What is Budget Travel?
You'll hear many serious travelers talk about the difference between vacationing and travelling, exploring, wandering whatever you want to call it. In short, on a vacation, you are a tourist whereas a traveler strives to do as the locals do.
Getting Started, How to Travel Cheap, Travel Tips
What is Budget Travel? You'll hear many serious travelers talk about the difference between vacationing and travelling, exploring, wandering whatever you want to call it. In short, on a vacation, you are a tourist whereas a traveler strives to do as the locals do. What is budget travel? That's a pretty big question that will generate a different answer depending on who you talk to. And you bet I have my own set of opinions so I will outline my version of budget travel here. Some people might picture gap-year kids partying all night in hostels and staying in dorm bunk-beds. Sure that exists and is there if that's what you want. But no, that's not what budget travel is. It's about shifting (not lowering) your expectations, spending more time, experiencing below the surface, and yes, spending less. Budget traveling is also known as independent travel or backpacking. Independent means you are not on a tour. It's DIY travel! Mainly, it's the difference between vacationing and traveling. Some people have gotten sick of this comparison but I think it still holds true. On a vacation, you are a tourist. You don't mind being in touristy areas, you might participate in special tourist activities, you will probably over-pay for just about everything, and you may never see any of the real local culture; just people showing you what they think you want to see. It also tends to be easier and much more convenient. A traveler strives to do as the locals do. The effort might not always be successful, but it's part of the overall attitude. A traveler stays away from touristy restaurants and looks for where the locals are eating. Of course main attractions will be visited (Taj Mahal, Chichenitza, the Great Barrier Reef) but not on an organized tour if it can be helped. Getting off the beaten track is a true joy, seconded by staying in a popular tourist area and spending about one tenth of what most other people are spending. Local transportation is preferred - there's nothing like a good slow chicken bus. You'd be amazed what people bring on buses with them! It's NOT just about saving money. The less you spend on traveling allows you to travel more often and for longer periods of time, but it's about really experiencing a country and PREFERRING the less expensive ways of doing things. Really your whole mindset changes after a while and the expensive options don't even cross your mind as possibilities anymore. It's also not about denying yourself nice things and suffering for the sake of the budget (although that DOES come into play sometimes LOL). It can be a good idea to treat yourself from time to time to a place with a pool or hot water. But you'll get so used to not having it that you won't even know you missed it until you have it! And your standard of nice things becomes way lower. Extravagance just seems wasteful. Horrible beds and hit-or-miss bathrooms all become a part of the journey. Looking at your options and a do-it-yourself attitude play a big part. Don't just take the first tour, or transportation suggestion given to you. Sure the flight might be the fastest and easiest way to to get to where you're going but there might also be an overnight train for a fraction of the cost and a much more interesting ride. An organized tour might not be your only option. Perhaps you can take public transportation and get a local guide when you arrive. Options. It does become a personal challenge sometimes to save as much as you can. I probably go a bit overboard sometimes. But usually if you are traveling longer term you have more time than money and the journey is part of the adventure anyway. Also, money becomes very relative to where you are. After a while you are aghast at the thought of paying $2 for a meal in certain countries! That's generally a good thing since you are acclimating to your location, but there have been times when I have gotten home and regretted not paying $20 for something that at the time seemed so expensive and in hindsight would have been worth the experience. Definitely as I've gotten older I find myself having more and more moments where sometimes it's just easier to pay a little more for some convenience. But you can still work that into your plan and be on a budget. I'm talking things like paying $4 for an Uber to save yourself a 2 hour $1 public bus ride. How rugged is it? Well of course that's up to you. I used to stay in the absolute cheapest place I could find. Now the friends I travel with (I get to blame it on them ;) prefer air-conditioning and seldom a shared bathroom. If you have someone to share a room with, you can usually get a private room for the same price as two dorm beds. And quite honestly, hostels don't even exist in some countries because the private rooms are so cheap. There are plenty of decent and clean hotels in the budget price range. You just have to look. You will get stuck with a crappy gross room from time to time, but you suck it up and move on and hopefully have a good laugh about it later. Travel at your own standards. You will run into people who go so far as to camp to save money and those who prefer air-conditioning. Travel however is comfortable for YOU. Even if you need a little more comfort it doesn't mean you have to spend a lot of money or alienate yourself from the rest of the budget travelers. How much money are we talking about here? For a month-long trip I usually spend around $30-$35 per day for everything (not including airfare). That's food, lodging, transportation, sightseeing, miscellaneous. Rooms cost anywhere from $5 to around $30 for a nicer place with air-conditioning. Meals will cost $1 - $5. Budget travel is an entirely different way of viewing your trip and is for any age. I have friends in their 70s who budget travel. They are super easy going and take it as it comes. Not only do you get a better quality experience, but it also makes travel way more accessible to people who are not super rich. You just need a little time off of work and you can go places you've always dreamed of!!
