8 Money-Saving Tips For Backpacking Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia (SEA) is a hotspot for first-time travelers. It’s one of the least expensive places to travel around, which is one reason why it’s been deemed a backpacker’s paradise.

However, because of its relative affordability, it’s easy to overdo it on spending once you actually get there. That’s why it’s important to learn money-saving tips to keep you afloat.

What are the best ways to save money while backpacking SEA? First and foremost, make sure you’ve planned the most important aspects of your trip, including what your overall budget will be. After that, just implement the tips below and you could save hundreds of dollars while backpacking SEA!

Budget Apps

After you’ve determined how much cash to bring to SEA, it’s a good idea to download a budgeting app to track every dollar spent. A popular app to use is Trail Wallet. This app lets you easily switch between currencies if visiting multiple countries, and lets you see summaries and averages as you spend.

Seeing a large sum of money in your bank account may cause you to spend too freely. Knowing every dollar leaving your wallet will help you to make smarter decisions.

Haggle

SEA is one of the many countries in the world that allow buyers to haggle prices on goods. Haggling works best at all of the several pop-up shops selling clothing and miscellaneous items. But it doesn’t work well for food, especially at restaurants with predetermined prices on the menu.

For the inexperienced haggler, it can seem difficult to talk prices down and settle on an agreement. A good technique for most goods is to start at half price before eventually meeting somewhere in the middle. In some cases, it may even be appropriate to turn your back on the item. Oftentimes this will cause the merchant to settle at your proposed price instead of risking losing the sale altogether.

Be mindful about haggling, however. Don’t try to short merchants to steeply. People living in SEA rely heavily on tourist money, so in some situations, it may not be ethical to harass merchants to lower their prices. Afterall, SEA is a collection of developing countries, and their prices are generally cheaper than what you’d see for similar items in developed countries.

Cashback Apps

Combine your purchases with the many cashback apps available on smartphone devices. Apps like Rakuten usually have partnerships with hotel and travel booking services.

Rakuten can be used with the popular hostel/hotel booking app Agoda, for example. Depending on how long you’ll be backpacking, the cashback percentage will constantly fluctuate, so there may even be some double cashback days during your stay. If staying for multiple months, this alone could save you hundreds of dollars.

Walk

Sometimes it’s easier to opt for a car ride instead of walking a few blocks. Unfortunately, taxis and rideshares tend to add up over time. Instead, choose to take the exercise and walk the 10 or so blocks to your next landmark. The weather can range from rainy to heatwave in a matter of minutes, so be sure to pack an umbrella and plenty of water.

Skip the tours

Throughout SEA you will encounter many opportunities to embark on guided tours. These can definitely be good ways to explore and learn more about the region, but realistically they’re an expensive alternative to simply planning an adventure yourself.

Thanks to the internet, there is no shortage of apps, websites, and videos showcasing all the things you can do in SEA. Why pay for a guided tour when you can just pick and choose your own adventure?

Not only will you have the flexibility to go at your own pace, but you won’t have to contend with all the other tourists on the same tour as you. Most of the time, the larger cost of the tour is just to pay the guide anyway.

Cut down on alcohol

Alcohol is a huge temptation no matter where you are in the world. In SEA, it becomes even more of a temptation when you consider the relatively cheap prices of beer and other drinks. Despite how cheap some alcohol is in SEA, this is an expense that tends to add up greatly over time.

Obviously, it’s okay to let loose every once in a while. You are on vacation after all. But try to resist getting a drink during every meal, and steer away from the nightclubs offering drink deals. Once you’re drunk, it’s easier to drain money on even more alcohol, more food, and other useless things.

ATM rebates

Before setting out to SEA, find a bank that offers debit cards with ATM rebates. One such bank is Charles Schwab, which will refund all ATM fees at the end of each month.

Holding too much cash on you at any given time puts important funds at risk.  While in SEA, it’s best to pull out just a few days of cash each ATM visit. Over time, pulling money out each week will quickly incur ATM fees ranging from a few dollars to $7 at airports and other touristy areas.

Grocery stores instead of restaurants

Food is by far the best reason to visit SEA. Alongside all of the incredible street food, there’s also an abundance of restaurants that offer an even more refined experience.

Street food is typically cheaper than restaurant food, but by and large, the best way to save money on food is to simply grocery shop. Good quality grocery stores can be found in almost every major city in SEA. Whenever possible, stock up on snacks and easy-to-make meals — like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — to take on your longer treks. Some hostels and hotels have full kitchens, which allow for even more elaborate meals to be made.

Still, don’t overdo it on the homemade meals. Traditional street food meals are something you can’t miss!

In summary

Even though SEA is a relatively inexpensive region, it still helps to be a budget-minded traveler. The money-saving tips mentioned above can literally save you hundreds. You never know when you’ll need the extra cash in a snap. Or, if you find that you are far below your budget, you can use that extra money to stay even longer and do more traveling!

