Broke Backpacker Reveals How to Travel Cheap & Safe in 2020

For this article, we interviewed Will Hatton, AKA popular blogger, The Broke Backpacker 

Will Hatton is known for his budget travel blog, detailing his lifetime of colourful journeys through more than 70 nations, including India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Iran, where he met his wife Esme. His blog is filled with hard-earned guidance and advice, not only about the cultures and experiences to be found in these countries, but how to navigate them smoothly and at an exceptionally low cost. Since 2017 he has been leading adventure tours through Pakistan, helping to reveal its hidden natural beauty to many, many more.

When planning for travel, there comes the time to ponder that greatest question of all – ‘Where?’.  In the minds of most would-be travellers, some destinations are thought of more quickly than others — and some are never really thought of at all. 

Will Hatton — the founder of The Broke Backpacker — is someone who strives to go to the ones nobody ever really thought of at all. Why? Because they’re the cheapest, according to Will.

In the wake of decades of negative portrayal in western news and media, forgotten destinations such as Pakistan, Iran, and others throughout the Middle East and Asia are often not considered sound choices for travel, even among the most seasoned of adventurers. Viewed as dangerous, people tend to shy away from these places.

Yet, not all think this way. Travelling to Pakistan for the first time in February 2016, ‘The Broke Backpacker’ Will Hatton reveals, ‘the only danger with backpacking Pakistan is not wanting to leave’. 

For most, the idea of travelling alone in unfamiliar lands is a terrifying prospect. Doing so on just $10 a day seems like an impossibility. Hoping he could do something to demystify travel in unique countries like Pakistan, we asked Will to share with us some of the insights he’s garnered during his own travels.

In this interview we asked: ‘how do you do your travels so cheap’, and  ‘how do you keep safe on your travels’?

1. Avoid hotels!

If you have an aspiration for adventure without the budget to match, Will is your guy. A central theme of his travel philosophy is to avoid anything intended for tourists. This means hotels, restaurants, tours and transport. Not only are you saving huge amounts of money by avoiding budgetary traps, but the experience of your host nation will be a more genuine one.

Hatton is also one of couch-surfing’s most vocal supporters, telling us the practice has saved him untold thousands. And it isn’t just about the money, but the people you will meet. It’s the best way to land on your feet in a new place with a social life, says Will. And with hundreds of nights spent couch-surfing with only a spare few bad experiences to show for it, who are we to argue with him? 

2. Eat and Travel as the locals do

International food chains are to be avoided wherever possible. According to our backpacker they are comparatively expensive, and the experience will not be much different from dining out in your home country. For Will, this represents a tragic missed opportunity, as he regards food to be central in appreciating the culture of any destination. In many cultures meals are a social occasion, making a seat at the dinner table as good a path as any to immersion. 

What about the passenger seat of a car? While on a three-year journey from his home in Burgess Hill to Papa New Guinea (all without the use of flight), Will found himself attempting to hitch-hike across the Armenian border into Iran. While holding a sign in English. 

‘Iranians have no idea what it actually says but they are so hospitable that as soon as they see a foreigner standing by the side of the road with piece of cardboard, they stop.’ 

So not only a money saving measure, but also a good way to meet locals. When speaking generally about the attitudes of local people toward foreigners, Will is highly positive. Particularly about Iran, which many in the West would imagine as closer to a war-zone than an open, welcoming country. He describes the people as ‘painfully’ aware the of global attitude toward their nation, and could not find it any further from the reality. 

3.  Work-away or ‘Voluntourism’

At present, Will earns a happy living through his travel blog and tour operations, though still chooses to maintain the grounded lifestyle he developed while travelling throughout the last decade. Before his success, the then-broke-backpacker helped to fund many of his expeditions through work-away programs, in which work for a local enterprise is exchanged for food and accommodation during the stay. 

Most of us travel purely for pleasure and relaxation, so the idea of working while visiting another country may seem totally strange. But is there a better way to find yourself immersed in a foreign country than to till its soil? Speaking about his work-away experience at a lodge nestled deep in the valleys of South Africa’s Drakensberg mountains, Will had this to say, 

‘The degree of my immersion was unforeseeable and it would’ve been impossible to receive a similar dosage if I had simply been a regular traveller. Work-away had given me something that few others could.’

Will regards work-away volunteering to be a sustainable way to travel, pointing out that it benefits local people as much as it does the backpacker. So does everybody win? Perhaps not. As the practice has grown in popularity, he has witnessed the emergence of some less-than-ethical programs, with no further goal than maximising the monetisation of hopeful travellers. Fear not, this brings us to another of Wills tips…

4.  Do your Research

Whenever travelling anywhere for the first time, it seems only sensible to learn at least a bit about local customs, social norms, and traditions. Or at the very least how to escape the airport. Will would agree, and states that an easy way to defeat unethical tourism and work-share companies is to read up about them before signing on. There are thriving communities across the internet dedicated to sharing travel experiences, and any glaring red-flags shouldn’t be hard to discover. 

It could be the creeping spread of coronavirus, or the rare flaring of unrest, but it always pays to know a little about the situation on the ground before you arrive anywhere. Not only may it keep you safe, just a little bit of forward planning is also an excellent way to reduce travel and booking costs for your trip. 

5.  Don’t be a dick  (Be respectful/mindful?)

Saving perhaps the most important for last. Wherever or whoever you are, you should always follow the golden rule. Your experiences anywhere in the world will be more positive if you make the effort to be a friendly and personable human. As a guest in any country, you have a duty to respect the local peoples, cultures, and environment. Blogs like Will Hatton’s help to teach aspiring travellers good practice, advocating the importance of sustainable, ethical travel.

Image Credit: Girl broke via Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock