Street life, Isaan, Thailand.

Slow Travel — The Best Budget Travel Secret We Can Share

At the time of writing this we will have been on the road travelling continuously for seven years. Travellers often ask us what our travel secret is, how we fund our travels and how we have managed to travel for so long. Did we sell a house, take out a personal loan, max out credit cards, or are we spending our life savings? While we do work as we travel — as a professional travel writer and photographer — slow travel is the best budget travel secret we can share with you.

Sure, you can sell your house, spend your life savings, take out a loan, and travel on credit cards, but unless your home was a mansion, you invested very wisely, the loan was substantial, and you have extremely high credit limits, you probably won’t make that money stretch to seven years or even two years or twelve months or whatever the duration of your dream trip — unless you travel slowly.

Working will extend the length of your travel and travellers have always and will always embark upon working holidays. And I’m not talking about the small percentage of travel professionals like ourselves, the writers and photographers who derive their main income from writing about travel, nor the ever-increasing number of travel bloggers who spend their days in hostels and hotel rooms tapping out blog posts and devising kooky projects to keep them on the road. Um, well, like ourselves.

Nor am I referring to the self-styled location independent digital nomads who work remotely, often in IT, running web sites and programming and writing apps and doing whatever else they’re doing to make a considerable amount of money. Nor expats. Having been expats for seven years, I can vouch that they’re an entirely other breed with an altogether different way of life.

I’m talking about the everyday travellers who set out to work their way around the world doing temporary jobs — working on farms, picking grapes during wine harvests, packing fruit, offering language lessons, working as nannies or au pairs, waiting tables, working bars, pulling beers, doing secretarial jobs, filling supermarket shelves, and performing countless other tasks that most of them are probably way too qualified to do simply because they want to travel, and travel for as long as they possibly can.

I’m also talking about the gap year kids who volunteer abroad, the backpackers who head off for a couple of years, the couples who plan to do a six-month trip at mid-range level, the grey nomads who criss-cross countries in their motor-homes, and the families who embark on a year of house-swapping — or, like my parents, set off in a caravan for a year that turns into five.

Slow travel is their secret.

As it is for tho retirees and gypsy families who stay on the road for years, settling into camping and caravan parks for months on end. And the home-swapping families who house-hop around the world for one month at a time. They have it all worked out.

Not the travellers intent on ticking off X number of countries, seeing Y number of monuments or accumulating a certain amount of frequent flyer miles or airline points by a certain age. Nor the If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium-style of tour groups.

Because the more you do, the faster the pace of your travel, and the more frequently you move, the more costly your trip will be. It will also likely be more unsatisfying, rushing through cities, seeing the iconic sights and little else, focusing more on taking pictures than taking in the atmosphere of a place.

But then if you don’t take the photos you won’t remember anything other than the budget calculations you find yourself continually making and the crazy itinerary you glance at countless times a day in an effort to keep up with the frenetic pace of travel you have set yourself.

Slow travel is the best budget travel secret by far.

Here are our slow travel tips that will save you money:

  • Take your time getting there — trains, ferries, buses, bikes, and even your feet, will (mostly) all be more affordable than planes (low cost airlines aside), so take your time getting to where you want to go, and travelling from place to place. Remember — as clichéd as it sounds — travel is as much about the journey as the destination.
  • Settle in for a while — whether it’s one week, one month, or more, settling in to a place is the best way to save money. The longer you stay the more you’ll save. We prefer renting apartments or houses, and monthly rates are always cheaper than nightly or weekly rates. But also consider camping and caravanning (even cheaper), house-swaps (free) and house sitting (there’s usually a joining fee), and if you’re young and like the social aspect of a youth hostel or backpackers, why not stay a while, volunteer to work for board or negotiate a cheaper longer-stay rate.
  • Walk or use local transport — we always walk as much as we can because we find walking by far a better way to get to know a place than catching a subway or even bus, but if you can’t walk somewhere then public transport is the next best option for getting around. The people-watching and eavesdropping opportunities aside, in most places it’s cheaper than catching a cab, especially if you’re settling in for a while and can buy weekly or monthly transport passes.
  • Eat like locals and eat in more than you eat out — when we’re on short trips we tend to eat out for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but when we’re settling into one place for a while, we will only eat out once a day and cook or prepare the other meals ourselves. That doesn’t mean you always have to eat at home — although that can be fun too, especially when you make friends and invite them over — you can put together a picnic for lunch in a park, a barbecue to enjoy beside a beach, or take a bottle of wine and some cheese and cold cuts and sit by a lake. Even cold beers and sandwiches can be amazing if you’ve made them yourself from local produce and you eat them in a spectacular spot.
  • Shop where the locals shop — whether it’s a fresh food market, a local supermarket or specialty shops in a suburb, you’re always going to pay less for your groceries and fruit and vegetables than you would in a mini-mart in a tourist zone or even a supermarket in the city centre. You’ll also gain an insight into the everyday life of that place and how the locals shop, eat and even socialize. Also, often you only figure out where the best places to buy are after being in a place for a while.
  • Drink where the locals drink — while it’s tempting to visit those glamorous rooftop bars and popular waterfront spots, especially if in the lead-up to your trip your research involved clipping stories from glossy travel magazines, the local watering holes — the cafés, bars, pubs, even local clubs, like RSLs in Australia, journalist clubs in Asia, and sporting clubs around the world, will be much cheaper to drink at, and again, like the shopping spots, provide much more of an insight into local culture and social life. And once again, it can take a while to discover which pubs the locals prefer to prop themselves up at, which is why you need to settle in for a while and travel slowly.

So while you can sell your house, tap into your life savings, acquire a few credit cards, and even fund your travel with a personal loan, the secret to making your finances last as long as possible is simple. Just travel slowly.




There are 8 comments

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  1. Karin-Marijke

    Possible tip: http://www.workaway.info?

    We just met a couple of people who find volunteer jobs via this website and it sounds like an interesting way to stay in places without spending fortunes or even a penny while getting to know a country/region/culture. During my first scan of the website I noticed it’s not just jobs in tourism (e.g. guesthouses) but also agricultural projects (organic farming) and animal rescue centers.

  2. Ian [EagerExistence]

    The best bit is, these slow travel tips transfer easily, even if you aren’t on the road for years. By slowing your travel down a little, cooking your own food, catching slow trains, shopping where the locals shop, you can save yourself a considerable amount of your travel budget.

  3. Scott

    Absolutely right here about everything. My girlfriend and I are just finishing up our first year of travel, and we stumbled into much of this ourselves. I enjoy about ten days of fast travel in a row now at a max, and luckily it’s all we can afford.

  4. Liv

    I think slow travel offers far more depth too. The speedy traveller will see things, but travellers taking it slowly will understand places. That greater insight is what I love.


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