When I was 12 years old, I heard this story about that if you would work more than 50 years at a MARS chocolate factory, you would get an all-inclusive world trip as a gift. I was amazed by this story (not only about the chocolate factory) and was determined to travel the world one day. A couple of months ago I turned 29, I have spent the last 2 years on the road, seen numerous countries with awesome experiences and still with no end in sight. I am so happy to say that we live in these exciting times where a trip around the world doesn’t have to be a dream anymore you have to work for lifelong, it’s realisable for almost anyone. If you share this exact same passion, let me tell you how to make your dream come true with these travel hacks.
For those who read our last blog in which I explained how we saved up over €40k in two years, know it wasn’t an easy job doing it. I explained how we spent about €10k on our wedding and had about €30k left for our travels. Now, I am going to tell you how the hell we managed to travel with this for over 300 days and still had enough left to start a new life in one of the most expensive countries in the world, Australia. Over the years we’ve mastered many travel hacks and now, we will share our secrets on how to travel as much as possible with as little as possible.
First things first, let’s set some ground rules. Travelling is not the same thing as going on a vacation! To put it simply, when you are on vacation, the hardest dilemma you probably have is whether you’ll go for expensive cocktails before or after the luxurious dinner at your 5-star hotel. When you’re travelling, you are fighting with a riksja driver because he is trying to set you up for an extra dollar. Secondly, I intentionally didn’t say travel as long as possible, because travelling for long period of times isn’t necessarily what travelling is all about. I know people who travelled around the world for years with spending as little as 5 bucks a day, hitchhike to every place, sleep in tents and eat noodles soup every day. Nothing wrong with it, but some of them slept for weeks in the same hostel reading a book all day trying not to spend a dime. We see ourselves as low-budget travellers, but we still want to emerge ourselves in a new country; experience local culture and try new food. Food is important. I mean come-on food and travel are interrelated like the moon and the earth. You can always travel cheaper, but for us, this is just a balanced way of still being able to experience what makes travelling so awesome, because no matter how you put it: experiences cost money.
1. Budget per country
Now that we’ve set the ground rules, let me explain to you how to live like a king with an empty pocket. Travel costs basically consist out of two streams, the fixed expenses (like air tickets, visas, etc.) and the recurring expenses that vary on a daily basis (like accommodation, public transportation and food). Before you start travelling, you need to have an idea of what these fixed expenses and your average daily budget would be per country. These preparations are key for successful budgeting your next trip! South-East Asian countries, for instance, are backpackers’ all-time favourites, because they can be cheap as hell and there are many low-cost airlines to fly around with. Western countries, of course, are the opposite. We researched all of this for every country we wanted to visit before we started our journey. Here’s the list we created per country budgeting the expected costs. Next to the budgeted costs, you can see what we actually spent. The actual costs, of course, were calculating afterwards.
Costs per country (All costs are per person)
|Country||Total time||Budgeted p/d||Actual costs p/d||Visa||Flight||Total cost p.p.|
|Turkey||3 weeks||€30||€30||€15||€50 (boat trip)||€750|
|Georgia||2 weeks||€30||€30||–||(over land)||€400|
|Armenia||1 week||€30||€40!||–||(over land)||€325|
|Ticket back to Holland||–||€300||€300|
|Total All||300 days||€30||€31||€200||€1500||€11000|
Just to sum up, we spent €22k with the both of us travelling for 300 days including all visa and flight costs. Meaning we had €8k left to start a new life in Australia. Australia is a whole different story, so we’ll leave it out for now. As you can see, we were pretty close with our estimated budget for most countries. Some numbers may be surprising, but here’s the deal: We intentionally chose a high daily budget for Santorini, because we wanted it to be a honeymoon experience before going really low-budget. After disliking the food in Georgia, we spent a lot of money on food and desserts in Armenia. In Iran, we were travelling in a rush (using public transportation every day) so our daily costs were higher. We stayed in India for quite some time living with €20 pp/pd, but on the third month our families visited and we spent double that amount. China is maybe the most surprising one because it was much more expensive than what we initially had expected and keeping to our daily budget of around €35 was even very difficult. You can imagine that in some countries like India and Nepal, you can live like Kings and Queens with only €25 a day, while in others it won’t even cover your food expenses. Again our actual costs could have varied a lot if we, for instance, travelled less in India and more in Korea. But more or less, this could be a good starting point if you’re planning your next trip.
Ok, now you’ve set your goals of expenditure and budgeted per country, now comes the hard part: actually preventing not to spend more. This might be one of the most annoying things when you are travelling long term, because you can easily spend too much in a couple of days. But afterwards trying to spend less and save up, so the rest of your trip won’t come into jeopardy, now that’s very stressful. Here are some more practical tips on how to make sure you won’t spend more than budgeted.
