Planning a trip seems like an overwhelming task, where am I going to stay? how am I going to get there? how am I going to get around once I’m there? and the biggest question: how am I going to afford this? Fortunately there are so many ways to save money and make traveling even more affordable. Last year I spent 6.5 months traveling in total. I went to 11 different countries on 3 different continents all while staying within a reasonable budget. One of my favorite adventures this past year was the month I spent riding a motorbike through Vietnam, here are a few things that I learned and how I saved money while traveling.
Do some research on credit card rewards programs and find the one that fits for you the best. Many cards offer a pretty heavy miles bonus if you spend a certain amount within the first few months. I paid for most of my international flights with these rewards offers. I personally favor the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Delta Mileage Plus cards. Take advantage of these and other offers and miles bonuses to get flights for FREE! Websites like The Points Guy are very helpful in finding these cards and tons of other offers for cheap flights and points deals.
Stay out of cities and touristy areas. I personally like the “off the beaten path” kind of adventures so I tend to steer clear of cities and touristy areas where prices for food, transportation, and accommodation are always significantly higher.
Eat like a local. In Vietnam, we spent $1.50 on most of our meals! Instead of eating at restaurants and bars, we ate where the locals ate, the hole in the wall shops and food carts. The food was amazing and super cheap! Plus you get a truly authentic taste of the culture.
If you plan on doing any boat trips or guided tours, shop around a little bit. Some hostels double the price on these trips and pocket the rest, you can find some awesome 3 day adventures for under $100, meals included! We took a 3-day trip in Ha Long Bay; the hostel we stayed at priced the trip at $165, but just down the road a travel agency had the exact same trip for $90!
Always keep a little bit of money in a few different pockets and the bulk of your money in a bag. You will get pulled over by the police at some point and have to pay a bribe, it just happens. They always ask for a big amount at first but if you tell them you don’t have that much and pull that bit of money from your pocket they will negotiate and take that instead. It sounds sketchy but its a pretty normal thing over there. We got stopped once but I had already used my pocket money and as soon as the cops saw the wad of money I had in my bag they instantly upped the bribe, so ALWAYS have that pocket money and don’t let people see how much money you have or you will probably be taken advantage of.
Buying a motorbike can seem like a very daunting task, especially in a foreign country. There are some scams, so if it doesn't feel right, don't buy it or if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If you want to get a decent bike then you are probably going to spend around $350. One of the most popular bikes for touring is the Honda Win, it is insanely cheap but it breaks down all the time and is not safe at all. Locals get these bikes for $85-$100 and then sell them to tourists for $250-$600. A bike that is $100 may be okay for a little fun driving around the city but is not a bike that you want to tour cross-country on, just trust me. We drove these bikes and they are terrible. There are plenty other semi-automatic bikes that are super reliable that you can buy. I decided to spend a little extra and get a proper motorcycle, I paid $450 for a 125 Daelim; it ran great and had no troubles the entire trip.
A Honda Cub or Honda Wave are going to be the most reliable and least expensive bikes to buy. These things run forever and can take a beating. There’s a reason why all the locals ride them. If you do happen to run into any mechanical troubles though, they are super easy to fix and every motorbike shop has parts and will have you back on the road in less than an hour. My friend crashed and had the whole front of his bike all smashed up and the gearbox and engine needed repairs. We pushed the bike a few kilometers down the road to a small bike shop and they had it repaired and running in 30 minutes!
In the cities hostels are cheap ($6 per night) and easy to come by, but are not existent in the smaller towns and rural villages for most of the trip and it was usually impossible to find accommodations online. Fortunately there are many guesthouses and home stays which average to about the same price as a hostel, but since you can’t find most of these online, you just have to go with the flow and look for something once you get there.
Outside of the cities few people speak English so it definitely helps to learn a few words for the trip. Xe Máy is the Vietnamese word for motorcycle and these shops are everywhere so when you run into motorbike troubles, which you will, just look for this sign. Also, there aren’t any hostels outside of the cities but plenty of guesthouses and home stays. Look for the word Nigh Nah which means something like guesthouse. When all else failed we used pictures and hand gestures to communicate. When we had data, Google Translate was a huge help. It sounds really difficult and a bit scary at first to travel somewhere where no one speaks the same language as you, but most of the time we were able to communicate just fine with just knowing a few words.
Traveling across Vietnam by motorbike sounds like a beautiful romance of an adventure, but it is actually filled with long monotonous drives, sore butts and backs, and cuts and bruises; but it is SO worth it! If you really want to go to Vietnam and actually SEE Vietnam then motorcycles is the way to do it; I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Jake is a designer by trade and traveler by choice. His travels greatly influence his design aesthetic and subject matter. He seeks to bring awareness to social issues around the world through creative mediums.