Everyone dreams of going to South East Asia. The magical beaches, incredible food, and rich culture are a huge draw for anyone. From a budget standpoint, those beaches aren’t as far off as you’d imagine. If you are one of the many people who believe that money is the main factor holding you back, I’ve got some fantastic news for you. Traveling South East Asia on a budget is a breeze. I actually spend more money when I’m back home in the U.S. than when I am abroad in South East Asia.
There is a huge misconception surrounding the cost of travel. I blame all of those luxury travel Instagrammers that make you think you have to stay at 5-star resorts all the time. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive. It is actually way more affordable than most people expect. I’ve got budget travel in South East Asia down to the balance where I need it to be. You can keep costs low but still get to experience amazing things.
Here are ten of my top tips for traveling South East Asia on a budget.
Figure Out The Public Transportation ASAP
Once I figured out the public transportation system in Bangkok, I started falling in love with the city. I was no longer stuck in traffic all the time. I was able to go explore parts of the city that are off the tourist trail. Oh yeah, and I was saving a ton of money. If you don’t have a scooter, public transportation is the next best thing for budget travelers in Asia. You’d be surprised how efficient and modern the public transportation systems are in many major South East Asian cities. From Singapore to Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, I was riding those trains as much as I could.
Even in less developed cities, figuring out the bus system or even just the specific route you need to take at that particular moment will save you some money. I paid around $2 for a 2-hour roundtrip bus to Kek Lok Si in Penang, which would have run me well over $20 if I chose to take a taxi.
Going Somewhere? Night Buses
Night buses give you the benefit of getting you somewhere and also serving as a place to sleep for the night. You won’t have to double up on accommodation after spending the entire day on the bus. Sure, buses aren’t always the most comfortable but you’d be surprised at how nice some sleeper buses in South East Asia are. A lot of them provide plenty of room and have the comfort of a first-class seat on a flight. Bring snacks, download some movies on Netflix, and take some sleeping pills if necessary. Bam, you’ve woken up at your destination.
Stay At Hostels
When I first started backpacking, picking a hostel was basically a crapshoot. Hostels had a 50/50 shot of being amazing or terrible. Since then, backpacking culture has really taken off, especially in South East Asia. For the most part, hostels are no longer the grimy, greasy, drunk-infested hellholes that many people imagine them to be.
I’ve stayed at some incredibly nice hostels all over the world, including South East Asia. The stereotype is that hostels are only for young backpackers looking to get drunk.There are different types of hostels for different types of travelers. I’ve found that with a little research, finding the right hostel for you is not hard. There are plenty of modern, quiet hostels that visited by all types of travelers, including those looking for peace and quiet.
Hostels are hands down the easiest way to save money while traveling. It may sound awful sharing a room with people but you’ll find that it really isn’t all that bad and what you lose in sleep, you will gain in friendship.
Learn How To Drive A Scooter
If you are brave and capable, a scooter is the best way to get around South East Asia on a budget. You no longer have to rely entirely on taxis or public transportation. In some parts of South East Asia, a scooter can cost as little as $1 a day if you rent it long-term. In Bali, I had a scooter for the entire month and only paid $45. Gas was pretty cheap, and I can’t imagine I spent more than $10 for the month on gas.
Another perk of having a scooter is how liberating it is. You no longer have to wait around for taxis and you can go do things whenever you want rather than adhere to a tour’s schedule. Having a scooter absolutely improved my experience in a lot of places.
Eat As Locally As Possible
People often ignore the cost of food when planning a trip. It can add up quickly and unexpectedly. Aside from accommodation, food often ends up being the most expensive part of traveling. People don’t want to cook when they travel so they resort to eating out 2-3 times a day. Who can blame them? You’re on vacation, treat yo’ self.
However, you don’t always need to treat yourself. Eating at nice restaurants is fine every few days but if you want your money to last longer, stretch it out by eating at local joints. They won’t have the fanciest decor or most aesthetic meals but food is food. A lot of times, eating locally is also an awesome cultural experience. The night markets in Thailand, the warungs in Bali, the hawker centers in Singapore, the list goes on.
If you’re smart about it, spending $5 a day on food is very much within the realm of possibility. You’ll eventually get the hang of budgeting in South East Asia. If you want to stretch your money even further, maybe you can look into grocery shopping and cooking. If I know I’m going to be somewhere long-term, I definitely make sure to stop by a grocery store just to stock up on food so I don’t impulsively go out and spend $10 on meals whenever I’m hungry.
Step Up Your Haggling Skills
This could be important if you love to shop. I hate haggling and I used to be really bad at it. I still am pretty bad at it because sometimes I’ll start haggling just for fun and then end up buying something I don’t even want just because I thought I got a good price on it. If you’re on a mission for souvenirs or cool little knickknacks, your haggling has got to be on point.
A general rule of thumb is to think about what price you actually want to pay for it and then go significantly below it but not too low that you offend the vendor. For example, if something costs $20 and you only want to pay $15, offer $10 and meet them halfway. There’s plenty of other things to it but I could probably write an entire post on how to haggle in South East Asia.
Try To Find Work Online
In this digital age, finding work online is easier than ever. There’s a reason why there has been a digital nomad explosion. Many people can run businesses remotely, sell their services online, or even find work with their skills wherever they travel. There are plenty of companies that make it easy for travelers to connect with businesses abroad for opportunities.
WorkAway is a popular one that I’ve had friends use. Fiverr lets creatives sell their skills online, ranging from graphic design to anything you can think of. For more ideas, you can check out my list of five extra ways that I earn money online!
Exchange Your Skills For Free Stays
Kind of on a similar wavelength, using your skills or assets in exchange for free stays is one way people can bring expenses down. This is another thing I could write an entire lengthy post about, but in short, it is not as hard as everyone thinks it is.
