I am not an avid traveler, but I do travel. In fact, I make it a point to travel to somewhere near once a year, or more if my bank account allows me to. But for now, once a year is good.

2013 marked the beginning of my ‘once a year’ travel promise that I made to myself. I started at Laos with a budget of RM600 for my whole 5 days, 4 nights trip. Then in 2014, it was Manila, Philippines with a budget of RM300 (just because I callously did not bank out money for my trip and it just so happens that ALL the ATMs in the airport was down prior to my flight :/) for 4 days, 3 nights.

So, how did I manage to travel (and survive) on such tight budget?

1. Be realistic

Choose countries that you know you can afford. As much as we would like to travel to another continent all together, sometimes, our monthly income or savings do not permit us to do so, especially if you have plans to travel within the year. If you don’t mind being patient and save up for a few years in order for you to travel, then that’s awesome! But if you are someone like me who is impatiently and always ready for an adventure wherever that adventure maybe but know very well that you can’t afford some of the countries you had in mind, don’t let that put you down. Choose another country that is very much affordable for you and make a point to visit them.

I use to think that countries in South East Asia are the same as that of Malaysia. We are neighbours after all, what difference would it make anyway? But boy, was I wrong! My first trip to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam made all the difference!

A typical street in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Exploring Vang Vieng, Laos.
Admiring this beautiful mural in Bonifacio Global City located in Manila, Philippines.
Admiring this beautiful mural in Bonifacio Global City located in Manila, Philippines.

Sometimes, visiting a country in your own continent is not that bad at all! You learn a lot and get to experience a lot too! My friend Alvin and his sister, Audrey, spent three weeks backpacking in Indochina and they had great fun! I would love to do that too one of these days! Fingers cross!

Why not go a step further and travel in your own country! Go do normal touristy things or go for an international festival that is hosted in your own country! That’s always fun!

Christ Church, Melaka
Christ Church, Melaka
Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak
Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak
Long house in Sarawak Cultural Village
Long house in Sarawak Cultural Village
Going crazy during RWMF 2012!
Going crazy during RWMF 2012!
Visiting Ipoh, Perak for the first time!
Visiting Ipoh, Perak for the first time!

2. Change your lifestyle

Want to save money for your travels but don’t know how? Easy, change your lifestyle. I heard a friend said once and this is me putting what she said in my own words,

“People who travel a lot aren’t well off, they just have different priorities. While you spend on things like clothes and fancy eats, they save up for their next trip.”

I think this is pretty self explanatory.

3. Backpack!

Backpacking is definitely the way to travel, especially if you’re still young and capable to do just that! I have saved a TON of money by backpacking; staying in dorms or cheap (but safe) hotels with shared bathroom and toilets. I don’t need the luxury when I travel, what I need is the experience of the travel!

Dorm room in a B&B in Kuching, Sarawak which cost about RM20 per night!
My dorm room in an all-female dormitory mended by a Russian family located in Piccadilly Circus, London.

Best part about backpacking is that you get to meet new lifelong friends who you can share travel stories and experiences with! I made so much friends from backpacking, it’s insane! We still keep in touch via Facebook!

Friends from Argentina that we met on our way to Vang Vieng!
Friends from Argentina that we met on our way to Vang Vieng!
I met Cassie together with her mom and brother while having breakfast in my dorm in Kuching.
I met Cassie together with her mom and brother while having breakfast in my dorm in Kuching.
New German friends I made during RWMF who happens to be traveling around before starting school again.
New German friends I made during RWMF who happens to be traveling around before starting school again.
Swedish singer-songwriter who was a few beds away from my in my London dorm.
Swedish singer-songwriter who was a few beds away from my in my London dorm.

Keyword here ladies and gentlemen, BACKPACK!

4. Be one of the locals!

Another way to enjoy your travel is by learning more about the place that you are traveling in. This does not only include going to the museums but also actually be one of the locals by indulging in as much culture as you can while saving some money doing just that!

Food is definitely the best way to get to know a country. Opt for street food instead of your normal fast food joint. Come on, you can get McDonalds back home, why travel all the way to a new country and try out the same thing?

Street foods are not only cheap, but very yummy too! If you have a sensitive tummy, then come prepared. Have your medication with you at all time and most importantly, choose clean eateries to eat in. Be careful on where and what type of food you consume, you don’t want to spend the rest of your trip being sick! In saying this however, street foods are a definite must in any country you visit!

