I have learned the secret of traveling on a budget from my brother. He used to be part of the US Navy and has travelled much of the world – from the US to Europe and Asia, and back. He has seen amazing monuments and attractions, beautiful cities, and even the ugly side of war. But he said he only began to really travel and see the world after he left the navy and became a backpacker.
Backpackers are experts in saving money when travelling, and we can definitely learn a thing or two from them. I have learned several tips from my navy-turned-world-traveller brother that really worked.
His tips are more on the philosophical side of travelling, but they certainly help on the practical and money side as well. Here are just five simple ways to save a lot of money when travelling.
1. Have a sense of adventure
“It all begins with the mind,” my brother would say, “until it flows to your heart and eventually to your pocket.”
Funny? A bit, yes. Philosophical? Could be, but practical and correct? Definitely.
Here is why it works.
According to science, backpackers and hikers are generally happier and healthier than people who do not travel at all. Thus, there is a sense of achievement when travelling that could boost your self-esteem, lower your stress, and create a feeling of overall wellness. Research particularly point to backpacking in nature, minus the convenience of fancy hotels or fast rides.
When my brother first decided to go backpacking to Asia, he spent more on medicines and packed foods than swim clothes or hiking shoes. The thing was, he was prepared to get sick or perhaps go to places where food is unfamiliar or scarce.
If you begin your journey with a mindset that you are stepping out of your comfort zone, you would embrace even the inconveniences along the way. Eventually, you wouldn’t mind staying in cheap hotels and eating local foods.
You become happier with even the most mundane encounters during your trip and save money at the same time. Have an open mind, and you’ll see more than what you’ve initially planned for.
2. Be friendly and build connections
Again this focuses on your behaviour and how you approach life than the usual travel tip you might get elsewhere.
Does this name ring a bell, Leon Logothesis? Or his Netflix show, “The Kindness Diaries”? If not, you should consider watching and learning a thing or two before you start travelling.
Logothesis, 40 years old, quit his job as a London broker to travel the world with very little money. Oh, sorry, his budget was less than little, he had $0 to begin with, and it worked.
The idea is simple – travel the world by relying on getting help from people. This maverick eventually travelled to 100 countries, relying solely on the kindness of strangers.
How’d he do it? He gave out kindness and received kindness in return. He crashed on people’s couches and hitchhiked. I’m not suggesting that you do what Logothetis did (unless you’re as brave and adventurous and has struck a deal with Netflix), but definitely carry your own bag of kindness as you travel. You’d never know where being friendly can take you.
Other than saving money, when you win friends, you are giving yourself a chance to see more local stuff than would the average tourist.
Logothesis said, “The best thing about doing it on a budget is that it enables you to connect with people. When you’re going into a four- or five-star hotel, you’re not really connecting with anyone.”
And as you connect with people, it wouldn’t be a surprise if they take you to local places that you couldn’t otherwise see when going on a travel package.
I got those of this myself when I travelled to South Korea. I was in that beautiful, eccentric country on a business trip. But after making friends with a local, I was invited to their place in the suburbs and had a bottle of beer or two at a local restaurant.
Not only did I get to see how an average South Korean live and where the local hangout hotspots were, but I was also able to save some dollars for dinner and drinks.
3. When in Rome, do as the Romans do
This is a common saying for foreign travelers, but sadly not observed by most people.
Going back to my brother, after one of his many trips to Asia, he brought home a piece of cloth for me that didn’t look like any garment I have ever seen. It was a sarong from Nepal. It’s practically a skirt for dudes. He’s learned the art of spinning the sarong and wearing them as locals do.
So I asked why he brought a sarong home, and he explained that it was a gift from an actual local chief in the area.
I envied my brother not only because he brought home an amazing souvenir without paying for it, but also because he actually became friends with an important person in a foreign land and learned how to live (and dress) the way they do.
The editor and co-founder of Boat magazine, Erin Spens, said practically the same thing:
“My favourite travel memories have come from locals sharing advice or inviting me somewhere, which winds up being so much cheaper than booking into a tour, and loads more fun!”
4. Be wise when booking flights and rides
Not many of us can do what Logothesis did, not even my backpacking brother. But my brother didn’t have to go completely on nothing because he still had the U.S. Navy to back him up. He would choose to travel to countries where the U.S. Navy offered free flights to former servicemen. This is why my brother has been to most parts of the world. (A thing of envy!)
You and I can’t be as bold as Logothesis or as privileged as my former navy-man sibling, but it doesn’t take much to be wise.
You can always call local airlines or check them out online for discount offers and freebies. Most airlines offer cheaper flights when booked in advance.
This is true with museums and some tourist landmarks as well. Here in Amsterdam, museums are the chief tourism magnet and you can actually visit them for free when using I Amsterdam City Card, which also allows you to get free public transport while here.
Be wise. Do a little research. Ask around. For instance, did you know that you can get free boat rides on the Amsterdam canals? You can catch a free ferry behind Centraal Station.
Also, if you are not on a tight schedule, you don’t need to get direct flights. Booking connecting flights and not minding a long layover can help you save money when traveling on a budget, too. Check the dates of your trip and see if the price would go down if you tweaked the dates a bit. When in Amsterdam, the intercity goes to all major (and even lesser known) tourist attractions around the country, and the direct trips are always more expensive.
5. Don’t be a tourist
You can tie this very closely with #3. When given a choice to go with a local or a fellow tourist, don’t choose the latter.
Practical thinking will tell you that you could easily end up in expensive touristy restaurants and shopping malls when you go around with fellow tourists. So avoid the usual tourist traps. If you walk alone or with a local friend, you might just surprise yourself by discovering an amazing yet inexpensive restaurant just around the bend from your hotel. Or maybe a fantastic local boutique shop.
Let’s take Amsterdam canals again, for example. When on a guided tour, you could easily miss the many surprises on every turn and through narrow lanes along the canals. Go on foot and follow the locals. Get lost and discover gardens, restaurants, art galleries, breweries, flower stalls, old monasteries, and historical homes on your own.
Also, ask around for the cheapest street markets and when they open. I guess the easiest way to save money is not to spend it. Don’t spend on expensive clothes or souvenirs from famous city shopping centres.
Looking back and more closely at these five tips, to sum up, the idea is to try to make an impact on people when you travel, as much as you allow a foreign city or country to have an impact on you.
Logothesis is a hero amongst backpackers having travelled the world solely on the kindness of people. He said, “Whether it’s in a foreign country, at your workplace or even at the local Starbucks, how you carry yourself — in your attitude and behaviour — can help you connect with others and have a profound impact on your life.”
The idea of seeing a new city or country is to build new and lasting memories that could eventually change the way you view life and yourself. To do so, it is important to keep a sense of adventure and make new connections wherever you go.