The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Solo Travel

Ah yes, solo travel, that thing I never shut up about.  Whoever you are and wherever you’re from, at some point you will find yourself out there on the road alone.  Whether it be a business trip, a visit to the parents, or simply a desire to just get away from all – at some point, everybody must brave the long, dusty road alone.

Let’s look at some of the benefits, pitfalls and general nastiness of solo travel.


THE GOOD:

1. Solo travel is cheaper.

If you’re like me, you will probably find you can travel much cheaper alone. I’m not very picky and don’t mind cheaper things. I can happily eat the cheapest street food without being bothered by the questionable quality of it. If I’m on my own I seldom go to restaurants, I usually just grab some bread or fruit from the local market.

When travelling with other people there is always someone who wants to go to a proper restaurant, someone who is vegan, or someone who wants meat, etc. Unless you are travelling with a person of similar tolerance who is happy to eat basic cheap food, you’re inevitably going to end up spending a lot more than you want to or need to.

I also don’t mind staying in accommodation of questionable safety or hygiene, or in an undesirable location. I don’t mind walking two kilometres instead of getting a taxi. I don’t mind doing a 20-hour train ride in 3rd class on a wooden bench. It’s very seldom I meet other travellers who are happy to sacrifice their comfort to the level I do just to save a few dollars – but those few dollars here and there add up to a lot over the long run.

2. You become more independent and brave.

brave

One of the main psychological reasons that everyone should travel alone is overcoming the fear of being out of your comfort zone. This may seem unnecessary if you have no desire to ever live anywhere other than your hometown, but there are still so many aspects of life that are potentially improved by this experience.

Confidence can be greatly increased simply by becoming aware of what you are able to endure and learning how well you react to certain situations. Your ability to socialise, think quick, make decisions, trust yourself – all these things benefit from the lessons learnt through travelling alone.

“Wandering is the activity of the child, the passion of the genius; it is the discovery of the self, the discovery of the outside world, and the learning of how the self is both at one with and separate from the outside world.” (Roman Payne)

When travelling with other people you tend to adapt and limit yourself, to what they want to do. You project upon them the things that scare you and instead of overcoming them you succumb to them because you believe those you are with would succumb to the same. You don’t test each other, rather limit each other, through a shared belief – or doubt – in each other’s abilities.

When alone you have no choice but to face challenges and frame challenges within your worldview and come to your own conclusions about what you can endure – without any outside noise to obscure your vision.

3. You can follow your own itinerary.

coffee

Travelling alone means never having to do anything other than exactly what you want to do, right then, at that moment.

You can change your mind at will, leave when you want or stay indefinitely. You can sit and watch TV in the local pub all day if it pleases you, or do a marathon visit to ten museums. You can make friends with some strangers and if they decide to do something that doesn’t interest you, you can abandon them with no excuses or guilt.

You have nobody to answer to, nobody to please, nobody to burden. Just you. Alone. In the big, big world.

4. You are more likely to meet people and make new friends.

There’s nothing better than arriving at a new destination with a bunch of mates, dumping your stuff in the hotel room and hitting the beach with a few beers.

But how often do you make the effort to meet other people in this situation, especially locals? Sure, you may have a brief chat with a guy at a local store or another traveller at the bar, but you don’t really develop strong connections because you are always distracted by the ease of conversation with those you feel comfortable with.

The fear of being alone can be an incredible motivator – especially for naturally shy people – to break through the mental constraints you have trapped yourself in and burrow into the reality of a completely foreign world.

5. Reality gets put in PERSPECTIVE.

beggar

This is dependant on where you come from, but let’s assume you’re a spoilt brat like me – because really, at the end of the day, most of us are.

I grew up in South Africa so for me third world poverty was something I was relatively accustomed to from a young age. However, moving to London in my early twenties and living there for ten years clouded my worldly immunity and made me soft to the rough edges of reality. Convenience and comfort can quickly change from things you appreciate to things you expect, and it doesn’t take long to forget your privilege.

Fast forward to the hot and dusty streets of some impoverished nation – amputee beggars grasping at your legs for change, war-deformed children plaguing your dreams, over-population, rampant pollution, nations bankrupt by corruption!  You will return to your hometown with a sparkling new appreciation of law, order and even the most basic of conveniences.

 



THE BAD:

1. In the event of accident or sickness, you’re alone.

This is the real clincher, the one thing that can overshadow all the positive of travelling alone. Nothing sucks more than being sick, miles from home and feeling like you might just die here in this hotel room and nobody would even know.

But you won’t. You will live on. You will survive. Today will be your independence day!

People, in general, are actually very quick to help the sick and injured and it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever find yourself in a position where you are suffering alone and without help. (Do get travel insurance though. For real, that shit’s important.)

2. You will be judged and/or targeted.

sadface

As a man travelling alone you may well be seen as some kind of weird social outcast or friendless loser, but fear not – a confident attitude, clear loud voice and good arsenal of politically incorrect jokes will quickly have you surrounded by a veritable gaggle of other unsavoury characters such as yourself.

Make sure you are well moulded into the group before attempting to drop your best pick-up lines on any fair maidens in the vicinity, as the only thing that will judge your loneliness more than the male of the species, is surely the female. Unless you have some mad good game, there are few things more creepy than a solo male traveller hitting on every girl in the hostel.

As a solo female traveller, you have an entirely different bag of challenges to overcome. A common one is trying to decipher whether a guy is being genuinely friendly or just wants to sleep with you (just to clarify, if he’s not gay then it’s the latter).

On a more serious note though, solo female travellers have to deal with a laundry list of problems so long that I could write an entire website about it, let alone a blog. Men with less than savoury intentions are more likely to target a woman on her own, and even in a safe space like a backpacker hostel or hotel, not everyone is an innocent tourist.

It’s a sad fact, but for women travelling alone life can sometimes be very tough. It varies greatly by country but for the most part even just trying to get a tuk-tuk or taxi can mean possible harassment, or at worst facing real potential danger.

