A lot of people don’t believe me when I say “I am broke af” especially when they see my Instagram feed which consists mostly of travel photos. “How can you travel so much if you’re broke?”, “how do you save money for traveling?”, “I thought you don’t have the means, why are you traveling every year?” When you don’t have much but have found what keeps you sane, you learn not just to manage your budget but to look for ways to complete a goal with your limited resources.
First the question, “how can you travel so much if you’re broke?”. I don’t. When I converted my Instagram into a travel account, I realized how much I still haven’t seen. I’ve seen accounts that count the countries they’ve been to and I have only been to three countries. Yet, I travel relatively more than the average Filipino. One of my local travels was in Siargao and I only spent 12,000 for this trip. This guide to traveling on a budget is based on my travels within the Philippines. But most, if not all, of the tips will also apply when you are planning for a trip somewhere else.
Choose a destination that suits your broke af budget
Plan! Plan! Plan! Planning will carry most of the weight of traveling within a budget so do this carefully and thoroughly. I am not the most organized person, but there are a few BIG factors that I don’t skip if I want to travel cheap. One of these is destination. If you’re from the western countries, you might want to consider traveling to Asian countries because your dollars, pounds and euros will go a long way. If you want to narrow it more, I suggest going around Southeast Asia. If you only still want to narrow it down, choose 1-2 countries that are near each other so your flight is much cheaper OR if you research hard enough you can even go by boat (for example from Langkawi, Malaysia to Koh Lipe, Thailand).
Even though flying from the west to east can be really expensive and the flight will suck up most of your budget, that’s where the big chunk of your money will end. The rest will come in cheaper. But if flying far is not an option, I also encourage you to explore your own country as well. There will always be hidden gems in your own home.
Research in incognito mode
When we finally choose the place we’re going to, we are going to read and research for hotels, to-do’s, guides and flights. We will be looking at the same group of websites over and over. You will notice that the more you look for a flight for a particular place, say in Skyscanner, the fares will increase slowly. This is because your search history is a snitch! *accepts cookies* Personally, I have not proven that it is in fact my search history that increased fares I am looking into. And I am pretty sure a lot of factors go into it as well. But I have noticed that the fares, as well as the hotel prices go up after repeated searches. There’s no harm in trying this.
Stay in Hostels or Good Budget Hotels
I usually stay in hostels when I travel BUT if I am coming from Manila and want to take a break or two first before I get into exploring, I would stay in a hotel. Most hostel visitors are respectful but there are some things we can’t control. Plus, if you’re not comfortable with sharing bathrooms, a hostel isn’t for you. The good news is, not all cheap hotel rooms are crappy. I know a lot of budget hotels here in the Philippines which are as cheap as hostel space. If you will be out most of the day tho, I recommend a hostel since you won’t be staying in your room much. Plus, most hostels offer free breakfast or other meals which helps you save money. They also offer a lot of activities like group tours which will help cut back on money.
Off Peak Time Means Cheaper Travel
I am not sure what months are on-peak for other countries but here in the Philippines, summer is when the prices jack up. Starting from March to about June, prices will be higher – both fare and hotel fees. I usually travel in November for two major reasons – flights are cheaper and it’s my birthday month.
If you are also booking with local Philippine airlines, make sure to watch out for promos! A lot of foreigners book their local flights when they’re already here in Manila which makes it a lot more expensive for them. Most airlines have recurring promos and you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll be able to save if you book online. I usually book at least 6 months earlier because that’s when I usually find promos. Plus, it gives me time to save up for the trip.
My not so big secret – I never spend more than 15,000Php (300USD) on a trip. I usually travel to a province and stay there for 5-6 days with that budget. And yes, this includes the fare!
Visit free museums and take part in free walking tours – save up on money!
Now that we’ve gone through the most important factors that will eat up your budget, we are going through things which we can mostly control. When we visited the province of Davao, we were able to find a free museum with tour guides. Now, you can learn a lot about the history and culture of the place without spending a dime.
