With all it’s natural beauty and scenery, getting out on your own in Asia can be just as rewarding as sightseeing with a guide.
Sometimes when you’re backpacking, the cheap way to do things just isn’t cheap enough. Maybe you overspent at the start of your trip, maybe you lost some money along the way or maybe you just threw caution to the wind and booked a trip you knew you couldn’t afford. Whichever of the reasons above means you’re counting your pennies – I’ve been there. If Lonely Planet Asia on a Shoestring just isn’t cheap enough, and you’re wondering how you can stretch your dollars even further, you’ve come to the right place. This post will help you travel on that super tight budget without having to miss out on all the cool things which are the reason you’re traveling in the first place. Yay!
While this blog is about saving money while travelling in Asia, the general ideas can apply to almost anywhere you might find yourself a little cash-strapped.
Use the Lonely Planet – but only as a guide
The traveller’s bible, the Lonely Planet books are an amazing resource for new and unfamiliar lands. But if you’re on a budget, use yours with caution. Restaurants and accommodation listed in Lonely Planet books get a huge surge in popularity – and that usually means the prices will be higher than what’s listed by the time you’re using the book. Skip the accommodation and food sections of the book but definitely use the Lonely Planet to get your bearings. Lonely Planet books provide information about affordable travel routes, which don’t balloon in price so much, and they also usually list any free activities or sights that are available in any given area, which is a major bonus.
This one might seem obvious, but it’s so easy to get swayed by that smashed avo on the menu in your hostels cafe. Food – especially in Asia – is such a small expense that it’s easy to spend a little too much at every meal, and unfortunately that does add up. Eating local food is almost always the best way to go to eat for cheap – and don’t forget it’s delicious too! Instead of hitting the most popular haunts frequented by the backpacker community, be a little more adventurous to find the best cheap eats. Asking your local hostel staff where there favourite place to eat is, or any tour guides or helpful locals you come across. This way you’ll get tasty, authentic and local food and usually at a fraction of the price. Going for each country’s speciality – pho in Vietnam or Pad Thai in Asia – and eating at market stalls usually cuts the cost even further.
Be your own guide
It’s tempting to seek out a guide when you want to explore somewhere new and unfamiliar, and hostels often offer relatively affordable guided trips to a lot of attractions. As tempting as this can be, before you pay for any kind of guided tour, see if you can do it on your own. Landmarks and popular sights really don’t require a guide, and in most parts of Asia you can rent a scooter and see a whole lot of sights on your own. Not only does this make it a whole lot more of an adventure, it’s cheaper too. This doesn’t mean you have to visit places and miss out on learning about their history. Do you research first, go with a group and check the Lonely Planet – they often provide info and history on local attractions.
You may think this one is a bit odd – but I think slowing down your travels is the biggest money saver around (presuming you’ve got the time). Trying to race around a whole bunch of countries at the speed of light doesn’t mean you’ll have a better experience, and it will definitely cost you more. It’s easy to feel like you need to see and do everything you can, but this really will mean your experience is too rushed. The cost of buses, tuk tuks, taxis and (gasp!) flights WILL add up. Look at your planned itinerary, and try to cut a few things out. If you fall in love with one country, stick around! Not only will this give you a chance to really see a place properly and get the feel of what a country is like, it’ll give you more freedom to spend your dollars without worrying about the bus costs piling up.
Don’t assume dorms are the cheapest option
Accommodation is one one of the biggest expenses when you travel. I’ll assume – if your budget is as tight as mine has been in the past – that you’re already doing the obvious thing and seeking out the cheapest backpackers you can find. It’s an obvious way to cut costs. But one trick that isn’t obvious is that instead of going for a dorm room, you can often save money by taking a double or three person room with friends. I often found while traveling in Asia that double rooms, once you account for the two people, were often cheaper than paying for two beds in a shared room. Instead of looking for the cheapest hostels, search for the cheapest double or twin rooms and share with a friend (or two if you’re sneaky) and you’ll often save a cheeky buck. Another way to cut down accommodation costs is when you’re taking a long bus trip, choose the overnight bus rather than the day bus. For the same price you usually save a night’s accommodation and get more daylight hours for exploring too. Couchsurfing and AirBnB, popular ways to save on travel in Western countries, aren’t as common in Asia, but keep an eye out opportunities like this too. For the super budget and super unstressed-for-time, look at volunteer for a bed opportunities in hostels or local farms.
There we have it! Travel is amazing, but having to worry about your dwindling funds at every minute isn’t. Hopefully these tips will help keep your bank balance in the positives without you feeling like you’re missing out.