My friends keep asking me where I get all the money from to be able to travel as much as I do. I must be rich to afford all this. Oh, how wrong they are to be thinking that. (Sorry, friends!).
Here’s a little secret: I’m not rich. Just a poor student, a girl who loves traveling. My monthly “income” at the time of writing this is about 750€ from my student loan (you wouldn’t call that rich, would you?). Yet, I travel. I travel a lot. So how do I do it and how can you afford to travel the world on a budget? Here’s my ultimate budget travel guide for you.
El Tunco sunset? Priceless.
Change your perspective
Don’t see traveling as an expense, see it as a long-term investment into your future. When I’m buying a plane ticket, I’m not really thinking about the money I “had to” spend. Instead, what I see is how that new journey, those new adventures, will actually make me RICHER. I’m not ‘losing’ anything. That’s the thing about traveling, you can only gain. There’s this cheesy quote telling you that “Travel is the only thing you buy, that makes you richer” – I fully agree. Traveling changes you. You grow with every journey. Your horizon widens. Your priorities change. At the end of each trip, you’ll be more independent, more appreciative, have friends all over the world, and you’ll simply be a happier person – truly rich.
Reconsider your priorities
Consider this: Why not save on that cute little dress? Anyway, it’s the 20th in your closet and who are we kidding: If you happen to live in one of the colder countries of our world, will there ever be enough sunny days to wear all those 20 dresses, 10 hot pants, 5 skirts and 50 tops? And you always end up wearing only your favorite pieces anyway, right? If you make traveling your priority and save on things like that huge flatscreen TV or the new iPhone, you’ll end up having those 700€ you need to buy yourself a plane ticket to pretty much anywhere in the world. Personally, I’m happy without a TV. I much more enjoy reading through travel blogs or remembering my own adventures while going through my collection of travel photos. Try tracking your expenses a little and figure out where you can save some money. Maybe you don’t really need that monthly magazine subscription? Your winter coat is good enough for one more season?
Simply ask yourself what’s more important to you. Where are your priorities? What’s the real value of a 700€ plane ticket and a 700€ iPhone for YOU?
Personally, I’d always pick the ticket. No doubt. No hesitation.
You can also think about selling stuff you don’t really need anymore. Several times a year, I go through my closet and sell a bunch of stuff. A few years back I always used to think ‘I might wear that again’ but honestly, once it’s been hanging in your closet for more than a year, you won’t miss it when it’s gone. I sell my stuff on ebay.de or Mädchenflohmarkt and get around 300€/year that way. I know, it doesn’t sound like a lot but I survived on 250€ while living in Guatemala for a month.
Save on the trip
You don’t need a lot of money to travel. If you spend it on the right things.
Look around for cheap flights. I love using Skyscanner to get an idea of which airlines fly to my desired destination and which dates are cheapest. The “Everywhere” search feature is amazing as it lets you find the most affordable destinations flying from your desired airport. Find the best flight deals on Skyscanner (US website) or Skyscanner (UK website). I usually book about 2 months before departure to get a good price but sometimes you get amazing last minute deals. Make sure to sign up for frequent flyer programs and earn miles. If you sign up for their credit cards, you’ll get a bunch of free miles as a bonus and might be able to book a free flight. Sounds pretty awesome, right?
Stay in hostels. Why book a fancy hotel when all you do is sleep there a few hours each night and take a shower? In most hostels, you get a decent bed or mattress and a shower (though showering with buckets is also fun) at a fraction of the price for a hotel room. Plus, hostels usually have this special charm and you meet lots of like-minded travellers and will have a fun time hanging out. Choose a room with a fan instead of A/C and ask for a discount if you stay more than a few nights. Sleeping outside (weather allowing) – why not try a hammock? – is not only cheap but also more comfortable than being stuck in a hot and stuffy room. Expect to pay 2-8€ per person for a bed in a hostel (you usually pay per room, 4-16€) and less for something open air.
