Affordably travel the world living out of a backpack.
Do you dream of traveling the world, but fear you don't have the budget to do so? Well, we're here to show you otherwise. There are so many ways to cheaply travel. You can opt to visit budget-friendly countries. Or follow a variety of budget-friendly travel tips, like skipping big cities and traveling during the off-season. But if you want to make traveling the world a lifestyle, then you're going to need to become an expert at budget backpacking.
Luckily, we're here to help you do just that.
What is budget backpacking?
Budget backpacking is exactly what it sounds like. It is being able to travel affordably while living out of your backpack. Many people may find this lifestyle to be unrealistic. And it might be for some. But if you have an adventurous spirit (which you likely do, considering you're reading this post) then it sounds like budget backpacking is right up your alley.
Budget backpacking isn't something you jump into on a whim. It does take time, planning, and a good bit of strategizing. But if you do enough research in advance – and accept that there will be a lot of learning curves as you go – then you will have no problem with the budget backpacking lifestyle.
It is possible to get by on $50, $25 or even as low as $10 per day in some countries. But be forewarned: this is not a glamorous lifestyle. Budget backpacking is challenging. And it's not for everyone. But in a lot of ways, the challenges to budget backpacking is what makes it oh so worth it.
1. Cut out unnecessary expenses before hitting the road
We told you, budget backpacking is a lifestyle. That means it doesn't begin once you have arrived to your destination. Budget backpacking begins even when you're back at home preparing for or researching your next trip. So if you want to travel the world, then prepare to start living on a budget in your day-to-day life.
It really isn't that hard. Taking on a life of budget backpacking simply means cutting out unnecessary expenses. For example, do you really need to spend $4 at Starbucks every day? Isn't that something you can just make at home? On that note, stop eating out ASAP. That isn't to say you can't treat yourself from time to time, but don't make eating out at restaurants a regular activity. There are a lot of health and financial benefits to cooking and eating at home.
Still, we know that sometimes you have to live a little. So don't feel like you can never go out to the bar with your friends. But keep in mind that it's always a cheaper (and often more fun) option to buy a bottle of wine and hangout at a friend's house. Plus, that way you have a few extra dollars to buy limoncello when your budget backpacking trip leads you to Italy.
More tips on how to spend less
- Spend less money on entertainment (Netflix, Hulu, movies, concerts, etc.)
- Learn to cook
- Don't go out to bars/clubs very often
- Or restaurants and cafes
- Buy your groceries at less expensive supermarkets, like Aldi
- Buy used clothes whenever you can
- On that note, buy used everything whenever you can (thrift stores are a beautiful thing)
- Get a bike and spend less money on gas
- Or walk places instead of drive
- Or just sell your car entirely
- Sell any possessions you don't need (if you want to go budget backpacking, you're going to end up getting rid of a lot of things anyways)
The most important tip of all, however, is to not be so frugal that you stop enjoying life. Are a lot of these tips necessary to follow if you want to go budget backpacking? Absolutely. But don't forget to treat yourself from time to time.
2. Research your trip thoroughly
There is something romantic about impulsively packing your bag and flying off somewhere new. But this way of travel often leads to unnecessary and unexpected costs. And that's because you didn't do your research before leaving. Researching your trip is one of the most crucial steps of budget backpacking. If you choose to just “wing-it” while you're gone, you likely won't be backpacking for very long.
Instead, take the time to look up what you do and don't need on your trip. Is there a way for you to purchase your gear inexpensively? Some brands like REI sell used gear at a cheaper price. And have you figured out where you're going to stay? The cheapest option, of course, is crashing with a friend and staying somewhere for free. But if you're going to a city that you've never been before, it's likely you won't known anyone there. So you have to take it upon yourself to research hotels, Airbnb's, or hostels that will give you the best bang for your buck.
What you should research before leaving
- Lodging. In general, hostels are the cheapest option.
- Gear. This is something to research before you leave, of course. But if you can, purchase your travel gear used.
- Credit cards. Do some research on which banks offer you the most points. If you travel often, you can rack these points up to get free flights or hotels.
- Transportation. Obviously the cheapest way to get anywhere is by walking. But that isn't always the option. Look into price differences between flights, trains, buses, etc. If you're budget backpacking through Europe, for example, then a Eurail is worth looking into.
3. Prioritize what you spend your money on
Think about what is most important to you while you are traveling. Do you put more value on a good meal or nice lodging? Shorter flights or outdoor excursions? You won't be able to have it all if you're budget backpacking. We're trying to live off of no more than $50 a day, remember?
