How to keep your budget low when you’re travelling? 6 categories to keep an eye on.

You might travel for a week, for a weekend, for a month or for an indefinite period of time like myself right now. No matter for how long you’ll be on the road, it’s always a good idea to minimize your budget, so that you can maximize your future travels. There are 6 main categories of expenses I usually look at. Some things are just common sense, but I hope that overall this article might be useful.

1. Accommodation

When travelling, accommodation is usually a big part of the budget. Sometimes is can be nice to stay in a fancy hotel and you might not want to cut your budget for this category. But if you’re searching for cheaper alternatives, try one of the followings:

  • join one of the platforms that offer free accommodation with locals (couchsurfing, bewelcome, trustroots or warmshowers – see the resources page for direct links and more information about each of it). It’s not only free accommodation, but also a great way to experience local culture.
  • backpackers – in most places you go, you can find a cheap hostel. Just check hostelworld.com and for sure you’ll find many options.
  • check out airbnb and booking.com for special offers
  • camp – depending on your destination, camping might be much better than any hotel room. You get to enjoy the night sky better, maybe you can even make a fire (make sure before-hand that’s allowed, though), you can roast marshmallows, you’d be closer to the nature.
Biking is trendier than driving a BMW.
2. Transportation
  • Getting anywhere and back costs money. If you’re flying, you can always check skyscanner and momondo for good prices. There’s also secretflying, but you’d have to be flexible on dates as they only have special offers for certain periods (I’m sending you, yet again, to the nice resources page for links and details).
  • Once you get there, you can use public transportation. Google maps knows buses/ tram numbers/subway lines, otherwise you can also just ask local people or police officers for directions, for sure eventually someone will be able to help you, such that you won’t have to take a cab. If you do get on a cab, make sure you ask how much it will be beforehand. Researching cab prices before getting to your destination is also useful. This way you avoid being ripped-off. If you didn’t get to research yet, just ask a random person on the street. Locals have no reason to lie to you and they usually know the prices very well.
  • In case you stay longer in one place, consider getting a bike – cycling around is a wonderful way of discovering a new place. And bikes are good investments, you can usually sell them for at least the same price you got them for.
  • Of course that hitchhiking is also a good option for moving from place to place. If you’re new to it, you can also check hitchwiki – it’s a great source of information for hitchhikers.
I wonder what that sign means…I don’t get it.
3. Eating
  • budget restaurants – wikitravel and tripadvisor usually have some good advice, they even quote prices often, so that you know what to expect.
  • Supermarket – you can find cooked food around lunch time, or at least a salad bar. That’s cheap and, depending on your luck, not too bad if you’re not very picky with your food.
  • small cheap hidden local restaurants – you would not be able to find them in any guide book, maybe just on some blogs, but they’re great if you manage to discover them. You just have to explore a bit for that.
  • hostels usually also offer food, but I generally avoid eating at hostels. It’s more expensive than other places in town and it’s also way too easy, one should explore and experiment more a new place.
  • camping stove and a small pot – very useful, especially if you’re planning to camp for a few days. It’s usually fast, easy and cheap to boil some pasta or fry some potatoes or boil an egg. I don’t have one yet, but I think it’s a good idea to invest in one.

Unless eating out is very cheap (under $3 dollars for a meal), I try to avoid eating out. I’d rather cook if I have the option, buy local fruit that’s in season, make a salad or just eat supermarket food (bread, biscuits, cheese, yoghurt, milk, oats…). But then again, I’m not very picky with my food and my stomach is strong after two years of China. This week, for example, I was on a cooked cabbage with mushroom diet (cabbage a la Cluj with mushrooms instead of meat, a Romanian dish) – I had enough cabbage for the next 6 months!

Romanian way of cooking cabbage – NOT a success in Namibia.
4. Drinking

Alcohol is expensive in some countries. And usually if you go out a lot, you can end up spending more money than you expected. I don’t drink much, I only need two beers or two glasses of wine or two gin tonics to get tipsy, but I can tell you the strategies of some of my friends who like drinking and travel on a budget.

  1. Start the party before going out. Of course that buying alcohol in a supermarket is much cheaper than buying it in a bar. Care for some rum and coke much? You can easily find rum bottles pretty much everywhere in the world. Beer? Wine? Same story.
  2. Set a clear budget for the night. Take a limited amount of money with you to the bar. Once your money’s finished, you’ll have no choice but stop drinking. Even if you’re already drunk and want to invite the entire bar for drinks on you, there’s no option but stop spending money if your wallet is empty.
5. Know your bank fees

It might seem peanuts at first, but unfortunately it adds up if every time you extract cash, no matter on the amount, your bank decides to take a 6 euro commission. You take money out 10 times, that’s 60 euro, 20 times, that’s 120 euro. So find out the fees and make them work in your advantage. Maybe it’s better for you to swipe as often as possible rather than pay cash? Maybe it’s better to withdraw the maximum amount at once, rather than make a series of smaller transactions? Maybe some banks in town have lower commissions than other banks? You can’t always know everything in advance, so you can also just try and check your online statement. As a general rule, I try to minimize the withdrawal because I already know that sometimes my bank charges 6 euro no matter on the amount I extract (it’s a German account with Deutsche Bank, I really don’t recommend it). So I usually extract the maximum amount allowed. With swiping, in some places there’s no commissions, in others there’s one. Try to research before and if you can’t find much information, just experiment. You’ll finally figure out what’s the best way for you.

Living the life – Good and cheap Namibian beer and South Atlantic Ocean.
6. Communication

Don’t use roaming. It’s always cheaper to buy a local pre-paid SIM card. In most countries, there are cheap data packages available, some of them offer extra data for facebook and/or whatsapp. If you need to call abroad, just use Skype. You can add credit and call any mobile or landline around the world for a low rate. I always call my grandpa to find out the dirty jokes journalists write in Romanian newspapers.

That’s pretty much all the expenses I look at when travelling. I also try to write down my expenses, although I often postpone it and then there’s always some money I have no idea where they “disappeared”. But writing things down is a good idea – you have a record for future trips, you can write a blog post about your expenses, you’re more aware of how you spend your money, you’re in control of your budget.

If you do things differently or want to add something, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts.

Meanwhile, happy travels!
Luci in search of the lost mango.

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