Travelling on a low budget requires quite some planning in advance. In this article I’m going to share a few proven budget travel planning methods that I have mastered over the years.
Start your travel planning with setting a budget. It is very important to know how much money will be at your disposal while travelling. Setting an initial budget is equally important even if you are planning to work during your trip. It does not really matter how much money you initially have, but it will strongly influence the ways you can travel. For example, if you have only $100 in your wallet you will most likely need to hitchhike, walk, ride a bike or find other ways of free transportation. You will have to bring a tent or you will have to figure out how to get accommodation and food for free or in exchange for work. Travel planning will be more ad hoc and you will have to react fast and be very flexible about your plans. If you want to know more about travelling for free (really), read this interview we made with a young Argentinian who is hitchhiking around the world.
If your budget is less tight or you know you will be able to gain money while on the road, you’ll have more versatile options. You can plan more ahead and develop a clear idea about destinations, transport, accommodation or food.
Doing a thorough research is key for successful and (relatively) stress free budget travelling. My advice is to never cut corners on doing research. It will not only save you a lot of time later, it can prevent you from a lot of bad experiences, as well. The following steps can help you with planning your next trip:
Choose a destination
After your budget is set, you can start looking for possible destinations, which is the important step in travel planning. Flexibility is essential, so instead of choosing one particular place, try to choose a region first or decide what kind of activity you want to do. For example, if you want to go to a beach with good weather, stick to your decision. In this case, do not travel to a cold and wet place just because the flight, train or bus tickets cost a few bucks less. Go to Google Maps and Wikipedia and use your imagination. Start your research by considering a whole region or country, read a lot of travel articles, compare prices to be able to narrow down your research.
Pro Tip: Consider staying in smaller places around bigger cities. They are not only significantly cheaper, less touristy but they usually very well connected with the city. This way you can better discover the local culture, food and lifestyle for lot less of the money. While you will also be able to go on sightseeing tours and discover the city.
Decide when to travel
Try to set larger time intervals instead of fixed dates when you are planning your travel. For instance, if you want to escape the cold winter of the Northern hemisphere consider every dates from January to March. Or, if you are about to travel to tropical destinations, first check when are dry and wet seasons occur in that particular region. Pro Tip: If you want to travel for cheap, and it’s applicable, travel right before or after high season. For example in inland Europe summer is the high season, July and August are the busiest and most expensive months. Although, weather is usually nice starting from mid April and stays relatively pleasant until end of September. If you go to the south of Europe this extends even more. Like in South Italy, where the beach season starts in the beginning of May and you can enjoy the warm weather until late October or sometimes even longer.
Choose the means of transportation
There are many ways to move from one place to an other for free, hitchhiking is probably the best if you need to bridge longer distances. However, some people walk, ride a bike or even travel with their chariot. Travelling by bus is, in many cases, the cheapest and most environmentally friendly travel option. In some countries (like in India) trains are not only very cheap but also the main means of transportation to get around. If you travel “on the ground” you will also see a lot more of a country, than by flying. In South-East Asia, renting a scooter is really convenient as it’s also preferred by locals. Or if you haven’t tried yet, car sharing is still one of the budget friendliest options to travel in Europe, but it gains more popularity around the world.
There are different strategies to find affordable or even free accommodation, but it all depends on how long you are planning to stay in one place.
- For short trips or continuous traveling; I always consider asking around my peers first. There is usually a good chance that they or their friends could host me. Couchsurfing is a great alternative, too, when it’s done wisely (be aware of the scammers). Hostels are usually tailored to budget travellers and if you don’t mind being a bit more far from the city center, you can still lodge for cheap in more expensive cities, too. Squatting is a great experience but in order to do that you usually have to be part of an alternative community or at least get in touch with them.
- If you (like us) prefer longer and slower trips; you can, for example, volunteer in exchange for accommodation (and depending on the hosts sometimes even for 1-2 free meals a day). You can read more about the topic here. House and pet sitting are hot topics right now and more and more people offer to stay at their home for free in exchange to take care of their pets while they are away. Although, we usually prefer to just rent a room or a flat. Pro Tip: travel during low season and find private people who rent their properties out for cheap. Use due diligence, Google translate and head to local real estate and private ad websites to find the best offers. Don’t forget to check Facebook groups, or marketplaces, because they are a great place to find cheap private rentals.
Find food for cheap or free
Might sound weird but depending on where I go, this is also part of my travel planning routine. Do your research well. TripAdvisor, Yelp and similar sites are full of fake reviews and tourist traps. Instead, if you want to dine out for really cheap and yet have a great dish search for independent foodie blogs and once you are there ask the locals. Hostels usually have a “free shelf” with basic supplies or leftovers from other guests. Don’t be afraid to use it. Some hostels offer free breakfast or staff cook for the guests for a little donation. You can ask around at the local market (before the closing hours) they might help you out with unsold stuff otherwise would be thrown away. Check if any restaurant in town offers daily lunch menus or if they have a happy hour. In bigger cities, like Berlin, there are apps and services where restaurants, retailers sell their leftovers for the fraction of the original price.
Start the travel planning in time. At least a few weeks before your departure, but I usually start months earlier. It sounds crazy, but believe me it pays off. Do a lot of research on the place(s) you want to visit, compare prices, talk to people, check transportation options. This way you’ll have the opportunity to find the most budget friendly opportunities with the least compromising. Even if you are already on the road, always try to dig out as much information about your next destination in advance, as you can. Addresses of hostels, campings, places where you can buy cheap food etc.
This worth a full article alone, but I sum up the basic principles.
- Leave enough time to prepare your bag. Especially, if you don’t have much experience with it. I usually start my “packing ritual” a few days before departure. I slowly fill my bag, so i have time to reorder, change or remove stuff, if necessary.
- Pack light. This is one thing you will most likely learn over time. You have to travel in order to figure out what are the essentials for you and what are the things you can easily leave at home next time. I remember the first time I went to Canary Islands for 3 months. I carried a big luggage full of useless stuff. Now I am able to prepare a bag of the same size for the same amount of time for three people!
- Choose your travel bag wisely. If you will walk a lot or will have to change a lot and will be always moving, then a backpack is preferred. Although, if you are planning to stay at one place for a longer period of time, a suitcase or a bag with wheels is probably a more comfortable option.
- Before leaving home, always double check if your travel documents, tickets, money (cash and credit cards), electronic devices (and their chargers) are safely packed.
Make a safety plan
It can always happen that you miss your flight or train or bus and will stuck at a random place. It can happen that your host doesn’t show up with the keys or that you get lost or robbed etc. Make a plan B. Save a few addresses or phone numbers of hostels or hotels. Check whether there is a police station, fire station or hospital nearby (where you can ask for help or eventually spend the night). See if the train and bus stations are open overnight. This way, if something goes wrong, you will be able to take immediate actions.
How do you plan your travels? What methods and strategies work for you? Share with us in a comment.