So if you would rather try all of the different exotic dishes presented to you in each destination, then you may have to opt for a cheaper flight and multiple layovers. If you are dying to visit the Tiger Temple when you pass through Thailand, then you aren't going to be able to get that nice hotel. It's more likely that hostels will be in you're future. But that's not really a big lost; hostels tend to be more interesting, anyways.
It all comes down to what is most important to you while you're budget backpacking. No one can prioritize your money by yourself.
Create a travel budget
To help you prioritize your spending, we suggest creating a travel budget. And it's best to do this before you leave – and stick to it once you're gone! This is something we create for all of our trips. But if you have never made a travel budget before, we understand how intimidating it can be.
The best place to start when calculating your finances for your budget backpacking trip is by considering your potential expenses. This will also help you calculate how much you need for your trip. Which can also be a deciding factor on whether or not you go out to that hot new restaurant with your friends this weekend or not (are you starting to see how budget backpacking is a full-time lifestyle?)
Top things to factor into your travel budget:
- Flights and other transportation
- Lodging and accommodations
- Emergency fund
- “Fun” money. Like we said, you gotta treat yourself!
4. Pack light
One of the main things people realize when returning from their first budget backpacking trip is they didn't need to pack as much as they did. You might think that you need to bring five shirts, three dresses, and four pairs or shoes, but you don't. In reality, you'll wear two or three of those shirts. One dress is nice to have when you want to feel a little fancy. And seriously, you will never need more than two pairs of shoes on a budget backpacking trip. One pair of good walking shoes and a pair or good walking sandals are all you need.
Your backpack size could depend on your height and weight. But really, there is no need to get a bag that's bigger than 70 liters. Honestly, you're better off getting a 40-liter backpack. If this is your first backpacking trip, then a 40-liter pack is going to look intimidatingly small. But trust us, you will make it work. And your shoulders will thank you later for it.
Tips on packing light
- Get a smaller bag. Like we said, 40 liters max.
- Pack enough clothes to last you for a week. Even if you plan on being on the road for months. You will find there are few things you can't wash in a sink. And if you need more clothes, you can buy them along the way.
- Purchase versatile clothing. Can you hiking leggings also be paired with a cute top? If so, then ditch that dress. And if fashion is important to you while you're budget backpacking, be sure to purchase a good looking pair of walking sandals.
- Pack only the essentials. No, you probably don't need that hairspray or dry shampoo. You definitely don't need to bring three books. Ten pairs of underwear? Are you kidding me?
- Do not pack at the last minute. This rule also applies to thoroughly researching your trip. If you wing-it or leave things to the last minute, then you tend to pack things you don't need. Because you didn't look into what you actually need. Be smart. Research. Pack in advance.
5. Eat cheap
It will be more difficult to avoid eating out when you're budget backpacking then when you are at home. But that still doesn't mean every meal you eat needs to be at a restaurant. When you're budget backpacking, you're going to come across a lot of different, interesting, and delicious kinds of cuisine. If you're a foodie, this may be your number one reason for budget backpacking in the first place! So you're going to want to be able to try as many exotic dishes as you can.
But still… You need to prioritize how you spend your money. That rule applies to food, as well. So don't be afraid to purchase food at supermarkets and cook at your hostel. Not every single meal you eat needs to be an incredible dish you've never had before. And honestly, your body will probably thank you for a home cooked meal or two. Eating out all day every day can take a toll on you. And the last thing you want is to get sick while you're traveling.
Eat like a local
There is truly no better way to eat when you're budget backpacking! Local food is not only cheap, it's also delicious. And it is likely a meal that you have never had before, which makes it even more fun to feast on. You will find that some cities are covered with street vendors. From street corn in Mexico City to kanom krok in Thailand, there will be a dish on every corner you'll be tempted to try.
If you eat at a restaurant aimed at tourists, not only will you be spending unnecessary money, but you'll miss out on a cultural experience. Half the fun of traveling is diving into a new culture. And there are few better ways to experience a culture than by getting to know its food.
Eat local. Both your belly and bank account will be happy for it.
6. Avoid thefts or scams
Unfortunately this is a common reality for budget backpackers. Really, thefts and scams are a danger to any kind of traveler. No matter where you choose to travel, there will likely be scam artists who thrive off of taking advantage of travelers. And you can guarantee there will be at least one pick pocket or two in your vicinity while you travel.
The best way to avoid thefts or scams on the road is to blend in. In other words, don't be too obvious that you're a tourist. Don't wear flashy clothing that will draw too much attention to you. Avoid staring at a map (or more realistically, the GPS on your phone) for too long. Keep your eyes forward and pay attention to your surroundings at all times.
