“How can you afford to travel so much and for so long?” I’ve been asked this more than a few times to which I respond with a cheeky, “How could I afford not to?” The real answer though usually surprises everyone when I tell them exactly how much money, or rather how little, I’ve spent after almost a year of backpacking through Asia. These aren’t tricks or scams on how to travel Asia cheap, but rather just the little things I’ve learned through experience.
While I understand, roughing it and backpacking isn’t right for everyone, these tips on how to travel Asia cheap can still help you save a few bucks, regardless of how you choose to travel.
Travel Asia Cheap
1. Book Your Flight 40-60 Days In Advance
One of the most popular questions in travel is, when should I book my flight? From reading countless websites and setting heaps of price alerts, I’ve found that the prices usually drop around the 60 days in advance mark and remain low until about 40 days before departure, where they start to creep back up. Of course, this isn’t an exact science so exceptions will exist, but in general, this should save you some money on your initial flight into Asia.
2. Fly Into The Closest, Cheapest, Most Well Travelled Hub
If you want to travel Asia cheap, you might want to take a not so direct approach. For example, from Toronto, if your destination is Bali, instead of flying directly into Denpasar (around $1700), fly into Hong Kong (~$1050) and then take a separate flight from a local budget airline to DPS (~$350). Not only can you save a few hundred bucks, you could even spend a night in Hong Kong and that adds another destination to explore. If you’re flying from the Americas, Hong Kong (HKG) is a good hub for you to travel to and from. From Europe, Bangkok (BKK) is probably your best bet and from Oceania, you might want to look into flying into Jakarta (JKT). You can also use Google Maps’s flight visualization tool to figure out what your cheapest entry point into Asia will be.
3. Fly Local Budget Airlines
Once you are in Asia, getting around is very affordable. If you need to take a flight to get to your next destination, make sure that you use the local budget airlines. Each country has their own local budget airlines as well as some multinational ones (Air Asia is a great one that services much of SE Asia), but they can be hard to find sometimes. Major online sites like Skyscanner, Google Flights, and Hipmunk, don’t have access to all the small, local budget airlines. My trick is to go to a local travel agency and ask for a printout with a quote with the cheapest flights on local airlines. Now with the list of the local budget airlines, I can shop around online on my own!
4. Take Buses, Trains, And Boats
Whenever you can, take buses, trains, and boats instead of flying. Flying may be the fastest way, but it’s also the most expensive. Buses tend to be the cheapest, with trains and boats costing slightly more. You also get the added benefit of seeing more of the country and travelling and interacting with local people. Perhaps you will even be lucky enough to take a memorable slow boat ride down the Mekong River.
5. Travel Through The Night
Instead of travelling through the day and arriving at your destination in the evening only to check in and sleep, why not travel when you’re sleeping? Night buses and sleeper trains can get you from one place to another while you’re dreaming about your next stop with the added benefit of saving money from one less night at a guesthouse. It may not be the most comfortable or pleasant sleep but it’ll definitely save you a few dollars and precious daylight hours.
6. Stay in Hostels, Couchsurfing, Airbnb
One of the most expensive aspects of travelling is the lodging and the cost can vary greatly depending on how you choose to travel. For the absolute cheapest options, use Couchsurfing which is a website that connects travellers looking for free accommodations, and hosts with open couches / spare beds. Hostel dorm rooms are the cheapest paid options and are a great way to meet fellow travellers. If you want a bit of privacy, hostels usually have private rooms which are a bit more costly but good for couples, or you can try to find a private bedroom in a shared apartment on Airbnb. If you really must stay in a hotel or guesthouse, I found that Agoda.com had more selection in Asia and cheaper prices than other hotel booking websites and services.
7. Look For A Room After You Arrive
If you’re planning a long term trip, it’s almost impossible to plan everything ahead of time. This can work to your advantage though as many times it is actually cheaper to arrive at a guesthouse and just haggle over the price on the spot. You can sometimes get better deals in person if you agree to pay in cash, stay more than one night, or if you’re travelling in a group. The owner might not think they’re going to fill the rooms that night anyway so they’d be more willing to offer discounts.
8. Eat Cheap But Good
Food is the other expense that can greatly increase your budget. Avoid the fancy, tourist trap restaurants and go for the delicious, cheap street food or hole in the wall local spots. It’s quite often way better tasting, more authentic, and much more affordable. Or, if your hostel has a kitchen, you can even shop at the local markets and buy some local delicacies to cook up at your hostel. It’s a great way to meet other travellers, especially if you offer some to them in exchange for help with cooking and cleaning!
9. Buy Your Own Booze
In Asia, alcohol can come cheap. But if you choose to buy it at a local convenience store instead of a bar, you can save even more money. And unlike North America, you can usually drink on the streets of most countries in Asia (actually, it’s like that almost everywhere else in the world but don’t get me started on that). So save a few bucks and go pre-drinking at Bar 7-11.
10. Travel With A Buddy Or Group
As I mentioned in my post about the bad and ugly things about solo travel, travelling with a buddy or a group can you save you money in almost all aspects of travel. From sharing a double bed between three people, splitting large meals, or getting group discounts for excursions and tours, always look for ways to split costs and save a few bucks here and there.
11. Travel Slower
Rushing through destination after destination is not only a sure fire way to miss out on the cultural experience of being somewhere foreign, it will also burn through your budget a lot quicker. Guesthouses will often give you cheaper rates if you stay longer and you save money on travel costs. If you’re trying to experience the local vibes, you need to stay put longer than a day or two. Chill out, relax, and slow down and you’ll spend more time soaking everything in instead of riding buses every day.
Do you have any other tips on how to travel Asia cheap? What are you best money saving techniques?