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Riding the buses » Money tips » Travelling on a budget

Travelling on a budget

Lack of funds has never stopped me from travelling. Obviously, I’ve stayed in my share of cheap hotels and travelled on more “chicken” buses than I wish to remember. I usually do it more comfortably these days.

Years ago I decided to escape the Canadian winter every January and needed to find a way to do it without feeling guilty about leaving my family behind. At the time I was a married mom with two school-aged kids.  I knew it would be a challenge for I would be travelling on my own and often during high season but I found a way and have never missed a year.

It’s easy to put off travelling. Like telling yourself that you’ll wait until you have enough money to quit your job so you can spend months travelling around the world. While the Grand Tour may be a life-long ambition, shorter trips are much more doable and you’ll probably be more satisfied in the long run.

When my (then) husband and I finished our world trip we decided that in future our trips would be frequent and shorter. Frankly, it’s tough spending a long time living out of a suitcase or a knapsack. You’ll likely miss home in a big way. So instead of postponing travel, shorten the itinerary, make the journey, return home to your daily routine, and be ready to go again by the time your next annual vacation comes around!

If you tell yourself you’ll wait until you pay off the mortgage or the kids have grown or until you retire you may find yourself looking back with regret. Remember that travel makes life richer and more considered. It is not a frill.

If you travel independently you can stay in hostels for days on end and splurge from time to time; rent a room with a kitchenette for a longer stay and establish it as your home-away-from-home; enjoy a spiffy bedroom with private bath when your budget can support it. Often the best trips incorporate all these options.

Stick to your budget but don’t be cheap

Money can be a great excuse for not travelling. Instead, decide to put travel into your yearly budget and make sure your trip doesn’t cost more than what you budgeted. Actually, I find travel is getting cheaper all the time (or maybe I’m getting smarter although that is doubtful). I tend to stick to my budget since travel is an important part of my life and I want to do it at least annually. At the same time, I never arrive home with any leftover cash and that has always been my pattern.

If you’re going to be travelling for an extended period, you have to be vigilant about your spending unless you have a sugar daddy back home (I never did, even when married). When you get really tired of living with little money, play mind games as in “This is the first meal I’m going to have when I get home. It will be…”

The biggest bite in the budget is accommodation. Remember that locally-owned hotels generally cost a lot less than American-type properties. That’s not to say that luxury is a foreign concept to me for I have stayed in the best properties in Canada when I travel for work. But I’d much rather have an extended three week vacation staying in nice but more modest hotels than to blow it all in one week staying in places that are like those at home.

Also, my best hotel experiences have been in small, family-run establishments. Today I usually stay in mid-range hotels recommended by Lonely Planet-type travel books. What I usually do is calculate my total accommodation budget, stay a few nights in budget hotels and splurge now and again. I also find that there are more and more deals that you can get on-line if you do the research.

Bus and train travel are usually very affordable in developing countries, even if it’s first class. Hiring a car and driver can make sense and this can usually be negotiated through your hotel (don’t be surprised if the driver is the brother or cousin of the hotel owner). Many local flights can be booked over the Internet and can be surprisingly inexpensive when compared to flights at home.

You can save money by buying fruit, buns, yogurt and cheese at local markets for breakfast and lunch and having a picnic of sorts. Splurge a little on dinner each night so that you can sample local cuisine and culture.

Even if your budget seems rather miserly, citizens of the country you are visiting probably live on much less. Just the fact that you are able to travel there means you’re rich in the eyes of many. I met a school principal on a paid sabbatical when travelling in India who was super cheap, never left a tip and complained endlessly that everyone was taking advantage of her. Not the way I would want to approach a world journey.

By Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2010

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