Low budget travel allows you to travel more often, for longer….or at all! Here at Flying Fluskey, we are “flashpackers” which means we blend this budget travel with the occasional big treat. However, we have done a substantial amount of serious low budget travel and learned an awful lot! Here are 10 things you need to know about budget travel.
- 1 You Will Get Sore Legs
- 2 You Will Meet Some Amazing People
- 3 You Will be Eating Incredibly Unhealthily, or Incredibly Healthily
- 4 You Will See Many Sunsets
- 5 You Will Get Wet
- 6 Things Will Take Time
- 7 You Won’t Be Drinking Top Shelf Cocktails
- 8 You Will Find Yourself Awake at Strange Times
- 9 You Will Have to Get Creative
- 10 You Will Go Home with Some Epic Stories
You Will Get Sore Legs
One of the best ways to see a new city for free is by pounding the pavements. Whether you choose to guide yourself or join one of the countless free city tours provided by companies like Tours By Foot, you will be on your feet for a long time through the day as you sightsee.
Exploring destinations by foot allows you to soak up the atmosphere. Walking down a street somewhere like India, you feel the heat, hear the day to day transaction in the shops and smell everything (the good and the less appealing). You are getting a much fuller picture than the people cruising by in their private tour car. Plus, you can take the time to enjoy something you spot, enjoy getting lost in the backstreets or stop to try some street food.
Climbing the Hills
Budget travellers don’t bother with those rooftop cocktail bars and expensive sunset window seats. To get the best views, you need to do some hiking. Hiking is great exercise, totally free and a wonderful way to travel between sights. A whole day of walking through the valleys of Cappadocia, Turkey is the perfect way to explore the otherworldly landscape.
Climbing hills until you reach the top can help you get some great shots for free: After a full day of meandering around Belgrade, I wandered up the hill to watch the sunset and saved some serious pennies vs taking a river cruise or another sunset “experience”.
Carrying Your Bag
Forget porters, forget busboys, if you are saving pennies, you will need to heft your own bag around. If you are dragging a suitcase, prepare for some sore shoulders and thighs if there are stairs to tackle. For those of you with a backpack, those stairs will leave your legs feeling wobbly and rather stiff the next day. Still, anything to get a little exercise on the road!
You Will Meet Some Amazing People
On Public Transport
Sometimes, catching the bus or train is the most cost-effective way to get from A to B and this provides ample opportunity to meet other travellers. We have had some great conversations with backpackers from across the globe, as well as friendly locals on many a long trip (with the help of Google Translate and plenty of hand gestures).
Sometimes, there is no option but to hire a private taxi to take you to your destination. This is often the case at airports and so, if you’re feeling brave, you can hunt down some fellow budget travellers to split the fare with. Inevitably, you end up chatting and this could lead to either a great friendship…or just a good way to pass the cab ride.
Whether you are in a hostel with a common room, or a shared dorm room, it is extremely likely you will come across some new hostel buddies. We have made some great travel buddies in our time and still mildly stalk them on social media.
You Will be Eating Incredibly Unhealthily, or Incredibly Healthily
Sometimes you just have to self cater to save money. If your hostel has a good quality kitchen, you are on to a winner. These spots are common throughout Europe and the USA but are very unusual in Asia. Here, your kitchen/kitchenette is often lacking in most basic things like ovens and hobs.
When you have access to hot water and little else, dry ramen noodles with packets of intense powdered flavour are the order of the day. During our Trans-Siberian adventure, we had a fair few dehydrated noodle or rice meals.
In many countries, the cheapest food you can get hold of when you are out and about is fast food. Iceland has its hotdogs, the UK has a McSaver menu and Germany is all about currywurst. These warming treats are pretty bad for you when eaten exclusively but they can be easy on your pocket.
Embrace the exceptions to the rule like Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and India where you can get some great, fresh, healthy options on the cheap. With street stalls abound, just make sure you are picking those with a queue where you can see the food cooked fresh. This gives your digestion a better chance.
If you are looking for some vitamins on a budget, head to a produce market. You can pick up some local fruit and veg for a steal. Be careful purchasing pre-prepared fruit from stalls in exotic locations, these are often washed in tap water and can leave you with a funny tummy. Instead, purchase fruit you can peel and enjoy.
Drinks-wise, you are going to benefit from an increase in your water consumption. With a bottle of water costing half of a flavoured drink in many restaurants around the world, and drinkable tap water being totally free, you will be better hydrated than you ever were in your coffee-fuelled normal life.
Top marks for Rome, Italy and its public fountains which allow budget travellers to refill their water bottles across the city for free.
You Will See Many Sunsets
Watching the sunset may be a travel cliche, but let’s face it, a good sunset is a truly beautiful thing. Best of all it’s a completely free activity. For example, the hills behind Dubrovnik, Croatia are a hugely popular place to enjoy the setting sun from. You could splash out for the cable car (as we did one way in the end) and hilltop restaurant. BUT you could also buy a slice of borek, hike up the hill and grab yourself a spot for free. That’s dinner with a sunset view for an ultra-low budget.
You Will Get Wet
In much of the world, going to the beach is completely free. You get a beautiful view, a bit of a tan and a chance to relax. However, with no expensive beachside beverages, the only way to cool off is to take a dip in the sea. When we are on a budget beach day, I swim a whole lot more than the beach club days when a frozen strawberry daiquiri serves the same purpose. When we are doing a “free” beach day, we just make sure we have a nice, big bottle of water!
Here are some of the amazing free beaches we have splatted upon:
Travelling Off Season
To save some serious money on a longer trip, or a trip to a more expensive destination, you may opt to visit in low or shoulder season. This could very well mean a period of unsettled weather and much of the time it means rain.
- In Europe, Canada and the USA, travelling in November or January to just before Easter will save you a small fortune (avoiding ski destinations).
- In the Caribbean, it is the hurricane season in September/October.
- Around South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, it is on the run-up to and during the monsoon season, May – September.
- Australia and New Zeland have their low season in June – September as winter swings by.
- In the South of Southern America, winter brings low season too, June – September.
- Africa has a huge variety of low seasons when it comes to tourism. This is not just weather-driven, but can also be to do with migrations and movement of wildlife.
- For those counties around the equator, give it a quick google as it isn’t always obvious.
We took a holiday to Jordan in mid-August. In Jordan, that is the low season as the sun is fiery. We saw temperatures of over 40°C. Sure it was hot, but we found bargains on hotels all around the country including those right next to the famous Petra sight, and even a luxury hotel right on the shore of the Dead Sea. It turned a one week trip into a full 12 days.
Saving money in the rain can be a miserable thing. Taxi fares which may have been within reach, are often hiked the second a drop hits the windscreen. You may well find yourself dashing through a monsoon downpour or traipsing in the drizzle to save that dollar!
Bring a waterproof for you and your bag, or find a cheap plastic poncho. I love an umbrella but it can be a pain if it is windy or I am carrying other things. Plus, you have got to watch the drips running off it if you are wearing a backpack!
Things Will Take Time
To fly from Laos to Vietnam takes an hour. To do the same journey by bus takes 24+ hours, but it comes at 1/5 of the price. For a low budget traveller, the choice is clear. Bus journey from hell it is! It is arduous but the worst travel days can make the best travel stories, help you find like-budgeted travellers and save that all-important cash.
The Slow Train
Another wonderful example of how the slow option can be better is when it comes to trains. Between Moscow and St Petersburg, there are two choices. You can zip between the two cities on an ultra modern high speed train which feels oddly like a plane, or experience a tiny slice of the Trans-Siberian life in an older, slower sleeper train. This saves money on the ticket and a night in a hotel to boot. If you’re really lucky, your bunk mates may share some treats with you.
You Won’t Be Drinking Top Shelf Cocktails
Smirnoff, Havana Club and Bombay Sapphire will no more slip through your thirsty lips. The only way budget travellers can enjoy spirits is to find the national equivalents or the local firewater. In Thailand, SangSom “whiskey” is the drink of choice for those looking for a budget beverage. Combined with some Coca-Cola and Red Bull and presented in a plastic bucket, it was the cocktail of choice during our backpacking trip and it was almost sippable.
Beware, the local moonshine is likely to leave you with a bad hangover. These drinks are rarely as purified as the spirits you might be used to. Don’t plan a big travel day for the day after the night before.
Beer is the boozy backpacker’s friend. Produced almost worldwide, and often the cheapest alcoholic drink on the menu, this cheap and cheerful social lubricant can actually become a sort of bucket list for those with a taste for it. From Chang in Thailand to Sol in Mexico, the labels of some popular brands become fashion labels in themselves, adorning many a vest top. Happily, saving a few pennies here and there means you’ll have budget enough for a bottle or three.
Head for a Shop
In expensive countries like the USA, forget visiting bars, they are not for you. Maybe if they have a crazy happy hour (but even then you are looking at an expensive night out if you stay). You will have to pay inflated drink prices, plus tax/service charge/tips which can run to an extra 28% on menu prices in the US. Instead, head for a supermarket or for something stronger, a liquor store.
