We originally wrote this blog at the start of our travels, when we had only been on the road for two and a half months – certainly not long enough to call ourselves “travellers” nor “experts” but long enough that if we could send a tip or two to ‘past-Katie’ and ‘past-Luke’, on how to budget a little and not spend so easily, we would. In a heartbeat. But since the subject of time travelling is still a mystery and not really that possible, we have decided to share some small but beneficial tips that might help you on your journey to experiencing more while spending little.
Reading back on blogs such as this one, we tend to giggle at how much has changed, how we have changed and how we have adapted to our life on the road. In saying that, our feelings about these type of articles remains and we are happy to have it published – loud and proud.
Before I get into it, I should mention that if it’s your first time travelling long distances or for a long period of time, you might choose to ignore these tips as you excitedly feel that you have worked hard enough and are now ready to spend freely and enjoy yourself. We wholeheartedly agree and bid you the best, safest and most exciting journey.
However, you will start to notice the money happily run away from your account and you’ll soon realise that you still have a lot of ground to cover. Blame these stupid beautiful places that grab your silly heart and suck you in for eternity. One or two nights becomes four and then a week before you have to force yourself to board a bus and leave these epic little cities, beach-towns or lakeside wonders, just to keep going. There is so much to see. The world is a ride. Like, I actually fancy the world, as in I’m head over heels in love with the mad bitch.
Itineraries will go out the window, plans will change, impromtu trips will occur and this is when those extra euros saved on the basic necessities such as accommodation, food, transport and daytrips will be your saving grace. And while these tips will work no matter what part of the world you are travelling, we have based these them on our own experience while travelling Southeast Asia and Latin America.
So go forth and spend, spend to your hearts content. This is what life is. This is living. And just remember that you cannot buy the life experience travelling will bring you. OK so it does cost (a better expenditure than rent and bills in our opinion) but never forget that travel makes you richer. Not poorer.
In the meantime, enjoy the read and the little insights to how we budget so wisely on the road. When you do decide to pull on the purse strings, this blog will be waiting, with open arms, for a warm embrace.
Saving on Accommodation:
Hostels are The New Hotels:
Fully facilitated: The word hostel might make your nose twinge a little, but remember that majority of hostels are equipped to exceeding expectations; particularly in parts of the world such as South America and Southeast Asia. Clean and spacious rooms, low cost facilities such as affordable laundry, free facilities such as self-laundry, kitchens, drinking water or coffee and hammocks. Lots of hammocks! Another bonus is that they always have affordable offers on tours, transport and food. Or if you only need to lay your head for one night, extremely cheap dorm rooms! Oh and a hostel doesn’t always mean sharing and bunk beds, you can still have as much privacy as you want without being stuffed in a room with 8 or more other people. In fact, we’ve always had much better experiences staying in hostels than hotels. Yes, even the 5* resorts we could afford in Southeast Asia.
Another Advantage: Hostels make it easier to meet people, and let’s face it this is the whole point of travelling. Take advantage of your host who will most likely be a local, ask for their recommendations, where to eat, what to eat, what to expect to pay. Or in the common room, swap stories with fellow travellers and receive some first-hand experience, advice and tips from people who have been there and done it. This up-to-date advice will go farther than any reviews or comments you find on the likes of Trip Advisor.
Suss It: So opt in for the hostels, family-run accommodation (and sometimes Airbnb) as they will always be the cheaper option compared to hotels and guesthouses. Have a quick search online to have an idea of average prices and locations but don’t feel you need to pick and decide on where to stay in advance, which brings us to our next point.
Don’t Panic, Don’t Pre-book:
No need: Honestly, unless there is very limited accommodation or it is peak season, as in a major local festivity is taking place; there is no need to pre-book your accommodation. Despite what some people may advise, ignore and go with us on this one. With one exception, the late night arrival, but that goes without saying. Your safety is more important than saving a few buck. So never walk around anywhere at night, especially on your own, especially while carrying all you own. In this case, have your accommodation ready and waiting for you. Don’t put yourself at risk. Every city is unsafe when darkness falls.
Research: A little research goes a long way and as we mentioned above, do search online in advance to see where majority of accommodation options are based or what districts and areas are recommended. It will be a good guiding point, bearing in mind you will most likely be carrying your backpack and tired after the journey. So spend 5 minutes researching and save yourself a whole lot of hassle upon arrival. We tend to find the cheaper hostels via sites such as Booking.com and we then show up on their doorstep to haggle a cheaper price. Worst case, if the haggling fails, you can hook up to their WiFi and just book there and then on Booking.com – but do at least try secure cheaper as it does work. We are proof of that.
