May 11, 2011

The Facts about Budget Travel

By Ai Lung Nguyen - May 2011.

ENTERTAINMENT - Planning on going somewhere this Summer but don't want to spend a lot? Think BUDGET. And you will be surprised at how fun, easy and cheap it is.

As a "professional traveler" myself I have been to so many countries now I've lost track, and likewise I've lost track of how much money I've managed to save and stretch farther by staying with friends, "thinking cheap", and learning to find transportation on the fly.

Fact! Hostels are not "dirty or sketchy"

For $5 to $12 / night you get a clean / safe hostel room (some of them are shared dorms), clean sheets, crisp white blankets. You have to wait your turn to share the bathroom but otherwise they're pretty good. They even have lockers to store valuables. Check to search for where to stay and compare user feedback. You probably won't even see a bed bug.

Fact! Street Food = Reasonably Healthy

If it was making the locals sick, the locals wouldn't be eating it. True, it will often be deep fried or greasy, but its super cheap and good for when you want to get food in a hurry and don't want to break your budget. The added benefit is you don't need to worry about tipping, and the added grease will give you extra energy for walking so you won't feel as tired. (Remember to bring a toothbrush however.)

Some of the foods may be oddities you've never seen before, ie. deep fried squid on a stick, but they're well worth the try if you like seafood.

If you have any food allergies and are travelling in a non-English country it might be best to learn phrases like "I am allergic to peanuts." and "Is there any peanut oil in it?" You get the idea.

Fact! Learn to think Poor and you will save oodles!

Its not just students or unemployed people who travel on a budget. You will meet lawyers, doctors, businessmen, computer programmers, whatever... I myself am a dental hygienist. Often these people have been traveling for awhile so you can get lots of useful tips on how to save money and "think poor".

Fact! You can barter your services to save money!

If you have an useful skill or trade you can barter them to save money. ie. If you were a plumber that would be very useful. As a dental hygienist I sometimes give people cleanings and carry the necessary tools and cleaning alcohol in a small kit. It weighs very little, but I've discovered its very useful, especially in 3rd world countries where dentists are rare.

Fact! You can still do everything you want to

Some attractions in North America are expensive to get into (ie. DisneyLand). but globally they are pretty inexpensive.

Taj Mahal, India - $18 or 750 rupees
Angkor Wat, Cambodia - $20 USD for a one day pass
Halong Bay, Vietnam - $43 USD for a 3-day trip

And the kewlest places to visit are often free, like Buddhist temples, night markets, waterfront concerts, meditation courses, mountain hiking, hot springs, etc.

If you get a Lonely Planet guidebook to the region you are exploring you will find lots of cheap/free venues to explore.

Fact! Making friends saves money

Sharing taxis, getting a free place to spend the night, some hot food for free, a hot shower or a soak in the tub... these don't just save you money but keep you sane when your travel schedule becomes too hectic. Sometimes its nice to just relax at a friend's place and kick off your shoes.

Fact! You don't have to plan much!

Sometimes when I plan trips I start weeks (or even months) in advance and start checking how much it will cost to get there, where to stay, etc.

However if you don't plan every little detail it doesn't seem to make much difference. You still end up finding nice places to stay and sometimes you find unexpected deals not advertised in any guidebook.

For example it’s cheaper in Asia to book tours and accommodations locally. Many low-cost guesthouses and tour companies aren’t listed online or in any travel book, despite super low rates of $5 / night.


What you quickly discover is that budget travel is both cheap and easy. You might even decide to bring camping gear, another excellent option. But my recommendation is that you travel as LIGHT as possible, so any sleeping bags or tents you carry should be as small as you can get.

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