 

3. Lack of confirmable knowledge.

alcohol better

Without anyone to question or get advice from, you must research everything yourself and rely on your own ability to make the best choices. Basic travel advice is always available from books, other travellers or the info desk.  However, some things you don’t want to ask strangers about – like why your poo is green, is porn illegal in this country, or whether that girl is actually hot or you’re just drunk.

If you’re a bad decision maker like me it can get very tiring constantly making mistakes, but then again – it is the best way to learn! At the end of the day we’re all clueless anyway so sometimes you’re better off alone.

4. Some things are more expensive.

money

If you do feel the need for some privacy (which I guarantee you will at some point), then renting a private room is significantly more expensive when you’re alone. Similarly, getting a taxi or any form of private transport will cost you at least double. Even eating at a restaurant can cost more when things like a bowl of rice could be shared.

If you have access to a kitchen, cooking for one usually ends up costing almost as much as cooking for two. If cash machines charge a flat rate to draw money, you can take turns drawing money for each other and save on charges. However, in the long run, I think this cost will be offset by the savings you can make from solo travel.

5. Nobody to share the experience with.

lonely sunset

This one is pretty self-explanatory. A beautiful sunset, while still enjoyable to watch alone, can be greatly improved with some company. Going out to enjoy the night-life can often be difficult to the point of down-right miserable if you have nobody to share it with. Life-changing experiences are often easier to understand when conveyed into words and bounced off the consciousness of someone else.

But in this day-and-age of social media – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – are you ever really alone? Just upload that perfect snap, check-in to some exotic country or post a status of how much fun you’re having and watch the likes rolling in – you’ve never felt more surrounded by friends!

Until your battery dies and the digital sun sets on your sad, lonely existence.


THE UGLY:

1. You. You are the ugly. Because you are travelling alone and don’t need to impress anyone, so after awhile basic hygiene and grooming fall to the way-side and you turn into a wookie.

 

For more travel bits and pieces check out : Travel Tips

Budget Travel: Saving Money

money

Income vs Expense

Despite what many people may believe, saving money is actually a lot easier than you think.  The reality is that most people are simply spending far more than they need to, but have become so complacent with their situation that they don’t realise what they could be saving.

The two main elements involved in saving money are:

  • Income
  • Expenses
Well, that clears that up.

In order to save money of any kind, you will initially need some sort of income.  This can be in the form of a salary from your job, profits from your own company, or any other kind of payments you receive, like benefits or support.

Most people will receive a set amount of money monthly, but even if you don’t you should be able to calculate the total average income you receive by dividing your last year’s income by twelve (quick mafs!).

Once you know your average monthly income, all you need to do is adjust your monthly expenses to be lower than your income.

No matter how little or how much you earn, you can always save something.

Ways to Save

Budget, Budget, Budget

budget
If you still don’t save enough, sell your calculator on Antiques Roadshow

Creating a realistic and comprehensive budget is the number one element required in an effective saving plan.  Even if you only do one thing on this list, do this one.

Being able to see in clear numbers your exact monthly expenditure is key to knowing where you are overspending and where you can save.  Bills such as rent, utilities and debt payments are often unavoidable, but everything else such as groceries and entertainment can be curtailed to provide you with savings.

Download a budget app to help you.

Get a Savings Account

money
Are you a drug dealer? No, put that shit in the bank!

Leaving all your money in your current account is a sure-fire way to burn through it every month. Most banks provide a savings account included in your normal account, but if yours doesn’t, inquire about what options they have for you.

At the beginning of each month, pay your required bills and rent and then move all your remaining income to your savings account.  This will encourage you to save because you will be aware of exactly how much you are moving back to your current account each time you use your card. If possible, automate this procedure with your online banking portal.

Pay off your Credit Card in Full

cards
Check this guy with all his cards. So cool.  Until the debt collectors show up!

Always ensure you pay off your credit card every month, in full.  Credit cards are dangerous if not properly managed, but can also be incredibly useful in building a credit score and ensuring you can get loan approvals in future, should you wish to buy a house or similar.

Any debt left on your credit card means you are simply throwing money away in interest fees. Never spend more on your card than the monthly amount you have left after rent and bills.

 

Stop Eating and Drinking Out

clamped wallet
Seems somewhat impractical but hey, whatever works for you!

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s easier said than done.  Friends, family commitments, business meetings, dates – they can all add up.

To avoid eating out too often you need to be militant with yourself.  Prioritise your monthly engagements and ensure only to attend those that are entirely unavoidable.  Invite friends round to your home, or agree to meet them at theirs, for drinks and other social meetings.

When eating out, avoid alcohol as it’s generally the most marked-up item and can double the cost of a meal.  It can also lead to other “unnecessary” expenses…

rolled notes
I have no idea why they are rolled up officer, they just came out the ATM that way…

 

Check your Utilities and Insurance on Comparison Websites

comparison
Ok don’t go all ‘Rainman’ on me bro, just use the website – it does it for you!

Many people are paying far more than they need to in gas, electricity, phone and insurance bills.  The recent popularity of Online Price Comparison websites has forced rip-off companies to bring down their prices to compete with competitors.

Often you won’t even need to change providers – simply inform your current provider you can get a better deal with someone else and they will almost always agree to match the price in order to keep you on as a customer.

 

Take on a Second Job

arm wrestle
Any work is respectable, even giving other men hand massages.

If you have tried everything else and can’t find any way to reduce your expenses, then the only other option is to increase your income. These days earning additional income online is more popular than ever, and almost everybody will find something that fits their skill set.

Examples of online jobs that require little or no experience include ad-clickers, data entry, website testing and even online jury duty.

 

online jobs
I was devastated to find that this is not how online jobs work!

 

Find out more about all things saving, budgeting and travelling: Travel Tips

 

Budget Travel: A Note on Haggling

market

It’s important to note that budget travel, especially when haggling, does not mean getting the cheapest possible deal on everything.  Saving money is the aim, but saving money at the expense of someone else is not.