Deciding to Take Your First Budget Adventure
It might take a bit of faith for your first trip, but it's so much easier and more rewarding than you might think.
Getting Started, How to Travel Cheap, Travel Tips
Deciding to Take Your First Budget Adventure It might take a bit of faith for your first trip, but it's so much easier and more rewarding than you might think. If you are considering budget travel, of course, I highly recommend you try it. Think of your first journey as an experiment. You are not committing to a lifetime. If it doesn't suit you, then you don't have to do it again. If it does, you will have opened up a whole new fun and interesting world to yourself. Fear The biggest challenge for most people is doing something outside of their comfort zone. It all seems very scary. Shoot, I know Americans who are afraid to go travel in Europe and that's an easy place to travel! So many people I meet say you're so brave or aren't you afraid? or I could never do that. Well let me tell you, other than the fact that I have an insane travel bug, there's nothing special about me. I get nervous arriving into a new country (less so now but it's still there), I do not like to do anything alone, much less travel, and I can actually be pretty shy a lot of the time. But despite all of that, I have an incredible time travelling! That just shows you that you don't have to be Lara Croft to experience the world's adventures. The biggest piece of advice I can give for overcoming the fear, is to find a buddy who wants to go with you. At least for me, having someone to share the experience, the mishaps, the trepidation, and the excitement makes it all much more doable. If you are not the type of person who wants or needs a co-pilot, then just pull the trigger and get out there. Experiences are better than things Mindset First of all, know that if the budget thing doesn't cut it for you, you can always shift gears and start taking taxis, stay in nicer hotels, etc. But for true budget travel.... Your trip will not be about visiting a single destination. You will not just go diving in Roatan. You are there to experience the entire place, soup to nuts. Your trip begins from the time you get off your plane. You will not be whisked away to your destination, but will have the fun of mixing in with the locals and finding your own way to your next stop. You'll walk a lot more, find hole-in-the-wall places to eat, meet other travelers, wander down roads with no tourists, and also see the sights! Side note: You can indeed do single destination budget travel! I tend to err on the side of dramatic and longer term traveling and moving around. You can certainly budget travel to Roatan for diving no problem! Well, snorkeling might be a better budget option. ;) You are going to travel slower. Local transportation might take you all over town on the way to your destination but it's like you get a free tour of local daily life! Sometimes it takes forever to get your food at a restaurant and everyone at your table might get their food at different times. Or sometimes you might stop and stay in towns along the way that look interesting that you never would have seen if you were rushing from point A to point B. Accommodation is more utilitarian but still feels like home. Your room might not be a sealed sanitary air-conditioned box with a comfy bed, and your bathroom might be down the hall with no hot water. All things that soon become no big deal. You will start automatically going to the the sort by price option to find your hotels! Think of how at home you would never consider calling a limousine to take you to the movies (you wouldn't would you?!). Soon you won't even consider taking an expensive taxi to get around but will instead be searching out the local bus stop where the trip might take you an hour and a half, but it will only cost you 25 cents. Be flexible and don't limit yourself by trying to stick to any kind of schedule. Take each day as it comes. You never know what might come across your path. Read Basic Tips for a Successful Journey Attitude Be open to just about anything. Expect the unexpected. It's not always going to be a bed of roses but that is half the fun. You might be waiting for your boat with no indication of when or if it's even coming. You might get crammed into an an already-full bus and have to hang on for dear life lest you spill out the open door. The museum you just traveled 3 hours to get to may have closed 2 years ago. The taxi driver that said he'd return for you might never show. You might show up to your 8-hour ferry to find out it's actually a 3-day ferry with no accommodation or food. Take it all in stride. I can tell you that sometimes those end up being the best memories, or at least the funniest. When our taxi driver left us stranded, we hitched a ride in the back of a truck with some workers coming in from the field with a pig nibbling at my travelmate's feet. And the ferry on Lake Kariba was a rare and unforgettable few days. On the flip side, sometimes is IS a bed of roses and things go even more smoothly than planned. You may have set aside half a day