“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” – Susan Heller
One of the biggest perceived barriers to traveling long-term is that of cost. We see programs like VH1′s The Fabulous Life, MTV Cribs, and also programs on The Travel Channel…and we think, “Wow, that would be nice…but only the affluent can afford to jetset like that”
We used to think traveling around the world was reserved for the wealthy too. That’s why for over a decade since we met, we never traveled outside the U.S. Our idea of a long trip was Hawaii…sure it’s overseas…but it ain’t no international romp.
Now granted, a plane ticket to another continent does tend to be on the expensive side. We’re talking about $1000-$1500 give or take, depending on if you fly during peak or off-peak seasons.
Add to that the costs once you land in your country of choice, and you could easily rack up small fortune in expenditures to take an extended international trip.
We’ve learned a lot about reducing travel costs over the past year on the road, and we want to share with you some of the tips and strategies we use to keep our travel costs low.
Using some or all of these methods will allow you to stretch your budget twice or even three times more than what you originally thought possible.
Become A Micro-Renting Deal Hound
When we first set out on our journey ’round the world, we landed in Bali, Indonesia. It was our first foray into SE Asia, and we wanted to give ourselves a soft landing. So we did what any self-respecting Westerner would do…we checked into the Marriott!
And what a soft landing it was! Thanks to the help of an long-time friend, we got a room there for less than $100 a night, but the accommodation was easily worth twice as much!
As nice as it was to stay in luxury, it didn’t take long for us to realize that if we were going to travel for an extended period, this would not be sustainable.
After 5 days here, we relocated to the cultural center of the island, the village of Ubud. It was here that we began experimenting with lower cost options for housing.
And boy did we hit the jackpot: about $20/night for a private room which included breakfast every morning…green pandan coconut pancakes filled with banana!
The secret to getting such a dramatic price reduction: First, we stayed away from the resort areas. Second, we rented a room from a family-owned guesthouse/restaurant. Both of these put us in a position to negotiate…yes, negotiate the price of the room.
As you can imagine, lodging costs vary widely according to individual needs and tastes. If you are willing to make concessions on certain things(think room service, fancy pools, bars, air conditioning), you can often make out like a bandit!
Imagine this: The price of one(discounted) night at the Marriott equaled 5 nights at this family-owned guesthouse!
Some tactics to save on lodging:
Book your hotel rooms via online discounters. Okay, maybe you’re not quite ready yet to aim for the bargain basement. We totally understand…but that doesn’t mean you have to continue breaking the bank to keep a roof over your head.
With the boom in travel, lots of online discounters have entered the market to bring you some great hotels at some pretty amazing prices! We tend to go the hostel route, but when we do stay in a hotel we usually check with the discounters.
Book in traveler’s hostels whenever possible. Many of them have come quite a long way since the rugged backpacker-style accommodations of old. They often have private double-rooms in addition to dorms. Most have all the amenities: WiFi, air-conditioning, activities desk, breakfast included.
Book directly with homeowners. We mentioned that we were able to negotiate directly with a guesthouse owner during our time in Bali. But did you know you can also get some great deals on rooms being leased by homeowners online?
It’s true! Three times in the past year, we’ve used a service called AirBnB to book rooms directly from homeowners in the areas we have visited. You can stay at some pretty cool places using this service. The key is to research the past reviews to get a good feel for the place. Every home is different.
The other way is to go door-to-door. Now, this sounds weirder than it is. There are actually places where guesthomes have a shingle out advertising that they rooms to rent out (like in Bali). They cut costs by not having a web presence, since they know loads of people will be walking past their property anyway, and they expect you pop in and inquire.
Go the freeloaders’ route. We haven’t yet successfully tried it…but there are options out there for getting a room(or someone’s floor) absolutely free, nearly free, or in exchange for a little bit of your labor.
Lots of people around the world would love to have a traveling person to stay with them. It’s a way for them to know people from other cultures by simply making room in their home available.
This is a lot like hitchhiking, except you get the benefit of other travelers’ feedback on the host by reviewing the site. Naturally, exercise good judgement and caution when using these free services.
Don’t Eat A Hole In Your Wallet
Next to lodging, the biggest budget buster when it comes to travel is food. Your travels will take you to places that are frequented by tourists, and there will never be a shortage of restaurants willing to have you part with your hard-earned cash for a meal.
After a year on the road, we’ve learned a few ways to manage spending on food that will help stretch your travel money farther, enabling you to see and do more with your time. Most of the advice that follows will apply to SE Asia, as that is where we spent most of the past year.
Hit the streets hard. We are happy to confirm that the legends you hear about food on the street here are totally true! You can find a pretty awesome and authentic meal from street vendors for half or more than half of the price you would pay at a restaurant!
You’ll find all your favorites, as well as some selections that you can’t get anywhere else. So in addition to the cost savings, you’ll get to eat like the locals do…which is to say…really well!
Other simple strategies you can employ to stretch your travel food budget:
- Shop at the local supermarket for snacks and simple meals on the go
- Consume less alcohol, which tends to have doubling effect your budget
- Eat as much local cuisine as possible(foods that are not native to the country tend to be priced higher)
Planes, Trains, Buses, Ferries
Air travel gets you places in the shortest time possible, but this speed comes at a price. I realize that many of you have a bigger restriction on your time budget as opposed to your financial budget.
I would argue that it is far better to see one or two places slowly rather than seven countries on a 12-day whirlwind bus tour, but that has less to do with stretching money and more to do with time, so we’ll save it for a future post.
For now, I want to help you understand how much money you can save by balancing your air travel with other modes of transportation whenever possible.
Last month, Jo and I had to leave Bangkok for a few days due to visa expiration. We decided to head to the next country over, Cambodia. The trip would have been 90 minutes by air at $150/person.
Instead we went over land via buses and taxis. It took 8 hours over land at $25/person. Cost savings: $125/person, which paid for 6 nights lodging once we got into Cambodia.
When we took Mom to visit the giant reclining Buddha temple in Bangkok, we could have had a taxi pick us up and the fare would be $7…plus an up close and personal view of the notorious traffic conditions of the city.
By opting to walk 15 minutes to the nearby ferry terminal and go over water, we saved $5.50, and used that to eat an amazing three servings of pad thai and coconut water for lunch.
And we got a scenic view of Bangkok from the river rather than from clogged streets we would have seen had we taken a taxi.
The Relative Value Of Things
In that last example, a savings of under $5 might not seem like much, but as you saw that could easily feed three people for lunch, or even cover a single person’s food for almost a day.
In addition to learning how far your money can stretch in your travels, an important habit to nurture is thinking of every expense in terms of relative value to other expenses.
Just to illustrate further, imagine you are a lover of all things Starbucks, and seeing there is one in Bali, you decide you’ve gotta have your usual fix of a grande iced caramel frapuccino for $4(Starbucks costs the same everywhere).
That one coffee drink was worth:
- A scooter rental for a whole day
- A 30-minute Balinese oil massage
- Admission to the Puri Lukisan musem
- Four servings of beef noodle soup, bakso
As you can see, it really helps to think in terms of relative value when strategizing your travel costs. By understanding the relationship between the costs of lodging, transport, and food, there are endless possibilities for creatively stretching your travel budget.
By prioritizing your choices of consumption in life, and employing some or all of these money-saving techniques, it is more than possible for you to afford to see the world.
We hope you enjoyed the Travel Mythbuster series, and we hope you’ve gained more confidence about the possibilities of being able to travel the world without any barriers.
If you really enjoyed this last post, you won’t want to miss the next one…stay tuned for some surprise news we want to share with you!