Broke Backpacking: How to Do it Right (hint: it’s easier than you think!)

If you’ve always dreamed of backpacking the world but didn’t think you could afford the high cost of hotels, dining out, airfare and so on, you should know that those stories you’ve heard about broke travelers exploring exotic destinations are true. It can be done, if you know how to do it right. 

While it’s easy to spend thousands on a vacation, as so many do, provided your idea of traveling isn’t staying at a luxurious resort sipping pricey cocktails by the pool all day, you can have an unforgettable adventure that also offers a much more authentic experience. 


Your flights are likely to take the biggest chunk out of your travel budget, but by following a few tips you can score relatively cheap airfare, especially these days with so many low-cost airlines. For example, AirAsia X is one of the best – not only in Asia, but throughout the world for budget travelers. Getting to Europe from the U.S. is cheaper than ever thanks to airlines like Norwegian Air and Wow Air, and once you’re there, you’ll find super low-cost options like Easyjet and Ryanair. While they may come with few frills, it’s usually worth it for the significant savings.

One of the most important factors in scoring bargain flights is to be flexible with your dates. It’s almost always cheaper to travel in the offseason, which in many destinations is outside of the summer months. In Southeast Asia, peak season is November through February, and generally the winter months in many tropical locales. In the Southern Hemisphere, including Australia and New Zealand, peak time for travel is during North America’s winter, with low season from May through August. 

The day of the week can make a significant difference too. The busiest days of the week for air travel are typically Friday, Sunday and Monday. Flying in or out on a Tuesday or Wednesday typically brings the cheapest airfare. Avoid holidays, which typically come with the highest priced airfares of all. You don’t want to wait to book your flights at the last minute either or it will likely cost you big. While there are no guarantees, when flying internationally studies have found that it’s best to book about five months in advance for Asian destinations, 12 weeks ahead if you’re going to Europe, while the South Pacific is best booked almost a year before you plan to go at 320 days.


While hotels, resorts, bed-and-breakfasts and even Airbnbs can take a significant slice of your travel budget, accommodation costs are one of the easiest things to cut, in fact, there are even multiple ways to secure free lodging. CouchSurfing is available around the world and is a great way to get to know the locals, and often, some great insider tips about the area. You might get a private tour, be taken to a party, or to a restaurant that you’d probably never learn about in a guidebook. It also opens up the opportunity to meet people and make friends from across the globe. Typically, in exchange for a place to stay, you’ll bring something like a bottle of wine or some groceries to put together dinner. Many hosts simply enjoy the experience for the chance to interact with someone from another part of the world, but it’s always nice to contribute a little something. The site takes multiple steps to ensure security, including several verification levels as well as a rating system that allows users to leave comments and rate experiences on host profiles.

Another great option is to volunteer in exchange for your lodging. A volunteer vacation is usually possible for lengths as short as a week up to months at a time, and options are available in just about every country around the world. You won’t have to spend your entire time volunteering – while the exact hours run the gamut, typically it’s anywhere from four to eight hours a day, five days a week and can include everything from greeting guests at a hostel to hosting tours. Many include other perks too like free meals, laundry or even bicycles for getting around town. Sites like Hosteleer offer the ideal way to find just what you’re looking for. And, if you’re an open-minded kind of traveler, you’ll be astounded at the many opportunities available.

Like CouchSurfing, volunteering in exchange for accommodation brings the chance to meet people from all walks of life, especially in hostels which tend to be filled with guests from across the globe.


The cost of dining out can add up quickly, but sampling local foods is one of the best parts of traveling. Fortunately, there are many ways to enjoy the local cuisine, even on a very tight budget. Of course, this varies by destination, with the cost of meals in Southeast Asia far cheaper than dining out in say, Scandinavian countries. If you take advantage of hostel volunteer opportunities, you can specifically search for those that include meals and occasionally spend your money on cheaper fare like tasty street foods. 

When you want to dine out and can afford an inexpensive meal, be sure to stay away from tourist trap restaurants no matter where you are in the world. Usually, the food isn’t great, and the cost will be high. Instead, ask locals to recommend an affordable eatery serving local cuisine.

Another option is to head to local supermarkets and/or farmer’s markets which not only helps with your budget, but it will allow you to experience more of the local culture, and probably find items that you wouldn’t find back home. If your accommodation has a kitchen, you’ll be able to save significantly by cooking your own meals. You can also use local markets for stocking up on between-meal snacks. 

Sightseeing and Attractions

Just because you’re broke that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sightseeing and attractions. While some can be expensive, there are almost always free and low-cost options. Walking along a seaside promenade or through a park not only brings the opportunity to take in the scenery but for people watching and it doesn’t cost a thing. Simply wandering through city streets can be a fun way to spend an afternoon – and, oftentimes you can find museums with free admission too.

If you’re staying at a hostel, ask other volunteers, guests and staff for recommendations. When CouchSurfing, hosts often provide plenty of tips for what to do on the cheap. Be sure to do online research searching terms like “free things to do in XXX” and you’re likely to find a wide range of ideas. 

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