Urban Backpacking On the Cheap!

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I commonly get asked ‘how do I plan an urban backpacking trip on the cheap?’ Money is a major factor preventing urban backpackers from traveling to new destinations.  

I’m Jess is a Wanderer and I’m going to give you 8 tried and tested money saving tips. I hope this will help you plan your dream trip and inspire you to start your backpacking adventure.

Choosing a destination

Trips can be as expensive or as cheap as you want to make them. There are hundreds of websites with recommendations for cheap travel destinations. My personal favourite is Price of Travel. The site shows locations and their cost of living per day. The breakdown is superb and covers all manner of things from accommodation, to travel, to spending money.  Did you know that beer in Cambodia is cheaper than water?! You’ll be shocked at how little it costs to backpack in some countries. Not only that, but planning to backpack the cheapest countries allows you to visit several in a row. 

Booking a flight

Whenever I fly anywhere, I use Skyscanner. You can view prices over a given month and fly on the cheapest day offered. You can also mix and match airlines and book directly without paying any extra fees. A win win! Alternatively, for multi-stop trips I use Kayak. They’re very reasonably priced and the site is super easy to use. Once I’ve found specific flights, I search the airline’s own site (just in case there is a sale, or to see if I can use my Air Miles).

Air Miles can really pay off if you use them well. I’m a member of Star Alliance, an organization that covers twenty-seven worldwide airlines. You can sign up for a credit card that give you plenty of Air Miles for every dollar you spend on your urban backpacking adventure. Virgin Atlantic offers some fantastic rewards. All your regular spending throughout the year can quickly build up to earn discounted or even free flights! I use Money Supermarket to find these deals.

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Travel Accessories

The less time you spend packing and unpacking, the less stress you'll have, and the more time you'll have to explore your city. You can check out some nice accessories at the PACK Gear shop. They have a great backpack organizer, which let's you unpack in 10 seconds! It's good for backpacks and carry-ons. 

Finding the perfect accommodation

One of my favourite pastimes is finding the perfect accommodation. Whether it’s a tree house or a plush London hotel, I love finding a good deal in a beautiful location. Most of my accommodations are reserved through Booking.com. The more bookings you make, the better deals you get. If you receive Booking Genius status, you can be entitled to huge discounts at various hotels. You also get extra bonuses such as late check-out and early check-in at no extra cost. 

If you’re looking for a less touristy route then Couchsurfing or AirBnB may be for you. These sites offer rooms, sofas or sometimes, whole houses for rent. Often, the host is more than willing to show you around the area, give you tips for local events and welcome you into their social life. You can often find more than just a place to sleep.

Activities on location

No matter where you are in the world, there are always plenty of things to keep you entertained. TripAdvisor has one of the most extensive lists of cheap and free things to do. You can sort according to cost. The site has real, honest reviews from past visitors, so you know exactly what you’re signing up for.

Many cities around the world offer free walking tours. These are a great way to support the local community and are usually sustained through voluntary donations from participants.

Local transport

Local transport does not always mean using the city underground train lines or taking a cab from A to B. Quite often, there are more alternative ways to get around. I was recently in South Africa and we arranged for an airport shuttle to take us to our hotel. The driver had an excellent knowledge of the city, great restaurant recommendations and offered day tours at an agreeable price. It was a fantastic way to experience the area with a local. In London, you can take a rickshaw for a unique city tour. Alternatively, take a tuk-tuk around Thailand or hop on the back of a motorbike in Vietnam. These methods of transport may not be conventional but will usually be cheaper than flying or taking a train or a bus. Another advantage is that your experience is more personal and you get to see sights you may not otherwise have come across.

How about a pre-planned adventure?

I usually like to book all of my trips independently but I managed to time my trip to Brazil in time with the World Cup so flights and accommodation were exceptionally priced. I called on STA Travel and they saved me more than $1000 on my flights. I had the option to change up to three of my flights for free. This saved a lot of hassle as after sending a few emails, dates were changed and new tickets were issued. It was especially helpful as, if you’re like me, you don’t want to use up travel days spending time on the phone rearranging your plans. 

There are plenty of companies out there who offer booking services for both flights and adventures. Round the World Experts offers a similar service. If you’re flexible with your dates, this can be a real money saver as they often have sales on.

Eat local

It’s increasingly surprising how food prices can add up throughout the course of a trip. Eating out three times a day can be an expensive endeavour. Save on food by staying at a hotel that offers free breakfast. This way, you can stock up in the morning, go without lunch or just grab a quick snack and then have dinner in a local restaurant. When I’m travelling, I avoid chain restaurants that seem to appear in every major city: McDonalds, Hard Rock Café, Dominos and Dunkin’ Donuts. Though quick and easy to get food from, they’re not as cheap as you may imagine. If you’re travelling through Asia, you’ll come across some weird and wonderful food being sold on the roadside. However, there are also plenty of local restaurants selling traditional delicious food for a fraction of the cost of the chains. Even in a city metropolis like New York you can get a bagel and a coffee for less than $5. The perfect snack for any time of the day!

Be flexible and carry a positive attitude

One of the most important things you can pack with you on any trip is your positive mental attitude. The added bonus is this doesn’t cost a penny! This allows you to laugh when things don’t quite work out and to stay calm if things seem to be falling apart. When my passport was stolen in Atlanta, Georgia, making light of the situation still enabled us to enjoy the remainder of the trip. A quick visit to the British Embassy in Washington, D.C and we were back on the road again. 

There are so many companies, websites, tour agencies and travel agents offering sales on flights and activities around the world that if you’re flexible with when you go and with what you want to do, you can really grab yourself a bargain. Some places, such as the Inca Trail, will always be expensive as the demand is high. Other specialist trips such as Inter-Railing offers amazing discounts for youth tickets and during seasonal sales.  


I hope that this has provided you with the inspiration necessary for taking the trip you’ve always considered. One of my travel mottos is ‘You can make more money but you can’t make more time’. Seize the opportunity you have today and take that trip you’ve been dreaming of. Visit my blog for more of my stories!