 

Please like and share this post if you found it useful. And stay tuned for more travel tips by following this blog!

Additional Reading:

Top 5 Best Apps For Backpacking Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is a backpacker’s paradise due to its vibrant culture, beautiful scenery, and all-around low cost. It’s no surprise that the countries comprising Southeast Asia have seen a huge increase in travelers over the last few years. Thanks to smartphones and their associated apps, backpacking foreign countries has become much more accessible. For Southeast Asia specifically, there are a handful of apps that are essential to ensuring you have a safe and efficient trip. Continue reading below to learn five of the most useful smartphone apps for backpacking Southeast Asia.

Grab

Grab

Figuring out the cheapest and easiest way to navigate the major cities of Southeast Asia can be tricky at first. There are sometimes several options that you’ll be confronted with upon arriving at your city of choice. Taxi drivers are often the first people to hassle you when getting off your bus or plane, but they can be expensive, as their rates are dependant on the amount of time spent driving. Tuk Tuks, or motorbike carriages, are also a very popular mode of transportation, but they are relatively expensive because they have more of a novelty appeal to tourists. Both Tuk Tuks and Taxis are also in a good position to rip off unsuspecting tourists by finding ways to charge more. For instance, a Taxi driver can take a longer route to your destination so that their meter charges more, or a Tuk Tuk driver can name a price much higher than the average rate. Instead, one of the easiest ways to ensure your prices stay reasonable and consistent is to use the ride-hailing app Grab.

The way Grab works is very similar to popular services like Uber or Lyft. You simply load up the Grab app, select a destination and pick-up point, then wait for a driver to accept your request. Once a driver is chosen it will display their photo, name, car model, license plate number, and rating. A good tip is to always make sure the information on your app matches up with the car that arrives so that you don’t get scammed.

Prior to confirming your pick-up, you will see what the price of your ride will be. There is also a way to change what type of vehicle to be picked up in, and some options will be cheaper than others. For the most part, the price of your ride is fixed, but sometimes the driver will tack on small fees such as highway tolls or airport checkpoints. These fees are usually very cheap, but make sure you are aware of the possibility.

When signing up with Grab you’ll have the option of adding a payment method. Unfortunately, for many countries (including the U.S.), most digital payment methods may not be accepted. Grab does allow cash payments though, and this is the option that majority of travelers end up going with.

While Grab is easily the most convenient way to navigate the cities of Southeast Asia, it is not available everywhere. In the more rural or smaller cities, your only options may be to either walk or utilize Taxi and Tuk Tuk services. This is completely fine as long as you are aware of any potential scams.

Agoda

agoda

Finding the right accommodation can also be an overwhelming task. In most cities, there are hostels and hotels aplenty, but sometimes the hard part is knowing which one to choose ahead of time. Agoda offers an intuitive and efficient way to find accommodations just about anywhere you go. You can perform a general search of a specified area and toggle some of the filter settings to hone in on exactly your type of lodging. All of the accommodations presented in Agoda have pictures, user ratings, and reviews. These can provide fantastic insight into things you otherwise would not have noticed at first glance.

Another great perk of Agoda is that it often lists the cheapest available prices. When compared to other methods for finding accommodations, Agoda almost never fails in providing the best deals. This is why the app is great for backpackers who are traveling on a tight budget. Agoda also accepts a wide range of payment methods, including PayPal.

Trail Wallet

trail

Staying within budget and saving money is crucial to backpackers who either don’t want to be stranded in a foreign country or would at least like a little money to come home to. If this is you, then Trail Wallet is an excellent addition to your backpacking app arsenal.

Simply put, the app allows you to define a range of dates for your trip and set a budget for it. Throughout your trip, it is your job to input everything you spend into the app. It may seem like a daunting task to record every purchase you make, but it quickly becomes an effortless habit. As you continue to feed the app data, you will get to see additional metrics such as the percentage of your budget spent, your daily average spending, and how much money you have remaining for the day. Several different currencies are supported so you don’t have to worry about converting each purchase into a single one. Also featured in the app are graphs and pie charts which offer a more visual way to view your budget data, including a breakdown of each of your spending categories.

Being aware of exactly how much your spending each day is a great money-managing habit in general. Trail Wallet will allow you to backpack through Southeast Asia in a financially informed way.

XE Currency

xecurrency

One of the very first things you’ll need to do when entering a new country is dealing with the currency exchange. Backpackers who are trekking through multiple countries in a single trip will have to learn a new currency multiple times. Knowing the exchange rate of the local currency will allow you to effectively navigate the mercantile world and not look like a fool.

Due to the low cost of travel between Southeast Asian countries, it is very common for backpackers to visit several of the region’s countries in one go. XE Currency is a simple way to keep track of the exchange rate of each country as compared to your native currency. All you need to do is search the app for the currencies you will be encountering during your travels, including your native currency. On the main screen, you will see a list of the currencies you’ve selected. At the very top of the main screen, you can set a primary currency, and this will be the currency your conversions are based on. Altering the amount of the primary currency will show you the equivalencies of the other currencies on your list in real time.

Whenever you’re presented with a large bill that you cannot easily convert in your head, just pull out your smartphone and load up the XE Currency app to do the conversion for you. This will not only save time but will empower you to understand how much money you’re really spending in reference to your native currency.

Trip Advisor

tripadvisor

With so much to see and do in Southeast Asia, it’s hard to filter through it all and decide on what exactly to do. Between choosing restaurants, deciding on an activity, or just looking for second opinions on anything, it’s nice to have a go-to source full of user-generated information. Arguably the best all-around travel app out there, Trip Advisor is essential for backpacking Southeast Asia.

Searching for places to eat is one of the hardest things to do while backpacking. Relying on local recommendations and hearsay can be very serendipitous, but sometimes it’s nice to just know that where you’re about to go is good quality. Trip Advisor allows you to conduct wide searches of eateries within your vicinity and will show you user ratings and reviews to help you narrow down your choices. All of the restaurants that appear on the app are categorized by the type of cuisine they offer, the price, and what dietary restrictions they cater to. These categories can be used to filter for the types of food you’re in the mood for in that moment. And for all of the vegans and vegetarians out there, this is a great way to discover hidden gems that meet your dietary needs.

Aside from restaurants, Trip Advisor is also a great way to search for what other travelers have to say about certain activities or hotels you’re considering. The forum section is a useful place to ask general questions pertaining to just about anything. Trip Advisor also has a strong social media aspect to it that incentivizes you to tailor your own reviews and connect with other travelers in different ways.

With these five apps as starting points, you are ready to begin your journey backpacking through Southeast Asia. Be sure to supplement these apps with anything else you may find useful. Happy travels!

Southeast Asia Update #7 [Thai Islands]

Previous: Southeast Asia Update #6

With sadness and reluctance, Madison and I began planning for the final two-week leg of our journey through Southeast Asia. From the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, it was time to head south to decompress near the crystal clear waters and limestone cliffs of the Thai Islands. The itinerary consisted of flying to the coastal city of Ao Nang which would act as our home base for a week as we went island hopping each day to a few of the dozens of islands further out to sea. For our final week, we’d then take a speedboat 60km further out to sea to a small island near Malaysia called Koh Lipe, a.k.a. “the Maldives of Thailand”. My goal for this part of the trip was to try to be as present and carefree as possible. I wouldn’t say that the Thai Islands were uneventful, but we were definitely not as active as we were in previous cities. That being said, this post will probably be brief.

Read more

Southeast Asia Update #6 [Northern Thailand]

Previous: Southeast Asia Update #5

If you’ve been following this blog series from the beginning you may remember that our initial goal for this two-month trip was to visit four countries: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. At one point during our time in Vietnam, however, we decided it’d be best to exclude Laos from our itinerary altogether. This is because we felt we wanted to slow our trip down a bit and stay in Vietnam and Thailand longer than originally planned. In my last post, I covered our time in northern Vietnam, but instead of booking a flight into Laos from Hanoi, we went directly to the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.

Read more

Southeast Asia Update #3 [Cambodia to Vietnam]

Previous: Southeast Asia Update #2

My previous post was written while Madison and I were already on another Giant Ibis bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. That previous post, however, only covered our journey up until the end of Siem Reap, Cambodia. This current post will cover the brief time we spent in both Phnom Penh and Saigon.

Read more

Southeast Asia Update #2 [Siem Reap, Cambodia]

Previous: Southeast Asia Update #1

Wow. If there was one thing I was not expecting, it was how much I would enjoy Cambodia. After an eight-hour bus ride from Bangkok, we finally made it to Siem Reap, Cambodia on Sunday, October 21st.

Read more

Southeast Asia Update #1 [Bangkok, Thailand]

Previous: Preparing For Southeast Asia

After months of planning, and 22 hours of travel, we finally arrived at our first Southeast Asian (SEA) destination: Bangkok, Thailand! The plan was to stay in Bangkok for four days, then take a bus to Cambodia. We plan on going back to Thailand towards the end of our backpacking loop.

Read more

Preparing For Southeast Asia

Sometime back in early Spring, my girlfriend Madison and I decided it was time for the out-of-country trip we’ve always talked about. One night we spontaneously bought tickets to Southeast Asia (SEA) for two and a half months after seeing a big price drop in airline tickets. This happened about six months ago, so while it was exciting at the time, the reality of our decision hadn’t quite hit us yet. Fast-forward six months later and it suddenly feels very real. We are a little less than one month away from our departure date and it’s starting to feel like crunch time. Many aspects of our plan have already been accomplished, and at this point we’re just playing the waiting game and taking care of whatever last minute things we can think of. The lease on our apartment has ended and we are staying at Madison’s mom’s house for the next few weeks until our departure. We’ve both quit our jobs and are now using our abundant free time for preparation and stress-relieving leisure.

Read more