Traveling Tips For Gap Year Tourists on a Budget

Lexa Pennington's picture

No matter how old you are, taking a gap year to travel can be one of the most exciting and enriching things you could ever do. Most people do it between high school and college or university, but I have known a few who have done it in the middle of getting their degree, after they’ve gotten their degree, and even when they’re WAAAY past the traditional gap year age group (I met a nearly 40 year old gapper once!).

But the one thing that all gappers have in common is that they’re traveling on a budget and they all need to make the money they have stretch as far as possible. So here’s some tips to help you get the most out of your trip without needing a massive budget.

Traveling Tips For Gap Year Tourists on a Budget

Build your savings

Use every saving tip you know to build up your travel fund as much as you can. Shop with coupons or only when you get huge discounts, work as much and as often as you can, avoid blowing all your money with a night on the town, make your own meals and coffee, live with family, try going vegetarian as often as you can, and so on. The bigger your travel fund is, the more you will have to spend on your gap year and the more you can enjoy your trip.

Plan your trip

So many people will tell you to ‘just go with the flow’ on your gap year, but there is a limit to how with the flow you should go. I agree with not trying to stick too closely to a fixed itinerary, but you do need to know about things like the average cost of living, the best places to find affordable accommodation and average costs, what the exchange rate for your chosen destination is like (check out multi-currency cards as well), what vaccinations you’ll need, how easy it is to find casual work, the cost of flights and insurance, and what visas you’ll need.

Traveling around the world would be great on a gap year, but I would personally advise choosing one continent and sticking to it. That way you can travel from place to place using trains, busses, and even ride shares (please use proper sharing services and ALWAYS be careful), which is much cheaper than flying everywhere.

Buy ESSENTIAL gear only

In my opinion, your two biggest investments should be your backpack and a good quality powerbank (the best invention EVER!). Another thing you might want is an easily hidden and lockable bag or belt pack for your debit or credit cards, cash, and important travel documents that you don’t want lost or stolen (make certified copies of everything).

When you’re traveling on a gap year, backpacking is the most affordable way to travel. Which means that you have to carry every single thing you take with you, and also fit it all into ONE bag. You would be surprised how little you actually need to travel comfortably and often how much cheaper something is in a destination country (which also means no extra baggage charges). I would suggest doing some local backpacking to figure out what you absolutely can’t live without and leaving the rest at home.

Choose budget-friendly digital devices

With how functional today’s tablets are, you don’t need to take a laptop with you anymore, and you don’t need a fancy iPad or Galaxy tab, either. So look for a more budget friendly wifi capable tablet (check out wifi availability in your chosen destinations) and a smartphone that you wouldn’t mind getting stolen (it happens) –  and a decent camera with spare SD cards. Create a cloud account, so you can back everything up and always access it – no matter where you are, or how many times you’ve replaced a device. Just make sure that the tablet you get has apps that can do everything you need to do – especially if you’re going to do some online freelancing while you’re traveling. And check to see if digital devices are cheaper where you’re going than where you’re coming from.

Don’t pack a whole wardrobe

Taking a whole lot of clothes is also not a good idea – three pairs of stretch jeans (they’re lighter), a skirt or two, five short sleeve shirts, a couple of long sleeve tops, two jerseys, a good quality waterproof hooded jacket, a weeks worth of underwear, one pair of sturdy boots, and one pair of flip flops are the only items you should always have. If you’re going somewhere cold, then some leggings or long johns and vests are a good idea, too. For all the rest of the clothes you might need – including heavy winter jackets - visit a local charity store or thrift shop. You can replace lost or damaged clothing (except for underwear) the same way. And you can donate back the items you aren’t going to need when you move on (to keep your baggage weight down).

Choose cheap accommodation

As nice as it would be to stay in five star luxury hotels the whole time, most gap year budgets don’t allow for that. You might not enjoy sharing your sleeping space or a bathroom, but a hostel is one of the most affordable accommodation options you’ll find – and it’s a great way to connect with other travellers for a bit or anyone headed in the same direction (safety in numbers). Try checking first coupon sites such as, as you might be able to find there special deals for or Expedia and save on your lodging, as well as transportation.

You can also look for a decent quality but affordable or second-hand tent and other camping supplies (look online and you’ll be surprised what you find no matter which country you’re in), if you don’t mind roughing it a bit. You can buy an expensive sleeping bag before you leave, but it MIGHT go missing, so try look for a more affordable one. Again, it might be cheaper and easier to buy one when you arrive.

If you don’t check out sites like and, then you are an idiot. Not only is it really affordable, but if you’re lucky you’ll get an actual meal, a local guide, and maybe make a new friend. As with any kind of thing where there is a degree of trust involved, there are a few horror stories so ALWAYS be careful, trust your gut and make sure there is someone back home who knows where you are and that you check in with on a regular basis.

You can also check out volunteering programs and casual or seasonal job options (like working on a vineyard in Italy or a horse ranch in Australia). With most, you’ll get a ‘free’ place to stay, which cuts down on your costs, and you’ll probably get at least one meal a day, too. You might be getting a room and board for work exchange program, but there are a few that provide both, as well as a small wage, which is a great way to hang onto your savings.

Don’t eat and drink like a tourist

I know you are a tourist, but one of the fastest ways to kill your budget is to eat and drink like a tourist. So avoid getting anything in tourist trap areas – whether it is accommodation, transport. or food and drink. Make your own meals with local ingredients as often as you can, avoid large chain takeout, eat street food (look for popular vendors if you’re worried about food poisoning), and speak to cashiers, students, and cleaning staff (fellow budget eaters) to find out where the most affordable eateries are. And if a local sends you somewhere, it normally means it’s the best place in town. You can also check TripAdvisor and similar sites to find the highest quality at the best possible price (this works best if you’re in a popular destination).

Safety first

Give the person you’re checking in with the exact address where you’re going to be sleeping (longitude and latitude if you’re camping) every night, an updated itinerary every morning (because plans change), license plates if you’re ride sharing or catching lifts, travel details (tour guide operators, flight, bus, and train details etc.), and emergency numbers (the local embassy and police, especially). Check in once a day at around the same time if possible, otherwise by a set time and date – have a contingency plan for if you miss a check in, and another contingency plan for if your check in method is not available (your phone gets stolen or internet goes down, etc.). Take photos of everything and upload them to social media sites as often as possible, so that people will know where you are, who you’re with, and will hopefully raise the alarm if you go unexpectedly silent.

These tips might not work for everyone, but they’re a great guide to get you started so go ahead and start planning. How memorable your trip is and how much fun you have is entirely up to you, so now all that’s left to do is enjoy yourself. I haven’t met anyone who regrets taking a gap year to travel  - not only do you make memories that last a lifetime, you also get a lifetime of life experience in a short period, and you might just accidently find your passion while you’re thousands of miles away from everyone and everything you know.