One of the most common misconceptions about travel is that it has to be expensive.
Many people, when told of our plans to leave New York City and travel the world for a year, shook their heads and said something like:
“Wow, you must have saved up a lot of money?”
“Do you have a recently deceased rich uncle you never told me about?”
“I KNEW you were selling drugs on the side!”
Nope. Not guilty.
The truth is, our current location independent lifestyle costs significantly less than our life back home did.
As one year of travel turned into a permanent way of life our budget has consistently remained at around $1,110 per person, per month. We don’t sleep in the gutter or go hungry. Nor do we stay in roach infested hotels, eat wonder bread slathered in hot sauce for dinner, or deny ourselves ice cold beers…ever.
Traveling on a low affordable budget does not equate to traveling like a hobo.
So, how can you make travel more affordable?
The first step to traveling on a budget is to rid yourself of the idea that traveling is a “vacation”.
We tend to think of vacation travel as a seven to ten day stay in a pricey hotel, multiple meals at exotic restaurants, gifts for the folks back home, swimming with the dolphins while the boat staff takes pictures of us underwater, and so on. If you want to travel in that fashion, then yes, prepare to spend. And spend and spend.
The truth is that your budget for that one week vacation can sustain our form of travel for a couple of months, easily.
There are three key categories that have to be addressed and monitored in order to travel on a budget. Transportation, food, and most importantly, accommodations.
Let’s start with the most important category first.
In most areas of the world you have to be able to subject yourself to the joys and pains of sleeping in a shared “dorm” space, usually in a hostel. If you are traveling with a partner or a close friend you can hope to find a small double room for the price of two dorm beds in most “developing” countries.
The upsides to dorm life are plentiful. First of all it’s cheap. For instance a hostel in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, costs around twelve dollars a day. You get a bed that comes with access to a shared bathroom, shower space, and a common area with a kitchen. Pretty sweet deal, and that kitchen is certainly going to come in handy…
Some hostels offer female only dorm rooms, which can be great if you are a girl and don’t want to listen to men snore at night.
Secondly, staying in a hostel can expose you to an incredible amount of incredible people who, just like you, are traveling on a budget and are usually traveling for long periods of time. The Travelers of the World section of this website will introduce you to the people we have met along the way by virtue of staying in hostels.
Want to book accommodations? We recommend using the following sites:
Thirdly, the aforementioned kitchen, especially if you have a restricted diet. Vegetarians and vegans NEED a kitchen in many parts of the world, or they can find themselves attempting to survive on bread and peanut butter. Or spending more money than they have budgeted on whatever vegan restaurant they manage to find (easier in some places, nearly impossible in others). Check out this article on how to make the most out of a hostel kitchen.
So, the downside to dorm life?
Well, self explanatory really. If you are the type that can’t sleep without perfect silence, refuses to sleep with ear plugs, has privacy issues, a large personal space bubble, or is disgusted by a bathroom you haven’t scrubbed down yourself you have to look at other, more costly, options. If you think you are this sort of person but desperately want to backpack you still owe it to yourself to give dorms a try. Do a little bit of research, find a non “party” hostel and bite the bullet. You never know how you will react once you are on the road and have gained some separation from your Western sensibilities. It took us a little while to get used to dorm life, but once we did we were able to liberate our budget for other activities.
And you can too!
Of course, hostels are not your only recourse. While AirBnB prices have been growing with the popularity of the site, you can still find decent deal from time to time, especially if you rent a room rather than an entire apartment. For even slower and longer travel plans renting an apartment can sometimes be an amazing solution to affordable accommodation. For instance, when we stayed in Romanian capital of Bucharest for a month we paid a grand total of $400 USD for a nice one bedroom apartment with all the modern amenities we could want or need.
You can also couchsurf, house sit, pet sit, WWOOF, and Workaway to completely negate the cost of housing while traveling. Check out this article for more details.
So, as you can see there are many options on reducing cost of accommodation if you are open to exploring the world in a slightly new way.