The aim of a budget traveller should not only be to save money but at the same time, promote the economy of the country.  And although it may seem counter-intuitive, going somewhere and just spending loads of money is actually not productive to the overall economy either.

It needs balance.

shop

Haggling

Let’s take tuk-tuks for example since they are prevalent in almost any travel story.  Tuk-tuks (or rickshaws, moto-taxis, jeepneys, etc) almost never advertise their price.  They know their customers come from all walks of life and a rich person might happily pay $10 for a ride that should cost $3.  However, due to the nature of haggling, some people might try to get a ride for $2 or even $1.  If it’s a quiet day, the driver might accept that just to make some money.

This doesn’t mean you should try to get a ride for $1 that should cost $3.  This is not productive to the local economy.  While he might take you at that price, he’s losing money and you’re giving travellers a bad name.  At the same time, it’s equally as bad if people are all paying $10.  If all tuk-tuk drivers are earning far more than they should, locals in other businesses will quit their jobs and all start buying tuk-tuks. The result?  WAY more tuk-tuk’s than required and not enough business for any of them.

For any economic system to work, the price must be right. Not too high, not too low.

tuk-tuk
Tuk-tuks: Everything else blurs in comparison

So what is budget travelling?  It’s about knowing what the price should be and aiming for that.  Of course in certain situations, supply and demand will affect your bargaining power.  A shortage of tuk-tuks and influx of customers might mean you’ll have to pay more but this is where the responsibility of the driver comes in.  He might make a quick buck overcharging you but in the long run, he’s not doing himself any favours.  Unsatisfied customers will find other means of transport and he’ll put himself out of business.

Sustainable Saving

When you are looking for ways to save money while travelling, don’t do it at the expense of the local community.  You wouldn’t go to a hostel and try haggling on the price.  If it’s £5 a night it’s £5 a night, no question.  But you can save money on accommodation without ripping anyone off – by housesitting, Couchsurfing or camping.  Even sleeping in a hammock on a beach or in an abandoned building is fine – as long as you don’t make a mess or upset anyone.

hammock
I wouldn’t have pitched it so high up over rocks, but hey – yolo!

You can also save money on things like transport by hitch-hiking.  This is not costing anyone anything – the person giving you a lift is usually going that way anyway.  It’s still nice to offer them something, especially if they’re going out their way.  Nine times out of ten they won’t accept it because they genuinely just wanted to help you.

hitch hike
Arm wanted to see the world.

Pay it Forward

Haggling, or bargaining, is great.  It’s part of the travel experience and an important aspect of the economy, even if it is unregulated.  However, it shouldn’t be seen as a way to get something as cheap as possible.  The people you are buying from work long hours to provide these goods or services.  One-off tourists have no interest in the future of a country’s economy, but for travellers, this might be a place you end up living or working in the future.  If people can’t put their kids through school, next time you visit, crime could be worse or the quality of services deteriorated.

Spending that little bit extra is not just an investment in them and their country, it could also be an investment in your own future.

They didn’t teach you this at school kids, but this is how you invest money!

Read more on  : Travel Tips

New NO FEES Travel Card (UK only)

Starling bank is a new ‘online only’ UK bank offering debit cards that charge NO FEES for withdrawals or transactions, anywhere in the world!

They work with all ATM’s just the same as any other debit card, but don’t charge the usual 3-5%  per transaction that most other banks do!*

It’s the perfect card for frequent travellers.

starling

NO MORE ATM WOES

I know when I travel, drawing cash is one of the most annoying things.  Mainly because you need to plan ahead – if you are out one night and run out of money, you can’t just go and grab £10 out of the ATM.  Even though it’s advertised as only charging you a percentage, there is usually minimum charge of £2 – £3. 

So when drawing cash, you have to draw enough for at least a few weeks to make it worthwhile – the more the better.  But then you have a huge wad of cash on you, so you need to immediately head back to your hotel or hostel and put it in a safe place.

ONLINE APP

 

The Starling online app is also far more intuitive than most banking apps, providing you with accurate descriptions of purchases, correct retailer details, currency conversions and even spending patterns.

All it takes is three minutes to download the app and apply for a new account.  No need to go into a branch, since they don’t have any branches!

starling

Furthermore, if your card gets lost or stolen, you can instantly disable it from the app – no need to call your bank!  The app is secured with a PIN or fingerprint security, so if you lose your phone it’s still secure. The only issue is you will need to get another phone and download the app before you can do any online banking, but your debit card will still work.

JUST LIKE ANY OTHER BANK

Every account comes with the standard sort code and account number, so they can be used for online purchases, direct debits and EFT payments just like any other bank – but with no extra charges!

Currently, they are only issuing Mastercard debit cards, but I would imagine they will start doing Visa soon.  Either way, this shouldn’t be an issue, as in my experience Mastercard and Visa are equally prevalent around the world.

Click HERE to sign up now.

 


*Some ATM’s will still charge their built-in transaction fees if run by an independent company, but this is unavoidable no matter what bank you are with.

(Disclaimer: I am not a qualified financial advisor. This is an independent report about a product of Starling Bank, with whom I have no affiliation, and is published for information purposes only.)

Agra: India’s Holy (Cash) Cow

taj mahal

Agra, also known as ‘that place where the Taj Mahal is’ is, quite literally, that place where the Taj Mahal is. It also features the incredible Agra Fort which I didn’t go to because, like everyone else, I only went to Agra for the Taj.

taj mahal
One of those Taj hand pics

Marble Mausoleum

I must say, though, that unlike most tourist traps, the Taj Mahal is actually worth the time and money (Rs1000 entrance – about £11). It is a well pimped-out palace of note, made almost entirely of white marble. Imagine the number of kitchen counters they could have made with all that marble? Every Indian shanty from Kolkata to Kochi could be decked out with blinding white, glittering surfaces ready to smash any piece of crockery placed down too heavily. But no, instead, the good old Shah Jahan built the world’s grandest gravestone, because that’s really all it is – a big-ass tomb for the Shah and his wife. Nobody ever even lived there.

