The B word. The word that strikes fear into the heart of all travelers: Budget.
Like anything else, there’s a million ways to make a budget, and a trillion ways to break them.
Here are some of my personal budget travel tips:
Do not take your wallet out drinking
The fastest way to drain your cash is to have it all at hand while you’re tossing back a few brews.
Sure you went into the pub with the intention of only having two beers, but after those first two, the money comes out much easier. Next thing you know you’re buying the roses from the flower guy, you’re buying the hats with the flashing lights, and everyone at your table is getting a round… of doubles! The next morning you’re left with a bunch of coins and drool stuck to your face, and not much else- definitely not a memory of where the night before (and your cash) went.
Only bring out as much as you can spend that night. You will spend it. You’re also a much easier target for pickpocketing when you’re intoxicated and that sexy fella (or lady!) is chatting you up. Both eyes locked on them leaves no eyes on your belongings. I reiterate, do not take your wallet out drinking.
Barter, Walk away, Barter, Walk away, Win.
Gotta have that hand carved warrior mask to bring home and show to all your friends? If your heart is set on buying something, make sure you apply the rules of bartering. Depending on the local norms, bartering can be seen as a great game and way to make both parties happy, or you could insult someone and wind up looking like a jackass. Be sure to check on these customs before you arrive.
New to bartering? We all were at some point. I’ll show you how I rock the barter. Let’s take it line by line.
* Word of Caution: do NOT barter with someone and name a price you’re not going to pay. Do not barter with someone if you have no intention of purchasing. This is extremely rude, wastes time, and provokes shouting.*
Click for Barter Conversation
Vendor: You like? 35 dollar for you, friend price.
Savvy Backpacker: It’s alright… but, I can’t afford 35. I’m a student. 15? (you know you can’t have it for $15, you’re shooting for $20)
Vendor: oh no, this too cheap. $35 is friend price… but, I like you, you can have for only $30.
Savvy Backpacker: ooh. Still too expensive for me. It’s a great piece of art though, thank you. *walk away*
– in this tense moment of time, you are tempted to turn around and buy it for $30. The monetary devil on your shoulder assures you “it’s still a steal! Only $30… he was giving me the friend price!” Rest easy. If he’s up for bartering, you will hear this noise in the next few seconds-
Vendor: wait, my friend, okay wait. $25 final price. The best price.
Savvy Backpacker: (pull out a $20) this is all I’ve got. $20?
Vendor: ohhhh too cheap. No, it’s too cheap.
Savvy Backpacker: okay, have a nice day. *walk away*
-out comes money devil. “$25! That’s unbelievable, back home it would cost at least $100… maybe even more at Pier 1.” Be patient. You will likely be called back with the following-
Vendor: okay my friend, I do it for $20, but you don’t tell anyone okay? I lose money!
Savvy Backpacker: You’ve got a deal. Thank you!
If you’re not called back because you’ve low-balled the vendor, do not panic. In the event you were actually willing to pay $25 you can always walk back to the shop in ten minutes, swallow your pride and make your purchase. You will often find that in a marketplace, there will be a stall 5 minutes walk that sells the same thing. Try your luck there. Bartering should be fun, don’t take yourself too seriously.
Spoil Your Dinner
Your momma said not to do it, but Brandy says spoil your dinner! Oftentimes you will be forced (or invited) to dinner with friends in restaurants that are more expensive than you’re hoping to pay. Eat a piece of fruit before meeting up, and then you’re able to order an appetizer from the menu, which is usually smaller in size and price. You still get the atmosphere of dining out, the chance to socialize with new friends, and all for a lower fee. Winning.
Go with Locals
Newsflash: tourists pay more. Yes, it’s unfair and it makes us whine: “ugh, I know they charge locals less in places like this!”. Truthfully? Locals probably don’t eat where you’re sitting. If there’s an English menu and you’re not in an English speaking country, you’re at a tourist restaurant and will pay accordingly. Make local friends on Couchsurfing, or ask the worker in your hostel where he likes to eat. You might need help ordering, good thing you came with friends! You’ll see, the prices and food will be much different than the tourist restaurants you’ve tried in the past.
Tip: If you’re dining alone and aren’t able to communicate your food desires due to language barriers, simply get up, point to other people’s food and nod your head. Preferably smile and rub your tummy at the same time.
Get a Hobby
I dislike the word hobby, it reminds me of dank, old hobby shops with windows that are never opened and an owner who hasn’t moved from their stool since the 1950’s. It doesn’t have to be this way! Here’s a list of free things to do anywhere in the world to bring yourself much amusement, and perhaps achieve personal growth.
Combine any of the below excursions with the top three free travel activities: photography, journaling, and people watching and there is no end to the hours of entertainment you can enjoy.
Park Hopping: Fresh air, exercise, learning local plants, getting a tan, there’s no end to the benefits of spending some time in the great outdoors. Plan ahead and bring a picnic lunch and you can save money on your meal, too. Many parks around the world have hidden gems in the form of statues, botanical gardens, and wildlife information. Check the wikitravel page of your destination to know before you go.
Cemetery Creeping: Sure it sounds morbid, but it’s a fact that cemeteries have some of the greatest mini architectural scores in town. You probably won’t run into other tourists, and reading the gravestones can prove infinitely interesting.
At the very least, you can spend that time being grateful that you are above ground. Please act with proper decorum, there are likely to be grieving people near you, and while you may be a culture vulture and watch the processions, don’t be disrespectful.
Smile Scoring: It’s a simple game and can be played alone or with friends. See how many smiles you can get in the course of 30 minutes. You have to offer one up yourself, and might be surprised where it takes you. Playing all by yourself? Try to beat your personal score of last time. Personal best: 47 smiles in 30 minutes.
Learn the Language: No, it doesn’t have to cost anything. Many locals are happy to help those eager to practice their tongue. Find someone sitting alone at a coffee shop, if they appear open to a conversation, sit down and start taking notes. You will learn a few key phrases and make a new friend. Break out of your barriers. A few websites / apps that I find particularly useful are DuoLingo and fluentinthreemonths.com. Check them out and get on your way to learning!