Budget travel trip: Researching & planning
Researching and planning a budget travel trip.
Researching and planning a budget travel trip for the first time can be overwhelming!
Are you about to start researching and planning a budget travel trip? Have you gone out and bought/downloaded stacks of guidebooks and sat at on your laptop full of excitement, ready to research your budget travel trip only to be left scratching your head wondering where to start?
Don’t worry, I’ve been there, lost in the sea, wading through copious amounts of information wondering where to start. When I first started traveling in 2010 I tried to plan every detail, I had every website imaginable open, maps in-front of me, guidebooks but I was so confused.
I know full well the first time you travel, it’s easy to get carried away with researching and planning a budget travel trip because, well…it’s your first time. You want to make sure you’ve got all angles covered, you want to research everything and plan your trip to the smallest detail. You want your trip to be perfect, after all, you’re stepping into unknown territory, It’s human nature to want to feel some control.
But for me, the funny thing was, and I only realized this after I started to travel – I had confused researching and planning. Half the things I had planned for my trip turned out to be irrelevant and the other half well, that went straight out the window.
Over the years I learned the golden rule to long-term budget travel PLAN LOOSE, RESEARCH THOROUGHLY!
TIP: keep your plans and itineraries loose, it will help prolong your trip; there is just no need to cram your itinerary. You will get burn out quickly if you do.
Not another ultimate guide to planning a budget travel trip…
Before we go any further though, I need to stress this is not another ‘ultimate guide to planning a budget travel trip‘ or ‘my way of planning a budget travel trip is perfect‘ post.
This post is a detailed aid, showing how you can structure researching and planning a budget travel trip if you’re not sure how to structure it. Although this is a very thorough post, you don’t have to follow each step in detail and what you should bear in mind is while it may initially look like a lot now, once you know what you’re doing it will be a much quicker process. Remember the more you travel the more streamlined this process gets.
This structure to researching and planning a budget travel trip has helped me survive on the tightest of shoestring budgets over 6 continents since 2010.
Initial Budget Plan
You may have noticed I’ve written ‘initial budget plan’ here, well that’s because it is the initial one; pre-bookings. This is when you figure out what you already have, where you can cut costs and save in the time between planning and leaving.
Grab your hammer and crack open the piggy bank!
So, grab your calculator, open your bank account, the penny jar and the piggy bank – It’s time to do some number crunching. (I hate this part as I always have less than I hoped.)
First of all, calculate how much money you’ve already saved, then work out all outgoing’s and incoming up until you leave for the trip. Pay off any outstanding bills and if you’re anything like me and struggle to save (I travel on the bare minimum) It’s time to really tighten the belt buckle and batten down the hatches. I mean you need to cut out all needless spending, cook at home rather than eating out and cancel your subscriptions. Your mindset right now should be – save, save, save! You’re practically going into lockdown mode from now until your trip starts.
If you’re looking to travel long-term or indefinitely, look to sell anything you don’t need.
Have you got a destination in mind? If you have – Brilliant, you can move onto the visa options.
Not quite sure? Simply open up a map/google maps and look for a destination that will suit your budget and have a think about how long you can realistically go for. If you’re like me, you may end up with a handful of destinations and In that case look a the pro’s and cons of each, look at how appealing the destination is to you and choose from there.
If you want to travel long-term, want to just pack your bags and roam indefinitely, then no need to think of a time frame. (This post on maintaining long-term budget travel may come in handy.)
Once you have a destination in mind, check the visa requirements and options. Depending on what country you’re from and how old you are will determine your options. The power of your passport and the relationship your country has with your destination choice will let you know what visa you can have, what freedom to work you have, and how long you can go for.
The main types of Visa’s/entry allowance you’ll come across for your budget travel trip are:
Tourist visa’s/ 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.) 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 the tourist visa is free or not for your desired destination or region. Unfortunately, some border control officers are corrupt and try to get fees out of tourists. If you know there is no fee but they insist, demand for them to give you an official government stamped receipt, they will soon back off.
