"Is budget travel over?"
As I attempt to journey my way across a very small portion of the globe, this is a question that plagues my mind a lot.
More and more, I find myself baffled by the cost of simple things. The amount of times I have to hit an ATM or pull out my credit card is nothing short of outrageous. I set myself a pretty firm budget for my time on the road but I find myself spending much more than I’d imagined I might. It’s understandable. After two years of little-to-no travel, we are all ready to get out and explore. The travel industry is fully aware of this. There is an immediate demand and they are stepping up to the challenge—at a cost.
A dangerous mixture of COVID, war, inflation, bank transaction fees and fluctuating foreign exchange rates has caused travel costs to escalate. It’s getting increasingly more challenging to travel in a cost-conscious manner. Countries—especially developing countries—are desperate to boost their economies and their tourist departments are doing everything they can to appeal to visitors. It’s discouraging to think that the days of unimaginably cheap seat sales and reasonable accommodation are gone for good.
Over the past few months, I’ve come to realize they aren’t gone. Not at all.
Today, budget travel is just a lot more work.
Budget travel has become a perpetually laborious task and if you really want it, one must be prepared for a bit of a struggle. Whether it is bartering for a beloved trinket, booking a safari or trying to get from point A to point B, you have to be on your toes—all of the time. In much frustration, I’ve thrown my hands in the air many times. You really have to gauge where on the spectrum of travel you lie and how much you are willing to compromise for the sake of your budget.
Here's how I approach my own adventures.
According to 2023 studies, guesthouses and hotels everywhere from the United States to the Asia Pacific have increased their prices, anywhere from 10 per cent to 50 per cent on average. Fortunately, there are a multitude of online groups with members that welcome strangers into their homes. Camping is another economical option; in some spots it's even legal to throw up your tarp and sleep outdoors.
But although hostel prices are constantly on the rise, I prefer them to most other accommodation options. They're the best places to meet fellow travellers. I’m not particularly a fan of bunking down with strangers in foreign and often loud environments, but many hostels offer common spaces where you can mingle and share stories. Just when you think you’re an expert, along comes someone with the exact advice you were seeking or an adventure you’d never known existed.
I’ve done it all. I’ve hitched a free ride on the back of a goat truck and I’ve also ended up having to pay hefty fees for private transport. Walking is always free, but can be a pain when it’s hot, you’re exhausted, the road is long and your luggage is heavy.
I’ve rented many vehicles throughout my travels, as I enjoy having the liberty of going where I want, when I want, but even that now comes with a hefty price tag. The price of gas has skyrocketed, and although they might advertise a reasonable daily rate, the cost of insurance is sure to drain you. Don’t even get me started on highway tolls and radar cameras.
There is good news, though: If you’re wiling to sacrifice your own personal space and comfort for a dirty, decrepit seat on a public bus, you’re already ahead of the budget game! After all, it’s all part of the experience
Eating on the cheap
Food is easy, as long as you have the ability to ignore the lure of the tourist traps. Sure, the small businesses might serve rice and beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it’s cheap, it’s cheery, it’s delicious, you’re supporting local and it’s usually a lot of fun. Street food is my favourite. If you’ve made the decision to stay somewhere with a communal kitchen, support the local economy and purchase your products from the local market.
Everything costs money. That’s a given. Museums, archaeological sites and theme parks are guaranteed to charge ridiculous entrance rates.
Here's my mantra: You are not required to do everything.
I always keep in mind that "this is my trip" and I choose my activities wisely.
Most cities offer free walking tours. These are normally students, historians, tour guides or just local enthusiasts that want to improve their English. They are fascinating and I usually take advantage of them wherever I go.
If you’re thinking of buying souvenirs, you better learn a little bit of the local language and tune up your bartering skills. Whether you like it or not, us travellers all look rich and vendors want our money. Many countries have suffered a significant financial crisis over the past few years. Many vendors in developing countries have suffered more poverty than you’ll ever even be able to comprehend.
When it comes down to it, if you’re willing to live almost as if you’re a local, budget travel is there. You just have to step aside from being a tourist.
My final tip? Always keep that little bit of extra cash stowed away for a celebratory beverage at the end of a difficult or absolutely fabulous day.Add this article to your reading list