Traveling around the world is something that most of us dream about but never actually do. We love the idea, then after we think about it for a little bit we get discouraged by the cost, the time it will take, or other excuses. Yes, they are excuses. Everyone can travel the world. It’s rather easy and cheaper than you think. Here’s how to do it.
Traveling around the world is actually rather cheap. The biggest expense is usually accommodation. You might think it’s the flights, but who says you have to fly? I suppose if you live on one side of the Atlantic and want to go to other side you’ll have to fly. In that case, the ticket prices are usually in the range of $1000. That will be the biggest flight expense you face.
You can also take buses around North America and it’s really easy to take buses around Central and South America. If you are in Europe, trains and buses are very cheap. In Asia they are extremely cheap. I recently took a bus to Phuket from Bangkok for $20 and that was a VIP bus that included dinner (at the rest stop). You can easily find buses for $4—no joke.
If you are hell-bent on flying, most flights are really cheap outside of the United States. Rarely do I pay more than $100 for a flight anywhere else in the world, and in Europe and Asia I find flights for $30. Traveling around the world is quite inexpensive if you do it in small jaunts.
Transportation Travel Tip: Do not buy an around the world ticket or return (round-trip) ticket. That goes for every mode of transportation. Buy a one way ticket from your destination. When you are ready to move on, buy the next ticket. Some flights will be cheap if you buy them far in advance, but that is rare and not worth the lack of flexibility. Flights, trains and buses are almost always available, especially with a couple of days notice. That’s all you need to plan your travel.
Accommodation is likely to the be the biggest expense in your world travels. There are easy ways to find cheap places to stay, even if you want a private room and bathroom. Most hostels have private rooms for just a couple of dollars more than a shared room. Of course, if you choose a shared room it’s even cheaper.
Typically I find private rooms with an en suite bathroom for $10 or less. In most places they’re ever cheaper. I splurged in Siem Reap, Cambodia a week ago and stayed at an absolutely wonderful place for $13. It was nicer than most four star hotels. Check out Hostel Bookers or Hostels.com, as well as regional networks like Agoda, for options, prices and reservations.
Other options for cheap accommodation include AirBNB, home-stays, house-sitting, meeting new friends on the road and staying with them for a night or two, and even traveling at night on buses (free). You can even rent an apartment. I rent in Bangkok for 5000 baht a month, about $165, and there are even cheaper places. Even if you don’t plan on staying a full month, renting can save a lot of money. Just choose the right places, usually not those catering to tourists since they will be more expensive.
The key is to keep your options and mind open to the possibilities. You will find that most hostels are really nice, quiet and clean. You don’t have to stay at an expensive resort or big chain hotel. In fact, avoid those. They are not much fun and way over-priced.
Accommodation Travel Tip: Avoid booking your rooms too far in advance or for long periods of time when you plan to travel around the world. Usually I will book a room for only one night. If I like it I can almost always extend my stay. If I don’t like it, I can find another place. Finding rooms is rarely a problem and you give yourself flexibility when you don’t book too far in advance or for a long period of time. If you plan on staying somewhere for a long time, ask for a discount. Most hostels will give you a discount if you are going to stay with them for one or two weeks, and especially longer.
You might think that eating is expensive, but it really isn’t. Don’t be afraid to try to local cuisine. It is safer than eating Western food because the locals know how to prepare their own cuisine and how to keep it from going bad. Western food usually requires refrigeration and special handling, not to mention a specific type of preparation. Something is likely to go wrong during that process. That doesn’t happen with the local cuisine.
Avoid eating at restaurants, especially those catering to tourists. They are over-priced and the food usually isn’t very good. Eat where the locals eat. In Southeast Asia it’s dirt cheap to eat. Street vendors offer great food that is cooked right in front of you for about $1 or less. I’ve never gotten sick from eating at a street stall. I can’t say the same for restaurants.
If you like to go out to bars, then visit a local bar. Nightclubs and bars that cater to tourists can be expensive and often locals aren’t even allowed in. Instead, go to the local joint. It’s usually far more fun, you will meet interesting people, and the prices are far, far less than what you would pay at tourist bars. Keep in mind that the local hooch is often much cheaper than imported alcohol. Get the local beer and buy a large bottle instead of several regular sized bottles, and you save a lot of money.
