Most backpackers are young, dumb and full of …rum. All young travelers, and not just young travelers, are inexperienced and under-prepared. I ran out of money on my first three month backpacking trip around Europe with about two weeks left to go. Luckily I was meeting my older sister in Spain just as my funds were running out and she was able to help me get through the rest of my trip without me having to turn tricks in the red light district. Now, with years of backpacking experience under my belt, I know that I was making bad decisions from the very start on that trip and there are loads of tips I would like to give my younger self. With the knowledge I have today, I could have traveled farther and cheaper coming out the other side with cash to spare but that is all part of the backpacking around Europe and growing as a person.
Even now with years of travel experience I can lean towards making the same rookie mistakes. It takes patience and discipline along with great hard learned tips and travel hacks to make your cash last without giving up on the best possible travel memories. Of course some things are going to sound like common sense or even a little ridiculous but that is because you might be reading this from the comfort of your own sofa at home. You are probably well rested and not scared that you are possible going to be spending your last hidden cash stash on a bus ticket to the end of the line or a call home. Everything is relative and what might sound surreal to you now could actually be happening to otherwise perfectly normal person at this moment in a very odd situation. Hopefully some of these tips and hacks will help you get to as many places as possible and afford you the best possible time on your buck.
Sounds pretty basic, right? You do it every day and you have probably even budgeted for it. Depending on where you go, eating might end up being one of the largest parts of your daily budget. Before you ever start traveling do a realistic practice run on what your food cost would be. Can you eat pasta every night? Try it and see.
I am not saying you should only eat pasta everyday but it will be a cheap option that every long haul backpacker turns to on a regular basis. You need to be a wiz at turning dry pasta into something new for that cute tan one you met by the pool at the hostel. You really need to look at the items you put in your grocery cart as only being one to two meals and not having any leftover ingredients that have to be left behind or lugged around for days on end. You do not want to be the person that spills a liter of milk in your bag on the 14 hour bus ride or the guy who always has a bottle of ketchup hanging out of his pack. Making a meal out of a handful of items picked up at a fresh market and all put into a pan to come out looking like a rustic stir fry will make you the envy of the shared kitchen.
Not having to waste money on surplus food will keep your food budget down but you also do not want to buy single serving size packages since they cost so much more per serving. A bag of frozen vegetables is cheap, healthy, and filling while being delicious if seasoned right and paired with a protein. Pitching in and sharing with others is a common practice at hostels and lets you participate in a social activity. Shared meals mean you get to build relationships while you bond over being cheap. Once you have all bonded over being cheap you can go spend the money you saved on booze so you can bond over being drunk. When you are out of the accommodation and you don’t have the kitchen facilities, do as the locals do and try the local street food. Most cities or regions are known for some kind of cheap eats. Nearly every society on earth has a lower class that made great food with whatever they had. Eating the local budget foods are an authentic way of experiencing the local culture through their food. If I ever see a person walking around selling food out of basket that they are balancing on their head then I have to try some. I am rarely disappointed.
Have you ever seen someone with a huge backpack on their back that has every single compartment filled until the seams are about to pop and yet they still somehow have a tent or sleeping back strapped on top. These people have convinced themselves that they are going to be camping some portion of their trip long enough to make it worth having a compressed disk in their back.
Unless you are specifically going on a camping trip do not carry a sleeping back or a tent. You will likely never use it and it will only serve as a pillow at bus stations. Hostels are the way to go. I usually will go for the largest hostel that there is and the one with a pool and a bar. The largest places often have the cheapest rooms. If you are really trying to make travel last as long as possible and you want the best possible experience then the best thing to do is go to the largest hostel in the best part of the city and ask to work there. If you can, find out ahead of time which if any hostel will let you work for your stay. Working for your stay at a hostel might sound counter-intuitive at first since you are there to travel not to work but it gives you a win-win-win situation You win because you get to stay there without having to dip into your travel funds but you also win because you still get to do all the travel you want. Most places will only ask you to do a couple of hours of light cleaning to cover your cost of your stay and then you get the rest of the day to do whatever you want. You also win because you get to be part of the hostel worker social atmosphere. A worker at a hostel is somehow held slightly above everyone else at the hostel. You are still only a traveler and yes you did vacuum under bunk beds that morning but for the rest of the time you stay there you are part of the group that is in charge. You do not necessarily get to go around telling people what to do but there is an air of superiority around you. Use this power abusively. If you are tired of hostels then there are always couches to surf or borrow some crooked backed backpackers tent and sleeping bag and camp out in the woods.
What I am about to suggest here might catch you off guard. At the end of the day when you have been sweating from temple to temple in the blazing sun or trekking from thousand year old building to thousand year old crumbling building, get off all those stinking clothes and wash them in the shower with you. Take a bar of soap and scrub the worst parts and rinse the dirt away from your stinking armpits and socks. It will not be a lot of clothes so you will not need to do it long and it will not take up a lot of space for drying. It is smart to keep a few lengths of plastic material string in your bag that can hold up a wet shirt, socks, underwear. It is worth it to invest in a small plastic box that can carry your soap in your bag instead of carrying around a big bottle of body wash. The next day your clothes will be relatively clean and you will not have a toxic waste bag of clothes stinking up your backpack. Unless you are a particularly dirty person or too lazy to get the funk off your clothes, they should be good to wear again. You can do this a few times before you need to probably put them in a wash on high heat to properly sterilize them.
In some countries it is so cheap to have your clothes washed and folded for you in just a few hours or a day that it is hardly worth it to ever wash a thing by hand but even then it is a good practice to keep up and you will still be saving a bit. All travelers smell a bit from fatigue and too spicy of food so you will never stick out unless you simply do not understand the concept of hand washing clothes. Even dirty clothes should be folded before they are put back in your bag. You can section them off in a plastic bag but folded clothes pack better and will make the contents of your bag easier to navigate. I am no physics major but somehow packed clothes take up less space. I don’t remember ever being a person who folded anything until I spent years living out of a backpack and I realized that even that small amount of order brought a large amount of peace to my traveling. The last piece of advice is an obvious one probably but it still needs to be said. If it is all possible with your destination’s clothing requirements and your style try to make it to where all of your clothes are able to be washed together and stay away from very light clothing. Besides the staining that will inevitably happen to anything light, the option to throw everything into the same washing machine and drier is a big plus.
More extremely cheap travel tips to come.