How to Travel the World on a Budget

When I tell friends that I’m going to travel the first question is always how I can afford it. I wrote a blog post about how I saved up for my backpacking trip 2017-2018. Click here to read it.

Then I noticed that some of my friends seemed to think I had saved up tons of money. They didn’t seem to understand, or grasp, that it’s possible to travel the world on a limited budget. I love travelling, in any shape or form, this is why I have to prioritize what I spend money on at home and on the road.

How to travel the world on a budget:

Before you go

  • Make a travel plan, but remain flexible.  Don’t book all your accommodations or flights in advance, just the flight to your first stop, and maybe also to the final destination. Book the first two nights in a hostel or Airbnb, but wait to book the rest of the accommodations. You will for sure meet travelers and locals who will recommend places you never heard of, and if you have a set schedule you’re going to miss out on the best thing with traveling which is to experience and do things you normally wouldn’t do. These travel moments are the ones you’ll remember years after and they will be your best travel stories.
  • Google – use the internet; research the place or country before you go.
  • Join Facebook travel groups, get ideas, tips, recommendations and so on.
  • Make sure you bring two bank cards, I have one Visa and one Mastercard when I travel and I keep them separate. If you loose one card, or it stops working, then it’s essential to have a back up.
  • Travel insurance, this is very important, especially if you travel to countries like the US where medical care is extremely expensive. It costs a fortune to end up in a hospital without a medical insurance. Hence, always make sure you have a good travel insurance before you go.
  • Do you need to apply for a Visa before you go? As a Swede, I’m fortunate enough to get visa on arrival to most countries around the world. Check with the embassy in your country before you leave.
  • Bring a few passport-size photos. A Visa application must often include one or two passport size photos in countries in Asia and Africa, but also for other countries around the world so make sure you bring a few to save time and money.

The best travel apps and websites: 

  • For local transportation: Uber, Grab (Asia), Lyft (USA), Go-Jek (Indonesia), PassAPP (Cambodia), Dart ride (Brunei)
  • For navigation: maps.me (can be used without WiFi), Citymapper, Rome2Rio, Waze (car navigation)
  • For travel tips: Tripadvisor, check out my blog, Facebook travel groups
  • For finding the cheapest flights: Momondo, Air Asia, Google flights, Traveloka, Skyscanner
  • For finding cheap bus tickets: Easybook (SEA), Flixbus (US and Europe), Eurolines (Europe), Greyhound and Peter Pan (US).
  • For finding the best accommodation: Booking.com, Agoda, Hostelworld, homestay.com, Airbnb

Use my Booking.com link to get discount on your accommodation. Click here for the link to 15 EUR discount code on Booking.com

  • To keep track of your travel budget: Trail wallet. You can personalize categories, enter a daily budget or trip budget. I also use this app when I’m home in Sweden to keep track of my daily expenses.
  • For safe-keeping your money while traveling: Revolut. A pre-paid debit card (Mastercard or Visa), a digital banking alternative. Mobile based travel current account to keep your money safe
  • To find good local deals: Let’s deal, Cobone (Dubai), bookme.co.nz (Australia, New Zealand, Fiji)
  • To know how much you spend in each currency: Currency converter (works offline)
  • To keep track how to split the costs with your travel friends: Splitwise

The following apps I have for fun:

Been – to keep track of how many countries you’ve been to
Picolo – a drinking game you can use playing with new friends in hostels

10 Essentials to bring on your trip

I’ve got a few items I always bring on my trips no matter where I travel in the world.

