RTW, long term travelers all go about their trips in different ways. The differences are many, but one similarity remains, particularly for younger, first time RTW travelers. The prevalence of cheap, budget friendly destinations on the itinerary is one constant in the long term travel world. There’s a reason that regions like Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East are so popular for long term travelers – they’re super cheap!
When traveling for a long time, it’s difficult to visit or stay long in Europe, North America, or other expensive regions of the world. Most of us have a pretty limited budget, and when you make the decision to travel RTW, usually it’s because you’re willing to rough it some and spend most of your time in cheap-to-travel-in areas of the world.
But what if one of your dream destinations is in one these expensive-to-travel-in regions? What if your RTW ticket gives you the opportunity to visit a really awesome country for very little extra money? What if you can arrange a stopover in a place like Japan or Iceland for no extra cost? Should you bypass these regions simply because they are a bit out of your budget?
There are always generic ways to save money in any region, no matter the cost. Shopping in supermarkets and cooking for yourself in hostel kitchens, taking advantage of free breakfasts, looking into Couch Surfing, moving slowly, and eating street food can save you money in any region.
In addition to these tips, there are always methods to employ to save money in any city or country. The following tips and advice will give you specific ideas and tools necessary to maximize time in these notoriously expensive countries.
Cities like Tokyo and Osaka consistently top Most Expensive Cities To Live lists year in and year out. When cities are expensive to live in, they’re typically expensive to travel in as well. Tokyo and Osaka are indeed very expensive places to travel, as is most of the rest of Japan. $60-$75US/day is about the bare minimum you’ll need to travel around Japan, but you won’t get to see much or experience much of the great food. If you want to travel with any comfort whatsoever and actually move around, see some sites, and eat some great food, you’ll need to up that price tag to at least $100US/day. You can find dorm beds, even in Tokyo, for as low as $25US/person (for a bed in a 12 person dorm). The high costs come mainly from transportation and enjoying the great culinary delights that Japan has to offer.
While you aren’t going to be able to travel in Japan for Southeast Asia prices, there are several tips to help travelers get around as cheaply as possible and maximize your time there. Many tips correspond to the usually high cost of overland travel in Japan:
- Look into using the Seishun 18. This train ticket is good for 5 days of travel during a pre-determined time period each year, corresponding to school holidays. It only costs $30US/day, but it is not valid on all trains, so make sure you read the fine print. Another major plus is that these passes can be shared and aren’t limited to one person.
- Use buses instead of trains. They do take longer, but they are much cheaper. Look into a Japan Bus Pass. At $180US for 5 days, it’s a bit more expensive than the above train pass, but it’s not nearly as restrictive.
- Cheap food options – Chain eateries have vending machines that are cheap and pretty good for what they are. Being able to read Japanese is helpful, but not completely necessary. If you want sushi but can’t afford to eat at the traditional sushi restaurants, consider trying kaiten, which is a conveyor belt sushi shop.
- Drinking is a favorite past time of the Japanese, and it’d be a shame if you couldn’t join in on the fun. To get the most bang for your buck, be on the lookout for beer gardens that offer all you can drink for a fixed price. It’s usually offered for a certain amount of time, and costs about $10US for 90 minutes of debauchery.
- If you really want to travel like the locals, then consider nojuku. Nojuku is Japanese for sleeping outside, and it’s usually done in the warmer summer months. Crime in Japan is extremely low, so some of the younger Japanese travelers choose to sleep outside, usually in a train station or similar place where shelter and a bathroom are nearby. While not common for western travelers, it’s a realistic option, especially if you are getting into a train station late or leaving early.
Switzerland has been one of the more expensive places to visit in all of Western Europe, which is already an expensive place to travel in. You can spend $100-$125/day with relative ease in Switzerland, as accommodations, transport, and eating out are all on the expensive side of things. Even a bed a in hostel can cost up to $40-$50US/day, with privates costing double that with two people.
- Geneva and Zurich are the most expensive cities not only in Switzerland, but in the entire world, so limiting your time there is advisable.
- If you hope to move around quite a bit in Switzerland, then consider a 15 day unlimited Eurail pass. A 2nd class pass is $499US but is good for unlimited travel for 15 consecutive days. It also includes a museum pass that will get you free admission into over 400 museums around Switzerland.
- Flexipasses offer travelers more options and are good for those who don’t plan to move as fast or see as many places (which in and of itself will help save lots of money). If you’re traveling with another person, you can get a saver flexipass that can be even cheaper. For $556US, you can buy a flexipass for 2 that will allow travel for 6 days in a 1 month period.
- You will have to calculate your costs to see which is the best option, but you can purchase a Swiss half fare card for about $135US. This gets travelers 50% off most train, bus, boat, and cable car tickets for one month.
- Consider camping and/or hitchhiking for accommodation and transport options. Crime is notoriously low in Switzerland, and while there’s always a risk with hitching, there aren’t many safer bets than Switzerland. Campsites can be had for about $10US, which will save a lot of money of accommodation costs. Of course, you will need your own gear to make it worth it.
- Look for supermarkets like Coop, which sells half-priced sandwiches and salads at the end of the day. Eating out at restaurants in Switzerland is the surest way to kill your budget, and adding alcohol makes it worse. Even shopping at supermarkets and cooking yourself can be expensive, so any breaks you can get will help.
While not on par with many of the other countries on this list, compared to the region it’s in, the island country of Singapore has travelers who have been to the rest of Southeast Asia scratching their heads at the absurdly high prices. Backpackers can get by on about $50US/day, but they won’t be doing much other than strolling around, sleeping in dorms, and eating street food. Adding in public transport, a meal out now and then, and seeing some sites that aren’t free are simply not possible on that type of budget. And forget about having a drink.
