How is travelling on savings
“I regret spending money on that epic, life-changing trip”
– said no one ever
It’s been almost 18 months since I finished up work and began my journey on the road. And with my cash funds running low, what better time than now to write about ‘how is travelling on savings’.
If you read my earlier post ‘How I save enough money for a trip’ you will know that I haven’t worked at all during my travels and I have been relying solely on savings. I’ve learnt plenty from other travellers on money saving tips and I admit my first months on the road I was reckless with cash compared to how I now travel, even more so with Linda. Still I have managed to last six months longer than I initially thought I would with the funds I had saved.
With a decent amount of cash saved up when I began, knowing what I know now, my travel expenses would have been a lot different when I started. The biggest thing I’ve learnt out of all of this is “you don’t need to be rich to travel”.
Here are some of the tips I’ve picked up along the way to help stretch my travel funds and in some cases even travel for free:
⁃Travel by bus; throughout South and Central America I’ve spent hundreds of hours on bus travel, even 20hour plus bus rides for a single journey – common in Argentina and Chile. Sounds uncomfortable but bus transport is by far my preference for all long distance travel and is way cheaper than flying. Generally there isn’t much difference in cost between a decent bus and a crappy one – so spend a little extra and get a good seat with heaps of leg room. Unlike flying, buses don’t require check-in hours prior to a flight, there are no long lines at security gates, fewer delays and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint. I often even look forward to a long journey as it gives me time to just sit, relax and do nothing – maybe catch up on a book, watch a doco, even write this post for the blog,
⁃Get cheap flights; if bus travel isn’t possible, I use Skyscanner to search for flights and get the best price. The “everywhere” search feature on Skyscanner is good and not found on most other competing search engines – this often helps in selecting cheaper destinations for a layover. And if you aren’t in any rush, why not try a layover in a new city you’ve never visited, often cheaper than most direct flights and gives you a new experience. I also like Googleflights, it consistently compares cheap available flights from all the airlines big and small and offers alternate dates and airports close to the sleeted date for cheaper travel,
⁃Travel in low season; now I don’t condone trespassing by any means, but, one of the perks with low season is you can sometimes sneak into nice hotels and use their facilities when no-one is around. The photo taken at the top of this blog post is from a recent session of pool hopping to numerous empty holiday villas on the beach. You can feel like a luxury guest for free. Low season means fewer crowds, more availability and better rates. It may not always be the perfect weather you wanted but the cultural experience is far better as the locals will really appreciate you being there and it is far easier to get around not having to hustle for dorm beds and seats on transport,
⁃Stay with locals; this is something I discovered more recently with Linda and wish I knew about it earlier. Keep an eye out for local family homes who have rooms for rent. They are often quite happy to have you for only a night or even can negotiate super cheap deals for more than a weeks stay. The rooms are usually fairly basic and have a private bathroom. It’s a cheap, friendly, quiet and safe alternative. For free stays also checkout Couchsurfing – you won’t always be on the couch, often private rooms or shared bedding is provided. Couchsurfing is free but you usually offer to cook a meal or help clean up for the host in return for accommodation,
⁃Check hostel prices; not all hostels are the cheapest option around. I research the pricing through Booking before arriving. Hostels provide a good base to meet new people and have some fun, so sometimes you might pay a little more to have this experience and meet other travellers. I always sleep in larger dorm rooms to get the cheapest price but with all night parties in some hostels and people snoring it can slowly take a toll after a while. At the start of my travels this didn’t bother me but its also good to have my own space – so be sure to have a backup just in case,
⁃Book a private room not a hotel; if your backup is a hotel, try booking a private room through Airbnb instead. The Airbnb contact is usually local so they can provide good tips on where to eat and what to do for cheap. Airbnb offer both private and shared accommodations depending on your budget,
⁃Eat like a local; I never eat where there is a hype of tourists, if there is a waiter outside trying to drag me into his restaurant, chances are the food is expensive and targeted at westerners. I like to find the smaller restaurants with a few locals or I always try out food at the markets – cheap and good local culture too,
⁃Cook for yourself; the local markets offer way too much cheap goodness to pass up. If I stay somewhere with a decent kitchen I always stock up with plenty of veggies and eat at home. What I spend on food for one week would normally be the equivalent of buying two or three meals from a restaurant,
⁃Hitch hike; check out the area first to make sure it’s safe and ask around. But, if I get the chance I hitch hike, even if its for a quick trip to the market or to go surfing. A ride in the back of a truck is always better than being crammed into a van, plus it doesn’t cost a thing to ask, or ride,
⁃Ride the local transport; I avoid taxis whenever I can. The local bus and van transport can take a while to arrive at a destination but at least you can enjoy some local culture on the way for a small cost,
⁃Travel light; transport companies love charging extra for excess baggage. Not only is light and compact baggage more convenient to travel, it will also save you big bucks,
⁃Take overnight buses; if I have a long distance to cover between cities, I’ll travel overnight and save on a nights accommodation,
⁃Exchange money carefully; I never exchange all my money in the airport. I only need a small amount of local currency when arriving in a new country – just enough for transport. I find the nearest bank and either exchange whatever currency I have or withdraw local currency at the ATM,
⁃Talk to the locals; be friendly and chat with them. Sometimes, they might tell you where the cheap and good eateries are and usually in smaller towns some may even offer you to stay over,
⁃Take advantage of free walking tours; most larger cities will have free walking tours to learn about the city, get your bearings, and see the major sights. Most hostels advertise details on these tours with times and meeting locations,
⁃Trade work for food and lodging; work behind the desk at a hostel, teach english to school kids, help build housing in villages. Generally no skills are needed for this type of work and the rewards are priceless. Workaway hosts a large diverse range of job opportunities with most providing a bed and a couple of meals each day for a few days work per week,
⁃Limit alcohol; I’ve saved bulk by giving up alcohol. It can be tough when traveling and especially when staying at hostels. In the past I have been easily persuaded to go out for a few drinks and this has often ended up in an all night long bender – waking up the next morning to realise I’ve well and truly blown my daily budget. Alcohol drains the pocket of cash and if you can limit this it will add plenty of time to your trip,
⁃Don’t rush; many prices are based on supply and demand, lucky for me I’m rarely in a hurry to get somewhere and have the flexibility to leave the day before (or after) instead, when it’s much cheaper. Look around the dates of your travel plans and see if spending an extra day is worth it. This makes a difference especially around major holidays,
⁃Don’t buy souvenirs; what might seem a good idea at the time can often become a hindrance and regrettable expense later on. I’ve almost been talked into buying hammocks and paintings, etc. from artists in the street but I avoided these situations. It’s not worth lugging these around in your backpack taking up useless space and expense.
These tips are good for any destination – no matter where you go in the world, there are always ways to save. It is true that generally travel in the more developed parts of the world is more expensive, but if you have the time and smarts it can also be done on the cheap. Media portrays that travel is expensive but my recent experiences have taught me otherwise.
Travel is something that almost everyone wants to do more of, but few ever manage to make – money shouldn’t be an excuse for not making this happen.