You can also look for free walking tours. I know that Z Hostel in Makati offers walking tours for their visitors but I am not sure if it’s free. However, I can guarantee you that it is not expensive. You can also join Facebook travel groups, or reach out to a travel enthusiast local via Instagram and ask for recommendations. You can also try your luck and ask them if they can offer you a walking tour.
I was once asked by a foreign guy to accompany him to museums and other tourist spots in Metro Manila before. He knew that I had quite the reputation on Instagram so I already have his trust. He asked for my fee but I told him I don’t want to get paid since I am not a professional travel guide and he will handle all the transportation expenses anyway. I said I would gladly accompany him in exchange for free lunch hahahahahaha but I had to work that time so it was a no go.
I know that a lot of places (hostels, travel organizations, travel communities) in Europe offer free walking tours as well. OR, you can download an audio self-guided tour if you want. However, I don’t recommend this as much especially if you’re in a foreign place. You still want a local expertise with you.
Work in a hostel – this will not only help you travel cheap but lets you immerse with locals
I never knew you can do this (until my trip to Coron) but if you’re planning to stay for quite sometime in one place, you can reach out to hostels if they accept workers. I am not sure if most hostels will offer a bit of cash as your “salary” but some of the things they can offer you are accommodation and food. I met an Australian lady in a hostel once and she told me she’s been staying there for 3 months for free with free one meal a day in exchange for working.
I know a lot of travelers are also doing this when they’re in a place for the long haul. Make sure to reach out to the hostel first and make sure you already have a job waiting for you. It can be hard to apply for work in walk-in cases.
Personally, I have never done this because I never stay in a place for more than a week. I have a full time job in Manila that is waiting for me, so I pay for the hostel. Plus, it would be impractical of me to crunch up my activities for a few days AND work at the same time. I would be doing the hostel a disservice.
Travel light as much as you can
Now this one, I almost always do. I only bring two bags for every trip – my very reliable Deuter 30L SL (especially made for women’s backs) and a small black handbag. This probably won’t apply if you’re traveling to another country and planning to stay there for more than a week. But I would say it’s more than enough for me for my one week escapades. The good thing here is, I get to go anywhere with all my belongings. AND I never pay for checked-in baggage. This is a big saving when you’re booking a flight online.
A not so big secret – do not pre-book a meal for your local flight. When flying within the Philippines, you will rarely or never fly for more than 2 hours. In-flight meals are expensive so take that out from your online booking choices. Other things to take out are seating choices (unless you’re picky with the seats), and checked-in baggage (unless you have more than one bag). Plus, I love exploring and hanging out in the airports. So I usually take my breakfast or lunch there. It is not relatively cheap compared to outside the airport, but it is value for the money compared to in-flight meals.
A not so big secret again – local flights in the Philippines do not offer in-flight entertainment, and some of them have delayed flights. You would do yourself a huge favor to download Netflix or Amazon movies/series you can watch offline.
Another not so big secret – some airport wifis in the Philippines are capped. This can either mean you are only allowed a specified GB of internet or specified time of use. So I suggest you save this for important stuff like checking out your emails, itinerary or contacting someone. Again for entertainment, download movies and music on your phone instead. I have at least 5 movies and 2 seasons of media content whenever I am traveling.
If you aren’t very picky with products you use, you can just bring your clothes and other personal effects. When you arrive in Manila, you can buy toiletries, flip flops, dry bags, sim cards, tickets, towels and even newer clothes then. It will be much cheaper especially if your currency value is higher than Philippine peso!
Be adventurous! Use public utility vehicles.
A lot of foreigners (not all!) consider our public transportation to be a death trap. PUV drivers in the Philippines have their own rules and you have to be resilient and carefree to ride them. If you are in Manila, you can try the trains (LRT & MRT). This will save you so much money than hiring a private car or getting a cab. I usually don’t recommend getting a cab because there is no strict enforcement here on using a taxi meter. The driver will most likely offer you a fixed rate which is higher than the meter will read.
