After my last article, I got dozens of messages where you were asking me how I managed to stay 4 months on the roads without getting broke.
First, let me tell you this – Well done, amigos! Asking me about the financial matters clearly means we are making a progress from the level „I just can’t do it,“ to a promising „Alright, I am going, but how do I pay it?“. I am impressed, keep it going!
Many of you were wondering where I got so much money that I could afford to travel without working for 4 months. In order to answer your most common questions- I don’t run any secret business, I don’t sell drugs, neither have I millionaire parents who gave me $3000 on hand saying – “Go, daughter, spread your wings and fly.”
I am an average girl living an average life, studying throughout the school year and working during summers. My travel budget for 4 months in South America was set to $5500 (5000€) . And all in all, I spent $4095 (3700€) including flight tickets.
Now you probably have two questions:
Q: How on Earth did I put together so much money?
A: I worked for 2 years during summer and saved on unnecessary bullshit we use to buy, but don’t need. You really don’t need to party every night, neither would you die if you didn’t have 50 pairs of shoes in your closet – huh, can you believe it?! 🙂
Q2: How did I manage to save $1500 on the road?
A: Well, following a few magical principles, which I am about to reveal you right now
1. Choose your destination wisely
As you probably already know, not all the countries in the world are Switzerland and not every city is London. There are places in this world where you – together with the few bucks in your pocket – basically are a millionaire. Among these we can particularly list Southeast Asian countries, here together with my personal ranking*:
*(To Cambodia and China I have never been, but I base my suggestion on the experience of other friends – travelers 🙂 )
After travelling around SE Asia last summer I can confirm the prices there were ridiculously low, and you can easily survive a day with as little as $10 or $12. When I decided this winter to go to South America I did a little research on the costs of living in the countries in this region and I found out that even though my dreamed Chile, Argentina, and Brazil were a bit expensive, I could do Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia for 15 bucks per day.
2. Get a discount on flight tickets.
Most of the times when we travel, the flight tickets are the biggest investment we make. However, there are several ways how to get around paying thousands of dollars for your flight. How?
- Use budget airlines – Especially for the short-haul flights, make sure you are familiar with the local budget airline companies that do your routes. Some of the big travel booking websites (g.e. Expedia) don’t even display cheap flights of budget airlines companies, which make the price significantly higher.
- Search Incognito or in a privacy mode when looking for the flights – Those little monkeys named cookies do know what you want and after repeated search for the same flight, they send a signal to the booking website to increase the price in order to make you buy it faster. Don’t forget to restart your incognito session every time you search for the same flight as it also resets cookies history.
- Use the right travel booking websites – On the web, there are many booking websites that will help you to find the cheapest possible flights as they display the best prices for the specific dates in a week or month – sometimes also sorting out the absolutely best deals for the time of being! Based on practical experience, I highly recommend skyscanner, momondo, cheapoair and kiwi.com.
- Pick out the error fares thanks to amazing websites as is cheapflightslab.com or secretflying.com, which diligently work every day on finding the absolutely best “fare errors” for us. Do you fancy a flight from Europe to Brazil, Argentina or Taiwan for $250? Go to these websites and sign up for a newsletter. You can´t go any wrong!
3. Eat cheap! Or how to get by without getting poisoned or financially wrecked.
There are several things you can do when trying to save money on food. Based on my experience, the most important rules are:
- Plan ahead – if you go on a trip, make sure you pack some little snacks and this way avoid paying ridiculously high prices for food in touristy destinations. If you stay longer in one place, buy bigger packages of food. These are usually cheaper for the amount in average.
- Cook for yourself – this is the most common way for many backpackers. Just find a hostel with a kitchen, buy food in a supermarket or market and show up with your chef skills! Not very comfortable, but it can save you as much as 50% off the price in the restaurants.
- Eat as locals – the local people in these countries use to eat on markets or in the street. In South America, on a street, you can get a 2-dish meal with a drink for less than $2! However, make sure the places are keeping some basic hygiene standard. There is nothing worse than getting diarrhea a day before your long-haul flight or hiking Machu Picchu – and that is my personal experience 😉
- Do your research – sometimes you simply have to leave your hostel’s kitchen and try some local food. You cannot possibly miss sushi in Japan, paella in Spain or cuy (the guinnea pig) in Peru! However, since these meals are always on the hunt by tourists, the prices can get really overstated. Do some basic research before going out for a dinner. Tripadvisor can be really helpful.
