This past summer, I had the pleasure and privilege to backpack through Southeast Asia. In May, I booked a one way flight to Bangkok, Thailand and since then I haven’t recovered from wanderlust. Prior to this trip I saw traveling as a luxury, as something that I couldn’t attain. However, in January 2015 I set the only New Year’s Resolution that I’ve actually kept-to travel the world.
Once I started to see traveling as a necessity rather than a luxury, I began to live. I became alive because I no longer was constrained by the “luxurious” concept that came with what I perceived to be traveling. I started to learn that traveling does not encompass thousands of dollars, five-star restaurants and hotels, and exquisite private tours. I cut off unnecessary expenses. I started a savings account for the purpose of travel and did some research that helped me prep for my first sola trip
The first thing out of my mom’s mouth when I told her was ‘estas loca.’
You see, to understand me is to understand my parents. When you grow up low-income, you grow up on a budget, you grow up with the hand-me-downs de tu hermana mayor, and you grow up thinking that travel is for the rich. However, with extensive research, a few months of saving, and a backpack, I set out to break this way of thinking – I set out on my first sola trip. First stop, Thailand.
Thailand is known for its exquisite beaches, its beautiful jungle, affordable hostels and gastronomy heaven – that is why I chose this incredible country as my first place to visit on my Asian tour.
Through my travels I learned various ways to save money and stick to my budget. The following is a list I compiled to show how you too can travel to Thailand on a budget:
- Travel during low season
I was able to afford my flight to Thailand because I traveled during low season. What does this mean? It means that I traveled during ‘rainy season,’ July and August. Since I traveled during low season, I got more bang for my buck. My flight in itself was 25% lower than it would be January-March when humidity is at its lowest and tourists are flocking the beaches.
Apart from Bangkok, I also visited Chiang Mai. Settled in the mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is picture perfect, especially for those who love the jungle and cooler weather. The best part of Chiang Mai? The fact that I booked a ticket from Bangkok for $27 USD and it was only a one hour flight. For a similar price, you can take the night train which I heard is a great experience. However, travel time is ~12 hours.
Other budget friendly perks of traveling during low season:
- You will find accommodation! If you are backpacking, you will have the suerte of finding a hostel with an empty bed. Since its low season, you should definitely bargain for a price that works for your budget.
- Bargain galore! If you’ve ever bargained, you know it can get rough. However, since its low season, you’ll have no problem getting those cute elephant trousers. Visit the Night market and get those souvenirs!
- Low season= less travelers=more room to breathe. Most people don’t like to travel when it rains, thus, you will see that prime spots such as Phuket and Ko Phi Phi islands are less populated.
2. Stay in hostels and/or use Airbnb
Often, hostels have a reputation for being loud, dirty, and far from private. However, I debunked this myth in Thailand. Hostels are a backpackers haven. You will meet people here! You will make friends. Although I enjoy my personal space, I opted for hostels for the majority of my trip because they were the best for my piggy bank. I used hostelworld.com as my go to source for finding the best place. Always research neighborhoods and make sure that the hostel you choose is close to the major sites you want to visit—it’ll save you transportation fare! Also, many hostels will include continental breakfast…winning!
Not a fan of dorm rooms? If traveling with a friend, you can split the cost of private rooms in budget friendly hostels. You will still get the perks of cheap accommodation but with privacy.
Tip: Read the reviews! Reviews were a major factor in how I chose my hostel. In Bangkok, I stayed in an all female dorm for $8 a night. Breakfast wasn’t included but the beds were huge and comfortable-something that is hard to find in Asia! Also, my hostel in BKK was close to the train stop which helped with access to tourists sites such as the Grand Palace.
In Chiang Mai, I opted for a mixed-dorm for $4.50 a night!!! The hostel was clean and offered an array of affordable tours. Chiang Mai is known for its jungle and illustrious mountains. My hostel was able to arrange for me a visit to an elephant sanctuary and even did my laundry! I extended my stay in the hostel because the hospitality was excellent and the city was incredible.
3. Don’t be afraid to eat like a local
As an avid traveler, one of my fears is getting sick-either from the change of weather or the food. I wasn’t going to let this fear dictate what I ate and how I traveled.
Thus, I packed Tums and Pepto Bismol pills and called it a day-I was ready to eat anything placed in front of me.
While in Bangkok, I let go of my fear of eating from the street and indulged in sticky rice with a few sticks on chicken and pork—cost: 27 THB (Thailand Baht) which is less than $1 USD (33 THB = $~1USD). This meal was found in almost every corner of Bangkok. My tummy and soul were satisfied and I still kept a few dollars in my pocket.
Thai tea in a bag was an absolute gem for the hot weather. For only 20 THB, I was drinking Thai tea on a daily basis and I was able to get it in every corner.
I would suggest eating a local restaurants instead of the large corporations or five-star restaurants. This, my friends, is how I managed to enjoy the cuisine without breaking my wallet. Outside of many tourists attractions vendors will line up on the street with their snacks. Most restaurants outside of large attractions tend to be more expensive. Opt for a street cart and support local food vendors by indulging in their inexpensive meals.
I am a risk taker and enjoyed the challenge that came with ordering without knowing the language. I could get by with a few words but when I really did not know what the menu said, I simply pointed to pictures (if there were any). If there weren’t any pictures, I’d just play roulette with my food and hope that whatever I ate didn’t make me sick. Adventure is out there
Thai cuisine I recommend:
Tom Yom Goong soup (my favorite!)
4. Use public transportation
Hop on that train, girl! If I learned anything from living in New York it was to navigate public transportation. Bangkok is notorious for its insane traffic. Cabs are not as cheap and accessible as one might think. During traffic hour, that meter will rise and you’ll be stuck sweating and dishing out cash for a ride that could’ve been avoided.
Instead of hoping on meter taxis, I opted for the MRT (metro rapid system) and the Sky Train. Learning how to use Bangkok’s train system was a true blessing. I was free to roam the city for about 29 baht (less than $1 USD). Grab a map from a local train station in Bangkok and start exploring!
Tuk-Tuk’s are an experience and I would recommend hoping on one. Note: They are a bit pricier than a meter taxi so prepare your negotiation skills and pull out that GoPro for the ride of your life!
Using public transportation definitely helped with my travel budget and I got to interact with locals.
Throughout my time in Asia, I visited 5 countries and spent less than I initially thought I would. If you have any questions on how to maximize your budget, contact me and I can help you plan for your travels.
*Note: Some portions of this page originate from How I traveled on a budget-and you can too! article on my personal blog, http://www.monisandiego.com