Some people may not be able or willing to spend much money, but wish to see the world anyhow. It is possible to travel with very little or even no money at all.
This means either keeping expenses low or earning money while one travels. Important: in your quest to reduce expenses, do not steal or mooch from others. There is honor in ultra-budget travel.
Consider where you're going the first place, especially if you are staying for longer periods. Low-income countries and places that can be easily accessed (overland) are much better if you are on a tight budget. If you on the other hand would like to go to e.g. Norway or Greenland, be prepared to spend.
The only cost you incur while walking are new shoes as they get worn down a little faster. Besides that it is the cheapest mode of transport hands down, but unfortunately often also the slowest. If you are an experienced walker, can carry around stuff you need and have several weeks or months for your travels, it is not entirely impossible to get around by foot only. After all, this is how our ancestors moved around on land before any other kind of transportation was invented – and check Long distance walking in Europe.
Many cities are quite compact and can be seen by walking. Within a city center transport or driving can be a hassle, and with a little more time you can get a much better feel for the area you are in.
Cycling can be a good and cheap way to explore areas a little (or much) further apart than what is practical to see by walking. Some cities have cheap bicycle hire schemes run by urban governments. Check this out before you go, as some need advance registration. Another advantage of a bike is that there are little running or fix costs once you have the bike. Small repairs or the occasional drop of oil/grease for the chains hardly amount to more than a hundred Euro per year even for heavy users, whereas a car costs in excess of two hundred Euros per month just for maintenance and fixed costs. Furthermore a bike is a simple enough mechanical system, even if you aren't a technical expert, and all pieces except the frame are easily replaced and fixed within a couple of hours. Modern cars and motorcycles on the other hand need electronics expertise on top of mechanical knowledge as their systems are getting ever more complicated. Few things can be fixed by laymen and spare parts or replacements can get prohibitively expensive.
However, in some countries like the USA or Australia, bicycle hire for two people can easily cost more than a car hire for the same period, and the market for second hand bicycles can take time to sell into. For an extended trip it will be much cheaper to buy a used bike rather than rent. Used bikes can usually be purchased for reasonable prices at thrift shops, pawn shops, and garage sales. They can sometimes be scavenged for free off the street when abandoned by others.
In some cases a traveler may be able to bring a bicycle from home; usually the handlebars and pedals need to be turned or removed to fit the bicycle into a "bike box" for transport on intercity bus or rail. Airlines may or may not accommodate bikes, though their exact policies vary and change so much that yous should rather check with your airline directly.
While bike-share systems are getting increasingly common, not all of them are a good choice for visitors, as some require a local ID or bank account as proof of identity and the location of their stations may be better for commuting than sightseeing. Furthermore, unsubsidized systems which are common in North America can be rather expensive (membership in the range of US$100 per year and day passes for $10 and more plus usage fees for longer hire) and may not compare favorably to public transit after all. That being said, some systems, especially those in Europe that are often subsidized through advertising or local cooperation (e.g. with the transit provider) can be good value for money and a dirt cheap way of getting around fast 24/7.
Also, travel insurance which usually covers rental car damage or excess payable usually does not cover loss or damage to a bicycle you may hire.
By public transport
Use mass public transport (such as urban rail) instead of taxis or other, more expensive means of transportation, some cities even offer some forms of free transport in city centers.
However, in some places, it can be cheaper for three or four people to share a taxi than to take public transport. Shop around and compare.
For public transport, look into multi-use tickets. Many systems have tickets that can be used a certain number of times, or over a certain time period, for a considerable discount over buying each ticket individually.
Even national and international rail and bus networks may have discount tickets for a month's or several months' travel. You should also check what discounts you're eligible for: Western Europe frequently has blanket discount schemes for people under 26, Great Britain has a youth discount card that you can buy and which pays for itself after three or four journeys (a 'Young Person's Rail Card'), and many countries have discount schemes for students, pensioners and sometimes disabled people. Increasingly train operators sell discount cards offering either 25% or 50% on all or certain types of travel. Though they mostly have a minimum validity of one year, some special offers for short term cards are sometimes available for cheap prices. Though be careful with those offers as you often have to cancel early to avoid being "trapped" in a rather expensive subscription with yearly cancellation. Most discount cards also offer a discount for a trip starting or ending in their country and crossing one or several borders.
Local transport is often considerably cheaper than express or long distance transport. In European countries in the outskirts of a cities public transport system can often overlap with a neighbouring city, often providing a cheaper method of transport than an inter-city trip. In countries like Japan, local trains are cheaper if you have time on your hands and can manage the connections. However early bird fares (where they exist) for long distance public transport such as trains can sometimes be the cheapest option available. However this comes with the downside of limited flexibility (they may be limited to certain days or times of days) and often no possibility for a refund.
