Sometimes it can be really difficult to stick to the budget you’ve set for yourself whilst backpacking. There are always temptations; new clothes, partying, sightseeing tours and these temptations always seem to set you back a fortune. Pretty soon you’ll be on the phone to the Bank of Mum and Dad begging for money as you can no longer afford a flight back home. Well fear not! I’ve come up with some handy hints to keep you on the road for longer…
Everything in moderation
Unless you have unlimited funds, chances are you’re going to be living on some sort of budget whilst travelling. This ultimately means that you can’t afford to do whatever you want whenever you want (I know, it sucks, life is completely unfair!).
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out to that amazing looking-but a little pricey restaurant, or go partying until the early hours or refresh you wardrobe. In fact I’m saying you should do all of those things, these are some of the experiences that will make your trip amazing. BUT, you simply can’t do it all of the time. Sometimes you need to think to yourself; ‘No, I’m not going to go out tonight because I’ve already had 2 nights out this week’. Have a fun night in with friends, wear your old clothes nobody cares what you look like anyway, or go to a street stall for food- they’re the best.
Things will arise on your trip that you simply cannot say no to- you have to spend money on it. Whether it be; a booze cruise coming up, a beach party, a flight somewhere, some new jazzy elephant pants, a once in a lifetime excursion…the list goes on and on.
The trick is to save money elsewhere in order to be able to fit this expense in to your budget. Look at your daily spends and try and cut back wherever you can; stop going for coffees, have a break from partying, ride public transport, eat at food stalls, stock up on fruit for breakfast, stay in dorm rooms- it could be anything. Simply try and cut back wherever you can, if this new expense is really important then it’s your number 1 priority and everything else can take a back seat. After a few days, or weeks (depending on how pricey this expense is) you’ll find that you’ve easily managed to save money from your daily budget and can now afford your new expense…until the next one comes along.
Haggle, haggle, haggle
Never EVER accept the first offer. Unless you’re in a restaurant or a fancy boutique then I suggest you try your luck when you’re buying, well pretty much anything. In a marketplace haggling is super important if you don’t want to be completely and utterly ripped off, vendors jack up the price for tourists in almost every country-it’s simply the done thing. I always cut the price in half AT LEAST, and you can then go from there. Pay the price that you’re okay with, if they won’t budge then move on, there will be hundreds of stalls selling the same thing, or chances are they’ll call you back and give you the price you wanted.
When haggling always do so with a smile and be friendly, never be rude to a vendor and demand they sell to you at a specific price. Be kind, polite and try to put things into perspective. You don’t want to be ripped off but you don’t want to rip off the vendors either-sometimes a seller is so desperate for their things to be sold they would practically give them away for free. Remember that that 25 cents you’re bargaining over means almost nothing to you but could mean everything to them.
Watch out for organised tours
Organised tours are the single biggest waste of money I have come across on my entire trip. Tour operators will openly lie to you and they will rip you off; just because they have an office, its advertised by your hostel or it looks like an amazing deal-chances are they’re totalling scamming you.
You need to look at what the tour is offering you, break it down into components and figure out what it would cost you to do the same thing yourself. For example; In Kampot in Cambodia, there are multiple tour companies offering the same excursion to Mount Bokor which included the following
- Transport (both ways)
- Entrance ticket (which they advertised as costing $5)
- Lunch (which we saw was from a street vendor at the top of the mountain)
- Total- $20
Joe and I decided to explore Mount Bokor on our own, this is what is cost us.
- Transport (Motorbike) $4
- Fuel $1.50 (Full tank cost $4 but this lasted 2 full days)
- Entrance ticket $1
- Lunch (From same street vendor) $2
- Total- $8.50 for 2 people!
- Total saving- $31.50!
I’ll let that speak for itself! Most organised tours are rip offs.
Be Street Smart
When you get to a new country, it can be confusing at first to work out how much things should cost. No Asian country is really the same and prices can vary quite dramatically so it’s really important to learn quickly what you should be paying to avoid being ripped off. Ask at your hostel how much fruit, or a meal at a street stall should cost and keep this in mind when shopping around. Look into how much a tuk tuk should cost for your journey and again keep this in mind.
Don’t allow yourself to be ripped off, not only is it really annoying but it’s like throwing money down the drain. Make sure you research into known scams online before you go to a country. We managed to save ourselves £50! by getting into a specific taxi outside Ho Chi Minh City Airport after we got chatting to a guy who had been there before.
Also, be very wary of street beggars. It can be really awful witnessing the poverty in some Asian countries, but handing money out to every child or woman on the street won’t get either of you anywhere; and 9 times out of 10, they’ll be scamming you.