Taj mahal in agra
Me, very excited about the giant tomb

Room with a View

Another great thing about Agra is that property conglomerates haven’t bought all the surrounding land and built 5-star hotels, so you can still get a £5 hotel room with a view of the Taj! Imagine you could get a hotel in Paris with a view of the Eiffel tower for £5? Imagine how terrible that hotel would have to be? Can you imagine it? Well, that’s how the cheap hotels in Agra are. But hey, for one or two nights, who cares? It’s just somewhere to sleep. And get bedbugs.

Room with awful wallpaper in agra
How’s that freakin wallpaper? Awful. So, so awful.
Taj mahal in agra
Not the worst view at breakfast

No Unicorns at the Taj Mahal

The security at the Taj is pretty damn tight, to say the least. They didn’t even let me take in my latex unicorn mask. I mean, seriously? I know it’s terrifying and mildly disturbing that a 35-year-old man carries around a latex unicorn mask, but what am I going to do with it? It’s not even flammable, it would just melt into an even more terrifying blob of bubbling goo. Books too, they don’t like you taking in books. Or food. Basically, just take your phone and wallet. If, however, you do decide to take your latex animal mask or a dog-eared copy of ‘50 Shades of Grey’, they do have locker facilities to leave your illegals in.

panorama of the taj in agra
Panoramotastic!

Picture Perfect

Once inside you will not be disappointed. The Taj Mahal is one of the few places I’ve visited that somehow makes good photo opportunities possible, despite a massive throng of tourists. We managed to take the prerequisite seven thousand photos of the palace from every different angle, and one or two didn’t even have a single other tourist in! It truly is an Instagram junkie’s heaven.

hand pulling thing at taj mahal in agra
Instagram Crack!

Super Secret Photo Hack!

If you do go to the Taj, make sure to visit one of the relatively deserted side temples so you can get an awesome arch-framed photo like the one below.

I mean, come on, how pro does that look?

amazing instagram worthy taj photo in agra
Look – I’m even meditating. Everyone loves meditating!

Any More to Agra?

As I mentioned above, other than the Taj and Agra Fort, there isn’t much more to Agra. We did, however, have a day to kill before our night bus the following day so we went to explore the ‘Taj Nature Walk’. This I do not recommend. It’s not so much a nature walk as a dry, run down park that made me think of the Pripyat amusement park in Chernobyl. Bonus points for finding the terrifying ‘zoo’ full of plastic animals that I can only imagine were placed there after all the real animals died of boredom from having to live in this park.

terrible park in agra
The fear is real!

Happy Travels!

Read more about my adventures in India here:  Splash Roll Stumble: India

Need somewhere cheap to stay? Stay India

 

panorama of the taj
The Taj makes for great panoramas

Cycling France, and falling in love with travel

How travel changed my life

This is the story of my first ever cycle tour in 2002. I was 19 years old and broke, but desperately wanted to see the world.

My friend Sean and I

A friend and I bought two second-hand mountain bikes for €40 each and planned to cycle from Paris to Rome. Neither of us had ever cycled further than 1 or 2 miles – to school and such.  We spent about two months working in London to save up a few hundred pounds, a large section of which went on the Eurostar ticket to Paris.

Putting a rack on the mountain bike
Day 1, Paris

Remember Mapbooks?

This was before mobile phones and GPS. Our only guidance was a map book and a compass. We got lost often, and it was awesome.  Eventually, we stopped using the map book for guidance and simply cycled into the wild.  We only looked back on it occasionally to track the route we had come.

Into the wild

Survival Food

We bought a tent, roll mats and a gas stove. In four weeks cycling we never once paid for accommodation and spent about €1 a day on food. Oats for breakfast, spaghetti for dinner.  We drank only water and black coffee, and invented some strange lunch options too, like bulk cheap croissants wrapped in budget salami.  I can still taste it…

Too much equipment!

No bike, no problem

Unfortunately, halfway to Rome, one bike was stolen while we slept on the beach in Cannes. Unable to afford a new one, we sold the other and continued on foot, hitch-hiking.  We crossed into Italy and walked for almost eight hours the first day without catching a single lift.

Sleeping outdoors on the French Riviera

After spending two nights sleeping at a truck stop and still with no luck, we asked a police officer if he could help.  He instructed us to hitch-hike on the freeway, and then promptly arrested us for doing so.  We had no money for a fine or bribe, so eventually, he let us go.

Hitching after the bike was stolen.

Penniless but free, we eventually caught a lift to Genoa, and continued from there by hopping trains to Pisa, Venice and Florence, sleeping in stations and on beaches.

Sleeping in a train station

Discover Life

That trip was the single greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It not only made me fall in love with cycling and travel, but it defined everything that I am as a person today. It imbued within me a confidence to achieve any goal I desire, to never give up, to see the beauty in the world and all the possibilities in life.

Cycle touring is not about the bike or the equipment. Travel is not about the route or the destination.

It’s about you.

Get out there and discover yourself.


 

Budget Travel Tips

This is just a general guide on how I travel cheap, but in each individual country page I include more detailed, relevant information.


I have two facets to travelling cheap – “Saving while Working” and “Saving while Travelling”, but both revolve around similar core-concepts.  Depending on your income level and/or the way in which you like to travel, each may apply to you in a different way.


SAVING WHILE WORKING

C-ZgvnzXYAAR7E7Everyone is always asking how I travel so much. Sadly I have no big secret – I didn’t win the lottery, I’m not a trust-fund kid, I don’t have anybody paying for me. I simply follow one rule – earn high, spend low. Seems like an obvious statement, but very few people follow the second step. I spend as little as possible on rent by sharing rooms, staying in super cheap student housing or crashing on friends sofas. Of course, this would not suit everybody but hey – if you wanna travel the world and you’re not a millionaire you’re going to have to make some sacrifices!


