Tips to shoe string backpacking

Backpacking in Peru, riding bikes across the desert.

The term shoe-string backpacking refers to travelling for as long as possible off as little funds as possible. The reason it’s called ‘shoe string’ backpacking is simply meant to refer to the idea that you travel off nothing more than a shoe-string.

Like anything, travelling cheaply can be taken to the extremes. Some people travel for years after leaving home with just a few thousand dollars. Often these travellers travel slowly, volunteer in places, avoid flying and don’t do expensive tours or activities.

So, why go cheap?

Enjoy the challenge. Shoe-string backpacking doesn’t have to mean cutting corners. In some ways it’s about making compromises, but that doesn’t have to come at the sacrifice of experience or memories. It’s really about getting back to basics, even then, if you make a solid daily budget and stick to it then it’s entirely possible to travel without feeling like ‘something is missing’. Going cheap means you have to place value on where you spend your money, and you have to make choices as to how you will spend each day. This can lead to a more immersive trip.

Where is best for shoe string travel? South East Asia. Countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines and also Nepal and India are all good low-budget destinations. The benefit to countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam is these countries are very easy locations for new travellers. There is a lot of accommodation, transport and getting around and doing tours in these locations is easy.

How much do I budget? A basic daily spend of $30USD a day in Asia in very achievable and actually on the mid-range of shoe string backpacking.

Before you travel:

  1. Budgeting: 2 months prior to leaving make a solid budget. Map out your rent cost, food cost, petrol/ travel cost and then make a limit you will not go over each week. EG if you earn $1000 a week and your costs are $500. Then tell yourself each week you MUST save $500.
  2. Overheads: This means trimming down on subscriptions, memberships, phone plans and other little weekly or monthly expenses that come out of your account.  I would advise cancel your gym membership, downgrade your phone plan,
  3. No alcohol: Stop drinking altogether. Even buying alcohol and drinking at home is now… unnecessary. 
  4. Don’t dine out: Do meal preparation and eat at home. I would even advice that for 2 months before travelling cut down on social gatherings with friends if you know that you will spend money there. Things like bowling, the cinemas, cafes etc.
  5. Luxury items: Do you need name brand hair products or other items that you currently are using? Remember once you’re travelling your going to only have what’s in a backpack. Slimming down on luxury items now will help when you’re on the road.

While travelling:

  1. Have a daily budget: A good daily budget to aim for is $30USD. When travelling, learn a countries conversion rate to your local currency as soon as you land. EG if you’re travelling from Europe to Thailand. Work out on day one of travelling what $1 Euro is worth in Thai Baht. This will mean you can equate what your spending each day. Having a budget will mean you are able to accurately know what is coming in and what is going out of your account, and you will have a good idea of how long you will be able to stay on the road.
  2. Transport: Take local transport. Avoid using taxis as much as possible. Use buses: Consider taking local buses or even overnight buses to also save on one nights accommodation.
  3. Flying is expensive: your flying be willing to shop around for flights and CLEAR YOUR SEARCH HISTORY when looking for flights online. Also, being flexible with flying dates will give you the chance to secure cheaper tickets.
  4. Consider hitch hiking.
  5. Containerships: this used to be a viable option for travelling between continents but is becoming more expensive.
  6. Drinking: Drinking alcohol is a big factor in people usually over budget. I’ve spoken to people who have commented that if they had not drinked or partied on their travels their trip would have cost 50% less.A good way to monitor yourself would be trying to only drink a few nights a week, or not at all.
  7. Accommodation:Get used to the idea of dorm beds and sharing a room with multiple people. Always shop around for accommodation on websites like hostel-world or booking to get a good deal. Alternatively, message or call hostels directly to see if they can offer you a better price than advertised online. Accommodation can be cheaper in pairs. Consider sharing a room with a friend or someone you meet travelling that you trust.Doing home-stays:  Budget accommodation can also be found in home-stays where you live and stay with locals in their own country.
  8. Doing work -stays: Websites like work-away offer the opportunity to stay and work on projects like community farm operations
  9. Couch surfing: Couch surfing is a good option to getting cheap accomodation and you will meet locals. Best way to do this is set up a couch-surfing profile on couch surfing . com.
  10. Friends: Some things are cheaper in pairs. For example, some dorm beds may be $3USD per person but a shard private room may be $5USD for two people. Tours: booking activities and tours can be cheaper when split between multiple people.
  11. Work and travel: As mentioned in point 5 if you want to prolong your travels consider stopping somewhere, slowing down and working. This usually is UNPAID but you receive free meals and accommodation.

Volunteering:

If you want to get an authentic travel experience and not spend a lot of money, but you also want to meet locals and give back, consider volunteering. The experience will be un-forgettable, and you will leave your time overseas having felt like you have accomplished something. Settling into a spot for a month or few months and getting to know it well is a nice feeling. Volunteering programs are always looking for assistants to come assist them. You can work on English teaching programs, house building, farming, constructing water-wells and more.

Afterword:

While some of these tips may seem extreme, like “stop drinking alcohol” or “stop eating out” it’s important to remember that the essence of shoe-string backpacking is all about trimming down to only what’s necessary. The level of which you take the preparation, budgeting or life on-the-road is entirely up to you.

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