Although the open road may beckon us, there are often road blocks between the dream of backpacking around Asia and living at home. One of those road blocks is most often money. Traveling around the world can be expensive, but it can also be very cheap depending on your living standards and your money-spending habits. The following are four techniques you can use while traveling to stretch your dollar, euro, rupee, or whatever, as far as possible, because every dollar saved means more time living your dreams on the road in Asia.
Tip #1: Eat Street Food!
There’s a great deal of misconception about eating street food in Asia. Depending on who you ask, what guide book you’re reading, or what travel doctor you see before your trip, they might give you one major piece of advice: “Don’t eat the street food!” They’ll probably tell you horrible stories about food poisoning from eating street meat in Bangkok or fish in Vietnam. But, don’t let these horror stories deter you, because this advice is absolutely false. If you adhere to those misguided words or wisdom in Asia, you’ll be missing out on some of the most INCREDIBLE meals of your life, not to mention some of the most important local food culture.
The other major perk of eating street food in Asia is the price. Good, incredible, spectacular food is cheap. For example, a bowl of steaming hot pho in Vietnam ranges anywhere from $0.25 to $1.50. A few thick, chewy roti prata made in front of your eyes on the streets of Malaysia will run you about $1.00. Eating street food will save you loads of money compared to if you were to eat all your meals in sit down restaurants and, honestly, street food is often better than restaurant food. In some parts of Asia, like Thailand, street food is a major part of the culture. To not eat street food in Bangkok would be about as sacrilege as going to Siem Reap, Cambodia and missing out on Angkor Wat.
Some people are concerned about health issues and sanitation of street food vendors. But, not to worry. You won’t have a problem with most street food carts, just make sure you keep your eyes peels and if the food doesn’t look very cleanly, don’t worry, another street food cart is likely only a block away. The glory of the street food cart is that you can watch your food being made right in front of your eyes, while at a restaurant, the food is made behind closed doors. Just remember that if you stomach does become upset from eating something, don’t blame it on street food in general! Remember that it’s one isolated incident that shouldn’t be applying to the street food category as a whole.
Tip #2: Be Mindful of Your Books
Long travel stints often mean a lot of free time: waiting at bus stations, nights along in hostels, 24 hour train trips. What better way to fill your free time than with a thick, worn-and-torn book? When you’re traveling, this often means you are looking at and thinking about the world in totally new ways and reading new material can make this fresh experience even better. And let’s face it, on those nights when you just can’t stand the thought of going out for beers again, sitting on the roof of your hostel with a book is probably the most delightful alternative. Whether it be classic novel, a historical narrative or a non-fiction work, books are a traveler’s best friend. So, what’s the problem? Although books are one of the most necessary travel accessories, the problem is that books can be very expensive while traveling. There are several solutions to this problem of expensive books.
The first solution is to trade books with other travelers looking for some new material. This is one of the best approaches because it is completely free. It’s also fun to read books that dozens of other people have read, made notes in, folded the pages of and loved. Add you own little note (maybe your email?) at the end of the book and see what comes of it! The other good thing about trading with fellow travelers is that you get to talk about other recommendations for similar books.
The next solution is to go to a used bookstore where you can often find some stellar deals. Many of the used bookstores in Asia also sell some new books, so if you’re craving some brand spankin’ new pages, you can get them there. The benefit of going to used bookstore is that they will often buy your finished book for about half the price they’ll sell it for and you can use that money as a credit for your next book. This ends up being a pretty good deal if you’re swapping out books at used book stores. Some regions have a sparser selection of used book stores, but in places like Thailand and Malaysia, used bookstores abound. The draw back of too many used bookstores is that you’ll be tempted to buy too many books and then end up carrying around 10 extra pounds in your pack.
**Travel Tip: Some of the best places for English-language used books stores in Asia include Chiang Mai (Thailand), Bangkok (Thailand), Kathmandu (Nepal) and Hanoi (Vietnam).
Tip #3: Stop Spending So Much Money on Your Room
Because really? How much time do you spend in your room when you are traveling anyway? A comfortable room is always nice, but is the TV, in-room bathroom and sink, air-con and refrigerator really necessary? Probably not. One of the best ways to shave money off your travel expenditures is to settle for no-frills, basic rooms. You can find a room in Asia for anywhere between $1,500 (and beyond) and $0.50. Spending $2-$3 on a room means you’ll probably just get a bed and a closet-like room. This is fine if you’re planning on spending the majority of your time out-and-about (which you probably are). For a few bucks more, you can get a room with air-con, which is always nice if you’re in a place like Bangkok where the heat can be sweltering.
What you’ll get with a very cheap room:
1) A bed. It won’t necessarily be comfortable but it will most likely be clean and sleepable.
2) A pillow. It won’t necessarily be soft, but it’s still a pillow.
3) A shared bathroom. Some travelers steer clear of the shared bathroom, but it’s really not so bad. You share one bathroom and shower, sometimes more, with other travelers. People generally keep this communal area clean. In larger hostels, each floor may be equipped with as many as 5 shared bathrooms for easier access.
Tip #4: Walk!!!!!!
One of the best ways to save money is to forget the taxis, the rickshaws, the tuk-tuks and even the buses. Walk! It’s free, fun, good exercise and is probably the best way to intimately get to know a place. Taking the occasional taxi for long journeys is ok, but getting in the habit of hailing a cab every time you need to get somewhere will surely put a damper on your travel budget. The best perk of walking is that you see exponentially more things, details, people and events than you would see while in a moving vehicle. The best way to get to know a new place is to get lost on foot and then find your way back to your hostel or a major landmark. It is essential that this be done on foot. Make sure you take comfortable walking shoes with you on your travels! This tip will help your wallet, will increase your knowledge of a place and will help you stay fit while on the road!
Still nervous about street food? Click below for some great advice from bad ass and traveler extraordinaire, Anthony Bourdain: