Cheap Ways to Travel on a Backpacker Budget

For me, finding cheap ways to travel isn’t about mastering credit card reward schemes, gaming the Airmiles system, or sacrificing safety and security. 

It’s about making a mental shift – making decisions long before I step onto the tarmac and then sticking with them.

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I’ve lived and traveled in 45 countries over the last 20 years. During that time, I made every mistake imaginable. Particular lowlights include:

  • Taking out multiple huge loans to travel.
  • Pitching a summer tent in the middle of the Norwegian winter to avoid hostel fees.
  • Making one fast-food burger last for three days due to misreading my travel calendar.

It took me over seven years to fully recover from the first, a very warm bath helped with the second, and I still have nightmares about the third.

All of this was because I had no idea how to travel on a budget. In fairness, I still don’t, but I’ve developed a simple system of cheap ways to travel, regardless of the destination.

Check out our Budget Travel Guides:

Cheap Ways to Travel on a Backpacker Budget

1. Save Money on Flights

Airmiles, error fares, and Black Friday sales are great, but they can be complicated and stressful. There’s something much simpler – you. To be more precise, your belongings.

If you can fly without checking in baggage, you’ll save a fortune!

If you’re traveling now, do me a favor. Look at your backpack. Take out every single item and answer honestly – when did you last use it? Be ruthless with your honesty.

Listen: Ninja Packing Tips: Pack Light and Carry On

For years I hauled around kilos of useless things, “just in case.” If you’re carrying something “just in case,” there’s a 99% chance that it’s just dead weight. Ditch it.

Clothes, gadgets, guides – ditch them all (obviously not everything, but be ruthless).

The standard domestic carry-on luggage size is 22″ x 14″ x 9″. Find a bag/case that size, and discard all non-essential items until they fit in it.

Travelers are like water – we expand to fill the space available. If you’ve got a 30L backpack, you’ll fill it. 60L? Perfect for that extra sombrero and lederhosen. 

You don’t need it! Learn to live out of a carry-on bag, and your travel budget will last so much longer. If you’re serious about learning how to travel for cheap, this is a game-changing lesson.

Related: Strategies for Finding Cheap Flights

2. Save Money on Accommodations

After flights, accommodation is the biggest drain on your expenses.

Have you heard of the sharing economy? Trading your time, skills, and expertise for accommodation? Effectively it’s volunteering, except both parties get something from it.

Traditionally, travel volunteering consisted of picking fruit, mopping toilets, or dying of boredom on the hostel night shift. Nowadays, it’s surf schools, running social media campaigns, and studying permaculture farming.

The volunteering options for travelers these days are insane. Open another tab and go over to (use this link for a discount!). I challenge you to click around for a few minutes and not suffer from wanderlust. 

After just a few minutes, I found these:

You’re not paying a penny for accommodation, most provide at least one hot meal per day, and you’re going to be meeting/working with interesting people. You’ve just checked off three big wins.

You’ll save a ton of money while doing something worthwhile, meaningful, and that could flesh out your CV later on down the line.

Related: Volunteering and Working Abroad

3. Save Money on Food

Make a hamburger last three days.

Nope! Don’t even try it. It’s much healthier to fast. Trust me.

But, if you’re like me and enjoy eating, network!

Whether you’re staying at a hostel or volunteering, combine your cooking skills with other guests. One person buys the pasta, another the sauce, and someone to cook. Whoever cooks eats for free while the rest chip in with the ingredients. 

More people? Even better! Alternate the washing up, food prep., etc. Share the tasks, and your food bill drops dramatically. You’ll also pick up new skills and recipes from your fellow travelers – winner-winner chicken dinner!

Additional benefits to group cooking:

  • Builds stronger bonds of friendship.
  • Trade language skills.
  • Network and find other potential opportunities to share and work together.

 If you’re a digital nomad or freelancer, these side benefits are worth their weight in gold.

Related: How to Meet People as a Solo Traveler

Additional Tips for Cheap Ways to Travel

I thought I’d finish with a quickfire round of ideas and tips to reduce your outgoings and extend your travel time. These are in no particular order:

  • Slow down. Rushing around costs money. Take your time, research your options, and shop around for the best deals.
  • There are plenty of apps that pay you to use them, either crypto or classic fiat cash. Use your quiet downtime in-between trips to make a little side income.
  • Free walking tours are gold! Every major city has them, you’ll learn so much about the surroundings, and they’re free!
  • You can find flights for less than £10 in Europe if you travel without check-in luggage. That’s cheaper than getting a bus, which is the second-best option.
  • Be flexible.You may find cheaper flight deals by traveling to a nearby city and flying from a different airport.
  • Taking a road trip with fellow travelers can save money and create incredible memories. Carpool, share the driving, and split petrol costs – everyone wins.
  • You don’t need luxury on a flight. As long as they have a functioning toilet and engines that spin, choose the cheap flights every time. Premium economy? Faster check-in? It’s all pointless.
  • Don’t use your domestic debit or credit card abroad, unless it’s specifically for travel. Instead, find a top-up card with zero foreign transaction fees and that uses the interbank exchange rate.

Related: Use a Charles Schwab Account to Avoid Foreign Transaction Fees

Keep in mind, when looking for cheap ways to travel, it’s all relative. If you’re in a major city (London, NYC, Sydney, etc.), the cost of living will be high. Staying outside the city center and taking public transport will be the most cost-effective strategy.

Related: London City Guide for Budget-Minded Travelers

Or, avoid the capital cities altogether and spend your time in the smaller, lesser-known towns. Day trip into the capital to get your Insta-fix, then retreat to the budget-friendly safety of a nearby village.

Or, better still, skip the popular destinations and visit a less-explored country. South America and Eastern Europe are still excellent for budget travel, provide all the adventure you crave and are easily accessible with great flight deals.

By Adam Fraiel

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