4924b0772cad94008653b216980c869e1d4ec953I also eat a lot of rice, frozen veg, spaghetti, tin tomatoes etc, always buy reduced price food, almost never drink out at bars or pubs and never eat at restaurants. I cycle EVERYWHERE. In fact this is probably my biggest saving – I save over £2000 a year simply by refusing to ever pay for public transport or taxis, even if it’s 3am and it’s raining. Like I said – sacrifices. There are various other ways, like taking a packed lunch to work and drinking the free work coffee instead of the exorbitantly over-priced coffee shops (I mean seriously, £3 for a coffee? Are you crazy?).  I also almost never buy clothes unless it’s an absolute necessity, and even then we’re talking £3 t-shirts or £10 jeans, usually at second-hand stores. oPFUfIn fact everything I buy is second-hand – shpock and facebook marketplace are my saviours. I never sign up to anything – I’ve never had a phone contract, I don’t have spotify, netflix, sky, a gym membership – in fact I’ve never had a single direct-debit on my bank account. In short, when working and saving I live like someone on minimum wage or less, but that’s fine because the other 6 months of the year I can travel the world which makes it all worthwhile.  Which takes us to step two…


 

SAVING WHILE TRAVELLING

Accommodation

Hostels and Hotels
bombay-delightDo you like fancy hotels, private rooms, hot water, air-con? This might not be the blog for you. Once again, travelling cheap means sacrifices – you know that little option at the top of hotel search apps that says “Sort by Price – Low to High”? Yeah, I use that a lot. Hostels are your best friend if you’re travelling alone, but in many places it’s also possible to find private rooms for almost the same price. For example I recently found a really nice private room in Sri Lanka for £5 a night! Okay sure, the bathroom was shared but this is hardly a big problem. If you’re travelling as a couple you can often get a private room for the same price as two hostel beds. My favourite apps are Hostel World and Trivago. (Booking.com is very popular but they sometimes have hidden costs not included in the quoted price and their customer service is terrible so I would avoid them.)

Staying with Locals
Sites like Couchsurfing and WarmShowers are also great for meeting and staying with local residents, and getting the chance to experience a country like locals do. The Couchsurfing app tries to convince you to pay and verify your account but you can use it fine without being verified.  Many countries in Asia have ‘homestays’ – local people who rent out cheap rooms in their houses and invite you live with them as if you were part of the family.

article-header-vietnam-homestay-1440x530

Rough Sleeping
Depending on how brave you are and what country you are in, you can often find places to sleep for free, if you really want to save money! These can be anything from hammocks or sunbeds on the beach, to abandoned buildings or construction sites. But again, this depends massively on the safety of where you are – I had no problems doing this in most of South East Asia (especially Cambodia), but it’s probably less recommended in most African and South American countries (although according to my favourite blog “hitchtheworld.com” it would seem South America is fine too).
double-hammock-sunset-760_largeIn most of Europe or the US you’ll likely be asked to move by law enforcement, although me and a friend managed to sleep quite comfortably on the beach in Cannes, and behind a few shops and truck stops in parts of Italy. The smaller the town the better luck you will have. I generally try to avoid cities in all circumstances because they are noisy, polluted and over-priced – and visit them only for work or the airports.


FOOD AND DRINK
IMG_3115Everyone has heard of tourist traps, but what most people don’t realise is that practically anywhere you go is a tourist trap – if it wasn’t you wouldn’t have heard of it! Restaurants and bars around the town centre of your new destination might seem cheap at first, but if you venture off the main strip into the local areas you’ll be surprised to find amazing authentic places for half the price, and get the rare opportunity to meet some local people in their own environment – not just trying to sell you sunglasses on the beach!  Street food is generally the cheapest way to eat anywhere – in Sri Lanka you can get great little snacks like roti’s and samosa’s for between 10 – 25p.  In Vietnam, Bahn Mi (baguette sandwich) is available everywhere from between 70-90p, and even sit down restaurants serve huge bowls of Pho for only £1. Thailand is synonymous with street food – for less than £1 you can get a huge array of food including spring rolls, fried chicken, fish, fruit – you name it! maxresdefaultEuropean and American towns have less street food options so in expensive places like Paris I buy bread, cheese and fruit at shops or markets to save money. Many hostels will have communal kitchens so if you are with friends you could save even more by buying ingredients and cooking together. Always buy products local to the country you are in, so don’t try make pasta in Thailand – rice and a curry with seasonal vegetables will be much cheaper!


Alcohol is usually a big expense for most people, especially when travelling – present company not excluded!  I won’t lie – I really like my beer, and if I’m honest sometimes alcohol makes up 50% of my travel costs! That seems crazy when I see it in writing, but there is no point travelling so cheap that you don’t even enjoy yourself, and of course when money is really tight then it’s the first thing I cut out. Fortunately in a lot of countries I have found they will let you bring some store bought alcohol into cheap restaurants, or even bars, as they assume once you are done with that you will buy more. p1050561Just don’t be a dick and bring a few bottles of whiskey in!


The average price of a can of supermarket beer is approximately £1 in almost every country I’ve ever been, with a few exceptions like Vietnam where it can be as low as 30p, and of course Islamic countries where it is usually illegal or if not, exceptionally expensive.

Drinking before going out and avoiding rip-off touristy bars are the most obvious ways to keep this expense low.


TRANSPORT
6a00d8341c00c753ef01676488269c970bTransport is a big one when travelling, and usually it all starts with flights. Most people are quick to use flight aggregation sites like Skyscanner, Cheapflights and Google Flights, which are great – but just for the info! In most cases it’s best to use these sites to find the cheapest routes, but then often cheaper to book through the airline independently. Also these sites will quote you the cheapest fare covering your route in the fastest time with the shortest lay-over, but often you can save money by purchasing two separate flights on the same path and also spend some time in a new country. For example, I recently searched for a flight from London to Dubai, and the cheapest route was on Pegasus airlines via Istanbul. So I searched on the Pegasus website for individual flights from London to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Dubai a few days later and managed to get a cheaper overall price – plus I got myself an unexpected short holiday in Turkey! Ofcourse this only works if you’re not on a tight schedule, but I highly recommend always not being on a tight schedule.


