travel on a budget
Travelling on the cheap. Sounds impossible, doesn’t it? Luckily, it’s everything but. One of the most common misconceptions about travel is that you need to be rich to even think about it (think 'Gap Yah'). But with an adventurous attitude and a resourceful nature, you can backpack travel for months without having to spend many pennies.
Travel on a budget
If your passport, such as UK, US, Canadian or European passports, is powerful enough to let you forego the extra expense for a visa by giving you visa-free access to many countries, you can definitely backpack travel on the cheap by following these top tips.
Save as much as possible
Before you you embark on your backpack travel, saving money is the imperative goal to get your gap year off to a good start. Unless your parents are super generous epic parents and want to pay for all of it, you are going to have to take some drastic action.
These are the first 3 things you should do without delay.
#1 Get a job
You should first and foremost get a job at least a few months before you plan on leaving. Saving most if not all of that salary is essential, for example by living with your parents during that time and by avoiding big expenses.
If you are fresh out of school and have no experience, not to worry, a proactive nature and the motivation to learn are half the battle. Typically, the jobs you might find easier to get if you have no experience are waiting at a pub or restaurant, babysitting, working at local events, factory work, street fundraising, etc.
#2 Sell all your stuff...yes, seriously
This will be painful to hear for hoarders, but you should also consider parting with some of your old stuff: a yard sale for stuff that you don’t need, such as old electronics and equipment, can be a great way to gather some pennies on things you probably should have thrown out years ago.
#3 Create a realistic budget
The most crucial thing you should do to financially prepare for a gap year is to budget. Look at your everyday spending and make some concentrated cuts: all the pairs of jeans and cups of coffee and dinners out that you don’t necessarily need, avoid.
Once you have a good idea of the activities you’ll be doing and places you’ll be going on your gap year, you should get in the necessary research to find out how much you should be saving towards them, and to make sure you are not spending more than you should.
As a final word, as the blogger Nomadic Matt states, as long as travel is your priority, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to save enough to go and I couldn’t agree more.
Get your flights for free
Flights are probably the one thing that’s worrying you the most in terms of budget, especially if you are going to long-haul destinations. But worry not! I have spoken about what to do to get the cheapest possible deal on flights – and even get it for free.
The top tip is to get a credit card with a travel bonus and use it as much as possible before you book, so you can milk the rewards to get your free flight! How do you find the right card? Worry not, we help you find the right travel credit card for you. Just head over to the Travel Resources section of this site for more details.
Fundraise and volunteer
There are many organisations who can help you fundraise your travels to sponsor different causes. You can research these online and then get in touch with the relevant charity to help you fundraise for your trip.
This way, you get to go on a trip and inspire other people and help a meaningful cause, too. You can also fundraise through associations like the Rotary Club and the Lions, but it helps if you know someone who is a member.
Crowdfunding is another option that is getting more and more popular, which works particularly well if you have a meaningful reason to want to undertake your travel (connecting with your family or roots, for example, or the memory of a loved one).
GoFundMe is probably the most popular crowdfunding website of this nature, where you can post about your gap year project and, if you can inspire people enough, see your donations soar! It's also worth checking out Fund My Travel.
Once you get out there and are trying your hardest not to let all your savings be drained by hotel rooms, there are a few good places you can look into for cheap and, with some luck, even free accommodation
Camp in my Garden is a great resource for campers and hikers, with tons of private gardens around the world advertised by the owners at your disposal to sleep in, though most often you need to bring your own sleeping gear.
The let per night is usually a few quid, but you can also find free options! This is a great opportunity to get in contact with the locals and live cheaply in nature.
Another way to live like a local for free is Couchsurfing - this website allows hosts all over the world to offer their couch to you and live in their home for a few days. There are obvious safety precautions to be taken before you do this, such as checking the hosts’ reviews, which the website helps with, but after that the experience promises to be unique, fun, and of course cost-effective.
Homestay is another option for slightly more expensive but friendly and economic staying. Here, you have the option of staying with local families in their homes, with all the authenticity and connections with the locals that that provides.
A similar service is provided by a far more mainstream resource, AirBnB: here homeowners let out rooms or their entire apartment to guests and often provide helpful tips for getting around and making the most out of the place you’re visiting.
This is a slightly more expensive option but you can always find cheaper lodging by searching out of town, or far from the immediate town centre.
