Last year our first student intern Ellie said farewell to our office on completing her internship determined to experience budget travel, ideally to try house-sitting and to see more of the world. All our housesitting assignments and travelers’ tales had given her a taste for travel. Twelve months later she has sent us a blog about how she succeeded in travelling on a budget in Asia, without compromising on rich and extraordinary experiences.
The one element that usually holds anyone back from travelling is money, but believe me when I say you don’t have to be rich to travel richly!
Planning my budget travel to Asia
Graduating from university, with let’s say a less than a happy bank balance, I was desperate to travel again. It has always been a huge interest of mine, and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to intern for HouseSit Match, granting me a great first glimpse into the exciting travel industry! However, each time I wrote, read or talked to house-sitters about travel I envied them. So after university I had decided to give in to the strong desire to pack my backpack again! Budget travel in Asia was my goal.
When planning my trip, I started researching into the cheapest places and the cheapest means of travel, knowing I’d need to travel on a very tight budget. Asia, already top of my list since first exploring it alone at 18, was a continent that I was keen to explore further. Conveniently it is also very cheap to travel and perfect for those on a shoe string budget! After working hard post university for six months, taking on two jobs and turning down nights out for much less glamorous nights in I soon managed to save enough money to buy my flights and start to plan my Asian adventure!
Asia and budget travel
I decided to start my travel in North Thailand, I’d been told it was a perfect place to start. With a thriving backpacker scene, it allowed me to ease myself gently into travel! I’d then continue on to Myanmar, a country untouched by tourism as it only recently opened its’ doors again. It was a huge and brilliant contrast to the very touristic Thailand, however, it still felt very safe and easy to navigate. I then decided I would revisit India, starting in the North and traveling down to the South. Then travelling all the way South to the beautiful Island of Sri Lanka! Finally finishing my Asian adventure on Istanbul’s Asian side, and so continuing onto the Balkans!
Enriching my experience through budget travel
The countries I chose, had always fascinated me. The vibrant exotic colours, foods, sounds and smells, so different and exciting compared to anything I had experienced in Western countries. However it was also very important to me that I experienced the culture as authentically as I could. Though budgeting often throws up many negative connotations, I soon discovered by budgeting on food, accommodation and transport I was actually travelling more authentically, more richly you might say! The choices I made based on budget actually positively affected how I experienced a culture. By buying what locals ate my experience was true to the country I was visiting and I was also saving a few pennies!
Eating and budget travel
Food and drink is easy to budget and it is also one way you can really dig your teeth into a culture. Countries such as Thailand and India, have cultures enriched by their famous dishes. And experiencing these exotic tastes can be achieved cheaply!
Knowing where to eat, is the hardest problem especially when just arriving in a new town. However, I soon learnt the best meals I had were often recommended by locals I had met, or other fellow travelers! These hidden gems often didn’t look like the standard restaurants I was used to back home, and the best eateries were those that were frequented by locals! Also by choosing these restaurants instead of the more pricey Western eateries, I was able to eat for as less than a few pounds a week, but also I was eating like a local, the experience was authentic!
Eat where the locals eat was definitely a rule to go by in Thailand as the best street food was to be found in the busiest and cheapest food stalls in street markets! The streets offer great opportunities to eat on a budget, with many stalls serving delicious Pad Thai for as little as 50p per plate! This was the same everywhere I went in Asia, it was effortless to find a delicious meal at any time of the day for the equivalent of a few English pennies!
Surprisingly, though described as expensive to eat and travel online, Myanmar was actually the cheapest place we went to in all of Asia! Each dish was also often served as very much more than just a meal, it was an experience as well! Serving meals influenced by Indian and Thai curry dishes, restaurant owners would come out offering free food samplers, excited for you to taste and enjoy their culture and to learn about yours. Eating in Asia was such an exciting authentic experience, one that definitely can fit into any tight budget!
Transport and budget travel
Though the cost of flights is often the most expensive purchase to any trip. Once you’ve stepped off that plane and arrived, traveling in Asia is easy and actually very cheap!