48bcf350f121c4cc5649ba282cb9a7ec1b103fd90348f355b52e96b608666b09Once in your country of choice, you’ll likely want to be moving around frequently. Almost every country in the world has a vast spectrum of transport choices, and my favourite is always trains.  Train travel is usually the most affordable, fastest and comfortable way to travel (except in the UK).  However, western ideals of comfort have created in most countries ridiculous price differences in travel classes, with many railway services offering “1st class” tickets at ten times the price of normal tickets, but offering very little value for money. Seriously, air-con is not that important – even 3rd class carriages have fans, which are more than enough. I’ve travelled 12 hour journeys in 3rd class in humid 40 degree countries and I’ve survived! Honestly, you’ll be fine. (And if not, most 3rd world countries sell Xanax without prescription for next to nothing.)


sleeping-bus-to-sa-paBuses are the next best thing for cheap public transport, and usually cover all the routes that trains don’t.  In some countries I’ve found long distance overnight bus travel to be very cheap, especially around South East Asia. There is a safety aspect – it’s recommended not to leave any valuables in the luggage hold, not to mention the occasional road accident – so take due care in certain countries when choosing to travel by bus.  Personally I’ve never had a problem, but I’ve heard enough stories of people who have.


Tuk Tuk, ThailandMost Asian countries have tuk-tuks which are like small motor-bike taxis with seating for up to 3 people. These are great ways to go small distances but usually cost more than buses and are notorious for ripping of unsuspecting foreigners, so find out first what it should cost for where you are going and ensure to agree a price before getting in.  They also make walking on the streets a highly annoying task as they continuously stop to offer you a lift.


hitchhiker-56a8a23d5f9b58b7d0f3c966Which brings us to hitch-hiking.  Now hitch-hiking is a very sensitive topic with a lot of people, and no doubt for good reason. The biggest issue being gender related – obviously for women there is a massively inherent danger with getting into a car with a stranger. That said, I have met and spoken to a large number of female solo hitch-hikers who have never had any issues in certain areas, mostly south-east Asia. Hitchwiki is a great website run by a world-wide community of hitch-hikers, giving a huge amount of detailed information on where to avoid, where to stand, places to crash, busy routes, quiet routes etc. I haven’t hitch-hiked a huge amount but I’ve had great success in Thailand and Laos – poorer countries are generally better and I’ve found those less well-off are often the quickest to stop and offer a lift.


ALSO – walking and cycling are free and I highly suggest you do them as often as possible. Even 5km is not really that far (if you aren’t on a tight schedule) and you may see and experience things you would have missed out on if you were in a bus.

 

CASH
weird-atmNo matter how much money you save, if you don’t have access to your money it’s of no use!  I encounter an endless stream of people who lose their wallet or bag with their only debit card in it in a foreign country and have no idea how to get a replacement card while abroad – something that is generally very difficult!  Before going on a long trip always ask your bank for a second card that you can keep safely back in your hotel or hostel when you go out. If you have a credit card keep it for emergencies only and don’t carry it out with you. In fact it’s best to only ever take out the cash you need for that day or night and leave everything else back at your accommodation.

In a lot of countries drawing cash from ATM’s incur a big charge (like in Thailand it’s £5, plus whatever percentage your bank charges) so you’ll want to draw a lot of cash at once and keep this in a safe place at your accommodation. Always check that you can draw cash in the country you are visiting, and if not bring enough foreign currency for your entire trip. If possible it’s good to have a mix of cards, ie Visa and Mastercard, as some ATM’s only take one or the other.


There is always a danger of money getting stolen from your account if your debit card is lost or stolen, so I always keep the majority of my cash in my separate savings account and then move money using my Barclays app on my phone when I need to draw cash.  This way if somebody does get my card they will only have access to about £30.  A potential problem with this is losing or breaking your phone and not having access to the app, so it’s also good to carry your banks card security console (Pinsentry or similar) with you if your bank has one.


BAGGAGE
conventgarden_suitcaseTravel light!  I cannot stress this enough. No matter how long your trip, you never need more than a weeks worth of clothes.  I only ever travel with one backpack that fits into carry-on luggage and weighs between 10-12kg.  This is advantageous for many reasons – no excess baggage charges, the airline can’t lose it, you don’t have to wait at the baggage carousel and it’s small and light enough to walk long distances with when hitch-hiking or even just trying to find a hotel or hostel.  With a small bag there is also much more chance a bar or restaurant will be happy to stash it for you overnight while you crash on a hammock or sunbed.  Furthermore, you will be able to take it onto buses with you so no worries of theft from the luggage compartment or forgetting something in your bag that you may need on-board. Basically, you’ll be lighter, happier and always have whatever you need at hand. The only exception to this is when travelling in very cold countries where excessive warm clothing is required and so a big bag is unavoidable.

My essential luggage items are:
Basic clothing (4 shirts, 3 shorts, some socks, trainers, flip flops and maybe a warm hoodie or jersey)
Phone charger and power bank
Basic toiletries (toothpaste, brush, deodorant) and basic medical (some plasters and antiseptic cream)
Glasses and sunglasses
TRAVEL ADAPTOR!
Passport
Padlock
(I realise girls with hair might need luxury items like shampoo and stuff so I can accept they may not be able to travel as light as me, but most hostels and hotels have soap and sometimes even shampoo. Or just make friends with somebody who does!)

Beyond the essentials I also carry a tiny laptop (to write this), a hammock, a unicorn mask, a GoPro, an electric razor, nail-clippers, a portable speaker and some other non-essential items because just like everybody I also tend to pack way more than I actually need.

 

 

 

Budget Travel Tips

money

I have two facets to travelling cheap – “Saving while Working” and “Saving while Travelling”, but both revolve around similar core-concepts.  Depending on your income level and/or the way in which you like to travel, each may apply to you in a different way.


