Editor’s Note: Everyone is different. Everyone travels differently. Everyone has their own set of morals to consider when making decisions, travel or otherwise. The author of this article has no doubt made some questionable decisions to be able to travel on the budget he does. While we here at BootsAll do not agree with, condone, or promote all the tactics he has used, we respect that he is a grown man capable of deciding for himself what is acceptable or not.
I make what many in the West would consider almost no money whatsoever – currently somewhere between $200 and $1100 a month. This has been the case for the last six years, and yet during this time I have been able to travel to 61 different countries. I continue to travel constantly, making enough money to do so by writing travel articles and publishing the occasional short story or poem, and by living very frugally.
In the interest of full disclosure, as I share how I’ve done this with others, I am aware that what has worked for me may not work for everyone. Some of the things I’ve done will probably not be very appealing, and some may not approve of how I live my life.
I make what many in the West would consider almost no money whatsoever – currently somewhere between $200 and $1100 a month.
My aim is to share my experiences so that others may pick and choose what might work for them, so that they too can travel extensively with very little money and benefit in the same way that I have from the experiences and growth that come from long-term travel.
The best way to save money for traveling is by adjusting your attitude. As in any endeavor, begin by thinking clearly about what you most value.
Take any six months of your life. Say you are accustomed to going out to and spending a large chunk of your paycheck on alcohol and expensive food or other indulgences. During these hypothetical six months, you can continue as you always have, going out, drinking, having a good time, living life as usual. Or you could spend six months rarely going out and eating budget food at home (or packing a lunch for work), then conclude this austere time with a two-month trip around Southeast Asia.
But regardless of your income, your mind is the most important thing to consider when figuring out how to travel with little or no money.
For some, such a simple solution is not applicable, and more time and self-denial may be necessary. But regardless of your income, your mind is the most important thing to consider when figuring out how to travel with little or no money. The more you value travel and experience over luxuries and possessions, the more money you will find in your pocket for traveling.
Making that resolution is the first step. Afterwards, things naturally begin to fall into place.
Saving money: Pre-Departure
When calculating how much you will need for your trip, the next thing to keep in mind is destination. Different places call out to us for different reasons, and no two people’s minds and desires are exactly the same. Nonetheless, if you’re willing to travel to cheaper countries, your trips are bound to be much longer.
This is the most obvious way to save money on the road. The money you spend traveling for a week in Western Europe could perhaps get you two months in Southeast Asia or India. It all depends on where you want to go, but it’s good to keep in mind that you can get much more bang for your buck in budget-friendly countries.
You should begin to question nearly all of your purchases, constantly asking yourself how important your trip is to you.
Once you’ve decided on your destination and trip duration, you should begin erasing all excess expenditures from your daily life. Particularly if you survive on very little money, you should begin to question nearly all of your purchases, constantly asking yourself how important your trip is to you.
Some will quickly decide that travel isn’t all that important to them and fall back into their old ways. For others, even your morning cappuccino at Starbucks should be questioned. If you spend $1.50 each morning on a cup of coffee, over six months that’s $285, which can afford some half a month of travel in India. And that’s just when you deny yourself your morning coffee.
When you begin applying this to all of you expenditures, you can see how easily your savings can add up.
Begin brainstorming inventive ways of cutting extra costs from every aspect of your life. As a first step, try not to be bewitched by new technologies. Who cares about phone or computer upgrades when Mongolia is calling your name?
When saving for my first big four-month trip around Europe, I began with a few basic ways of saving money by focusing on my eating habits. To begin with, I stopped eating out and began cooking all of my food in bulk. I would cook enough for four days in one go, then all I would have to do is pack it up and reheat it at work or school. At the time I still ate meat and wasn’t willing to forego this expensive non-necessity from my diet. So instead of purchasing meat from the supermarket I began asking for venison from my friends and family who hunted (in Oklahoma much of the population hunts). In this way I would save around $20 a week just on food.
At the time I also chose to stop dating. Being in a relationship can be a huge drain on your pocketbook, especially if you’re still in the beginning phases. This may sound like a big sacrifice, but considering that on your trip you’ll have the chance to meet all sorts of exotic and fascinating men and women, the sacrifice is worth it. Plus, if you do begin a new relationship while saving for your trip, it could in the end keep you from departing in the first place.
Consider, instead, staying in and reading books about the countries you want to visit. This may sound boring, but considering the rewards, it is certainly worth it. Not only will it keep you occupied during the austere months, but you will be learning an incredible amount about the places you intend to travel, which will not only make you more prepared but will enrich your eventual experience.
I like drinking more than most people, and this includes going out to clubs and bars. When I’m saving for a big trip, I tend to sneak my own alcohol into bars. This involves whiskey in a flask, which I drink secretly. This is dubious and makes me feel extremely cheap, but when I think of the money I’m saving for my next trip, I forgive myself.
Another thing to keep in mind, which will help you lessen your purchases, is how little can fit into your pack. The less you carry, the more comfortable you will be on your trip, which is why I take as little as possible. Outside of buying only what you need for your trip, which will consist of a few basic changes of clothes and a few essential books and electronics, try to postpone any other purchases until you return.
