Last updated on June 11th, 2021
If you know how to travel cheap, then you’ll be able to travel all four corners of the world.
Backpackers that travel the world aren’t rich (most of them anyway). They just know the best travel hacks or learn them on the road.
This doesn’t mean you will miss out on seeing the world’s beauty. In fact, you’ll see more of it and make more friends than traveling like a limited tourist. You’ll just have to travel cheaply and reduce costs where you can.
And when I mean travel cheap, I’m referring to inexpensive or reduced cost of travel. I wouldn’t want you to rent a hotel in a sketchy part of town just to save $20.
I’ll tell you how to travel inexpensively (in no particular order) with the best travel hacks and tips, plus I’ll provide free methods of travel; they’re not all mutually exclusive, but you’ll get the point.
With a bit of dedication, around-the-world travel is a reality even when you have little money. And as the famous travel quote goes, Life is either a daring adventure or nothing – Helen Keller.
Best Travel Hacks and Tips
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1. Use Skyscanner for flights.
It’s actually one of the cheapest ways to travel by air when you are flexible. Utilize Skyscanner’s search wherever-and-whenever feature to find cheap flights.
2. Don’t pay for water at the airport.
Bottled water is expensive in the passenger secure area of the airport. Bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it at the water fountain or politely ask a restaurant. You’ll also help reduce plastic waste.
3. Stay in hostels instead of hotels.
Have you seen the prices of hotels in Scandinavia or Switzerland? Shared accommodation in hostels is the way to go. Plus, you’ll make new friends — guaranteed.
4. Volunteer at hostels in return for free accommodation and food.
It’s better to volunteer in countries with a high cost of living because accommodation and food will be expensive. Your ROI will be more.
5. Take buses instead of flights to international or cross-country destinations.
Buses are usually cheaper but sometimes it makes more sense to travel on a budget airline.
6. Cook your own meals.
It’s the cheapest way to eat most of the time. So, stay in a place that includes a kitchen with a nearby supermarket.
7. Choose accommodations that include breakfast.
Sometimes the only important difference between two places is the included breakfast.
8. Use Uber instead of a taxi.
Using local public transportation may not always make sense. Taxis are known to rip off travelers especially when there is a language barrier. Uber is cheaper and provides an upfront price.
9. Walk — a lot.
Walking instead of taking the local bus or a taxi will save you quite a bit of money over months of travel. Though it’s not recommended at night, I used to walk several kilometers home from the bar.
If you can’t walk, hitchhiking is a free option and common in countries such as New Zealand or Iceland. A bicycle is also an option.
11. Travel in less-expensive countries.
This is no big secret. You can easily double or triple the length of your trip with the same budget if you choose your destinations wisely (eg, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia).
12. Wash your own clothes.
It sucks to spend money on laundry. And it can be expensive. Just wash your clothes in the hostel washroom or shower with travel detergent. If you’re in a tropical climate, then you can easily dry your clothes outside on the terrace or rooftop. If you’re somewhere cold, it’ll be hard and you may have to dry the clothes inside beside a heater.
13. Use a tent and camp.
Some hostels allow people to camp on the lawn and pay a reduced price. It’s not always advertised so it’s better to email hostels in advance. Plus, you’ll always have a tent ready for the backcountry trek.
I met a British kid back in 2014 who just graduated from university. He traveled to California, bought a bicycle, and rode it through Central America all the way to Panama. He had a tent with him, so he would ask locals along his route if he could camp out on their lawn — it worked sometimes. He did the same for hostels. I’m sure he took the bus maybe a few times, but I remember his tent in a hostel backyard in Panama City. He then had to disassemble his bike, put it in a box, and flew with it to Colombia due to no land border crossing. That was the last I heard of him.
14. Avoid dynamic pricing by using private browsing.
Airlines can use your browser’s cookies to determine the likelihood of you purchasing their flight. This is dynamic pricing and if you are likely to purchase, then they are likely to increase the fare. You can use Google Chrome’s incognito mode to avoid this or clear the airline’s cookies. This practice is hard to prove or is denied by the airline industry. I’m just putting it out there.