SAVING WHILE WORKING

C-ZgvnzXYAAR7E7

Everyone is always asking how I travel so much. Sadly I have no big secret – I didn’t win the lottery, I’m not a trust-fund kid, I don’t have anybody paying for me. I simply follow one rule – earn high, spend low. Seems like an obvious statement, but very few people follow the second step. I spend as little as possible on rent by sharing rooms, staying in super cheap student housing or crashing on friends sofas. Of course, this would not suit everybody but hey – if you wanna travel the world and you’re not a millionaire you’re going to have to make some sacrifices!


4924b0772cad94008653b216980c869e1d4ec953

I also eat a lot of rice, frozen veg, spaghetti, tin tomatoes etc, always buy reduced price food, almost never drink out at bars or pubs and never eat at restaurants. I cycle EVERYWHERE. This is probably my biggest saving – I save over £2000 a year simply by refusing to ever pay for public transport or taxis, even if it’s 3 am and it’s raining. Like I said – sacrifices. There are various other ways, like taking a packed lunch to work and drinking the free work coffee instead of the exorbitantly over-priced coffee shops (I mean seriously, £3 for a coffee? Are you crazy?).  I also almost never buy clothes unless it’s an absolute necessity, and even then we’re talking £3 t-shirts or £10 jeans, usually at second-hand stores.  In fact, almost everything I buy is second-hand – shpock and facebook marketplace are my saviours. I never sign up to anything – I’ve never had a phone contract, I don’t have Spotify, Netflix, Sky, a gym membership – I’ve never even had a single direct-debit on my bank account. In short, when working and saving I live like someone on minimum wage or less, but that’s fine because the other 6 months of the year I can travel the world which makes it all worthwhile.  Which takes us to step two…


SAVING WHILE TRAVELLING

Accommodation

Budget Hotel in Hollywood

Hostels and Hotels

Do you like fancy hotels, private rooms, hot water, air-con? This might not be the blog for you. Once again, travelling cheap means sacrifices – you know that little option at the top of hotel search apps that says “Sort by Price – Low to High”? Yeah, I use that a lot. Hostels are your best friend if you’re travelling alone, but in many places, it’s also possible to find private rooms for almost the same price. For example, I recently found a really nice private room in Sri Lanka for £5 a night! Okay sure, the bathroom was shared but this is hardly a big problem. If you’re travelling as a couple you can often get a private room for the same price as two hostel beds. My favourite apps are Hostel World and Trivago. (Booking.com is very popular but they sometimes have hidden costs not included in the quoted price and their customer service is terrible so I would avoid them.)

Waters Edge, Goa

Staying with Locals

Sites like Couchsurfing and WarmShowers are also great for meeting and staying with local residents, and getting the chance to experience a country like locals do. The Couchsurfing app tries to convince you to pay and verify your account but you can use it fine without being verified.

Rough Sleeping

Depending on how brave you are and what country you are in, you can often find places to sleep for free if you really want to save money! These can be anything from hammocks or sunbeds on the beach, to abandoned buildings or construction sites. But again, this depends massively on the safety of where you are – I had no problems doing this in most of South East Asia (especially Cambodia), but it’s probably less recommended in most African and South American countries (although according to my favourite blog “hitchtheworld.com” it would seem South America is fine too).

In most of Europe or the US you’ll likely be asked to move by law enforcement, although a friend and I managed to sleep quite comfortably on the beach in Cannes, and behind a few shops and truck stops in parts of Italy. The smaller the town the better luck you will have. I generally try to avoid cities in all circumstances because they are noisy, polluted and over-priced – and visit them only for work or the airports.

Sleeping in a train station

FOOD AND DRINK

Everyone has heard of tourist traps, but what most people don’t realise is that practically anywhere you go is a tourist trap – if it wasn’t you wouldn’t have heard of it! Restaurants and bars around the town centre of your new destination might seem cheap at first, but if you venture off the main strip into the local areas you’ll be surprised to find amazing authentic places for half the price, and get the rare opportunity to meet some local people in their own environment – not just trying to sell you sunglasses on the beach!  Street food is generally the cheapest way to eat anywhere – in Sri Lanka, you can get great little snacks like roti’s and samosa’s for between 10 – 25p.  In Vietnam, Bahn Mi (baguette sandwich) is available everywhere from between 70-90p, and even sit down restaurants serve huge bowls of Pho for only £1. Thailand is synonymous with street food – for less than £1 you can get a huge array of food including spring rolls, fried chicken, fish, fruit – you name it! maxresdefault

European and American towns have less street food options, so when in expensive places like Paris, I buy bread, cheese and fruit at shops or markets to save money. Many hostels will have communal kitchens so if you are with friends you could save even more by buying ingredients and cooking together. Always buy products local to the country you are in, so don’t try to make pasta in Thailand – rice and a curry with seasonal vegetables will be much cheaper!


Alcohol is usually a big expense for most people, especially when travelling – present company not excluded!  I won’t lie – I really like my beer, and if I’m honest sometimes alcohol makes up 50% of my travel costs! That seems crazy when I see it in writing, but there is no point travelling so cheap that you don’t even enjoy yourself, and of course when money is really tight then it’s the first thing I cut out. Fortunately, in a lot of countries, I have found they will let you bring some store bought alcohol into cheap restaurants, or even bars, as they assume once you are done with that you will buy more.Just don’t be a dick and bring a few bottles of whiskey in!

p1050561


The average price of a can of supermarket beer is approximately £1 in almost every country I’ve ever been, with a few exceptions like Vietnam where it can be as low as 30p, and of course, Islamic countries where it is usually illegal or if not, exceptionally expensive.

Drinking before going out and avoiding rip-off touristy bars are the most obvious ways to keep this expense low.