2. Become a budget maniac and excel wizard
After having a budget idea per country, you actually have to become a budget maniac, think on a Hitler-level somehow. I took this role in our relationship and I don’t have to elaborate how many times this caused friction. You need someone who can be ruthless and stay away from the temptation to luxury. You need to keep account of every small stupid dime you spent somewhere. I did all of this in an Excel sheet on my laptop. And every couple of days I communicated the “damage” to Mursal, which was almost always a frustrating conversation (because for some reason you always hope a fairy dropped golden coins in your pocket while you were enjoying expensive desserts for the 5th night in a row). Again, if you spend too much for a couple of days, you have to spend less the next couple of days. Though you have the money, you still want to continue visiting those countries on your bucket list, so you better keep to your budget. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense when you are fighting over a dollar with a riksja driver, while you have thousands on your bank account. But as the Dutch saying goes ‘The people with the biggest houses have the smallest wallets’, meaning they have the big house for a reason and they don’t spend money on unnecessary things.
3. Save on flight tickets
Sometimes I think if there was a study behind finding the cheapest air ticket, I’ll probably be a professor. I’ve been doing this since the very first days I started travelling. When I was 19, I just went to the airport with my packed suitcase and asked for the cheapest flight for as far as possible within the next couple of hours. Later on, I found out it’s cheaper to search online. The golden rules are as follow:
- Be flexible in both time and location. If you say you want to travel for, let’s say 2 weeks in a time period of 3-4 weeks, you’ll probably find a cheaper option than only being able to travel for fixed dates. Furthermore, it doesn’t hurt trying to travel from and to different airports (for instance, travel from Dusseldorf instead of from Amsterdam).
- Try flying on Mondays and Tuesdays (but also try other days)
- Try flying on low-season periods and book about 3-6 weeks ahead
- Browse further, never try one source only. We use Google Flights and Momondo and also try on the official airline websites itself.
Altogether, booking a flight ticket can be a very time-consuming task and sometimes very frustrating. But you can save enormously. These are for instance the cheapest tickets we have ever flown with:
- Eindhoven – Milano: €1 (direct, Ryanair, return)
- Dusseldorf (Weeze) – Berlin: €10 (direct, Ryanair, return)
- Dusseldorf – Male (Maldives): €300 (direct, Lufthansa, return)
- Amsterdam – Mumbai €300 (direct, KLM, return)
- Amsterdam – Melbourne €300 (1-stop, Etihad, one-way)
Don’t forget that you shouldn’t always go for the cheapest price. Sometimes paying a couple more bucks could save you hours of layover stops in the middle of nowhere. Unless of course, that middle of nowhere is a place where you’d love to spend some time 😉
4. Make cost/value wise decisions & stay away from scams
Your daily budget mostly goes to food, accommodation and transportation. You can prepare yourself by getting insights from locals, reading Lonely Planet guides or searching online on wikitraveler.org or TripAdvisor. Local tips are always the best way to find where to sleep, eat and travel without being scammed. In cities, you can save easily by booking through Booking.com alike sites or even better through AirBnB, in smaller places it helps to call the ho(s)tels before showing up and asking for their best price. Don’t ever think you can’t hassle. We’ve even hassled with 5-star hotels (like the Hilton) and got a discount or a free breakfast. Don’t always go for the cheapest option, always try to find out what is ‘normal’ by asking locals or fellow travellers. If someone gives you a ridiculous discount, there is always something behind it. Some travellers try to save a penny by sleeping in a very uncomfortable location, while with a couple of dollars extra you would have a lot more comfort and experience the place far better.
I can devote a whole blog about only this since we’ve learned so much about making cost/value decisions and staying away from scams around the world. Let me know if you are interested in this, I can elaborate more on this in another blog. Again most importantly, always listen to your intuition, talk to other travellers or read guides like the Lonely Planet. General advice which rules in 95% of the situations: if it’s visited a lot by other (budget) travellers, it’s probably for a good reason.
5. Never forget to enjoy
This might seem needless to say, but sometimes you really have to remind yourself to enjoy all of it. Because people confuse going on vacation and travelling (low-budget) so many times, they think it’s one big happy life every day. Well, it’s not. Many times you can’t stand walking into another dirty hostel, have snickers as a dinner because there’s nothing else around. Or spend another sleepless minute on an overnight train. You get the point. Try finding a balance where you can preserve your budget at an optimal level, but also enjoy the journey. Even (or maybe especially) in Holland, I come across people who want to prevent spending every penny and I just sometimes want to scream at them: “Life costs money! If you want to stop spending money, stop living”.
If you find a nice restaurant which is a lot more expensive than street food but has the best local cuisine there is, go for it. If you’ve been scammed for the hundreds time in India and you feel like there is no way having control over it, let it go. It’s just a couple of bucks. If there’s this awesome activity which costs 5 times your average daily budget, but you feel this burning desire wondering how cool it is, do it. Even we forgot this sometimes. We were so busy trying to keep control of costs to make sure we could finish our travels up until the last-minute as planned, we forgot to stop worrying every now and then. Therefore, we’ll always budget about 10-20% extra for “unexpected” costs for our future trips. Meaning stuff you can’t budget beforehand, but when coming across it and going for the experience which will make your day more perfect. Because eventually, that is what travel is all about right? Awesome experiences 😀
Please let us know if you enjoyed the story and somehow could relate. And if there’s anything missing, drop a comment. We feel we’ve experienced so much during our travels that we can probably write books about it. We’re actually also kind of thinking to make vlogs telling all about our crazy, scary, awesome, and sometimes strange experiences around the world. If you think this might be interesting or you have any other ideas, let us know.