I recently spent almost 6 months backpacking through Southeast Asia, returning home with new friends from around the world, enough souvenirs to last a lifetime, and plenty of travel tips and hacks to show you how to budget for a long term backpacking trip through beautiful Asia.
Here are 10 of the best hacks to help you plan a trip to Southeast Asia on a budget:
TRAVEL WITH FRIENDS OR IN A GROUP
Traveling with others seriously cuts the amount of money you will spend on your trip. Ordering a taxi? Split it in 2 or 3 ways. Want to try 2 different dishes on the restaurant menu? Share with a friend. Splurging on a hotel room in Bali? Ask for 2 beds. If you are planning to travel solo, make some new travel buddies on the road and save money wherever you go!
Hostels are a great place to meet up with fellow backpackers, but you can also look for new friends at local markets, restaurants, activities, and of course bars around town. If you’re having trouble finding friends in the town, consult travel apps like Bungee Girl or Backpackr to see who is located near you and also looking for a travel companion.
TRACK YOUR FLIGHTS, AND START EARLY
One of the most expensive parts of traveling is booking your international flight. I flew from my hometown of San Francisco to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, a popular Southeast Asia airport hub and great starting point for any backpacking trip. Using apps like Skyscanner or websites like Google Flights will help you find and track flights throughout Asia. If I am planning a trip I will track multiple flights months in advance and wait until it’s at the absolute lowest price. Google flights will create a graph of each tracked flight and show you the price fluctuation, allowing you to pick the best time of week / month to book your flight. Check out this Google Flights tips article for more information.
If flights are still expensive in the months leading up to your trip, consider other options like spending airline miles, opening a travel credit card and redeeming miles, or alternative flight routes through international hubs in Europe.
FIND CHEAP ACCOMMODATIONS
I almost exclusively stayed at hostels and guest houses during my time in Southeast Asia. It is a great way to meet new friends and also the best location for booking transportation and activities and finding local food options. Consult sites like Hostelworld and Booking.com to find the cheapest accommodations and rely on reviews for more in depth details on the backpacker experience at each hostel.
If you can forego planning, simply head to a new city with no booked bedroom and ask the hostel receptionist for the best deal. If they have a lot of empty beds, they will give you a steep discount.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT LOCATION
While you might want to see all of Southeast Asia, some countries are more expensive than others. Do some research ahead of time for which countries you can realistically see within your budget. Consult travel bloggers and travel books for an in depth look on the cost of different Southeast Asia cities.
As obvious as it sounds, you also might want to consider avoiding big cities which can have much more expensive hostel dorms or daily activities. Instead look for small towns or beautiful islands to spend your time. For instance, I spent 1 day in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh and 4 days on the remote island of Koh Rong, 1 hour south of Sihanoukville. If you have your heart set on seeing big cities, try to find budget accommodation through Couchsurfing, Go Overseas Volunteering or Nomador house sitting.
FALL IN LOVE WITH PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Public transportation will be your new best friend. In my 6 months of backpacking I almost exclusively travelled by bus (except for my flight from Singapore to Bali). It can take much longer than flying, but provides you with an opportunity to see what most locals do when they want to visit friends and family in different towns. But be warned the advertised time frame of the bus ride is often drastically less than the route will take. I once boarded a 20 hour bus from Sihanoukville Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam that was advertised to be 10 hours. Part of the beauty of Southeast Asia is embracing the madness, and meeting travelers to do so with you each step of the way.
TRAVEL DURING SHOULDER SEASON
I spent almost 6 months traveling through Southeast Asia, from June to November. June through October is commonly known as the monsoon season, allowing me to negotiate lower prices on accommodation, transport, and activities. Yes, it did rain from time to time, but I still enjoyed the vast beauty present throughout Asia, and saved a few hundred dollars along the way.
The perks of traveling Southeast Asia in the low season are discussed further in this informative article.
LEARN HOW TO DRIVE A MOTORBIKE
Travel like a local and perfect your skills on a motorbike. It is easily the cheapest and most convenient way to sightsee in Southeast Asia. You will meet hundreds of travelers that use this as their main form of transportation. Daily rentals cost around $5 USD, but can vary based on location and availability.
Be careful, this is the number one way to get hurt while backpacking. You should take your international bike licence and check with your travel insurance company what they will cover you for before you leave. It’s worth it to take a local lesson before zooming around new cities.
DON’T PLAN TOO MUCH
Avoid spending money online before getting to the location: There’s really no need to book all of your activities and accommodation ahead of time. There are shops and activity booths throughout each town that can help you plan your days, offer you special discounts, and give you advice on the most interesting tours through the city. Plus it gives you time to make new friends and sight see with them!
DRINK LESS ALCOHOL, OR FIND THE BEST HAPPY HOURS IN TOWN!
One night out can cost you anywhere from $5-25. Alcohol is often quite expensive in Southeast Asia because of high tax rates. If you do plan to drink abroad look for the 2-for-1 deals at hostel bars which can range from dinner drinks to late night discount prices.
Expenses will inevitably increase on the days you spend traveling. Adding in the cost of a bus, expensive/inconsistent food options, accommodation along your route, and any additional unforeseen cost will really add up travel day costs. By going slow you give yourself more time to dive deep into the culture of a new city, and inevitably save money along the way.
Finally, have tons of fun! Backpacking through Southeast Asia will change your life forever, so enjoy the stunning beauty present in every inch of the continent.