It’s 100% necessary to find ways to save money when traveling, otherwise our adventures will be cut short and we’ll be back in the office cubicle before we know it, sweating it out until our next taste of freedom and nomadic living.
It’s sad to realize that being able to live as you please comes down to something like money, but that’s the way it is, and that’s just how it has to be. It isn’t going to change any time soon and it’s been that way for as long as anybody currently alive can remember, so we might as well get on with the business of finding ways to make what we have last as well as earning more while we’re moving.
These are some tried and tested ways to save money while on the road. Make use of them to make your trips last longer. A few of them can add an extra element of adventure into your nomadic adventures, and so are worth doing in and of themselves over and above the intention of saving money while you travel.
It’s not nice to penny pinch, but when every few dollars saved means an extra adventure before we have to stop again and get back to the grindstone, it’s worth doing!
How to Save Money When Traveling
1. Couchsurf or Camp
By far the biggest expense when traveling and living the life of a nomad is accommodation. It’s the hotels, hostels and guesthouses that bleed us dry slowly, but nobody can live without shelter.
Yet the modern world of consumer tech has made it possible for us to connect instantly with fellow nomads and travelers through platforms like Couchsurfing. Fellow wanderers, or those who prefer to have the people of the world come to them, are willing to open their doors and let you sleep in their spare rooms and couches for free.
This is fantastic news for the thrifty nomad, and it is also a fantastic way to make memories and meet new people while you travel. Staying with someone in their home and sharing stories over a cup of coffee or wine has a way of building bonds that could never be built in a 12 man dorm full of backpackers on the move, and although some of my best memories from traveling the world were made in just such hostels, as I’ve aged a little I prefer to Couchsurf and crash with people I know in a particular city.
Couchsurfing is great for the city, but it can be a pain when it comes to staying in the country. Finding a farmhouse in the mountains can be an adventure, but it can also be the last thing you need after a long journey, and in this case pitching a tent and staying under the open stars can be just what the doctor ordered.
I love to camp, especially in colder climates where I can light a fire and get inside my Arctic sleeping bag and get comfy.
Camping also allows us to see the nocturnal side of nature, which is an adventure in and of itself – especially in places like Australia where the wombats come out to play after dark!
There’s no need to ever spend for accommodation again unless you actually want to. With these two options at your disposal, there’s no reason why you should.
2. Hitchhike or Cycle
I know, I know, you’ve seen the movies where the crazy guy with the pick axe in the back on his car picks up the lone hitchhiker on the side of the road and then brutally murders her before feeding her to the starving hogs on his secluded pig farm.
There’s just one problem – hitchhiking is just not like that, at all! I’ve hitched all over, and I’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences. My furthest hitch was from Sydney to Brisbane, an epic 12 hour overnight journey, which didn’t cost me a single cent and which I covered having to catch only 2 rides.
I personally found out about the subculture of hitchhiking through a now defunct community called Digihitch – but I also met several members of the community in real life, including Juan Valarino, an Argentine backpacker who hitchhiked from Belfast to Bangkok through countries like Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, smashing cultural boundaries and breaking down the walls that separate us as he went.
Hitchhiking isn’t always the best option, and in places like Western Europe you have virtually no chance of catching a ride. However, head to Australia, America, Canada or any of the other ‘vast open road’ countries and you’ll find a hitchhiking culture that’s very much alive and well.
I personally have found that the majority of people who give you a ride are people who have hitchhiked themselves, and so some great stories can be told along the way.
Another way of getting from A-B for free is by volunteering to drive people’s cars from one location to another, but I don’t know enough about it to comment and don’t see myself trying at any time soon. Perhaps someone in the comments could talk more about this option?
If none of these options work for you, you could always cycle! It’s possible to cover up to 60-70km a day if you’re fit and healthy, making for a phenomenal tale to tell and allowing you to get ridiculously fit at the same time.
Don’t think that’s possible? Tell that to Heinz Stucke.
3. Grocery Shop Late at Night
Unless you’re a billionaire nomad like Brendan Beneschott, you probably can’t afford to eat out every night when on the road. One of the biggest expenses when traveling is food, and since we can’t live without it, we can’t exactly skip it now, can we?
