How to embrace the idea of Budget Traveling

By January 12, 2016 , ,

This is an excerpt from my upcoming travel memoir book: 

TIMELESS CHARM OF SAIGON AND ANGKOR


Budget traveling is not so much on the comfort side of life, but more on the idea of discovery and adventure. From going up on air with a budget airline to the lucid possibility of sleeping on a hard bench at the airport, and to the prospect of getting lost while exploring the city.

But it entails a lot of fun and unforgettable memories, trust me!
A budget/DIY traveler is one that plunges into the unknown, to uncertainties while basking in the thrill of discovery. It is sometimes risky but provides a unique experience, with plenty of anecdotes to share to the world. 

Budget and DIY travelers never usually book for a tour guide, it is more of exploring the place on their own, but an excitement of unearthing the unique frills of the destinations always awaits.

With this attitude of traveling, the experience is more fulfilling. Just take extra precautions to avoid plunging yourself into danger. Learn to adjust with the local culture to avoid disappointment and enjoy the moment while discovering things on your own.

Depends on the timing of the travel, budget travelers usually prepare a travel itinerary five months before the trip. By this time, the budget plan has been drafted and you're almost ready to go.

A budget plan should start on determining where to go to allow enough time to scout for an airfare promo. Most budget airlines offer a cheaper rate three months before the travel date. I've noticed this strategy while checking the rates for Vietnam in 2014. So never book a ticket for your travel one year ahead, it will cost you a lot. Try checking with your favorite budget airline three months before your target trip.

Budget traveling on a DIY plan is always wonderful and liberating, all you have to do is be prudent, smart, flexible and resourceful.

Plan ahead of time, scout for cheaper rates, do research with the places you are going to explore, the most practical way of getting around the city, the top attractions to be visited, activities and best things to do once there. You should also take note how to fit in with the locals, the do’s and don’ts and the most practical items to bring home.

Always take extra precautions the moment you get there but don’t allow fear to dampen your spirit. Do not limit yourself to just going around what other travelers are recommending. Delve better into the wonders and frills of place. Know their history. The culture of the locals. And try the local cuisine.
How to become a DIY traveler on a budget?

Traveling is always liberating and provides a different level of excitement, it pumps vitality and inspiration and offers a temporary sanctuary from the sordid life in the city. When we travel we are able to whisk our minds away from concerns, angst and worries and even if it is only a passing escape, being in a different place, doing exciting activities, wandering around and just being there to relax is enough to give us motivation.

However, as much as we want to travel and experience life unfolds in another territory, the cost of travel is one hell of a concern, therefore, a lengthy planning to get on with the plans and fit everything is needed.

For people who have comfortable sources of income, traveling might not pose any problems but for folks who are struggling to accommodate daily expenses, travel causes a real distress. But if the latter is the hindrance, start practicing frugality to fine tune your monthly spending. It's not that you have to sacrifice your food cravings and other fad, but you just have to cut your spending prudently. The greater the sacrifice, the better the reward.

As long as your burning desire to travel is alive, finding ways to make things happen is always probable. Try to become a budget traveler in a DIY plan instead of contemplating to travel in comfort and luxury.

This means you should not seek a tour guide or scout travel packages but just on your own, planning everything, from creating a concise budget and itinerary to scouting cheaper airfare and room accommodation.  It is more convenient, practical and exciting than wait for the stars to fall to realize your travel plans.

Here are tips how to become a DIY traveler on a budget:

Save for your travel

The most crucial part of traveling is the budget. If your income is just enough to cover your monthly expenses, try planning a year ahead and create a separate account for your trip. 

You can open a bank account for your travel and shred a specific amount from your monthly income for this account. However, if you find opening another bank account slightly uncomfortable and impractical, you can just put the amount in your existing bank account and just monitor your savings. Have a notebook to serve as your monitoring sheet for your travel plan savings. List the amount you will have to set aside every payday and make up your mind never withdraw it the following day. Never cheat!

