As I mentioned in a previous post one of the big differences I noticed about travelling on my 30b430 trip, compared to the ‘traditional’ gap year I’d taken after university, was that I discovered I didn’t want to do things on the cheap all of the time. Back in Brighton I had a nice life where I went out with friends, ate dinner in lovely restaurants and bought healthy food from the supermarket and I didn’t want to give all of that up for a year. So while for the most part I was happy to stay in hostels, cook my own food and keep my costs down, there were other times when I just wanted to go out for dinner and not worry about ordering the cheapest thing on the menu.
In Australia I remember being so relieved to meet two girls around the same age as me who were also finding it hard having to cook in hostels with about 50 other people. One night we put on our pretty dresses and escaped to a French restaurant with the agreement we would order whatever we wanted and not even worry about the price. That meal was as close as I got to life back at home, gossiping over dinner with my friends and not thinking about the fact that we had to go back to a dorm room of stinky boys.
So for me it was important to get a balance on my trip, saving money where I could so that every once in a while I could treat myself. Here are a few of the ways I saved so that I could splurge later.
Stay in hostels so you can upgrade every once in a while
Along with transport costs, accommodation is probably going to be one of the biggest costs of your trip. Many people help to keep this down by doing things like couchsurfing or housesitting along the way, but if you are paying for accommodation, hostels are probably the cheapest way to do it. I always live by the motto that wherever you stay is just a bed for the night. I usually end up spending so little time in a hostel that as long as my bed’s not crawling with bed bugs (Paris, in case you’re wondering) then I’m happy. Most hostels work on the basis of the bigger the dorm room the cheaper the price so it depends how many people you’re willing to share with. In some countries, particularly Australia, some of the rooms slept up to 20 so I mostly opted for a smaller one for just a couple of dollars more. (I usually find that a maximum of eight to a room gives you the best chance of getting some sleep – as long as you don’t get a snorer!) Even if you prefer to have your own room or are travelling as a couple you’ll probably find that individual rooms in hostels are cheaper than in basic hotels.
The plus side of saving money this way is that when friends come to visit or if it’s a special occasion, or even if you just need a break from hostel life, you can book into somewhere a bit fancier without feeling guilty. For example, we spent Christmas and New Year in Buenos Aires and checked into a ‘luxury’ hostel which cost more than we usually paid for accommodation but made the whole experience so much more special.
Cook in so you can eat out
Obviously in some countries it’s ridiculously cheap to eat out anyway. But this is one for those places where eating out is more expensive. I cooked in a lot in Argentina, Chile and New Zealand, where the hostel kitchens were all pretty well equipped and also Australia, where they weren’t so great. As well as being much cheaper to buy your food from the supermarket, it’s also a nice way to meet people if you’re travelling alone and if I was spending a while somewhere I would often end up sharing a meal with a group of other travellers. Also, don’t worry about buying nice food at the supermarket – you’re saving money anyway – so if you want to eat steak, buy steak.
Saving money by eating in means that you can go out for a nice dinner when you fancy it. I usually followed the rule that if I was eating alone I’d cook in but if someone I met at the hostel invited me for dinner then I’d go. When choosing a restaurant it’s still worth following the locals though, as it will probably be cheaper and tastier than a touristy place.
Ditch the tours so you can go on more adventures
Sometimes when you’re travelling alone a tour is the best option as it’s a good way to meet other people or to get to a place that’s difficult to find otherwise. But there is obviously a mark up on tours and often there is a way to do it yourself much cheaper. In China I was amazed at the number of people who signed up to tours every day at the hostel as they were worried about trying to get to places themselves because they didn’t speak the language. But my friends and I actually found it very straight forward to get to the Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an on public transport and the panda sanctuary in Chengdu by taxi. In both instances we saved ourselves a fortune. If you’re unsure how to get somewhere ask staff at your hostel and also speak to other travellers who are usually always willing to explain how they did something.
Saving money on tours means you can spend it on activities which you have to be accompanied for, such as the Inca Trail in Peru which you must do with a tour company because of the restricted numbers allowed to do it each day.
Cut back on the tat so you can buy the things you love
I don’t know about everyone else but I always get into the habit of picking things up when I’m in cheap countries and saying “Ooh, this is only X pounds” and it’s only when you get back home and you’re surrounded by your own stuff that you realise you’re never going to wear those fisherman’s pants/peace necklaces/friendship bracelets again. On my 30b430 trip I had to make a real effort not to buy things – mainly because I was already carrying a rucksack almost half my body weight on my back – but it also meant I thought really carefully about what I bought, rather than getting something just because it was cheap.
One of the few purchases I made was a handbag I fell in love with in Thailand, which at the time seemed like an absolute fortune. Luckily I had my sister with me to persuade me to buy it and then bring it home for me and now I absolutely love it. Every time I use it people always comment on it and I’m so glad I bought it. It was definitely worth not buying those 50 “I’ve been to Thailand” t-shirts.
Work hard so you can play hard
This one I didn’t actually do on my trip but I think if you’re planning on spending a long time in an expensive country it’s a good option. Settling down somewhere for a while and getting a job let’s you experience life as a local. Or, if you don’t fancy being somewhere for a long time, lots of hostels in countries like Australia and New Zealand let you work there for a few hours a day in exchange for free board.
Don’t forget you are still a tourist though. Don’t fall into the trap of getting up, going to work every day and then going straight home – that’s what you left behind! Make the most of your free time and spend some of the money you’ve earned enjoying yourself!