Confessions of a broke backpacker: How to manage money and travel

I’ve reached that pre-travelling point where my trip is no longer a vague future eventuality but a rapidly imminent reality.

Don’t get me wrong I’m very excited…but where has all that time gone?

My trip is now only a mere few WEEKS away instead of a few months (!) and it’s all starting to get very real. Night times have become sleepless marathons for my mind to race feverishly whirring through all the millions of things I still need to do, buy, arrange. Lying in bed feels like a battle. It’s chaos inside my head, all systems go, and every thought quite literally running to its panic station.

Several times a night I sit bolt upright in a cold sweat suddenly wondering if there will still be enough time to order a set of packing cubes online? Or even if the plane ticket is valid and not some joke shop fakery? (Of course, it isn’t unless you bought it from an actual joke shop, but all sense of rationality is gone by this point as you start to question EVERYTHING).

person holding empty book near pen and shears with a cup of tea
Keeping a notebook by your bed is all fun and games until you can’t read your handwriting…

I’ve started keeping a notebook by my bed in an attempt to keep up with the frantic thoughts which hit me at all hours in the hope of some respite and eventual shut-eye. I don’t tend to turn the light on, however, so it makes for some very entertaining albeit frustrating deciphering the next morning.

The financial side to backpacking has been a nightly companion recently. No matter how much you think you might need to travel you’re never confident it’s going to be enough, and the fear that you’ll end up with nothing but the rucksack on your back is always nagging somewhere deep in the recesses of your mind. Backpacking shouldn’t be a financially unobtainable enigma but, with it being a sort of lifestyle, there are aspects to it which don’t make it easy. I’m talking of course about the travel gear versus finances conundrum and that’s before you’ve even got on a plane!

I have been very lucky to have had the opportunity to raise as much money as I can for my trip, and I feel even more privileged to be going travelling in the first place. But for a first-time solo backpacker, budgeting is not always easy, particularly when you’re faced with a brand new and seemingly never-ending packing list. If you’re buying rucksacks, jackets and appropriate footwear for the first time it can add up and all too often you can get torn between good quality kit and not wanting to dent your savings too heavily before you’ve even left.

But on the other hand, you want to be able to afford good quality equipment you can trust. The last thing you want is for a gaping hole to materialise in your rucksack or your packing cube to explode and your anti-theft travel satchel to get slashed by a passing pickpocket.

So, how can you budget for your backpacking trip AND buy good quality equipment at the same time?

photography of a woman sitting on cliff
I bet she isn’t thinking about those £200 trousers now…

It’s a question I’ve been wondering about quite a lot recently. But I’ve discovered that despite popular opinion, the best and most high-tech travel gear on the market won’t always suit your personal needs. A good money saving tip for budgeting backpackers is to spend a little more on a good quality rucksack, a sturdy pair of shoes or a durable jacket. But don’t sweat it if you can’t justify spending £200 on the best seriously-they-will-change-your-life travel trousers. Your trip will still be out of this world even if you don’t have all the tech.

Instead, buying knock-off alternatives from cheaper brands is just as good. Okay, admittedly London Fashion Week may be a little bit out of reach if you end up with a pair of convertible zip-off-at-the-knee hiking trousers from Decathlon, but if style is your thing then you can still keep an eye on the sales. Sometimes even researching different stores for the same product can provide discounts. It may not be much, but it does add up.

brown shopping bags
Be ruthless with your packing list and save yourself from a painful ‘shopping bag arm’

The most useful way to manage your money and your packing list is to be utterly ruthless (something I’m still trying to work on…) Ask yourself if you really need the product or if you only THINK you need it. If you feel that you can survive without it, then you’re probably right and it will save you money and weight to cross it off the list. Unless you’re planning a trip to the moon they will probably have the same product or something similar where you’re going if you do suddenly need it after all.

The weeks leading up to going travelling are the most challenging. It’s make or break and there seems to always be a million and one things to do and 99.999% of them involve parting with your hard-earned cash. Suddenly even the most trivial matters like finding a good set of packing cubes are enough to get you worked up into a stressed-out frenzy. But managing money and backpacking is still possible if you budget your packing list and be ruthless where need be.

***

Thanks for reading,

F x

If you enjoyed this then you might like 10 Things that I’m learning or have been told as a solo female traveller and My secret tip for planning your backpacking holiday!

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