  1. Money belt; not the big pouches American tourists like to wear as an underbelly, but a small, narrow, water resistant, very discreet belt where I keep my bank card, money and mobile phone.
  2. Imodium; I get the shits everywhere I go, even in Denmark, and let me tell you, it really sucks when you have to travel on buses or trains for hours without having access to a proper toilet, Imodium is a life saver.
  3. Diva Cup; my purple diva cup is a necessity. Reusable, easy to clean and saves me tons of money. When my period is over I boil water and put the cup in the pot for a few minutes. When I’m traveling, I ask for very hot tea water and put the cup in there for a few minutes. If you’re a guy then I guess this isn’t applicable for you. My advice for all guys out there – pack condoms (and use them).
  4. Tiger balm; in many countries the mosquitos are fucking vicious and I get bitten everywhere. Tiger balm is a necessity.
  5. Packing cubes; I don’t understand how I managed to live without these before. Packing your underwear, socks, tops, t-shirts, skirts, pants and so on neatly in these cubes makes life on the road so much easier. I also have packing cubes for my shoes. Yes, I’m very organized.
  6. Flip Flops; I can’t go anywhere without bringing my flip flops, especially when I go to warmer countries. If I go to colder countries I bring a pair of slippers that I only use indoors. It’s nice to have some foot wear when you’re staying in hostels. Sometimes the floors are not the cleanest, especially the bathrooms.
  7. Portable Power Bank; I guess most of us have smartphones and I love my iPhone, but the battery sucks. I always need to charge my iPhone at least once a day and when you’re on the road you need a power bank since it’s not always easy to find outlets. Note that there’s a limit at most airports on how big the power bank is allowed to be. The maximum which is commonly acceptable is 20 000 mAh/100Wh.
  8. Chromebook laptop; as an avid traveler and a blogger I always bring my Chromebook laptop. A Chromebook laptop is only for surfing and can not be infected by any virus or trojans that will slow down your computer. Furthermore, the laptop is very light and easy to carry.
  9. A sleeping mask and ear plugs; since I’m always staying in hostels I need a sleeping mask and ear plugs. These makes me friendlier towards my roomies who likes to party and come home late.
  10. Gifts and/or sweets; I always bring something that is typical Swedish to give away. It can be a Viking souvenir fridge magnet or Swedish salty licorice or Swedish pick’n’mix. The best sweets in the world. Sometimes I give it to locals who are extremely friendly and helpful and sometimes to the staff working in the hostel as a thank you when I leave.

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    Me wearing a money belt in Malaysia


When you’re on the road

  • Buy cheap flights; Fly with budget airlines, take advantage of sale promotions, buy your tickets in advance, like eight months or even earlier, the cheapest tickets are often available up to a year prior to departure. For some airlines the tickets are cheaper if you buy them last minute. I’ve flown with the smallest, sketchiest airplanes in Asia, Africa and Oceania. If I find a good deal that will save me a day of traveling then I’m flying. I don’t care if drinks or snacks are being served on the flight or not, I can survive one hour flight without any food or comfort.
  • Use local transport; I travel on buses, subways and trains, and avoid taxis. Use the travel apps I recommended and you’ll see how cheap it is to order a motorbike taxi via Grab or Go-Jek. Check with the locals if it’s cheaper to buy the bus or train tickets in advance, online, or if there are any sales or promotions. In some countries it’s normal to hitchhike, when I was traveling in Southern Africa I hitchhiked in Namibia with the locals. There are assembly points where the cars stops and pick you up. Everybody in the car share the cost for petrol. 
  • Travel light; use a smaller backpack (40L) for your clothes and a small rucksack for daily excursions. If you don’t have a bag to check in, the flights are cheaper and it’s easier to travel on buses, trains, subways etc. Buy shampoo and conditioner bars, travel-size toothpaste and so on. Remember that you can only carry containers that hold maximum amount of 100 ml onboard airplanes.
  • Stay longer in cheaper countries; travel slowly don’t rush. It’s better to limit the number of countries you’re going to visit then stressing through a lot of countries which will increase your costs.
  • Ask the locals; the staff at hostels or homestay owners, for tips and recommendations; where to shop for a specific product or service, the cheapest way to get someplace, the best local budget restaurants and so on.
  • Use your friend-network; do you know anybody you can stay one or two nights with, or do your friend’s friend have any contacts? Maybe you can find a local guide or get local recommendations. Ask around among your friends and see if anybody can help out.

