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

 

Travel Smart : Safe Banking on the Road

Smart banking while on the road doesn’t just mean looking over your shoulder at the ATM.  There are a number of other concerns and problems that may occur when you aren’t within the safe borders of your home country.

 

cash
Don’t forget your mini-globe!

Inform your Bank before leaving.

Card fraud is more common than ever these days and, as a result, banks are getting more and more paranoid.  If suddenly, out of the blue, your debit card is used to draw £500 from an ATM in Vladivostok, alarm bells are going to ring.  More often than not, if your bank doesn’t know why this is happening, they’ll instantly block your card.

Always let your bank know where you are going, and for how long.

gone
Actual note

Make a note of your details

Use an online program like Google Drive, or a secure password app on your phone, to keep a note of your sort code, account number AND the three-digit security code on the back of your card.  This way if you lose your card, at least you can still book accommodation online (or if worse comes to worst, a flight home!)

Personally, I memorise these details, but a secure online backup isn’t a bad idea.

locked phone
“How did you crack your phone screen?” ” Don’t ask..”

Ask for a backup Debit Card

Losing a debit card while travelling can mean the difference between eating or not.  If you’ve done point two above, you should still be able to book accommodation, but there are few places where food can be bought with anything other than cash.

Most banks will give you a second debit card that you can keep securely at your hostel.  This means that if you lose your card while abroad, you won’t need to wait for a new card to arrive at Barbados Hostel in Vladivostok (a real place), especially after it inevitably ends up at Vladivostok Hostel in Barbados (hopefully not a real place.)

Enquire with your bank about getting a second card.

two cards
Try get a Mastercard and Visa if you can

Get a Card with No Fees

New online UK bank Starling is offering new accounts with NO FEES on any transactions or withdrawals while abroad, in any country.  Another good travel card option includes Travelex Cash Passport, a card that can be pre-loaded with foreign currency. Monzo seemed promising when they came out last year, but now have a huge waiting list and don’t appear to offer anything better than the Starling Card.

A no-fees travel card can save you tons of cash!

starling
Does your online banking app have an uber-cool green circle? Not likely…

Register with Online Banking

With no access to a bank branch, often online banking can be your only connection to your bank while overseas.  Sometimes setting up online banking requires a text notification, so if your local phone number is not working while abroad, you may have trouble setting it up.

Ensure this is all done and working before you leave.

phone
Where’s your banking app mate? Sort it out!

 

For more excellent travel tips check out: Travel Tips

 

Surviving Long-term Solo Travel

long-term solo travel

When people think of going off on a long-term trip to an exotic foreign country on their own, the majority of things they worry about aren’t actually the things you need to worry about.  Crime and sickness are big ones, and yet out of the 40+ countries I’ve been to I’ve been sick and scammed more often in London than anywhere else.  In this guide, we’ll look at some tips to survive long-term solo travel.

Nothing to Lose

I’ve (touch wood) never been a victim of crime in a foreign country, except in Monaco when I was much younger and my video camera got stolen from the train platform.  Actually, once in France someone tried to steal my wallet but it had so little money in it they said sorry and gave it back.  And one time while growing up in South Africa someone tried to steal my car but it was such a piece of crap they couldn’t get it started and gave up.  Moral of the story – having nothing worth stealing is the best way to not get robbed.


Happy alone

Loneliness is another big one, and it’s something I was most worried about the first time I went travelling on my own.  How wrong I was to worry – within two hours of being off the plane I was out partying with a big new group of friends, some of whom I’m still in contact with to this day.  For the next six months, I didn’t spend a single day alone unless I specifically chose to.  Of course, this may vary depending on where you are – if you’re cycling across the Australian outback you might find yourself conversing with lizards after awhile!

The point is – you have nothing to fear but fear itself.  Developing a certain level of confidence while travelling is imperative to having a successful time and enjoying yourself.   It’s far better than constantly looking over your shoulder and missing out on making good friends because you don’t trust anyone.

So here are some pointers to get you off on the right foot…


SHIT HAPPENS, accept it.

