We get emails every day from people who have incredible trips planned around the world. Some of them have taken the time to travel slowly and really “see” each destination, while others are moving so fast through countries that they are leaving little time to get underneath the skin of each one and really have a sense for the culture.
For us, travelling slow is the most rewarding way to see the world. We make life-long friends rather than passing acquaintances. We learn about why people do things, instead of just witnessing their actions. We indulge in all of the regional cuisines and don’t just try the one dish that everyone knows about (like Pad Thai in Thailand). We do our best to really learn and feel each place that we visit and we feel that we have richer travel experiences for it. The great thing is that we don’t have to be richer to enjoy these experiences. In fact, every single aspect of slow travel is better on the budget, and choosing to move around this way will save you a ton of money and can help turn that 1 month holiday into a 6 month trip.
Staying in hostels, hotels and B&Bs every night will likely be your largest expense while on the road. But if you travel slow, a whole new world of accommodation options make themselves available to you. You may meet locals and expats that will invite you over for a couple of nights for free, and you can get into house sitting and learn that there are thousands of homes around the world that need people for a month, a season or a full year!
But aside from these free options, there are apartments, homes and flats that you can rent for a fraction of the cost of a nightly hotel room. For example, when we were living in Lake Atitlan area in Guatemala, it was hard to find a hotel in our town for less than $50 / night ($1,500 / month). These rooms were basic as well – simply a bed and a night stand with no kitchen, bathroom etc. When we decided to stay for 2 months, we started looking for an apartment and found this beautiful, two level casita right on the water for just $550 / month! Now that is some huge savings!
Our apartment had a large bedroom with a queen sized bed, a closet, two bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen and a dining room. It was 3 times the size of the hotel rooms in the area and it was costing us almost a third of the price. If you rent an apartment for just a month or two, you’ll likely pay an escalated “vacation rental” cost, but get it for three months or more and you’ll start to see even better deals.
The number one way to save money overseas is to rent a home instead of a hotel room. Once you’ve done that, then the next 4 points in this post will come naturally.
Check out our post for more about the cost of Living on Lake Atitlan.
Probably your second highest expense while travelling (depending on how often you move) is transportation. These costs will definitely be cut down considerably if you’re staying in one city / town for a couple of months at a time. Taking a bus every other day can quickly add up, especially in countries where transportation is expensive. Imagine hopping on an $80 Greyhound in Canada every day. As you can imagine, your budget would soon be shot.
If you choose to rent an apartment and stay in one town for a while, your transportation costs will all but disappear. You may have to take a taxi to get groceries or hop on a local bus for a dollar or so, but this will not cost more than a few dollars / week.
You can also consider buying or renting a motorcycle while you’re in the town. You can often buy a small 50 – 100 cc motorbike for under $400 and sell it again when you leave. Or rent it for a month or two. While we were travelling in Cuba, we found motorcycles for rent for around $300 / month. That’s a pretty good deal! Although if you were to buy it and sell it, you probably wouldn’t lose very much money at all. In Thailand, you can get rental costs down to just a couple of dollars / day if you rent a motorbike for a full month.
Having a kitchen is a real wallet saver when you’re living / travelling overseas. As cheap as food can be in restaurants in some countries, it’s ALWAYS cheaper in the grocery store. When we were travelling in Southeast Asia, we thought that a meal in a restaurant was so cheap that there would be no reason to shop at a grocery store. Then, on the last few weeks in the region, we popped into a TESCO (large European grocery chain), and couldn’t believe how affordable everything was. A pack of 5 chicken breasts was less than $2! Six beers were just $4 and basically everything we looked at was much cheaper than we could have imagined.
In Grenada, where we live now, groceries aren’t as cheap, but meals at restaurants are also much more expensive. Basically no matter where you travel, the food at the local markets and grocery stores is always going to be cheaper and utilizing your kitchen for meals (at least 2 every day) is going to save you a ton of money each month.
Luckily, you can use this trick even if you’re not renting an apartment. Many hostels and guest houses have a kitchen for tourists to use. This is a great opportunity to save some money and cook for yourself.
Have you ever noticed that when you get to a new city in an exotic country, you want to see everything that is there right away! This is probably because you know that you’re going to be on a bus in a couple of days and you’ll have to leave. But if you’ve made a home for yourself and you’re planning to stay for a while, those touristy sites can wait. You won’t be rushing from museum to museum, trying to see it all in a day. Instead, you can take your time and stretch those entrance fees and tour costs over an entire month.
The best part of not rushing around, is having the time to be spontaneous. When you’re a tourist and you’ve got your nose in a map hunting down your next experience, you’re missing the experiences that are happening all around you. That local guy that invited you over to try his fresh-baked bread will give up when you don’t hear him. The music and dance production that you can faintly hear just one block over will be completely missed. Travel is best enjoyed without too much planning, and staying in one place longer will give you that luxury.
Many countries require some sort of payment to enter, or exit their borders. Sometimes you don’t have to pay at all, but more often than not, there’s at least a $20 charge, every time you visit a new country. When we were travelling around Central Asia, every single country had a visa charge and most were over $50! Imagine getting to a new country every few days and having to tack that on to your budget. Travelling slower will probably mean that you only pay for one visa every month or two.
Slow & Steady…
There’s no reason why you have to always travel slowly, but every once in a while, it’s a good idea to rent an apartment and take a break. Spend a month or two and reenergize your mind, body and your bank account! You’ll be able to extend your trips and have better experiences.