or help pay for a new passport should yours get stolen. Some insurance companies offer backpacker insurance, which will cover you for the most common problems that trekkers may face.
Also, pay for your flights and accommodation on a credit card if possible; that way you have additional protection from your bank. With some cards, you can build up reward points along the way which can be used to get money off, or you may be able to use them to upgrade a flight.
2 – Watch out!
Backpackers are an easy target as more often than not, you’ll stand out like a sore thumb. Criminals operate in gangs, especially in capital cities; so these can often be the places that you’re most likely to be the victim of theft. If you’re travelling alone, you may be targeted more as it is easier for a gang to surround one person, steal from them and disappear before you even realise.
Be sensible with displaying your belongings – a wallet full of cash will be attractive to anyone, so only take out roughly how much money you need, and keep the rest locked in the safe in your hotel or hostel. Also, your camera or phone could be worth more than a month’s wages to a thief, so don’t have it on show the whole time around your neck, or even worse, leave it on a table while you’re having a coffee for 5 minutes – it only takes a quick distraction and your camera with all your pictures on has gone.
Don’t leave valuable items at the bottom of your backpack – pickpockets will try and cut a hole in your bag while stood behind you at traffic lights or on a train/tram, and take anything of value leaving the victim unaware of what they have lost.
Read up on any scams that are common in the places you’re visiting; such as taxi robberies in central or south America, where a gang will jump in your taxi, relieve you of your belongings, and stop at ATM machines, forcing you to withdraw more money and hand it over. In China, you may be invited to a tea ceremony, only to be presented with a huge bill for expensive teas you have had.
Of course, not everyone is trying to steal from you, but keeping your wits about yourself will do you no harm at all.
3 – Exchange rates
Make sure you know the conversion rates, and work out how much you are spending, otherwise you could end up paying dramatically over the odds for something that should be relatively cheap. Whatever you do, don’t buy your foreign currency at the airport – you will often get a poor exchange rate. Try and buy your money before you set off, and use traveller’s cheques if possible.
Also, check with your bank what fees they charge for overseas withdrawals or purchases; you could end up paying an extra 5% simply to withdraw your own money, so do your research first.
4 – Shop around
There are a few ways you can save money on getting around; it just depends how flexible you are and how good you are at negotiating. If you are prepared to fly during the night, you might find cheap flights easier to come by, or long distance train journeys are a good option if you can put up with the travel time. Compare prices online before you set off, look out for any bus/rail passes that may be available, and remember to try and haggle on the price with travel agents.
5 – Accommodation
Think about where you’re staying – do you really need to be staying in a 5* hotel with room service? At the end of the day, you’re not going travelling to spend time in your hotel, so try and cut back on living costs. If you book in advance and you don’t mind sharing a room, then you can get a hostel for a few pounds a night, or if you’re short on cash, check out couch surfing, a community that offers a bed for the night for travellers.
Alternatively, you may be able to negotiate with a hostel owner for a room for the night; if they are quiet then they may be prepared to take less than their standard room fee.
6 – Haggle
There’s no shame in haggling/negotiating on a price; most locals will expect it, as if you ask for the price of something, chances are that they are trying their luck to see if you’ll accept the price, or if you’ll try and barter with them. Market stalls and street traders will be more eager to make a sale compared to standard shops, so if you show an interest but they’re asking for too much, walk away – they may agree to your price after all. If you’re looking for more than one item, ask for money off and say you’ll do the deal there and then.
7 – Use the internet to communicate
Technology has come on leaps and bounds, gone are the days when you had to pay an arm and a leg to phone home to let people know you are ok. Now there are social networking sites where you can post photos and show everyone how much fun you are having, and you can call home using Skype at an internet café, it could cost you around £1.5 to use the internet for 30 minutes, where you can upload photos and call your family for a fraction of the cost of picking up the phone.
8 – Food
Rather than just following bright lights or being pulled in by over zealous touts who try not to take no for an answer when trying to get you into their restaurant, ask locals for recommendations on where to go for good food that isn’t going to cost a fortune. The street vendors selling cooked meals can be a great cheap option, and you know you’re getting authentic local dishes then, rather than heading to the first fast food chain you can find.
Stock up at the local supermarkets, and make your own breakfast or lunch for a few days in your hostel, as this can keep costs down too.
9 – Transport
Commuting between different cities or even countries can be done on the cheap if you’re prepared to spend some time travelling. Think about getting an overnight train from one place to another rather than flying everywhere, it could work out at around 1/5th of the cost. Instead of taxis, get on a rickshaw or a bus and you soon notice the difference in how much you are saving.
10 – Budget
Budgeting in advance is hugely important. After working out how much you have to spend, and how long you’re going for, try and split your money into amounts you plan on spending in each country, and try to stick to it. If you spend a lot more than you had planned in the first few weeks; you’ll end up putting off things you had planned on doing to keep costs down, so instead, be sensible and don’t go silly buying drinks for everyone, or paying for expensive trips that you can do yourself for a fraction of the price.
Another way to cut back is to take medicines with you, as you will pay over the odds for things such as paracetamol, cough medicines or flu treatments, when these things are cheap to buy at home and take with you.
There will be times when you spend more than what you had planned, and other days, you might only spend a quarter of what you had budgeted for, so take it easy and enjoy yourself, rather than worrying about every penny whilst you’re away.