On street advertising: So you have arrived safely and soundly, now it’s time to find your haven. Head towards those recommended areas, and we can guarantee that you will stumble across even cheaper alternatives that are not advertised or displayed online. In fact they usually have a simple handmade sign with “rooms for rent” or “available” in their window. Sounds brothel-like but the reality is that some places are just not that net-friendly yet. There is no harm sticking your head in to enquire about prices. It will be cheaper. These people see you as fast money. They will want you to stay and are happy to negotiate. The ultimate benefit being the fact that you are staying with a local family or an ex-pat. Be prepared for intriguing conversations and a taste of local life.
Haggle: Whether you like or loath haggling, 99.9% of the time, you will get a much better deal, one that is cheaper than booking online! The drastic drop in price may even shock you at times. Rocking up and paying on arrival also means that you will avoid those additional online or VAT charges, that the likes of Booking.com charge. You also have the opportunity to see the room and facilities which, let’s admit, beats those deceiving online photos. Also ask to see the room before you haggle and if you plan to spend more than 4/5 nights, mention this. They’ll immediately drop the price. Now, let the haggling commence.
Ask For Options:
If you are travelling as a couple or in group, sometimes private rooms or family rooms cost less than each paying for a dorm bed. Enquire on prices for private rooms with and without shared bathroom, twin rooms and, if they have them, 4-bed mixed dorm rooms.
Private Rooms: Although you may rather have your own private room and bathroom, rooms that use a shared bathroom are always cheaper. Fear not, the shared bathroom will be sparkling, probably more so than your own private bathroom as they usually clean common areas more thoroughly. The only downside is carrying your toiletries, towel etc. in and out or at times waiting for the bathroom to become available. Neither are major complaints, you need to get use to “living it rough” while on the road. Besides, if you have a fullhouse at home, you have to do that anyway – right?
Twin Rooms: It may feel like you are getting a divorce, but these rooms can be even cheaper than the above and they are perfect if only staying a night or two, as you can simply push the beds together or have a night spent less sweaty and more sprawled, all by yourself.
Mixed Dorms: If hostel has a 4 x bed mixed dorm and you only plan to stay a night or two, to not contradict ourselves on what we said earlier, if this option is a little cheaper than twin or privates enquire if it’s booked. Sometimes, if it’s not booked, you could get lucky by having the full dorm to yourselves. Meaning a bigger room for 1/4 price. This has happened to us!
We are aware that the above might seem such effort for a night’s kip but if you are on budget and travelling for an extended period of time, saving on accommodation will always be of advantage. Besides, who spends their days travelling sitting in their room? Your place is to shit, shower, shave and sleep. So save money while doing so.
Saving Money on Transport:
Take A Local Bus: Just like at home, using local transport will always be best on your pocket and it will benefit you in so many ways. From the extremely low fares, never costing more than €1 per trip and the chance to experience local life or at least be gawked at. In a good way of course. We would urge anyone to endure the local busses; it’s always mesmerising to be a part of the bedlam.
Travelling Through Guatemala On A Chicken Bus
Boarding A Local Bus Quickly: If you just jump on a local bus whether it’s from the terminal or the street, in our experience, never ask “how much” the ticket is and instead put forward a cost! Especially in the likes of Latin America, where the chicken bus system works so fast. They get you on and before you know it, you’re half way down the road with no idea how much the fare is. This can cause a little pressure to just pay up, whatever the price. So when someone approaches you for the ticket fare simply say half of what you think the fare might be. If you’re lucky they’ll just take it, but most of the time they’ll just say the usual fare. Also, sometimes the tariff is displayed beside the driver so do keep your eyes peeled! We have made the mistake of asking “how much” on many occasions. Too many occasions, embarrassingly enough. And we were always charged double, sometimes even triple. After being conned too many times, we finally learned our lesson and made sure we knew the local fares before going near transport. If this sounds too confrontational for you, ask a passenger how much they paid and go from there. On a local bus, never hand over more than a euro.