Working holiday visa’s – Special deals/relationships between countries allow you to supplement your travels with work. Different countries have different regulations regarding length of work and stay. Most typically 1 and 2-year visa options (Visa’s need to be applied for and accepted before arriving in the country.) Working Holiday Visa explanation.
TIP: Applying for visas directly through official government sites is quicker, cheaper and more reliable than through visa bureau agencies.
Visa exempt – you’re exempt from needing a visa
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 (Note: this is pre-Brexit)
Rough Idea of your destination
Once you know where your budget travel trip will be and you’ve got an idea on which visa (If any) you can have, it’s a good idea just to get a general overview of the destination. 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 the country/region. Now, remember this is just a rough idea, you don’t want a strict route, allow flexibility, it’s just so you have an idea of the direction you want to head in.
TIP: Plans change like the wind when budget traveling, keep your route as loose as you can so you have room to maneuver.
In-turn with picking a route, pick out a few things you might want to see/do/experience (don’t just say all of it.) Is there any must do’s that you can’t miss? Are you going there for something monumental or a specific reason? – Take note of it and where about’s in the country it is so you can factor in your route.
While you’re looking at the country it’s a good idea just to take note of any customs, major differences in cultures or rules. You’ll find there are things that are acceptable where you are from but frowned upon in certain countries. 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.)
Although generally speaking, most countries are safe to travel through, yes some have worse reputations than others and all countries have dangers, it would be naive of you not to check the safety. Now, I will say, in some countries where there is a conflict it’s generally internal and they don’t bother with travelers. And, also do take safety precautions but don’t get overly paranoid and don’t buy into some scaremongering that goes on in the media.
Check what language is spoken
As it says on the tin, simply check what language is spoken, is their native tong 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 go a long way. Not only that but it helps 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.
Initially researching flights can be quite time-consuming but the more you travel the more you’ll recognize patterns and you will know which sites you prefer to go for flights.
Finding that right flight can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, while some people find it frustrating and end up just booking any old flight, others relish the challenge and really immerse themselves to find the best deals.
So how will you find the best flight for you without getting scientific?
You could just book the first flight you find and get it out the way. However, I strongly recommend you don’t do that, not unless you want a large chunk of your budget to just disappear.
Luckily with the internet at our disposal, you have an abundance of choice with so many price comparison sites. Every traveler 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.
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 is.)
TIP: Searching flights on different days and different times of the day can work out cheaper. I find flights are generally cheaper when booking on Tuesdays. (This is not a proven fact, it just works out like that for me.)
Popular price comparison sites:
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.
Just a bit too much
I do realize this might seem like a bit much to take in. However the more you travel, the more this process will become streamlined and in the future, it will become a quicker process. Like with everything, the more you do it the better you get at it. If you find a flight that you feel is too good to wait on; go ahead and book it.
Researching budget Accommodation
Your first port of call is to choose what types of accommodation would suit you best. Do you want somewhere quiet or social? Would you prefer to be away from the tourist areas or inside them? Want to be around other travelers or locals? Maybe you want a mixture.
Just like searching for flights, the first few times can be time-consuming as you need to figure out processes and accommodation that suit you but again it will get quicker and less painless.
Popular budget accommodation options:
- Hostels/guest houses
- Air BnB
- Campar vans
This post explains Different budget travel accommodation options
Using price comparison sites
Once you’ve got an idea of what type would suit you best have a look at the general costs. There are sites and tools on the internet to help. If you are looking at staying in hostels there are lots of comparison sites, you just need to type ‘compare hostel prices’ into google and a whole list of options will be on display. However, the most popular choices are
- Hostel checkers
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.
TIP: Remember hostels are not hotels, if you’ve never stayed in one before, don’t compare or expect hotel quality and remember you are paying for a bed, not a room. Amenities will not be the same and cleanliness can differ from hostel to hostel.