Yet there are plenty of ways to reduce the food costs when traveling.
Kinga & Chopin, two inspirational Polish backpackers who made it around the world on $5 per day over 5 years, managed to save on food by becoming Vegan, allowing them to eat practically for free in many places.
If you can’t live without a good old fashioned glass of milk and a cheeseburger, head to the supermarkets late at night when they’ll often have a reduced isle to get rid of everything that going to expire for pennies.
I first discovered this while actually working in a supermarket, and was able to pick up a pint of milk for a few pennies, a loaf of bread for the same, and some red meat and chicken for less than 1 GBP at the time in the UK. Ever since I learned about it, I’ve taken it on the road with me and used it to my advantage.
I’ve also heard of hardcore nomads dumpster diving and recovering the perfectly edible, still reasonably fresh food huge supermarket chains are obligated to throw out because of insane health and safety laws, but I’ve never tried this myself and personally if it got to this point I’d much rather get a job and work for a while.
4. Hit Up Traditional Markets & Charity Stores
Every so often, even the most ‘I am enlightened and live with zero material possessions and refuse to participate in this disgusting Western materialistic culture’ nomad needs some new threads or boots, or just fancies a nice ring or something to make them feel better.
In this case, traditional markets (especially in Asia) and charity shops are where you want to be looking. I’ve personally been able to buy new shorts for as little as $1-$2 in Thailand’s night markets, and I’ve scored some great books and other items in charity shops. The latter has the added benefit of making you feel good as well as getting you whatever you’re looking for, knowing your cash is going to a worthy cause and not some fat cat’s pocket.
While we’re on the topic of traditional markets, it’s worth mentioning two other things. First, these can be a source of mouthwatering, delicious and very inexpensive food, and second, they can be a great source for budding entrepreneurs to spot export opportunities and make some money on the move. Again, shopping in these comes with the benefit of knowing you’re putting your money in the hands of people who deserve it.
5. Volunteer & Earn Your Keep
Another great way to save money while traveling, which will ultimately extend your trips and which will also give you great stories to tell, is volunteering.
My personal favourite volunteering experience was at a Buddhist monastery in Bundanoon, Australia, where I went for a weekend to help Thai monks build a temple and ended up staying 3 months. For just a few hours labour per day I got to eat 3 vegetarian meals a day and was given a personal hut to sleep in right in the middle of the surrounding woods.
When you consider that I agreed to go and try this out when I was days away from flying home after running out of money, the absolute awesomeness of it becomes even more amplified. I got to do something life-changing, got to do something good, and got to extend my trip to Australia by 3 months, all at the same time.
Look for volunteering opportunities online. Some will ask you to pay for the experience, but those are commercialized experiences and there are other ways to do it.
Alternatively, go knocking on doors and introduce yourself to orphanages, hospices and other places where those in need can be found.
Travel should not just be about $2 vodka-Red Bull buckets and sunsets, but should also be a soul-growing experience. Volunteering is both a way to make your travels last longer, and to nurture your giving side at the same time.
If you don’t think volunteering is for you, consider for-for-board opportunities like WWOOF. I’ve had a couple of decent experiences with them in New Zealand, and it’s a great way to extend your travels and enjoy the outdoors life at the same time.
I’ve also seen many people working for the hostel or guesthouse they stay at, cleaning up the bathrooms, kitchen or a few dorms in exchange for a place to stay for as long as they like. This is another great way to stay on the road longer.
Most of the expenses we endure everyday are for luxury and convenience, and when you look at this list, are utterly unnecessary.
I’m definitely not one to advocate for life without money or go Into the Wild like Christopher McCandless, but I do think we can all use at least some of these methods to reduce our travel expenses and live the nomad life a little longer.
I do also think it’s a moral and ethical responsibility for those of us who jet around the world to cut back on the waste we produce in other ways, and these methods are a great way to do your bit in that way, too.
What other ways have you found to save money when traveling? Have I missed anything? How have you made your trips stretch just a little bit longer? Leave a comment and let other nomads and travelers know.