Traveling to different countries can be an enriching experience. It allows you to immerse yourself in new cultures, try different cuisines, and create unforgettable memories. However, many people often believe that traveling requires a significant amount of money.
As a personal finance and adulting enthusiast from the Philippines, I can assure you that it’s entirely possible to travel on a budget without compromising the quality of your adventure. Last October 2022, I was fortunate enough to explore Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh on a budget with the amazing company of two of my churchmates (and Ate’s).
In this blog post, I will share my own experiences and practical tips on how to save money while traveling.
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Plan and Research Ahead
One of the most crucial aspects of traveling on a budget is to plan and research your trip well in advance. This includes searching for affordable flight deals, budget accommodations, and budget-friendly attractions in your chosen destinations. There are plenty of travel websites and apps that offer discounts and deals on flights and accommodations, so make sure to take advantage of these resources.
Before embarking on our adventure, my two churchmates and I diligently planned and researched our trip to Thailand and Vietnam. We kept an eye on budget airlines like AirAsia and booked our flights well in advance to secure fantastic deals for all three of us. By being flexible with our travel dates, we managed to save a significant amount on our international flights.
Opt for Budget Accommodations
When it comes to accommodations, you don’t always need to book luxurious hotels. Since you won’t spend most of your time in your room, small but comfy hotels will be enough. You can also consider staying in a hostel, guesthouse, or budget-friendly Airbnb. Additionally, look for accommodations that include amenities like free breakfast or kitchenettes, as you can save money by preparing your meals.
In both countries, I shared cozy triple rooms with my travel mates. These rooms have their own comfort rooms and bathrooms, free coffee and water, and also include free breakfast. These budget-friendly accommodations not only provided a comfortable stay but also fostered a sense of camaraderie among the three of us.
Use Public Transport and Walk
Instead of relying on expensive taxis or car rentals, make use of the local public transport system. Buses, trains, and subways are often much more affordable and give you a chance to experience the city like a local. Walking is another great way to explore your surroundings while saving money on transportation. Not only will you save cash, but you’ll also have the chance to stumble upon hidden gems and unexpected delights.
Navigating through bustling cities in Vietnam and Thailand became an adventure itself. With my two churchmates by my side, we opted to walk most of the time when we explored Ho Chi Minh. In Bangkok, aside from walking, we went around the city by riding buses, tuk-tuks, and the BTS Skytrain. We only had to pay for taxis and grab when we are too tired to go back to the hotel and when it was raining.
Embrace Local Cuisine
Food is an essential part of any travel experience, but dining out at restaurants for every meal can quickly add up. To save money, immerse yourself in the local cuisine by trying street food and visiting local markets. Not only are these options cheaper, but they also offer an authentic taste of the culture.
In Bangkok, we embarked on a culinary adventure through the bustling streets and vibrant markets. We indulged in mouthwatering Pad Thai, a popular stir-fried noodle dish garnished with peanuts, lime, and fresh herbs. Additionally, we fell in love with the coconut ice cream we bought from a kind street vendor.
In Ho Chi Minh, we found ourselves captivated by the iconic Banh Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich consisting of a baguette filled with various fillings such as grilled meats, pâté, fresh vegetables, and zesty condiments. Also, their national food, Pho, is something we couldn’t resist.
Trying these dishes from authentic street vendors allowed us to appreciate the rich and diverse Thai and Viet cuisine without breaking our budget.
Avoid Impulse Purchases
While traveling, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and buy unnecessary souvenirs or items you can get back home. Before making a purchase, ask yourself if it’s something you genuinely need or if it will add value to your life back home. Focus on collecting memories rather than material possessions.
While exploring the streets and markets in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh, we encountered a wide array of colorful and unique items. These include clothing, accessories, handicrafts, and souvenirs. To avoid overspending, we decided to take a leisurely stroll first, taking note of items that caught our interest. We then discussed our finds and agreed to make purchases based on their value and significance to our travel experience.
One thing we didn’t expect is that in Vietnam, the street vendors sold their products 2-3x more than the actual price. We only discovered it when we entered a few souvenir shops.
