We’ve all read the stories, and they sound too good to be true. Brave nomads who’ve left home with $1,000 bucks and returned a year later with a thousand stories to tell. These adventurers don’t tend to linger on the nights they slept on dirty cement floors, the toilets they cleaned in exchange for a hot meal, or the number of times they went hungry. That being said, however, they still managed the journey of a lifetime on a shoestring budget. How did they do it?
Traveling on the cheap takes a bit of courage and a lot of flexibility. You have to be prepared to roll with the opportunities and welcome whatever comes along. If you don’t have room and board waiting for you in some exotic destination on the other side of the planet, here are a few tips to stretch your dollar when you hit the road.
1. Take the Road Less Traveled
If you don’t have a lot of money, you’ll want to stay away from most of the tourist hotspots. That means sticking to Eastern Europe, South Asia or Central America if you really want to travel on the cheap. Bosnia, Laos and Belize all have incredibly cheap accommodation and you can eat well for less than $5. Try going next-door to the pricey countries and reap the rewards - for instance Wales instead of England or Spain instead of France.
2. Travel Off-Season
Almost every country in the world has an off-season. That’s when prices drop and you can find real bargains on flights, accommodation and attractions. If your destination has more than one slow time, travel in the period immediately after the peak season rather than the one before. When places are closing up for the year, they’re more likely to sell-off goods and services at fire-sale prices.
3. Move Slowly
No matter whether you ride the bus or catch a train, moving around costs money. The milk-run is always going to be cheaper than the express, and you’ll have more time to talk to the locals, see the countryside, and grab a free nap on the way. Stay put for as long as you can if you find yourself in an interesting place that’s within your budget. The longer you stay, the more likely you are to make connections and get yourself invited home for a free meal.
4. Give Couchsurfing a Chance
Lots of people all over the world make their couches available to backpackers willing to trade a few stories for a free night. Fill in your profile on-line and start hunting for a likely host before you leave home. Check out our tips for a great Couchsurfing experience here and don’t forget to pack your travel sheet!
5. Get Your Priorities Straight
One of the best things you can do to stay within budget is ensure you have a clear sense of your travel priorities. How important is comfort? Privacy? Sightseeing? Are you picky about what you eat or happy to try anything? Can you travel with just a small pack? Sorting out what matters, and what doesn’t, will help you decide where to put those precious dollars. Couchsurfing or cheap hostels will free up cash for eating out, while trying the street food will leave you more money for that hot shower you’ve been craving.
No matter what part of the world is calling to you, be sure to do a little research before you set off. Some resorts, ranches and wildlife refugees will trade room and board for a bit of hard work. You might score a discount if you have a travel blog and are willing to provide a review. Prices vary widely depending on the season and leaving a couple of weeks later could save you a bundle. Traveling on the cheap requires a bit of extra planning, but the experience of finally getting out there is well worth the effort.