Planning solo budget travel but fed up irreverent and detached information?…Well I’m here to help.
Before we go any further though, I need to stress this is not another ‘ultimate guide to solo budget travel‘ or ‘my way of planning solo budget travel is perfect‘ post.
So…you want to travel the world? Planning a solo budget trip but not sure where to start? Have you gone out bought your world map and stuck pins in all the destinations you want to see? Got stacks of travel guide books? Have you sat at your laptop full of excitement and wonder ready to research your trip; only to find yourself wading through useless information that’s just not relevant?
I am in no way the perfect planner but I’ve managed to roam the world since 2010 without any major issues or trouble.
Starting as a wide-eyed backpacker, I saw, did, experienced, drank (a lot), learnt, grew (not in height) and got most the T-shirts. Over the years I evolved as a solo traveler and learnt so much. This post researching and planning solo budget travel is just part 1 of a series of posts linked to my ‘personal budget travel tips’ page.
Always remember nobody should dictate to you and tell you how you should travel but this will help.
Researching and planning solo budget travel
I’ll be honest when I researched my first trip I was lost in the mountains of information. Like so many others, I had official tourist websites open, Wikipedia, numerous travel blogs, travel guides and tried to research and plan everything. It was only after I started to travel that I found most of it was nonsense, some of the information was outdated and not relevant.
It’s easy to get carried away with planning especially planning solo budget travel. You’re excited, you want to see and do everything and of course you want to cover all your base’s to make sure your trip is perfect. After all your stepping out of your comfort zone and into the unknown; it’s human nature to want to be in control. I was exactly the same when I first started.
However the first thing I learnt traveling solo, was not to over complicate things, not to over-plan and to keep it basic. So this is how I’ve evolved and streamlined my research and planning.
- Initial Research.
- Researching the country.
- Researching transport
- Planning a budget.
- Different visa options. – The very first thing, once I’ve chosen a destination is to look at the Visa options on offer. Different countries have different visas for you depending what country you’re from. For example being British, I don’t need a visa for certain countries I can just get stamped on arrival. Some Commonwealth countries offer Working Holiday Visas (allow you to work in that country for a certain amount of time.) Other countries, visas need to be applied for and accepted before you arrive in the country. So you should always check your options.
TIP: Applying for visas directly through official government sites is quicker, cheaper and more reliable than through visa bureau agencies.
- If choosing a normal tourist visa, I will check if there’s a fee or if it’s free, especially if there is going to be any land border crossings. Why? Because there are many corrupt border control officers that will try to charge you and take advantage of unsuspecting tourists. Ask any traveler who’s tried to cross borders in central or South America and they will tell you the same.
TIP: If they try to charge you, ask for an official government receipt and watch as they let you have the visa for free.
- Language. – I will check if English is widely spoken, what their native tong is and if I need to learn a few basic words.
TIP: Learning a few basic native words can help getting through airport security and goes a long way with locals. They appreciate the effort even if it’s not fluent.
TIP: Duolingo is a great app to learn basic words.
- General practices. – I’ve learnt to look into countries general policies, their rules and regulations especially in non-western countries where their way of life is different to ours. Remember you are visiting their country; be respectful of their beliefs and views. Don’t be the typical ignorant tourist that gives other travelers a bad rep.
- Prices. – I’ll check what currency they use, conversation rates and general prices to give me a bit of an idea of what to expect. I use XE.com for live conversion rates, which helps me a lot with controlling my spending especially if I’m traveling through multiple countries.
- Multiple countries. – I’ll briefly check all the above for all countries I’m visiting.
TIP: Even though it’s good to have an idea of prices, don’t get too hung up on converting every little thing. Remember everything is relative to that country.
Researching the country.
- Draw up a rough route. – Either with Google maps or a physical map I will draw up a general route through my destination. This is never a definitive or concrete route; it just gives me a general idea and a starting point.
- Things to do and see. – How many of you open every ‘top 10 things to see and do’ website when researching a country? I used to open them all, write down everything suggested but I found out a long time ago plans change like the wind when traveling. That doesn’t mean I’m naive or even arrogant to say I don’t look at anything. I still will look at a few things my go to sites are nomadicmatt.com roughguides.com and maybe Wikitravel. There’s a couple of travel blogs and YouTube travel vlogs I’ll check out but that’s about it. I’ll mainly use those to give me a rough idea of my destination.
