How to Travel on a Budget Like a Pro

One common misconception about travel is that it’s too expensive.

It can be if you’re the type of traveler who brings around a huge suitcase for an overnight stay, requires 5-star hotel accommodations wherever you go, and whose preferred mode of transport is an air-conditioned shuttle. Travel is something that is really worth investing in, but it need not break the bank. It’s not something that should leave you impoverished. As the popular saying goes, travel is only thing you buy that makes you richer.

location independence tent motorcycle travelup beach cebu

It’s always a matter of priorities. You can choose to drink overpriced coffee or tea everyday or choose to save the money instead towards your travel fund. Here are a few tips and tricks used by backpackers and budget travelers to save costs while on the road.

1. Hostels, homestays & hammocks

While everyone loves a luxurious hotel with its own bathtub and complimentary buffet breakfast, the cost of accommodations usually eats up a bulk of one’s travel budget if you’re not careful. Standard air-con rooms in hotels in most provinces around the Philippines cost roughly P1,000-2,5000/night.

the circle hostel zambales bedsTriple-decker beds & hammocks at The Circle Hostel in La Union

Opting for smaller budget-friendly hostels or pension houses, homestay options or even just hanging up a hammock somewhere can save you a lot of money. You can opt for rooms with electric fans instead of air-conditioning or look for places with dorm-type accommodations. Joining the Couchsurfing community (a network of people who let other travelers crash on their couch) is another popular option these days. There’s also the option of staying with relatives or at friend’s houses, who will almost always offer you free food.

calayan babuyan islands san jose inn homestay

Our homestay in Calayan Island cost only P200/night

Another option is to pitch a tent. I’ve had trips where I couldn’t find any reasonably priced accommodations, so I just opted to rent a tent and pitch it on the beach for the night. If you’re making the most of your travel, you’ll be spending most of your time outdoors anyway. The rooms are just a place to sleep for the night and stash your belongings. By scrimping on accommodations, you can save a lot of money for more important things like activities, food and beer. The last item is very important.

2. Subscribe to Seat Sale Alerts

Airfare is one of the major costs of travel, with flights to local destinations usually costing a couple of thousand bucks while international destinations usually reach the double digits for round trip tickets.

targus backpack aiport

By signing up to the newsletter of budget airlines, you’ll get notified every time there’s a one peso seat sale or seasonal promo. You may be planning your trip a year in advance, but you will save a lot from the original cost of airfare. It’s essential to book flights as soon as you see the seat sale, because these seats sell out fast! Have a file with all your details ready so you can just plug it in at once in the forms. Imagine, a round trip ticket to Batanes can cost less than P2,000 during a promo fare.

3. Opt for the long way around

Airline travel is not the only option to get around. Boats, buses or a combination of different means of public transport can be a cheaper alternative to reach a destination. By traveling at night (taking sleeper night buses or night trains) you’ll also save the cost of a room for the night. Going from Cebu to Bohol, I took the slow night ferry (P300) vs. regular fast craft (P800) to save on room costs for the night. 2-in-1 transportation + accommodations in one = Win.

itbayat batanes getting there boats

Passenger / cargo boat from Batan to Itbayat in Batanes

For weekend rides from Manila, I really like using my scooter, because it’s more practical. Gas is much cheaper and I can avoid the traffic, which means I can cover more ground than if I travel by car or have to wait for public transportation. When I travel to different provinces, I usually rent a motorbike to go around and explore on my own instead of joining tours. I’ve had friends who backpacked across the country by hitchhiking, while motorcycle riders usually make use of the wide network of Roll-On Roll-Off ports that connect the different islands while having their own means of transport.

sagada motorbiking 02

Motorbiking from Sagada, Bontoc & Banaue and back

Exploring by bicycle is another great way travel. Aside from being one of the cheapest options available, you get to appreciate the journey, the destination and the little details more because of the effort you put into getting there. If you can’t travel far to “exotic destinations,” try biking to nearby often overlooked destinations. Not only will this save you money, but you end up seeing familiar places in a new light and get the same high as if you’ve traveled far.

