Over the past year or so, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel the world a bit. My husband Patrick and I went to a lot of incredible places and had some truly memorable experiences. To read more about our travels, see Peru part one, Peru part two, The Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Quite a few people have asked me how we’re able to do this. How do we have the money and time to travel? The answer: we won the lottery and now have an endless travel fund.
The real answer is much more complicated than that….
Why we travel
Patrick and I both share a love for adventure. We’re not satisfied with the typical routine of “normal” LIFE, because that’s what everyone does. To us, life shouldn’t be based around the monotonous expectations of the classic “American life.” You know the drill: graduate college, get a good job, go to the office every day and work your butt off so you can earn money, go home to your nice home and spend the evening paying your bills so you can keep your nice home and nice car. The perfect “American dream” life fulfilled…right???
Pat and I decided that we value experiences more than that “perfect” life of security and routine… And we found that the most memorable and beautiful experiences can be found by traveling together. Taking ourselves out of our daily routine and comfortable lifestyle tends to put things into perspective, and provides us with a new understanding of what’s important in this life.
So. That’s why we travel. Now, what you really want to know…how in the heck do we—newly graduated, self-employed youngsters like ourselves—afford to travel to Peru, Costa Rica and all over Southeast Asia in six months without breaking the bank???
How we travel on a budget
- We save up.
This is the obvious one. We put traveling as a priority and budget it into our finances so we can afford to travel. This also means sacrificing other things. Honestly, I don’t remember the last time I went shopping. I mean, besides for those very attractive outfits I bought in Peru and the workout shirts to wear in 100-degree Asia… (Like, please check out the outfit I’m wearing here. I won’t be offended if you sign me up for what-not-to-wear). 🙂
- Pick an affordable destination.
If we’d chosen to backpack through Europe for two months instead of South America or Southeast Asia, we would’ve spent a lot more money. If you’re traveling on a budget, pick your destination carefully. Pat and I spent an average of $50 a day in Asia, which included everything (transportation, lodging, activities, food, etc.). This wouldn’t have been the case if we’d chosen a more expensive place to travel.
- Travel light.
Invest in a lightweight backpack and only bring the necessities. This allows you more mobility and eliminates checked baggage costs. Pat and I both LOVE our 32- liter Mammut Creon Light backpacks.
- Don’t pay for flights.
OK, this one is HUGE. Patrick and I rarely spend any money on flights because we use air mile points. In order to get enough points, we “churn” credit cards. This is somewhat complicated, and you have to be really, REALLY careful because if you’re not, you can completely destroy your credit score. But, if you can manage it carefully, it saves you thousands of dollars. If you’re interested in the details of credit card churning, check out this blog to learn more.
- Make a budget and stick with it.
For the two months we spent traveling through Southeast Asia, we set the budget of $5,000 per couple and stuck with it. We recorded every penny we spent, and were careful not to go over our daily budget.
- Decide what you want to splurge on.
Going along with #5…while we did have a daily budget and tried not to go over it, we also chose to splurge on a few things, which we planned into the budget from the beginning. For example, we spent $200 each (eeek!) for a scuba dive in Sipadan, which put us waaaayyy over our budget for that day. However, we’d planned to have some more expensive days and activities, so we were able to stay within our budget in the long run.
- Be creative with activities.
Activities are the most expensive part of traveling because people know tourists will pay their ridiculous prices for the experience of riding on an elephant or playing with the tigers…But if you do a little research and use your creativity, you can come up with some incredible activities that don’t cost any money at all. (Like hiking around the rice terraces of Batad…)
- Research transportation options.
After activities, the next biggest expense is transportation. For each country you visit, research the different transportation options there are. Sometimes it makes sense to rent a car, other times it’s cheaper to use the public transportation. Keep in mind that buses are generally much cheaper than taxis.
- Travel during the off-season.
If you’re willing to put up with some not-so-ideal typhoons in Thailand :), travel during the off-season. You won’t have to deal with the hoards of tourists that descend during peak season, and prices of everything are drastically cheaper. (For example, we paid $35 each for a kayak tour in Phuket that normally costs $120 each during the peak season).
- Don’t book in advance.
This one is more opinion than law. Many people like to plan everything out in advance and book hotels and activities beforehand. This is totally OK, and can work out great. However, we found that where we were, hotels and activities were much cheaper once we were actually there. Online prices are always higher, and you’re not able to negotiate prices like you can in person. We saved hundreds of dollars in Asia by simply negotiating for a cheaper price. Tourist companies purposely jack prices up because dumb tourists assume it’s the right price. Don’t be afraid to play hardball when it comes to prices. Often times you’ll win…unless you’re in Vietnam, which is another story for another time…
The exception to this is booking flights. If you plan to fly between or within countries, booking these flights in advance is much cheaper than waiting until a week or so before.
- Live like a backpacker.
Occasional splurges are fine, but we mostly live CHEAP. We stay in cheap (a.k.a. crappy) hotels, only occasionally order drinks at meals, take buses instead of taxis, and order cheap meals. Don’t let social media fool you. We post the highlights of the trip…what we don’t show are the moldy hostel showers, long hours of exhausting traveling and four outfits total that we wear for weeks on end…backpacking is hard, but that’s the sacrifice you make if you want to travel on a tight budget.
- Don’t buy water.
You’ll spend an extra $5 (at least) a day if you buy bottled water. While it’s not necessarily convenient, we saved TONS of money by filtering water. We love our Sawyer Squeeze water filters from REI…It may seem sketchy that we we’re drinking the water from our hostel bathrooms, but none of us ever got sick. Long live the water filter.
- Travel in a group of four.
We found that traveling in a group of four was the perfect number. We could share a taxi, stay in a “family room” (sleeps 4-5 and is cheaper than a private room), and split meals. By ordering three dishes and eating family style, we not only saved money, but we got to try a variety of dishes at each meal, which was great.
Traveling is expensive. But, if you’re willing to budget, research and put up with some squeaky hostel beds and dingy public buses, you can have some truly memorable experiences for a reasonable price.