Jonny Blair of Don't Stop Living (www.dontstopliving.net), a seasoned traveller, digital nomad and blogger shares his experiences and money saving tricks of the trade.
I left my homeland ten years ago to see the world. I've got quite far. Over 70 countries and counting, all 7 continents and an abundance of special memories and moments from a decade of global nomadery. I thought I'd use my travel expertise to help you plan a budget for your travels. Granted that I've worked for over 9 years out of my 10 years of travel, I still know what it's like to be strict on yourself and work out your budget. Here are my top 10 tips on organising a budget on your travels, I could have written 100 but you can find the rest on my Monday's Money Saving Tips section of my blog!
1. Don't book things in advance
I learnt this in my early days of travelling - I had booked a few hostels and buses in advance before realising I wanted to spend longer in the place before that so I'd end up losing out on it. It's important to be strict on your budget not to plan too far ahead and I recommend only booking things in advance (hostels, buses, flights etc.) if it is a busy time in the appropriate field. For example booking the Inca Trail in Peru in high season - yes, you will need to book in advance. But in general be flexible and don't look too far ahead. Take it one step at a time. There are also some hostels that offer a 4th night free if you stay for 3 etc. These things are worth considering.
"Spend a few nights in hostels, try couch surfing, sleep on night buses, sleep on airports, stay with friends. I'd gladly live in a tent for 14 days to get my 15th day in a 3 star hotel."
As I rule I am extremely diverse and flexible about my accommodation. Don't think you can't afford hotels - you can with the right budget. For example over a two week period of travel, you are better to vary your accommodation options all the time. Spend a few nights in hostels, try couch surfing, sleep on night buses, sleep in airports, stay with friends. If you have had some free accommodation during those 14 days, you'll be able to squeeze out a really decent night in a comfortable hotel with hot showers and a comfortable bed. I'd gladly live in a tent for 14 days to get my 15th day in a 3 star hotel. I normally treat myself once every 3 weeks to a night in a three star hotel. Camping out is also a great way to save money - rough it for a month and then paying for a 3 or 4 star hotel for a night is well deserved and you've already saved a load of cash by sleeping in your tent.
3. Always carry food and drink
You should have a day bag with you when you travel. It goes over your back and it is light so nothing strenuous. But if you are out for the day you will need to eat. Prepare snack food and lunch in the morning so that during any given day you will only ever need to eat once at maximum in a restaurant.
Good items to take in your day lunchbox include:
- Water, soft drinks or juice
- Sandwiches or bread rolls
- Packets of biscuits or cereal bars
All these foods provide you with the vitamins and energy you need and you can buy them in local cheap supermarkets. You're beating your budget when you do this and avoiding restaurants where the temptation to buy a beer or an expensive soft drink is always there. Another key point is to book into hostels that offer free breakfasts, and eat as much as you can from them so you won't need as much at lunchtime.
Treat Yourself to Dinner in a Restaurant: 2 Handy Tips
If you do treat yourself to dinner in a restaurant then there are two good ways to save money.These might sound like obvious ways to save money but so many travellers forget them. Simply:
- Eat cheap and locally in markets and
- Eat in a decent restaurant which has a Happy Hour or a promotion.
4. Don't fall for souvenirs
You will walk through endless market stalls and shops on your travels. These are accompanied by good, seasoned salesmen trying to sell you tacky souvenirs. You don't want to ram your bag with useless ornaments and souvenirs so please don't buy lots of souvenirs. They are touristy and they are a waste of money. I have a select method I go by when choosing souvenirs and I stick to it. I do still buy the odd souvenir but only if it's small and it's cheap and most importantly I can't get it anywhere else. In general only buy a souvenir if you are sure it is totally unique to that place and cannot be bought anywhere else. A good souvenir to buy is a postcard - quick easy and a perpetual memory for your friends and family from where you are. Stamps are cheaper than you think.
Booking night buses and night trains is a good tip as that way you will save money on accommodation and get to your destination early morning ready to explore in daylight. Try to avoid internal flights within the same country as they can be costly and airport transport to cities can be hit and miss. You don't want to book a cheap flight and then have to pay for a taxi.
Oh and finally - avoid taxis! You're here to explore the world so walk your way round cities. Carry an umbrella or poncho if you're worried of getting caught in a rainstorm. Taxis are normally there to rip you off. Public transport and walking are the way forward.
If you are travelling in a group consider hiring a car if it works out cheaper. You also have more flexibility by doing this.
Do the free stuff! Walking around cities is free. Standing outside temples and parks and reading the information boards is free. Some museums are free. If a sight is particularly special then of course you should pay to go inside, but consider doing all the free things in a city you are in. You will also find you enjoy walking round new places more that way. If you're a student or an OAP carry an ID card for discounted entry into most places.
"As a rule NEVER pay for the internet on your travels, use free wi-fi in airports, hostels and cafes and use the internet for as long as you want."
As a rule NEVER pay for the internet on your travels. If you have a laptop or internet phone, take them with you and get free wi-fi in airports, hostels, cafes etc. I'd far rather sit in a coffee shop and have paid for a nice cup of coffee and use the internet for as long as I want rather than head to an internet place with a time limit and a charge per hour. You might end up spending a load of cash. Book into hostels that offer free wi-fi and head to coffee shops to use it too. Plus - you're travelling - you shouldn't really be using the internet that much unless of course you're travel blogging...
8. Book Everything Yourself
When you want a cheeseburger, you walk into the restaurant and buy it yourself, right? Same rule applies to travel. You don't want to pay an agency to get a Visa for you. Get it yourself! You'll save money. Plus once you've been through the experience of getting things sorted for yourself, you will be a much more independent traveller for it. Only use agencies if money is no object, time is limited or there is NO other option. Be independent - sort out your own travels!
9. Read Travel Blogs
Do you know where the best source of advice and tips for travelling comes from? It's not travel companies or their websites - they are there to sell things and provide a service. It's the real travellers who tell the true stories from their experiences. So if you want to read about how to cross the border from Argentina to Paraguay, search for it on other people's travel blogs and trust their advice. Your fellow travellers are in the same boat as you. They want to enhance your journey too and you can bounce stories off them. How does this save you money? Fellow travellers always talk about money and bloggers always mention costs of things - they're part of the journey. If you find a train ticket for $50 on a train company website don't rush in and buy it - check if travel bloggers know a cheaper way. They probably will and you can comment and interact with them - they will be glad to help you out.
10. Carry multiple currencies and credit cards
Changing money is a very important aspect of travel. Some countries and some places will only accept certain types of cards so make sure you have at least one ATM debit card that can be used in lots of countries and carry a Mastercard and a VISA card - some places will only accept one and not the other. Multiple currencies should also be carried at all times. Never go anywhere without some US Dollars in your pocket. They can be exchanged in almost any country. As a rule I carry US Dollars, the currency of the country I'm in and the currency of the previous country I was in/the one I'm heading to next. You can also save money on the exchange rates by carrying multiple currencies at the same time. Know your exchange rates!