I’ll save you the obvious list of backpacking on the cheap tips that includes staying in hostels, picking countries that are cheap to backpack in and getting groceries instead of eating out for every meal. There are ways to enjoy a deeper immersion in the culture, have a stress-free night’s sleep on a bed (or couch) that isn’t yours, and even try enough local cuisine to feel more like a tourist than a ready-to-get-down-and-dirty-and-starve-for-2-months-as-a-sacrifice-to-see-the-world backpacker. Care to find out? Here’s how.
At this point in your research of backpacking, I’m sure you’ve stumbled across this handy source of meeting locals called couchsurfing. People will post their couch or spare bed as available to travelers upon request. There’s a safety structure around the site with the accountability of references and being verified, but each traveler needs to figure out if it’s the right method of cheap travel for them. The promise of free housing for a night or two in a new city with a local had me sold once I did the extensive research into each host profile that I was considering staying with.
2) Skip the Eurail Pass, buy as you go
Don’t buy the Eurail pass unless you’ve done the extensive research on all of the trains you’ll take during your travels and know it’ll pay off in the end. Otherwise, pay for your train, bus, or plane tickets as you go because it won’t limit you as much as to which trains you can take based on what country you’re in. Often, with a Eurail pass you still have to pay to make a seat reservation ahead of time and pay a fee at the time of purchase on top of what you’ve already paid for the pass.
3) Check into other modes of transportation
Bla Bla car is a new website that connects travelers to drivers who have empty seats, and you can pay to road-trip it with them from where you are to wherever you want to be! It ends up being cheaper than train or bus tickets, and you can even have a choice between which level of “talker” you want to travel with.
Bus lines are also dirt-cheap and often have Wi-Fi onboard, as well as overnight routes so you don’t miss a day of seeing the sights due to travel time.
This has become my favorite mode of travel, as it has all the qualities of immersed travel that a backpacker, a true victim of wanderlust and unquenchable exploring, will love the most. When you first get to workaway.info, you select which country and city you’re hoping to travel to. Then you can select various skills or jobs that you could be capable of; hosts aren’t looking for resort chefs or master gardeners, but if you can help with any number of tasks from photography to hostel reception to childcare to carpentry, there’s a family somewhere around the world willing to host you from as short as 10 days to requiring 3 months worth of free room (and often board) in exchange for work.
I have family to call my own in France, Israel, and Pisa & Genoa, Italy because of workaway.info. You learn so much more about the culture, the country’s politics, its history, and the real mindset of the people. You can often experience celebrations or national holidays like one of the locals by staying with a workaway family, and I can guarantee you’ll always have good food. You get to settle down from the nerve-wracking hustle of moving from hostel to hostel, one city to the next.
If you want to work abroad as part of a 6-12 month program, check out how to work abroad in Australia, New Zealand or Ireland with a Working Holiday Visa.
5) Souvenirs…or nah?
I’m a huge gift person. I love dazzling friends and family with some cool, shiny trinket I handpicked for them in Florence or Timbuktu. The only problem I’ve realized with this is…I often enjoy giving the souvenir more than they want or need the trinket. I came to the conclusion pretty early on in my travels as it started getting harder to pack my tight bag, that I couldn’t afford, money or space-wise, to get souvenirs for all my FB friends. Or even Snapchat for that matter. The compromise I came to has been just as effective if not more so at touching my friends’ hearts and making them glad I’m still thinking about them halfway around the globe. It’s quick, easy, cheap, and oh, so vintage for you hipsters out there. Send a postcard. Tell ‘em where you’re at (which should be obvious from the picture on the postcard, but just in case…), who’s the last person you met in that city, what has surprised you about the country, and what your last meal was, etc. Getting a postcard with the local stamp and postmark gives your friend a little slice of your current home, as well as the warm and fuzzies inside that you’re thinking of them.
6) Travel during shoulder-season…
…but you already know that. Late May to early September will be the heaviest time of travel anywhere in the world. Plan accordingly. If you’re a December graduate, you have six months before loan interest kicks in, so book that January flight and get going. If you don’t know how long you’re traveling for, reserving a one-way each time won’t hurt you too bad. Try to book it at least six weeks in advance for the best price.
I’m asked most often regarding my trip, “how could you afford to travel for 4 months?!” My response is easy; I saved every dime before I left and found the deals along the road. And that’s how I know anyone can do the same thing. You don’t have to sacrifice comfort, food, or memories to travel on the cheap…well, maybe some comfort at times. But those times make the best stories.