Homestays are great, too. Sometimes you’ll get to meet the whole family. You’ll learn more about their culture, can really immerse in it. And you can often indulge in a delicious home-cooked meal, too. For a long-term homestay that included 3 meals/day in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala, I paid 200€/month which is about 6,70€/day.
If you travel during low season, accommodation prices can be much lower (and rainy season is not as bad as we always think).
There is plenty of cool stuff to do that won’t empty your wallet, or not even cost you a cent at all. Join free walking tours, free Salsa classes, wander around the city, go on hikes with a group of people (don’t go all by yourself and respect safety warnings – some treks simply can’t be done without an experienced local guide), join a bonfire by the beach, go snorkeling, you name it. But also don’t miss out on amazing, must-do activities. Spoil yourself every once in a while. Simply select a few activities you really want to do and put some money aside for those. Sometimes you can save a few Euros by asking around in a couple of tourist offices instead of booking with the first one you see (the same goes for hostels, restaurants, shopping, etc.).
The same goes for food. Treat yourself to a nice restaurant every now and again but otherwise try eating where the locals go or shop at the market and cook yourself. Fresh fruit and veggies are usually available in abundance and cost so little yet taste so delicious. Make sure you try the local food (!!!) – you can get a nice lunch or dinner for as little as 2€. Or you can spend 10€ on your daily pizza – because you don’t eat enough pizza at home… Don’t get me wrong… if you’ve been on the road for a few months, some comfort food reminding you of home, is amazing. But remember that a Thai curry won’t be as mind-blowing in Germany as it is from that lady serving it on a street corner in Bangkok for 1€. So go get it while you can.
Take public buses where available and safe enough. Travel by overnight bus instead of plane. Book the cheapest class. In India, my friend and I mostly traveled by train and booked the most basic sleeper class. It wasn’t all too comfortable but it was something we’ll always remember and it saved us about 10€ per trip (probably a total of about 70-80€). When taking taxis, tuk-tuks, boats, etc. ask a few locals for the normal price so you have a reference when haggling with drivers – you’ll probably still end up paying a bit more than the locals but won’t get screwed over big time. Renting a scooter is also an exciting and cost-efficient option – huge bonus: Absolute sense of freedom.
Do go shopping and buy souvenirs – buy only a few (remember you have to carry it around in your backpack and heavy backpacks are never a pleasure). Expect to do some haggling, too. Sometimes, the first price you hear is often about double the fair price. If you go towards the end of the market day, bargaining is easier and you can get better prices. Just keep in mind not to overdo the bargaining – if it’s simply about a few cents, give in and pay the asked price. Remember that most of the people you’ll buy from, have very little and their daily income can sometimes barely be enough to feed their families.
A week in New York or two months in Thailand?
The destination of your travels largely determines the amount of money you’ll need. You can spend so much more time in emerging or developing countries and many of these countries have so much to offer. You should budget at least 1000€ for a week in NYC while for a 1000€ you could probably spend up to a month in Thailand (both including flights from Germany and budget accommodation/food). It’s a month on paradisiacal beaches and thrilling jungle adventures vs. a week in ‘the city that never sleeps’. This mostly depends on your taste and, of course, if you have friends in those more expensive countries or are a fan of couchsurfing, you could get by on a much lower budget, too.
But my advice: Explore those far-away countries and super interesting cultures while they’re still more or less what they used to be and while it’s still so cheap over there. Southeast Asia is still a backpacker’s favourite (Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Burma,…), Central and South America are booming (most countries are still really budget with Brazil, Argentina, Costa Rica, Belize and Panama being on the higher end).
So, no! I’m not rich – and you don’t need to be either. Actually, I’m sure that most of the people, who are complaining about not having enough money to travel, have a higher monthly budget than I do. I might just have set my priorities differently. Traveling has become such an important part of my life – I wouldn’t know how to get by without it.
If this is how you feel: You CAN travel at least as much as I do – it’s mostly a matter of attitude.
And if you’re still undecided, have a look at these 8 compelling reasons why traveling is good for your health.