Where to stay on a budget

  • Stay at budget accommodations such as hostels, homestays or Airbnb, avoid hotels
  • Use your network; maybe you can stay one or two nights at somebody’s house
  • Woofing; work for nothing. Organizations like Workaway, Wwoof, and HelpX provide opportunities to work in exchange for accommodation and food
  • Couchsurfing; I don’t recommend this even though it’s free because there are a lot of weird men out there however, I’ve used this a few times and stayed with amazing families and women. Give it a try, but be careful. If your host is strange and it doesn’t feel right then leave immediately.
  • Servas; I’ve never used this myself but I’ve heard good things about it. It’s a non-profit organization encompassing international network of hosts and travelers. On my next trip I’ll use servas.

How to find the cheapest food

  • Eat at local restaurants, local markets, food courts. Ask your hostel or Airbnb host for recommendations. Tip: avoid western food outside of Europe and North America, often more expensive than the local food.
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At a local restaurant in Vietnam with the hostel owners
  • Walk around in the city or the place you’re visiting and look for restaurants where you find lots of locals, preferably in the suburbs or in smaller streets. These restaurants are, in my experience, better and a lot cheaper than the highly rated restaurants on TripAdvisor. If there’s no English menu I point at one of the tables and just say I want the same things. If they don’t speak English, use your body language. Step out of your comfort zone and try something different. If it’s disgusting, the meals are so cheap anyway that you won’t notice any different in your travel budget.
  • Cook your own meals when possible; hostels in some countries, for example New Zealand have fully equipped kitchens

Making money while on the road

  • Work and travel; Working Holiday is very common in Australia and New Zealand. I’ve also met a lot of backpackers working in hostels all over the world. This is a smart way to finance your travels. In some countries, it’s possible to get jobs at farms, restaurants and bars. My advice is to ask in the hostel in every country you go to.
A Japanese girl on a working holiday in a hostel, New Zealand
  • Digital nomad; I’ve met a lot of travelers who work online, some have their own marketing/PR business, others work as consultants (check out the freelancing website Upwork.com). Set this up before you start your travels. 
  • Passive income; is money you earn from your assets. Basically making money while you’re on the road. In my case, I rented out my home while I was traveling. This gave me an extra income each month.

My favorite budget countries where you can stay for one month on a 600 EUR budget.

I’ve traveled solo to each and every single one of the following countries:

  • Cambodia; it facilitates that they use USD as a local currency, and there are lot of cheap hostels in the popular destinations. Cambodia is a poor, underdeveloped and corrupted country, but the people are very friendly. You can eat at the local markets for as little as 1.50 USD per meal. The hostels are among the best I’ve ever stayed in. I’ve written a lot of blog posts about Cambodia. I recommend reading All you need to know before arriving in Cambodia. If it’s your first visit to Cambodia you’ll probably visit Angkor to see the famous temples. I have written about my favorite temples of Angkor on my blog. Whenever I go to Cambodia I always visit my Danish friend who lives in Phnom Penh, the capital. Read about life as an expat in Cambodia. I really like PP, it took me a few visits before I found my favorite gems in the crazy city. Today, PP is one of my favorite cities in Asia. During my last visit in 2018, I spent six days at a yoga retreat outside of Siem Reap, this retreat is fantastic and I really recommend the Hariharalaya retreat.

