One question I get asked frequently is how the hell I’ve been able to travel to so many countries. Now that’s a multiple part answer. I was fortunate enough to come from a well off family, with parents who believed that vacations were very much family affairs. I also took advantage of every opportunity I could (for all those University students out there take advantage of any Study Abroad or Travel Study programs that are offered, it’s the best education you’ll receive). I also learned how to travel smart, and travel on a budget.
That is the key to the last 10 or so countries that I’ve had the immense honour to explore. And learning how to travel on a budget is what today’s blog post is all about.
Now for an example, a year ago I solo backpacked Ireland and the UK for two weeks and spent under $2500 Canadian on everything (flights there, flights in Europe, transportation, food, accommodations, tours and random things).
The biggest chunks of what I spent came from my flights to Europe, my accommodations and my transportation while I was there.
To begin, when you’re planning a trip the two first things to take into account is how much it’s going to cost you to get to your destination and how far your local currency will stretch once you’re there.
If you’re flying from North America to Europe, I highly recommend taking WowAir. It flys through Iceland and are normally the cheapest flights to the continent. They leave from Montreal and Toronto in Canada, as well as major airports across the US (including Chicago, New York and Boston). It cost me $500 Canadian to fly from Montreal to Dublin return trip. That’s less than what it costs me to fly from Saint John to Ottawa on Air Canada.
If you aren’t flying that route, or Wow Air doesn’t work for you, the next best thing to do is research. Look in advance to find seat sales and try to fly in off season, or shoulder season, as the prices of flights, as well as accommodations, will be cheaper.
Flying within Europe is a breeze and so cheap it’s crazy. There’s so many different budget airlines to pick from, depending on where you’re flying to and from. The three I’ve used the most, and recommend, are RyanAir, easyJet and WIZZ Air. Just make sure to read all the fine print before booking to ensure you’re aware how much it will cost if you check bags, if you need to print a ticket before getting to the airport (a must with RyanAir if you’re a non-EU passport holder), how many carry-on bags you’re allowed, etc… And most importantly, beware that because these are budget airlines there’s no going back once you book your tickets.
As a Canadian travelling in Ireland and the UK the conversion of my currency to Euros and Pounds was not nice for my bank account. But the conversion was significantly in my favour when I went to China and Poland. In Asia, South America and Africa your money is more likely to go farther than in Western Europe. Just something to keep in mind when planning a trip.
Accommodations is the next big chunk of your budget. The great things these days is that in many major cities, and not major cities, there’s plenty of options for Hostels, Airbnb’s and couchsurfing.
As a solo traveller I stuck to Hostels, they’re cheaper than AirBnb and normally you can snag a free breakfast. And if you’re social, major introvert here, they’re a great way to meet other travellers, go on pub crawls and free walking tours. If you’re going to stay at Hostels, check out Hostelworld. I always recommend looking at all the pictures, reading the hostel descriptions and most of all reading a lot of reviews. It’s the reviews that will give you the best idea of what the hostel is actually like and if it’s what you’re looking for. And the difference between how many beds are in each room is a non factor. You can be in a 4 bed room and have one person turn on all the lights at 2am and you can be in a 12 bed room and have no problems. It’s the people not the number of beds, and that you have no control over.
If you’re travelling with other people, or want to splurge on accommodations, check out Airbnb. I’ve stayed at a few and I’ve always had a good experience. You can end up with your own room or even your own house depending on their setup. The cool thing about this too is that if you meet the host they might even show you around town. In Paris we had drinks and went out with our host and her friends.
One thing I’ve never done is Couchsurfing. It’s free after you sign up for the website and from the friends and people I’ve meet that have done it, they have all had good experiences. Like Airbnb the accommodation type is different per host. Even with couchsurfing some people end up with their own room!
There’s also WWOOF. It’s where you work on a farm in exchange for free board and food. And you get free time during the day to explore and chill in the area where the farm is. My friends have done this and it’s how I plan to visit Australia.
Another thing I did was took a night bus from London to Glasgow with MegaBus UK. It took 10 hours and only cost me 1 Pound! So I saved right there on accommodations for the night and didn’t lose a day of exploring. Taking night trains or buses are a good way to save a few bucks on accommodations/transportation because it’s all combined in one for that day. One other habit I fell into was sleeping in airports, before morning flights. It could also be done after a late night flight arrival. It’s not for everybody but it’s free and I’ll be doing it again twice this summer (I’ll be writing a post of tips for sleeping in airports in the coming weeks so watch for that because it’s best to be informed).
Transportation will be the last biggest chunk of your budget.
What’s great is that planning ahead saves. Every airport I have flown into has had an airport bus that takes you right downtown, significantly cheaper than a taxi. Just figure out where it drops you off. And if you’re staying in a major city research the public transportation system beforehand. I’ve gotten across Porto, Paris and London exclusively by metro.
Also booking bus or train tickets in advance are cheaper than buying the day of. I didn’t take a signal train in Ireland/UK. Buses were significantly cheaper and just as comfortable (though beware in Ireland Bus Eireann does not have toilets on board). There’s also usually multiple bus companies competing for the same routes. Do your research to find out which one is the cheapest. And if you plan to train a lot look into getting a train pass for a specific block of countries or a student pass (in France it was 50% off most trains with the SCNF “carte jeune”). Last but not least, WALK! Google Maps before hand where everything is and take a nice stroll to really discover the city you’re exploring. I spent 10 hours walking from one side of Barcelona to the other, and everywhere in between, and it was amazing.
Bonus Quick Tips to Save:
- Instead of eating out for most of your meals have picnics! Buy food from a local grocery store and eat it in the park or make a meal at your hostel. I spent less than 2 euros on my lunches everyday when I was in Ireland.
- Find free walking tours or plan your own tour instead of paying for one.
- Research free museums/attractions, or times they are free. Most museums in Britain are free of charge for example.
- Only pay for attractions that are your “must sees.” If you really aren’t into art you don’t need to pay to go into the Louvre.
- If you do pay for attractions or tours ask about student discounts, you can normally save a few bucks.
- Explore the natural beauty of the place rather than building hoping.
Moral of this post is that research is key to travelling on a budget. If you’re willing to spend the time figuring out the cheapest ways to do things and places to stay than you just might have an amazing, and relatively cheap, adventure in front of you.