What the Budget Travel Guides Don’t Tell You

Hey all! Just updated this article a wee bit for 2017 – enjoy!

Last summer I hitchhiked across Canada. It was an amazing adventure bringing me over 7,000 km  across the country (and then back). But when I left Victoria, my starting point, I had a whopping $40 to my name.

So I must be the budget travel expert, right? I must have read a thousand articles on how to travel on the cheap to get where I am… Right?

So, so wrong. For one, I detest these guides as they all have the EXACT SAME ADVICE, plus it’s mostly useless crap (unless you find an article that’s actually helpful, like these handy suggestions). Let me elaborate…

1. Take the bus or train rather than renting cars to save money!

Are you freakin’ kidding me? While busses might be cheap in Peru or Cambodia, they sure as hell aren’t in Scandinavia. Am I only allowed to travel cheap countries until I’m rich… so until forever? Well that sucks.

Stick. Out. Your. Thumb. You want budget transportation? There she is. So many people tell me I’m brave because I hitchhike, and although it’s flattering, it’s also totally untrue. I just believe there are good people out there, and then it’s easy.

2. Cook your own meals to save on expensive restaurant fees!

But… but budget travel gods, I’m a terrible cook… Shall I live off stir frys alone? And so for a while I do, until one day I’m starved half to death, and will probably punch anyone who tells me to eat a stir fry directly in the face.

A person needs variety. A person needs proper food. And not all of us can cook. Sometimes I just go to the most expensive restaurant because it’s the closest and I’m hangry… even if it means spending the last of my money.

3. Staying in each place longer will save on transportation costs.

So now you’re acknowledging the cost of transportation? Sigh. Not all of us want to stay anywhere on our travels for long. So, you know, useless. We will stay if we wanna stay, and go when we wanna go.

4. Don’t go out partying and you will save oh so much money.

The fuck? Really? I don’t get to go out drinking? Like ever? Unless I take it out of tomorrow’s stir fry budget? Well… Shit!

I frequently spend the last of my money on beer! I also often go buy one single beer at a bar (while crossing my fingers there’s enough money in my bank account), and then make friendly conversation with those around me. Nine times out of ten I get at least one beer bought for me.

5. Okay budget travel gods, but what about ciggies? How do I budget for them?

…….

And the budget travel gods become silent. Nope. If you’re a smoker you’re just fucked I guess.

6. CouchSurf!

Okay, I do love couchsurfing and use the site quite a lot. However sometimes you just aren’t social. You want to be ALONE. So… Where do I go, budget travel gods?

7. Stay in hostels!

Seriously? Do you know how much a bed in a dorm room costs in Australia or Iceland? Hovering around $30 per night, it adds up right quick. In what way is this a budget option? Why don’t you tell me how to scope out a good camping spot or a squat, or where to sleep in cities if need be? (My friend says where there are security guards, or train stations, etc.)

One thing that drove me nuts in New Zealand was when my ex and I were broke. I mean we were FLAT broke as we searched for work. We would tell people this, and they would reply, “Why don’t you stay in a hostel?” They couldn’t comprehend that we could only afford one meal a day for a few days and then no meals a day forever, and literally nothing else.

Budget travel guides offer basic advice that you should be able to figure out without reading it twenty thousand times, but don’t offer much REAL help. What do I do when I’ve hit $0 and I’m feeling pretty antisocial (but somehow the tobacco fairies have kept me high on nicotine)?

So here’s my secret… Are you ready?

I don’t travel on a budget. Like at all. (Though maybe if I was more responsible with them I could sign up for a credit card that actually helps me fly places on the cheap with points, like this one… unfortunately I’m far too irresponsible.) I’m amazing at saving money, but terrible at not spending it all. I love food. I love beer. I love going to a thrift shop and being able to buy BOTH shirts I wanted! I love pubs. I love coffee. I love travel knickknacks (new sleeping bag! external battery! STUFF!!!)

If you do travel a lot and think you are financially responsible enough to use a credit card (unlike me), then you should check out the benefits that travel credit cards offer. Try to choose one that will give the most points or miles for your specific situation. If you take a lot of flights, maybe one that gives lots of miles would be best. If you purchase lots of your gear for traveling from a certain store, perhaps that store’s credit card is best. Regardless of your specific situation, choosing a great travel credit card can go a long way to help your budget while traveling!