to get to your next stop and you're there in a few hours, or you plan on waiting at the station for 4 hours for what you thought was the next train, and there's suddenly one leaving in 5 minutes. It's really quite fun either way. Random kindnesses from the most unexpected places will make your day, and the way the locals treat you once you make the effort to get off the tour bus gives you fuel to keep at it. You'll meet people from all over the world Traveling Alone vs. Need a Buddy This is an entire subject unto itself so I'll try to be brief here. For some people this is a total non-issue, but for others like myself, it is. If you don't want to go it alone, then talk a friend into going with you for your first journey. No uptight or lazy people!! If you don't have a friend, then there are resources such as ThelmaAndLouise.com to find travel buddies. Some friends of mine asked me to go to Thailand with them for their first trip to SE Asia since I had been quite a few times and they weren't sure what to expect. After they got their feet wet, they had a blast going by themselves. The travel community is very open and welcoming. You will meet like-minded people, have very interesting conversations with people from all over the world, and sometimes find someone to travel with, have dinner with, or simply share travel tips. Traveling solo can itself be part of the adventure. You can really see what you're made of. You'll have time to introspect, do exactly what you want to do, keep your own schedule, and sometimes it's easier to meet other people. And there are possibilities such as going to a meditation retreat that are better done without having connections to anyone else. Safety All the frightening stories you see on the news rarely appear in your travel life. Out of all my travels, I have seldom felt unsafe. Don't let your friends and family freak you out! Typically if there is some sort of political or civil strife in a country, it's not targeted at tourists and/or it's easy to steer clear of any hot areas and you will never even know that all that stuff in the news is going on. Sure, you need to be aware of your surroundings but it's usually not any different than at home where you have good and bad neighborhoods. A little research and heeding advice from locals will clue you in to what to watch out for. Read Basic Tips for a Successful Journey Rewards The rewards are immeasurable. Budget travel might take a little more effort, but you gain so much more. As with anything in life, having to work for it or even having a little adversity makes the reward oh so much better. The same goes with travel. Get out of your fancy Novotel and EXPERIENCE the culture you came to see in the first place. Your eyes will be opened not only to the amazing variety the world has to offer but also with how attainable it is, how kind and helpful people are, how happy people are with seemingly very little, how many other people are out there traveling like you are, and the true peace and joy you can attain from the simplicity of it all. You will wonder why you didn't do this sooner! At the very least you can tell your friends Yeah, I went on an African safari and it was cheap! Go on trips you thought you could never afford Choosing your First Destination There are certainly destinations that are easier than others. Consider language, if they use Roman letters (it's so much easier if you can read signs), infrastructure, flights, and of course how much it costs once you're there. If you speak Spanish, consider Mexico, Guatemala, or Costa Rica. Those countries see plenty of tourism and have a lot of options for independent travel. Thailand and Bali have become quite popular and have a ton of infrastructure focused on tourism to allow you to get around easily. Although westernized European countries might be appealing, it will not be as easy to keep a low budget. Pick a place that suits your interests. Choose Central America for Mayan ruins, Mexico City for museums, El Salvador for hiking, Malaysia for jungles and pristine beaches, Tanzania for wildlife. You might even consider the type of food you want to enjoy. For me, I much prefer the food in Asian countries rather than Central America. You'll feel more comfortable if you do some research about where you're going. Not only what sights you might want to see, but how to get around, the basic cost of transportation food and accommodations, customs, etc. To Sum it Up I wish I could take everyone in the world on their first budget travel trip. It's such an amazing option and costs so much less than you would ever dream. Forget the expensive trips to Disneyland (although yeah, I don't mind doing that every once in a while too) and see the things you only see on TV or are straight out of National Geographic. There are so many moments of awe and gratitude when traveling that I think everyone should have the opportunity to feel.
How Can I Afford to Travel So Much?
There is absolutely no reason to spend a fortune in order to travel. Some people spend money on an expensive car, some on concerts or designer clothes. I spend my money on budget travel.
