If you’re looking to travel far and wide but you’ve got a tight budget, these budget travel tips will see you through every kind of adventure.
1. Go it alone…
Travel companies can certainly point you in the right direction when you’re planning a trip, but remember: few of them work for free. Whenever there’s a third party involved – be that a travel agent or a hotel booking website – there’s a good chance that someone is taking a cut. You can often get a better price by contacting a hotel personally, or by taking the time to piece together your own trip, booking every element separately.
Just bear in mind that if you pay a travel agent for a package holiday and something goes wrong (like a flight cancellation, for example) you’ll often have more rights than someone who’s gone it alone and booked flights and accommodation separately.
2. …But bring a friend
Solo travellers still get the thin end of the wedge when it comes to travelling on a budget. Single supplements are still infuriatingly common, which means rooms for one person routinely cost as much as twins and doubles. If you’re happy to share (and you’re confident that your friend doesn’t snore), check into the same room together and you’ll both benefit from cut-price sleeps.
3. Travel like a local
That glitzy tourist bus with air conditioning and all-night movies might be the most comfortable option, but you’ll pay for the privilege – and you’ll probably spend the entire journey surrounded by people from back home. A cheaper, more authentic alternative is to travel like the locals, whether that’s aboard a clapped-out sowngthaew, a crowded chicken bus, or a plain old train. The tickets are cheaper, the journeys are more adventurous, and you’ll have more chances of getting to know the local people.
4. Be flexible
Sometimes a little flexibility goes a long way. Could you fly to a nearby airport and then overland it to your final destination, rather than flying direct? Could you make a quick stop somewhere en route to keep costs down? Or how about choosing an out-of-town hotel with a free shuttle into the centre, rather than paying for a top-notch location near all the main sights? Also consider flying into one city and out of another – one-way flights might just work out cheaper than a standard return ticket.
5. Keep it slow
Picture the scene: you’re running out of time before your flight home, and there are still a few cities left on your list of places to visit. The only way to do it all is to book a couple of flights… and, as you’ve left it to the last minute, prices are sky high.
If you try to cram too much into a single trip, things can suddenly get very expensive. Try to slow things down and really get to know the places you visit, instead of rushing to get everything done in one go. You’ll save cash and go home feeling rested, not exhausted.
6. Avoid peak seasons (and established destinations)
When tourist numbers go up, so does the cost of travel. Sure, Thailand is beautiful at Christmastime, but you could save hundreds on your flights and hotel nights by visiting in late January when the festive rush is over, and still have pretty much the same sunny weather.
Want to save even more money? Consider going in low season, or visiting a country that’s off the mass-tourism radar. For example, you could try skiing in Bulgaria or Poland, rather than one of the established destinations in the Alps. The tourist infrastructure might not be quite as polished, but the prices won’t be as high either.
7. Get foreign currency when you arrive
If you need foreign currency for your trip, don’t automatically head for a bureau de change. In most cases, you’ll get a much better exchange rate by simply withdrawing local currency from the airport’s ATM when your flight touches down.
Just be clear about the policies you agreed to with your bank, which may charge you extra for overseas withdrawals. If your bank does levy a charge each time you use an ATM, you can simply make a few large withdrawals throughout your trip, rather than lots of small ones.
8. Be disloyal
There are times when it’s useful to remain true to a certain airline or hotel chain, but you shouldn’t let loyalty ruin your chances of getting a good deal. Always shop around for the best prices and, if you decide to stay loyal, work out how much extra you’re really paying for those points (and whether you’ll ever actually use them).
For more budget travel tips, check out our On a Budget series.