Do you want to travel the world – or even just go on holiday somewhere exotic, but think it is too expensive? Well here are my 5 top tips for reducing your costs whilst abroad.
#1 – Stay Somewhere for FREE
Yes, I said FREE! There are a number of ways that you can bag yourself free accommodation. The traditional backpacker books will suggest that you work in a hostel in exchange for a room. That’s a great option if you’re in your 20s, but what if you are a couple traveling or a little more mature? Then check out TrustedHousesitters.com. This website offers free housing* in exchange for looking after a families’ home and pets. Housesits can be anywhere from 1 night to 6 months and you can pick them up in over 130 countries around the world.
I have just recently accepted a housesit in Cape Town, South Africa where I will get 6 nights accommodation in exchange for looking after a couple of cats and a fish. Not too onerous. The same 6 nights for a private room in a good quality hostel in the Mother City would cost me roughly US$225. The difference with a housesit is that I get a whole house, usually a garden, and the use of a full working kitchen instead. So much nicer! And if you are worried about meeting people, you can still drop into a backpacker joint for a cheap beer around sundown and you’ll be all set with friends and a great place to stay for nearly nothing.
(*NOTE: There is a membership fee, but at just US$10 a month, you’ll easily pay for the service in just one housesit.)
#2 – Eat Street Food
Nearly every country that I’ve travelled to has some type of street food vendors or local markets where you can get a tasty meal for as little as US$1 (I’ve even paid less before!). Don’t be frightened by street stalls. They are great places to try out local food for a bargain. Just ask where you are staying if there are any reputable street stalls or markets nearby. Once there, just check that the food looks like it is fresh and being sold regularly. I’d recommend sticking to cooked food and drinks that have been boiled in developing countries and you should be ok.
Some of my favorite meals have come from sidewalk vendors. From freshly fried samosas and masala chai in Agra, India (a mere 75 cents) to a feast of crab spring rolls and a bowl of fried pork floating in a light sweet fish sauce, served with a mound of white vermicelli and an even bigger mound of fresh herbs (called Bun Cha) which I had at No.1 Hang Manh Street in Hanoi, Vietnam for less than $3. If you are in London, one of the most expensive places in the world to eat, then head to the Southbank Centre (http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whatson/festivals-series/markets) at the weekend. From Friday to Sunday, the Southbank Centre Food Market showcases some of the best street food and produce in the capital. Bursting with fresh, creative and vibrant flavours, the market caters for food lovers and explorers alike. I used to stop here often on my way home from work on a Friday to grab a paella, brownie and a beer, which frankly was almost cheaper than buying the ingredients and making it myself.
And the best part. If you are traveling by yourself, you are very likely to end up chatting with others sitting on the pavement chowing down on the grub you just purchased. I’ve met some lovely people and had some interesting chats this way. Trust me, no one talks to you at a restaurant when you’re on your own, so head to local markets for some some great food, cheap prices, a happening atmosphere and friendly people. Who knows where it will lead.
#3 – Go on a FREE City Walking Tour
Don’t waste your money on expensive city walking tours which can cost between $15 and $25 per two hour tour. Instead join a free walking tour, which most cities have. I’ve been on some fabulously guided ‘free’ tours in Quito, Ecuador; Cape Town, South Africa; and Budapest, Hungary. Of course, at the end they ask you to make a donation based on how well you thought the tour was, but even if you give your guide $5, you will be saving a bomb! To find tours, just Google ‘Free Walking Tours in X City’. You’ll be amazed at the amount that are available and they really are the best value.
#4 – Take the Long Way Around
If you are traveling around the world with a flexible timeframe, then this is a no brainer. By taking the long way around, I basically mean, take the cheaper mode of transportation whenever you can. This generally means taking longer to get somewhere. (It once took me two days to get from Quito, Ecuador to Cape Town, South Africa via Panama City, Sao Paulo, and Johannesburg, but saved close to $1000 over going the more direct route. That is enough for almost a month of traveling on a midrange budget. Definitely worth the extra travel day.) This also means taking the bus instead of flying sometimes. For example a 12 hour night bus from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Saigon, Vietnam costs only about $35. To fly, you’d pay close to $150 one way, admittedly, the flight is just over 1 hour. Generally, you will encounter some hiccups along the way by taking the long way around, but they make for great travel stories later!
#5 – Be Flexible
Often the best deals are the last minute deals. The less rigid you are in your plans, the more opportunity you will have to pick up on these bargains. Want to visit Halong Bay, but are strapped for cash? Find out on the day if there are any boats with a spare place. Often you can get a last minute deal , and are in a better position to negotiate a deal, as the operators are already going out and if they can get more money for even one more person, the more profit they make. There is a caveat to this though. If there is something on your bucket list to do, check out the probability of a last minute deal before you chance it. For example, if you have your heart set on hiking the Inca Trail, then you better book well in advance, as the trail only allows a limited number of people on it per day and spaces book up months in advance. Otherwise, go with the flow.
#6 – Use local operators
A bonus tip! Closely related to the above, is book your tour and trips using local operators. If you are flexible in what you do and when you do it, you can arrange extra excursions locally for a fraction of the cost. For example, whilst in Quito, Ecuador, I used a local travel agent I found in the Mariscal Foch area to book a weekend trip away to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa. The trip included an overnight stay in a private room in a local spa resort and all my food, plus excursions up Ecuador’s second highest volcano and the scenic lake filled crater for a mere US$150. Just the day trip to Cotopaxi alone, without food, would have cost me the same amount if I had booked it with the Western tour operator G Adventures in advance. Total savings was close to US$200.