Backpacker Budgeting for Beginners!

Often I’m asked about how I budget on a world trip by beginner travelers. Almost one year in I figured I’d share my tips on how to spend about $40-$50 USD (or less) per day and still have a good time. That’s including all transportation, food, lodging, insurance and tours.

This post isn’t meant for the seasoned traveler who lives on 8 cents a day, but suggestions from the extreme budgeters are gladly accepted!

Food!!! 

Eating is expensive. The occasional splurge is fine and dandy but its meals like breakfast that waste your money. I can cook my own for a fraction of what I would spend eating out. No matter where you are breakfast is commonly a variation of eggs, bread, fruit and yogurt. All of which are cheap and healthier to buy/cook yourself!

Food can be a huge cultural experience so I’m not saying don’t EVER eat out. If you’re going to have a local meal I suggest doing it for lunch. The menus for dinner are always more expensive. Find out where the locals go and avoid eating in touristy spots.

$5 Traditional Lunch in Lithuania.
$5 Traditional Lunch in Lithuania.

I often cook everyone in a hostel dinner for a small fee of $3 or so. I’ve cooked meals several times for 10+ people and even made a few bucks on top of eating and drinking for free. Google “cheap healthy meals for a group” and get some recipes ready. This is not only cost-effective but a nice way to bring a group of people together and have a fun (cheap) night!

Satisfied "Dinner by Shell" customers
Satisfied “Dinner by Shell” customers

Accommodation 

Couch surfing

FREEEEEE!!! And a great way to experience new cities with locals. During my trip around Europe I have been lucky enough to have friends in most major cities to stay with. Not traditional couch surfing but still saving money AND having a great time with reunions.

For random couch surfing via the website make sure you have your profile popping with personality. People want to know who is surfing with them, not just 2 lines that don’t show who you are. For the ladies surfing, avoid creepsters by either staying with females or making sure whoever you surf with has at least 20 reviews and some being from women.

Hostels

I love hostels. Always my top choice. To find cheap places I check out reviews on booking sites plus word of mouth. Then book direct with the recommended place. Using third-party sites usually cost a small percentage more. It adds up over time.

AirBnB can be a good choice if you like your privacy and not always too expensive.  Plus the bonus of getting to meet locals, sometimes. Basically just stay away from hotels and you’ll be alright. Hotels are for suckers.

Travel time!

Moving from city to city can get expensive quick if you don’t have much time and want to maximize it. If you’re not limited busses are the way to go. Maybe not the most comfortable choice but always cheaper and easier to get to. Even if you get an inexpensive flight you have to factor in baggage fees and taxis as Airports aren’t usually centrally located. That cost adds up. Bus stations are often in a city center and easy to reach by public transport.

I always opt for a longer ride on a bus/train if it will have me on overnight, usually more cost-effective if they have multiple stops and free night of sleep!

Long bus rides are no match for my Mac!
Long bus rides are no match for my Mac!

Fiesta!

Living in hostels means it is always someone’s first day, last day or birthday and there is a reason to party any day of the week. Alcohol can eat away your budget faster than you can say hangover. To maximize your moolah buy your own booze and pregame in your room vs spending at the hostel bar. Just like at home it’s cheaper to drink your own. Many hostels don’t allow outside alcohol but no one really checks so just don’t be a dick about it. Kleen Kanteens fit a whole bottle of wine perfectly, just sayin.

What’s in your wallet?

I have a Chase Sapphire card and use that baby for everything! This point collecting gem is great and nearly impossible to be duplicated by thieves. With no international transaction fees and double points on restaurants and anything travel related I highly recommend this bad boy. Plus if you book flights through their travel site you get triple points! I don’t fly so much from country to country but I’ve managed to get all major flights this year for free.  Not to mention if you refer a friend you get 4,000 points and they get 40,000. Please let me know if you want to be referred!!

Exchanging money and ATMs are a silent budget killer. Small fee here, small fee there and BAM you’re out of money. Either exchange your currency at home or get an International bank that won’t charge you for taking money out. I use Capitol One 360 and get most ATMs around the world for free. If you are going to countries with different currency spend all coins before crossing borders. Usually can’t get these exchanged and will end up with a pile of useless money to carry around.

So many monies!
So many monies!

Location Location Location! 

If you want a long term experience without breaking your budget be smart about where you decide to go. A summer in Europe will cost as much as a year in Thailand, roughly. Central/South America and South East Asia will keep your wallet happy. There are some expensive places in there for sure but if you research and see what others are saying about a place before taking off you should be alright. If you want main tourist destinations like Paris go in off season so you may save a tiny bit.

If you are keen to stay in one place for an extended period of time you can volunteer at Hostels, Animal Refuges, Teach English or even House Sit. Think about what you would be interested in, do research to see whats available and sign up! We are a lucky generation of travelers to have the magic of the internet at our fingertips.