Budget travel planning aid for backpackers: Part 1
Budget travel planning gets easier the longer…
The longer you travel or backpack on tight budgets the easier travel planning and research gets.
It might sound far-fetched at this stage, but like with everything, the more you do it, the more practice you have, the easier your budget travel planning becomes. For us long term budget backpackers, planning and researching trips is a walk in the park. In fact half the time, we do hardly any travel planning because we know what we’re doing. Sometimes I do my planning on the way to my destination.
However, if It’s your first budget backpacking trip It’s a different story. You’re stepping into the unknown, you want to be prepared, you want to know as much as possible, do as much research as you can and be armed with a travel plan before your trip.
That’s perfectly natural, we were all in your shoes once; full of excitement and nerves at the prospect of backpacking and taking that dreaded first step so your travel plan is even more important.
Step by step travel planning aid
This budget travel planning aid is here to give you a structure, to give you an idea of where and how to start. It will aid you, step by step from start to finish however you don’t have to follow every step. Like I mentioned, the more you travel, the more streamlined your own process of travel planning will get.
This structure from initial research to arriving at my accommodation has been my framework and helped me maintain long term budget backpacking since 2010. As my travel planning and research has become more streamlined, there are times I need to follow the steps and times I can skip most of them but I know this framework has me covered.
I hope this budget travel planning aid will make your travel planning less stressful, less overwhelming and come in handy while you develop your own process.
Without a structure budget travel planning can get overwhelming
It’s very easy, especially for planning a backpacking trip for the first time to get lost in a sea of information; it can get confusing. You start second guessing yourself, wondering which travel planning information to trust, before you know it you’re drowning from overlapping yourself, from overplanning and it becomes overwhelming.
I know this, because I was the same before my first backpacking trip in 2010. Shit, when I made the decision to start backpacking, I started my budget travel planning 6 months before my trip, had stacks of guidebooks, my laptop had way too many tabs open from countless blogs, I had maps open and just sat there scratching my head. I had no idea where to actually start my travel planning or how much I should do because there was no structure to it.
So what did I do? Without a structure or clear route on how to travel plan, I just dived in head first and tried to do everything. I tried to plan every little detail, made itineraries, took all the advice (good and bad) from blogs and guide books. By the end of it I had an iron clad plan, a route, I had covered all my angles, planned all the amazing things I’d do and see. I was sorted my travel plan was iron clad….Was it bollox!
The difference between planning itineraries & research
It’s funny, before that first trip back in 2010, like I said I spent months travel planning thinking I had everything covered, only to find out I didn’t. It was only once I was actually traveling I found out how perception changes, things happen, situations and circumstances chance and plans and itineraries well, they can go up in smoke. It was only then I realised the difference in over planning and having itineraries to researching well.
Long term budget backpackers have a golden rule – PLAN LOOSE, RESEARCH THOROUGHLY!
What’s the difference?
The difference is knowing about the things you might want to see, do and experience and having knowledge of your destination to having it planned and booked out.
For example, imagine if you overplan, have things booked and have a packed itinerary, you’re basically ticking off one thing after another without room to maneuver. Before you start traveling you might not think there’s anything wrong with that. However once you start traveling you realise things work differently, you might want to do things differently, circumstances and situations change but with your itinerary those things don’t fit and you iether stick to your travel plan or it goes up in smoke.
On the other hand, if you have loose travel plans or none at all but have researched well, you have the flexibility to change your direction, to stay in places longer, to add things you might not have known about before hand. There is more chance of spontaneity and you are more flexible.
TIP: keep your travel plans and itineraries loose, it will help prolong your trip; there is just no need to cram your itinerary if you’re backpacking long term. You will get burn out and run out of money quickly if you do.
With that said let’s dive into your step by step long term budget travel planning aid.
Long term travel planning initial research
Like I mentioned before, you don’t have to follow every step of this travel planning aid to the letter, there might be some things you need help with and others you find irrelevant and that’s fine but we’re going to start right from the beginning.
