What Do Backpackers Spend Their Money On?
Being a backpacker, or a traveler who lives out of their bag for any extended period of time, can be a very fun and adventurous lifestyle. It can also be very cheap since backpacking is usually meant to be cheaper than being a regular tourist or vacationer.
Some backpackers have found ways to travel without any money, while others struggle to find ways to do it without spending a fortune. But for the majority of those who backpack, it is usually easy to travel on a budget but very hard to do it without spending any money at all. So the trick for most of them is to try to do everything for as cheap as possible but to never expect things to be free and to be prepared for unexpected things that may happen along the way.
So what exactly do backpackers do backpackers spend their money on even when on a budget? Well here's a few things that you should probably take into account if you're new to traveling or if you're just curious about some of the usual expenses one can expect when living this type of lifestyle.
Before you go anywhere, you will need to figure out how much money visas will cost and whether you even need a visa or not. For most countries, visas are required whenever you're entering a country. Some countries have "visa on arrival" which grants you a visa once you arrive for a certain number of days or months. But for many countries, you'll have to obtain a visa before you even arrive so that they will allow you to enter the country.
You should check online with what visas you may need and make sure to prepare for future visas or extensions if you plan to stay somewhere. Sometimes you can enter a country on a visa, and then extend the visa for a specific duration by paying a fee with each extension.
There are usually limits to how many extensions you can have or how many back to back visas you can apply for, depending on which country you'll be visiting. Many people make the mistake of not preparing for this expense and they will only apply for the first visa. Once that visa expires, they may be unprepared financially to afford the extensions or a second or third visa application.
The good news is that visas aren't usually too expensive compared to the other expenses a backpacker will encounter while traveling. For an American, they will usually be between $30 to $80, depending on where you're going, how long you plan to stay, and which visa you qualify for. But the bad news is that visa applications or applications for extension of stay are not always approved and this can ruin anybody's trip either in the middle of it or before it even begins.
So make sure you cover all your bases when it comes to visas and do your homework on them. Ensure you have enough money to not only afford the initial visa, but to afford all extensions or new visas after that. Sometimes it's cheaper to apply for the visa in the actual country if they will allow you to enter without applying first, but other times it can be more affordable if you do it in your home country at their local consulate.
This is probably the most obvious expense that you can prepare for. Some backpackers may have found ways to eat for free, such as begging outside stores or even staying with a family they know in whatever country they're in. But for most backpackers, food isn't free and it can either be cheap or costly depending on how and where you eat. In most developing countries the food served at street stalls is usually much cheaper than in a restaurant or grocery store.
The only problem with this is that you don't know where your food is coming from and whether it's safe or not, since street vendors are not always licensed or monitored periodically by the health department the way a restaurant or grocery store normally is. Still, it's very common for backpackers to seek out this type of cuisine because of how cheap it is.
If you're in a developed country, then these types of vendors are harder to come by simply because there's more regulations. So you may not have any option but to eat in restaurants or from grocery stores.
You should really do some research on this before you set out on your trip and try to see what the cheaper eating options are in the city or country you'll be traveling to. Also, don't just accept the local prices because you see a lot of other backpackers eating there. Sometimes you'll have a very popular area for backpackers and the prices will be increased in these areas simply because the locals know backpackers must have money in order to travel to their country. Right around the corner from an area like this, there may be cheaper restaurants that are more focused on catering to the locals and not just the tourists.
Most backpackers will stay in some type of hotel, motel, guesthouse, or hostel. Many will actually sleep in a tent or just out in the open if the area is considered safe, but the majority of backpackers wouldn't do this.
While backpacking is supposed to be a way of traveling with only your backpack and living as cheap as you can and being one with nature and all that, lots of backpackers don't follow these types of ideals. Many of them come from wealthy backgrounds, which allows them to leave their normal lives for a year or two and then go back without having to worry about finding employment or other things your average person has to worry about.
So when it comes to accommodation, it just depends on what type of backpacker we're talking about. Your average backpacker will usually stay in budget guesthouses or hostels. The prices of these types of places varies depending on which country you're in.