- Ask Advice. – Even though I’ve traveled since 2010, there are people I know who have been to more countries and seen more than me. I’ll ask them What they liked and didn’t, why they did or not? Recommendations? Do’s and don’ts? How they got around? Accommodation advice? Never be afraid to ask but don’t feel you have to follow their exact footsteps.
- A loose list. – From my research, my route and friends recommendations I’ll draw up a very loose list of places, activities and sights I want to see. I never compile a comprehensive schedule or any sort of itinerary. I’ve met so many travelers who come with packed out itineraries and stress themselves out because they are always rushed to see everything.
TIP: Plans change like the wind when traveling, keep your schedule as loose as you can so you have room to maneuver. You may want to stay in one place longer than the other, you might discover a hidden gem but if your schedule is packed then you can’t be flexible.
Using Guide Books for researching.
I know so many people who turn to travel guide books for their research and planning. Some people view Guide books more as travel bibles than just a guide to help you. I like to discover places for myself and form an opinion for myself rather than be told by a book what is good or not. Now while it’s the individuals choice, I try to stay away from official guide books as much as I can. However this might not be the case for you.
TIP: Use Travel guides as a rough guide and not a travel Bible! You don’t have to take every word as gospel or believe every single review.
It’s always good idea to look into and have a brief overview of how you’re going to travel around a country. I’ll check the best and cheapest option to get me from A to B, I.E local buses, coaches, planes, renting bikes, cars or minivans. Mainly I use public transport when traveling as I don’t drive. I’ll find out names of bus companies before hand or check if taking a domestic flight is a cheaper option. I never book transport before I’m in the country. Why? Because like travel plans, transport options change too. (Detailed post and tips on transport here)
TIP: If your 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.
Planning my budget.
The hardest part of for me is figuring out how I’m going to stretch my money through my travels. This is where I have to get the currency converter out, my calculator and repeatedly keep asking myself why I don’t have more money.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you will know I’ve never been blessed with lots of money. I’ve had to budget for everything (hey we all have a sob story). To tell you the truth I was awful at budgeting for my first trip. I saved a fair amount, I gave myself a weekly budget but I grossly misjudged how much I would spend and the harsh realities of being a broke backpacker in a foreign country hit me hard. Luckily it was a country I was able to work and wasn’t as bigger issue as it could have been.
Looking back though, this was the biggest learning curve I’ve had as a traveler, that situation has helped turn me into a savvy budget backpacker and has helped me budget better. I will be writing a full post on how Stretch and budget during my trip but here is what I do for research before hand.
- From the research I’ve already done I’ll grasp a tighter idea of prices like transport, cost of certain activities, if there are entrance fees to certain sites, food and drinks, rough idea of cost of accommodation.
- I’ll know the general prices of getting through a day and work out how much I’ll spend on an average day.
- I’ll give myself a daily budget with a bit of leeway because I know there will be days I’ll spend more than others.
- A big thing and it sounds stupid and simple but I’ll try not to spend unnecessarily before my trip.
- If like me your planning to travel long-term then sell off things you don’t need. I sold everything I owned once I started to long-term travel. I know people who have sold their cars, and rented their homes out.
TIP: pay off outstanding bills – You don’t want chunks of your travel money disappearing into bills while your away.
TIP: separating money is helpful – If you can’t see it you can’t spend it!
- Once I’ve saved as much as I can, I put my money into different accounts. I will have a primary accounts for everyday use but also reserve accounts.
- Open an account that doesn’t charge for overseas withdrawals.
- I only convert a small amount of money into the currency of my destination. Just enough to get me through the first few days.
TIP: Check if your bank will charge for overseas withdrawals and if so how much.
TIP: Do not convert money at airports – You will be charged and get less for your money.
- I will look into alternative’s to save money like couch surfing instead of hostels, buying local food rather than eating in touristy places.
TIP: Don’t stress yourself out too much about budgeting and thinking you will have to miss out on things. You will find ways to save money once you’re in your destination. Remember you’re there to have fun.
Did you find these tips helpful? Drop me a comment below and I shall see you over in part 2
In part 2 I’ll cover –
- Searching Accommodation.
- Researching and booking flights.
- Travel insurance.
- Researching getting from airport/bus station to Accommodation.