It is a beautiful day in Vancouver today – Sunny and warm in March. It makes me think about travelling and planning the next trip. When I backpacked in southeastern Europe a few summers ago, I was on a tight budget. I averaged spending $30 per day, which included accommodation, food, admission tickets, transportation, and anything else. Here are some tips if you are also a budget traveller.
Check out couchsurfing you haven’t heard about it yet. Simply put, it is a platform where you can find hosts in your destination cities to provide you a couch (or sometimes a bed) to crash for a few days. It is meant for culture exchange and meeting new friends from around the world. A word of caution that you need to be well planned. Some hosts requires you to give them at least a week’s notice. Last minute couch requests can be hard to find. If there comes a situation that you are looking for urgent couch requests, I recommend checking when was the last time they were online, which will indicate how fast they can get back to you.
On nights that I cannot couch surf or that I couldn’t plan so far ahead, I book hostels. From my personal experience, HostelBookers seems to give me the best rates. I look for a few things when I’m looking at hostels: 1) Price 2) Free wifi and how reliable? 3) Reviews: what others say, ex: is there bedbugs? 4) Location: how convenient it is to city centre/touristic destinations/public transportation
When those requirements are somewhat met, I also look for 5) Is there free breakfast? 6) how many beds in the room and is there locker for your valuables? 7) helpfulness of staff
AirBnB is a great option if you are travelling with a group of friends, since you can rent an apartment/house together instead of living in a hotel.
Tip: try to set a “base” city that you will be staying for the next few days and going to the surround areas via public transportation or travel buses. It saves you the hassle of taking all your luggage with you all the time. Also, bigger cities = more accommodations = cheaper prices.
I don’t advocate starving myself to save money. My rule of thumb is to have (at least) one good meal per day that I look forward to. I’d splurge once in a while and as a way of trying local food (unless they are cheap to start with).
On the meals that I’m taking care of my hunger, supermarkets are my best friends. Some of them have ready-made food at affordable prices if you don’t cook.
Free Walking Tours
Many cities (especially in Europe) have free walking tours. You can find information online or they may have flyers at hostels. You will not go inside any buildings during the tour. I find them really helpful because it gives me a general idea of what’s to see in the city. Additionally, the tour guides (typically passionate volunteers) can give you advice on where to go base on your interest at the end of the tour.
I have never been a fan of travelling with a tour group. I’ve had bad experience with them even on the one day tours because they are always trying to make more money in one way or another. However, I had nothing but good experiences with these free walking tours. In Sofia, Bulgaria, I went on a free hiking tour to Mount Vitosha that was operated by an NGO that focus on promoting the “green-ness” of Sofia.
I almost never took the taxi. Although I am horrible with directions, I walk when I can. Getting lost is part of the experience in knowing the place better. For longer distances, I opt for public transportation when available.
Numerous travellers had told me that they hitchhiked. It is a cheap alternative. Personally I have never tried this due to safety concerns.
If you are like me and you can sleep anywhere, take long distance travel buses at night for domestic travelling. It is not only less hassle than going to the airport and security etc, but it also saves you from booking accommodation for that night.
Tip: When I was going to Uzice, Serbia, the only hostel I can find (instead of a hotel that will cost me $100 per night) was 5km before entering into the city. I asked the bus driver to drop me off so I don’t have to get into the city and take a taxi back.
Cash is king
Check your financial institution for your debit and credit card fees abroad. Some banks charges more fees when you withdraw cash from ATMs abroad. In Australia, I opened an account with Citibank AU, which has no transaction fees when withdrawing money from any ATMs (unless the ATM charges extra fee)