But one thing that will surely give you away is your backpack. Because locals sure as heck don't walk around with a huge pack strapped to their backs at all hours of the day! And no, this is not us trying to advise you to leave the backpack behind at a hostel. That is maybe one of the worst things you can do when you are budget backpacking. During this time you are literally carrying your life on your back. Don't risk leaving it behind somewhere, because that's an even easier way to have all of your belongings stolen.
Ways to protect your belongings from theft and scams
Luckily, there are a lot of precautions you can take to avoid being scammed on the road.
- Purchase a secure backpack. Preferably one with lockable zips. And if you are in crowded, congested places like a train station or airport, consider flipping your backpack around and wearing it on your chest.
- Keep your valuables securely locked away. If you can, wear them on your person at all times. If that isn't an option, then have them in a securely shut pocket of your backpack. Preferably one that is not an outside pocket.
- Try not to have too much that is worth robbing. Obviously you will need essentials like your passport, credit cards, etc. But you don't need to bring the antique necklace your grandmother gave you on your sixteenth birthday. If you would be sad to lose it, leave it at home.
- Don't carry too much cash. There is no getting cash back once it is gone.
- Don't keep too much money in your current account. If your cards are stolen, people can easily take money out of your checking account. Therefore keep as much safely tucked away in your savings account as you can.
- Pay with cash when you can. You never know how easily someone could swipe your card information.
- Always use a safe. If you have one in your hostel or your hotel room, use it. There is also almost always a safe at reception.
7. Walk, walk, then walk some more
Unless you are bleeding out and need to get to the hospital ASAP, there really is no reason to take a cab. Or an Uber. You will save so much money if you decide to walk everywhere you go. Besides, you will find that it is much more interesting to view a city by foot than by car. It may be a slower way to get around, but that's half the beauty of it.
When you're walking, you get to take your time. And if it is your goal to rush through your travels, then budget backpacking may not be for you.
8. Get things for free (or cheap) whenever you can
We know what you're thinking. Scoring free things when you're budget backpacking is way easier said than done. Sure, it's easier to just pay for something. But if you know where to look, you'll be surprised by how many free things you can score on your budget backpacking adventure.
Find the cheapest flights
There are some seriously cheap flights out there. All it takes is a little research (there's that word again!) to track them down. And, of course, knowing where to look.
There are a few great sites out there that can help you find cheaper flights. Some of our favorites include Momondo, Skyscanner and CheapFlights. But shop around. There are plenty more cheap flight sites for budget backpacking.
On top of that, there are a few basic tips and tricks to keep in mind while booking your flights that will help keep airfare cost low:
- Book non-direct flights. When you're budget backpacking, layovers will become your best friend. And you'll get used to crazy long travel days soon enough.
- Fly mid-week. The cheapest days to fly fall in the middle of the week. If you plan on flying out on a weekend, you can spend up to hundreds of dollars more on a flight than you would if you caught a plane on a Wednesday.
- Avoid flying on or around major holidays. Seriously. Some of the most expensive flights can be found during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- Be flexible. The more flexible you are about your schedule, the more likely it is that you will find affordable flights. Honestly, being flexible is one of the most important traits to pick up when you're budget backpacking. No matter how much you research, not everything will go as planned. Be flexible, go with the flow, and you'll save money and have a great journey.
Search for free lodging
That's right. Even if you don't have a friend or family member in one of the cities you're visiting, it is possible to score free lodging when you're budget backpacking. Again, it's just about knowing where to look for it!
- Stay with a local. Sometimes, locals will offer their homes up to travelers in exchange for labor or help around the property. If this interests you, look into programs like Workaway.
- Alternatively, you can look at a site like Couchsurfing. This is a great networking site for travelers that will help put you up in a local's home when you're budget backpacking. It's also a great way to expand your travel network!
- Ask your friends for help. You may not know someone in a certain city, but your friends might. We have managed to crash for free on all kinds of couches by simply asking friends if they know anywhere along our route. Truly, it never hurts to ask.
- Camping. If all else fails, you can sleep outside.
Researching free lodging takes some time. But keep in mind that lodging is the second most expensive aspect of budget backpacking, next to flights and transportation. So taking the time to research this now will save you a lot of stress and money in the end.
9. Avoid paying bank fees
Bank fees are one of the most common way to unexpectedly spend money while you're budget backpacking. A lot of banks will charge you a fee to take money out of of your account. And that's already on top of the money you might be losing due to the exchange rate (another thing you should factor into your travel budget!)