Learn a new skill
Your gap year is your opportunity to put yourself out there and do things you never thought you could… so why not combine your search for the cheap life with the challenge of learning a new skill?
Once again, being open to new experiences can be the key for your gap year success. Bearing in mind that you will need to check the requirements and restrictions on working visas if required, the possibilities are endless.
There are a ton of things that you can pick up easily and that will make you more in demand for work wherever you go. Bricklaying or labouring is an option for you stronger folk out there. The building industry exists everywhere and can be a great opportunity for proactive workers.
You might need a specific qualification for these, but being a masseuse or yoga instructor are two positions that are going to be in demand pretty much all over the world.
For those who are keener on being in contact with the wilderness, there are tons of sporting instructor opportunities you should consider: whether it’s snowboard, skiing, surfing or diving, you can put your sporting passion to good use and earn some money while doing what you love.
Teach English or learn a new language
Another great skill that you naturally have - and probably don’t realise how in demand it is - is the English language. If you can earn a TEFL diploma, but sometimes even if you can’t, you will find your skills as a teacher of English to foreign language speakers in demand all over the world. TEFL is a great resource to find job listings all over the world, with some schools even paying for your flight over.
Alternatively, a great way to use your language skills to earn a free holiday is Diverbo, an organization connecting you with communities in Spain and Germany who want to practice English with a native speaker. If you don’t speak either German or Spanish… it’s actually a plus, as they want you to speak English all the time!
Of course, you can also get work as an au pair - a perfect way to make a bit of money and learn a new language. This would involve you living with a host family and having light housekeeping or child caring duties. Some households will require previous babysitting experience. Each country will have different regulations for this, but the US for example requires all applicants to go through the specific J-1 visa application.
Have a look at Au Pair World for all the information you need about the job and the process in different countries
Work for food and board
If you are willing to offer your time to give your hosts some help in the house, this is a great way to get free accommodation and sometimes board.
HelpX is a platform to find volunteer work on places such as farms, ships and ranches in exchange for short-term accommodation on site.
Similarly, WWOOF is an organisation bringing together opportunities for work on organic farms, particularly popular in Australia and New Zealand. You will be working for free, but connecting with other like-minded people from all over the world and getting food and board in exchange.
Another easy way to volunteer is to check out opportunities on WorkAway, who connect you with hosts who need some extra help, whether companies or individuals, all over the world.
Housesitting is another option for low-impact work and free housing – this is an option most popular in Europe/Australia. The key for this is to have done it before and have good references, as housesitting experts Dalene and Pete Heck recommend.
But you have to start somewhere, right?! If you are a pet lover then Trusted Housesitters might be that place. Over time, housesitting is a great way to stay in fantastic places, experience the local life, work and stay somewhere fabulous for free.
Last but not least, you can even combine travelling and accommodation by hitching a ride on a boat or yacht (if you’re feeling fancy!), or even a cargo ship.
Find a job on the road
This is perhaps the most straightforward route to paying for your gap year, but it’s probably the one that requires the most preparation. To work while overseas you may need a Working Holiday Visa. This allows you to stay in certain countries for a short time (the exact length varies depending on the country) while working and travelling.
Depending on what your country of origin is you might need to get a proper work visa before you travel; certain nationalities, however, have access to ‘working holiday visas’ to countries like the US, Australia, UK, Canada, Singapore and others.
Being willing to step outside your comfort zone will serve you well when competing for jobs, as you will need to be able to trust people you have just met who are giving you a chance.
This process of establishing relationships on the road is important and can be incredibly rewarding, establishing connections that will last for lifetimes and give you great experiences on the way. But you need to be open to them, and be discerning of the people around you.
One of the ways you can work and travel at the same time is to get a job as crew on a luxury yacht, where you need waiters, chefs and cleaners as well as captains and skippers.
Australia is one of the most popular destinations for working holiday visas, because of the relative ease in finding employment, particularly in the Outback. As this guide to living in the Outback states, one of the easiest and most rewarding jobs in terms of social life is fruit picking or other farm jobs in the outback. These are easy to come into, require relatively little experience or paperwork, and allow you to come into contact with the less touristy, more authentic Australian experience and people.
You can browse harvest jobs on the government’s website. Other working options in the Australian outback include mining and working in cattle stations, a sort of ranch specialising in the rearing of cattle.
