South East Asia is a beloved backpacker destination for several reasons. From the amazing food to the beautiful sights, but also the low cost of living. Plane tickets might be a little more expensive, but your dollars or euro’s stretch a lot further in South East Asia. To make the most of your cash, follow these tips and you shouldn’t have any trouble staying in your budget:
1. Don’t book in advance
There are a lot of hostels and guesthouses in South East Asia. A lot. So they rarely fill up*. And most of them, especially the guesthouses run by locals, don’t have online booking. So instead of booking ahead at that hip boutique hostel for 5$ a night, walk around and bargain at a guesthouse to get a bed for 3$ a night. Not only will you have a more authentic experience, you’ll save some money as well.
The one thing you should book in advance is your ticket there (and possibly your return ticket). Long distance flights are generally cheapest 5 months in advance and on Tuesdays. There’s actually a whole science behind it!
*The exception to this rule is during high-season and holidays. For instance around NYE or a local festival, you may want to book a room just to be sure.
2. Eat street food
Food is generally cheap in South East Asia, but nothing compares to street food. Not only is it usually the tastiest, by eating outside you can often get meals for 1$. Since most hostels in South East Asia don’t have a communal kitchen, eating out three times a day can add up.
3. Take public transport
Public transport in South East Asia is generally super cheap. It is often not that dependable and may take a little work to figure out, but it can save you a lot of money in long run. Cabs and tuk-tuks are a lot less expensive than they are in Europe and the US, but they still can’t beat the prices of busses.
The one exception is when you’re travelling in a larger group and going a short distance. In that case, sharing a Grab (Asia’s answer to Uber) can come down to as little as 50 cents a person.
WOOFF and Workaway are worldwide volunteer platforms where you can find hosts looking for a hand at any of your destinations. In exchange for a few hours of work a day, you get a bed and food. Not only is it a great deal that saves you a lot of money, but you get to contribute to exciting projects, meet cool people and experience the local culture. Volunteering works especially well if you are planning a long trip, as some places do require a minimum stay of several weeks or months.
I know, it’s awkward. It can be uncomfortable haggling over what essentially comes down to pennies on the dollar, but you should still do it. Not only because any money you save you can spend on something else, but also because bargaining is a vital part of South East Asian economies and culture. It is so expected that starting prices at markets may be as high as 80% over value. By paying the asking price you are proving that you’re a dumb tourist and overinflating the market. In some places, tuk-tuk drivers will even refuse to transport locals as they stand to make a lot more if they wait for a tourist to come along. So while you should be prepared for a little tourist tax, it is encouraged to bargain for a good price when it comes to anything without a fixed price, such as tuk-tuk rides and stalls.
My tip: calculate the max price you’re willing to pay for an item (I would usually say 50% of the asking price), start about 25% below that and don’t go up to quickly. For instance, if the asking price is 10, my max is 5 and my starting offer would be 2,50. That gives you a little wiggle room. And if your offer is below value, the seller will definitely let you know.
More budget travel tips? Check out: travelling Europe on a budget