15. Be flexible and get free flights.
Sometimes airlines overbook flights and require volunteers to take the next available flight. As compensation of volunteering, airlines provide a travel voucher for future travel. If the next available flight is the next day, then chances are they’ll put you in a hotel for the night where you can get some R and R. Many governments also impose rules and compensation for passengers due to overbooked flights.
16. Rack up on travel reward points.
Several financial institutions and airlines offer reward programs where points can be used to redeem flights, vacations, and hotel rooms. You can sometimes double the earned points by using a rewards program credit card. Be careful of credit cards that don’t justify an annual fee.
17. Work or volunteer on a sailboat.
If you can handle weeks without seeing land, try working on a sailboat or yacht that crosses international waters to reach your destination.
18. Use Couchsurfing.
Through the generosity of people, you can sleep on their couches for free when you travel. You can even score a bed. The Couchsurfing mobile app is also excellent to meet up and do sightseeing with other travelers, but some scumbags try to use it as a dating app.
19. Use a TV to charge your phone.
If you don’t have a compatible wall charger plug type in the country you’re traveling, then try finding a modern TV in your hotel or hostel. Many of them have USB ports that provide power to recharge mobile devices.
20. Use a binder clip to cover your razor.
The fact is many razors do not come with covers or lids. This can cause the blades to go blunt or you can even cut yourself if your fingers are fumbling through your grooming products.
21. Use your credit card’s travel insurance.
Many credit cards, especially premium travel credit cards already include emergency medical travel insurance for a limited amount of days. There is no need to waste money on double coverage. In addition, if you are employed or are covered under your parent’s employer-sponsored health benefits, then you may also have emergency medical travel insurance. Check with your provider.
22. Cover your checked backpack with an odd-size plastic bag.
Backpacks can get ripped due to straps getting caught in airport belt systems or suitcases. Instead of partially protecting the backpack with your rain cover, ask the ticketing agent for an odd-size plastic bag to fully cover your bag. Just make sure to rip a small hole in the plastic bag and let the baggage tag hang out so it goes to the right area of the airport. In addition, you can reuse the plastic bag on long-haul bus trips.
23. Bring a LifeStraw.
In situations where you’re in dire need of water or you’re in the backcountry, a LifeStraw will allow you to drink water safely from many sources.
24. Use Google Maps offline.
You can download map areas of your destinations, so you won’t need instant access to WiFi when the bus drops you off beside a farm. Also, remember you can save specific addresses offline in Google Maps. Type OK Map.
25. Transfer your cologne, perfume, or transferable liquids into a smaller container.
This will save space and a bit of weight. If you have a hard time opening the cologne or perfume bottle, then just spray the content into the smaller container. It only takes a few sprays.
26. Make free phone calls.
Unless you haven’t owned a smartphone, you probably already know that you can make free phone calls on instant messaging apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and Facebook Messenger.
27. Avoid bulky clothing.
Unless you’re traveling during the cooler months or trekking Patagonia, avoid super thick clothes. This will save a considerable amount of weight and space. Nobody enjoys traveling heavy and large.
28. Eat healthy, be healthy.
Having good health and being in decent shape will help you from overeating or getting sick regularly. I know some of you like eating ice-cream right before going to bed.
29. Photograph or print a copy of your passport.
In the event you lose your passport, you’ll have backup abroad to provide identification. Also, many currency exchanges or travel agencies abroad that require a passport will accept a mobile version of your passport. Just take a picture of it right now and back it up to the cloud using Dropbox, iCloud, or Google Drive. This way it will be available across multiple devices.
30. Download Netflix or Amazon Prime videos to your mobile device.
Sometimes long journeys on buses or planes come with inadequate entertainment, especially budget airlines where they charge a premium for movies.
31. Use ATMs to withdraw foreign currency when possible.
Though ATMs can double charge (foreign bank and your local bank) for transaction fees, they usually provide better rates than currency exchange houses. Or you can just go to the bank. Sometimes these currency exchanges also try to flat out rob you.
