Congrats, you have made the decision to “see the world” and now it is time to think about the logistics. Many backpackers wonder how far their money will take them. The short answer is, it depends on how you travel. One person on a Gap Year can go through £1000 in a week and another can make that budget last six months. There are many ways to save money on the road and extend your travel time significantly.
Be Flexible On the Road
Let’s imagine you are in a hostel and meet some awesome people. They are headed out the next day on a (camping) road trip across Spain and have an empty spot in their car and invite you along. If you can abandon your trip to Paris, you can save a bunch of money and still have a great time.
If you really want to stretch your travel dollars, be as flexible as possible. Travel to Australia is going to cost a lot more then time spent in Indonesia. A bus ride from Holland to London is far cheaper than a flight. Keep an open mind when it comes to accommodations, destinations and mode of transportation. Be ready to adjust plans if new opportunities present themselves. As always, use common sense and don’t compromise your safety.
Shop Locally and Avoid Restaurants
This is common sense, but needs to be mentioned. Eating three meals a day in tourist-geared restaurants will cost a small fortune. Try to cook or “brown bag” most of your meals. Hostels and couchsurfers have kitchen facilities for food preparation. Shopping and cooking like the locals adds to an authentic travel experience.
Along the same way of thinking, basically, stop being a tourist; be a local. Travellers will save money when they shop in markets, use public transit, buy a used bike, go to the local library and participate in local community events.
Free Accommodations for Travellers
Believe it or not, it is possible to get a free bed while travelling. Consider signing up for couchsurfing or housing exchanges. Another way to get a free bed is by travelling the red-eye. You can save the price of a night’s accommodation if you are taking an over-night bus or flight.
Many adventurers exchange labour for accommodations (and sometimes food). Wwoof (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and HelpX are websites that help connect hosts and workers all over the world. Generally, 4 or 5 hours of work earns a person a bed and three meals per day. Other jobs that sometimes supply free board are hostel maintenance workers, nannies and some ESL teachers.
Working While on Gap Year
In addition to earning spending money while abroad, working in another country is a great cultural experience. Often travellers meet fellow travellers, but not many natives of the host country. Depending on the country, different types of employment are available. Jobs in the service industry are available almost everywhere, but farming or teaching jobs vary geographically.
Insurance for Backpackers
It is important to be insured while travelling. Unfortunately, many people on a Gap Year are no longer covered by their home country or under parental plans. Insurance is most expensive through the airline or travel agency. Shop around and carefully compare the benefits and deductibles. Some companies only have coverage in one country or coverage doesn’t extend longer than 30 days. Personally, I have found WorldNomads to offer good rates and covers travellers in multiple countries.
Avoid Banking and the Internet Fees
This is the area where the small amounts add up quickly. You may not think much of a $5 withdrawal fee at an ATM machine or $4 for 15 minutes of internet time, but over time it really adds up. Local libraries, hostels and many restaurants have free wifi. Even travellers who rent an apartment don’t necessarily have to pay for internet service. Skype is the way to go for communication.
Shop around for banking options and fees before you leave home. One of the cheapest options is the Prepaid Money Card (also known as the Travel Money Card). They are loaded before you leave home and are used abroad for shopping and ATM withdrawals. They advantage over regular debit cards is that the withdrawal fees are less (some are free) and it is not connected to a bank card, making it more secure. The advantage over a credit card it that you can’t spend beyond your budget. They can be reloaded by the traveller or a parent back home.
Travellers who are going to stay in the same country for a long period of time should consider opening a bank account. This enables one large bank transfer (thus only one transfer fee). For example, a traveller who is going to spend a year in New Zealand will save a bundle on withdrawal fees if he opens an account in New Zealand.
Using common sense and an open mind can extend travel time by months. As an added bonus, many of these money saving tips will actually immerse you in the local culture and enhance the Gap Year experience.