4. Travel in a group

While some people prefer to travel solo, there’s no denying that traveling in groups costs much less. From transportation to food, accommodations to boat rentals, you’ll save a lot of money if you are splitting costs with other travelers. For example, hiring a boat (good for 10 people) for island-hopping trips can cost as much as P1,000-P2,000/trip. If you’re traveling in a group, the cost is just 10% of what you would have to shell out if you are traveling solo.

jomalig quezon boat group shot

Group trip to Jomalig Island

If you don’t have a big group of kaladkarin friends, you can always join packaged tours organized by local tour agencies and operators. Usually this covers transportation, food and entrance fees, so you’ll end up saving some money compared to doing everything yourself. Here are 5 local travel companies I can personally vouch for.

quirino province topload jeepney photo by eazytraveler

Exploring Quirino province with friends. Photo by EAZY Traveler.

5. Eat like a local

Touristy restaurants with classy ambiance and multilingual menus are often those where the price of the food is a bit overpriced. Do you see any locals eating there, or is it just full of foreigners and expats? While it’s nice to indulge in top must-try restaurants when you travel, eating out in places like this all the time can be quite expensive.

06. tawitawi food carinderia

A meal for sharing at a carinderia in Tawi-Tawi

Mix it up by eating like a local once in a while. Head to the street side stalls, hawker’s centers, public markets or scout for the small, hole-in-the-wall eateries and local hangouts. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also enjoy a more authentic dining experience.

saigon backpacker's district pho beer

Bia hoi (fresh beer) and affordable eats in Saigon’s backpacker district

Go for daily specials and combo meals which are often cheaper compared to other dishes on the menu. Need a beer to wash down the meal? Make sure you drink only during Happy Hour so you can save some cash. Better yet, head to a convenience store or grocery to buy a couple of drinks, at a cheaper price than those in restaurants.

6. Utilize Online Apps

When you’re strapped for cash, it helps to have some useful Online Apps. I’ve used Uber for late night pick ups at the airport because airport taxis in the country are just crazy expensive and I didn’t have enough cash anymore for a ride. You can also easily do hotel or air ticket arrangements online through sites like Traveloka Philippines. There are other websites where you can book discounted vouchers for hotels and tours.

bee on sunflower at UP Diliman

Sunflower photo taken with the Samsung Galaxy S6, which comes with one of Sun Postpaid’s plans

Of course, this means that you need to be connected to WiFi, which is not always available in places around the Philippines. Therefore, it helps to have a good Data plan so you can be connected and use the online apps in case of emergencies. In the past, whenever I traveled, I used to reload my prepaid phone from my old network for calls and texts. Since I’m a heavy social media user, I’d end up using most of the load on data charges in areas where there’s no WiFi. Assess if you’re getting your money’s worth from your network because you can Choose Better options where you pay less and get more. Check out Sun Postpaid’s Best Value Plan 450.

7. Turn your Hobby into a Career

I used to do a lot of workshop and conference documentation just for the excuse to travel out of town. I’ve also had full-time office jobs, where I was never happy. Now as a freelance writer and travel blogger, I get invited to different destinations in the country, where some, if not all costs, are covered. The best kinds of assignments are the ones related to travel and tourism.  But I also take on writing and photography assignments to cover events, do research/fieldwork or interview people for case studies.

biking in batanes road bike

When other organizations are taking care of my airfare, I try to maximize my stay whenever possible by coming a day or two earlier or extending my return ticket back to do some sightseeing on my own. While I have to cover my costs for the extra days, I still save on the airfare and get enough material that I can submit as travel articles which I contribute to magazines and online publications (who pay for these.)

travelup motorcycle cebu osmena peak

The way I see it, if I had a full time office job, I would probably spend all my earnings on travel anyway. So while I may not make as much from freelancing as a regular job, having the time to take personal trips, getting opportunities to travel for free, and earning from trips balances out.

Travel does not need be a burden on the pocket. Hopefully these tips will inspire you to hit the road.

2 thoughts on “How to Travel on a Budget Like a Pro

  1. Dear Kara,

    This post is like a shout out to me. i’ve been in a full time job for so long and it’s like i’m traveling by reading blog posts and dreams. i keep on asking myself when will i ever have the chance to travel as a part of my job. but just the thought of it scares the hell out of me. questions like stability and savings are the first things that come to mind. Anyway Thank you. I’m now a fan of your work. Hoping to meet and learn from you one day.

    • Thanks for the kind words Mahyie. I know it can be hard for many Filipinos who have financial concerns when they travel, but it’s doable if you cut back costs on other expenses. Since you have a full-time job, you can just start slow, make the most of weekends and explore overlooked places near the metro. This will encourage you to travel further. Good luck! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *