Traveling on a budget can have its downsides, such as dingy hostels, long journeys on uncomfortable buses, and hours of searching for the best price. But don't overlook the upsides to budget travel. Eating at street stalls, staying with local families, and traveling overland can provide a far more authentic experience than that of a luxury traveler. Not to mention that traveling on the cheap will allow you to travel for longer. So swap that fancy restaurant for a local cafe, that luxury hotel for a tent, and that private taxi for a shared jeep, and find out what new experiences lie in store (and how much you can save).
When traveling on a budget, your accommodation will likely consist of hostels, tents, home stays, and basic guesthouses or hotels. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Hostels can be wonderfully social places, with lively common areas and lots of like-minded travelers. Small, locally run guesthouses and hotels can have a charm and warmth to them that is unheard of in large hotel chains. Camping tours can be a great way to experience nature, and provides the thrill of roughing it in the wilderness. And home stays offer a insight into local life unlike any other. Shop around to see what suits you, and be sure to ask about discounted rates.
Transportation on a budget will likely involve local buses, shared vehicles, and trains, with flights often being out of the question. Again, this is not always a bad thing. Traveling overland offers views and local experiences that are missed out on by those in the air. Yes, there may be horrible experiences of being bounced around on unpaved roads, going stir-crazy on 20 hour bus journeys, or being squashed into the back of a shared jeep, but sometimes these experiences are the ones you'll remember most fondly!
Overnight transportation can be a blessing or a curse. If it's comfortable, it can be a handy way to save money on accommodation while sleeping away the distance between destinations. Uncomfortable overnight journeys, however, can really test your limits. The comfort varies from region to region.
South America has overnight buses with seats comfier than any bed, while Europe has trains with individual cabins to rival some hotels. Parts of Asia and Africa, however, have overnight buses that can be downright painful (as well as incredibly cheap accommodation, making overnight transportation not worthwhile anyway).
Wherever you are, when booking tickets, have a look at the price differences between classes- sometimes air conditioning or a reclining seat are worth the extra dollar or two.
Food and Drink
When dining abroad on a budget, you'll have to forgo snooty restaurants with pristine tablecloths and imported drinks. Instead, you'll be forced to dine on fresh, local food, drink local beer with plenty of cheap refills, and chat to local people at roadside stalls or in cosy diners. Actually sounds quite appealing, doesn't it?
Activities and Interests
Here's where travel costs can really spiral out of control. A visit to a safari park, for example, can be a camping trip with basic amenities or a private tour with luxury hotels, with thousands of dollars in the difference. Look at the cheapest trips available, but make sure to find one that suits your needs. It's not worth saving money if you end up missing out on memorable experiences, or on a tour you don't enjoy. The cheapest is not always the best value.
Working, Volunteering, and Studying
Working, volunteering, or studying abroad can be a great way to experience life in another country while keeping costs to a minimum. Even if you aren't earning much (or anything at all), you may be able to work in exchange for accommodation and meals. Also, staying in one place rather than moving around can keep costs down, as well as allowing you to really experience a destination in depth.
The availability of paid work varies greatly from region to region, as does the amount of pay, so if you are planning to work abroad, pick your destination wisely. Teaching English is often a good job opportunity in Asia, Central America, and South America, especially if you have a qualification such as a TEFL certificate.
Getting a work visa may be difficult in some countries, however in places such as Australia, it is common for visitors to stay for a year on a working visa and find a job. If you cannot find paid work, you may be able to work in exchange for accommodation. In South America, for example, it is common for hostel guests to work in exchange for a free bed. Make sure these kinds of deals are worth it though- you may find yourself working for several hours in exchange for saving just a few dollars.
Volunteering is another excellent way of living for less abroad, not to mention doing some good while traveling. Do your research when finding a volunteering opportunity, as some organizations charge substantial amounts for finding placements, while others do so for free, and others, such as the Peace Corps, even pay volunteers. Some placements will provide food and accommodation, and some of the most rewarding placements can be in destinations where costs are minimal.
Studying abroad may not provide any money or free accommodation, but it still allows you to do something worthwhile in one destination, rather than spending all your travel fund moving from place to place. Substantial discounts are also often available when booking accommodation for a longer period. And it's a great opportunity to follow a passion, whether it's learning to tango in Buenos Aires, learning to cook in Italy, or learning to speak Mandarin in Beijing.
Budget Destinations by Region
Of course, the easiest way to keeps costs down when traveling is to choose a cheap destination.
Asia: Asia is budget traveler heaven. Countries such as India, Nepal, China, and most of Southeast Asia allow you to live on a budget of as little as $10 a day, while offering incredible sights and unforgettable experiences.
Africa: Many less-visited African countries can be very budget-friendly, though travel and sleeping conditions may be tough if you really insist on the cheapest option. Even more touristy countries such as Kenya and South Africa are very affordable, particularly if you choose your trips and safaris wisely.
South and Central America: This gigantic region comes with a vast range in prices. Argentina, for example, is one of the cheaper countries, while just next door, Chile is one of the most expensive. One major cost is getting around the massive landmass- those long bus journeys through Patagonia, and short haul flights over the Amazon do not come cheap. So plan your route well.
North America: North America doesn't come cheap. If you're trying to keep costs down, the easiest way is to avoid trying to cover vast distances, and focus on smaller areas. Though if you're determined to see as much as possible, try renting a car, or better yet, a camper van. These rentals can be surprisingly cheap (be warned, however, that insurance is not included in the initial price, and can bump up the overall cost significantly).
Europe: Even a short visit to London, Paris or Rome comes with a price tag that would shock some luxury travelers. But Europe is not out of the question for budget travelers. Inter-railing (traveling by train on a multi-stop ticket), road tripping, and camping are all popular means of affordable travel. And don't forget that a trip to Central or Eastern Europe costs a fraction of the price of a visit to its western counterpart.
Australia and New Zealand: It's difficult, though not impossible, to visit Australia and New Zealand without having a large budget or a local job. Not only are they two very expensive countries, but they are located in their own far flung corner of the globe, and therefore costly for most travelers to reach. If you're determined to visit here on a budget, try camping or couch surfing for free accommodation, or look for hostels where you can cook your own meals. Also, keep in mind that air fare prices are significantly lower outside of the peak summer season (December to February).