Booking in Advance: Again, to be somewhat organised, we use to book any long distance bus journeys in advance online. However it wasn’t long before we discovered that you will secure cheaper rates in person, at the bus terminal. It is a nice peace of mind to book in advance, so if you have an itinerary to follow and know when you are leaving a certain location, you could book the bus when you arrive in, assuming you have arrived in on a bus. If not, try pass the bus terminal on your way home one evening and request some prices. It also gives you the chance to compare with any online deals. In some parts of the world, such as Bolivia, we discovered that booking busses at the very last minute meant a 50% price drop. This is a little more risky as busses could be full (we do not recommend this during a holiday season or holy week)high season such as Christmas) but it has worked for us nearly every time. In these occasions, we head to the bus terminal early in the day so that we do have a choice. We usually shop around for prices and times and then wait to approach the desk at the very last minute, we have even approach the bus driver himself rather than the ticket office and again, he happily chucks up on the bus for little to nothing. This option is a matter of preference, but it is an option.
Find Out Fares:
Hit The Pavement: To get a rough idea on bus fares before the attempt to jump on one, while wandering the streets, pop by the local tourist information centre or bus/train station and ask for deals and promotions. Majority of the time, if you book in advance (E.G when using ADO busses in Mexico) you will secure a cheaper price but it means committing to a time schedule, which can be quite a restraint.
Friendly Locals: Alternatively, you could ask the local street vendors. The ones who are set up next to the transport terminal. We can guarantee these guys have more information than some staff; they’ll also give you honest answers in terms of fares. *Sidenote* We also found that when approaching any locals even a slight attempt at speaking to them in their native language, will go a long way. Majority of locals will love the opportunity to chat and help, some might even speak English. It’s also a great opportunity to practice using the local language but of course, even more helpful to travel with someone who speaks it. Have the translator handy (we prefer Microsoft Translate to Google) and also have your phone ready for them to type down any numbers.
Don’t Settle For Private Shuttle Prices:
Private Shuttles: At first, we used to use private shuttles when crossing borders, but as we became more and more comfortable, that too didn’t last long. Now, this option isn’t that expensive considering you will pay €15-€20 for a minimum 7hour journey. It will include pickup from your hostel, A.C minivan and a safe border crossing. Sometimes the driver himself will do all the dirty work and get your passport stamped promptly. You can get shuttles to and from anywhere so if you want comfort, ease and less hassle but at a greater price, the shuttle is for you. However, know that there are always public busses running to and from border towns, which will be far cheaper and more fun.
Secure A Deal: Many tours, touts and hostels will have private shuttle services. If buying with a tour operator, always haggle to secure a deal. If you are in a group, even better! You could book the entire van for little, or hook up with those staying in your hostel and see if you can all kitty in. Travelling as a couple, we discreetly haggle. Let’s face it, they won’t give us a cheap price if there is a queue of people behind us looking to take the same journey. So pick a quiet time and polish off your gift of the gab. Again, for us the price has always dropped. At times we did secured two shuttle journeys for the price of one (using the same company), and even once we were offered a free nights accommodation at our arrival destination, which was such a great deal!
So while it’s not a huge amount of effort to keep transport costs low, the main thing to remember is that if you want to book a bus or train in advance do, but visit the station beforehand as face-to-face means a smiling face, which will result in a cheaper fare . Using touts or tours, always shop around and haggle, focus on backpacker hostels as they usually have the cheapest deals. When it comes to local transport know the fares before you board or check for any tariff signs near the driver. Although shuttle busses take the sting out of travelling and are more appealing, we would always recommend taking the local chicken bus. Yes the local busses take longer but it’s quite an experience, quarter the price and will become some of your best memories.
Save Money on Tours:
Shop Around: Steer from the tour operators that are near the more “touristy” areas. Instead visit backpacker hostels as they always have the best deals. Ask your own hostel first, before visiting others as you ramble around the street. Don’t waste a day shopping around but instead pop into any tour agencies as you explore the location.
DIY: Once you have priced the tours, simple research to see if you can “DIY” it. Of course private tours will cost that bit more, but to be honest you will find some attractions that were just not worth the splurge. Bear in mind that a lot of the private tours may also exclude the attraction’s entrance fees. Instead research and see if you can jump on a chicken bus to the destination and if you need to, hire a local guide at the tourist attraction. There’s always a guide willing to give you a deal, and if you bump into fellow travellers along the way, why not share a guide and half the price?
Tonight’s adventure included a thrilling ride on the back of a 4×4, while heading up Volcano Masaya to peer inside the crater and see us some bubbling lava! Sure we’re mad for the volcanoes, and now we want a 4×4 (🔊 = verdy, verdy windy.)