TRANSPORT

Transport is a big one when travelling, and usually, it all starts with flights. Most people are quick to use flight aggregation sites like Skyscanner, Cheapflights and Google Flights, which are great – but just for the info! In most cases, it’s best to use these sites to find the cheapest routes, but then often cheaper to book through the airline independently. Also, these sites will quote you the cheapest fare covering your route in the fastest time with the shortest layover, but often you can save money by purchasing two separate flights on the same path and also spend some time in a new country. For example, I recently searched for a flight from London to Dubai, and the cheapest route was on Pegasus airlines via Istanbul. So I searched on the Pegasus website for individual flights from London to Istanbul and then Istanbul to Dubai a few days later and managed to get a cheaper overall price – plus I got myself an unexpected short holiday in Turkey! Of course, this only works if you’re not on a tight schedule, but I highly recommend always not being on a tight schedule.

Sleeper bus in Malaysia

Once in your country of choice, you’ll likely want to be moving around frequently. Almost every country in the world has a vast spectrum of transport choices, and my favourite is always trains! Train travel is usually the most affordable, fastest and comfortable way to travel (except in the UK). However, western ideals of comfort have created in most countries ridiculous price differences in travel classes, with many railway services offering “1st class” tickets at ten times the price of normal tickets, but offering very little value for money. Seriously, air-con is not that important – even 3rd class carriages have fans, which are more than enough. I’ve travelled 12-hour journeys in 3rd class in humid 40-degree Celsius countries and I’ve survived! Honestly, you’ll be fine. (And if not, most 3rd world countries sell Xanax without prescription for next to nothing.)

Tuk-tuk

Buses are the next best thing for cheap public transport, and usually cover all the routes that trains don’t.  In some countries, I’ve found long-distance overnight bus travel to be very cheap, especially around South East Asia. There is a safety aspect and it’s recommended not to leave any valuables in the luggage hold, not to mention the occasional road accident, so take due care in certain countries when choosing to travel by bus. Personally, I’ve never had a problem, but I’ve heard enough stories of people who have.


Most Asian countries have tuk-tuks which are like small motor-bike taxis with seating for up to 3 people. These are great ways to go small distances but usually cost more than buses and are notorious for ripping off unsuspecting foreigners, so find out first what it should cost for where you are going and ensure to agree on a price before getting in! They also make walking on the streets a highly annoying task as they continuously stop to offer you a lift!

Hitch hiking in Laos

Which brings us to hitch-hiking. Now hitch-hiking is a very sensitive topic with a lot of people, and no doubt for good reason. The biggest issue being gender-related – obviously, for women, there is a massively inherent danger when getting into a car with a stranger. That said, I have met and spoken to a large number of female solo hitch-hikers who have never had any issues in certain areas, mostly south-east Asia. Hitchwiki is a great website run by a worldwide community of hitch-hikers, giving a huge amount of detailed information on where to avoid, where to stand, places to crash, busy routes, quiet routes etc. I haven’t hitch-hiked a huge amount but I’ve had great success in Thailand and Laos – poorer countries are generally better and I’ve found those less well-off are often the quickest to stop and offer a lift.


ALSO – walking and cycling are free and I highly suggest you do them as often as possible. Even 5km is not really that far (if you aren’t on a tight schedule) and you may see and experience things you would have missed out on if you were in a bus.

CASH

No matter how much money you save, if you don’t have access to your money it’s of no use! I encounter an endless stream of people who lose their wallet or bag with their only debit card in it in a foreign country and have no idea how to get a replacement card while abroad – something that is generally very difficult! Before going on a long trip always ask your bank for a second card that you can keep safely back in your hotel or hostel when you go out. If you have a credit card keep it for emergencies only and don’t carry it out with you. In fact, it’s best to only ever take out the cash you need for that day or night and leave everything else back at your accommodation.

In a lot of countries drawing cash from ATM’s incur a big charge (like in Thailand it’s £5, plus whatever percentage your bank charges) so you’ll want to draw a lot of cash at once and keep this in a safe place at your accommodation. Always check that you can draw cash in the country you are visiting and if not bring enough foreign currency for your entire trip. If possible it’s good to have a mix of cards, ie Visa and Mastercard, as some ATM’s only take one or the other.


There is always an inherent danger of money getting stolen from your account if your debit card is lost or stolen, so I always keep the majority of my cash in my separate savings account and then move money using my Barclays app on my phone when I need to draw cash. This way if somebody does get my card they will only have access to about £30. A potential problem with this is losing or breaking your phone and not having access to the app, so it’s also good to carry the pin-sentry console with you if your bank has one.


BAGGAGE

Travel light! I cannot stress this enough. No matter how long your trip, you never need more than a week’s worth of clothes. I only ever travel with one backpack that fits into carry-on luggage and weighs between 10-12kg, and this is advantageous for many reasons – no excess baggage charges, the airline can’t lose it, you don’t have to wait at the baggage carousel and it’s small and light enough to walk long distances with when hitch-hiking or even just trying to find a hotel or hostel. With a small bag, there is also much more chance a bar will be happy to stash it for you overnight while you crash on a hammock or sunbed. Furthermore, you will be able to take it onto buses with you so no worries of theft from the luggage compartment or forgetting something in your bag that you may need on-board. Basically, you’ll be lighter, happier and always have whatever you need at hand. The only exception to this is when travelling in very cold countries where excessive warm clothing is required and so a big bag is unavoidable.

My essential luggage items are:
Basic clothing (4 shirts, 3 shorts, some socks, trainers, flip flops and maybe a warm hoodie or jersey)
Phone charger and power bank
Basic toiletries (toothpaste, brush, deodorant) and basic medical (some plasters and antiseptic cream)
Glasses and sunglasses
TRAVEL ADAPTOR!
Passport
Padlock

(I realise girls with hair might need luxury items like shampoo and stuff so I can accept they may not be able to travel as light as me, but most hostels and hotels have soap and sometimes even shampoo. Or just make friends with somebody who does!)

Beyond the essentials, I also carry a tiny laptop (to write this), a hammock, a unicorn mask, a GoPro, an electric razor, nail-clippers, a portable speaker and some other non-essential items because just like everybody I also tend to pack way more than I actually need.