Consider traveling during the off-peak season as prices for accommodations, flights, and tourist activities are generally lower. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also experience fewer crowds, allowing for a more relaxed and enjoyable trip.
Our visit to both Thailand and Vietnam was last October, which is an off-season for both countries. Despite the occasional showers, we found that the city offered a unique charm during this time. The rainy season meant fewer tourists, allowing us to explore popular attractions with ease and capture remarkable photos without the crowds. Moreover, we found better deals on accommodations and tours, allowing us to experience the city’s highlights without straining our budget.
Utilize 3rd Party Merchants for Discounts
Throughout our trip, my churchmates and I found great value in utilizing 3rd party merchants like Klook, Traveloka, and Agoda. We used Klook to buy tickets to certain tourist attractions such as the Mahanakhon Skywalk in Thailand. For all our flights, we used Traveloka. And then for accommodations, we booked them through Agoda. Booking through these apps enabled us to enjoy memorable experiences with ease and at discounted prices.
Participate in Free and Low-Cost Activities
Many cities offer free walking tours, free museum days, or low-cost excursions. Take advantage of these opportunities to explore the local attractions without breaking the bank.
In Vietnam, we discovered that strolling through public parks was a delightful and budget-friendly way to experience the local culture. We enjoyed sitting under the shade of ancient trees and soaking in the tranquil atmosphere. We also witnessed locals engaging in various activities. Truly, these parks provide picturesque settings for a leisurely stroll and provided a glimpse of the beauty of the country.
In Thailand, we found a multitude of temples that offered free entry or required only small fees, making them excellent budget-friendly attractions. For example, Wat Pho, renowned for its magnificent reclining Buddha statue, is one such temple that charges a modest entrance fee. However, we discovered that the fee was well worth the experience of marveling at the intricately designed Buddha statue and admiring the ornate architecture within the temple complex.
In addition, Wat Arun, the iconic Temple of Dawn situated along the Chao Phraya River, is accessible for a small fee, providing an opportunity to explore its unique Khmer-style architecture and enjoy panoramic views of the city from its tall spires.
Withdraw Cash Using Your Debit Card
Using your debit card to withdraw cash at local ATMs in a foreign country can be a smarter choice compared to currency exchange. It offers several benefits, such as better exchange rates, greater convenience, enhanced security, and transparency in fees.
During our trip to Thailand, we primarily used currency exchange services at airports and tourist areas. But when we were in Vietnam, we tried debit card withdrawal. We found that while our banks charged a modest international withdrawal fee, the exchange rates provided by ATMs were more competitive compared to currency exchange booths. Moreover, ATMs were readily available in Ho Chi Minh, making it convenient for us to withdraw cash as needed in the local currency.
Overall, using our debit cards for cash withdrawals proved to be a cost-effective and convenient option for accessing money during our travels. I would then recommend travelers to check with their banks about fees and exchange rates to make informed decisions for their own trips.
Travel with Companions
The most significant money-saving aspect of our journey was undoubtedly traveling with my two churchmates. By sharing accommodation, food expenses, and transportation costs, we each saved a considerable amount, allowing us to stretch our budget further.
Beyond the financial benefits, traveling with companions created an unforgettable bond and camaraderie, making our adventure all the more enriching and enjoyable. Safety is also improved as you watch out for each other, especially in crowded places.
Furthermore, traveling with others opens up opportunities for social interactions with both locals and other travelers. It’s easier to strike up conversations and make new friends when you’re not alone. Plus, having someone to take your pictures means you can capture memories without asking strangers for help.
Traveling on a budget with companions can be a rewarding and enriching experience. By planning ahead, using public transport and walking, embracing local cuisine, avoiding impulse purchases, participating in free and low-cost activities, and traveling off-season, we made the most of our trip to Thailand and Vietnam without breaking the bank.
In addition, traveling with friends or family not only allows for cost-sharing but also enhances safety, provides practical support, and creates lasting memories. Finally, Utilizing 3rd party merchants like Klook and Agoda, and withdrawing cash using your debit card, further maximizes your budget and convenience.