Things will go wrong. Flights will be missed. Bedbugs will happen. Phones will be lost. No amount of planning can account for every possibility, and in fact, over-planning can simply complicate things and also take the fun out of it. With long-term solo travel, you need to have a certain amount of lee-way and be ready to adapt to any situation.

In Thailand, I had an 11 pm train that was delayed for 5 hours!  I was in a tiny village so there was nothing to do and nowhere to go other than waiting on the platform.  I made friends with some other people there, we got chatting, they shared some of their beers, and in no time it was 4 am and the train was there.

In Berlin, I missed my flight home because I didn’t realise how far away the airport was. It was the last flight that day, but through a friend of a friend, I got hold of a lovely couple who let me stay the night at their place!

One time in Zurich every plane was grounded due to snow and all the hotels were full.  So my girlfriend and I, along with another stranded traveller, built some beds out of a left-over Christmas display and ended up having a fun night.

Zurich Airport
Zurich Airport

In Kampot, Cambodia, I got back to my hostel too late and they had locked everything up, so I explored a nearby construction site and found a mattress on the second floor that provided a more-than-adequate bed for the night – I didn’t even get a single mosquito bite!

A few days later on a ferry back to the mainland from an island, the engine broke down and we were diverted to another island. Rather than wait on the boat for them to fix the engine I went to explore the island, ended up spending three days there and had one of the best times of my life. Everything happens for a reason.

“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try some time you just might find… you get what you need.”

Fear of things going wrong holds people back immensely in life, but reflect on your past I’m sure you’ll find that all those things you were afraid of happening, probably didn’t…. and the things that DID go wrong, you couldn’t possibly have predicted.   Just roll with it.


DON’T STRESS, assess.

99% of the time whatever goes wrong is not that serious and even if it is, stressing won’t help. Staying calm will help you think clearly and assess your situation.  Sometimes, if it is really serious, staying calm can mean the difference between life and death! (Okay, I’ve never had that happen to me but I guess if you’re lost in the desert with no water it could be applicable).

If you lose money or your phone, it’s gone – don’t even waste 5 minutes getting upset about it.  Rather think how you’re going to rectify the situation. When I broke my phone in a tiny village in Thailand I just went without a phone for a week, and you know what? I didn’t even miss it!  Back in civilisation, I bought a cheap replacement phone from 7-Eleven for £12 that got me along fine for the next few months.

Tuk-tuk

In Sri Lanka, I accidentally gave a tuk-tuk driver the equivalent of £40 instead of £4 (which may not seem a lot but a long-term solo travel budget is often as low as £10 a day). So I just tightened my budget the next few days and made up the loss.

When arriving for the first time in India the airport had no ATM’s and I had no local currency! There was also no wifi so I couldn’t even google an ATM, but a friendly parking attendant kindly took me on his motorbike to an ATM a few kilometres away. Things have a way of working out, and staying calm will ease that process.

These aren’t even serious problems. In Vietnam, I saw a guy who had been hit in the face with a machete simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time – save your stress for when that happens (he was fine in the end).


TRUST EVERYONE, but trust your instincts more.

The vast majority of people only want to make friends, help you, or are simply curious. Yes, in certain busy tourist areas there are those who are always trying to sell you something, but these people become easy to spot and ignore. However every now and again a seemingly innocuous encounter with a friendly local or fellow traveller can turn sour, and if it doesn’t feel right – get out of there! In a recent trip to Istanbul, I was travelling alone and was invited to a club by a local. He seemed very friendly and we were getting along but something didn’t feel right, so I politely said goodbye and left.

istanbul bars
Istanbul bars

I later found out I had been sucked into a common scam where they take you somewhere, serve you some drinks and then give you a huge bill at the end with loads of stuff you didn’t order. If you don’t pay, the bouncers drag you to an ATM and force you to draw out all your cash. However, stuff like this is rare (well, location dependent) and I still maintain a belief of innocent until proven guilty. I’ve made a huge number of friends and received an endless amount of help through trusting people in every country I’ve been too. Sometimes the scariest looking people have turned out to be the warmest and kindest, so don’t judge a book by its cover!


