20 tips on how to travel Asia cheap for 2019

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Want to travel in Asia? Want to stay away from home as long as possible? Keep reading for many tips on how to travel Asia cheap for 2019.

 Although the majority of Asia is classed as relatively cheap by western standards it is still all so easy to spend an absolute fortune. Especially in the touristy areas.

The amount of travellers I met who, once arrived in Asia, lets say Thailand, thought “this place is so cheap! I’m going to live like a king!”.

Live like a king they did, using tuk tuks for a 5 minute walk, visiting sky bars and paying 400thb/£10 for a drink and rounding the night off with a good old western pizza at £5 a go.

It’s wasn’t long before the king was broke, hunched over his phone, head hanging in disbelief checking skyscanner for the cheapest flight home/Australia to earn more money.  

Expensive and short or cheap and long!?

Now that is the question! Do you turn up in Asia all guns blazing, balls to the wall partying and back home flat broke in a couple of months. Or do you put your sensible head on, take your time, stay off the Chang and learn how to travel Asia for cheap???

Once again, that all depends on you. What kind of traveller are you? Are you the “I want to see it all yesterday, life in the fast lane” traveller or are you the “I’m happy just bumbling round, lets take it day by day” traveller?

If you are the latter of the two then this post is for you. I know for a fact the last thing I want to happen after spending 12 months of my life saving for travel is to return home without a pot to piss in after only 6 weeks on the road.

My latest trip around Asia was for 9 months and I spent just under £5000. Including travel insurance, all flights, visas, food, accommodation and activities. 

It could have been done cheaper, so if you follow these tips on how to travel Asia for cheap then you should be able to achieve the same, if not better! 

So, without anymore BS, here they are:

Accommodation

For any budget traveller, accommodation is going to be a decent percentage of their total budget. Follow these tips to minimise the damage to your budget:

1. Forget luxury

Accommodation Tam Son
Less than $8 per night

Luxury accommodation and budget just don’t go together. At the end of the day it’s just somewhere to sleep. As long as it’s clean and safe what else matters eh!?

2. Deal with dorms

In my opinion, one of the worst parts of being a solo traveller. The dreaded dorm room. Unfortunately, the first way to slash your accommodation expenditure in half is to swallow your pride and book yourself into a dorm room.

3. Travel in a pair

Travelling in a pair rather than alone is beneficial to the budget and comfort in many ways. When it comes to accommodation, a double or twin room can be found at most hostel/guesthouses for the same price as two dorm beds.

An escape from the dorm room plus half price tuk tuks. Win win!

4. Use Booking.com

After the 9 months in Asia, Booking.com seemed to offer the best variety and cheapest accommodation in every country I visited. Better than Hostelworld hands down.

Also, using Booking.com offers a few perks.  For example, once you’ve booked with them a few times they give you the chance to earn some cash in the way of a shareable voucher that gives you and the person you share it with $15 cash if they spend over $30 on one booking.

There’s a limit of 10 times that you can do this and someone can only use your link once. Having said that, you can also use their link as well.

Meaning if you both use each others link it equates to $60 each spent on accommodation and a refund of $30. Essentially cutting your accommodation cost in half.

Also, you can ask on facebook groups for someone to send you a voucher. Plenty of people do this and it works well.

 The only slight drawback is that it takes around a month to receive your refund/commission.

Another perk is, after using booking.com for a while you’ll be promoted to what they call a fooking, sorry, booking genius. This entitles you to another small percentage discount on selected hostels and guesthouses.

So yeah, booking.com for the win!

Travel

5. Forget about flying

Book a flight!?!?

Hahaha flying is for rich people….

Ok this isn’t strictly true but 97% of the time buses and trains are cheaper. Although it would be dreamy to be able to just hop on a plane and arrive at your next destination within the hour opposed to the same journey taking 12 on the bus, bottom line is, flights are at least 3 times the price and are budget killers!

The only exception I found to this was flying from Langkawi to Penang with Airasia. The 35 minute flight cost roughly the same as the bus over land. This was the only internal flight I took in 9 months.

If you do need to fly, Airasia should be your first port of call.

6. Choose 3rd class

indian 3rd class train
One of the quieter ones…

Not always my favourite way to travel, especially for 10 hours crammed in an Indian train with no aircon when its 40c outside but one thing is for sure it is cheap!!

At about 10% of the price of a second class ticket I’ve got to admit it certainly does have some appeal. Not sure always felt this way 4 hours into an 8 hour journey…. what is it they say!? It’s character building 😉

Try to think of it a different way though. For example:

If a 2nd class ticket for a 10 hour journey costs $15 and a 3rd class ticket costs $1.50 why not split the journey into 2 parts and do 5 hours on 2 separate days. Saving you $13.50 to spend on an extra city that you otherwise would have travelled through.

7. Use night busses and trains

Sleeper bus to Ha Giang
The typical Vietnamese night bus.

Now this one is a double edged sword. Using night time transport saves you on a nights accommodation which is good. But the fact of the matter is, what do you do once you’ve been kicked out of your accommodation at 10am and you have to wait until 10pm for the night bus.

The reality is one of two things happen:

  1. Its 40c outside and you have everything you own on your back with nowhere to go. What do you do? You go to a café and spend a fortune on coffee you don’t want just so you can sit in front of their fan and be cool.
  2. You spend more on accommodation just because they have a communal area where you can leave your belongings and have somewhere to chill out and burn some time.

All in all, it equates to one and the same. I’m not sure which is the best thing to do here. Yes you may be able to save yourself a couple of dollars but in the end, is the torture of feeling homeless with nowhere to go really worth it.

That’s one for you to decide.

8. Just walk

walking across the himalayas
OK, this is a bit extreme….

