|Vang Vieng, Laos|
During July and August, my husband and I honeymooned around Thailand, Viet Nam and Laos on a budget of £12 a day. OK, so we went over that a little - but we didn't break the bank. I've been asked how we could afford to spend seven weeks in Asia, so I thought I'd share with you some of our techniques (and some great websites that you might not have heard about).
1. Travel to cheap countries. It might sound obvious, but there's no way we could have spent so little per day if we had been in Australia, Finland or Japan. The beauty of Thailand is that you can get a meal for less than £1, and a 20-minute taxi ride would rarely reach £2. Research countries that have a low cost of living, but that still have things that you want to see and do.
2. Buy a phone/SIM card IN the country. A lot of people use roaming charges when they take their phone to a new country. This can be extortionate (if your phone even works there) and is one of the reasons travellers spend a lot of money. Wait until you're in the country, and pick up a SIM card - you can often buy them at the airport. I found a very basic phone in Thailand for around £8, and their call/text charges are really low. That way, if you need to call your hotel to find out where it is, you won't end up paying more than the nightly rate for the phone call.
3. Couchsurf! www.couchsurfing.com is a travel revolution. Hosts offer their free sleeping space - be it a battered sofa or a luxurious double bed - to travellers, completely for free. As a couchsurfer, you can search the profiles of everybody in the area in which you're staying until you find somebody you'd like to meet. Past surfers leave reviews on their profiles, so you can ensure you're not staying with an axe murderer. People often wonder why somebody would let a stranger into their house - but when you join the Couchsurfing community, you'll come to understand that it's about breaking boundaries, making friends and just offering a little kindness. I've made some great friends through it - some have even cooked for me and shown me around their cities. I wrote about it in another post, too - Make Life Magic with Couchsurfing!
4. If you can't Couchsurf, try Airbnb. It can be hard to find somebody to host you on Couchsurfing - busy times in popular destinations mean you might not even receive a response from the person you wanted to stay with, as they're overwhelmed with requests. It might not be free, but Airbnb was created as an antidote to the sting left by hotel prices in some cities. Users charge for their sleeping space - sometimes an air mattress, but often entire apartments to yourself at prices far more reasonable than a hotel. www.airbnb.com
5. Use local public transport. A lot of people on holiday suddenly become massive taxi users, or opt for "VIP", air-conditioned travel options aimed at rich tourists. While these modes of transport are definitely preferable for long journeys, it can be worth looking into how the locals get around. Some places have public transport networks that put the UK and USA to shame - and at much more affordable prices. Local public buses in Thailand cost around 20p per journey, and provide a much more insightful window into local life than always hiding in the tourist cocoon. Of course, stay safe, and make sure you have your maps and phrasebooks handy.
6. Try housesitting. What about, instead of paying through the nose for a hotel, you were able to stay - for free - in a furnished, comfortable house? That's exactly what can happen if you become a housesitter. Hundreds of homes are left unoccupied every day - whether for short business trips or long holidays. A lot of owners like to know that their property is still safe and their gardens still maintained, so they allow housesitters to stay there - for free - while they're gone. Have a look at websites like www.trustedhousesitters.com for an idea of the kind of places you could stay - as long as you clean up after yourself!
7. Workaway/WWOOFing - For those of you who want to help out the countries you're visiting, try Workaway.info or wwoof.net. You volunteer - usually only giving four or five hours a day - and in return, you get free accommodation and meals. Assignments range from working on organic farms to babysitting a family's kid - you can search by country or by the type of volunteering. While some places charge a small fee to cover your living costs, it's a much cheaper - and more interesting way - of experiencing another culture, making new friends and keeping active. You might even find opportunities in your own country that you want to help out with!
8. Haggle! Too many tourists have unwittingly hopped into a taxi and trusted the price quoted at the end. A rule in a lot of countries is - agree the price before you get in (unless it's a metered taxi from a trusted company - do your research!). In Egypt, for example, this can save you from paying nearly 10 times the fare that a local person would. If you're in a country where haggling is the norm, then go for it - but accept that you'll still pay a little more than a local would (and deal with it - they probably make about 10% of what you do in a year!).
9. Go where the locals go. Rather than get dragged into all the tourist traps, get out there and experience your location. You'll save money and get a real taste of the culture. In Prague, tourists would typically pay British meal prices for sub-par food - while a few minutes away, down a small street or a couple of tram stops further - they could find amazing, real Czech food for a quarter of the price. Do your research, venture outside of the English signs and get adventurous! This is an advantage of Couchsurfing - ask your host to show you their favourite places, and maybe take a translation app for menu-decoding...
10. Eat as the locals eat. For me, of the best things about travelling is all the interesting, wonderful and sometimes downright weird food that you get to try. Those who try eating the same things that they did back home will end up paying a lot more, especially if ingredients have to be imported. Chiang Mai, Thailand is full of "English restaurants", where - to be fair - you can get a full English breakfast for £3 or so. However, sticking to actual Thai dishes will save you 70% or so of that price, which adds up after a few days. I'm not saying you have to start eating snails or dog or any other weird foods that turn your stomach - but you'll hopefully be able to find a few dishes that you like. I struggled with Thailand's super-spicy dishes, but I learnt to ask for non-spicy things or to just suck it up and power through when I didn't have a choice. Even better - if you're staying somewhere with a kitchen - buy some local ingredients and try to cook up some interesting meals of your own!
Hopefully those tips will help you enjoy your travels without worrying about money quite as much. Please feel free to share any of your own travel tips!