Travel doesn't have to be expensive! Use these budget travel tips to help save money by traveling like a savvy backpacker rather than a vacationing tourist.
First, use this step-by-step Asia travel planning guide to start cutting trip expenses before you leave home.
1. Don't Buy Useless Travel Gadgets
Saving money on your trip starts before you hit the road. Don't be tempted by the wide range of gadgets and toys aimed at travelers; most end up not being used or packed at all!
Travel-sized toiletries and liquids are overpriced -- fill your own reusable travel bottles instead so that you can refill them later. With a few exceptions such as sunscreen and deodorant, most consumables can be purchased for better prices once you get to Asia anyway.
2. Avoid Western Food
On any extended trip abroad, cravings for food from home are inevitable. While Southeast Asian food is famously delicious, nearly every budget traveler is tempted at some point to splurge on a pizza, fast food, or a familiar taste from home; rice and noodles do lose their appeal after so many iterations!
Restaurants and cafes in Asia are happy to oblige, particularly along the Banana Pancake Trail through Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, Western food always costs more than local fare, and is usually a sore disappointment.
From ketchup being substituted for pasta sauce, to white bread smashed flat for rolling up burritos; local eateries will always attempt to meet your cravings with food that is never worth the price in the end!
3. Get Off the Beaten Path
Cheaper accommodation and eateries can often be found just one or two streets away from the "main drag" in tourist areas. These perimeter shops, restaurants, and guest houses are often overlooked by travelers who want to stay in the center of the action.
Accommodation can quickly add up to one of the largest expenses for budget travelers. Even staying in discounted hostels and guesthouses will quietly bleed your travel account.
Couchsurfing.com to the rescue! Couchsurfing.com is a social site where people offer up guest bedrooms or couches for friendly strangers who are visiting their city. The hosts are often expatriates who are interested in meeting -- and helping -- travelers. The site's rating system ensures that arrangements remain safe and that poor hosts are avoided by travelers. People can choose hosts based on location, gender, type of room, and even email other travelers who have stayed with the host in the past.
An added benefit of couch surfing is that you can befriend a local in your destination. Knowing a local will save you money that otherwise would have been blown in tourist spots. Having a kitchen will help you save money by cooking meals at home rather than eating out.
- Learn more about couch surfing and how to use it!
5. Keep the Partying in Check
Experienced backpackers will confirm: The number one expense while on the road is often alcohol. While prices for food in places such as Malaysia and Singapore are cheap, prices for alcohol are disproportional.
You will inevitably spend far more time socializing while traveling than you normally do at home, so learn early to keep the party expenses in check!
- Read about big party spots in Southeast Asia.
6. Be Smart When Calling Home
Depending on the method used, calls home from Asia can be either ridiculously expensive or pleasantly cheap. Calls made home using public phones, credit cards, calling cards, or the phone at your accommodation are archaic and costly options.
Calls can now be made across the internet via programs such as Skype and Localphone. Many internet cafes offer headsets, or you can purchase a cheap set to carry on your trip. A typical call to the US using a VOIP service costs less than two cents per minute.
- Read about how to make international calls.
7. Skip the Guided Tours
While legitimate guides can often enhance a visit to places such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia by explaining the history, you can probably do without hiring a guide for the day just to see local waterfalls and other sites.
Backpackers and budget travelers simply make their own way to local attractions for a fraction of the costs, and often get to enjoy places longer and at their own pace rather than being rushed along by an impatient guide.
Before accepting one of the many offers of a local guide for the day, first see if you can use public transportation or team up with others to see local landmarks and sites.
If you do hire a guide, try to go with a local organization rather than a Western company that is trying to cash in. Read more about responsible travel.
8. Negotiate for Everything
Nearly anything and everything in Asia is negotiable. Although negotiation is often an uncomfortable process for Westerners, it is a part of daily life for locals.
Try these budget travel tips to save money:
- If staying in a place for a week or longer, try negotiating for a cheaper rate when you first check in.
- Team up with other travelers to negotiate bulk pricing on tours, rooms, and transportation.
- Don't buy the first kitsch souvenirs that you encounter. Make trinket purchases in bulk to gain more leverage for negotiation. Learn how to shop in Asia intelligently.
Learn how to negotiate prices the right way.
9. Skip the Air Conditioning
Aircon rooms always cost more than fan rooms in hostels and budget guesthouses, and the temperature difference often makes travelers sick who are slower to acclimate when going outside.
Although temperatures outside can be scorching in parts of Southeast Asia, you will probably only be inside your room to sleep -- a fan works just fine.
- Learn what to expect from budget accommodation in Asia.
10. Know the Exchange Rates
Know your currency exchange rates before you arrive at a destination, and shop around before you exchange money or cash traveler's checks immediately at the airport.
Using ATMs is often the most convenient way to access money while abroad, and the rates are usually very competitive. Check with your bank before you leave home about foreign transaction fees, which hopefully should be two percent or less. Notify your bank and credit card companies about your travel plans so that your cards are not disabled for potential fraud when they see charges pop up from abroad.
- Read about how to access and carry money while traveling.