10 Tips to budget travel

Budget travel lesson 1 – Get yourself a travel guide

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There are plenty of books who can help you with planing and while traveling, Lonely Planet and Stefan Loose are by far the best. If you have a phone with a big screen, a tablet or a small notebook than you might prefer the digital version.

Remember that many people have already used those books before you. That’s why sometimes at those places the prices went up the fastest and they are maybe not very authentic anymore. So if you are looking – for example – for a good place to get hawker food, look in your travel guide only for the area where the suggestions accumulate. Not for a specific name. Same goes for hostels, the cheap ones are usually all in the same area.

There is another good reason not to stick to a specific place: Your travel guide is always a bit outdated, so the hostel you are looking for is maybe not there anymore. But there will be a new one just around the corner, so don’t panic. Also the prices might have changed in-between research, printing and your journey – if so you will get a feeling after some days of what to expect from the next place you go: The prices in one region will have changed in the same range.

Most of the time when I travel in a new country I use the travel guide to get an idea about the culture, about the prices for food and for low-budget accommodations and that’s it. More detailed information will be given to you from other travelers you will meet on your way and by local people.

Also a great (and free) source for budget travel tips is Wikitravel.orgYou will find up-to-date information about specific destinations, even about small and remote areas. Be sure to visit the english version, the localized pages cover only a fractal of the original page. If you search in english for a a city like Chiang Mai it will bring up around 50 pages of details…

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(screenshots from Wikitravel.org)

Budget travel lesson 2 – Find the cheapest flights

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There are many good search engines for cheap flights but by far the best one is „Skyscanner“. It offers you to leave the departure date open. Just enter the month when you want to leave and your destination and it will show you the prices from flights in the next 30 days and let you choose the cheapest one.

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(screenshot from skyscanner.net)


Also a very interesting way to get to the next destination with the help of Skyscanner is to just enter your departure airport and leave the destination airport open. Skyscanner will show you all the flights departing on a specific date from your place to…everywhere.

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(screenshot from skyscanner.net)


Some flight search engines will safe „cookies“ on your computer and raise the price if you look again and again for the same flight, so clear your cookies before browsing a flight search engine.

A lot of airlines offer promotions where you can safe a lot of money. First look for the names of cheap airlines in your country and then look at their homepage. Some airlines make only a promotion one time per month, you can ask them per email when they offer promotion flights.

Budget travel lesson 3 – Ask, ask, ask!

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Ask travelers and locals for the best places to stay, ask them for good food and for things to do. Its obvious but you still need to do it.

People are waiting to help you, they just need to know how. Go ask them!

It’s always a good idea not to listen to somebody who offers you something that he wants to sell to you. A guy on the street might ask you „Are you looking for a hostel?“ You better say no! You are walking by and the man in front of a restaurant wants to show you the menu? You are not hungry! If the hostel would be any good it would not need any promotion, same goes for the restaurant.

Go to the street where the cheap hostels are located. Go inside one, ask first for a price, have a look at the room, then bargain for a better price. Look where other people are already sitting and eating, that’s where you want to get your meal. Look what they are eating, that’s what you want to order.

Budget travel lesson 4 – Avoid organized tours if possible

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People try to catch you – the money spending tourist – and sell you a tour right in front of your hostel. Or in front of the train station. Or wherever.

Booking a tour gives you the comfort of visiting a nice place or taking part in a hike without the need to organize the transport, the accommodation, the food and a guide. Usually you pay a lot more than if you would organize it by your own. But they also proved help for free: Just ask them for a tour, ask them about every detail of the tour, ask where to get water, ask how long the walk to your beloved destination will take, ask about the best place to see the sunrise and ask what time you need to start to see it. And then dismiss the overpriced tour package and go on your own.

Lets assume you want to take a hike to a volcano and you don’t want to speak to the one of those cheeky tour operators. Just have a look in the travel guide or ask a local which train, bus or boat you need to take. Either find a hostel in the area where your go on the internet or just walk in. Find a local who can guide you if necessary or find the starting point for the hike and book a guide there. Finally buy your own food and drinks in a supermarket before you start. If you don’t have a guide don’t rely on only on your smart phone for navigation. Try to get a detailed map and a compass. If you are in the middle of nowhere you don’t want to get lost just because the batteries of your smartphones drained, right?

