Ten Tips for Travelling on a Shoestring

Travelling the world is an adventure everyone deserves to experience.

Travelling the world is an adventure everyone deserves to experience. Each of us would be far better off having had the opportunity to immerse ourselves in cultures, histories, and crowded public transit systems the world over. At tentree, through our tree planting efforts with local communities around the world, we have come to know this firsthand.

The truth of the matter is, however, that the vast majority of people around the planet do not have the freedom (political, social, economic and otherwise) to do so. For many, a town, city, or region will be as much of the world that they have the chance of exploring in their lifetime.

For those of us that are able to travel, we must do so with an understanding of our privilege and a profound respect for the people and places that we visit. We are the lucky ones, and so it is imperative that we use our advantages to educate ourselves and grow as individuals.

Oh, and also to have a really great time.

Even once you have decided to set out on a grand adventure, exploring the tantalizing and terrifying hidden recesses of our Earth (they have a Walmart here!), you will still need to decide on an appropriate budget for your trip. And unless you are the C.E.O. of a multinational conglomerate that sells hygiene products or scale models of foreign cars, more than likely you will be travelling on a shoestring.


Travelling on a shoestring doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, as soon as you get the hang of it, it can be a lot of fun. Dirty, sweaty, and tiring — but fun!

And so, I give you Ten Tips for Travelling on a Shoestring.

1. Eat like a local.

Whether you are in Saigon, Vietnam or Sucre, Bolivia, eat like a local whenever possible. Not only will you be saving dollars every time you hit the streets for spring rolls or alpaca skewers, but you’ll also be eating WAY better food. Street meat can be off-putting at first (exactly HOW long has that chicken been sitting there?), and sure, you MAY get a BIT sick every once in a while, but your wallet and taste buds will thank you.

As well, if you ever get tired of eating on the streets and have access to a kitchen, pick up groceries and create your own feast. Not only will it be a welcome change in taste, but there’s also nothing quite like cooking up a bowl of macaroni and cheese to cure homesickness.

2. Privacy is overrated.

Getting a private room at a hostel for yourself might be tempting, and every once in a while as a treat it’s alright to do. Getting a bed in a dorm (the bigger the better!), however, is the way to save some serious coin. Just come prepared with ear plugs and a sleeping mask, because we can guarantee that you will be the only person in that dorm going to bed at ten pm.

Or going to bed at all.

If you ARE travelling with a group of friends, however, often times sharing a private room will be the same price — if not cheaper — than a dorm. In which case… stay as far away from that 18-bed room as possible.

**Temperature control can also be overrated. Stick with fans over air conditioners, and warm blankets over heaters.

3. Never book ahead!

A rookie travel mistake is to operate under the assumption that you must book all hostels and activities beforehand in order to guarantee you find somewhere to sleep and the chance to get to do every activity your Lonely Planet suggests. Unless you are on a very strict timeline, however, this assumption is entirely false.

Other than PERHAPS booking a bed for your first night after flying in, or on the rare occasion that an activity is booked up months in advance (eg. the Inca Trail), there is no need to book anything ahead of time — ever. If you do, don’t be surprised when you show up to your hostel or activity, only to find that you have paid three, four, or even five times as much as everyone else there.

There will always be beds (you might just have to go wandering). And there will always be someone willing to take you on a boat through the Amazon, or into the jungle to look at gorillas for MUCH less money than is ever advertised online.

4. Are you a student? Prove it.

A must-have for any student travelling, make sure you bring along your ISIC (International Student Identity Card) for great discounts on museums, shopping, hostels, guides and more — all across the world! Even if you don’t have one, bring along your regular student I.D. You never know who will accept it, and it’s always a good idea to have another piece of identification on you other than your passport!

5. Forget planes. Trains, trucks, and tuk tuks.

Transportation is, bar none, the most expensive part of travelling. If you are willing to give up some degree of comfort, however, it doesn’t have to burn holes through your pockets.

Whenever possible, travel “local style”. This means straying away from planes and tourist (V.I.P.) buses in favour of more public means of transportation — trains, trucks, tuk tuks, vans, buggies, boats, and donkeys. Things may take a little longer, and you might not get a snack and pillow along the way, but you’ll save some serious cash AND experience travel as it is really done.

6. Get off the beaten path.

There are certain areas that you can’t miss when you travel (eg. Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Coliseum in Rome, and Machu Picchu in Peru). As a result, things are going to get expensive — quick. But that doesn’t mean you have to spend the entirety of your travels in these areas.

Hitch a ride with a local and find your way into a jungle village or coastal town off the beaten path (make sure you bring along some bottled water or Aquatabs!). When there are fewer tourists, prices will be significantly lower. As well, you will have a great opportunity to get to know a place and the people in it without feeling as if you are constantly being sold to.

7. That’s too much!

While it may be considered faux pas — even downright rude — to haggle here at home, it’s the norm in many other countries around the world. One issue you may run into is the assumption that since you are a Western, English-speaking traveller, you must have a lot of money. And that is true! By comparison to the locals, you likely DO have an exorbitant amount of money. At the same time, however, you are probably on a very strict budget, and don’t have much of a surplus to throw around.

So do as the locals and haggle, haggle, haggle! If there isn’t an official price tag, chances are the number is flexible. Always test the waters first (start low… around 30% of the asking price) and gage the reaction. Have a number that you won’t go over in your head, and walk away if you reach it. If they want the sale, they will let you know. And perhaps most importantly, smile! Have fun while bartering, and don’t take it so seriously that either party is upset or offended.

8. Will you be my friend?

Traveling alone is an amazing thing. You will learn more about yourself than you could ever have imagined, and be faced with more obstacles than can seem possible to overcome. But, it can also get lonely and expensive.

If you aren’t travelling with friends from home, your adventures are the perfect opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals from across the globe. Not only will you create relationships to last a lifetime, but things will start looking a lot cheaper. Sharing taxis, rooms, and group activity fees will not only bring expenses down, but it will also let you relax a bit more.

And on top of all that, you will (hopefully) have couches to crash on all across the world!

9. Some work, all play.

If you’re strapped for cash while travelling and have a lot of time on your hands, one of the best things you can do is work for room and board. Once you find a city and hostel you enjoy, it’s usually easy to work for a few weeks as a bartender, server, cleaning rooms, etc. You’ll get a free place to stay, (hopefully) free food, and the opportunity to meet massive amounts of locals and travellers alike.

10. Budget, budget, budget.

As soon as you start budgeting your money and keeping track of expenses, it’ll be a lot easier to make your bank account last as long as possible. Be reasonable and leave a bit of wiggle room, but try to stay within your allotted amount. This likely means not “living it up” each and every night — alcohol is THE biggest budget blower.

At the same time, don’t limit yourself by your budget. If you’re “out of money” for the week, but there is an opportunity to go repelling down an eight story waterfall, take it. Chances are, you may never be back again, and you wouldn’t want to miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t be so stingy that you never get to actually experience all of the adventures that make travelling so much fun.

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