To make things easier, cut back on monthly expenses (avoid too much dinner out especially on expensive restaurants, too many night outs with your friends, etc, remember that traveling is life, and sacrificing is an integral part of it). Do, the planning ahead of time, around seven months before the scheduled trip. Spend time researching for the best attractions to be visited, the associated cost of getting there, the expenses on food and transportation, the hostels and guesthouses. Then check your net pay how much you need to set aside for your travel.
The most important reminder: DO NOT CHEAT with your budget. If the allotted amount on souvenir shopping is only $50.00 then stick with it. Be serious and honest when creating your budget plan, list down everything and assign a specific amount (by this time, you have already exhausted available information and resources online) to determine your total budget.
Normally, I will make plenty of sacrifices before the scheduled trip just to save. I will limit my grocery shopping and refrain from dining outside or I’ll cut back on unnecessary expenses like weekend outing, movie trip or buying accessories and apparels. 

Determine where to go

The most crucial part in travel planning next to saving, is where to go and what to do once there. Your appetite in traveling and the choice of destinations depend on your lifestyle and preferences, the purpose why you travel and your expectations.
This will also depend on your preference in traveling. Are you a beach person who want to escape to a beautiful resort and relax? Are you a history fanatic who want to explore the cultural heritage, remnants, museums, historic landmarks and echoes from the past? An adventure junkie looking for some adrenalin rush activities like trekking the mountain, discovering off-the-beaten track destinations and looking for some daredevil activities? A nature lover looking for a laid-back environment and just wander around the parks, lakes, ponds, beautiful trees and scenic countryside? Or a city life person who just want to be in a high-end surrounding with amusement parks, elegant shopping malls, fancy restaurants, luxurious boutiques and high-tech establishments.
Once you finish identifying your preference in traveling and the activities you want to engage, you can start looking for a specific destination to visit. And once you finish making a choice where to go, check the season and the timing of your travel.
Is it dry season, spring, summer, winter, fall? Determining the timing of the season is always necessary so that you can prepare a prudent budget plan and a list of stuff to pack in your bags. Essentials, clothes, accessories, time of visit and moments of wandering vary depending on a particular season, thus, it is wise to check your destination’s climate. Once this element is put into considerations, you can move to the next step.

Scout for airfare
Other travelers will create first the budget plan and just insert the airfare cost. I have a different approach. To avoid too much stress in creating my budget list and to prevent sacrificing my basic needs, I will scout first for airfare promos before finalizing my budget plan to save my energy in editing and recreating and rearranging my budget list.
You can try this budget traveling approach. It works for me so I guess it will work for every budget traveler. Scout for airfare promos five months before your travel. Usually and based on my experience, airlines offer a lower rate three to four months before the scheduled departure. It is a tried-and-tested approach and lots of travelers are doing this technique. 

Set a specific amount for the travel

When I started planning for my Hongkong and Macau trip in 2013, I was determined to just spend Php25,000.00 including accommodation, airfare, shopping, transportation around Hongkong, dining, entrance fees to amusement parks and ferry ticket to Macau.
So I created a budget plan  around this amount and chose an affordable transient inn. In Hongkong, affordable transient inns are everywhere so planning a DIY travel on a tight budget is not so much of a concern. I was able to achieve my goals.

Do research on your destination

Whether you are traveling to Hongkong on a budget or embarking into a luxurious cruise to the Caribbean, it is important to do your homework before making decisions. Read guide books, magazines, travel blogs related to your chosen destination.
Doing research is very crucial. It is where you can get valuable tips from other travelers. Even if you seek a tour guide or avail a package from a travel agency, researching for practical guide related to your travel is always useful.

List down the best attractions on the destination

To avoid missing the point and to have a comprehensive itinerary plan, check the best attractions in your destination and what it offers to travelers. List down these attractions and decide which one you would prefer to visit.

Check the admission fees, guide how to get there and how far each spot from your hotel so that you can make enough room for the transportation budget.
Before the scheduled departure, revisit the information you got if there are changes in route or admission fees and if there are things needed to be brought during the visit. Edit your itinerary plan if necessary.