Budget travel lesson 5-  Your phone can be pretty handy

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WIFI is far more widely available as you would possibly imagine, but in many countries local pre paid SIM cards are a very cheap (and more safe) alternative. Google for the best carrier or ask the locals, sometimes you can get 1GB data for less than 5 $.

Also when you are offline your smart phone can still be pretty useful. While Wikitravel covers then thousands of articles it can not be used offline. Use the app „Instapaper“ to save your articles on your phone so you can read them offline.

For navigation and orientation „Google Maps” is usefull – as long as you are connected to the internet. „Maps With Me“ is a free alternative that also works offline. The creators also offer free travel guides.

There are a lot more useful apps for traveling, just to mention some of them:

  • Triposo: another travel guide, includes around 60 countries
  • Tripadvisor: User rated restaurants,  hostels and other places
  • Airbnb: Great to find home stays and cheap hostels
  • Booking.com: Great if you want to find a place to walk in or to book
  • Hostelworld: Also great to find a cheap accommodation
  • Currency: A basic currency calculator that also works offline
  • Google Translator: you can download languages to translate offline

Budget travel lesson 6 – Find free accommodations, meet locals and make new friends with Couchsurfing.org

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picture by Harn Sheng Khor


Don’t wait one more minute to create an account at www.couchsurfing.org! It’s absolutely free to use and it’s a perfect way to get in touch with people who want to show you their city and to get a free accommodation. Find somebody with good ratings and without a chainsaw in his basement and prepare for your first Couchsurfing adventure. Bring a small present or invite your host to a meal and be kind: They offer you their home and their time so show yourself from your best side!

It is in my opinion one of the best ways to get connected to local people in a new area. Tell Couchsurfing when you are where and people will even write invitations to you! Finally get connected on Whatsapp and Facebook if possible so you can write your host without paying for a phone call.

Couchsurfing will ask you to „verify“ your account. That’s how they make their money. But there is no need to do this, you can use it without paying for it one cent.

In many cities around the globe you can attend to regular “couchsurfer meetings”. This way you can get in contact with the hosts before you stay with them or just meet amazing people around the globe and have a good time. Every last one I met with the help of couchsurfing was a great character, give it a try!

Budget travel lesson 7 –  bus transport

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To travel with the local bus is almost everywhere one of the cheapest options. If you want to book a bus in advantage avoid travel agencies if possible, they overcharge sometimes a lot. Try to use online services, just google for „departure_city to destination_city bus“. In many countries in Europe and in most of the Asian countries they run online booking services. If you don’t find an online booking service ask for the main bus terminal and buy your ticket there.

In touristy areas you will sometimes find two different places where the buses arrive, one for the locals, the other on for the tourists. At the local bus station you will find a cheap connection bus, cheap food and people you can trust. On the tourist bus station they will offer you much more expensive tickets for exactly the same bus whichsoever the locals take and they will try to push you into tours. How to find the „real“ bus station? Ask the locals.

Budget travel lesson 8 – Bargain!

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In Asia it is normal to bargain and that goes for many countries around the world. Sometimes the price goes down 50 percent after bargaining, sometimes much more!

A market is not the only place where you should try to bargain: If you are staying in a hostel bargain for a cheaper price for your room. If you buy petrol from a small shop bargain. If you buy a boat ticket bargain.  If you buy a bottle of water bargain. Bargain with the taxi driver if he refuses to use the meter. Just bargain everywhere. Its fun, and you save money. Don’t be a fool and pay the price somebody asks you at the beginning.

Some basic rules about bargaining: Don’t show too much interest, especially don’t show that you are in the need of getting something. If possible ask other people what they’ve paid before you buy. Sometimes its helpful to go away before finally buying and wait until the shop owner calls you back or walks after you to offer you a better price. This has worked many times for me. If he is not interested in haunting after you than you can still go back and make your offer for a „last price“.