Skype: Some tourist attractions may require a reservation or advanced booking (only some!), which means calling them beforehand. If you need to ring ahead to reserve or book a tour yet don’t have a local sim, top up your Skype credit. You’ll be charged as little as 1c per minute and can call anywhere in the world. All you need is WiFi, so go grab yourself a coffee. Sidenote: This is also the best way to keep the phone bills low should you need to book transport or call those not so ‘net-friendly’ relatives of yours.
We find the “DIY” route is always best. But you can never guarantee it will be an option. So have a nose around other hostels for a deal and go bag yourself a sweet one!
Saving Money on Food:
Kitchen: It’s the obvious one but, we’re going there. Always book a hostel with a kitchen or some sort of cooking facilities. Especially if you are on the road for an extended period of time. Think about it, at home you don’t eat out three times a day so pull back on the self-spoiling. We aim to eat at least two meals at home. Usually breakfast (eggs, oats, cereal) and a light lunch. Dinner is when we go “all out”.
Water: Water is one of those sneaky costs that adds up without you even realising. It is also essential to stay alive so there is no avoiding this. But please, we beg you, invest in a refillable water bottle. Even if you buy a normal bottle, try reuse it as much as possible. Not only is it kind to the environment but it will help you save money. When you see the amount of plastic that is used and dumped across countries such as Thailand and Colombia, it will give you a jolt of reality which will make you want to reduce your waste. Promise. So, enough preaching. A reusable water bottle will come in handy especially since majority of hostels have (or should have!) drinking water available. In countries such as Thailand, there are machines on every street that offer 1litre for less than 1cent – no joke. Asking locals how and where they refill will return helpful results as they barely drink the local tap water themselves. And while we are on the subject, always triple check before drinking out of the tap. Not all tap water is safe for consumption.
Budget Travelling: Luke Catching, Cleaning and Gutting Our Dinner
Markets: When shopping for food, hit the local fresh markets first. Majority of the time, fruit, vegetables, eggs, rice etc. are so much cheaper than in the supermarkets. Plus you’re giving your money straight to a local. Again, if buying more than one thing at a food stall haggle away, and be kind. 99% of the time they’ll do a little deal for you.
Supermarkets: Not to contradict ourselves but we are pretty realistic when it comes to travelling, and the reality is you may not always find a place to refill your water bottle especially on those days out, so you may need to hit the shops. For this reason, we suggest visiting the local supermarket and stock up on your large bottles of water which, because they are in bulk, will be cheaper. Can you just make sure to recycle afterwards? For us? PWEAAASE!
Packed Lunch: Another purchase to save in the long run is to buy a lunchbox. This will come in handy if your hostel doesn’t have a kitchen, if you are stuck on a long ass bus journey, or if you are out on a day trip DIY – so no food is included. For breakfast we always turn to porridge and milk/hot water if a kettle is handy – throw in some fresh fruit you fancy thing you. For lunches, again if we have a kettle or access to kitchen is pasta, rice etc. If we don’t have access we usually go for fruit and yoghurt or bread with fillers such as tomatoes, avocados etc. Our lunchbox is one of our biggest savers.
Street Food: Another shout out to street food here. It would be rude not to. Do it, hit the streets! Opt in for street food (always street food!) STREET! FOOD! It is by far the cheapest foodie option, and in our opinion, is safer as you can see the cooking conditions there and then. Always follow the local trail and eat where the locals eat. Steer clear of any tourist streets, not only is the quality of food lower but the prices won’t be your friend. We always keep an eye out for prices as we explore the local area, take note and return when it’s dinner time. Street food is our favourite way to eat, we avoid anywhere where we cannot see the kitchen and we have only been sick once. Before you hit the streets to eat, you could also ask your host or fellow travellers about prices and where/what they’d recommend. Whenever we asked our hosts they told us about the local food, dishes and cheapest costs. We found out that some street food sellers will mark up costs simply because you’re a tourist (and they’re fantastic businessmen). So suss if there is a “local price” and enjoy. Oh and pass on the tips to fellow travellers, it’s always well received.
Truly unaware if any of the above was helpful. I felt that since transport, food, accommodation and trips are the biggest spends and so we had to find ways of scaling back without affecting the experience of travelling. Staying with local families, haggling, wandering streets in search for deals and riding chicken busses have brought us some of the most unforgettable experiences. And laughs, lots of laughs. So I guess pulling on the purse strings isn’t so bad after all.
Whatever which way you choose to spend your time and money just enjoy it. Now go forth… save and spend.