We don’t want anyone to be discouraged from backpacking by scary stories of extreme budgeting. Did you know that you can travel in comfort and still hit modest budget targets?
We know that you can because we do.
If backpacking meant flying on antique aircraft and archaic buses, we’d still be back in England. Instead we are turning backpacking upside down and proving that even those of us that like the finer things in life can enjoy living out of a rucksack.
Travelling in style
It’s true that transportation costs can really eat into your travel budget and are quite often a lot more costly than expected.
If you’ve read any of our monthly budget reports you’ll know that we tend to spend more on transportation than most because we like to travel comfortably but we just make up for it in other areas of the budget. (Psst, we drink a lot of beer, too!)
We’re luxury backpackers and that means that whilst we travel with only a backpack to our name, we prefer to maintain as many comforts as possible within our tight budget of £500 per person, per month. Good transportation is a huge part of that.
For some travellers hanging off the back of a packed bus or sleeping on a shelf on a rusty train is all part of the experience but for two safety and comfort conscious travellers like us, this won’t do.
We like to travel in style! (Isn’t pink Glen’s colour?)
If you’re thinking of undertaking some long term travel but are deterred by tales of roughing it on the road, think again. Affordable travel doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.
Here’s what we do.
International travel as a luxury backpacker
Getting the balance of cost versus comfort right is the biggest challenge of any traveller and it can be tempting to take financial short cuts in the form of risky decisions.
For example, if you’re moving between border countries should you skip the airport and jump on a bus?
Crossing borders overland will almost always be cheaper than flying but it can also be pretty dangerous.
Badly maintained buses, dangerous driving, theft during toilet breaks and political / border violence are all issues to be contended with on top of the discomfort of spending way too long on a bus.
As a real word example let’s look at popular backpacking destination South East Asia, a region where there is lots of movement between neighbouring countries.
It’s widely known that the land border between Thailand and Malaysia is highly dangerous due to the extreme terrorism threat to Westerners, but people still use the border every day.
You might save £20 by joining them instead of hopping on a flight with a budget airline, but is it worth the risk? We say no. Our Mother’s would kill us.
I’m not saying that we won’t ever travel overland because if you take the right precautions and fully research the trip it can be great, but by the time you’ve paid for the VIP bus with WiFi and on-board toilets, you’re probably no richer. You might as well have saved yourself 10 hours and flown.
Flying isn’t 100% safe, 2014 has taught us that, but the risk is negligible. (Trust me, I WAS an aviation broker not too long ago).
We find all of our flights using airline search engines Momondo and Skyscanner. These are such great resources for all travellers whether you’re looking for the cheapest available flight or the most direct route.
- Always check the safety record of the airline (wouldn’t you rather spend more for safety?)
- Most budget airlines charge extra for everything, including baggage and tax. Make sure you understand the full cost before you commit
- Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays tend to be the cheapest days to fly (with Friday and Sunday being the most expensive)
- Buying tickets at the last minute will always cost more so book in advance where you can
- Indirect flights tend to be cheaper but quite often the difference is negligible and the layover is huge. Be careful to look at more than just price
Airport transfers as a luxury backpacker
Travel days are stressful enough without tacking arduous transfers on either end and that’s why we will always travel by private car when possible.
It’s definitely a luxury but that’s kind of what we’re going for here. If every day of travelling was hard work, we probably wouldn’t want to do it for very long so why not make it enjoyable?
We’ve found that we can pick up some killer local information from our drivers during the transfers and we are able to arrive at our accommodation much more relaxed than we would be if we had to cart our heavy backpacks across town on public transport. Also, as business owners we always want to get the laptops on as soon as possible just to check everything is okay!
- Many hotels / guest houses provide free airport transfers as part of your stay. This information is not always very prominent and so keep your eyes peeled. We use booking.com to find places to stay and they’re pretty good at making the info visible.
- Book a car in advance. Not only will you skip the cab queue, you’ll also get a cheaper fare and normally a nicer car too (we got a whole minibus to ourselves in Khanom!)
- If you do opt to use a taxi at the airport make sure you agree a price before the journey begins and make sure the cabbie is licensed
Travelling in-country as a luxury backpacker
Unless you plan to stay in one place for your whole trip, it’s inevitable that you’ll need to use public transport to get around.
Sometimes there’s no other option but to rough it and be uncomfortable for a while but if you look around it’s not usually too difficult to find a bus company that offers luxury coaches for travel.
Travel by camel? Only for short trips!
There’s a great website called Rome2Rio who will show you how to get from A-B in a number of different ways and this is a fab resource for finding trusted companies.
We used them to book our transport from Kuala Lumpur to Penang and ended up on a really comfortable bus with a great driver and a relaxing journey all for £6.50!
- Again check out the safety record. Drew over at the Hungry Partier was recently involved in a bus accident in India which makes for a terrifying read
- If there’s no room to keep your whole bag with you on the bus, make sure you put all of your valuables in a daysack and keep that with you. If you can’t board without your valuables in hand, don’t get on
- Sometimes during a pit stop you’ll be asked to change buses. Make sure you double check with your driver or you could find that your bus leaves whilst you’re taking a comfort break!
- If you can pre-select your seats for a small fee, do it. If not you’re destined to be sitting in the worst seat in the house as nobody will queue up to board (we always have to ask people to get out of our seats)
Day to day transportation
Day to day we are just like any other backpacker.
We love hiring motorbikes and zipping around exploring on our own. We will happily jump in a songthaew or a tuk tuk and we don’t mind commuter trains one bit! For us day to day transport is more like a fun activity than actual transportation and we’d hate to miss out on all the fun!
We never say no to a bike ride!
And there you have it. Travel doesn’t have to be uncomfortable to be affordable – you just need to plan ahead and prioritise transportation in your budget. Don’t let your trip be ruined by a crappy journey just to save a few pounds, it’s not worth it.