Budget travel lesson 9 – Money and credit cards

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If you are traveling for a long time you can save a lot of money if you get a credit card from a bank that doesn’t charge you when you take cash at an ATM. In Germany and Austria you should get your credit card from „DKB“. The card is for free and you can get money worldwide an any ATM for free, that’s awesome!

Never use the card to pay for something, you always get charged with a credit card fee of at least one percent. Just get cash with the credit card as soon as you arrive in a new country and pay every time with the local money. Also don’t change money before you go into a new country: If you are using the credit card to get cash you will always get a better exchange rate!

Traveler checks are not necessary anymore, a lot of places don’t accept them anymore and I would suggest to just have a debit card with you for when your credit card is not working anymore. Also keep some hundred dollars with you all the time and don’t keep them together with your credit card! The ATM might be out of money, there might be a problem with your account, you might lose your credit card or the card might break.

If something really goes wrong you can always ask a friend or your family to send you money with „Western Union“. They charge you for this „emergency transaction“ but its good to know that there is no reason to panic if you lose your credit card. Just call the bank to lock the card and to sent you a new card and get cash from Western Union until you have back your credit card. Never panic, for every problem is a solution.

Budget travel lesson 10 – Sail the seven seas – for free

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One of the most adventurous ways to travel is on a sailing boat. But how should you afford this if you are traveling on a shoestring? What if I tell you that you can go sailing for free? In Germany we call this principle „Hand gegen Koje“. The Idea is that you offer your help on the boat and you will get a free trip in return. Of course it helps a lot if you already have some experience in sailing but it is not necessary! I think that everybody has something useful to offer. Are you a good cook? They will love you! You can play the guitar and sing? People will enjoy listing to your music on a long trip! You are professional with the camera and you can make a documentation of the trip? You have a good chance that people will like this idea!

Even if your talents are not needed on the boat, as long as you are a nice character and people enjoy your company you can still ask for a free ride. Maybe you can help cleaning the boat, maybe after a few days you can help with the navigation or you can just help out with the small stuff.

There are some sailing forums on the internet where you can find the sailing people you are looking for and there are also Facebook groups especially set up to find sailors.

If you are adventurous and you don’t care too much about your destination then just pack your backpack, go to the next harbor and try your luck. Find people in nearby restaurant or just walk to the sailing boats and ask if they can offer you a ride and tell them what you can do for them in return. There are lots of people out there who managed to find a sailing trip in exactly this way. Don’t be shy, you are not the first one asking this question!

One difference between traveling and a vacation might be that travelers never know where they go and somebody on a vacation never now where he was. If you start your journey with a free sailing trip you can be sure that you have a great story to share later and that what you are doing deserves to be called „traveling“!

Budget travel lesson 10 – How to stop spending money and start to change the world

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You are traveling to have a good time. You are traveling to learn. And you are traveling to change. How about not only change yourself but change the world?

Helping in a bar, teaching english, working in a diving school, working with orphans, working on a farm, help in a homestay, help to rebuild a town after a flood… The possibilities are endless. Some jobs will bring you money, sometimes you only work for food and accommodation and there are even jobs where you need to pay to attend.

Wherever your strengths are, you will find a suitable job! Even if you say you are not “specialized” in anything: If you are coming from a western country you have a lot of skills that you take for granted which can help people in an emerging nation. You can change a kids life with supporting it for some weeks or months. People ask me on a regular base how to make the world a better place. That’s exactly how to do it! Welcome to planet earth, its a beautiful place but there is still a lot of work to do…

If you are just looking for a job in a bar or in a diving school the easiest way is to walk in and ask. There are also a lot of charity organizations, some work only in a specific country, some offer help worldwide. To get an idea about what you can do have a look at those pages:

Volunteering offers you to extend your stay for an almost unlimited time and it gives you the opportunity to travel with almost no money in your pocket! What are you waiting for? Get your passport, book a one way flight and walk out of your door. There is so much to explore!

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What do you think about this ideas? Leave a comment underneath or write me on Facebook – it would be a pleasure for me to include your feedback and your ideas to this list!


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