First off: a car is often the most expensive way of getting anywhere, even if gasoline happens to be cheap where you live. Maintenance and fixed costs, tolls and taxes are things that make owning a car expensive (sometimes prohibitively so) before you have moved it a single inch. If you can at all live without a car, you will save big amounts of money, that you could not save while owning a car even if you hardly drive. However, there are some ways to mitigate the costs of car use.
In many parts of the world, especially Europe, it is possible to save money on travel by "ride sharing". There are websites where people post their travel details: where, when, what kind of car they have, how many spare seats, and how much they want you to pay them. It's not just a great way to cut travel costs, it can also be a great way to meet new people! In Germany, this kind of travel is called a "Mitfahrgelegenheit", in Portugal "boleia" and in France "covoiturage".
In the United States, you can try a driveaway car service. These most often serve "snowbirds", seasonal travellers who want their vehicles brought south to them in the winter or back north in the spring. In this service, you pay a small fee to an agency to deliver a car to a business or individual in another city, often hundreds or thousands of miles away. The customer wins by reducing his shipping costs, and you win by having a car to drive for cheap – but likely only one way. You are often allowed a certain amount of flexibility in the route and delivery time, allowing you freedom to explore. This is also possible, although not very common in Canada. HitTheRoad.ca is a Canada based Driveaway Service.
Some repairs can be done by laymen as well. While the increasing amount of electronic components as well as onerous warranty provisions make this more and more difficult, things like changing tires or measuring the amount of oil in the motor can and should be done by yourself. Some other small repairs don't require an expert either, though this may depend on your technical knowledge. Not only does it save you money (particularly in high income countries), it also familiarizes yourself with your vehicle and enables you to detect problems before they cause punitively expensive damages. Furthermore the ability to make a broken down car run again can be life-saving in remote areas where help may be days out.
Hitchhiking while faster than walking is one of the least predictable modes of travel by its very nature. If you are lucky, you will be almost as fast as if you were driving yourself. If you are unlucky you will be mostly walking for days. A foldable bicycle may significantly increase your speeds for the times you are not successful getting rides.
An alternative to hitchhiking is ride sharing, where a ride is arranged in advance with another voyager travelling in the same direction. Typically, ride sharing passengers pay some token amount to defray the cost of the trip, but this may still be more economical than scheduled bus or train lines.
- See also: air travel on a budget
Buy your air tickets only in sales. Low cost airlines sometimes offer air tickets for very low prices. Register for their newsletters or try MyAirDeals that alerts you on air ticket sales on your routes. With a bit of luck you can fly even below the price of airport taxes and charges.
In general the economies of scale tend to work against aviation for "short hops" and in favor of it the longer the distance gets. Once crossing an ocean is involved, aviation is usually your only and almost always your cheapest option. For shorter distances however, and especially for routes that are only served by one or a select few carriers, overland transport may be cheaper, sometimes even by orders of magnitude. This however often comes with a reason. The three hundred - odd kilometer flight costs two hundred dollars? Well, that's 'cause the only other option is a 24 hour bus ride (if you get through fast) with no place to sleep and little legroom. The flight to the place you never heard of takes twenty minutes and costs a month's wage? Well maybe that is because the only other option is a boat built under the auspices of the German Kaiser that has definitely seen better days and attracts shady types.
Still the pricing structure of aviation does not follow a strict relation between cost and price (often there is none whatsoever) and sometimes cheaper fares can be had by actions that seem to defy logic, such as going hundreds of miles in the "wrong" direction first to go to another airport with cheaper flights or taking a flight A to C via B if you want to go from A to B and never boarding your connection to C. The airlines have in recent times tried to crack down on some of those "tricks" while they generally don't care about some others. Conditions may vary wildly locally.
For distances up to 1000 km (but sometimes even for longer routes) trains may be cheaper than flying. Shop around. Sleeper services are usually more expensive than non-sleepers, but you might consider them for the money they save you on accommodation. Taking a seat instead of a sleeper for a ride 24 hours or longer is very uncomfortable and thus often steeply discounted. Some railways only charge the sleeper surcharge once per unit of accommodation, thus enabling pairs or small families who share a room(ette) to get a sleeper at quite an affordable price. If traveling as a a couple, this of course also has a certain romanticism to it that is hard to find in other ways of travel.
Camping is an obvious choice for cheap accommodation, and it's often the closest accommodation to lots of natural attractions. This will mean burdening yourself with whatever camping equipment is necessary to protect you from the weather at your destination. Also, many popular sites like national parks limit camping to particular spots and have you pay for a site. This is still almost always cheaper than hostels, except in very very popular camping spots.
You could sleep rough, that is sleep out of doors wherever you find a spot. This is difficult for three reasons: the first is that it will often get you in trouble with the police if you do it in urban areas; the second is that it makes you unusually vulnerable to crime, both theft and violence; and the third is weather. There are few places where this is seen as an acceptable way to holiday (i.e. "sorry officer I'm on holidays" is unlikely to be believed): however e.g. Sweden, Norway and Finland has the Right to access principle allowing you to camp on most undeveloped land, and in Japan you can participate in the nojuku tradition. The real key to sleeping rough is to arrive late in the evening and pack up early in the morning. Also look for areas with rugged topography and thick vegetation that will interrupt the line of sight and ease concealment. Also consider using a tent or hammock that blends well with area vegetation; green is best for most areas.
