Tips for traveling on a shoe string budget

Ever since I was young, my family and I would pack up in December and we were off to Durban for the holidays.
It used to excite me! The anticipation the week before leaving, the lunch boxes my mum would make for the road trip, my siblings and I squeezing into the back of my dad’s Monza, checking in at reception, running to the beach in the morning and returning to watch M-Net until one of us passes out.

I remember coming back to school in January and the obvious question for school homework would be something along the lines of “Write about what you did during your December holidays”. If there were award ceremonies for best holiday essays, I’m telling you….
Going on holiday cemented something in me, no matter what happens during whichever period in my life, my body needs to be fed with newness. That’s why I love traveling and vacations. The way it refreshes and renews you
The difficulty though is that travelling costs, much like everything, have been escalating and in my adult years its been harder to travel without mum and dad’s free family vacays. Yet, there is something I have realised, its still possible to travel, even if it’s the next town or within your very same province. A vacation does not only happen in Bali or in the Four Seasons hotel and leave you in debt. Travelling can be affordable and there are so many cost-effective ways.

So here are my tips for travelling on a shoestring:

  • Figure out what you’re into. Your vibe. Your scene. What would make you actually sacrifice on spending your money on weekends so you can save for your vacay. Do you care more about relaxing in a beautiful resort or do you care more about the adrenaline rush or sight seeing? Once you have discovered what it is you’re seeking, it’s easier to narrow down places that you can afford.
  • Social media hashtags are your new travelling agency for choosing a destination. Just go to Instagram and type in ‘#cruiseshipsouthafrica’. How many cruise ship pictures popped up? As well as travelling agencies, reviews and pictures of people in different locations and different ships. This makes it easier for you to get a feel of where you want to go and a holiday club or agency you can call or DM.
  • Find real travel agencies or holiday clubs. Hotels have their standard prices but most of the time they give their specials to members from holiday clubs or travel agencies. For example, a chalet can run for R950 per night but one special I experienced through agencies went for R500 pp for the entire week. So, find as many travel pages and visit them as much as possible to check their specials.
  • Plan your stay beforehand. From arrival to morning to day time until night time. Plan your activities and research around the place you’re staying to find out what you can do and write a planner for every day. Being spontaneous on a holiday requires money and when you don’t have options, the more you spend. So, search for museums, restaurants, spas, boat rides and compare the prices until you find the most affordable one.
  • Travel off season. Costs of travelling are higher during school holidays, December and public holidays because that’s when most people can afford to take time out and travel and that’s when the hotels are the busiest. Instead of booking for December, choose February or the least common travelling month.
  • Prepare your own food. It will make all the difference to your wallet if you can find a self-catering resort where you don’t have to rely on their pricey restaurant for food. So rather buy groceries with your staple food. Also, instead of cooking all your meals, make sure you can rather make sandwiches, wraps, salads, burgers, etc and not food that will take away your holiday experience by being in the kitchen the whole time.
  • Eating out? Its better to go for breakfast or lunch rather than supper. Menus in restaurants tend to be a bit pricier for supper than lunch and breakfast. So, save up on your coins and choose the less expensive option.
  • Book months in advance. This will make it easier for you to save up along the way. Prices for flights tend to rise closer to the desired date, for instance if you book a flight for December during the month of March, it will be cheaper than booking the flights in November.
  • Use local tours rather than the tours given by the resort. If you’re planning on sight-seeing, research the places you want to visit and choose the local guides rather than relying on the hotels tour. You’re more likely to pay more for a limited tour than paying less and getting a better experience and a more in-depth view of the place. For safety reasons, make sure that it is a legit tour company because there are many horror stories when travelling to an unknown place.
  • Go for free or inexpensive entertainment. Whether its parks, museums, galleries, markets, hikes or sports. You don’t have to pay your way throughout your entire stay. Even if they are not for free, ask when they offer discounts and you might be surprised. Remember, its always good to ask about discounts.
  • Travel to low cost of living countries or those that don’t require a VISA. These countries, unfortunately, have a low cost of living and rely heavily on tourism so they are bound to cost less than a trip to Maldives. You will also be avoiding VISA fees as all you’ll need is your passport.
  • Travel with travellers. This can help you split costs on food and accommodation as well as give you the opportunity to discover places that you’re unaware of because you are going with people who are keen on discovering as much as you.
  • Find apartments/ home rentals/hostels/ B&B’s. These are much more affordable than resorts as they are communal and you can share space with more people for less. Be careful though as some put as many as 6 people or more in one room and you might not be comfortable sharing with that many people
  • DO NOT PACK LIGHT. Pack smart. I am not ashamed to say that I am a bit of an over packer but this has saved me so many times. From your accessories, your toiletries to your clothes. Small things make a difference like spending money on shades or sunscreen that your forgot at home. Which brings me to my last point
  • Check the weather forecast. This will help you not buy an extra jersey and long pants because you expected sunny weather. Plus, it will give you a better chance to plan your activities and food around the weather.

Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or not, there are always new ways to learn on how to cut costs so please feel free to drop a comment below and tell us what are your tips or if I left something important behind.
The more you travel, the more you will find that it is possible to go to your fave destinations and that travelling on a budget does not rob you off a great experience.
As important as it is to be cost effective, please remember to be safe. Its easy to find yourself in a dangerous situation because of cutting corners.

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