Eating Travel Tip: Don’t be afraid to eat the local cuisine and try new things. Some of the best food I’ve had has been at places you might be a little worried about, even though there’s no reason to be. I had amazing fish in Nicaragua at a local hole in the wall with a dirt floor—our hotel staff didn’t want us to go, but it was great!. I’ve eaten the best curries from street stalls throughout Asia. The local cuisine is far tastier and healthier than eating restaurant crap.
Sites & Activities
Most of the really fun things to do around the world are free. Just experiencing the culture, people watching or lounging around. It pays to make friends with the locals. Not only is it a great way to meet people and experience the culture, but the locals usually know what to do, where to go and how to do it cheaply.
Of course, some attractions are going to cost money and there’s no getting around that. Angkor in Cambodia is $20 a day (though I think they should charge more, but that’s another story). Usually you’ll save money if you plan out the itinerary yourself instead of going through a tour agency. Once in a while that’s not the case, so I suggest doing a bit of research.
When I was in India with my friend, we saved a ton of money by going to Ellora Caves on our own. If we did it with the typical tourist package it would have been many times more expensive. Turns out it was a simple bus ride out to the caves for about 50¢ instead of the $50 for a car and driver. We had a lot more fun figuring it out, having the locals help us, and doing the tour on our own schedule.
Sites & Activities Travel Tips: Consider several options before deciding what to do. Sometimes tour agencies offer a good value. More often than not, you can do it yourself more easily than you think and save a lot of money. Your hostel can help you out with both options. Ask around and check things out. Remember, doing it yourself is a lot more fun!
This is something I cannot stress enough. Travel slowly if you want to save money and enjoy yourself. Staying in one place for a longer time not only saves you a shit load of money, you also really get to know and understand the culture. I’ve met amazing people from all around the world because I stayed put for a longer time.
Sometimes I have to travel fast. There is nothing wrong with that, per se. I don’t always have the luxury of staying in one place for long but still want to see the sights. What I’ve found when I travel fast is that I don’t meet as many people and don’t really get to know the place. Sure, I see the sights but I don’t really experience them. Travel slow!
As I’ve mentioned several times, when planning your around the wold trip don’t plan out your full itinerary down to every last detail. Keep it fluid and flexible. You know there are countries you want to visit and sights you want to see, so definitely plan to go to those places. Just leave the when open.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited a place and wanted to stay longer. Sometimes I’ve wanted to leave sooner. With flexible travel plans that isn’t an issue. Only once have a really run into a problem by being flexible. I was in Agra, India and wasn’t able to get on a (decent) train out. I ended up using a driver and it turned out to not be too expensive, so it all worked out. If I really needed, I could have taken a lower class train. The point it, the flexibility is worth far more than maybe encountering a little hiccup once in a while.
You may also find out about a place you didn’t know about and want to visit. Or you meet some great people who are going somewhere not on your itinerary and you want to go with them. Flexible travel plans let you change where and when you are going without any problems. You will have a far better time if you keep everything flexible.
Since someone will ask, I’ll give you my typical budget. I tend to spend more than a typical backpacker and less than an expat. The amounts are averages for a month.
Accommodation: $165 (if at hostels/hotels, I stay around $10 a day or less)
Utilities & Internet: $60 (not part of hostel/hotel stays usually)
Sites, Attractions, Entertainment: $200
Depending on how you like to travel and the level of comfort you need, you can spend more or less. Last month I only spent $615, even though I went to Phuket and Cambodia. A few month before that I spent $1200, but I went to Burma and had limited time so I took a lot of flights. I have friends that spent considerably less than that. This month it looks like I will spend $515 (the amount I pulled from the ATM, 15000 baht). One friend of mine spends about $450 a month. Another spends well over $2000. It’s really up to you.
If you stay at hostels, eat the local cuisine, and travel slowly then you can save a lot of money while traveling around the world. Keep your travel plans flexible so you can change your itinerary at will. This rarely, if ever, will add the cost of your travel, and will give you the opportunity to stay and explore places you find you love and leave places you don’t enjoy. Most important, keep an open mind about and be willing to experiment and try new things. Traveling around the world, even if for three months, six months, or a year, it will be the best experience you’ll ever have.