You could sleep in your car. Although also illegal in many areas, if you have a van style vehicle with limited rear windows, it is often easy to get away with.
The objective of hospitality exchange networks is to meet new, and local, people. It can be a great way to get a free place to stay the night, but besides that it's a fun and easy way to get acquainted with an area, city or culture. Active users of online hospitality exchange networks also tend to have broadband connections, which you can use while you are staying there.
You can stay in hostels or guesthouses, usually the cheapest type of commercial tourist accommodation. Many hostels offer cheap one- to four-person rooms, but the cheapest of all are dorms shared by up to twenty people: you'll usually be given a key to the room and left to choose a bunk bed. Dorms are a great way to meet fellow travellers. There are some international hostel associations, members of which get discounts at participating hostels. Bring a sleep sheet (two sheets sewn together like a sleeping bag) so you will not have to rent linen at hostels. In some regions linen is included, but not everywhere.
If you have a long distance train or bus pass, you can often sleep on a train or bus.
The cheapest places to buy food are traditional markets, supermarkets and street vendors. In countries with peculiarly high hygiene standards, you may be able to find perfectly acceptable food in supermarket's rubbish (note that taking that food might be considered stealing in certain jurisdictions).
In some cities there are very cheap restaurants in squats, usually selling vegetarian or vegan food for the price of the ingredients; for example Germany's Volksküchen. Some countries also have heavily subsidized university restaurants sometimes open to foreign students as well. Germany for instance has Mensas, offering famously tasteless (but in modern times more often than not surprisingly edible) small-sized meals for €2–3 (for non-students a substantially higher price may be charged, making the fast food chains cheaper); in large cities, there are also restaurants run by immigrants offering food for €4–6; restaurants offering German cuisine tend to be cheaper in districts with a high unemployment rate and in rural areas. As with hotels one of the most important things for a restaurant is its location, and if you dine in an out of the way location with low property values this may be reflected in the price.
Self catering, buying your own ingredients and preparing your own meals, is a great way to stay on a budget. Many hostels provide kitchens where you can cook your meals. When camping outdoor cooking comes in handy.
For restaurants, avoid eating in the main tourist thoroughfares. If you get into the side streets and back alleys, you'll find cheaper restaurants that often serve tastier, more authentic meals.
See and Do
Many art galleries, museums and other attractions are free. Of those that require an entry fee, some have discounted or free days at least once a month, or a time after which admission is discounted or free. Tourist information offices will sometimes be able to tell you about these. In some countries you get a discount if you are a national of that country. Students and elderly people also often get discounts, but the need to prove this status may apply.
Some national parks and hiking trails charge an entrance fee, but it's often lower if you're a biker or hiker compared to if you're driving. There may be year passes for national parks in a country, which can be worth considering if you'd like to visit several parks. Also, it's possible that a lower or no fee is charged off-season (though remember that the weather may be really awful then).
The most straightforward way to earn money on the road is obviously to find some work. This is more easily done through contacts, and as a matter of fact hitchhiking may come very handy here. Contacting expatriates may also provide opportunities.
Obvious jobs for travellers include harvesting, Teaching English and waiting at restaurants or bars in tourist areas.
Wwoofing is a term for working 5 hours or so a day in exchange for lodging and food: it stands for World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. See wwoof.org.
Resources exist, such as Susan Griffith's biennial Work your Way around the World published by Vacation Work.
In many places in Western Europe, and possibly also in other parts of the world, you can find give-away shops, shops where you can take things you want for free (as long as you don't take too much), and where you can leave stuff you don't need anymore. Flea markets run by charities sometimes have perfectly good items for ridiculous prices.
It is really good to combine this with dumpster diving, looking for usable stuff at the garbage – you can bring the usable things you find there and don't want to have yourself to the give-away shops!
BookCrossing is a book exchange network. Books are travelling through the world, looking for people to read them! You might have encountered books with BookCrossing stickers already, but on the website you can look for places to find them.
To really stretch your budget, here are some money-saving tips:
- In places where drinking bottled water is necessary, buy the biggest bottle of drinking water you can find in the local supermarket. Leave it at your place of accommodation, and use it to refill a smaller bottle you carry around with you. That way you can save through bulk purchase and reduce waste. Or boil your water (where this is sufficient treatment) and use it to refill bottles.
- Travel slowly. Staying in the same location several weeks or months reduces transportation costs and gives you time to determine the cheapest places to stay (you can usually negotiate lower rates for extended stays), eat and visit. Rushing around compounds costs.
- Join a group tour – often there are significant group discounts and you can visit places that would be far more expensive if you visited on your own.