In some Nordic countries like Iceland and Norway, taxes on alcohol are astronomical so if you must imbibe, bring it with you or purchase your alcohol at the duty free before you leave the airport.
You Will Find Yourself Awake at Strange Times
Off Peak Attractions
Some popular tourist spots reduce their ticket price if you visit off-peak. This often means visiting early in the morning or late in the evening. Demand led pricing can work to your advantage if you are more flexible than other travellers.
Both the Empire State Building and Top of the Rock observation decks in New York charge extra for sunset tickets as this is the peak time to go up.
Book a budget airline like Ryanair and to get the best prices you often have to be at the airport for a very unsociable hour. If your flight leaves at 06:35, you need to be heading through security at about 04:15…which means getting up to travel to the airport….the night before. Check the transport options for travelling to the airport. If there is a budget bus, that’s great but sometimes that early flight means spending a small fortune on a taxi. Painful as it is, travelling to the airport the evening before and sleeping (or staying awake) there can save you lots.
You Will Have to Get Creative
How’s Your Haggling?
In many countries around the world, haggling is all part of the shopping experience, but this isn’t just limited to shops. In much of South East Asia, you have some haggling power with accommodation if you go as a group and enquire about several rooms, or alone but are prepared to stay for an extended period of time. You could even find a free room if you are happy to work at a hostel for a month or two.
The Drinks Exception
The one time that drinking an expensive beverage is worth it is for a view….I know, I said you can climb a hill but hear me out. Visiting the observation deck of The Willis Tower in Chicago or Top of the Rock in New York might be one of those experiences you just HAVE to do, but do a little research and it is possible to find a bar on the same level or a couple of floors below in the same building. (The Rainbow Room in Rockefeller, The Signature Lounge in the Willis Tower). The price of a drink in these spots is often comparable to buying a ticket and so you get an almost identical view PLUS a drink.
Oh, and in some great bars, you get a view of the iconic building you are a fan of rather than from it, like this spot in NYC.
Finding Free Alternatives
Even better than buying a drink is to find a free alternative. For example, check out Sky Garden in London. The ticket for this is totally free and it is on the 35th floor, just across the river from The Shard (and it’s ~£20 tickets).
In India on a super tight budget? Get a great view of the front of the Taj Mahal from the other side of the river. This is actually the front of the building! Just remember to zoom in on all the pretty details.
Enjoy the architecture of temples/churches? You’re in luck! All of these things are by their very nature, free. OK, not all temples are free but you will find a fair few that are. The streets of Rome are lined with beautiful churches, Thailand is stuffed with golden temples and many major mosques of the world don’t charge a penny. Skip those that do and opt for these instead.
Nobody wants to feel the sting of an excess baggage charge (I know, I have to charge them in my job). It is time to learn about packing light.
First things first, go on the airline’s website (not a third party booking site) and make sure your bag fits in the size allocated. Don’t have a tape measure? See if you can find a tailor, laundry or dry cleaner nearby, they should have one. Then take note of any weight restrictions, some airlines take these very seriously. Finally, check to see if they allow any carry on extras. Some accept a small handbag/laptop bag, reading material, umbrellas and other bits and bobs to be carried separately. This can help you maximise your allowance.
And so to packing:
- Packing cells are my absolute go-to. Not only do they help you organise your bag, but they condense clothes nicely.
- Roll, don’t fold your clothes as this saves space.
- The liquids issue is something we have all struggled with, but if it saves you paying for a checked bag, it is worth learning. Check out our blog post about how to pack your liquids bag like a pro for hand luggage.
- This may sound silly but weigh your clothes and shoes. If one pair of trainers weighs half of the other pair, you know which to take!
- Lastly, wear heavy and/or bulky items. As awful as running through Gatwick Airport in welly boots and a thick winter coat was in June, it saved us a considerable amount of money.
You Will Go Home with Some Epic Stories
Budget travel can sometimes feel like a slog. Watching other people at airport arrivals being whisked away by drivers with their names on a board, or casually strolling through a fast class queue, you can feel a bit left out. However, when you are struggling to save your pennies, meeting those brilliant people and exploring by foot, you will be making amazing memories.
At the points you are too sweaty or too cold, too tired or just utterly frustrated, try to take the time to remember what an amazing adventure you are having. As someone who has stomped her foot at ridiculous delays, spent the night on the front of a boat getting drenched by the waves, taken “the bus from hell” and “the scam bus” and eaten plain rice for a week all to save money, I know!