Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe
Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Backpacking Through Southeast Asia on a Budget
Southeast Asia has become a rite of passage for many young travelers looking to explore the world on a shoestring budget. With its affordability, diversity, and friendliness towards backpackers, the region offers an accessible introduction to life on the road. For less than you’d pay just to get by back home, it’s possible to experience historic sites, stunning scenery, vibrant cities, and warm hospitality.
Thailand is arguably the best starting point for budget travelers in Southeast Asia. It’s easy to get around, accommodation is plentiful, and street food costs just a couple dollars per meal. Spend time exploring Bangkok’s electric energy before unwinding on the southern islands. Ko Pha Ngan is famous for its full moon parties, while Ko Tao offers superb diving.
Vietnam is another backpacker favorite thanks to its diversity. Cruise Halong Bay, soak up the frenetic buzz of Hanoi, cruise the countryside from Hoi An, and explore Ho Chi Minh’s culinary delights. The scenic train ride from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) offers epic landscapes.
Laos provides a more laidback alternative to its busier neighbors. Chill out in Vang Vieng, a backpacker town framed by limestone cliffs. Visit Luang Prabang’s temples before tubing down the river with new friends. Take the slow boat down the Mekong River, or spend a few days exploring the mysterious Plain of Jars.
Myanmar has opened up in recent years, revealing mesmerizing temples in Bagan, tranquil Inle Lake, and the gleaming Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. As more budget airlines fly here, it’s easier than ever to get around.
In Indonesia, don’t miss the cultural capital of Yogyakarta on Java. Visit Buddhist temples including Borobudur before heading to the island paradise of Bali. Enjoy nightlife in Kuta or just relax on the beaches of Canggu. The volcanic landscapes of Flores will appeal to more intrepid travelers.
The Philippines dazzles with over 7,000 islands to choose from. Hit up Cebu for diving and beach-hopping. For an immersive local experience, spend time in Bohol’s tiny villages before heading to Palawan with its rugged coves and jungle-clad peaks. End your trip in Boracay, where nightlife rules.
The key to backpacking this region on a tight budget is to travel overland, stay in hostels dorms, and eat street food. Taking overnight buses and trains instead of flying between countries will save you tons. Hostel dorms can cost as little as $5-10 per night. And eating delicious local cuisine from food stalls provides authentic cultural immersion without blowing your budget.
What else is in this post?
- Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Backpacking Through Southeast Asia on a Budget
- Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Making the Most of Discount Airfare to Exotic Locations
- Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Couchsurfing Your Way Across Europe
- Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Eating Street Food is the Key to Saving Money Overseas
- Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Taking Advantage of Volunteer Programs for Free Accommodations
- Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Hitchhiking and Ridesharing to Cut Transportation Costs
- Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Travel Hacking and Credit Card Rewards Can Fund Your Next Adventure
Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Making the Most of Discount Airfare to Exotic Locations
Finding a cheap flight to your dream destination can seem impossible, but with a bit of dedication and know-how, scoring discount airfare to exotic locales is totally doable. The key is being flexible, thinking outside the box, and pouncing when deals arise.
While everyone dreams of jetting off to Bora Bora, the reality is that South Pacific airfare doesn’t come cheap. But what if you could get there for half price? Keep an eye out for airline sales and be open to flying at odd times or with layovers. Consider nearby islands like Tahiti as an alternative. And don’t rule out fellow budget travelers’ tips on scoring deals using points and miles.
“I’d always wanted to visit Easter Island, but flights were $2,000+ whenever I checked,” says travel blogger Jen Ambrose. “Then one day a flight deal newsletter I subscribed to alerted me to $800 roundtrip flights on LATAM airlines. Even though the itinerary had two layovers, I jumped at the chance to finally make my dream trip happen.”
You can also set fare alerts on Google Flights and check discount airline websites directly to be notified of sales. “Signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights was a game changer for me,” explains photographer Fausto García. “Thanks to their email alert, I booked a $399 nonstop from NYC to Milan on Norwegian—an unbelievable fare that allowed me to finally explore Italy on a budget.”
Consider traveling in the off-season too. Visiting Mediterranean Europe in winter means fewer crowds and lower airfare. “I paid only $250 for my flight from LAX to Barcelona in January,” says teacher Sabrina Tan. “Summer flights were over $1,000. Barcelona was so lovely in winter and I saved enough to be able to eat out every night!”
If you’ve got miles and points, use them to book business class flights at an economy fare. “I used Amex Membership Rewards to book Etihad business class from Washington D.C. to the Maldives for only $350 roundtrip,” digital nomad Chris Backe recalls. “An unforgettable trip that would’ve cost over $5,000 otherwise.”
Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Couchsurfing Your Way Across Europe
Couchsurfing taps into the boundless hospitality of locals who open up their homes and share their hidden side of cities for free. For budget wanderers, it's a win-win - allowing you to immerse yourself in local culture and save on accommodation costs. While Couchsurfing started off as just crashing on someone's couch, it has evolved into a vibrant community that connects travelers and hosts for cultural exchange.
"I couchsurfed my way across Europe for an entire summer, staying with everyone from students to young professionals to retirees. It gave me the flexibility to be spontaneous and spend more time getting to know each place," explains Amy Roberts, an intrepid solo traveler.
Roberts was able to delve into Paris' underground jazz scene when she stayed with a saxophonist in Montmartre. In Berlin, her host took her to flea markets and nightclubs only locals know. And in Porto, she learned to cook traditional Portuguese dishes from her welcoming host grandma.
"As a broke student, Couchsurfing allowed me to have deeper cultural experiences - I got to see sides of cities most tourists never do. My wonderful hosts became instant friends, keeping in touch via Facebook and even hosting me again whenever I'm back in their hometown," Roberts said.
While safety is paramount, Couchsurfing provides identity verification, references, and social connections to help identify credible hosts. Longtime Couchsurfer Chris Backe suggests, "I recommend female travelers choose female hosts. Read all references carefully and remember you can leave whenever you feel uncomfortable."
You can state clear expectations upfront - that you're just looking for a couch, share a drink, or hoping for someone to show you around. The community is based on reciprocity, so experienced Couchsurfers suggest hosting yourself to get reviews before surfing others' couches.
"After hosting surfers myself, I felt far more comfortable staying with other trustworthy members across Europe," Backe explains. "We ended up cooking meals together, going hiking, heading to Oktoberfest - way more fun than staying in a hostel."
Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Eating Street Food is the Key to Saving Money Overseas
Eating street food is arguably the best way for budget backpackers to save money on meals abroad while diving headfirst into local culture. By dining as the locals do, you get to experience authentic regional specialties, support small businesses, and avoid overpaying for Westernized restaurant fare.
"Thanks to street food, I was able to stretch my shoestring budget and spend a whole month backpacking through Vietnam instead of just two weeks," explains Jen, a budget traveler from Australia. She enthuses about how street vendors serve up pho, banh mi, and other iconic Vietnamese staples for a literal fraction of what tourists pay at sit-down restaurants aimed at foreigners.
Fellow backpacker Chris agrees wholeheartedly that street food is the most affordable and immersive dining option. "When I was traveling across India, I lived on delicious chai, samosas, bhel puri and other Indian street snacks for less than a dollar a meal," he recalls. "It was the best way to save money while getting to know the country through its incredible cuisine."
The key is knowing how to identify clean and safe street food stalls, look for where locals are eating, and use common sense. Travel vlogger Sabrina Tan suggests sticking to cooked foods you can see prepared fresh in front of you, avoiding anything sitting out, and being wary of unsafe meats.
"I never had any health issues eating street food in Mexico and Vietnam because I stuck to basic foods like tacos, pho, that were cooked right there and safe for tourists," Tan explains. "By eating local staples from street vendors, I got to enjoy incredible cuisine for just $2-3 a meal versus $15+ in fancy restaurants."
Beyond dramatic savings, street food gives travelers precious opportunities to interact with locals and experience everyday culture. "While backpacking across Egypt, my favorite memories were connecting with vendors while snacking on falafel, fuul, and tahini," says school teacher Amy. "It felt like making new friends over homecooked meals."
Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Taking Advantage of Volunteer Programs for Free Accommodations
Volunteering abroad is an incredible way to see the world while making a meaningful impact - and when combined with programs that provide free housing, it becomes extremely accessible for budget wanderers too. By trading a few hours of daily work in exchange for complimentary room and board, you get accommodations covered along with unique cultural immersion.
"I had always wanted to visit Australia, but assumed it would be too expensive as a backpacker. When I discovered the WWOOF organization that links volunteers with hosts Down Under, it was a dream come true," explains Chris, who spent two months WWOOFing on farms across Australia.
"In exchange for helping with small tasks like gardening and feeding animals, I got to stay for free in spare rooms or caravans. It gave structure to my travels while cutting my biggest cost - accommodation," he adds. Chris spent his days exploring new areas and his nights making friends with fellow travelers and Aussie locals over home-cooked dinners.
Sarah had a similar experience while volunteering at hostels in New Zealand through the HelpX program. "I'd work at the front desk or help with cleaning - about 4 hours a day - and in return I got a free bed in a dorm along with getting to know fellow travelers. It was an easy trade-off that allowed me to stay in New Zealand's North and South Islands for two months," she shares.
Beyond room and board, volunteer programs like WWOOF and HelpX connect you with locals who can provide unique insight and even act as travel guides. Amy enthuses: "My WorkAway experience on a flower farm in Ecuador introduced me to lifelong friends. They took me hiking on weekends and taught me about their culture."
