Often when people ask me how I manage to travel so cheap, they point out the cost of accommodation and say it’s simply not possible. “You did a road trip to Spiti Valley, for 9 days, in under 5000 rupees? Where the hell did you sleep man? Under the stars?” – Yes that’s where I slept. In my tent. And under the stars.
I save most of my money on travelling because of two reasons: I eat anything, and I sleep anywhere. Don’t take it literally, but the idea I am trying to convey is that I always look for a cheap deal, and that’s how I survive. I avoid hotels, and I say no to luxury resorts, because of how much they cost. Moreover when you barely be in for most of the day – there is no point in paying a 1000 Rupee bill, and bleed unnecessary money. So I stick to the other side of the spectrum: I stay in hostels, dormitories, tents and pretty much everywhere else which is pocket friendly.
For example last time I was in Manali for a night, I slept in someone’s shop, because I was offered a space and the owner himself was sleeping there. I saw no harm in accepting his humble offer. Such experiences moreover only make me look cool (tell me if it doesn’t). So yea, travelling is cheap and making it unnecessarily expensive is plain stupid. Here’s how you can find a cheap accommodation, save big bucks, and travel more:
Hostels (or Youth Hostels)
They are a popular option among budget travellers. You can find a bed in a hostel pretty much anywhere in Asia in between 100 to 500 Rupees (1.5 to 8 US dollars) per night. In Europe they cost a little more, but consider paying around 800 Rupees (or 9 US dollars) in countries like France. An average hostel room accommodates between 4 and 10 individuals.
In addition to being cheap, hostels provide a highly social atmosphere. If ever you wondered how solo backpacker travel places, for months, and not get bored – this is how. We stay in hostels and meet new and interesting people every day. I cannot imagine my foreign travels without such facilities. They are moreover clean, and most hostels change the bedsheet and the pillow cover on every new booking. Unfortunately India does not have an effective hostel-system, but since in India the accommodation is anyway very cheap, than most of the countries in the world, it doesn’t harm you much.
- Avoid hostels that do not have a locker.
- Booking.com, Hostelworld.com and Agoda are good websites to find a hostel. I personally have used them quite a few times.
A guest house provides a simple, affordable room, without the perks of a hotel. No room service, no VIP treatment. But they are ideal for those who want a cheap deal, with compromising on personal space and privacy. Unlike hostels, social interaction in a guest houses is often poor.
Rooms in majority of the guest houses accommodate two people, but getting a single-bed is apparently not impossible. In some places hostels are just not available, but there will be plenty of guesthouses around.
- Always check the room before paying the rent in advance.
- Use your own padlock to lock the door, when you go out.
- Guest house recommendations can best be found on TripAdvisor.
Renting A Property
If you’re staying at a place for a minimum of a 10 days or a fortnight, the best way to save maximum money is by renting a local property. Major benefits include getting a bigger, better and a home like space – all at a fairly cheaper price.
Finding a property, however, is easier in places where backpackers often tend to frequent. This includes the likes of Goa and Bangkok. I’ve rented a short-term apartment a few time during my travel, and they’ve always proved to be a great deal. For example I once stayed in Majuli Island, in Northeast India, for three weeks and only paid 1,500 Rupees. Plus it had a kitchen (they mostly come with a kitchen, as they offer a complete home-like setup), which allowed me to cook and reduce my food costs.
- Make sure you check the location and transport options from the place, because unlike guesthouses or hotels, these properties are generally located deep inside the town.
- To find a good quality and a reliable place for long term stays, use Airbnb.
- If Airbnb give expensive results, as it often does, ask local people/contacts. I go with this option.
Staying With Locals (or Couch Hopping)
One of the best and most effective ways to save money on accommodation is by not paying for it. You do not only save much money on accommodation this way, but also get to interact with a local who can tell you where to go and what to do. Hospitality networks like Couchsurfing and Stay4Free are great platforms to look for places where you can go and stay with locals, all for free.
To use these platforms, you might need to pay a little signup fee, but trust me, if you keep travelling abroad and do not mind staying at someone’s house, the little signup fee is definitely worth it. I personally haven’t used any such platforms (not yet!), but I’ve met people who’ve travelled across the world this way.
- Make sure you read reviews about the host, by other travellers.
- There are dozens of websites you can use for this, but some of the most popular ones include Couchsurfing, HospitalityClub, BeWelcome and Stay4Free.
- Couchsurfing is the most popular and preferred, because of the wide range of properties available.
From milking cows to teaching English to working as hotel staff – volunteering options are unlimited and readily available across the world. Where the deal often includes free food and free stay against your time, some places also pay you a little. What’s better is volunteering can teach you a new skill, provide insight into a foreign culture, and even looks good on you CV.
Volunteering is how I am planning to backpack across Europe, next year in 2017. Will write more on it, as it happens.
- Before signing up for a program, check how many hours you’re required to work every day, because ultimately you’re there to travel, not work.
- WWOOF and WorkAway are good sites to search for volunteer options. I’m using WorkAway.
Camping is a great way to cut down your cost of living, while travelling. It moreover allows you to get close to nature and make your journey more adventurous. Where camping generally is free – provided you own a tent and a sleeping bag – sometimes it can cost a little if you camp in a popular tourist location.
Most people think of camping as an outdoor adventure activity, but if you ask a traveller, it is no less an accommodation option than renting a room. The limitation with camping, however, is you need a wide open space.
- Avoid camping in a private property, unless you have a permission.
- Always try to camp near a source of water.
Journeys that last 10 hours or more can best be used for overnight transportation. This saves you a day, as well as 100% money on accommodation. Though it might be tough to sleep in trains and buses for some people, initially, but with practice it can definitely be mastered.
- Choose a bus with comfortable seats. Make sure they recline a little.
- Bring your earphones and an eye-mask.
- Ask the conductor to wake you up, if you’re not going to the very last stop.
If you’re open to try something a little different, you can find a lot many other options to stay for free or at a cheap price. For example if you’re travelling by car, doze off in the car; if you’ve a flight or a train to catch, use the airport or the train station for the night. If you’re hitchhiking in a lorry, perhaps ask the driver to sleep in the lorry; drivers do it all the time, why can’t you. The idea here is not only about saving money but also experiencing something a bit more interesting and fun.
And then ultimately, just realise that you do not need to spend thousands of Rupees or hundreds of dollars on expensive hotels to see the world. There are many cheaper, interesting and smart accommodation options to take advantage of.
So try something unusual and stop saying that travelling is expensive!
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