If you are in the province or Manila, you can also try riding the jeepneys. Fare is minimum 9PHP or 0.18USD plus. Getting a cab from my office to home would cost about 200-250PHP (4-5USD) but if I take a jeepney, it will only cost me 9PHP for the jeepney plus 10PHP or 0.20USD for the tricycle. That didn’t even cost a dollar!
Speaking of tricycles, in smaller roads, streets and near residential places, tricycles are the way to go. They are like smaller tuktuks and have a standard fare depending where you are. In provinces, tricycles and motorcycles are the main transportation. If you have a license, you can rent a motorbike for about 350PHP or 4.99USD for 24 hours. This is of course depending on the province where you’re at. But this is the average rent fee from the provinces I’ve been to.
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Never skip leg day
What’s the cheapest way to travel from point A to point B? Not even cheap, just outright free! Walking. If you are the walking kind of person, take advantage of it and walk around the place. Not only is it good for your health, it also saves you money when traveling AND you might see places and other “hole-in-the-wall” stuff that you will miss when you’re on a ride. Metro Manila has so many amazing “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants that serve amazing food and drinks!
Check out some of the Hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Manila
If you walk around the province, you will also get to see souvenir shops, small family owned restaurants, bars, quaint little spots when you walk. I’ve been living in Makati for seven years and I still discover little things every now and when I walk.
Make friends and split the expenses!
This is something I always try to take advantage of. As someone who travels alone most of the time, it can get really expensive to take tours or go on activities. When I went to Sugba Lagoon in Siargao, my heart sank when I learned that I have to pay 1,600PHP (32USD) for the boatride. However, the boat sits 4 or 6 people. So I waited at the jump off point for other travelers. I shared the boat with three other people, so I only had to pay 400 for the ride. YAY!
I know it can also be daunting to ride and sit on a boat filled with strangers’ faces but if you have already met a group of friends in your hostel or other places,you can arrange for your own exclusive tour! Not only do you get to explore with people you more likely enjoy the company with, but you also save a ton of money! Travel cheap and fun!
You can also dine with a group. It would be more fun and less expensive to share and split it with others. One of my dilemmas when eating out alone is that I can only try one dish since it’s already hit my budget. Most restaurants would offer dishes in a “sharing” serving meaning it’s good for 2-4 people. However, I like trying out different things but obviously I can’t have three dishes that big all by myself. Although I would eat a whole pizza by myself every time a chance presents itself. Yes. You read that right. I would eat an entire pizza by myself. In a restaurant. Alone. With other people surrounding me. It honestly doesn’t bother me because I do it all the time – eat alone, go to the cinema alone, walk in the park alone. It’s actually something I enjoy.
Drinks would also be cheap if you can find friends to share it with. I am not saying to find friends in order to save money. But it’s one of the advantages of meeting and bonding with other people when you travel. Traveling alone doesn’t have to be lonely and expensive.
You don’t have to be rich to travel: How I manage to do it despite being broke
And that’s it! That’s how I am able to travel despite being broke. Oh and did I mention that I only travel at least twice a year? That also contributes to me being able to save for a trip. Traveling doesn’t mean you have to be in a different country every month. You don’t have to have different photos every month to show off to the world. Remember that you are traveling for you and not for the gram. Also, “beggars can not be choosers.” Some can’t even afford to travel not just because of financial restrictions but other factors too. So if you can travel once a year, wherever it is, then I am proud of you!
I strive to travel because it’s honestly what helps me keep grounded and sane. I suffer from clinical depression and anxiety disorder. But for some reasons, when I am in a different place and environment, my anxiety feels good. It’s a good kind of nervous and excitement. So I encourage you to travel, travel, travel. You don’t have to be rich to travel. I know it sounds cliche, but really take my word for it. I don’t earn much, and I provide for my parents and sister. But I still am able to explore the Philippines one island at a time, even on a budget.