The starting point of your budget travel planning should be to have an idea about where you want to go. Do you just want to go to one country, or multiple countries in a region or multiple regions. Or do you want to do a massive around the world trip? If you already have an idea, do you have a burning desire to explore a particular place?
If so that’s great. But, if you’re not sure, open up google maps, see if anything pops out at you, anything attracting you? If not you can do what some of us long term backpackers do; just pick a random country.
If you remain undecided, don’t worry, sometimes I have no idea where I want to go next until the last minute. Shit sometimes I end up in a country or region I never even thought of before with no travel planning involved.
How long can you realistically go for
Once you have an idea of where you want to go, realistically think about how long you want to go for. Do you just want to pack your stuff and see where the adventure takes you? do you want to go for a set amount of time? When you think of this, don’t just think if you’re budget can stretch, but think mentally will you be able to go for however long you want.
Your mental state will determine how long you travel for more than what you’re budget dictates. You need to take some factors into consideration. Will you miss friends and family while you’re away, how badly will you miss them, can you be gone for months or years without being physically around them? Will you be ok without home comforts? How will you be ok living out of a backpack, or being constantly on the move? Are you confident or socially awkward? Will you be ok with dealing with new cultures constantly? How will you be with being a stranger in every new destination you arrive in?
Once you have an idea of the country(s) or region(s) you want to explore simply check if you need a visa for it, and if so what type of visas you’re eligible for. You don’t need to apply for one yet if you’re still unsure of your decision but checking just gives you a heads up on if you need one, the requirements and price.
You should bear in mind, depending where you’re from, the strength of your countries passport and relationships your country has with another will determine the type of visas you can have, if you need one at all and how long you can stay in that destination for. Also your age can play a part too.
Tourist visas/ ESTA’s – In most cases you need to apply and receive them before you fly out. Typically allowed to stay in a certain country or region for 30/60/90 days (depending on strength of your passport and relationship between countries.) Some will have fees attached others will not, Do check this out
Visa on arrival – Same principle as tourist visa but you simply get stamped once you arrive in the country, no need to apply beforehand.
TIP: Check if your tourist visa or visa on arrival is free or not before you arrive. Unfortunately there are some border control officers in certain countries that will try and scam tourists into paying even if they don’t need to. If you know there is no price but they insist, then demand an official government stamped receipt, they will back off.
Working holiday visa
A working holiday visa is common and easy for backpackers to obtain. This type of visa allows you to supplement your travels with paid work. You can apply for regular or casual work and even be taxed as a resident while working a full time job. However usually you can only work for one specific country for a maximum of 6 months (but there are loop holes) and some countries do allow you to apply for an extension.
The relationship/deal your country has with it, will determine if you are eligible for one, and if so you do have to be under 30 to apply for it. Most typically you can apply for a 12 or 24 month visa. Visas do need to be applied for and accepted before arriving in the country but your visa will only activate from the day you arrive in the country.
Find more information Working Holiday Visa explanation.
TIP: Applying for visas directly through official government sites is quicker, cheaper and more reliable than through visa bureau agencies.
No visa needed
Visa exempt – your countries have a strong relationship or deals in place so you’re exempt from needing a visa and can travel their freely.
Freedom of movement – Applies mainly within the EU (European Union). EU nationals can move freely within European Union countries without the need of a visa.
Choose which visa will suit your needs best. If you are a British national you can check visa requirements here: Visa Central
Initial budget check
Now that you have an idea of where you want to go, potentially how long and what visa you might need It’s time to check your funds briefly. Crack open the piggy bank, open the penny jar, check your bank account and grab your calculator. Crunch those numbers and see what you begin with.
Don’t fret if you don’t think you have enough, this is just a starting reference. From here you can work out what your out going’s are, how you can cut them down and how long you’ll need to pay off bills. If you want to go off backpacking for years see what you can sell and give yourself a rough idea of how when you want to start your trip. Strip away any needless spending, work out or at least have a rough idea of how much you can save in that time. If you’re like me and not the best with money management, time to really tighten that belt buckle.