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    Hariharalaya Retreat, Cambodia
  • Georgia; a beautiful country in Central Asia with helpful people even though most of them don’t speak a word of English. I remember the bus from Tbilisi up to the mountains was only a few euros. Georgia is where wine was invented 8000 years ago and you can find it everywhere super cheap. I paid around 1 EUR for half a liter of wine in a local restaurant. 
  • Indonesia; everybody knows of Bali, I compare Bali and Koh Phangan in my blog, but the other islands in Indonesia are less touristy and therefore cheaper. I recommend Java. Here are my favorite things to do in Java. The locals are so friendly and helpful. And the local food is tasty and cheap.
The Chicken Church, Java, Indonesia
  • India; love it or hate it, nobody can deny that India is a good budget country. The men in the street are the most annoying men I’ve ever met, but there are regions that are easier to travel as a female solo traveler. My favorite places were Rajasthan, Ladakh, Punjab (Amritsar and Chandigarh), Dharamshala, Darjeeling,and New Dehli (not the old) during my 3.5 months of travels.
  • Poland; Sweden’s lovely neighbour in the south, only one and a half hour by plane from Stockholm, I have been to Poland six times. The hostels in Krakow are a bit run down, but super cheap, they often include breakfast and a dinner buffet in the price. Krakow and Gdansk are my favorite towns in Poland. Ask at the hostel for directions to the ‘Milk bars‘, the old socialistic restaurants for factory workers that was very popular in the 80s. Today, this is the cheapest place to eat and a very interesting and local experience.
  • Romania; Bucharest is a very interesting capital. The old town is a bit touristy but charming. My favorite area was Transylvania, this is also where you find the most tourists. I spent about a week in Cluj Napoca and I fell in love with the town and its surroundings. The landscape is beautiful, really good local cuisine and the people are very friendly. I remember we were a group of 10 people from the hostel having dinner at a local restaurant for only 69 EUR including beer, wine, coffee.
  • Thailand; no need for a longer presentation. Everybody has heard of Thailand, how cheap it is, how friendly the locals are, and how beautiful the islands are. I don’t like the south much, I love Bangkok and the north. I went to Phuket in 2017 and I was shocked over how much the prices have increased over the last few years. All the tuk-tuks were gone and had been replaced by modern rikshaws with set prices.
  • Ukraine; if you like to travel off the beaten path, Ukraine is the perfect country for you. The capital Kyiv is an interesting metropolitan city with a lot of buildings reminding you of the old communistic times. Ukrainians want to be a part of Europe, not Russia, and this is very notable when you meet the Ukrainians. However, there are quite a few ethnic Russians living in Ukraine who speaks Russian and not Ukrainian. The history is very interesting and I recommend taking a tour around the city. I went on a day tour to Chernobyl, where the catastrophic accident happened in 1986 at the nuclear power plant. You can easily arrange this tour from any hostel in Kyiv.
  • Vietnam; one of my favorite countries in the world. The food is delicious, the locals are friendly, beautiful landscape, it’s easy to travel within Vietnam, and everything is super cheap, so cheap that I saw Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese tourists hoarding groceries like crazy in shopping malls. The weather is the only thing I don’t like with Vietnam. When I went to Ho Chi Minh City in December it was super hot and humid, and when I came back in June and it was super hot and humid. However, I love Vietnamese cuisine. My local friend took me to some amazing local restaurants. I really like HCMC, it took a while, but it grew on me. I have found my favorite attractions and things to do here. Hanoi, the capital in the north, is almost unbearable in the summer because of the humidity and heat. Still, I found some cool things to do and really good restaurants here as well. A few hours by bus from Hanoi you have the Ninh Binh region. The beautiful landscape around the town of Tam Coc is a hidden gem and well worth a visit. If I ever were to move to Vietnam, then I’d move to Da Nang, a coastal town in central Vietnam. Da Nang is located close the popular tourist destinations Hoi An and Hué. I’ve written a blog post about these three towns.

 

To summarize, I travel the world like a local. This is how I can afford to travel several times per year. Had I traveled like a tourist; staying in hotels, eating at fancy restaurants with nice tables and proper chairs, then I wouldn’t have been able to travel to half of the countries I’ve been to today. When I hear my friends tell me how much they pay for one week in a hotel in Europe or the US, I gasp and think that is the same amount of money I spend in total for one month in Vietnam including accommodation, food, visa, sights and attractions, activities, and alcohol. A lot of my friends refuse staying in hostels arguing that they have tried it a few times and didn’t like it. I tell them they are clueless, that they have no idea how to book the best hostels, that there are hostels that are better than hotels around the world. My next blogpost will list the best hostels that I’ve stayed in so keep a look out for it on my blog. You can also follow me on Instagram where you’ll see photos from my trips around the world.

You have just read my best tips to travel the world on a budget. Some of the tips are not helpful or applicable to you and I understand this, but I hope that you’ll get some inspiration and ideas from reading this blog post.

Thank you for reading and happy travels!

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