Things we’ve learned, after six months on the road:
- Keep a diary of expenses. This is the most important tip I have. It works in two ways: first, I’m less likely to make impulse purchases because I know I’ll have to write it down. Second, and more importantly, it’s crucial to keep tabs on our daily expenditures.
I might think that we’ve only spent $35 in one day, but invariably I forget about random bottles of water, snacks, museum admission fees, or other purchases without receipts. Every so often, I total it up, just to see how we are doing and if we need to be more judicious. If I didn’t do write everything down, the money would dry up a lot more quickly.
- Price-check EVERYTHING. As I walk down the street, whether I’m hungry or not, I’m always checking restaurant menus. Many places offer the same kinds of things. Whether it’s fried noodles, a souvenir keychain, or a bottle of beer, I always try to find the best deal. A few cents may not seem like much, but when I make these decisions several times a day, every day, it adds up. It’s also handy when bargaining, which leads me to…
- Bargain! I know a lot of Americans are used to fixed prices and don’t like bargaining, but in much of the world, it’s a way of life. My technique is to first price-check at the fixed-price shops, then go back to any vendor and say “At another shop, I saw that for $3….” Hesitation as well as buying more than one item also helps. I also always bargain for a room whenever we’re staying more than one night or if it’s low season.
- When possible, avoid shopping in tourist districts. Everything comes at a premium in those areas. Venture to the local supermarkets to buy postcards; try eating in small, local restaurants instead of chains; or go to a suburban mall for shopping. Think about it: at home, everything costs more in the big cities, especially in the touristy areas. Same goes for the rest of the world.
- Seek out university areas. Students the world over don’t have much money, and the shops around universities reflect that. This is usually the best place to find cheap eats and sometimes other services as well. In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the going rate for one hour of internet access at an e-cafe in the tourist district was 9,000 rupiah per hour: that’s about one dollar. Cheap, but that’s pricey for Indonesians. We walked over to a university district and the price dropped to 2,000 rupiah per hour, or 22 cents.
- Cook. This is what saved our budget in Australia and New Zealand. Both countries are on the expensive side, especially when it comes to food. We stayed at both campgrounds and hostels, which provide fridges and kitchens. We carried our own cooking oil spray, salt, and pepper, and we were able to cook dinner nearly every night.
- Walk, whenever possible. We mix it up- subways, buses, an occasional taxi ride- but walking is the most economical way to see a place. I prefer it, honestly, because taxis and buses move too quickly for me to take in my surroundings. Plus, you can price check while you walk!