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.
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 traveling! 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
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. See Easiest Destinations for First Time Budget Travelers.
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.