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10 Budget Travel Tips for Saving Money

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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

C Squared Studios / Getty Images

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

Western Food in Asia
Photo by Greg Rodgers

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

Off the Beaten Path
Photo by Greg Rodgers

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.

Bangkok's famous Khao San Road is a good example. Although a few well-priced Khao San Road hostels can still be found, the better deals are located just a short waking distance away.

4. Try Couch Surfing

Messy Hostel Room
Photo by Greg Rodgers

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.

5. Keep the Partying in Check

Koh Phangan Full Moon Party in Thailand
Photo by Greg Rodgers

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!

6. Be Smart When Calling Home

Calling US from abroad
Photo by Greg Rodgers

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.

7. Skip the Guided Tours

tours-in-asia.jpg
Photo by Greg Rodgers

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.

8. Negotiate for Everything

Shopping in Asia
Photo by Greg Rodgers

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.

9. Skip the Air Conditioning

accommodation in asia
Photo by Greg Rodgers

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.

10. Know the Exchange Rates

philippine-money.jpg
Photo by Michael Francis McCarthy

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.

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