Read reviews about the place and attractions
Learning from other travelers helps a lot. It will give you an idea what to expect and if there’s a need to reconsider. It will also provide you useful ideas how to make the most of your time exploring the place.

Check and compare room accommodation rates

If you are traveling in a country that has a higher cost of living, it is wise to just choose a transient inn, hostel or a decent guesthouse than a three star hotel. After all, you are traveling there to see the place and not to sleep whole day in the hotel. Transient inns, guesthouses and hostels are ideal for budget travelers and backpackers.
Before finalizing your accommodation bookings, compare prices with other hotels and guesthouses in the area if there’s a need to switch. Always consider the safety of the surroundings.

It is also wise to check the amenities and perks of the guesthouse so that you can prepare your things smartly. If the accommodation includes bath towel then do not bring your own towel so that you can save space in your bag.
Choose the ideal location of your hotel/transient inn

When you choose a hotel, make sure it is closer to the top attractions in the city and accessible by any public transportation. This is to avoid getting lost and minimize expenses on transportation.

If you are up for shopping, choose a hotel within the vicinity of shopping markets. If you want to explore the city by foot, book a hotel closer to top attractions. This way you can create a concise and prudent budget plan.

Create and set a budget plan wisely

The most difficult part of creating a travel itinerary plan is always the budget. It poses so many troubles. And tension. Remember that you still have a life to live, you still need to eat three times a day, still have to pay your monthly bills and make grocery and buy basic stuff, thus, setting an amount for the travel is very challenging.
However, creating a budget plan prudently can save you a lot from stress, just be honest and practical in creating your list. Whatever amount you have to set aside and assign in the list restrain yourself from modifying the budget plan to make room for your frequent night outs and bar hopping with your friends.

Create your DIY Travel Itinerary Plan

I always find joy in creating a travel itinerary plan. My excitement often relies in planning and listing down the details of my expenses and destination. It offers a different level of excitement. It motivates me to work hard.
Creating a concise do-it-yourself budget travel itinerary is very simple. In your notebook or if you are using your personal computer, just open the MS Excel and put the necessary items:

1. Time/Place of Departure
2. Time/Place of Arrival
3. Destination/Address
4. Transportation
5. Attractions to visit
6. Estimated Budget
7. Actual Budget

Print your Itinerary

This is very important for DIY travelers. This serves as a guide while on the road. You are going there without someone to assist you, therefore, a hard copy of your itinerary should be printed.

In case you are lost or no idea where to go next and what to do, you can always refer to the list. Create a separate portion of the attractions you want to visit including each address so that you can show it to the locals.
Create a list what to bring

When creating a list what to bring, consider the season of your destination and the spots you will going to visit. Season says a lot when preparing what type of clothes to wear and the accessories to include in the list.
Make sure you only bring enough outfit that can be worn during the trip to avoid stuffing your bag with unnecessary things. Personally, I always prepare outfit based on the number of days of my travel. And I never wear thick clothes or jeans, this will overcrowd my bag. I only wear light dresses and shorts.

Here are the basic things usually pack by budget travelers:

1. Passport and other travel documents
2. Clothes
3. Face towel
4. Comfortable footwear
5. Sling bag
6. Candies and biscuits
7. Light night outfit
8. Sunscreen lotion, hair conditioner, body lotion
9. Sunglass
10. Shawl or long scarf
11. Swimwear if going to the beach
12. Digital camera
13. Battery charger and extra memory card
14. Toothbrush kit
15. Medicine kit (for fever, headache, stomach upset)
16. Something to cover your head in case of hot weather

Pack Light and Smart

If you are traveling for less than 15 days, avoid stuffing your bag with excessive accessories and unnecessary gadgets to avoid having a check-in bag. Budget travelers don’t actually have check-in bags, so pack light and carry up to two bags only.

Bring light clothes such as cotton-based shirts, sleeveless, leggings, shorts, scarf instead of sweatshirt and jeans. Secure valuables on a separate pouch, toiletries on a transparent-based pouch. This way you could maximize the space in the bags.