In fact, I was provided a few counterfeit Bolivianos at a currency exchange at the Peru-Bolivia border in 2016.
32. Bring a couple of bank cards.
The fact is ATMs are known to eat debit cards, especially when you’re not paying attention to the ATM prompts and are slow to respond. The card eating is usually done as a security measure but there are ATMs out there that are monsters.
33. Buy a dummy wallet.
For those times a pickpocket gets the best of you or you get held up, load up a dummy wallet with a few counterfeit bills. Keep your real wallet or cash hidden, or keep them in the safe.
34. Sew pockets on the inside of your pants for your valuables.
I remember a traveler that told me he would have pockets sewn on the inside of his travel pants in case of thieves.
35. Give your change to the homeless.
Some currencies do so poorly that it’s not worth carrying around coins and you can’t exchange coins at many currency houses. Do a good deed and just give it away to the homeless or a charity box.
36. Pack a dryer sheet in your luggage for smelly clothes.
Placing one or two fabric softener sheets in your backpack or luggage will help keep your clothes smelling fresh. And us long-term travelers like wearing the same clothes for a few days before the next wash. So, there you have it.
37. Choose your airline seats wisely with SeatGuru.
We can’t all fly business class. If you’re lucky to have included seat selection on your flights, then choose the most comfortable seat and location. You can also ask for a specific seat at the check-in counter.
38. Get Wi-Fi passwords on the Foursquare or WiFi Map app.
WiFi is now considered an essential service in some countries. Make sure you can always get free WiFI access without the premium or paying for a drink at the cafe.
39. Download Google Translate for offline use.
Learning a new language is an art. And since you’re a traveler, you should also learn one or two. But we can’t learn them all and when language barriers become an issue, download an offline language translator.
40. Always travel with a pen.
A pen is a tool used to write. It can also be a weapon in unwanted situations. Besides, you’ll need them on many flights when traveling internationally, and those custom forms are handed to you by the flight attendant.
41. Wear compression socks on flights if you suffer from enflamed ankles.
I’m not a doctor, but apparently this helps.
42. Use a kettle to steam your clothes.
Wrinkly clothes without a flattening iron nearby? Use the kettle steam to ‘iron’ your clothes. Alternatively, you can also hang your wrinkled clothes in the bathroom when taking a hot shower.
43. Take 5 minutes to stare at the sky and clear your mind.
Light pollution. Yuck. When you have the opportunity in the backcountry, just stare at the stars. Wonder, and forget the present.
44. Plan as little as possible.
Who needs a plan when you’re a reckless traveler. Travel is not for project mangement-focused individuals.
45. Lock your valuables.
Not everyone plays nice. Make sure to get a hotel or hostel with security lockers.
46. Bring ear plugs.
They snore, you lose. Buy a comfortable set of reusable ear plugs.
47. Travel with vacuum-sealed space saver bags or compression packing cubes.
48. Hide your cash in two different spots.
For that rough day.
49. Expect things to go wrong.
It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.
50. Create fake return plane tickets in case immigration wants to see one.
If you know a bit of HTML, you can edit your previous flight itineraries and make them look like future flights. Be cautious of this because they can check your flight PNR. To be on the safe side, you can buy 24-hour refundable flights through Expedia.
51. Write a packing and checking out list.
A packing list is obvious. But a checking out list is no so common. Too often, personal belongings get left behind at hotels or hostels after checkout, especially the beer in the fridge.
52. Don’t buy too many souvenirs.
It’s nice to have souvenirs of your travels or to give your loved ones. But they add to your luggage and derail the minimalist travel lifestyle. In addition, many souvenirs end up as garbage and are not sustainable for the planet. Buy wisely.
53. Travel during low and shoulder season.
Flights and accommodations are obviously cheaper in low season, especially to winter-bound countries. Try taking up snowboarding or skiing to enjoy the snow. Furthermore, many rainy season destinations have short-lived downpours. So, if you can manage a few hours of rain, then the rest of the day will be free to enjoy.