The options for those of you who love immersing yourselves in nature do not end there, though: you should consider becoming an outdoor instructor, particularly in Europe, where the variety of landscapes and outdoor sports is endless. Whether windsurfing, skiing or mountain biking, you can find many opportunities for outdoor staff.
Another great opportunity, based in the US, is to work at summer camps for kids. These offer you the energizing opportunity to work with kids, help organize their activities and meet like-minded adventurers.
If you’re a bit of a self-starter, you could sell your own handicraft or even just play your instrument for money – I have a friend who backpack travelled from Buenos Aires all the way to Mexico just with his guitar!
And if you’re really feeling entrepreneurial, you could take the big step and open your own business on the other side of the world.
This is sometimes a lot easier than it sounds – for example you could rent a shop in Ecuador for $200 and have the booze to sell for $100, and after the licences and permits are obtained,(which are non existent!) you've your very own bar and are ready to make some money, and have lots of fun!
Keep the right attitude
As much as preparation and budgeting are crucial, the most important factor in securing the least possible spend on your gap year is your attitude. As I mentioned before, being flexible and proactive is key, as you need to adapt to situations you may not be used to and which you may find challenging.
You will probably find jobs you have never done before and which you might think are not right for you, but you should still give them a go! These jobs will often not require a huge amount of experience or specific training, so you should be able to pick them up as you go along.
Going further off the beaten track, both in terms of accommodation and experience, can also grant you some saving opportunities – the less visited areas, such as the countryside of a city, can offer cheaper options for overnight stays as well as less competition for jobs. And as always, be open to new experiences and cultures – the whole point of a gap year is to get you out into the world and away from the familiar.
Finances on the road
Now that you’re out there, halfway across the world with all the money you have earned, the work is over, right? Wrong. That is, if you want to make sure you can stay out travelling as long as possible and with as little financial impact as possible.
As you start earning, make sure you keep track of your incomes and outflow, and keep a realistic budget for your travelling goals – if you could save half of your salary every month, you would be guaranteed a few months of adventure! But your budget is also key when you are on the road.
Keeping your cash safe
And finally, something that might seem obvious but always bears repeating: keep your money safe! Make sure your credit cards and money are safe inside your bag – perhaps in one of the smart bags we talk about here with lockable pockets - and that the rest you don’t immediately need is hidden somewhere at your accommodation.
Don’t bring too much cash with you, especially if you have a credit card. Carrying everything with you all the time just exposes you to the risk of robbery, especially if you are taking public transport a lot.
Also make sure you don’t bring valuables you won’t need to begin with – if you know you won’t need your laptop for work, leave it at home; you’d just spend energy worrying about losing it or it getting stolen. Ultimately, the smartest way to backpack travel is light, even when it comes to money.
As you backpack travel, choosing the right accommodation is crucial in reducing your living costs. Always stay somewhere with a kitchen – whether with a host family or in a shared apartment, being able to cook your own meals and not having to buy takeaway or go to restaurants can save you so much money everyday.
Your everyday transport is going to be one of the biggest expenses on your trip. Be open to hitch-hiking, though bear in mind that it in some regions, like South America, hitch hiking is perfectly normal, whereas in other areas it won’t be or might even be illegal.
You can also consider sharing a ride with people you have met or use websites such as BlaBlaCar, where people offer rides in exchange for splitting petrol costs – make sure you check the driver’s reviews and comments from previous passengers before booking. Either way, always be safe and go in a group!
When you have reached your destinations and are looking to make the most of its sightseeing potential, the first thing you should research is free walking tours – there are likely to be many on offer depending on where you are.
Free Tours by Foot is a good place to start if you are looking at American or European cities! This is a great way to experience the city with other tourists and with dedicated guides without having to spend anything (other than a tip for the guide).
They are sure to offer advice about how to avoid tourist traps and go off the beaten track, which is another way you can save money on your tours. Avoid that bar in Times Square and try those Harlem recommendations. Or even better, have your own party with your own booze!
Which brings me to my next point: always be open and talk to people, especially locals and fellow travellers. It will enhance your experience so much if you connect and share with people on the way: don’t be shy to ask for advice or help, and let them surprise you.
Not only will it heighten your enjoyment to share your experience and some good times with other people when you’re travelling solo; but the local and travelling community are also sure to have incredible stories and travelling tips you are not going to find on tourist guides.