TIP: It’s worthwhile to sign-up to sites like booking.com and hostelworld as you will receive discounted offers and loyalty bonuses (Nothing too extravagant but every little helps.)
A personal trick
A trick I picked up over the years which has saved me a substantial amount; 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.
These places don’t like paying the sites to advertise for them, so in booking just 1 or 2 nights it gives me the chance to check out some local hostels while I settle in and get used to my new surroundings. It might be the case the hostel I booked initially was the right one and I’ll extend my stay, or I’ll find a better option that wasn’t advertised.
Research transport options
Early on in the research, you would have drawn up a rough route to getting through the country or region but will you get around? Transport costs have the potential to burn through your budget if not careful. It’s actually quite surprising how many first-time travelers don’t look into what transport options are available.
Now, I’m not saying you need to know every single option on how to get from A to B but having a general idea will help you and your budget out tenfold.
TIP: Booking transport within your traveling destination work out cheaper, and also if your plans change you can change your transport options; you’ve not booked anything so you won’t lose money.
A few things to look out for when researching your transport, just like with accommodation, which options will suit you and your traveling style best. Do you want to travel privately and rent a vehicle or on public transport? Want to do tours or travel independently? 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.
TIP: Look into if your destination has official taxis, there are a lot of unofficial taxi’s floating around in certain countries and they will try to scam you. There have been cases of unofficial taxi’s even trying to extort travelers. So be wise to this and do some research.
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 planning a multi-country trip, find out if flying is cheaper than land travel. I.E flying around Europe can be cheaper than trains and buses but in South America, it’s cheaper by land travel.
It’s also worthwhile to look into how to get around in different parts of the country, I.E locally, nationally and in rural areas. The last thing you want to do is get stuck because you can’t physically get around.
These websites that can help you get an idea of transport options
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.
Things to see and do
Early on in your research, while you gave yourself a rough route to follow, you may have taken note of a few things you want to see and do or anything you consider as ‘can’t-miss’, so now you just want to look into them in some more detail.
Remember there’s a difference in knowing where things are to see and do and to committing to see and do it all.
TIP: Take note of prices beforehand, just so you have an idea but don’t book anything just yet.
Although I’m not a fan, check out TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet – But remember they are guides to help you, you don’t need to do and see everything they recommend.
I personally watch YouTube vlogs of travelers who have been to the destination in question and read a few blogs; most notably NomadicMAtt, the broke backpacker and indie traveler. I will look at a few articles from official tourist boards.
Tours Vs Independent
While you’re researching the things you want to see and do you’ll also come across tour companies offering trips/tours and excursions. Different packages will be available for you and range from day tours to multiple days/nights.
Some people prefer to do things independently while others prefer organized tours, this will be a question you’ll need to ask yourself and it will be down to your personal preference. However, there’s nothing to say that you can’t do both.
If you chose to do and see things independently, from what you’ve covered in your research already you’ll have a rough idea how to get to them. Also once you’re traveling you will hear from other travelers or locals other ways to do them.
If you choose to do any organized tours/activities, you’ll need to do some research on them to make them cost-effective. Check tours online, compare prices, take note of reviews, if they’re ethical or not, if the tour company if reliable, look out for scams, do they follow in-line with any principles you might have.
Remember, you are just looking at companies here, take note of them but don’t book anything just yet. Why? Because just with accommodation options, there will be a much wider choice locally and within the country, which will be cheaper too.
TIP: If you are looking to book a tour, either online or locally don’t take the first price offered, there will be flexibility on prices with a little negotiation.
End of researching and planning a budget travel trip part 1
I hope you’re still with me at the end of this very long post. Like I mentioned at the top, this was a thorough post so I could cover everything for you. In Part 2 we will cover:
- Travel Insurance
- Re-doing the budget once you’ve booked flights, accommodation, and transport
- Documents to take
- Useful websites that will help your budget travel trip
Did you enjoy researching and planning a budget travel trip part 1? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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