So you want to travel, but you don’t think you have enough money saved to do it? Think again! Sure, if you travel in style at an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise line, it would get expensive pretty quickly. But the alternative won’t hurt your wallet nearly as much, and it’s arguably more fun and immersive.
A backpacker's life isn’t glamorous. It’s all about putting whatever you need on your back and exploring. Whether you’re traveling for less than a week or for more than a year, meeting people and getting to know the local culture in the places you visit is much more rewarding than sipping tropical drinks on a beach or stuffing your face at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
1. Setting a Budget
Depending on the amount of time you are traveling for, you’ll want to set a daily budget. In some countries – especially in Southeast Asia or Latin America – this could be as low as $30 a day. But in other, more expensive places like Japan or Europe, you’ll want to go with $50 or more.
Just because you’re on a small budget doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice all the fun stuff.
You’re traveling in order to get the most of your experience. Try to support the local economy by eating at restaurants recommended by locals and seeing the sites that make the region so unique.
Pinching pennies is necessary, but there's a balance between sacrificing and spending. You don’t have to go crazy by spending money on expensive tours and buying pricey souvenirs at every stop, but feel free to occasionally indulge in a nice meal or splurge on more expensive travel like a cheap flight if it’s going to get you to your next destination more quickly.
And when setting budget expectations, always over-budget to leave some buffer-room – unexpected expenses can and will come up. They always do.
Most of your life, you’ve probably stayed in hotels or rented condos while on vacation. Hotels are pricey because of the sweet perks you get, such as your own bathroom with a hot shower, a comfortable queen-sized mattress, and a sense of security. Well… you don’t need all that when you travel. Your room should just be for sleeping and having a home base for the day.
Staying in hostels is the best way to go. Depending on where you are in the world, a hostel could cost you as low as low as $5 a night or as high as $40.
What is a hostel? It’s a communal space – typically with bunk beds – where you can sleep and meet other travelers. Anywhere between four and 12 people may sleep in one room. There are some crazy ones out there that sleep over 30!
They usually have lockers to store your valuables (like laptops and cameras), though you may need to bring your own lock. The amenities of hostel vary drastically, but it’s common to have free breakfast. Check out sites like Hostelworld to view hostels, read reviews, compare prices, find locations, and make reservations!
If you’re really strapped for cash or just want to meet more locals than other travelers, Couchsurfing.com is an awesome app to download on your phone. People offer up their “couch” to let you stay with them. Why? They want to meet travelers and show them around their city. The app also posts events where people meet up and mingle over drinks and food. I recently went to a salsa meetup in Mexico where I didn’t know anyone, but came away with new friends whom I asked for recommendations on what to do and where to eat.
3. Cell Phone Service
The internet is one of your best friends when traveling. I’ve traveled with and without a data plan, and I would recommend splurging the extra money on data if you have the budget. I personally switched from AT&T to T-Mobile not only because it’s cheaper in the U.S., but because T-Mobile gives you free international data to be used while abroad. It’s a lifesaver when you’re lost and can’t speak the language to ask directions.
4. Get Out and Travel
Don’t let life pass you by. Backpacking can be uncomfortable sometimes, and it’s not all adventure. You'll get lost, lose stuff, and travel long distances. More than anything, though, you’ll have fun and gain life experiences that will change your perspective. Realizing how fortunate you are for the opportunity to get on a plane and visit a new place is a gift in and of itself. Get out there and explore!