4. Go Couchsurfing
Ah, people. If there is one thing you waste your life with if you don’t do it, then it is Couchsurfing. Based on my own experience, it is one of the loveliest ways of sharing that people do for people in order to make this world a better place. But as any other thing in your life, jumping into it the head first would possibly screw many things up. Let me give you few tips, how to make your CS experience the best ever.
1. Know that CS is not an accommodation service
Seriously, this is the worst thing you can do. Treating your host like some kind of a hotel service will always go wrong. You didn’t come to get a free bed. You came to share – a bit of your life, of your story, of who you are.
2. Make a CS account and get references
CS is a website working on the following pattern – the more positive references = the bigger the demand. Ask few friends to give you some references before you start searching for hosts. It will give them an evidence, that you are a normal person and not a serial killer 🙂
3. Find a good host
Make sure your potential host is fulfilling your criteria (number of people, pets, etc…) and what is important- has good references. Read their profile carefully. Most likely, people with lots of positive references will be good hosts. I bet you don’t want to spend a night in the household ruled by old lady and her 20 cats, or with an old man who preferably always move around naked ;-).
4. Be personal
When sending a request, make sure you read their profile and pick-up the things you have in common or interest you. Hosts always like to know you are interested in them as a person, and not as an owner of your potential future bed. Sometimes they even put some subtle request into their profile so they can see if you really read it.
5. Skip tours and attractions- DIY!
Entrepreneurs and businessmen in tourist destinations most likely already know very well how to earn money on incoming tourists. As much as there is nothing wrong with buying the “whole package”, which can make your life more comfortable and easier, if your budget is the priority, go and do things on your own.
Among the benefits of the DIY-way belong freedom, flexibility, and lower costs. Sometimes you also receive “this is all for me” experience, as you simply stay away from the group. It was only me and the rainforest in Monteverde, Costa Rica, when I decided to not take a guided tour, and trust me, it was amazing (which also might be a bad example, as I got lost there and couldn’t find a way out until twilight).
When searching for information to do it alone, search for travel blogs. If you put into the search engine “How to do Machu Picchu the cheapest way”, you can be sure you will get dozens of featured offers from travel agencies who certainly “do it the cheapest”.
6. Volunteer or workaway 😉
This is probably the best way how to save some money and at the same time, give your wandering existence some positive meaning. There are many opportunities to volunteer in exchange for accommodation and food. You can either go as an individual volunteer and find yourself a placement, or take a use of middlemen agencies who will match you with the organization according to your preferences. Speaking personally, I recommend taking an advantage of some reasonably-priced middlemen agencies, given the fact that recently, the companies seeking volunteers themselves prefer to cooperate with agencies to make sure their volunteers are properly selected and responsible.
Depending on the region, you can find numerous opportunities just googling the right term. Here, I list the most recommended ones:
- Workaway – join the community for a small annual fee and get access to a database of hosts from all around the world seeking helper with their day-to-day activities
- Go overseas – find your placement in companies and organizations from all around the world
- Volunteer HQ – reasonably priced agency that will help you to find a place to volunteer according to your preferences
- WWOOF – work on organic farms and make this world a better (and healthier!) place
I personally stayed in Bogotá, Colombia, for 6 weeks, developing a project for AIESEC local committee, which was aiming to educate kids from poor backgrounds about tolerance, respect, and human rights. In exchange, I was living with the loveliest family ever, that gave me a bed, a food, and huuge amounts of love 🙂 For these 6 weeks, I spent in average $3 per day, while the usual costs of the days when I didn’t volunteer went up to $20-25.
All in all, I spent $4095 (3700 €), however, since I was lazy (and I had that money), I didn’t follow all of these tips so literally. However, let’s see how cheap I could make my trip if I tried just a little bit harder:
120 days travelling in South America (the prices are based on personal experience):
- housing– 50 day X $10 (in hostel) , 20d Couchsurfing, 50d volunteering = $500
- food– 70 day X $5 , 50days food from volunteering = = $350
- flight ticket – $950 (the cheapest possible price not expecting fare errors)
- party -50 day X $5 = $250
- transportation – $300
- tourism – 70 day X $8 = = $560
TOTAL: = $2910
See? Even money are not such a big deal as long as travelling is what you really want.
So I hope you are packed now ;-).