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Travel the world on a budget—how to spend one year travelling on less than £9k ($12.5k), without working

If you’ve got rent to pay and life to live, saving can sometimes be pretty tricky, but you don’t actually need to save that much in order to see the world. I wanted to travel the world for a year, that was non-negotiable, under no circumstances did I want to go home early, so I was pretty tight on myself to achieve my year of travel. 

statue of ganesh in india
Spending time in countries like India will make your money goes further

But I still did everything I wanted to do and saw the 15 countries I’d set out to see, including four months in South America. My memories of the time spent on the road still remain some of the best in my life. Of course, you don’t have to be so strict if you’re happy to be away for fewer months. Plus cutting out expensive destinations such as Australia or Chile, can definitely help if travelling on a budget, but if you’re OK to rough it once in a while and really experience that backpacking life, here are my travel tips to make your money last longer...

How to travel the world for a year on less than £9k ($12.5k)

Fly as little as possible

During my 365 days of travel, I only took eleven flights. Buses, trains and in some cases boats, work out a lot cheaper than flying and are much more environmentally friendly. Yes, overland travel is of course a lot slower, but that’s what travel is about, taking time to really get into the spirit of a place is a lot more rewarding than a quick flight in and out.

bolivian bus on side of the road next to woman in traditional bolivian dress
Taking a bus in Bolivia

Book flights through a specialist

A round-the-world trip is the only time I’d recommend using an agent to book your flights. As one-way flights to long haul destinations are usually pretty pricey, you can save a lot of money by booking through a specialist. I used to book the following flights over the course of a year; London - Buenos Aires, Santiago – Auckland, Auckland – Sydney, Cairns – Singapore, Singapore – Mumbai, Delhi – London. For these six flights, I paid £1498 ($2090), which is pretty good value, especially when I only booked them three weeks before I left the UK. It worked out that I saved around £300 by booking through an agent, but depending on where you want to go, you can get even cheaper deals now, with round-the-world flights starting at just £1095, including stops in South America.

Once I was away I booked any extra flights with low-cost airlines a few weeks, sometimes days, before flying. These flights included a return from Sydney to Adelaide, a single journey from Phuket to Chiang Mai, one from Vietnam's Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, and finally a single flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore. Local airlines like Thai AirAsia and Jetstar have flights from as little as £40 one-way.

Make friends

Meeting fellow backpackers not only makes your journey more fun but you’ll be able to stay with new friends when you’re visiting their home countries, for free! I met a couple from Adelaide while I was in Bolivia and travelled with them for the best part of a month. Later when I was in Australia, I stayed with them for a week, rent-free. The same thing happened in Auckland, when I crashed at a friend’s house - someone I’d also met in Bolivia - three months earlier. 

five people on the salt flat at sunrise in bolivia
Hanging out with my backpacking friends in Bolivia

Even better, you get the best tips for when you’re exploring their cities, and because they’re fellow travellers, they understand what it’s like to be on a budget.

Sleep in dorms

After flights, accommodation is the biggest outgoing, but essentially, all you’re after is a bed for the night. Dorms, unless you’re travelling through India, are without a doubt, the cheapest places to stay and the more people in them, the cheaper they get. I remember once sleeping in a 16-bed dorm, with a shared bathroom in Malacca, Malaysia, it really wasn’t a highlight of the trip but it was cheap, and places like these enabled me to travel for so long.

Turn off the AC

Air conditioners can make a difference too. Lots of guesthouses and hostels, especially throughout South East Asia have AC or non-AC options, the ones without being cheaper. Earlier in my travels, while in Rio de Janeiro, I opted for my first dorm room with no AC, it was certainly cheaper, but boy were those nights hot and sweaty, I barely slept at all. Eventually, I got used to the heat and a hot and humid climate felt normal, after a few months of travelling I quit the AC altogether. 

Cook your own food

In cheaper countries like India, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam I didn’t need to cook at all, food is cheap to eat out and so delicious, but while travelling through counties like Chile and New Zealand, where eating out can be quite costly, I mostly opted to cook. Most hostels have kitchens and a lot are stocked up with the basics too. You can find salt, herbs and cooking oils in well-run hostels, so I would often head to the nearest market or shop and check out all the new and interesting foods I could play with. Other travellers would do the same and sometimes we would group together or take it in turns to cook for each other. 

plate of ceviche in lima peru
Ceviche in Lima, Peru

I love food, along with travel it’s one of my great passions, so I would always treat myself to restaurant meals too, it’s where I don’t mind splurging, plus the food of a country is so important to me. Steak and BBQ’s in Argentina are hard to beat, ceviche in Peru is the best in the world and don’t get me started on the dishes of Thailand. 

Eat at markets and street-side stalls

Throughout South America and South East Asia, street stalls selling snacks and drinks are the norm. You can get anything your heart desires; want an avocado-laden hot dog? Grab a completo in Santiago. Fancy a dulce de leche donut? Pick one up on Brazil's Praia do Cassino beach. Hankering after a refreshing peach drink complete with whole dried fruit? Ask for a mocochichi in Potosi. You’ll get to taste things you’ve never heard of before and because you buy them on the street they're always cheap. My tip is to always head to the stalls that are the busiest, if there’s a load of locals queuing up, chances are the food or drinks are good, plus the turnover of food means it less likely to have been sitting around in the heat all day.

Walk everywhere

Forget taxis, travelling is all about walking. When you arrive in a new town or city, go get lost and explore. You’ll see so much of the place on foot plus you’ll save tons on expensive cab fares. Bigger cities usually have metro lines or good bus routes if walking is out of the question and public transport is so much cheaper than taking a cab.

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