Most backpackers want to travel on a budget and make their money last as long as possible so they can do and see as much as they can. However, it is easy to spend more money than planned, go over budget and end up either cutting their trip short or borrowing money. I’ve decided to write a guide to help those who are on a budget to make their money stretch as much as they can. These tips and helpful hints about transport are all from my personal experience.
Just to give you a little background about me, I have been travelling or living in other countries for over two and a half years, where I have been to over 30 countries in this period of time, covering 6 continents. I’m no expert but I do have quite a lot of experience.
Okay… some general tips about transport:
- Research about the transport
Researching about transport is a must. With the wealth of information and blogs about travelling and transport on the internet, it’s easy to find out all the details. Though remember to check how up-to-date the blogs are. There are a lot of websites where you can look up transport dates, times and prices. It doesn’t matter which country you are looking for transport information, you will find details. When researching, you want to find the dates and times of departure, where it departs from, the cost and duration. Write down all this information and then weigh up what is most important for you: the cheapest transport, overnight transport, using a particular company, where it departs or arrives or how long it takes. If you want to go on a budget, expect not to get the comfiest seat, leaving at odd times and having long waiting times.
I have recently taken a flight from Medellin to Mendoza, where it took over 24 hours, 4 flights, long layovers and to a city I wasn’t planning on going to just because it was half the price.
I would advise you to use comparison sites to find the cheapest or to get a general jist of the price as it will take less time than looking at individual companies, however, sometimes it is cheaper to book on the company’s website or even to go to the terminal or station.
Researching can be time-consuming so I try and do as much as I can before heading on a longer trip where I am constantly moving from city to city. However, if you are on a budget, this is the best way to find the cheapest transport.
- Be flexible
When booking transport, it is definitely best to be flexible with dates and times as the cheapest option is usually not the time or date you want to go. Also be aware of the country you are in because sometimes it’s safer to go and arrival in daylight if you are in a country that is considered dangerous especially if you are a solo traveller like me.
But, believe me, the more flexible you are about time and dates, the more you save on transport and can spend on other things.
- Make a budget
Always have a set budget for transport as this will make you consider your options and find the cheapest way to get around. The budget will obviously depend on the country you are travelling. For example, you will have a higher budget in Australia and New Zealand, than South-East Asia. Don’t be ridiculous and guess the price or under budget. It’s best to over budget and have spare cash as I’ve always found that I’ve spent more than I budgeted.
- Take advice from other people
Other travellers and hostel will have the most up-to-date information about the times and cost of transport. Even the ‘travel guide’ will be out-of-date. In a recent travel guide I read, it told me the price of getting to Iguazu Falls from Punto Iguazu terminal, which was five times less than the actual price because of inflation in Argentina. Talk to other backpackers as they can be extremely helpful and tell you about their experience and give you advice on what you should do to stay on your budget.
- Don’t choose the plush options
When travelling, there are always different options on transport: first class, economy, beds, hard seats, private areas etc. On a budget, I always go for the cheapest option, which is not always the most comfortable but it does get you to your destination in one piece. I have slept on a hard, plastic seat on an overnight train in Thailand. I have to say I didn’t get that much sleep. However, there are sometimes no choice about they type of transport or the condition of the transport. For example in New Zealand to get from one island to the other you have to take the ferry or to generally get around you can take buses or tour buses (which actually didn’t work out much difference in price). Obviously, if you’re not the best sleeper or just need that better option, take the better transport but expect to pay more.
- Consider the routes
Once you have decide what countries and cities you want to go to, look at a map and see what the logical route is as there’s no point going back and forth, which will cost you both time and money. For example in South East Asia from Bangkok, I did a trip to the North of Thailand into Laos, down Vietnam, up Cambodia and then through Thailand to the south; this is the most sensible route to do in my opinion.
Also think about which city you want to fly into and which one to fly out as this can save time and money. When I was doing part of Asia, I flew into Busan then out of Seoul n South Korea so that I didn’t need to retrace my steps and waste valuable time and money. However sometimes the flight might be more expensive or there may be no choice. As I was taking an international flight from The Philippines when I travelled there, my only options was to fly in and out of Manilla. So think about your routes to be the most time and cost effective.
- Travel the local way
If there is a local way to travel rather than through travel agencies, it is usually the cheaper option. This means that you have to go to the station and speak to someone in a language you might not know, rather than being picked up from your accommodation or meeting at the travel agency. I always go the local way if I can; sometimes I’ve had no choice as the terminal has been so far from where I have been staying that it isn’t worth the time and effort to go the local way. However, in Thailand, I loved going the local way on buses as they are so much more comfortable, you stop off for a meal, get snacks and drinks through the journey and it is so much safer. Whereas if you go through a travel agent with other tourists, the buses are in bad conditions with water dripping on your face, there’s so food and they stop at expensive places as they know you are tourists and I know multiple of people who have been robbed on these buses. I’ve had experience with both and I way prefer the local way plus it’s cheaper so you can stick to you’re budget easier.
- Buying your ticket in advance?
Some people would say that you need to buy your transport ticket in advance to get the cheapest price. This very much depends on the transport. If you are flying, I would definitely say to buy ticket in advance as I have found the price generally goes up the nearer to the departure date. However, certain airline have spontaneous sale prices closer to the time you want to leave. I waited when I wanted to go to The Philippine as BLAH BLAH were constantly having offers. If you are getting a train or bus, I have found that generally in every country I have been to, it has the same price in advance so that I don’t have disappointment, normally at the station as there’s no internet booking price or I would rather use cash than card. However, most of the time, I just purchase a ticket just before departing. Sometimes though, the transport has been full.
- Negotiate the price
If you’re in a city and you’re taking a taxi, tuk tuk or motorbike, negotiate the price. As foreigners, you are mostly likely to be charged more so say a lower price or even no, especially if you know the local price (which you can find out if you’ve been there a while or ask others around you). They are more likely to charge you more if you are in a touristy area, travelling from an airport or station. Just be smart and work out if it sounds like a ridiculous price.
I have to say, I have never tried to debate the price when it comes to buses, trains or planes but I know others who have and sometimes, they have got a better price. Occasionally, when I have been deciding whether to take a certain transport at a kiosk desk, they have lowered the price for me. A recent example was when I was in Buenos Aires and I was thinking whether to take a cama or semi-cama bus with the earlier time being more expensive, the guy gave me a 20 percent discount making my choice easy. If there is a group of you, try to get a group discount as this sometimes work. If you decide to book through a travel agent (personally I don’t recommend this), definitely ask for a cheaper price as they are taking part of you’re money anyway. Basically, when you can and if you have the guts, try to negotiate the price on transport. See how low you can go?
Here are just general tips about travelling on budget when considering transport. Remember to do your research, think about your routes and be prepared for not much sleep. However, it is perfectly fine to splash out sometimes to get an upgrade or to be safer, especially if you have been moving from place to place a lot for several months.
If you have any comment or anything to add, just let me know in the comment box.