If you work out that you can’t save a lot, don’t be stressed out, if you have a burning desire to do it you will. I started my first trip with just £600 I thought I’d run out after a couple of months and I did. But that wasn’t the end of my trip, I was able to replenish and that first trip ended up lasting 6 and a half years.
Rough idea of route
You want to give yourself a rough idea of what route you want to take through your destination(s). Grab your map (or google maps) and give yourself a starting point. You don’t want to be over-lapping yourself so it’s best to choose a point in the North or South and work your way up or down. This route doesn’t and shouldn’t be set in stone, let it be loose, give yourself flexibility to stray just have a picture in your head of the general direction while you’re doing your travel plan.
There are times I get asked what my route is and all I have ‘I’m heading south, no idea where.’ I know the general direction but I’m not bound to anything.
Gage an idea of country/region
Mapping out a rough route gives you a chance to gage a good idea of the country or region. Google maps will point out a few things as you figure out your route, you can read a few blogs or watch vlogs on specific places and out can get a good feel for what that country or region is all about. At this point in your travel planning it will really wet your appetite to visit or maybe put you off.
While you roughly map that out it gives you chance to figure out where things you might want to see and do are too and how you can fit them into your route. There might be some must does and sees you can’t miss, there might be something specific you want to see, do or experience. Take note of them, drop a pin on the map and factor them into your route.
Giving yourself this rough route while travel planning, will also help show you if there are specific regions you need to be made aware of. There might be danger there so miss it out, or they might have different customs or culture to another part of the country or region. You will find there are countries where one thing is accepted in one area isn’t tolerated in another part. It could be minor details like: Are certain hand gestures considered rude? Do they drive on the same side of the road? Or a difference in acceptable dress codes. (Trust me these little things go a long way with locals.)
As it says on the tin, simply check what language is spoken, is their native tongue the same as yours, if not what is it? One of the best ways to endear yourself to locals is to make an effort to speak their language. Now obviously you don’t have to know the language fluently but learning a few basic words and phrases while you’re travel planning can go a long way once you’re there.
Not only with locals but it can help in Airports, bus terminals, ordering food and if you speak a few local words you’re even less likely to get ripped off in a taxi (We all get ripped off in taxis).
TIP: Duallingo is a great app to learn some basic words and phrases.
Although generally speaking, most countries are safe to travel through, yes some have worse reputations than others and all countries have their own dangers, it would be naive of you not to check the safety while travel planning. Now, I will say, in some countries where there is a conflict it’s generally internal and they don’t bother with travelers, tourists, backpackers or expats. Sometimes innocents do get caught up in the crossfires so do take safety precautions where advised but don’t get overly paranoid and don’t buy into some scaremongering that goes on in the media.
Researching flights will potentially be the most important part of your travel planning and research because of the hefty wack to your budget flights take. I won’t lie, when you first start researching flights it can be quite confusing, overwhelming and time-consuming but that process does get quicker.
Over time you’ll have your go-to sites, you’ll recognise patterns have prefered airlines, maybe even specific days and times to book on.
Your job while researching flights, is to find the best possible deal to suit your needs and finances. With the right research you can find some right bargains and find some extremely cheap flights. However on the other hand if you just pick anything it can brutally damage your budget.
So how will you find the best flight for you without getting scientific?
Airline comparison sites
Luckily with the internet at our disposal, you have an abundance of choice with so many price comparison sites. Every backpacker seems to have their own favorites so I won’t say which one will be best for you but my go-to site is Skyscanner. But, I do like to browse around other sites too. I’ve found Lastminute.com to be useful too.
I recommend you shop around and find which one comes out cheapest and then flick over to the Airlines direct site and see if that flight is cheaper. Sometimes it can be, especially if you’re looking at budget airlines like RyanAir or EasyJet.
Some people think It’s a myth, while others believe in it, but sometimes booking on specific days at different times of the day there can be price drops and can work out cheaper. (This isn’t a proven science but I find flying on tuesdays to be cheapest.
