How to travel the world on the cheap

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

How to travel the world on the cheap


Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

Today I've written a guest post on Get Rich Slowly about How to learn a foreign language without spending a cent. Check it out for a list of my favourite free resources as well as a generally great website that J.D. Roth runs for saving money and spending it wisely.

That post is necessary to remind people not to throw money at the problem of finding good language learning resources. As I said in that post, travel is not necessary for reaching great levels in a foreign language. But ultimately you may want to travel to practise your target language, while you discover a new culture.

Now, a question I get asked frequently is how to travel without spending a fortune, especially considering how I've been doing it for over a decade. While it's very hard to travel for free (but certainly not impossible; I've met many who do), if you follow these tips you will actually find that living a nomadic life is cheaper than the budget required by most people for a settled life.

As counterintuitive as it sounds, my experience tells me that the vast number of people travelling long term need way less money than their friends back home who complain that they “can't afford” to do it. There are other reasons you may not wish or be able to travel (family, work responsibilities, health issues etc.), but I will not stand for it when people say they are too poor to travel, especially when they come from a developed country.

Graham Hughes 20 tips for how to travel the world on the cheap

This video was made by Graham Hughes, who is on a very interesting journey to visit every country in the world without flying. He knows his stuff, so this video is as good a reference as anything I could make myself! You'll get 20 excellent tips with explanations in the video. In summary they are:

Avoid expensive countries, travel light, purchase a decent guidebook, bring a laptop, unlock your mobile phone, get some decent travel insurance, bring a debit card, look for mega cheap flights, be creative, blag a student card, overland it, sneak in, have a good story, eat street food, drink with the locals, avoid countries that demand visas, bargain and bargain hard, don't get ill, no souvenirs, couchsurfing.

For mega cheap flights, I'd recommend skyscanner, as I've gotten very cheap rates by searching through them in the past (and they've even interviewed me on their site!)

My own extra additions to travel cheap

Graham's tips are excellent and things that many long term travellers eventually figure out. I would however add a few to them myself, as follows:

  • Use the local equivalent of Groupon

If you do need to spend money on something, or feel like treating yourself then find out what the local equivalent to groupon or Livingsocial is. These sites are growing quickly in many countries.

You can get promotional gym memberships for a week to help you stay in fit on the road, get cheap nights out in otherwise expensive restaurants, get tours and all sorts of other offers.

Some countries have their very own sites for these kinds of offers, so use forums or ask locals what sites they use (these sites are new and may not be common knowledge in some places yet). While I was in Turkey, for example, I subscribed to the daily email from Yakala.

There's a good reason this tip is not likely to be on most travel-tip sites: the offers are of course written in the local language. This brings me to the most important tip that this whole blog is based around:

  • Learn to speak & understand the local language

I'm sad when I don't see this one listed by so many travel bloggers as such a huge money saver, but unfortunately many of them travel just with English and don't realise how much they can save by putting in a little effort, getting over their fears and speaking the target language from day one.

There are so many reasons to travel without using English.

For example, thanks to haggling in the local language (Portuguese), I rented an entire penthouse apartment in Rio with a 270º panoramic view of the city [video here] and paid less than what I used to pay to live in a studio in Dublin as a student. It's also way easier to charm your way to better prices as you won't pay the “English tax” of restricting yourself to only being able to make deals with the upper class or tourist caterers that speak English (beyond signing what you need).

  • Get help from a local (or even pay for help)

Ask at the Couchsurfing forum for your target city for the best way to get good prices. When there, ask the person who works at the hostel/hotel/your landlord/your host for their best tips on getting a good experience without spending much or any money. Sometimes the best tips aren't in guidebooks or Google-able, but are known only by people who live there.

If you're really stuck, then why not just pay a local to solve your problems for you? It may work out way cheaper in the long run!

  • Travel slower

If it isn't for a traditional vacation, why do people have to charge through countries in just a week (or less)? I have very little interest in quantity, and have the least number of countries covered out of any traveller I know who has been on the road for more than a year (I've been to about two dozen countries so far, compared to about 100 or more by other long term travellers).

Screw your bucket lists – take it easy and appreciate each country! When you do this you can live as a local in so many ways and save a LOT of money. I rent apartments or rooms all the time, and pay as little as locals with long-term rent in many cases if I stay around 2 or 3 months. I also find great cheap places to eat and other cheap activities in my own time and go through all other tips given here to get used to avoiding the expensive black-holes for money.

If you're clever you can find a way to live there while earning money (see the link at the end of the article). It's not as hard as you think if you can do your job on a computer or don't mind teaching a little English.

When you do this you also start to appreciate local life on another level and see beyond the stereotypical superficial images of a country. It also helps to learn the local language if you are going to be there beyond a week or two.

  • Give up or drastically reduce smoking and drinking

The only thing I disagree with in Graham's list is “drink with the locals”. I'd replace it with socialise with the locals. No excuses that you're “too shy“.

I go out to bars and nightclubs as much as many people, but I save tonnes of cash by just buying one Orange Juice or a Coke or water. I am amazed to tell you that many long term travellers I've met have told me that alcohol represents over 50% of their budget. I don't drink and I can tell you that life is just as much fun. And I've also needed tens of thousands of dollars less than a drinking traveller would over the last decade.

If you smoke, wake up to the bloody 21st century knowledge of tobacco effects and stop giving yourself and others potential lung cancer or other breathing issues. Giving up is hard, but you owe yourself and your bank balance to not have this totally unnecessary, disgusting and stupid drain on it.

Other tips

I've touched on this topic before when I suggested that you don't have to be rich to travel the world, giving more hints about earning money on the road and tips like eating less meat and cooking more at home. (I'm vegetarian; this has contributed to me being able to afford to travel for so long).

How to travel the world on the cheap
author headshot

Benny Lewis

Founder, Fluent in 3 Months

Fun-loving Irish guy, full-time globe trotter and international bestselling author. Benny believes the best approach to language learning is to speak from day one.

Speaks: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Esperanto, Mandarin Chinese, American Sign Language, Dutch, Irish

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