20 Money-Saving Tips For Backpacking South-East Asia

1 Walk it out

I had to start with an obvious one, and easily one of the most practical.  C’mon, you’re in a new area of the world, and one of the best ways to experience it is to walk around, explore different neighborhoods, and see how the locals live.  

2 Bring Your Own Drinks

In America, if you go to a restaurant with your own water bottle or soda, you’ll get a death stare from the waiter or waitress.  In South-East Asia, I try to avoid paying for drinks at restaurants.  The people working don’t really care, and when they ask what you want to drink, just point to your water bottle, and say I think I’ll stick with water.  

3 Bargain

If you’re planning a trip to SEA, you better be ready to bargain your ass off. I guarantee you at the beginning of your travels you’ll get ripped off once or twice, but then eventually you’ll get the hang of it. There are many different techniques, but I always like to stick to my price, and if I don’t like it…walk away.  They’ll normally chase after you, or say “okay, my friend, okay”.  

4 Explore The Options

When booking tours, transportation packages, hostels, etc; ask around at many different places and look for the best price. Prices will fluctuate greatly between tour places, and it can be hard to figure out what the best price you’ll be able to get.  But you can’t just book the first deal you come across.

5 Power in Numbers

I know a lot of people who travel SEA solo, but it’s so much easier to get better discounts on things when you are with a group of people. In Thailand, if something is going to cost 700 Baht, you can probably talk them down to 500 or 550 Baht if you have a group of 4 or more people.  

6 It’s All About Street Food

You’re in Asia, eat like the locals! You’d be amazed at some of the prices you can find at local food markets, hawker stalls, and street shops. You can spend $20 at a restaurant, or go to Little India and spend $3 for a huge meal. Often times, my favorite meals I’ve had in restaurants are from the streets.

7 Plan Ahead

I know a lot of people would argue about this, but the fact remains that if you plan ahead, you’re normally going to get a better deal. Obviously, this can change in different situations, but I’ve found I spend more money when I wait to the last minute. It can be really nice to just “go with the flow”, but if you don’t have a general plan, you might spend more cash than you needed to getting from point A or B, or sleeping at a more costly guesthouse or hostel.           

8 Don’t Tip

I know, I know. Let me explain. As an American I find myself tipping way too much out in Asia. It really isn’t that customary, and can save you a lot of money in the long run. Especially with cab drivers, massages, waiters, etc. Unless you found their services to be amazing, you enjoyed a good conversation, or you just overall had a great time; don’t feel obliged to leave a tip.      

9 Pre-Game like a King

This goes for everywhere in the world, but is just as great of a money saver in Asia. Guess what? Drinks in clubs and bars are more expensive than at 7/11. Save extra cash by splitting a bottle of cheap whiskey or a couple beers before going out.

10 Cut Down on the Boozing

I know this can be a hard one; it’s south-east Asia. Everywhere you go there’s gonna be great parties with a bunch of backpackers. I’ll admit I normally go to all of these parties, but the costs of alcohol really do add up. Try to pick and choose your parties, and not to attend every one.  

11 It’s More Fun In Hostels

Hostels are going to be cheaper than hotels about 90% of the time. If you’re traveling with people, it might make more sense to all just split a room, but I think it’s still better to choose hostels. You meet people, which is one of the best parts about traveling! Just check out Hostelworld.com, sort by price, and pick one of the cheaper ones. Definitely make sure it’s in a decent location though and read some reviews before booking.  

12 Research And Save

One of the most important tips I could give is to research where you are going, what activities there are to do, and how much these should cost. For example, if you’re flying into an Airport you’ve never been before, look up the cheapest way to get into the city center. You don’t need to waste money on Taxis. Also, ask other travelers how much they paid for certain things. You don’t want to overpay because you didn’t know ahead of time.  

13 Don’t Buy Souvenirs

Your friends and family are gonna have to live with the fact that you can’t spend a bunch of money on little trinkets, and carry them around in your backpack for the next few months. The best souvenirs are pictures, memories, and new relationships.

14 Avoid Western Food

I understand that after a couple weeks of eating nothing but Fried Rice, Noodles, and Curry you are going to want something that reminds you of home. Every once in awhile, Treat yo self! But western food is going to be much more expensive than the local dishes. Try and google the specialties of where you are, and try it.  

15 Never Pay To Use The Bathroom

I remember my first time to Europe, being shocked when asked for money to use a bathroom.  Well, guess what— it happens in Asia as well. Unless it’s an emergency, you do not need to pay them. I’ve used this one before — “Can I just go in and wash my hands?”  They normally say yes, but if they don’t, just find a nearby restaurant or cafe that has a bathroom, and pretend you’re a customer.  

16 Try The Local Snack Food

There will be plenty of times when you only have a couple minutes before a long bus ride, ferry ride, or flight. When at a supermarket or 7/11, try the local snacks. If every time you need to buy a snack, you grab the Pringles, Oreos, and Toblerone, you’re gonna be spending a lot. Each country has their own variety of snack food, and a lot of it is pretty good.  

17 Sleeper Trains/ Overnight Buses

On a lot of routes around SEA, you’re going to have many different options on transportation. A good tip is to look into if they have a sleeper train or overnight bus. I’m a big fan of sleeper trains and have never had a bad experience in them. They save you a night of accommodation and are just an enjoyable way to travel. Long bus rides can be annoying, but sometimes they are necessary.

18 Take Advantage of Flight Deals

You’d be surprised how cheap some airfare flights can be. I found a flight one time for as low as $12. You have to take into consideration of getting to the airport, and baggage fees (if you need to check a bag), but airlines have specials all the time. Follow their pages on Facebook, and look for great deals. Flying might not always be the cheapest option, but sometimes it is. It will save you a lot of time and energy.

19 Never Book “Transportation & Accommodation” Packages from Travel Agents.  

I’d say almost 99% of the time you will be able to do it cheaper yourself. You can always find a cheap bus or train somewhere, and hostels are in every major destination in Asia. They might try and sell you to think it’s a good deal, but I’d still avoid them. Do it yourself.  

20 Only Eat When You’re Hungry… (Duh)

This could just be me because I’m a fat kid at heart, but if I’m bored— I look to eat. Just recently I started trying to save money by only eating when I really was hungry. It can be hard when you’re just chilling on a beach all day, and don’t have much to do; so you think, who’s down to get some food? Just wait until you are actually hungry.