Travel doesn't have to be expensive.
We spend $15 USD each per day on average traveling full-time in Asia.
You can, too.
Here are some tested tips that we do to sustain this budget + lifestyle.
*This section is under construction*
Food takes up a good part of our budget. Enjoying the local cuisine is an important part of understanding a new culture, so we don't like to skimp on food. Luckily, there are ways to enjoy your food, eat healthily, and not break the bank.
- Eat the local cuisine. This may seem obvious, but when in a heavily touristed city like Seoul, Bangkok, or SIem Reap, there are tons of options to eat Westernized food. Now, it is okay to eat comfort food like pizza and spaghetti once in a while, but it is often more expensive and unsatisfying. Western foods are exotic in Asia, so a higher price tag can be attached. Often, the food is not nearly as good as what you'll get back home, unless the chef is an expat. So save those comfort foods for when you're home and try to dine at local restaurants instead.
- Avoid eating at tourist-targeted restaurants. In areas packed with hotels come with restaurants marketed for tourists. These are hit or miss. They're decent if you want western food, but for local food, it is usually better to eat where the locals do. It is more of an adventure to go to a place lacking an English menu, but the experience is more fun when you're the only tourist in a restaurant packed with locals. The best sign for a restaurant is when it's packed with locals.
- Street food. Asia is a haven for street food. One of our favorite activities is to travel from cart to cart sampling various street foods until we're full. These tasty treats are dirt cheap, too, often costing a dollar or less. To be frank, there's a lot of unhealthy fried foods on the street, but there are also plenty of light and healthy options. Some of our favorites are vegetable spring rolls in Thailand, samosa masala in India, fresh fruit shakes in Laos, and bahn mi sandwiches in Vietnam. Do be cautious of what you consume. If the stall looks filthy and the meat sitting out in the sun all day, use common sense and go elsewhere. A general rule of thumb is if the cart is busy, it should be fine as there is a higher turnover and food is fresher.
- Self-cater. Eating out is cheap in Asia, but it does add up. A way to save money and experience local culture is to go out to the markets and buy ingredients to make your own food. We usually don't have access to a kitchen unless we're CouchSurfing, so we tend to buy things like fresh fruit, nuts, local snacks, breads, and peanut butter (Cambodia has wonderful natural peanut butter made locally!). We keep a small pocket knife, spoon, and cup for preparing food.
- Make your own coffee. Now, this is a Lianne tip. I carry around a simple pourover coffee maker with paper filters, which I clean and reuse until it breaks. Some people prefer a Vietnamese phin, French press, or aeropress, so do whatever works for you. Coffee costs can add up over time and for me, I do not like walking around in search for coffee when my brain isn't awake yet. So, I purchase local coffee grinds (Wayanad, India, southern Laos, and Vietnam are known for growing fabulous coffee beans) and brew coffee myself. Guesthouses often provide hot water in the lobby, so I'm able to enjoy coffee every morning for $3 a month versus $30.
- Bring a BPA-free reusable water bottle. In Asia, it is generally unsafe to drink the tap water. Buying plastic bottles, however, adds up and is harmful for the environment. India already has major garbage issues, so it's best to avoid contributing to that as much as possible. Most guesthouses and restaurants have clean water refill stations for free or for a small fee, so fill up then whenever you can. Both of us use a Klean Kanteen with a sport cap. Adam also carries around a 3-liter Camelbak bladder and is insistent that this is his best purchase in the past few years. Hydration is so important!
- People watch
- Enjoy the outdoors
- Avoid tours. Plan yourself
- Be picky when it comes to attractions
- Limit alcohol consumption
- CouchSurfing. Not only is it free, you can have some rich experiences while making new friends. Read more about CouchSurfing here.
- AirBnB. AirBnB varies in cost and quality - some hosts offer a basic room in their house and others offer a luxurious home all to yourself. AirBnB is another way to experience local life but with added comfort and freedom over CouchSurfing. You also help support locals financially instead of big hotel chains. Sign up using our referral link and you can save $20 on your first experience.
- Homestay. All around Asia, travelers can stay with local families. The cost varies, but they are often good value. One of the best parts is being able to eat homecooked meals! Our homestay in Fort Kochi, India and Cianjur, Indonesia were especially memorable. In South Korea, Lianne did a homestay before she met her birth family. She helped prepare meals, tried on the mother's traditional Korean dress (hanbok), and learned traditional games with her host family.
- Get discounts on long-term rates. Some guesthouse owners are willing to offer a weekly or monthly rate. They benefit since they will receive consistent income instead of having to fish in new guests every day. Do not be shy to ask for a discount. Bartering is common in Aisa, but also be mindful of how much you need the extra dollar versus them.
- Camping. We only camped in South Korea and prefer not to carry gear in our backpacks, but we met travelers who camp for free in parks. You can experience the great outdoors and save a lot of money, but it can be dangerous and against the law. Do your research and be careful.
- Overnight bus/trains. What a nice feeling to go to sleep and wake up in your next destination! An overnight bus serves as both transportation between distant cities and accommodation, so you don't have to pay for a room. Overnight transportation is not for everyone, but if you are a light sleeper and flexible, then it is a great way to save money and be efficienet with your time.
- Navigate the public transportation system.
- Tuk tuks and taxis: One word you cannot escape when walking around Asia is "tuk tuk". Drivers can be aggressive in getting you to use their services, but don't forget that some are trying to support families on a few dollars a day. Often, the drivers can speak English, so don't be shy to have a human-to-human conversation with the driver. You may be surprised when you learn about their lives.
- My advice for tuk tuks and taxis vary depending on the country. In many places in India, it is cheaper to have the driver use the meter instead of negotiating a price beforehand, but in places like Southeast Asia, it is better to negotiate a price before getting in.
- If you feel that the price is unfair, just walk off - the market is saturated and you will find someone who thinks your price is fair as well.
- Tips are not expected, but it is a kind gesture to let the driver keep the change.
- If not, then make sure to count your change before leaving the vehicle. Drivers have shorted our change in the past.
- Be aware of scams. Some tuk tuk drivers get commission for bringing tourists to particular souvenir shops or hotels.
- Have your destination and address written down. When you say a hotel name, for example, the driver might say he knows it only to stop along the way asking people for directions. They are usually desperate for business, so do not want to admit they don't know the location. So have a map handy and a phone number to get to your destination easily.
- Hitchhike. We personally hitchhiked a few times, but we met travelers who only get around by hitchhiking. We met some generous and kind locals who were more than happy to have some company and help out foreigners. It is not as dangerous as one might think, but do always be cautious. I would never advise someone to hitchhike by themselves - it's best to do so with another person. In the west, sticking out a thumb is a known sign, but in Asia, it means "hey, I'm all good!". Try putting your hand out flat to attract a potential ride. It is also illegal to hitchhike in some countries, so do some research. HitchWiki is a good resource.
- Budget airlines
- SkyScanner price alerts
- Maximize visas
- Travel slowly