Tips on avoiding fees
Here are a few tips on how to avoid unwanted fees:
- Avoid exchanging your money at an airport. There will be a boat lot of extra costs if you exchange your American dollars for foreign money at the airport! This is another example where planning ahead comes into play. If you plan ahead, you'll have enough time to exchange your money at a bank back home and save yourself a lot of trouble.
- Avoid ATM fees at all costs. Pun intended. There are a lot of ways to do this. For starters, take out money less frequently. But you also don't want to carry too much cash on you. Thus budgeting comes into play.
- Get a debit card with no-overseas fees. That way you'll never have to worry about paying a fee at an ATM again.
- Always choose local currency. When you make a purchase with a credit or debit card, you are given the option to pay in U.S. or local dollars. Always chose the “local currency” option.
You'll find that even avoiding a few dollars in fees here and there will make a huge difference in the end.
10. Learn how to haggle!
Not only will this tip save you money while you're budget backpacking, it can also be kind of fun! We mentioned earlier that you should incorporate some “fun money” into your travel budget. Even though we support a frugal, low-spending lifestyle to afford budget backpacking, even we enjoy the finer things in life from time to time.
So have some fun while you're away. Visit a farmer's market. Shop around from some local vendors. Buy yourself a souvenir or two. But here's a tip: if you're buying something from a vendor, whether it's food or an item, always try to lower the price. AKA, haggle.
Often times vendors will try to raise prices when selling goods to travelers. It's easier for them to get away with this with tourists than locals. Of course, this isn't always the case. But it sometimes is. So fight back! If you think a vendor is charging you too much, haggle a bit and argue to lower the price. Of course, you should be nice about it. But sometimes this can save you a few dollars. And as you already know, that makes a huge difference in the end.
11. Have a buddy and build a network
We think everyone should experience solo travel at some point in their lives. But there is no denying it: traveling with a buddy is cheaper than traveling alone. If you have a friend with you while you're budget backpacking, you're able to split the cost on so many things. Lodging, groceries, and taxis (if you choose not to walk) suddenly become much cheaper.
On that note, if you plan on budget backpacking in the longterm, then it's a good idea to start building a travel network. It is so easy to make friends and meet new people while you're traveling. And the more people you meet, the more your travel network expands. Pretty soon you'll have friends from all over. And that means you'll have more free places to stay, and more of a pull to visit new cities.
Aside from saving money, building your travel network is a great way to meet new friends. And trust us, the friends you make while you're budget backpacking are people that you could know for the rest of your life.
12. Bring your work on the road
If you're budget backpacking for just a week or two, there should be no need to work as you travel. But if you want to turn budget backpacking into a lifestyle, then it's not a bad idea to learn how to make some money while you're on the road. In fact, this is a great way to extend your travel time!
Think about it. If you are only spending $50 a day at the most, it isn't that hard to make some kind of profit. Or at least break even. And if you're making even a $10 profit every day, that could add weeks or even months to you budget backpacking journey.
If you have never tried to make money online before, it can be difficult knowing where to start. Here are a few ideas to help guide the way.
Ways to make money during your travels
The most common way to make money while budget backpacking is to earn it online. In other words, become a digital nomad. There are a lot of online work options if this is the route you decide to take:
- Blog. Specifically, blog about your travel experience. Share tips and tricks about what you're learning along the way.
- Freelance. Doing whatever you want. Are you a writer? Find some writing jobs you can work on while you travel. If you have some skills as a graphic designer, put those to use. Bring your camera along if you have any photography skills. People love to use travel photos as stock photos. The list of freelancing gigs is endless.
- Web design. This job could also fall under the freelancing category. But if you've got the skill, then use it.
- YouTuber/Filmmaker. Vlog your experiences along the way. Start a YouTube channel. If you get a lot of followers, you can make a good amount of money doing this.
However, we advise going on at least one budget backpacking trip before deciding if the digital nomad lifestyle is right for you. After all, becoming a digital nomad isn't something that happens overnight. You have to be willing to put in the time and effort to develop enough connections online to be able to support yourself with this lifestyle. If you want to become a long-term budget backpacker, though, investing in a career as a digital nomad may be worth it.
Budget backpacking is more attainable that you think.
It will require time, patience, research, and a whole lot of trial and error to become an expert at budget backpacking. But if you have the desire to see the world, then putting in the effort to refine the budget backpacking skills will be well worth it.
Do you have any experience budget backpacking? Where did your journey take you? And do you have any budget backpacking tips we didn't cover on this list? Leave us a comment and let us know!
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