Just a few years ago, Thailand was a dirt-cheap travel destination. The first time I visited Thailand in the mid-2000s, I just did a little research using my Frontier bundles. The internet and the Travel Channel were pretty much all you needed to discover the world back then. And I was off! My 2-week sojourn in Thailand involved street food, island hopping, beach parties, and clubs. The whole trip cost me only a fraction of what it did the second time I visited in 2012. For my third trip last year, I decided I was going to make my stay in Thailand stay on budget. No tourist traps or garish attractions. Just the true budget-traveler experience.

Traveling to Thailand on a Budget

No matter if you’re a nomadic traveler, a spring break backpacker or attending your best friend’s bachelor party, staying on budget is key. You don’t want to splurge your year’s savings a few days into your vacation. At the same time, you want to have the best experience ever. Here are 8 tips that can help you stay on budget for the next trip to Thailand:

  1. Work on your haggling skills
  2. Street food is good food
  3. Get accommodation yourself
  4. Drink local
  5. Markets are the place to shop
  6. Rent a local bicycle
  7. Buses over taxis
  8. Bring an unlocked smartphone

Read on to find out how each tip helps you stay on budget.

Work on Your Haggling Skills

One thing you need to know about Thailand before your visit is this. There are two prices for most things and activities in Thailand, one for locals and one for tourists. This means what cost a local around USD 3-4 could cost you more than USD 30-40. There are some activities that won’t budge on this, like high-end clubs or hotels. But many other things are negotiable. Which is why you need to hone your bargaining skills. With a few minutes of haggling, you could negotiate a price far lower than what was originally asked. Don’t just accept the quoted prices blindly.

Street Food is Good Food

Street food in Thailand is a huge part of the cultural experience. It’s usually delicious, cheap and reasonably well-made. Eating at high-end restaurants is not a good idea if you’re traveling on a budget. For one thing, the food these places offer is comfort food that you could find anywhere. For another, the food at such places is usually heavily overpriced. One of the drawbacks to visiting a tourist hub is that fine dining can turn out to be really expensive.

Get Accommodation Yourself

Booking travel accommodations online are reasonably easy and convenient. But it’s always better to get travel accommodations in person in Thailand. You can haggle with the hotel people. Get better rooms at a lower price than you would get if you booked in advance. Get free perks, upgrades, and goodies thrown in if you’ve really worked on your bargaining. However, if you still feel like you want the convenience of online travel aids, try couch-surfing. You can find a neat, tidy place to sleep for a fraction of the money you would spend on a hotel. And it brings you closer to the local culture and customs than a hotel would anyway.

Drink Local

One of the biggest budget-eaters in Thailand is alcohol purchases. Not only are bars overpriced, but international brands have sky-high prices too. There are 2 advantages to buying your alcohol at your local convenience store rather than the hotel bar or a club. First, convenience stores sell a 4-dollar beer that would cost $50 or more in a club. So that’s a significant amount of the daily budget you’re saving. Second, local beverages have a higher alcohol content than imported ones. This means you can have a great time with less than your usual quantity of alcohol.

Markets are the Place to Shop

Weekend markets in Thailand are THE place to get a good deal. Local markets have everything from foods to clothing to souvenirs, all at great prices. This is true for every city you will visit in Thailand. Weekend markets offer the same things stores or street vendors do. But at much lower prices, and you can negotiate and even lower price if you’re lucky. In fact, everything is so cheap, you have to resist the temptation to overspend. So before visiting a market, decide exactly how much money you are willing to shop away.

Rent a Local Bicycle

You don’t need to bring your high-performance, hand-built mountain bike with you when visiting Thailand. You’d be paying a lot of baggage fare for it, and you don’t want it stolen. Instead, it is much cheaper to rent a bike. You could even use one of the free bike services to get around. Most hotels have these services for tourists, so you probably won’t have too much of a hassle finding one.

Buses over Taxis

Taxis are a very expensive way to get around in Thailand. But obviously, you can’t bike your way everywhere. This is where public buses can be a great way to travel. They are much cheaper than taxis or rickshaws. Another way to travel is the day and night trains. Day trains are much cheaper than night trains, but sometimes the night train is your only option. Pick the right transportation you need at the time, and save money you’d otherwise be burning.

Bring an Unlocked Smartphone

Data roaming charges can be very expensive when traveling. And there will be no FiOS internet plans to buy in Thailand either. I have found that bringing an unlocked smartphone and buying a local SIM is a great saver. Data charges are much cheaper in Thailand and you can stay connected to your email and social media accounts anywhere. You can even tether the smartphone to your laptop for long train journeys to other cities.

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