Twenty-seven ways to see the world on a budget
Experienced travellers share tips, from going vegetarian to how the cheapest fares can cost you more
We asked globetrotters, as well as booking agents at Usit and Trailfinders, for their advice on how to make your budget stretch while travelling.
A holiday is where you go for a week or two and do the minimum amount of work. You have a bigger budget to blow in a short amount of time. Travelling, on the other hand, is about experiencing new cultures and exploring new terrains and environments, pushing yourself and having an experience you’ll remember forever. And, unless you’re very lucky, your budget is probably that bit more stretched.
1 Limited to three weeks? A lot of companies will be happy to offer unpaid leave or sabbaticals to staff during quiet periods, says Lisa Collender of Usit, whose customers range in age from late teens to late 60s and over. Usit and Trailfinders have sent couples with children backpacking. It can seem daunting, but it’s a good way to have memorable bonding experiences with your children and help them learn about the world.
2 Sometimes the cheapest option will cost you more in the long run: the cheapest flight usually gets you to an airport faraway from where you’re going. One reader, Simon Wallace, took an organised tour of Machu Picchu in Peru, which turned out to be much more expensive than just turning up and going at it.
3 Where’s really popular right now? If the answer is South America, there’s a fair chance you’ll get better value in Central America.
6 In Europe, closer to the Nordics is generally pricier than the east. And sometimes the least-developed countries are the most expensive, as they haven’t got a well-developed tourist infrastructure. Western Africa, Myanmar and some of the Pacific islands jump to mind.
7 Couchsurfing.com: The site has been revamped, as has the process. Hotels and guests can now get their profiles vetted, so you can be confident you will be staying with who they say they are.
8 HelpX.net and WorkAway.info: Do voluntary work for free accommodation.
10 Hostels are less common in some parts of the world, including Madagascar, Myanmar or Papua New Guinea. Solo backpackers should try to double up with other travellers in hotel rooms.
11 Use hotel and hostel booking sites to check availability and cost, and then call directly to see if you can save money.
12 If you find a cheap flight through Sky Scanner, Expedia, or Booking. com, be sure to compare the airline’s own fares. Bear in mind that cookies are stored on your computer, so it’s a good tip to research and book the flights on two different computers.
13 Ah, the noise, the young people, the shared bathroom, the farts: hostels are not for everyone. But they have come a long way in recent years, especially in places such as Australia. Usit staff highlight the Freehand in Chicago and the Traveller’s Oasis in Cairns, Australia, as good places to stay. And most will offer a (slightly more expensive) private room.
14 Choose hostels with decent kitchens so you can self-cater.
15 Be brave with eating in local, cheap places. Go where the locals go, rather than the top option on TripAdvisor. Street food is often the cheapest and tastiest, and a good way of supporting lower-income communities. A pad thai bought from a street vendor in Chiang Mai will beat any Thai restaurant here. Look out for night markets.
16 The Dukoral vaccine protects against cholera and many forms of traveller’s diarrhoea. Some nonvaccinated travellers I ate the same meal with spent a miserable night on the toilet; even accounting for my generally strong stomach, I was fine. This also means you can go for the cheaper but – let’s face it – potentially less hygienic street food.
17 Go veggie where you can: it’s cheaper and you have less chance of getting poisoned. This is a bit easier in veggie-friendly places such as India and southeast Asia.
18 Make lunch your main meal, at least in western countries, and regardless of actual budget.
Sights and sounds
19 Use your feet. Some of the best and cheapest adventures are pilgrimages, such as the Camino de Santiago. Or long-distance walks such as the three-day hike over the mountains from Kalaw to Lake Inle in Myanmar, staying with local Shan families on the way.
20 Again, use your feet. There’s no better way to get a feel for a city than by walking around it – and this is cheaper than rushing from one overpriced or overhyped attraction to another.
21 Don’t presume that things that seem free are free, such as water, extra food or wine in restaurants, help with bags or finding taxis, or a “gift” of a sprig or rosemary that will lead to an unwanted and costly palm-reading.
22 It might seem like a challenge to get a lot of travel done in two or three weeks. Planning is key: focus on a small number of destinations rather than squeezing every minute dry.
24 Travel during low season if possible: monsoon can sometimes just be a shower in the afternoon and the rest of the day is perfect: the prices are much lower and places are less crowded.
25 Leave Ireland in the last few days of June, especially on round-the-world tickets, says Jonathan Bridge of Trailfinders. Leaving a few days later can mean paying hundreds of euro more. Another crossover period is around December 9th, after which airlines dramatically increase their fares.
27 Offer your services: An Irish doctor is heading to Peru for next to nothing because she will be on call to hikers while there.
Tips came from Gwen Beeman, Aoife Cooke, Sarah Egan, Tom Geoghegan, Niall Jackson, Liam Moore, Eva Power, Valerie Staelens, Andrea Stich, Simon Wallace