In California the cheapest you will find is around $10-$15 a night in most places for a bed in a shared room (dormitory). In Thailand this price is significantly cheaper at an average of $2-$3 for the same type of bed. Private rooms in California will be at their cheapest at around $20-$25. In Thailand the average price would be $6-$8, though significantly cheaper if you're paying by a monthly rate.
As far as camping in a tent, this depends on whether you're doing it legally or illegally (squatting). It also depends on where you're at as it can be free on some beaches or other areas in certain countries or cost as much as $50 a night in others. So it all depends on where you go and what type of accommodation you're expecting.
The costs of transportation vary widely no matter what country you're in. Some countries are cheaper than others but they all have different ways of getting around. A ferry may be more expensive than a taxi in Brazil, for example, but in Thailand a ferry is usually cheaper than a taxi. This is why you should always look for other methods of getting somewhere if you're trying to save money.
Sometimes flying to a destination on an airplane can be even cheaper than taking a tour bus or Greyhound bus, even though it's much faster, has less transfers, and is even more comfortable for some people. Backpackers will usually try to find the cheapest method of getting around before agreeing to take the mainstream way of doing things. If taking a third class train and being uncomfortable for a few hours is cheaper than taking a first class air-conditioned one, a backpacker will usually choose the third class one. They not only do this because it's cheaper, but because it can offer more of a memorable "once-in-a-lifetime" experience.
If taking taxis, it can sometimes be cheaper if it's a metered taxi rather than the type that negotiates prices beforehand. Sometimes taking a taxi across a bridge may cost you $3 but taking a ferry across the same river and waiting an extra 20 minutes may cost as little as 15 cents.
It's also sometimes better to buy tickets such as plane tickets or airline tickets online beforehand, but in some rare circumstances it can be cheaper if you just show up at the station or airport. This is because in some occasions you're cutting out the middle-man that advertises it online, and also, you're getting last-minute deals from the source if they haven't filled all the seats or compartments and are about to leave.
One expense that many backpackers forget about is the cost of sight-seeing. You may have transportation covered to get to these places, but the destinations and sights themselves may have fees to enter. Sometimes you have to pay to get into attractions and festivals that may be free in your own country. Even things like temples or ancient ruins may cost a fee, depending on which country you're in.
In some places they will even charge foreigners a higher price to enter these types of places than they do the locals. This is completely legal in many of these places and even encouraged by the local government. So if you're looking at places to go and things to do online or in a brochure, make sure that the prices you're looking at apply to tourists and foreigners as well.
Other times, there may not be a mandatory fee to pay, but something or someone asking for donations. In many cases it's rude to visit these types of places that are free without leaving a donation, such as buddhist temples or famous churches or historical places. So depending on how polite you want to be, you can either leave a donation or not.
Just keep in mind that if it's a place that offers some form of entertainment, such as people dancing or dressing up in costumes, they may choose not to do this or may not allow you to take pictures of them if you don't leave them a donation or a tip. This is very common in many developing countries that backpackers frequent such as in South America and Southeast Asia.
When traveling anywhere, you should always be prepared for the unexpected. There are many things that can happen on a daily basis that can greatly affect your expenses and so anybody who is backpacking should make preparations for these types of things.
People think "it won't happen to me", but that's why it's called "unexpected", since you think it won't happen but it can and sometimes does. You may be riding down the street on a motorbike or walking along the sidewalk and somebody crashes their car and hits you. You never know what can happen because you're not in control of everything in the world, just yourself.
So you should carry some extra money for expenses that may pop up while you're traveling. If you get injured or sick and have to go to the hospital or to buy medicine at the pharmacy, you should be prepared for that, especially if you're choosing to travel without traveler's insurance.
Check the country you're traveling to and the hospitals to see if they even accept your form of insurance and what would be covered. Be prepared for problems with visas that may come up and extra fees you may have to pay. Something beyond your control may cause you to stay in the country a few days or miss your flight and then you may run into visa problems, you never know.
I've had things stolen from me in other countries such as my shoes and clothing and had to spend money to replace these things. Even other unexpected things like having to buy mosquito repellant or netting should be taken into account. The thing is, you really can't make a list of all the things you may need to buy, because there's always going to be unexpected expenses when you're traveling as a backpacker. So you should just make sure you have more than enough money or resources when going anywhere.
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