How to Travel Cheap, Rants & Musings, Travel Tips
How Can I Afford to Travel So Much? There is absolutely no reason to spend a fortune in order to travel. Some people spend money on an expensive car, some on concerts or designer clothes. I spend my money on budget travel. Because budget travel comes naturally to me now, I have a hard time understanding how and WHY people spend so MUCH traveling! I have friends who like to book fancy expensive hotels, book expensive tours, go to expensive restaurants they read about in magazines. Sure, it's easy to spend a lot traveling but it's also easy to NOT spend a lot. I think because people are so used to dropping a few thousand dollars on a 2 week vacation, they don't understand how I could possibly travel to Africa for 5 weeks for $2800 (over $1500 of that was airfare and visa), or 3 weeks in El Salvador for less than $850 (great airfare out of Tijuana!). Let me tell you this. I have worked hard all my life (less so now LOL) and have done well for myself by my own standards, maybe not by others'. I grew up pretty poor and have always made what most people consider a mid to low income. Flexible Work / Income Two weeks vacation a year? Pshaw! I work as an independent contractor and my main client knows that I will be taking off a month every year, plus a couple of other shorter trips. Work flexibility is very important for me to be able to travel when I want to and for more than just a few days or a week. It's so much easier to spend less abroad when you have more time to travel. I'm a full fledged adult now (as much as I hate to admit it) so I'm not living paycheck to paycheck which makes it easier to travel. Even though I have to take time off of work and lose that income, I try to save all the time when I'm at home so the budget takes less of a hit during those weeks I take off. Always Saving It's all about priorities. Travel is my priority. Some people spend money on an expensive car, concerts, daily lattes, or designer clothes. I spend my money on travel. If I get a tax refund or win money in the slot machines, woohoo, into the bank it goes! Sure I like to waste money on ridiculous stuff too but when I'm tempted to buy something I always think to myself, hmmm, that $55 would afford me 2 entire days in Thailand! Sometimes I decide it's worth it, sometimes not. But even if you don't want to modify your lifestyle at home, if you modify the way you travel, you can afford to do and experience so much more! Cheapest Airfare Of course I look for the cheapest flights. Sometimes it means inconvenient flight times so I do balance cost vs. convenience. If it only costs $20 more to fly at an hour that will allow me to use public transport to get to my hotel, then that's a done deal. Sometimes a long layover sucks but sometimes it's a blessing. I recently flew from LAX to Bali for only $485 round trip. It included a 16 hour layover in China on the way home. The airline provided a free hotel and I got to walk around the city and experience at least one afternoon in China. I have gotten used to spending a lot of time in airports. It's just part of the trip. You wander around, maybe have a nap, shop, read a book, spend time on the internet. Budget Hotels As I'm getting older, I splurge a bit more on hotels. Ideally I am sharing with a travel buddy and spend around $10/night ($20 total for the room) or less. But on solo trips, anything under $20 for a private room is acceptable. I don't mind a shared bathroom but I do prefer a private room these days. On my latest trip where I decided to try out two separate month stays, I was a little more particular with my lodging. Instead of a simple hotel, I searched out a house rental with kitchen. Score. I found 3 different places in Costa Rica for under $20/night where I have the entire house / studio! Local / Steet Food I just don't gravitate toward tourist-centric or pricey restaurants. Like anything, I might splurge once or twice during long-term travel to enjoy something like real pasta with real cheese. But for the most part, street food and local cafes are where it's at. You get a good taste for the local food and it's way cheaper. The budget traveler mentality gets ingrained and you start finding the pricier options a waste. Public Transportation A co-worker of mine traveled to Morocco and told me he spent $1,000 for a car and driver for the week. That's more than my total budget would be for the trip!! In poorer countries, they rely on public transportation so it's usually extensive and cheap. It can also be super interesting! Sometimes it falls under convenience vs. money but usually the budget wins. DIY Sightseeing Sometimes you have no choice but to take a tour, but not always. Do-it-yourself independent travel can be really satisfying! It can also be a pain in the ass since you are doing everything yourself. But budget traveling you usually have more time than money so instead of taking a tour to the ruins, you might take public transportation to the neighboring town the night before, then walk to the ruins in the morning before the tour groups get there. You get the satisfaction of spending a fraction of what the tour-goers shelled out, and you usually have a better experience. Keeping to the Travel Budget I don't usually have a set amount of money I'm going to spend on a trip. I really just do what I want to do and avoid anything super expensive. On rare occasion there is an exception and I really never feel like I'm denying myself anything. I just live in the budget travel style and it all works out. I keep track of my daily spending and total up the daily average after I'm home. (see Average Costs) Thankfully, longer term travel makes it easier it is to do it on a budget. Being tied to a strict schedule limits your options and forces you to spend money on more convenient (aka expensive) transportation, tours, and such. Total Spending I like to stick to around $30/day total for any trip, not counting airfare. I know it can be done for about half that but that seems to fit my comfort level. And that's around 3 times cheaper than living at home! Of course I'm still paying for rent and utilities when I'm away but my ultimate goal is to pack up my house and just travel full time. Traveling full time, that amount will have to include airfare and everything else, too (equipment, clothing, medical costs, etc.). Traveling Full Time I know my age is young to retire, especially because I've been self-employed most of my life and I don't have any sort of pension . But saving saving saving has done me well. It was the year 2000 when I really traveled for the first time (for a year!) and I started saving for my travel retirement from then on. What I plan on retiring on, most people would laugh at. But I know if I live as I travel, I'll have no problem. I just keep tweaking the ole' Retirement Calculator until it tells me I'm ready now. LOL So how can I afford to travel so much? I save, I do without at home, and I travel cheap. :)