Always ask yourself: Will this fit into my pack? If not, the purchase can probably wait. Deny yourself as many luxuries as you can. This will be extremely difficult at times, but not only will it add considerable funds to your trip,you are also bound to increase your endurance and willpower. It will also accustom you to a small wardrobe, which is good considering on a long-term trip you will be limited to only a few changes of clothes.
If your departure date is set in stone, and you absolutely must leave on that date, regardless of how much money you have, all other things begin to recede into the background, and you’ll find yourself much more energized to do the things listed above.
The last thing I recommend doing during the planning phase of your extended trip is to buy your plane ticket well in advance. Not only will this save you money on your ticket, but it will also put a firm and indisputable deadline on your departure. Having such a firm departure date does a lot to focus your energy. If your departure date is set in stone, and you absolutely must leave on that date, regardless of how much money you have, all other things begin to recede into the background, and you’ll find yourself much more energized to do the things listed above. And always keep track of your frequent flyer miles for future trips.
Ways to save money on the road
Travel on a bicycle - It’s not for everyone, but having your own transportation will slice your expenses by up to half. You won’t zip through countries like you would on buses or trains, and bicycling will certainly take a considerable chunk of time out of your life, but it is about as intimate as one can get with a particular land.
Settle in and get a job – If you find yourself far from home and low on cash, but want to keep going, consider getting a job abroad. There is no shortage of work available, particularly if you’re a native English speaker or possess some universal skill that you can either utilize or teach to others.
Cook your own food – In countries such as India or Thailand, it is often cheaper to eat out than to cook your own food, but if you’re traveling the US or Western Europe or even parts of Latin America, you’ll save quite a bit just by cooking your meals. Try to stay in hostels that allow guests access to a kitchen, or, if you have room in your pack, consider taking along a portable stove and cooking equipment.
Wash your clothes by hand – Laundry can be a huge expense on the road. Though you may be accustomed to machine-washing all your clothes, if you’re willing to get your hands dirty, doing your own laundry by hand can save you lots of money. If you carry a sink stopper, you can transform any sink into a wash bucket. Be sure also to carry along a detergent bar.
Buy a water filter - Not only is it eco-friendly, but it will save you lots of money in the long run, especially if you’ll be traveling in countries where the water isn’t safe to drink.
How I survived four months in Europe on $3000
Hitchhiked nearly everywhere - Highways are full of cars going places, so I ignored every American film treatment of the subject and began flagging them down. Not only is hitchhiking eco-friendly, but it’s also free! In some countries (Germany or Turkey, for example), you can get around much quicker than local buses. If hailing random strangers off the highway isn’t your thing, you could try rideshare networks such as RideFinder and Carpooling.
Carried a tent – You can camp for free on the side of the road almost anywhere, but even if you prefer the safety and facilities of an organized establishment, campsites are always far cheaper than hotels and hostels. In addition, if you are hitchhiking and find yourself in the middle of nowhere one night unable to hitch a ride, you can always just pitch your tent and wait for daylight the following day.
Couchsurfed everywhere I could – When I first began Couchsurfing, the phenomenon was not very well known, but these days you can find a host nearly anywhere in the world. Not only will you save money on accommodation, but you’ll be entering temporarily into the lives of some truly fascinating, open-minded, and hospitable people.
Sneaking into hostel dorm rooms – You’re going to have to be okay with this on a moral level in order to do it, but I did this quite often in Western Europe. It worked 80% of the time, particularly in the larger and busier hostels. I used two different strategies. The first was simply to walk right past the reception desk as if nothing suspicious was happening, and then I would wander the facility searching for an empty bed or floor space in one of the dorms. The second was to book one night in a hostel dorm and just continue staying there. I would put my stuff under a bed or in the corner during the day, and if someone came to occupy my bed I would just sleep on my mat on the floor at night. As long as you pretend that you’re not doing anything suspicious, it is unlikely (unless the hostel has cameras or runs a tight ship) that anyone will question you. You can also try hanging out in the common rooms late at night and just sleep there.
Ate at Supermarkets - The restaurants of Europe were far too pricey for my budget, so instead I took to the supermarkets for much of my sustenance. In most supermarkets in Europe you can find ready-made meals, otherwise you can cook what you buy on your own stove or in your hostel’s communal kitchen.
Student ID Card – In most countries, a student ID card will score you discounts nearly everywhere you go, particularly at big tourists sites and museums. The most universally accepted card seems to be the ISIC card. Even if you are not a student, a quick Google search should provide you with some online templates to create your own.
What strategies have you employed to travel on a bare-bones budget? Would you consider any of David’s more “questionable” tactics if it meant being able to stay on the road? Comment below to share your thoughts.
Read more about traveling on a tight budget:
- How to Travel Around the World on $40 Per Day
- Travel Hacking: Can You Really Travel the World for Free?
- 10 Reasons to Embrace Budget Travel
- 5 Countries to Visit for Under $500
- 8 Tips for the Newbie Hitchhiker