Beyond backpacking: budget travel for grownups

If you’ve been travelling for a while, you’ve probably done some trips on a shoestring budget. These journeys make for some indelible memories, but, as you get older, your endurance starts to wane.

Thankfully, there are many ways to travel thriftily, and having a frugal drink with friends doesn’t have to mean a warm beer in a cold hostel in Berlin. There’s affordable accommodation out there – you don’t need to sleep upright on an overnight train sans sleeper carriages.

With time and experience, it gets more difficult to see the romance in hardship. With that in mind, here’s a list of ways to go jetsetting comfortably on a budget.

Live like a local

There’s a lot of valuable research you can do before your plane leaves the tarmac, from Lonely Planet to TripAdvisor to Yelp and beyond. But that’s really just a teaser of what your experience is going to be like when you arrive.

Maybe this approach was fine when you were younger (and maybe it still is.) But if you find yourself looking for new and novel experiences – ones that take place outside of a nightclub – then it helps to accumulate a bit of know-how.

And the real know-how comes from locals. They’ve got a wealth of hard-won knowledge about their city. Not only can they help you avoid tourist traps, they can also save you a significant amount of money.

Maybe a taxi driver works your area regularly and sees where those in the know are going. Visiting a hair salon on the go? Ask your hairdresser for local tips. Strike up a conversation anywhere you can – you never know what you might turn up.

If you’re staying in an Airbnb, take a moment to ask your host (in person or online) what they like about the area. Sometimes Airbnb hosts are just as excited to tell someone about their favourite places as you are to see them.

It’s always happy hour somewhere

It’s no secret that nightlife can be pricey. But even the most cosmopolitan places in the most cosmopolitan cities like to let their hair down after work, and this is something the vigilant traveller can take advantage of.

Just type ‘happy hour’ into the search bar in Yelp to get an idea of the venues around you that offer deep discounts on food and drink. For specifics, there are dedicated apps that provide times and prices for your nearest happy hour. Look out for apps like Cocktail Compass for a more sophisticated take on after-work drinks. Similarly, with a bit of browsing, you can find some high-brow places in apps like HappyTimes (for domestic travel), Happiour (London), Happy Hours Paris, Total Happy Hour (the US).

For the true budget gourmand, there’s apps like Oyster Hour. Like the name suggests, this one helps you find discount oysters (but only in the US, so far).

If you’ve been savvy and locked in a favourable exchange rate ahead of time with a prepaid travel money card, you may want to put your savings towards some well-earned drinks.

There’s an app for that: making use of the sharing economy

Being away from the things you normally have in your life is one of the hurdles you face when travelling. This applies to everything from the little and the fundamental including a roof over your head or a vehicle.

Thankfully, with the rise of the sharing economy (think Uber, Airbnb), there’s never been a better time to divest yourself of your stuff.

  • In fact, there’s been a striking shift away from personal ownership: 43 per cent of Americans agree that “owning today feels like a burden,” a Pricewaterhouse Coopers study (PDF 614kB) has found. This has most likely played a part in the growth of sharing economy services.

The upshot of this: it’s getting easier for travellers to arrive in a city with many of the advantages that full-time residents enjoy. All at a reasonable price, at the touch of a button.

  • Getting accommodation
    Airbnb is the household name in house rentals, but some of these services distinguish themselves in other ways: Roomorama (focussed on user safety), OneFineStay (curated property listings), Misterbnb (LGBT-friendly), VRBO (rent from homeowners who manage property full-time).
  • Getting around
    Maybe you’re already familiar with ride-sharing giant Uber. But they’re not the only players in the market. Keep an eye out for some of these other services from around the world: Grab (Southeast Asia), Didi Dache (China), Ola Cabs (India), Hailo (UK, Ireland, Spain, Singapore).
  • Getting immersed
    With the logistics sorted, it’s time to go and find some travel experiences. Maybe you’re looking for a home-cooked meal (Travelling Spoon), or a gastronomic treat from a local chef (EatWith). Need to borrow a bike, surfboard or snowboard (Spinlister), or even borrow a local tour guide for the day (Vayable)? Keep your eyes peeled – there are new apps popping up all the time.