So I’m not a budget traveler in reality, I have my ups and downs financially (and otherwise). My secret is I just sort of accept it. I try (and fail) to budget whenever I have a few hundred bucks, but really I’m just experimenting and figuring out how best to survive when the money runs dry. Which it always does.

So if you ask how I afford to travel? I really don’t bloody know, and I damn well love those tobacco fairies (two and a half years on the road, never ran out of tobacco). I think as I keep moving I learn nothing about budgeting, but I learn to accept many things, simply going with it.

I am hungry – have a dollar can of chick peas.

I need a place to sleep – find somewhere to stash tent.

I need a beer – go order a water at the pub, beer will likely appear.

I smell – wash those stinky pits in the gas station bathroom.

And keep wandering.

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  • 22 Comments:

    1. Well said.
      It’s not a rush to run somewhere, or barely sleep to visit one more day of X city, or not paying for a beer to a new friend you met.
      Once you have a good plan for “budget” traveling and you are balanced, then it’s matter of flexibility (e.g.: using public restrooms to wash ourselves).
      Just like in life!

    2. Just discovered you, and I think I’m in love. I am quitting my job in a month and flying to Hawaii, then SE Asia, and the REAL travel tips are much-appreciated

    3. Couldn’t agree more with the hostels. I’m 40 and use them all of the time. I mea unless you’re on your honeymoon who wants to stay in the hotel room when you’re traveling to a different country are exploring

    4. Hahaha omg I adore how candid you are, this was a hilarious read. And yeah, I’m shocked at how pricey hostels have gotten over the years. I don’t know if I could hitchhike though, that may be a bit too much out of my comfort zone.

      • Thanks for the lovin’! There are always options for those who don’t want to hitch – like cheap ride share sites and stuff. In the expensive countries that’s gotta be better than bus prices, plus you can be flexible and wander where the rides are going if you feel like extra adventure 😉

    5. I’m with you on not being able to give up the beers. I love when I find hostels with bars in them. For instance the hostel I stayed at in Tallinn had two bars inside, and they had happy hour (1.5 euro beers) and double happy hour (1 euro beers) each day. Other hostels I’ve stayed at will give you a free beer upon arrival. All hostels should have policies like this!

    6. I love your candid and honest thoughts, it’s refreshing. I’ll agree, telling someone to take the train in Canada? Cheaper to buy a car than a via rail ticket! You are a true traveler, flying by the seat of your pants and just making it work. I envy that quality as I am a type A mom traveling with kids and always stress over the plans. Great post.

    7. This summer we took an 80 day road trip and realized how slow travel and making our own meals really makes a BIG difference. Great post with wonderful ideas! Couch surfing is the only thing I’m not on board with just yet. Haven’t tried it and not sure if we will. We are a married couple in our late-thirties so I’m still debating if it is worth the savings, but we want to at least try it once!

      • Oh you’d love CouchSurfing – you just totally have to find the right people. Like I stayed with a married couple in Arizona that were around your age, and they were absolutely awesome. You gotta give it a go! 🙂

    8. This made me laugh! So true though. I remember when I first started taking solo trips away I wouldn’t do anything that cost money. Looking back I don’t know what I was thinking! I’d always eat in the hostel to save money and exploring new foods is now my fav thing to do!

      • Right?! You’re forbidden from the nice things when you follow the damn guides. Like let me have the expensive freakin’ food one bloody night, and I want to get drunk today, damn it!

    9. Haha, what a cool article! Love your candidness. Budget travel has never been my thing but I’m trying to see where i can cut costs in my life so that I can afford to travel. To me, it’s a priority now! I don’t know if I could hitch hike though….there are good people. But then, there are not! Need to try couchsurfing soon, too!

    10. Great tips for those who need to watch their pennies. I’m glad I don’t have to, it just takes one aspect of travel planning away from me.

    11. All of these are perfect! So many people complain about the cost of travel but they don’t understand how to stay on a budget. Smoking, partying and eating are the ways my friends all blow their budget!

      • Oh totally, and you know what, sometimes you need those things! You need to have a fun night out, and eat the amazing food that costs way more than the cheap stalls, and hell, if you’re a smoker, you need a damn smoke. You shouldn’t have to deprive yourself; I guess the budget guides should just tell us to budget more if we plan on having fun on our trips?

    12. Fun post! Sometimes it’s easy to go for days on end preparing your own food in a hostel, and well, sometimes you want someone else to do the cooking.

    13. If I were to eat my own cooking every night, I’d die from rickets. Or cholera. Or some other Victorian disease. Loved this, thanks for sharing! 🙂

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