Why A Backpacker’s Budget May Be A Blessing In Disguise

From many of my photos and stories, friends might be quick to assume that my travels consist of care free days of being whisked away here and there to happy hours, beautiful sights, and great restaurants.

However, behind the scenes, the reality is somewhat different. When I stick to my small budget, I have to make strategic decisions everyday, always weighing cost and benefits. And it takes some work. I’m walking hours across cities, eating street food, sleeping with a dozen other people in squeaky dorm bunks, and hopping the cheapest night bus onward to avoid paying for a night of lodging.

If you want a relaxing vacation, this extreme budget travel will not get you very far. But if you want something a little more adventurous, if you want to push your boundaries, and learn a hell of a lot more about the world, being constrained by a backpacker’s budget may be a blessing in disguise.

When you wear these pants you know: You’ve gone full backpacker

1. You learn more about the local culture

With a low budget, you may find yourself traveling more like a local. Instead of staying in a large chain hotel, you will most likely find yourself in a tiny guest house, or even Couchsurfing at someone’s place. The intimacy of living with someone and their family becomes such a rich education in living culture. If you’re feeling sick during your travels, you might opt to see what the local remedy is before you spend all you have on a doctor that caters to tourists. You’ll also save a ton of money (and eat much better) eating where the locals eat.

2.You get off the beaten path

Traveling frugally forces you to get creative every day. Figuring out the cheap or free alternatives can often lead to very interesting and overlooked experiences. So the guided tour is not in your budget for today? Take a walk on your own and you may find something even more fascinating- and better yet- you’ll have it all to yourself. Can’t afford the pricey cover fee for an expat bar? You might find yourself playing the maracas along with a couple of guys busking on the street.

Even before you leave home, there are so many different opportunities these days for travelers looking to save money. For example, you can work a few hours a day on organic farms around the world in exchange for lodging. Or you can offer to house sit for someone and get a great place to stay for the price of feeding their goldfish and watering their plants.

It cost $5/day for a bunk bed on this (almost) private tropical paradise

3.You make more authentic connections with others

For those travelers who have more money to spare, they can afford being privately chauffeured in a taxis or tours each day. However convenient and comfortable this may be, it isolates you a bit from the everyday scene. You can crane your neck if something interests you while driving, but you can’t stop, check it out, ask questions. The goal is usually the destination. However, budget travel means a whole lot of walking. This opens you up to all kinds of interactions with the people eating at cafes, sitting with their families on the porch, and going about their daily work. Traveling slowly like this makes it much easier to open up a dialogue and really get to know someone.

Asked this cook if I could wash my super budget lunch of peaches and almonds in his sink, and ended up getting an impromptu Turkish cooking lesson. And-bonus!-he let me eat some for free.

You can still have rich travel experiences, however, they become a different kind of rich. Things like fancy restaurants and helicopter rides are wonderful given the right time and place, but it seems that the more money you lay out for comfort, convenience, and luxury, the more sterile your travel experience becomes. It often isolates you from the local community and culture. Traveling on a backpacker’s budget forces you to get creative and opens you up to so many more kinds of opportunities to explore, to meet people, and make your own adventures.