I’ve got my 30th birthday coming up in March and I have realized a lot of stuff. For one, I can’t party every weekend and function like a human being. It’s just not possible – I still feel drunk two days later. Secondly, I need vegetables. My body cries without them. Lastly, I’ve realized I prefer to travel with a few… comforts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy to live out of a car for weeks and camp under the star every night. But I’ve come to realize that there are some things I need to take my travel experiences a step up from backpacking.
Personally, I feel there is this huge gap in the market between backpacking and luxury travel. People don’t want to backpack and they can’t afford luxury travel so they opt for not traveling at all. This breaks my heart because there are small changes you can make to take you that step up from backpacking that allow you a smoother ride on your travels.
When you get a little bit older (like myself) you often earn more money and can spend more during your travels. The point I’m trying to make with this post is where you can put that extra bit of money you’re willing to spend. I made a video for my IGTV explaining how I SAVE money! Click here if you want to see a Sassy Lamb giving you some truth bombs!
Disclaimer: I totally understand some backpackers opt for some of these from time to time and vice versa. These two can often be blurred but I’m just highlighting the changes I’ve made in the last couple of years.
Tips for Budget Travel that isn’t Backpacking
I remember the days of finding the cheapest flights I could, even if that meant terribly early or terribly late leave times. This would often result in me leaving for my journey at 1 am in the morning; trying to navigate after hour’s public transport and taking 3 hours to get to the airport. By the time I made my flight and arrived at my destination, I would sleep for several hours and waste half a day because I’d be so exhausted. This was actually fun, way back when, because it added to the adventure and made for several hysterical overtired laughs.
I now opt for the best route for the best price; I try to make the most of my trip and take into account how jetlagged I’d be. Look for flights earlier or mid-week versus leading up to the weekend. Also, look for the dates you want and then set up a ‘price change’ notification so you can watch it fluctuate for a week or two. Buying tickets 3-4 months prior have always worked out best for me and watching them for a couple weeks has really paid off. I paid R3500 ($245) for my one-way to the UK from Seoul in March because I sat on it for a few weeks and when the price dropped for the day I snapped it up.
Public Transport on your Travels
I have some stories about night buses and taxi drivers that bring me to tears to this day. Do I want to relive them? Nope. I’m happy with my crazy adventures but I hold more value on my life these days. Could it potentially happen again? Absolutely – but I’m not going to go looking for them. Getting from A-B on your travels when you are backpacking can be a little harrowing but a lot cheaper. For me, those were great times with great stories but I also need something a little quicker now. Taking three buses and two scooter taxis to reach your destination might work out cheaper – but it makes the journey more stressful and takes so much longer.
How I look at this upgrade: I would much rather have a few more hours in a place with fewer dollars in my pocket. Opting for airport pick-ups or a faster train allows for more time in these beautiful places. That’s not to say that I don’t research the shit outta finding the best routes, I don’t just take the first one available to me. I will often spend several hours reading up on what’s the most cost-effective way to get around in that particular place. I remember, one time in Thailand, I was hell-bent on not using the taxis and I actually ended up poorer, exhausted and late for my booking. I try keeping the transfers as stress-free as possible.
I used to rock up to a country and knock on doors. That’s just crazy to me now because firstly, visas don’t allow for that kind of behavior and secondly, I need a guaranteed bed. If you’re traveling with a Green Mamba passport like myself, it’s important to have zero reasons for them to kick you out. Not having accommodation and no itinerary to speak of can lead to a little chat with immigration. To me, it’s not worth the risk, but you do as you please. There are also dormitories available basically everywhere that you can pick up for a very low price. If I’m with others, I still don’t mind the dormitory life but when I’m on my own I opt for a single room. However, if I can’t find cheap enough accommodation, I will stay one or two nights in a female dormitory but I’ll read every review to make sure my belongings will be safe. I also know of some travelers who couch surf, but I have never done it so I don’t feel comfortable talking about it as an option.
What did we do before Air BnB and Booking.com? I book everything through Booking.com and have found some serious gems by booking through that website. Also, it’s usually cheaper on Booking.com than if you book through the actual hotel itself. Here are some of my tips:
- Always use the map option to make sure you’re not booking something so far out that you spend a fortune getting into town every single day.
- Read reviews to make sure you’re getting what you paid for.
- Opt for places that offer add-ons like airport pick up and a ride into town. It will save you time and money in the long run.
- Opt for B&B’s that includes breakfast – it saves you buying a coffee and breakfast elsewhere – I sometimes take a muffin and use it as my mid-morning snack too.
You need to understand that it’s going to be a big jump from staying at backpackers. Privacy and your own bathroom make the price go up very quickly. Ask yourself if privacy is worth the price tag. To me, I like to be alone when I travel and to have a lot of people around me all the time gives me anxiety so I prefer spending the extra cash. But it’s completely up to you – travel is subjective!
You’re there to take in the sights not spend a lot of money sitting at a table in a restaurant. Local street food and convenient stores are your best friends. Picking up your lunch on the go from street vendors is a great way to keep going without stopping to eat and it saves you a lot of money. Restaurants hike up the price based on location and experience of the dining process. Vendors just focus on food and don’t charge as much. That doesn’t mean the food isn’t good, some of the food I’ve tried on the street has been some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted! Convenient stores are a great place to stock up on water or snacks. I remember stuffing in about half a dozen apples and three bottles of water into my backpack before a day of exploring.
In terms of sightseeing; look up all the free places in the city. People often gravitate towards paid experiences because they feel they hold more value but it’s not always the case. In many countries, museums and cultural experiences may be free. Parks, hikes and interesting neighborhoods are also free and are some of my favorite.
I’ve learned to incorporate my lunch and dinner spots with my rest time. I’ll pack in a bunch of stuff before and after lunch so I use my lunchtime to recuperate or look up new places using the restaurant’s Wi-Fi. As I’ve gotten older, I also use restaurants as places to write and reflect on the day’s excursions. Most of my favorite restaurants I’ve ever discovered have been off the main street and down a side alleyway. The rent on the high street is usually astronomical and their prices reflect that; it doesn’t mean the food is good. On the contrary, they’re probably trying to minimize costs as much as possible and skimping wherever they can, including food quality. I also turn my meals into cultural experiences; it’s where I connect with the locals the most. If the restaurant is too chaotic, I can’t really enjoy that aspect of it.
When I was in Paris, I found this adorable restaurant nestled in an alleyway that was family owned. It literally felt like I was having dinner in their home. We talked and drank wine for hours. It’s my favorite memory from Paris.
Closing thoughts about backpacking versus budget travel…
When you start spending more on your travels, make sure it’s in the right places. If you enjoy a clean bed in your own room, upgrade your accommodation. If you enjoy hassle-free travel, opt for airport transfer and more taxis. If you prefer leisure meal times and consider yourself more of a foodie, dine at more reputable places.
Traveling is so special and it should be enjoyed the way you want to enjoy it. Spend more on areas that you know will make your trip more enjoyable.