Your choice of transport can definitely affect how you see a country, especially in Asia. By opting for cheaper transport options, usually used by locals, it will definitely give you a more valuable and adventurous experience! What I learnt in Asia, is that its public transport experience isn’t just about getting from A to B, it’s about the whole experience who you meet, what you see and how long it takes you!
From the chai sellers singing on the Indian trains, to the spiced peanut sellers in Sri Lanka passing you bags through the bus windows. These are the unique smells and tastes you would not get from a pricey tourist car, and they are definitely the experiences you remember.
Though sometimes it can be a little daunting not knowing where you are exactly and which stop to get off at, it isn’t necessary to worry, as the driver and locals are always extremely helpful in letting you know which stop and sometimes even giving you directions after you alight!
Tuktuks are a truly brilliant way to get around any city, however, it is always good to be wary of drivers offering you “a price very cheap”. As it often involves a unexpected detour to a local emporium, where you will find yourselves battling to say no to parting with your hard earned cash, with the best sellers in Asia! Though the best days I’ve had, were renting a tuktuk with a group of friends I met the hostels. When you haggle a good price for the day, tuktuk drivers are the best knowledgeable tour guides in town!
I found Asia a lot easier than I originally thought to get around, with great transport links from anywhere in the counties. The prices are so cheap and often don’t eat into your budget, for example travelling 5 hours in Sri Lanka on a local bus, be it a little cramped, only cost me 60p for the trip!
Asia makes budget travel easy, especially when you get off the tourist trail and opt for cheaper transport. I have no regrets. The cheaper choice will enrich your travel experience and save a few pennies to try the local beers later!
Accommodation and budget travel
Choice of accommodation is important especially after a hard day of travelling! However Asia offers a great and varied mix of all types of accommodation to fit all budgets!
If you don’t mind missing a few creature comforts, you can stay for a few pounds in backpacker retreats. We stayed in backpacker retreats and hostels in the mountains of North Thailand. We stayed there for as little as £3. There were daily yoga classes at sunrise and there was always an open lit fire, for those chilly mountain nights! We were offered the choice of an upgrade for just a few pounds extra giving us our own rustic shack with a hammock! I found these hidden gems for budget prices were all over Asia and not just in North Thailand!
Hosteling for accommodation makes for an excellent experience in budget travel in Asia. It can be a great way to meet like-minded travelers. The backpacking routes often have lots of hostel options. It is always a good idea to read the reviews first. Booking sites make it super easy, especially in peak season where the best places sell out quickly. If you’re looking into hostels I suggest, it’s always a good idea to find places with good common areas, or with free breakfast, as it allows you to meet people from all over the world, creating a great opportunity to plan days out with new friends!
Guesthouses and hotels in Asia can also fit easily into a tight budget, like hostels they often offer more than just a place to stay. Savvy business owners also sell tours, bike rentals and bus tickets too, so you’re never be stuck on ideas of what to do next! However, do have a little shop around first, because more often than not you can get an even better deal down the road!
One of the best places I stayed was in Negombo in Sri Lanka for just £8 a night and the place was only 10 meters from the beach! But it was actually the owner who really made the stay. Giving me brilliant recommendations on what to see and where to go next and cooking a delicious seafood meal, with the catches of the day I had bought from the local fish market!
Though one thing I did miss sometimes when Travelling on a budget was creature comforts of home, which is one of the benefits of housesitting which was an option we considered! Next time we will housesit and stay longer in each location. In Asia you will never go without a place to stay, people are always keen to help you and if you get into a Tuktuk off the bus, and they won’t stop until you have found a place to stay!
Budget travel in Asia has proven a wonderful eye opening experience, it has also given me the confidence I need to no become a proper graduate! I couldn’t recommend Asia enough, not just for the vibrant colours and tastes but also for the people and culture you cannot experience anywhere else in the world! Asia’s rich culture can definitely be explored on a small budget and I definitely believe now that you don’t have to be rich to travel richly!
By Ellie Meakin
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