Sometimes all it takes is asking. I do this pretty often and although people assume it is limited mostly to bloggers, influencers, journalists, or photographers, there really are no restrictions. I’ve met people from artists to musicians to fire-spinners that have gotten free stays everywhere they go in exchange for painting a wall or putting on a show. Whatever your passion or hobby is, there is likely an opportunity for you to utilize it in exchange for free stays or even getting paid. Being able to market yourself professionally is almost as important as the skill itself.
Limit Your Nights Out
What’s this? ~ The Partying Traveler ~ suggesting that you shouldn’t drink? Lately, I’ve started opting for quality over quantity. If you caught me at my early stages of backpacking, you would almost always find me with a beer in my hand. As I’ve started growing into my own unique style of travel, I’ve learned to start gauging the “fun potential” of a night before I start drinking. If it seems like everybody is ready for a crazy night out, then I will shamelessly succumb to peer pressure and down five tequila shots in twelve seconds. If it seems like a chill kickback is all that’s in store, then maybe I’ll sub in the beers for a water.
You’ll save money this way and you won’t end up being as fat as me after a couple of years of traveling. I never realized how much “cheap” alcohol actually cost me until I started limiting my nights out.
The more people you hang around with, the cheaper things get. You can split taxis, private rooms, meals, alcohol, and so on. Oh yeah, the joy of friendship is cool, too.
South East Asia is one of my favorite regions of the world that I have been to, if not my favorite. It is a part of the world that everyone should experience. Many of my friends dream of going to places like Thailand or Bali or the Philippines but have the misconception that a trip there would be too expensive. Budget travel in South East Asia is very attainable. Stepping a little bit out of your comfort zone will go a long way, for your wallet and for your life. Traveling isn’t always glamorous but every moment will be an adventure.
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24 thoughts on “Top 10 Budget Travel Tips For South East Asia”
Southeast Asia is high on my list and we always like to save money. We tried a hostel last year – our first time and it was really cool and the price was amazing. The best part was the location – just stone’s throw from the acropolis. What a view! One day we’ll see what Southeast Asia has to offer in person!
Yeah hostels often get a bad rap but I’ve found that there’s plenty of hostels for any type of traveler. Hope you get to make it to South East Asia soon!
Great read. I particularly enjoyed reading about exchanging your skills for free stays. If it hasn’t been done already, I would love to learn more about that in another blog post!Keep it up.
Yeah definitely! I’ll start working on one, thanks!
Awesome tips! Overnight transport is a great idea, especially on those sleeper trains so it saves you from having to worry about accommodation for a night and you have to get from A to B anyway. That Nasi Campur looks soooooo good!
haha I went through a stretch where I slept on a night bus 5 out of 7 nights in Vietnam, not entirely by choice
These are really great tips for budget travel. We eat at the local vendors when we travel. I agree it’s a great way to know the local food culture of a place. Also, the local food has most authentic flavours rather than those flashy restaurants. I think we need to work on using more of the public transport. We generally prebook tours and generally travel by taxi. I’ve never tried the work online option yet. I think I should give it a try. Thanks for sharing these awesome tips! 🙂
My first trip to Europe, I think taxis were the biggest cost aside from accommodation. Public transportation has been a lifesaver! Thanks for reading!
These are great budget-friendly tips! Love the idea of eating local no matter the size of your budget 🙂 We tend to take public transport in bigger cities but also took advantage of the bus system in Aruba too (which was sort of unexpected but worked great!)
Good tips! I struggle most with eating locally… You can always find me where there’s pizza haha. Guilty.
The more I travel, the more I realize that pizza is almost always the safe bet, so also guilty haha
Totally agree with every single tip you have given here. The more you save the more you can travel right? 🙂 The local food in South East Asia is so good too, especially Vietnam so there is no need to splurge on western meals (ok.. every now and then but not all the time haha). Thanks for sharing these awesome tips!
Great advice! I need to start working on free stays at places. Happy travels!
Wow, there are really a bunch of great travel tips here. I truly agree that learning to drive a motorbike or scooter is such a great help, since you get to save a lot when you just rent a scooter to explore the place. Offering your skills in exchange of free stays is also great, which I also do that as well. Making friends with locals and other travelers is always fun and interesting.
I agreed! Scooters is such an inexpensive and convenient way to navigate South East Asia! It is especially useful to have in congested cities like Bangkok. Same in my country, Taiwan, we see scooters everywhere as well!
Love staying at hostels… sometimes the best part of the destination
Really useful post. I enjoyed reading it!
Great tips! If you just come there and think everything is the same as at home…you will have a difficult time.
Because most things are different…and that is not a bad thing 🙂
Great advice! I’m in the middle of my trip to Malaysia right now and I’m spending about the same as you so its good to know I’m not spending too much 🙂
I absolutely loved the Cameron Highlands and the tip about checking local Malaysian holidays is really good! I ended up in the Cameron Highlands right when all the local tourists were there which ended up being really nice because we got some great advice on where to go next in Malaysia from Malaysians!
Great post! So ready to try out some of these tips on my next trip 😀 thanks!
Love this !! I’m currently travelling through Laos and love staying in hostels, there cheap but you also meet the best people and I feel the people you meet on your travels make the whole experience ! I learnt the hard way with not using public transport in Bangkok ! The traffic is so bad 😫. Good work on this ☺️
This is so helpful thanks so much!! 😁👌🏼👌🏼👌🏼
solid advice here! Hostels give travelers a cheap place to crash and scooters let you cruise the streets ( :
Totally agree with the section on Hostels! my expectations of hostels was seriously low when I first travelled South East Asia but was seriously surprised by the comfort and quality of the majority of the places I stayed! Great read :)!