Simple as it sounds. That 20 minute walk would cost probably 3-4 dollars buy the time you’ve paid the tourist price in a tuk tuk. Fair enough that doesn’t sound like much but do that once a day over 200 days and it soon racks up.

On thing that always made me laugh is in quite a few of the countries I visited the drop off point for the night bus would always be a few kilometres away from the town centre. Waiting for you would be horde of tuk tuk drivers circling around like vultures.

The second you stepped off that bus they would be trying to grab your bags out of your hands and into their tuk tuk. They knew if they accomplished this, you were theirs.

Cue the overinflated tourist price.

To their dismay, 9 times out of 10 I was walking. 5km!? Nothing but a morning stroll.

9. Download the grab app

If you must us private transport I highly recommend you download the Grab app. Basically the Uber of Asia.

Fixed prices on the app so its impossible to be ripped off with the “tourist price”.

10. Learn to ride a motorbike

learn to ride a motorbike
The only way to see the Ha Giang province in Vietnam.

The reason this is on the list is that, although you’re trying to travel on the cheap, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to do anything apart from sitting around, eating pad thai and drinking rain water.

The best and cheapest way to visit that cave, swim in those hot springs or check out that view point is by motorbike. Well, it’s either that or pay for a tour to each of them separately.

I say “learn” to ride a motorbike. what I mean is do it in your home country and take the test. This way, if your unlucky enough to splatter yourself all over the highway your insurance should pay out. 

Eating and drinking

Another major part of travelling Asia for cheap is learning to eat on the cheap. Think about it, you’ve gotta do it 3 times a day, ok at least twice.

11. Eat local

Everyone will tell you the same thing. “You want to save money, you should eat where the locals do”.

100% true! Eating local food will save you a fortune over time. So yeah, forget about them pizzas, burgers and fries. They are expensive and in all honesty most of them are crap!

Stick to the pad thai, nasi goring and pho. You’ll travel further my friend!

12. Search around

Not all local eating establishments are created equal, some are more expensive for the same food, some will charge you the “tourist price”.

One little local place in Ho Chi Minh charged me 75,000 dong for a standard Vietnamese coffee, that’s over $3! And roughly 3 times the price it should have been.

Shop around for restaurants with menus and prices. Save yourself being ripped off.

13. Live on street food

street food in bangkok

“Street food” cheapest of the cheap. No rent or bills to pay, it doesn’t get much cheaper than street food.

Expect to pay somewhere around $1 per meal at a street food vendor.

I preferred the street food in Thailand and Malaysia.

14. Drink before hitting the bars

Cheap drinks
Less than $8

I think this is the same in every country you visit. If you want a cheap night out on the town its best to get a little merry before you hit the bars.

Grab a few bottles of Chang or a bottle of Hong Tong if you really want to hit hard before the bars.

Getting drunk is where most travellers will destroy their daily budget. Consider yourself warned.

15. Take a refillable bottle

Taking a refillable bottle will not only save you money by collecting water from roadside water machines for a fraction of the cost but will help save the planet.

Bottled water in South East Asia has to be one of the major contributing factors of our worldwide plastic problem. Try to minimise your part grab a refillable bottle.

Extras

16. Try to avoid tours

This is where I guess I saved most money. Tourist tours aren’t cheap and most of the time you can replicate the same experience for yourself, on your own timescale for a fraction of the price.

Another reason why you need to have a motorbike license. $5 hire and $2 of petrol a lot of the time equates to that $20 tourist tour. 

17. Travel light 

Having only carry on luggage will save you money when you do have to fly. For example: it was an extra $120 to fly from the UK to Thailand with hold luggage and an extra $80 from Hanoi to Chennai.

So there you go, you can save $120 before you’ve even stepped foot in Asia.

18. Volunteer

Volunteering in india

Another one of my biggest savers was volunteering. Signing up to the Workaway scheme enabled me to find volunteering places in every country I went to.

If you want to see what its like to volunteer in Asia check out some of these posts I’ve written about it:

Volunteering in Thailand – 10 days

Volunteering in India – 10 days

In total, I spent 47 days volunteering in Asia.

19. Travel slowly

Slow travel is cheap travel.

Hopping from place to place every 2 days might mean that you’ll see more places but will you really see them!?

Added to that, $20 on a bus ticket every 2 days soon bumps up your daily expenditure.

If you dislike somewhere be on the next bus out, if you like somewhere don’t be afraid to spend a week.

20. Choose the right countries

Pretty obvious eh!?

While Malaysia and Nepal are pretty cheap, Singapore certainly is not!!

Start with India and you won’t go far wrong.

Help a fellow traveller out

Have you got any tips you would add to the list!?


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2 thoughts on “20 tips on how to travel Asia cheap for 2019

  • May 21, 2019 at 8:06 pm
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    You can solve a luggage problem with a station luggage keeping service I guess. You’ll have a hands free sight seeing day. We did it in Bangkok several years ago. Do not remember how much it costed so it was not expensive most probably.

    Speaking about cheap Thailand. Yes, sure. Accommodation is relatively cheap, local street food costs pennies, but if you like to have a drink or two, that changes all the picture. Bar prices like in Europe, alcohol in shops is way more expensive than in old continent. Selection of wine as if it is a Muslim countrie, and that ridiculous restriction that forbids selling alcohol in a middle of a day.

    Life hack with booking.com vouchers is cool, by the way, cheers for that.

    Reply
    • May 22, 2019 at 6:12 pm
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      Hi Ablati, thanks for reading. Yes, as you’ve stated alcohol is the downfall of many a budget traveller. Ideally just stopping drinking altogether will spread your money further, much further.
      Yeah the booking.com hack works quite well and to be fair a vast majority of the time booking.com is the cheapest anyway 🙂

      Reply

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