I know that there are quite a few travel blogs out there that talk exclusively on this topic and even though I think most of them oversimplify things, I do agree with them when they say that traveling abroad is not always expensive. Yes, you have to do a lot of research, find cheap hostels and flights, but it is not impossible.
So in this post, I will try and fish in their waters and tell you guys how I think travel can be cheaper and fun at the same time.
Flight tickets usually take out a major chunk from my trip budget, and the fares are still on an upward swing. But, you can actually save a lot if you do a bit of research. I always use sites like Momondo, Skyscanner, Make My Trip, and ofcourse, the website of the airlines themselves to get the best rates. Airlines like Vietjet Air, Air Asia, Orient Thai, Indigo have made my life a lot easier during my travels in South East Asia.
Yes, there are chances that you will have a terrible backache after the flight, thanks to the cramped seating arrangements, but if you want to see some exciting new places without breaking the bank, you will have to learn to compromise a bit.
Another cost saving way of getting from one place to the next is to explore other options like ships or buses or donkeys. I actually took a 12 hour bus ride from Saigon to Siem Reap which costed just $9. If I were to fly to Siem Reap, it would have cost me atleast $50. Yes, the bus ride took a lot of time and was extremely uncomfortable at times, not to mention frustrating when it would stop at random villages, but it was worth it. And the best thing was it let me see the countryside of these countries that I would not have seen otherwise.
Place to stay
Over the years, as the flights costs started increasing, I made a conscious decision to spend more time in hostels and guest houses than proper hotels. Yes, the facilities may not be great at some hostels, but if you really think about it, we are out exploring most of the day anyway. All we need is a nice shower and a good bed at night.
Also, staying in hostels helps you interact with a lot of other travelers from different countries. I still remember during my stay in Jeju Islands, I met another solo traveler who was from Incheon and we had a great time.
I have spent quite a few nights sleeping in the airports also. I have used the airports of Phuket, Bangkok, and Kolkata for overnight stays to not only save on the hostel costs but to also be the first ones to greet the lovely check-in counter personnel and score nice seats.
I usually use websites like Booking.com and Hostelbookers for booking hostels and guest houses. Make sure you read the reviews first though, because some of the hostels can be pretty bad, location and safety wise.
One of the main reasons I am so passionate about traveling is because of food. The best way to save money on food is to eat at small eateries where only locals go to. They are not only cheap, but they also serve you the authentic cuisine of that place.
I remember when I was planning my trip to South Korea, I researched a lot about all the local food that I will eat. And while there, I ordered a Korean BBQ plate and was served livers that were stinking and pig intestines. Something must have been lost in translation somewhere because it did not look anything like the pictures I saw on the internet.
Of course, sometimes when I get tired of trying the new and weird, and just need a good satisfying meal, I visit fast food joints like McD and KFC.
Also keep in mind that sometimes different dishes have the same name in different countries. My cousin and I ordered a plate of Chicken Fingers in a small local joint in Bangkok recently, and what came out was something that we would not even consider feeding a stray dog. Believe me when I tell you this, it was HORRIBLE. (I still tried to eat it though !)
Yes, ordering from local eateries can backfire at times, but if all the stars align perfectly, you can end up with a great meal at a great price.
Tours and Attractions
Well, I have always believed that while we should try and save as much as we can in flights, hotels and food, we should not be money minded when it comes to seeing the landmarks and sights. I mean, what is the point of visiting Agra if you are too cheap to buy a ticket to the Taj Mahal.
Yes, you should consider trying out options like joining a tour group or going solo to save money. I hate traveling with a tour group, but sometimes I just do not have a choice. Whatever the case, do not compromise on the sights.
If you want to see Ha Long Bay, do it. If you want to go to a sleazy Go Go bar in Pattaya, just do it.
I know many of the philosophical idiots will say that travel is not about the sights and landmarks, it is about the people, culture and the cuisine. They will say things like you do not need to go to the Angkor Wat to see Cambodia, or climb a mountain to experience Nepal. While I do agree with them to some extent and love stepping off the tourist trails myself, but I seriously think that these landmarks, if missed, would be a major mistake not only because of their grandeur but also because they are a major part of their history and culture.
Remember, these places are on the well trodden tourist trail for a reason !
I remember seeing pictures of Angkor Wat and thinking it cannot be this beautiful in real life, and when I actually visited there, I was surprised to see it live up to my expectations. And now, I cannot imagine Cambodia without thinking about Angkor Wat.
And lastly, shopping
If you are a backpacker like me, chances are that you would be extra careful while buying something because then you will have to carry it along for the rest of your trip. I remember buying a couple of paintings in Phnom Penh and there came a time when I actually wanted to leave them behind. I was sick of carrying them around everywhere.
But yes, I do love buying local crafts and decoratives while I am travelling. I think the best place to shop for them when on a budget is in local flea markets or open air markets like Chatuchak market in Bangkok or the night market in Siem Reap. Yes, you would have to haggle a lot with the prices, and the quality may be a bit of a gamble but if you are reasonably careful, the odds are you will find something decent.
Or you can do what I do these days, take pictures. And trust me, these pictures are the best souvenirs you can ever think of because they come with your memories. So, every time you see them, you will have a smile on your face.
Also, they are FREE!
Lastly, traveling is not about money, it is about experiences. If you are smart with your money, then you can travel more and have more experiences.