Popular price comparison sites:
- Google flights
- Jacks flight club – Join his newsletter and become a member to find some incredibly cheap flights, like stupid cheap.
There are also budget travel/backpacker tour companies you can look to in which you can book packages, multi-stop flights, around the world trips or single flights.
A few tips for finding cheaper flights:
- Play around with routes, don’t just look at direct flights. Sometimes for long-haul flights look at booking two separate flights.
- If you’re not good with long flights, longer layovers will help.
- Sign up for Air-miles, newsletters for deals and benefits.
- If you have credit cards see if there are any benefits to linking up with Airlines.
- Look to book on different days, even play around with flying in and out of different airports.
- Prices change all the time, put alerts on and keep track of prices drops.
Remember to keep an eye out on hidden charges and extra costs. Budget airlines will charge you extra if you are taking more than just a carry on bag and even to reserve a seat.
Researching budget accommodation
With backpacking and tourism in general so popular nowadays researching and finding the right accommodation is a simple process. What you need to do is figure out if you want to stay in a more central area or further out in a quiet area. Do you want something more social or quiet? Do you want to be around other backpackers or locals? Keep in mind staying in heavily tourist areas will cost a lot more.
Popular budget accommodation options:
- Hostels/guest houses
- Air BnB
- Campar vans
This post explains Different budget travel accommodation options
Budget accommodation comparison sites
Once you’ve got an idea of what type would suit you best have a look at the general costs during your travel planning. There are different sites for what you might be looking for. If you choose to stay in hostels your most popular choices will be hostelworld.com or booking.com (the banner below takes you directly to their site)
For AirBnb just download their app and set up an account, check google, or if you want other sites do a google search but they do work out a bit more expensive.
There are a few things you should take into consideration when looking at compare sites. You should check to see which sites take a commission if you have to pay up-front, if you need to pay a deposit, their cancellation policies or if they have any offers.
A personal trick for booking backpacker hostels
A trick I picked up over the years which has saved me time while travel planning and money; Is to only book the first nights stay when I arrive in a new country. I do this because although there are plenty of options on the internet, in general, there are many more hostels/guest houses/B&B’s/budget hotels that do not advertise on them. And, in turn, are generally cheaper to stay in.
Researching transport options
Transport costs have the potential to burn through your budget if not careful. Having a general idea how to get from A to B will help you tenfold, so It’s good to include some transport research into your budget travel plan.
How will you feel most comfortable and safe getting from one place to another. Do you want to use public transport, local transport, rent a vehicle like a campervan? Do you want to do do organised tours from one place to another or do it independently? Take these questions into consideration and pick what will suit you best.
You will want to compare prices to work out what mode of transport will be cheaper but also at the same time find a balance with comfort.
It’s worth noting not all countries have the same transport options, some will be conventional ones you’re used to, others, well, they won’t be and prices will vary.
This post gives you an idea of different transport options for budget travelers.
TIP: If you’re thinking of doing a multi-country or regional trip, have a look if flying is cheaper than land travel. Sometimes it is and can save on money and time. Also look into buying passes for transport
These websites are a great help with schedules and booking transport:
Check my bus – A good site that lets you check and book local bus journeys all around the world.
The man in seat 61 – One of the most reputable and comprehensive train travel guide, search and booking portal on the internet. Includes local, trans-country and trans-regional train journeys from all around the world.
Rome to Rio – A global trip planner by any mode of transport in any country around the world.
STA travel worldwide bus passes – Offer passes for bus companies around the world.
If you’re thinking of backpacking through Europe, It’s worth looking into rail discount cards and ticket prices. Europe is very well connected and sometimes is easy to travel around on train and with a Europass.
In budget travel planning aid Part 2 we will cover:
- Research things to see and do
- Tours vs Independent backpacking
- Researching Travel Insurance
- Re-doing the budget once you’ve booked
- Documents to take
- Useful websites that will help your budget travel trip
- Final part of budget travel planning
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