Don’t book in advance
Hostelworld and Booking.com are fantastic tools to see what’s out there, where everything is and give you a rough idea of how much rooms will set you back. Great, now stop scrolling, put your phone down and wait until you get there. Turning up unannounced almost guarantees you a better rate as it gives you the opportunity to negotiate the room fees. In touristy cities where there are literally thousands of hostels, very few actually get fully booked, meaning hundreds of them have surplus empty rooms which you can use to your advantage. No hostel wants an empty bed and they will be willing to sacrifice a few £££ in order to fill them.
In Vang Vieng in Laos we managed to stay in a private room for £10 a night (£5 p/p), this may seem expensive (Laos is crazy pricey), but considering these rooms were going for £25 a night on booking.com we got a pretty good deal. If you’re staying for a few nights, or better yet-a week, they’re more likely to discount you even further. All you have to do is ask.
Do you really need it?
This is a question that should be in your head at every purchase- do I really need it? If the answer is no, then put it down, cast it from your mind and walk away. Will this experience really make my trip better? Is it worth the money? Will I even remember this in weeks to come?
Mainly this idea aims at; going out for a coffee, going for a fancy lunch, having one more drink. These things are in now way shape or form going to enrich your trip in any way, but the prices all add up and pretty soon all of those coffee breaks have cost you a fortune.
Remember, you’re a backpacker!
You have to remember that you’re not at home anymore, you can’t spend £300 clothes shopping, stay in a fancy hotel, or go our for dinner every single night. You’re a backpacker now and you have to act like one. Stay in dorm rooms, drink the cheap beer in the bar, eat rice every day, wash your clothes in the sink. It may not sound the most appealing method of travelling in the world- I’m sure we’d all rather be staying in 5* luxury every night, but you are not on holiday. If you want to stay travelling for a long time then you’ve got give up some luxuries and remember- you’re a BACKPACKER now.
Let go of FOMO
Fear of missing out can be pretty brutal, I really don’t want to spend £20 to go to the bar crawl but I really don’t want to miss out either. My advice; if you’re undecided whether to go or not-don’t go. If you wanted to go that badly then the decision would already be made and you wouldn’t even be thinking about it. Don’t let yourself (or your friends) pressure you into going somewhere or buying something you’re not sure of. 9 times out of ten it’s never worth it anyway and you’ll be kicking yourself later for wasting money.
Think of your end goal
It can sometimes seem like everybody is spending lots of money and doing far more fun stuff than you are, which can be quite disheartening. In these cases you have to think of your end goal- Joe and I are travelling for the foreseeable future, we’re not planning on going back to the UK any time soon and therefore our money has to last us a very long time. Some backpackers we met were out on a month’s unpaid leave so of course they can flash a bit more cash than we can. Not everyone will be on the same journey as you, so as people are all spend, spend, spend around you, take a moment and think about what your end goal is and that all of this saving will be worth it in the end.
I run the risk of sounding nerdy here, but I don’t care I’m going to tell you anyway. I run my whole finances on an excel spreadsheet in which I update daily. It covers our daily budget, what we spent on accommodation that day, how much we overspent/under spent by, how much cash we need to save in order to pay for X, Y or Z. This may seem a little extreme to you (I worked as a buyer for a year before this trip, finances and budgets are my thing) and I’m not saying you have to do this as well, but you must be organised to keep on top of your finances. If you don’t work out a proper budget or keep track of what it is you’re spending is it incredibly easy to go over budget BIG time.
I also only put in Joe’s wallet our daily budget, that way it’s impossible to over spend as we simply don’t have the cash with us. Easy.
Live like a local
Living like a local will not only save you your hard earned money, but it will also enrich your experiences. You didn’t come travelling to live like you’re on holiday, you came to immerse yourself in local culture. In that case, take the public bus and sit next to a box of chickens, eat at the street side restaurants where you’re the only white person and the menu is in a foreign language (these places are delicious!). If there aren’t any locals about then that means you’re in a tourist hot spot, where prices are guaranteed to be at least 25% more expensive. Go to the local swimming pools, cinemas, bowling alleys, there are always things to do no matter where you are, but if you live like a local rather than a holiday maker you’ll be swimming in the cash you’ve saved.
I am a reformed shopoholic so I know how difficult it can be to save money and then stick to a budget, really I do. But if you follow even a few of the tips I’ve mentioned then I promise you it will be worth it in the long run.
Do you have any top tips for budgeting? Let me know in the comments or contact me here!
Much love from wherever I am,