Teaching English abroad also often comes with free accommodations. Programs like the LanguageCorps recruit native English speakers to tutor students overseas; in turn hosts provide private bedrooms and simply being welcomed into a local family. "I improved my Spanish while learning about Mexican daily life from my wonderful Mexico City host, all at a fraction of what I'd have paid for a hotel" explains Tyler.
The benefits are certainly compelling, but experts suggest doing ample research to find an ethical program and reading recent reviews from past volunteers. “I made sure to find placements with multiple glowing reviews, as it’s so important to feel welcomed by your hosts”, advises budget travel blogger Sabrina Tan after her positive WorkAway experiences in Portugal and Italy.
Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Hitchhiking and Ridesharing to Cut Transportation Costs
Hitchhiking used to be far more common decades ago, but still lives on as an option for ultra-budget travelers looking to get around for free. While there are certainly safety risks involved, hitchhiking with proper precautions can unlock affordable transportation and adventures. Savvy backpackers swear by tactics like sticking to daytime hours, choosing safe routes, sharing the ride with a buddy, and trusting your instincts if a situation feels shady.
“As broke college students, my friends and I hitchhiked all along the Pacific Coast one summer. We brought a tent and got rides from super friendly locals happy to help out - it was the only way we could’ve afforded to explore so much,” recounts Cassey, whose memorable journey spanned from Vancouver to San Diego. She admits it felt nerve-wracking at first, but they quickly learned how to safely vet rides and avoid any sketchy situations.
Fellow longtime shoestring traveler Chris agrees: "When I was backpacking through New Zealand in my early 20s, I hitchhiked my way between cities to save on bus fare. Locals were really nice about picking me up if they happened to be going the same way." He also made sure to use common sense, sticking to well-traveled routes in broad daylight and politely declining rides that seemed questionable.
Today, more modern ridesharing options are also gaining popularity among budget-conscious travelers. Instead of hitching rides with total strangers, services like BlaBlaCar allow you to catch rides with pre-approved drivers already heading your way.
"I used BlaBlaCar all across Eastern Europe and it was such an affordable way to travel between cities that would've been super pricey by train or bus," explains Sabrina Tan, a travel blogger who has relied on ridesharing for her solo adventures. "It felt safer knowing the drivers and routes were vetted ahead of time through the platform."
Beyond dramatic savings, hitchhiking and ridesharing give travelers opportunities to connect with locals and fellow adventurers along the way. “My favorite experience was hitchhiking in Costa Rica - I rode in the back of a farmer's pickup truck through incredible countryside. He didn’t speak English but was so friendly,” recalls Amy Roberts. “Rideshares along the Adriatic Coast also led to great chats with residents.”
Shoestring Wanderlust: The Ultimate Guide to Affordable Adventures Around the Globe - Travel Hacking and Credit Card Rewards Can Fund Your Next Adventure
Savvy travelers know that travel hacking credit cards and collecting points and miles can unlock free flights, hotels, and incredible adventures for very little out-of-pocket cost. With strategic applications, spending, and redemptions, those tantalizing “free trip” awards are totally within reach.
Digital nomad Chris Backe funded months of travel using credit card welcome bonuses and airline miles earned through work trips. “I opened new card accounts with large signup bonuses in mileage currencies that aligned with my desired redemption. Using the points from sign-up, I booked an epic trip with stops in New Zealand, Thailand, and Japan—just paying taxes.”
For Jen Ambrose, who runs the travel blog The Jenius, signup bonuses helped make a South African safari possible. “I opened a new Chase Sapphire Preferred card and earned 60,000 points, and then transferred those points to United Airlines where they covered $1,000 in economy class tickets from New York to Johannesburg.”
Beyond signup bonuses, all ongoing spending can pile up rewards. Teacher Sabrina Tan uses a CapitalOne Venture Rewards card that earns 2X miles on every purchase. “I pay all my bills through that card, so the rewards add up fast. When I wanted to visit Ecuador, I had enough miles to cover a $400 flight from Miami.”
Credit card category bonuses help you accumulate points faster. Tyler, who authors the trip planning blog Globe Spinner, recalls: “My American Express Gold Card earned 4X points at U.S. restaurants and supermarkets. So naturally I put all my dining, grocery, and travel purchases on that card. The points bonuses helped me afford a business class ticket to Bali.”
Travel hackers also take advantage of cardholder perks like annual travel credits. “The $300 annual travel reimbursement from my Chase Sapphire Reserve effectively reduced its $550 annual fee to just $250,” explains blogger Amy Roberts of Two Drifters. “That’s an awesome value for all the points and airport lounge access it unlocks.”
Getting approved for top rewards cards means having good credit. “I spent time improving my credit score before getting serious about travel hacking. Once my score hit 720, I started getting approved for great signup bonuses,” says photographer Fausto Garcia. “If you’re just starting out, go for cards without an annual fee to build up your profile first.”