Top Tips for Backpacking on a Budget

Thinking that travel has to cost you an arm and a leg is something I fought with for a while, and something that prevents a lot of people from seeing the world.

Travelling on a budget might subconsciously translate to going without, or living in hostels. In reality, it’s far more about being smart and knowing all the tips and tricks to help you stretch your pounds.

No one pays for my travels for me, it’s all self funded through hard work and sensible saving. It’s certainly not daddy’s money (good joke), and it’s not borrowed from extended family.

It’s prioritising what I need and what I can live without. It’s putting money away as soon as I get paid and setting up a standing order into a savings account.

Everyone loves a bargain and who doesn’t like saving money? Here’s a few tips and tricks I picked up whilst backpacking.

Tips for travelling on a budget:

Not sure your bag is big enough, Keira

Flights

Use Skyscanner to search for the cheapest flights. You can set up price alerts to be emailed when a certain flight price drops, which is incredibly handy if you still have a while until you plan to leave. You can also use Google Flights and Kayak to compare flights.

Flexibility is an important factor on saving money; some days are cheaper/more expensive to fly on, so if you’re able to fly a day or so earlier when it’s cheapest, you’ll be helping yourself out in the long run.

Whenever I’m planning a trip, I always make sure to look at how much prices differ in the different airports around me. On one trip, flying from Bristol may be the cheapest option, but that may vary depending on your destination.

En route to Amsterdam

Food:

The most important money saver I learnt was, without a doubt, utilising the hostel/Airbnb kitchen. By going to the nearest supermarket or local market for supplies and cooking in the communal kitchen, it prevents you from spending extortionate amounts in overpriced cafes or restaurants.

If possible, cooking and sharing the overall cost with friends means an even cheaper meal. On occasion, I’d even asked strangers in the hostel if they’d like to cook together; not only is it a fun way to bond, you’re also saving yourself more money by splitting the cost of an already cheap shop.

Not all accommodation has a kitchen available for guests, so eating out will be your only option. Make sure to stay away from the restaurants crowded with tourists; these are always overpriced because they’re in the “main square”. When you can, ask locals where their favourite place to eat is – they’ll normally point you towards the alleyways and places tucked away out of sight.

If the accommodation you’re staying in offers free breakfast, or breakfast is included in the costs; don’t overlook it! Always make the most out of them, it’ll save you a lot of money over time if you fill up in the morning. In some hostels you’ll even be able to take breakfast food away with you, like croissants, cheeses or bread, (although that isn’t always the case, so don’t get caught by assuming).

When you hit the supermarkets for dinner, make sure to stock up on snacks. I constantly had snacks in my bag wherever I went and managed to make them last for days, which prevented the temptation of buying overpriced street food, or going to the closest restaurant out of desperation.

If you know me, you’ll be more than aware of how hangry I can get, which seems to override any other functionality in my brain. Now, imagine this in a city you don’t know your way around, full of bustling tourists blocking the way, when all you can think about is food. Sounds like fun, no?

Bulls and Dogs in Amsterdam

Getting Around:

Uber is the cheapest transport option that I came across in Europe. I took a 30/40 minute Uber from my hostel in Porto to the airport, costing me a grand total of £13 (€15.02). This might not seem cheap to some, but comparing this to a 30/40 minute taxi ride in Cornwall (can we get Uber down here, please), you’d be looking at between £55 and £70 (€60.90 – €77.51).

Flixbus is an incredibly cheap journey option in Europe, although not necessarily the most comfortable or cleanest. When you’re living on a budget and have already stayed in some questionable hostels, a less than perfect bus is the least of your worries.

Travel slow! Unless you’re in a rush or on a time limit, the cheapest option to get from A to B is usually the one that takes the longest. Despite the fact that rushing through travelling is far from fun, you’ll be able to see more if you opt for the slowest transport option. If you can’t walk somewhere, get the bus rather than a taxi.

Now, I wouldn’t recommend it as a solo female traveller, but it’s worth a mention: Hitchhiking. Yes, it’s an easy way to save spending money on public transport, but never put yourself at risk just because its the cheapest option. A friend and I hitchhiked down Mt Vesuvius after missing our bus. We were picked up by a lovely elderly lady but safe to say, had I been alone, I definitely wouldn’t have.

Flixbus I took from Florence to Barcelona

Accommodation:

All of the hostels I stayed in around Europe, I booked using a website called Hostelworld. It’s simple and easy to use; you type in where and when you want to go and see what takes your fancy. I used their ‘Map’ feature religiously, it allows you to view the exact location of each hostel whilst seeing the lowest price alongside the overall rating.

If you’re not a fan of hostels, try searching for independent guesthouses and B&Bs rather than jumping straight into the expensive hotels. Airbnb can often be even cheaper still if you’re in a group of people who are happy to split the cost.

Another alternative is Couchsurfing (a verified website that allows you to connect with local people offering a free couch for a night or two), or, if you’re feeling adventurous, consider camping to save on accommodation.

An example of a map search in Prague using Hostelworld

Other:

Take advantage of free walking tours in cities; they’re an easy way to see the sights and learn a bit of history, with a knowledgable guide taking you around. Be aware, these guides run on tips that they mention when the tour is over. You don’t have to, but if you feel they did a good job, or if you have a little extra to spare, you can give them a small sum for their time.

Take a refillable water bottle everywhere. Not only will you save a lot of money on not constantly purchasing overpriced water, the planet will thank you for it. Even better if you take a refillable bottle with a filter; not all tap water is drinkable. Furthermore, look into life straws or water purification tablets as an alternative.

Booking your own trip is going to save you a lot of money compared to booking through a travel agency. It requires more planning, research and time but, to me, that’s all part of the fun.

Tourist traps are everywhere and I think every traveller is guilty of getting sucked into one or two. They range from expensive stalls, pubs, restaurants, gift shops, etc. to museums, landmarks, statues, and so on. They’re always overcrowded, overhyped and far too expensive (see: Gondola Rides) for what they offer.

Obviously, it’s personal preference on the landmark aspect, but for me, paying extortionate prices and being stuck in the middle of a sweaty tourist sandwich isn’t my idea of a good time.

We all know that there are expensive and inexpensive times of the year to travel, which is worth taking into consideration before booking your trip. If you’re able to travel outside of the ‘peak season’, where everywhere will be busy and far from cheap, then you’ll save yourself more money than you expect.

Hopefully these tips have been helpful to some; I’m sure I’ll be adding to this in the future.

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9 thoughts on “Top Tips for Backpacking on a Budget

  1. These are great tips! I especially agree with asking locals where they like to eat – it’s always an awesome experience that you wouldn’t have had if you’d followed the tourists!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 😊 I’ll always try and push people to do that; locals know the best spots, whether it’s for food or places to shop!

      Like

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