54. Use a VPN in public WiFi networks.
The life of a digital nomad and chronic Netflix user often entails some sort of VPN usage. But for network security purposes, a VPN is helpful.
55. Bring solid toiletries for carry-on only air travel.
Due to liquid limitations at airport screenings, it’s a good idea to bring soaps, shampoos, and conditioners in solid forms. Yes, they exist.
56. Get out of your comfort zone.
Who really enjoys traveling comfortably in an all-inclusive resort these days? Might as well use a home virtual reality set to travel.
57. Bring a microfiber travel towel.
Stay clean. Stay dry. Microfiber towels come in handy at the beach, park, taking a dip in the lake while backpacking, or when hostels charge for towel service.
58. Forget the man purse or money belt.
Travel wallets are helpful to hold your passport and organize your valuables. But some consider them not a necessity.
59. Don’t stress the lack of Wi-Fi.
I think consistently checking your phone or social media is a chronic medical condition. In fact, I went to the Galapagos Islands on a budget for 3 months without my smartphone and it was the best time of my life. Mind you, I did have my laptop for work. But you get it.
60. Make sure your phone is unlocked.
I’m not referring to your security password. Your Android or iPhone should be unlocked to accept international SIM cards. Many countries have passed laws preventing mobile carriers from locking the phones. You should be good with this for modern smartphones.
61. Invest in a good camera.
Hey, some people do amazing travel photography with their smartphones. But if you want the best quality photos, then you’ll need a bigger camera image sensor which involves at least a decent entry-level camera kit.
62. Consult with a travel clinic for travel to tropical climates.
Many countries legally require you to have travel vaccinations including yellow fever. Often, the law is not enforced at the check-in counter or at the border. But now with the pandemic and COVID, it may be a reality.
63. One-way tickets are better.
Travel the uncertain. When you have the time, go one way.
64. Travel alone.
Don’t let other people’s commitments or schedules deter you from wanderlust. Traveling solo is when you discover yourself.
65. And sometimes travel with friends.
But you know the saying, beer is best tasted among friends. The great thing about travel is you always meet new, like-minded friends — and drunks.
66. Translate signs and menus with Google camera.
You know you can scan words and signs with your phone and instantly translate them?
67. Travel on long bus journeys with some napkins.
I’ve been on several 20+ hour bus rides. And I always need napkins or tissues.
68. Smile at everyone.
Smiling goes a long way. It breaks the ice and opens opportunities. It also shows you who relies on too much coffee.
69. Travel slow to save money.
You don’t need to see 10 cities or countries in 2 weeks. Travel slow. Breathe it in. See more clearly. Smile at your bank account.
70. Show up at hostel without a reservation and negotiate a better price.
Online books sites and credit cards take commissions. You can negotiate cheaper prices in person, especially if you pay cash, stay long-term, or have a group booking.
71. Don’t put anything in your back pocket or let your phone hang out.
This is a recipe for disaster.
72. Mark your luggage with stickers or colored tape.
And find it easier at the airport luggage carousel.
73. Get a power bank.
When you can’t find that convenient power outlet or adapter.
74. Get a dry bag for your valuable electronics.
Adventure travelers will usually find themselves in inclement weather. A dry bag will protect your electronics and keep your spare clothes dry.
75. Be careful of fake reviews.
Fake reviews of accommodations are highly prevalent on Google Reviews. It’s better to check verified sources from booking sites.
76. Travel young.
Travel as much as you can when you have the time and health to move around. And most importantly, feel and act young. Some dragonfruit, bubble tea, or beer might help.
77. Fuck the 9 to 5.
In some countries, you’re forced into slavery. In others, you volunteer for it. You get enough vacation days? The money and mortgage is not worth it.
I hope you learned a few tricks with my best travel hacks and tips.
And you don’t need to travel for several months or years at a time either. I understand people have family and other responsibilities or obstacles that are beyond this blog post. But I hope you do try to travel often and see the world’s beauty.
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