Tips for Budget Backpacking

“If not now, when?”

So you all know that traveling by bike can be cheap – you live out of your tent, you cook on your stove, and you rely on yourself for transportation – but it’s also possible to backpack and bus for reasonably cheap as well. In Turkey you can expect to pay 10$-15$ dollars a night (each) for a room, 2$-6$ a meal if you eat out at local places (and only a dollar or so if you cook yourself), and 6$ for a three hour train ride, or 20$ for a five hour bus ride. We each expect to spend about 600$ for this month of travel and sightseeing and though it’s more more than the 200$/month we spent as we were cycling across the country, it’s still a lot lower than many people realize is possible. Here are a few general tips for budget backpacking no matter where you happen to be.

Go Offseason

Visiting a country offseason can be the easiest way to save money without even trying, plus, it gets rid of the crowds! A few nights ago here in Turkey we stayed at a wonderful hotel and payed fifty dollars a night for a beautiful family room (for the four of us). When we checked out, we found out that during the summer that same room is booked for months on end for a whooping 120 euros. Besides being cheaper, we find it much more pleasant to travel offseason, especially throughout a place like Turkey which relies so heavily on tourism. We have been able to visit some of the most touristic regions of the country without the chaotic hustle bustle that usually comes with the crowds during the summer. Another advantage to traveling offseason is that nothing is ever booked out, and in many places, you may be the only person in your large hotel!

Don’t Book In Advance

I know that this is a hard concept for some of you, but it really is possible (and in my idea much better) to arrive without a booking or concrete plans since its cheaper and leaves you open to more options. For starters, booking sites such as take a 15%-20% commission meaning that if you call the owner directly or just arrive and ask for a room on the spot, you can easily get the same room for that much cheaper without the owner loosing a cent. The other day we met a traveler who told us that he found a room online for thirty dollars a night, and when we inquired at the door without a booking, we were offered the same one for fifteen. We have often found this to be true, that places may raise their prices online (or keep their summer prices up even though it’s offseason) so if you are just willing to arrive and ask on the spot, you are guaranteed to save yourself a lot of money without any hassle.

Eat Local

Trying the local food is a huge part of travel, but you don’t need to go to a specially designed (and expensive!) tourist restaurant to do so. In every city there are smaller local places which serve real local food, and besides being less than half the price, we have always found that the food tastes so much better as they use fresh produce and serve just a few items which they do extremely well instead of a large menu of food that they do rather poorly. We have eaten dozens of delicious soups from all sorts of local restaurants, all of which came with fresh (still warm from the over) bread for just two dollars, yet the other night when we went out to a touristic restaurant, we were served a watered down lentil soup without a single lentil in it for double the price. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s also much tastier to buy kebabs and wraps from the small whole-in-the-wall places which serve them for just a dollar or two, plus, it’s usually a much more pleasant experience since the locals are often happy to see you out of the tourist bubble where nearly everyone else stays.

Unless you are only traveling for a few days, you will have more than enough time to try the local food at restaurants, and so to help with your budget, it’s always great to cook a few meals for yourself. Since Kevin and I have our own backpacking stove it’s easy for us to cook dinner on the patio of any hotel, but if you aren’t carrying around a stove like we do, it’s a good idea to look for a hostels instead of hotels since hostels (and sometimes guest houses) usually have kitchens for you to use. We enjoy cooking our own meals, especially when the hostel is busy, as it’s fun to invite others to join you for a meal.

Instead of buying bottled water (a waste of money and resources) bring your own water bottle to fill up so that you are prepared for the day. In India and Nepal we use to ask the locals which wells were save to drink from, and when we couldn’t find clean water, we would use our filter so that it was safe for us to drink. Except for in the biggest cities here in Turkey, tap water is safe to drink (everyone drinks it), and in Istanbul where it isn’t, there are large clean wells which are open to the public. We use to fill up our water bottles at one of these daily which meant that we never once had to pay for water.

Walk and Take Night Busses

Why pay ten dollars for a cab ride when you could walk there in half an hour instead? Walking around a city is a great way to explore, and when that isn’t possible (like in Istanbul) we always take the local buses or metros which are a small fraction of the price of a taxi. We also always take the cheapest transportation when we travel between cities, and if the ride is over seven hours, we make sure to take a night bus/train since it saves you money and time (no hotel room needed).

Slow Down

Slowing down not only save you money (less transportation costs) but also lets you get a much more real feel for the place you are visiting. I will never be a two week vacationer (two weeks trips will be saved for camping/climbing/skiing in Oregon) as Kevin and I are some of the slowest travelers you will ever meet, and we like it that way. By spending three to six months in each and every country we have visited, we have been able to work along the way, learn a bit of the language, and experience more of the local life since we have the time to let it all happen. If you do only have a few weeks or months to travel, don’t over plan or try and visit a new city every day as everything will turn into a blur, and by the end, you will be utterly exhausted.

Just Go For It

This isn’t my first time budget backpacking as I learned a lot of what I know now as I backpacked through South America for a year when I was eighteen years old. I was able to complete that trip (in reasonable comfort, not as much roughing it as we do now) for under 10,000$ including flights and visas, daily living, and many expensive tours and climbs. There are more than enough wealthy tourists in every tourist destination to keep the resorts and fancy restaurants alive and well, but keep in mind that that’s not the only way to travel. If you don’t think you can afford it, find a way to travel for cheap by eating the local food, staying in hostels, walking instead of taking a taxi, and cooking your own meals once and a while because money should never stop you from fulfilling your dreams. It traveling is one of yours, then find a way to do it.

For a photo of the day and other updates follow me on facebook here, and for some awkwardly cropped photos from our journey, follow us on Instagram @awanderingphoto!

4 thoughts on “Tips for Budget Backpacking

  1. Yeah, I wanted to ask where did you get water. Were there other places with free public fountains with clear water, like in Istanbul, or it’s not that common? In India and Nepal, do you have to knock on doors to ask people for water (e.g.: from wells of their property), or you could refill your bottles at public places (fountains, gas stations, …)?

    • We have always found water because if you think about it, the locals have to be drinking water from somewhere as well! We have never ever had problems finding water, and here in Turkey, we often stop as gas stations to fill up. In India and Nepal it was easier in some ways since many people didn’t have running water in their homes, meaning there were “taps” and wells all over the place where the villagers would come to get their water. We would just stand in line with them! If it isn’t obvious as to where, we have found that simply asking the nearest person around is the easiest solution as they are bound to show you where the nearest place to fill up is.

      • Thanks for the answer, it’s good to know that finding drinkable water is not an issue on tours, and there is no need to go into shops for bottled ones.
        ( ^-^)旦~

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