Try and imagine yourself in Maasai Mara, a destination on the bucket list for most travellers, just after dawn or dusk sitting in a hot air balloon. The guide lights it up, you ascend slowly, sipping your drinks, laughing sheepishly as you have a bird’s eye of the game below on the savannah: lions, cheetahs, giraffes, antelopes and elephants. Now picture yourself left behind, watching your fellows enjoy the experience, probably enviously, wishing you had budgeted money for the adventure. This has happened to most of us, no?
For a long time, I had always desired to explore and travel, locally and internationally. This year I made an intentional decision to save, budget accordingly in order to fulfil my desires. I can proudly say I have done justice to local travel. Most of these trips have had me travel on a bare-bones basis and as a shoestring traveller, you go to great lengths to stick to your budget: taking the cheapest transportation, settling for an inexpensive accommodation options and eating at the cheapest joints. Most, I have documented, some I have opted to treasure at a personal level.
Tanzania is the farthest I have been. Most of the hacks or tips I shall share will be based on my experience there for two months and how I have managed to consistently travel for at least five months now and how I plan on exploring more countries moving forward. Also, this is not a rulebook to having a fulfilling experience, do pick what will work best for you and ditch the rest.
Being a budget traveller involves more than saving money. It is also being a smart traveller. The cost of your travelling will differ depending on the destination. How do you settle for a trip? By choosing a destination or coming up with a budget first? This is a ”who came first? the chicken or the egg” kind of question for nearly all travellers. In my opinion, the destination matters most if money is not a problem. However, if money matters, like in my case, you have to bother with a budget.
How do I construct a travel budget?
First things first, after carrying out the preliminary on your destination, list down all the things you would like to spend money on. Then put into consideration the duration of your trip. Let us assume you want to cross borders, you will have to think about predeparture expenses like the cost of a passport, visa, jabs like yellow fever, travel insurance, new clothes and camping gears maybe? Given that these are in check, you have to consider the transportation costs, accommodation, meals, special experiences or tours and miscellaneous things.
On accommodation: For fairly new travellers like myself, I suggest visiting countries where you have friends who can host you to cut on the costs. Ask for referrals if you do not have friends. I am pretty sure in a group of five friends, one out of the five is well travelled or connected. If not, change your clique? Just kidding! If not, Couch Surfing App would come in handy. You get to be hosted for free by the locals in the country. Trust issues and security is a concern? Then the likes of Airbnb would be ideal. You may find the best cost estimates over the internet or from friends who returned from a similar trip.
On transportation: This entirely depends on the type of traveller you are. Would you compromise on your comfort while travelling? That answered you can choose your favourable means of transport. Then you can find all the information on how to win the cheapest or most favourable travel deals!
On special experiences: It is definite that we travel for pleasure and to experience what a new land has to offer. If you do not plan for these, taking them up spontaneously will definitely wreck your budget. These special experiences include water rafting, snorkelling, a dhow cruise, skydiving, bungee jumping, scuba diving, free falls, a ride on a hot air balloon, clubbing, name them. In your research, you will stumble on them but may not know some of ”mandatories” until you arrive at your chosen destination. Estimate your costs by checking on the internet, read blogs and be keen on the quotes they give, call or write an email asking for quotations from the administration, ask a well-informed travel agent or anyone who took up the trip before (make good use of your Instagram app peeps!) If you can’t do all that, take a guess! A reasonable one.
On the miscellaneous things: The estimate will be based on your preferences, spending habits and money available. Whatever your estimate, add some allowance to it. Miscellaneous things are the random stuff you come across and want to get, say, souvenirs, notebooks, handbags, clothes, shoes, keyrings or whatever you feel your country does not offer.
On meals: It is indeed difficult to estimate how much you would spend on meals until you get to your destination. However, scope through the internet and read about people’s past experiences. Try and estimate the costs with what you spend on meals in your own country as well.
If it so happens that the grand total has exceeded the money available, don’t fret. The intention of making a budget is for you to foresee the reality that lies ahead of you and to let you know that you need to cut on some expenses, fine-tune your trip or settle for a less expensive destination. From experience, you do not want to travel on a bare-bone basis. Endeavour to leave room for unforeseen circumstances, cheap thrills, and emergencies.
Congratulations! I have come up with a budget! So how do I stick to and maximize on my budget?
Financial discipline is paramount. Try exercising it on the insignificant aspects of your life before you choose to be a traveller. I say this, because such are things that make travelling seem expensive and many of the economic decisions you make on your travel will have a ripple effect.
To begin with, as a budget traveler, your thumb rule should be avoiding the peak season: holidays and festivals. Prices at this time are downright outrageous. While you do not want to spend a lot on the peak period, you also do not want to travel when there’s little to no tourists like you around. I suggest travelling between the peak and low season: the shoulder season. You may get great bargains for hotels and special experiences. Rates normally decline based on demand and not intrinsic value.
Be smart about booking your transport and accommodation. I know for flights for instance, booking months before your travel date would save you some thousands. (Oh, how I wish I was well travelled to give more on flights but that’s for another day). I have mentioned a bit on accommodation. Just to add on, choose a hostel or camping over hotels or resorts.
Choose public transportation over taxis or private transport. In your own country, you also reckon that public transport is way cheaper! Choose to eat at local spots over restaurants or hotels. Pop into the busy ones as opposed to the ones that are empty. Further, if you find that you will be up and about the entire day, eat fruits and drink lots of water when you get hungry as opposed to spending money on full meals in restaurants or kiosks.
Learn as much as you can about the people and their culture. Learn basic language or expressions. Try and identify with the people; make friends with locals they will take you to the hidden gems of their country and advise on places to visit.
Investing in special experiences may seem like throwing money in a bottomless pit, considering this is the primary reason for travelling: pleasure. In my opinion, entirely cut down on transport and accommodation and plug in the difference to the thrills. Also, there are tour operators who organize trips for people travelling on a budget. Try them out but be sure to ask around. Ask, then ask again and again until you find one that will fit into your budget. Also visit the museums, parks, old towns, and beaches. I believe they offer lower rates for an ultimate experience.
Wear your heart on your sleeve. This I picked up from a read on travel sometime back. Say you are booking a hotel, amidst your conversation, details like you are on a birthday vacation, honeymoon or an anniversary celebration may win you amazing deals. Just say it. I will try this too.
Always ask if there are any offers running. I have come to realize that some places have offers but they do not necessarily advertise. One time I was booking a hotel for my parents and asked if they may have any discounts. The hotel had all their rooms going at the same rate; from executive suites to the single rooms. So by asking, I got my parents to spend their stay at an executive suite for less! Pocketed the difference? You can bet on that!
Pop into shops that have sales running, bargain or ask for discounts. Avoid buying things at full price and save some coins. On these miscellaneous things, if you can do without them, do not buy. Naturally, we humans have an appetite for insignificant things. Let it be at a minimum.
In conclusion, in your effort to travel on a budget, be smart, do not be afraid to ask and always bargain! Maximize on your limited finances! Hope you learnt something new!
I am currently having a read: How to travel the world $50 a day by Matt Kepnes. A read I recommend to every budget traveler!
Written by: Ess Opiyo.