How to travel on the (super) cheap!


When I went backpacking last winter in Europe with a friend, I spent about $2000 in two months, not including the airfares to get there. We visited 7 countries and 12 cities in this time and did everything at a fairly relaxed pace. When they hear how we did it so cheap, a lot of people just brush it off as something they could never do. They could never lower themselves to do some of the uncomfortable or potentially embarrassing or dangerous things that we did. But for other people (like myself) these things were not a problem and definitely worth it for the money we saved!
Whilst I realise that travelling on a super tight budget is not for everyone (and if you don’t have to, why would you?) it is still useful to know how to save a bit of money on the things that you might not find as vital to your trip as others. If your reason for travelling is to sample all the best restaurants then of course you won’t want to be using the leftover food in the hostel but maybe you wouldn’t mind saving enough money for one more dessert by not paying the check in bag fees! Here I will share some of my tips and you can feel free to pick and choose which money saving techniques you would be prepared to try out on your next trip.
1.       Fly with carry-on luggage only.

 We were flying with Ryan Air through most of Europe and if we had had luggage that needed to be checked in, it would have cost us about 30 extra each flight. To avoid this of course means having only a small amount of luggage. Claire and I had one backpack each (unfortunately I don’t remember how many litres) but whilst we were at our destinations or were travelling by bus our luggage would multiply and we would have handbags and carry bags as well.

 What we realised was that you only had to have one apparent bag for a very short amount of time, when they were letting you walk onto the plane itself. So what we did was on the day itself we made sure to wear our most bulky clothes. These were our jeans and hoodies and any number of layers underneath, that way we could already fit a lot more of our new purchases in our bags.

When we got to the airport itself and were required to take out and scan all our liquids, we didn’t put them back in our bags. It looks normal to have your liquids (in their little plastic bag) still in your hand or in your hoodie pocket when boarding and no-one questioned us. When it came to getting our handbags into our backpacks (some flights were very strict about his, others were not so much) we could take out another jumper and carry it over your arm, or carry your book or something else casual. Claire would take out her two books and put them between her back and her backpack so they were invisible and would also carry a jumper in her hand!

 All this might sound a bit complex and messy but it only has to happen for about 20 minutes whilst you are boarding, once on the plane you can unpack yourself to normality.

Me carrying up to three bags on a normal day.

2.       Stay in hostels.
 This one should be a given if you are doing it cheap but some people are scared of hostels and so wont ‘risk’ it. If what makes you worried about hostels is sharing a room with strangers, or for girls, sharing with guys, then you probably should look into hostels more! Most hostels offer several types of room, mixed sex dorms, female dorms and even private rooms depending on the hostel. Obviously private rooms are more expensive but they will still probably be cheaper than a hotel. And hostels are seriously cheap, I have stayed in one that was only 9 a night on Santorini in Greece and we had a pool as well as being walking distance from the beach!

Hostels also come with other awesome benefits. Some have kitchens so you can save money by not dining out for every meal, some have free guided tours of the city or pub crawls, some I have been to have provided a free breakfast and of course they all encourage you to meet and interact with other travellers, which is half of what travelling is about!

Our beautiful loft room in a hostel in Prague.

 

3.       Use the hostel kitchen.

If the hostel has a kitchen for your use, use it! We would often choose our hostel on whether they had a kitchen or not.The first thing we would do upon checking in and after dumping our bags would be to check out the kitchen in anticipation of dinner!

 Most hostel kitchens have a share cupboard where previous guests have left the food they didn’t use. I don’t mean half a pizza or a plate of casserole, there is normally a few packets of pasta, seasonings, flour, tea, sugar, rice, cereals, we even found fruit sometimes. This is all fantastic, now all we would have to do is buy a jar of pasta sauce and dinner would be set for the night! So cheap and so easy!

 It is also important that you check out what cooking implements they have, you don’t want to be stuck with all your ingredients and no way to cook them!

Cooking food in a hostel can lead to lots of new friends!
4.       Go to the markets.
Don’t want to feel like you are missing out on all the wonderful local food by only eating pasta in hostel kitchens? You don’t have to! Saving money is about being able to get more out of your trip. I would go to the markets of whatever town or city we were in. Sometimes it was a huge affair in the town square with noise and colour, fruit samples and a mix of tourists and locals and sometimes it was just the town grocer whose produce spilled from his shelves into baskets on the cobble stones where a few locals picked over them placing their chosen pieces in string bags on their arms.
 Either way, going to the market is going to be an experience. And a cost effective one! I remember one time in London after finding that the hostel already had pasta we went down to a bustling side street market where we picked out some tomatoes, zucchini and onions for under 1 and made a delicious pasta sauce.
Another thing I would recommend is carrying a little jar of your favourite spread; I love pesto or vegemite, so that when it comes to lunch or snack time all you have to do is buy a bun from the local bakery and voila, you have a meal!
And remember how I said it was all about getting more out of our trip? Well now we would have saved so we could have a cafe brunch in the morning, entry for a club or maybe some souvenirs.
Fresh produce.
       5.       Do your washing wherever.

Now if you only have a small bag with not many clothes you should be careful with this one because I don’t want to be encouraging anyone to go around smelling like dirty clothes! However there are some measures you can take to lasting longer between big Laundromat visits.

In hostels it is not odd to see many people’s clothing hanging up around the room drying. Use the sinks or showers to wash small items like underwear or singlets and hang them up on the end of your bed, no-one cares I promise!

It is also an idea to get out your items that you are not wearing so much, like that big jumper at the bottom of your pack. If you hang it out to air regularly you will not get a shock when that cold day comes along and you have to spend it smelling like musty backpack.

Doing the washing on the roof of our hostel in Santorini.
6.       Sleep in airports.

I think this one is even more controversial than sleeping in hostels. People have asked me, “Weren’t your family scared for you when they heard you were sleeping in airports?” And I laugh and tell them it was my mum who sent me the link to http://www.sleepinginairports.net/.

Now I don’t mean that you should sleep in airports for every night of your trip and commute into the city each day to do your tourist duties. Sleeping in airports is for when you have an early flight to catch which would mean you had to get up at 5am if you were staying in the city. Why pay for a full nights’ accommodation if you are not going to use it?!

On these occasions I would recommend having a big day, because if I’m honest you won’t sleep well in the airport and it will be easier if you are already tired. Arriving late is good; you want to spend as little time in there as possible really, but not too late because many airports do have a time when they close their doors.

The website above is great. It tells you which airports are safe to sleep in (there are some which they strongly warn against) what facilities they have and where the best sleeping spots are. I have slept in three airports and haven’t had a bad experience yet. It is definitely worth a try if you are game!

Claire sleeping in Milan airport.

 

7.       Couch surfing.

This is a bit harder for me to recommend. I have never actually couch-surfed. I tried, I signed up and contacted several people but it seemed everywhere was full as it was peak season. http://www.couchsurfing.org/  is the website and you don’t just have to sign up to host or be hosted. There is an option available of “available to hang out” which could be an interesting way to meet travellers in your own city.

I have a friend who hosts couch surfers a lot and he tells me it is a great experience and recommends it highly. Obviously this one involves using a lot of common sense, especially if you are a girl travelling by yourself. Still, it is worth a look!

So there you go. These are my top tips for travelling on the cheap and hopefully you can take something away that you can use! I’d love to know what tips you have for me, tell us all in the comments!

Gemma.

All pictures taken by me.

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