I remember a conversation with a friend, many months ago, before we went on our trip, sitting on a park bench in the sunshine as our children climbed and swung and balanced on stuff. If it’s not rude, she said, can I ask how you can afford all this, how much is it costing, must be at least a hundred thousand pounds. I laughed. She was imagining nine months of her type of holiday strung together, proper hotels next to the beach, taxis, meals in restaurants. I won’t pretend a nine month holiday was cheap, but it wasn’t anything like as expensive as she was imagining.
We never stayed near the beach, except for when we camped. We usually stayed four blocks back, in the highrise without a decent view, five to a slightly too small room with the youngest child on a lilo. Or we stayed in the guesthouse at the far end of town, too quiet for most tourists, not close enough to the restaurants. Or in the condo that was next to the beach, but the beach you couldn’t swim in because of the crocodiles. Often our accommodation was slightly depressing, damp, cramped, with a whiff of the ageing surfer who chats up young blondes in the lift. But we got to visit the same beaches as the people who’d spent a small fortune. Got to see the same turtles.
We mostly didn’t eat in restaurants, except in Asia where they’re really cheap, instead we shopped in budget supermarkets and ate a lot of sandwiches. I love food, and sometimes it was a bit sad that we weren’t eating as well as we could have, especially in Hawaii, Australia and New Zealand. But it was worth sacrificing a few decent meals for months of wonderful experiences. And we didn’t have the wardrobe for smart anyway.
We shared. Shared meals, shared beds, shared train seats. Nothing was wasted, or at least we tried. We asked for deals, particularly for the children, and people often obliged. We went in a helicopter, they went free. We rode elephants and camels, they rode half price. We didn’t do stuff that was too expensive, our bank managers thanked us.
Budget travel isn’t rocket science. Spend your time on the internet comparing prices, book everything yourself rather than through a travel agent, ask for discounts, share your chips. It’s often deeply unglamorous, but it’s always worth it.