How to pack light and smart:

1. Count the number of days of your travel.
2. Each day assign a pair of clothes to wear
3. If you can mix and match your clothes, the better.
4. Avoid bringing thick and heavy clothes such as jeans and denims, boots, unless you are taking a hiking adventure, and heavy jacket, except if you are traveling on winter and fall.
5. Choose a transparent and light pouch for your toiletries that can be put only in the bag’s pocket.
6. Unless you are not on a business trip, avoid bringing laptop, this will consume a large space in your bag. You can choose to bring your tablet instead.
7. If you are bringing toothpaste, lotion, sunscreen, moisturizer, shampoo and conditioner, do not bring the whole bottle, squeeze a few amount on a separate, individual container with a cap, or just bring the sachet version to avoid overcrowding your bag with unnecessary things.
8. If you want to bring a pair of slippers, choose the lighter varieties. 
9. Bring flat shoes instead of wedges and heels.
10. Check the accommodation of your hotel or guesthouse if it has a bath towel for visitors, if there is, then avoid bringing an extra towel to save space in your bag. In case the guesthouse does not offer a bath towel, just bring a small towel.
10. Arrange your things properly in your bag, important documents like passport, tickets, booking details and identification cards should be put separately in a sling bag together with your wallet.

Choose the right luggage

Not unless you are traveling for a business trip or taking into a one month adventure, carrying an over-sized luggage is very impractical.
It will not only drain your energy from walking or moving around with those bags in tow, but also poses an added cost on your expenses for a check-in baggage. To be more practical, choose a light bag that can be hand carried in the plane.

Budget travelers usually carry backpacks, duffel bags or anything light. Backpacks and duffel bags are easier to carry and move around than the rolling bags. Maximize the space in your bag. Roll up pants, shirts, shorts cargo and square pants and place it at the bottom.
Fill small spaces with light things like undies, shawl, towelette, pack of candies. Put toiletries in the pocket of backpack and biscuits in another pocket. Secure your valuables like wallet, passport, cellphone, camera in the sling bag.
Edit and Check your list

Four days before your departure, start packing things to allow adjustment on your list what to bring and whether everything can just be put in one medium-sized backpack or you will need another bag. This is the best time also to buy necessities such as toiletries and other needs.  A day before your departure, check the list to ensure nothing would be missed out. You may edit the list to fit other necessary stuff based on your itinerary. Make last minute shopping.
Do not Cheat with your budget plan
To avoid cheating with your budget plan, bring a copy of your budget list and check the amount allotted for each item and activity from time to time.
As a budget traveler on a DIY trip, you are exploring the place on your own, therefore, you will be checking every attraction in the area alone or with your friends.
You will find fabulous things, tempting souvenir items, nice clothes, attractive accessories and want to eat and drink and visit as many spots as you can and the danger of overshooting your budget plan is on the way. But don’t cheat.
Don’t get overwhelmed with your adventure. Despite being there to relax and experience the thrill of a liberating escape, be conscious with your budget plan and check the amount you have set for each activity.
During the actual trip, if in case you have overshoot the target of your expenses due to unforeseen events: you cannot resist the scrummy taste of the local cuisine or the admission fee has some changes, make adjustment with your expenses on other items to stick with the budget. But if you have extra money for some extra events and fad, it's fine.
You can cut back on your spending the next day, choose attractions that have cheaper admission fees. If you are visiting attractions on short distances, choose to walk around instead of taking a taxi.
Or you may cut back on your shopping activities. Check high quality local items to be bought and refrain from buying souvenirs or accessories that can be found in your home country. It is very impractical.
During my Vietnam trip, I suppressed my desire to buy a nice Kipling backpack even if the price was really tempting. I had a budget list prepared ahead of time and Kipling bag was not included. The key to everything: Do not Cheat.
You can avoid cheating on your budget plan by putting a limit on each item. During your travel, always check your list and see if you are still within the parameter of your budget or already overspending. Make necessary adjustment in  case of overspending. But if you have extra resources of your finances, or if your budget still allows, well, good, you don't need to sacrifice on your cravings.

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