Manila street food is a definite must try! SUPER YUMMY!
Manila street food is a definite must try! SUPER YUMMY!
More street foods near a playground overlooking the Mekong River @ Vientienne, Laos.
More street foods near a playground overlooking the Mekong River @ Vientienne, Laos.
Rachel with her dish (basically vegetable with rice) from one of the many local street restaurants that we visited while in Vientienne, Laos.
Rachel with her dish (basically vegetable with rice) from one of the many local street restaurants that we visited while in Vientienne.
While walking around Vientienne (Laos), we spotted this little restaurant where factory workers go for lunch. They serve really yummy noodle soup there and super cheap too!
While walking around Vientienne, we spotted this little restaurant where factory workers go for lunch. They serve really yummy noodle soup there and super cheap too!
Banana pancake topped with chocolate? Yes please! We had this in Vang Vieng and it was delicious! It cost less than $1!
Banana pancake topped with chocolate? Yes please! We had this in Vang Vieng and it was delicious! It cost less than $1!
Beer Lao anyone? I had this while enjoying the sunset over the Mekong River!
Beer Lao anyone? I had this while enjoying the sunset over the Mekong River!

Then there’s the public transport. When we were in Manila, we took the jeepney everywhere we go. It was our number one go-to travel ride as taxi were expensive. Plus, we did a whole lot of walking while we’re there so comfy shoes is a number one priority while traveling!

Jeepney is common in Manila. I love how they collect the fare. You basically just pass the fare from one person to another until it reaches that driver, it's fantastic!
Jeepney is common in Manila. I love how they collect the fare. You basically just pass the fare from one person to another until it reaches that driver, it’s fantastic!
Our time in Manila was mainly of us walking about from one point to another. We walked a lot, A LOT. Here we are walking about in the old city of Intramuros in Manila, Philippines.
Our time in Manila was mainly of us walking about from one point to another. We walked a lot, A LOT. Here we are walking about in the old city of Intramuros in Manila, Philippines.
Another example of a jeepney (thought they don't call it that) that we took in Laos. Most of the time, we depended on tuk tuk to travel about, except for this one which looked like another version of the Philippines' jeepney.
Another example of a jeepney (thought they don’t call it that) that we took in Laos. Most of the time, we depended on tuk tuk to travel about, except for this one which looked like another version of the Philippines’ jeepney.

Bonus tip: Travel for free! (Well, kinda!)

In 2010, I got a chance of a lifetime to travel to England to attend the Young Women World Forum under the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). Not only was I given the chance to meet inspiring young women my own age from various parts of the world, but I also got to travel to England, which was pretty darn awesome!

As much as I had the doors opened for me, I knew I had to have a little push to get the funds in. I had to work extra hard to earn the trust and respect of people who eventually was kind enough to donate and sponsor for my trip. If you want kind help, you need to work for it! I was super glad I was able to go in the end and represented Malaysia (and Sabah!) internationally!

With participants from Korea, Singapore and Malta during the Young Women World Conference in Oxfordshire, England.
With participants from Korea, Singapore and Malta during the Young Women World Conference in Oxfordshire, England.
With participants from the Philippines, exploring London.
With participants from the Philippines, exploring London.

There are many similar programs, forums or conferences that you can join that enables you to travel to different parts of the world for free or at a minimal cost. I know a friend spent her whole secondary school and university by attending different forums and conferences to not only travel, but also filling up her resume with all these wonderful and rich experiences.

Example of programs include the Mosaic International Leadership Programme (which unfortunately just ended), 2015 Community Solutions Program under the US Embassy (closing date for application is 27th Oct), AFS Program, YES Program (for 15 – 18 year olds) and many more!

Many of these programs are either fully or partially paid for one way or another. Please check each individual programs for full details. There are many other programs that are similar to these too, Google them!

Best yet, why not travel with your school? I know that many colleges and universities offer cultural exchange-type trips for students. In fact, I will be going to Makassar and Toraja this November for a study trip under my university!

Monash University Malaysia students who went for the 'In Search of Iloilo City' trip last year. (Picture courtesy of their blog; In Search of Iloilo City)
Monash University Malaysia students who went for the ‘In Search of Iloilo City’ trip last year. (Picture courtesy of their blog; In Search of Iloilo City)

So the quote, “Where there is a will, there is a way” may just ring true for many of us.

Good luck and happy traveling!

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2 thoughts on “Traveling while broke: A guide to surviving and saving up for your travels

    1. Oh definitely. I was actually thinking of university students when I wrote this, hehe. Of course when you’re married especially with children, safety and hygiene is outmost important! That’s for sure! Thanks for commenting, Cyril!

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