How to travel cheap

There are ways to travel cheap in the most expensive of countries as well however, you still need money for Visas, flights (hitching a ride on a boat seems possible but not that easy), and you know to eat! There are people traveling with zero money (Not in favor of it but that’s another discussion) but as an Indian passport holder, one can only read about such stories.

Traveling definitely is neither as expensive as I was told nor is it impossible to do a long trip with an Indian passport.

Read on to know how I managed to save enough money in a year to be able to travel for a year.

Things I did to save money before my trip:

  • Stopped going to restaurants. This got to be one of the biggest savers. It wasn’t difficult at all as I love homemade food. I would generally go to these fancy places to eat only to be in the company of my friends. I had to put an end to it as I was spending thousands for something I didn’t even enjoy. It wasn’t easy to cook my meals every day though so I would eat lunch and evening snacks at my client’s office. Fortunately, it was subsidized so I didn’t spend much on food.
  • Say yes to public transport. No matter what, I rarely took a vehicle all for myself. Not only is this great for the environment but also saves you a lot of money. Even when I had to take a cab (I rarely did), I took the ‘pool’ option.
  • Cheap train travel. I was still making smaller trips within India while saving for this big trip. The only way to do it was to keep my costs very low. I did that by traveling in Non AC sleeper class in trains. They are just about as dirty as the third AC but cost a fraction of the money. In last one year, I traveled by AC coach all of 3 times I think.
  • No buying things I don’t need. Don’t be moved by the discounts was something I reminded myself regularly. No matter what was on sale and what percent was discounted, I wasn’t moved. The only shopping I did last year was at Decathlon or from small stores for things I needed for my trip.

The idea was to save money on EVERY possible thing. It’s easy to think it’s only a dollar more but if you accumulate all that for a year, it becomes a considerable amount. I generally reminded myself ‘that’s a meal on the road or that’s another day of travel in so n so country’. This kept me motivated enough to live cheaply.

Apart from this I was saving an additional 12% in voluntary provident fund, bought some shares (that continued paying interest when I was traveling), did not replace things that I could manage without as I was leaving in a couple of months and was leaving behind most things, sold things that I could like washing machine, bed, wardrobe.

Now after you have saved enough money, it’s time to head on the road. To be able to travel long term, you need to be continuously motivated and be disciplined in your spending. It’s important to decide the purpose and style of travel. Mine kept changing. While in the beginning, it was mostly about seeing new places, later it was mostly about human interaction and building relationships, and understanding different cultures.

Keeping costs minimum on the road:

  • Buses and other transport:
    • I tried to hitchhike wherever I felt safe doing it. Mostly in Argentina and Chile. I tried it on one route in Colombia but dropped it midway. Argentina was the most expensive country for long distance buses, so hitchhiking there worked well with my budget.
    • Wherever I couldn’t hitchhike, I took the cheapest bus and often night buses to save on hostel stay. In countries like Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia it was okay to negotiate the bus price.
    • I had a rule for myself that if my host’s place/ hostel was within 5 km range, I would walk there. This got more difficult as my backpack got heavier. But I walked a LOT. If there was only one place I had to go to for that day, I even walked upwards of 20 km. I couldn’t do this much in Colombia though as being caught in deserted streets could get one in trouble there.
Public transports are generally unlike this
  • Food:
    • I cooked most of the times and in expensive countries, I even cooked for the day which I carried in a box.
    • If I just wanted to try something new, I would ask if I could buy lesser quantity for a lesser price even if it was not on the menu. Most of the times they agreed.
    • In countries where eating outside was cheap and vegetarian food was not unheard of like Bolivia and Peru, I chose it in Mercados where food was much cheaper than food on streets or small restaurants.
    • I often had to get my food customized like rice with only lentils and salad minus the meat. Mercados have fixed menus which almost always comes with meat. I would try to negotiate and pay less for no meat but it worked very few times.
Homemade food was cheaper and healthier
  • Accommodation:
    • Hostels: In the beginning, I stayed mostly in dormitories. It’s a great way to meet fellow travelers and finding travel buddies. Also, they are not nearly as bad as one would imagine. I barely ever had any bad experience with hostels. In one year, I booked my hostel in advance all of 2-3 times. There always is someone with space. I would check online for the cheapest hostel and upon reaching the place I would walk around to see if there was a cheaper option available. It was not common to find a cheaper one but it was worth a shot. Another thing I tried was to ask the hostel if they would reduce the price if I took the bed with no breakfast. It worked a few times and buying breakfast from outside costed much less.
    • Couchsurfing: I cannot stress enough the benefits of Couchsurfing. It has to be one of my favorite applications of all times. Some of my best friends from the road are through Couchsurfing. I got to stay with students, a scientist, lawyers, a hotel manager, language teachers, architects, a temple priest, a missionary, photographers, a marketing professional, a real estate agent, a restaurant owner, a digital nomad, an author, and some in Chandler bing’s profession which is ‘I have no idea’ (‘FRIENDS’ reference).
Generally, there’s a bed to sleep on but sometimes there’s no couch either just some space on the floor
  • Volunteering in hostels: This is one of the best ways to save money on the road. The idea is to work in a hostel for a couple of hours a day generally ranging from 4-6 hours a day in exchange for bed and at times meals. This way you continue meeting fellow travelers, one can explore a place to their satisfaction and can take a break from doing touristy things every single day.
  • Shopping:

Because I was walking so much I was conscious of every gram I was adding to my backpack. I did not buy anything or accept a gift that I didn’t need. If I got a pair of trousers, I got rid of one, If I got a t-shirt, I gave away one.

Much later on my trip, I started buying small things like a piece of cloth I thought I could work with once I returned, or threads (I love collecting yarn).

The only souvenirs I bought myself are fridge magnets and flag patch for my backpack. This too had a limit of only one per country. I got the same i.e. fridge magnets as souvenirs for my friends and family as well.

Apart from all this, I did things like below to keep my costs in check

  • hand washed my clothes. I washed my clothes whenever I was going to stay at a place more than a day so I knew they would dry. And machine washed only when my laundry was free (When I volunteered) or if my host had a machine.
At times there was no time to wait for the clothes to dry. So, I used whatever space I could in this picture it’s a bus
  • If I was not sure if I can drink tap water or not, I boiled it instead of buying packaged water.
  • I carried fruits most times so I don’t buy expensive food out of starvation.
  • Always used public transportation within the city. I took a cab only where there were other travelers to share the cost with.
  • I always had a toilet paper roll on me as they are generally expensive near hiking areas and you can never expect when the place wouldn’t have a roll of toilet paper.
  • In replenished my toiletry supplies in Bolivia which is the cheapest country in South America.

Some of these things would only save you a dollar or two but as I said earlier these little things accumulate to a lot.

Anything else you would want me to include here? let me know in the comments.

4 thoughts on “How to travel cheap”

  1. Oh my gosh, what a terrific experience. I love that you stayed vegetarian the whole time. In my travels I have found that vegetarian food is often not on the menu or more expensive. I would love to hear more about the meals you made along the way.

    • I did start eating eggs though in Bolivia but stopped after returning to India. It was getting way too difficult without eggs.
      That’s true, surprisingly vegetarian food used to be more expensive generally.
      That’s a brilliant suggestion. But I didn’t click pictures of my meal 🙁 Do you think it would be alright to just make a write up with minimal pictures?

  2. I love that you stayed vegetarian the whole time. In my travels I have found that vegetarian food is often not on the menu or more expensive. I would love to hear more about the meals you made along the way.


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