- Look at the Geylang, Little India, Bugis, East Coast, and Balestier areas for cheap accommodations. There are many luxury hotels and places to stay all over Singapore, but you can still find a dorm bed in a hostel in these areas for around $15US/person.
- Eat at street stalls and markets in Little India and Chinatown. Great food at bargain prices. Restaurants can be very expensive, and if you add alcohol in to the equation, it makes the bill skyrocket.
- Purchase a Singapore Tourist Pass, which is around $8US/day for unlimited travel on almost all public transport options.
- Seek out all the free and cheap options you have in Singapore. If a price is not mentioned, then the site is free.
- Religious sites, temples, and churches
- Botanical Gardens
- Waterfront Promenade
- Bukit Timah Nature Reserve for hiking, nature, and animal observation
- Public pools are many and cost about $1-$1.50US/person for admission
- National Museum of Singapore costs about $10US/person and also includes admission into the art gallery
Iceland is still recovering from the financial meltdown in 2008, but even with that, costs are high for travel in this beautiful country. A bed in a dorm is difficult to find for under $35-$40US/person, and privates are tough to find for under $100-$120US. Getting around can also be expensive, as flights are sometimes just as cheap if not cheaper than buses and car rentals. Food prices are high as well, and if you plan on partying,you’ll spend plenty of cash as a pint of beer can cost upwards of $7US. Even with all these high costs, there are ways of traveling in Iceland without selling your house to do so, and once you touch down here, you’ll be glad you did.
- Try your hand at camping. If you are only traveling in Iceland for a short period of time and as part of a long term, RTW trip, then consider starting here and bringing your camping gear with you, then sending it home (or ditching it) once you leave. Camp sites can be had for about $5-$10/person for a site, which is a fraction of the price as a dorm bed. If you can join up with a few more people, renting a car and camping around the country would cut costs significantly.
- Consider traveling to Iceland during winter. Daylight will be scarce (only 5-7 hours/day during some months) and some places will be inaccessible, but prices are much lower, and the snow creates a gorgeous scene in an already amazing landscape.
- Purchase the Reykjavik Welcome Card for free admission into many of the major attractions and free travel on public transport. It also offers discounts at many shops and restaurants along with free internet access.
- Eating locally is always a good idea for saving some money. Try eating a hot dog, which isn’t like hot dogs you’re most likely used to at home. But they are good, unique, and cheap (about $2.50US/hot dog).
All Scandinavian countries are amongst the most expensive to travel in in all of Europe. Norway, with its natural wonders making it one of the most beautiful countries on Earth, is a huge country that is not easy to travel around on a budget. Labor costs are high, so any service related industry passes those high costs onto their customers. Traveling around Norway on $100US/day is doable but won’t be easy. If you want to actually travel around the country while enjoying a bit of comfort, then $200US/day is more realistic.
- The beauty of Norway is its major highlight, and Norwegians love to get out and enjoy nature. So do as the locals do and explore the plethora of National Parks located all over the country. While admission isn’t free, hiking and exploring is, so just by enjoying nature you can save tons of money. If you decide to camp, cook your own food, and be diligent about purchasing and utilizing transport passes, you can probably get by for close to that $100US/day budget.
- Taking subsidized highway ferries are a cheaper option than other water transportation, and they provide a great way of exploring the many fjords of Norway.
- Like Iceland, Norway has its own version of encased meats that are a great, cheap way of filling up. Try a polse (sausage), kjemegrill (hot dog), or kebab i pita (lamb with veggies on a pita) for about $8US. You can find these at grill and convenience stores around the country.
- Traveling in off-season is usually a great way to save money, and Norway is no different. If you are coming to visit the cities, then this would be a great money saving tip, but if you came for the outdoors and the hiking, then you may want to wait for the summer high season of mid-June to mid-August.
- Purchase your bus tickets online and as far in advance as you can. Many companies offer child, family, and senior discounts, so make sure to inquire before booking.
- Train tickets are notoriously expensive, but if you are on top of your game and can book in advance, then you may be able to take advantage of minipris tickets. A certain amount of tickets are made available for extremely discounted prices (you can get minipris tickets for $1.50-$4.50US) each month. This can make your budget so much lower, so be sure to check it out.
When planning a long term, RTW trip, it’s common for travelers just to leave any expensive countries and cities off their itineraries completely. But if you can get there cheaply, either with a RTW plane ticket or stopover, then it makes sense to at least explore that country for a few days or a week. Even if that country is expensive, there are always ways to spend less.
Read more about making a pricey trip a little less expensive:
- Learn how to add these expensive stopover countries to your flight itinerary for free
- Five Ways to Score Luxury Travel Deals
- California Wine Country: Planning a Cheap Trip Yourself
- The World’s Most Expensive Hotels
- Affordable Places to Go on an African Safari
These five countries hardly represent all expensive travel destinations in the world where you can find some deals. What historically expensive countries or cities have you been to where you found some great travel deals to save a few bucks? Comment below to give us the low down.
Adam Seper and his wife, Megan, decided that 50+ hour workweeks with 2 weeks of vacation a year simply wasn’t going to cut it. So they decided to take a leap of faith and put The American Dream on hold. In October 2008, they took off on an epic, year-long adventure, traversing the globe and traveling to 89 cities and 11 countries across 4 continents, never to be the same again.
Now Adam is going to tell you how you can plan your own epic adventure. Every week, on “Round the World Wednesday” he’ll share tips for planning, budgeting and selecting a route, plus advice on where to go and what to see and do all around the world.