BE REALISTIC, but don’t be ripped off.

The best thing about travelling cheap is that wherever you stay, whatever food you eat or whatever transport you take, you know that it’s not going to be 5-star. Even if it’s really bad, it didn’t cost much so it’s no big loss. If your 50p noodle soup doesn’t taste good, well it was 50p – what did you expect? Wifi slow in your £4 hostel? You’re in a tiny village in a 3rd world country, it’s amazing they even have wifi!

Long-term solo travel teaches you the need to be realistic. I recently checked into a cheap motel in India, and the owner said the rooms are usually 700 rupees but he’ll give me one for 500 because I’m alone. I was very grateful. Just after, another couple came in saying they are on a tight budget and need a cheap room: he offered them a discount at 600 rupees, but the women took a look and complained there is no TV! Really, you expect a TV in a £7 hotel room?

But if there was no TV in a £50 hotel room – now that’s going to annoy me. The only times I’m upset or disappointed travelling is when it involves something expensive. There is nothing worse than deciding to spend a little bit extra on something to spoil yourself, only to find it’s nothing like advertised. So yes, every now again it’s nice to spend a bit more – but do your research, because the most expensive things are usually the biggest rip-offs!


ORIENTATE YOURSELF, or embrace getting lost.

What’s the first thing you do when arriving at accommodation in a new town? Get drunk at the bar! Well yes that too, but first connect to the wifi and save your location on Google Maps.  When embarking on long-term solo travel, you need to know where you are!

In Vietnam, a big group of friends and I checked into a guest house and then went out for dinner, proceeded to all get a bit drunk and as a result got separated on the walk home. One couple who were lagging behind missed the turnoff to the house and proceeded to wander around for hours looking for it before eventually sneaking into a hotel and crashing in an empty room!

In the end, it wasn’t a bad result so sometimes getting lost can be fun, but it could have been far worse!  I got lost once going home at a ski resort and for a brief moment had visions of freezing to death in the snow! Learning how to read maps properly is imperative to successful travel, and there are a few tips and tricks to help.

offline maps
Off-line Google Maps

Firstly, download offline maps of the area you are going to (or download Maps.Me which works offline). Even if you have a sim card, often in places with bad signal, downloaded maps work better. Obviously having a backup paper map is a good idea but honestly, I’ve only ever relied on my phone and it’s never been a problem.

Secondly, learn to find north – just because Google Maps on your phone is pointing north that doesn’t mean you are! And uphill doesn’t mean north either – seriously I’ve met people who thought they were going north because they were going uphill. How they even got out of bed amazes me.

Most phones these days have compasses so this is largely redundant but it’s still good general knowledge if your phone battery dies. The obvious one is the sun – if it’s 4 pm, the sun is west, if it’s 9 am the sun is east. If it’s night time, you’ll need to know what hemisphere you’re in and a few star constellations – in the north the bottom two stars of the big dipper point to Polaris which is approximately north and in the south, the southern cross is easy to spot and slightly right of true south. (In reality, this gets somewhat more detailed, so research it if you’re really interested).

If you’re in a bright city you won’t be able to see stars so another neat trick is satellite dishes – all satellite dishes in the southern hemisphere will point somewhere north, and in the northern hemisphere somewhere south – but this is not exact. For example, in the US they all point south, but in the UK they point south-east.

stars


…..and last but not least:

TAKE RISKS, or:

“become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone”.

Sleep in train stations, eat food that moves, visit a war-torn country, hit on the flight attendant, play poker with the Yakuza, drive an unlicensed £80 motorbike across Vietnam in the pitch black pouring rain with no lights, stow-away on a cruise-liner, blag your way backstage, get naked on the dance floor, tattoo yourself while drunk…… but whatever you do, don’t take the biggest risk of all – don’t die without ever having lived.


For more useful travel advice check out: Budget Travel Tips

travel tips
Budget Travel Tips

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

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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!


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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.