29 Mar Backpacking On A Budget, Part 1: It’s Easier Than You Think
Planning A Budget Backpacking Hike
Follow along as I plan a 7 – 9 day backpacking trip on the South West Coast Path for less than £150. Do you think I can do it? I hope so, because that’s about all I’ve got!
All articles in the series:
The Backpacking Budget
In my post Adventure, What Stops Us Getting Out There? I promised to be open about how much I spend and how I make the time to go walking, hiking and backpacking. It’s not something hikers are particularly frank about, but I think we should be.
Openness stops elitism: if I can do for next to nothing so can you.
Let’s get the ball rolling then: here’s how I plan to go backpacking on a budget in just a few week’s time.
The Share Plan
I’m planning my trip for the run up to Easter, which is a couple of weeks away. This means I’ve got the perfect opportunity to share the planning stage with you ‘in real time’ (as I fumble my way through it!). This article will fill you in on what I’ve planned so far and I’ll post another update next Friday. When I get back I’ll let you know how I got on and publish an ‘actual spend’ report.
Finding The Time
Work and family commitments are usually the first things anyone thinks about when planning time away. I’m not restricted by work commitments, but in my day to day life you might be surprised to learn that I’m also an alarm clock. Sometimes I think I’ve got bells on my head and everything. I’ve got a 20 something son with sleep problems and I need to be around during term-time to get him up and out of the house. That means any extended time away needs to be during college holidays, which can be annoying, but that’s the way it goes.
The Easter holidays are on the horizon and a quick flick through my diary revealed a potential backpacking window the week before. So I took it: a week on the South West Coast Path has got my name on it. I’m rather excited.
Keep It Local
Why this trail? Because it’s close to home (less money to spend on travel) and this will be the year I finish section-hiking the whole 630 miles. I’ve only got from Plymouth to Poole to go, which is just over a couple of hundred miles. Easy, but time-wise I need to break it up. I reckon I can do 100 miles in a week or so, which will take me from Plymouth to Dawlish Warren. This amounts to most of the South Devon section. Sweet.
How I Plan Backpacking On A Budget
Planning a backpacking trip on a budget isn’t always easy and can be frustrating, but it can be done. I start with a rough idea of how much I can spend. For this trip I have a maximum budget of £150, preferably £125 with £25 contingency. That’s tight. (Some people spend that in a day by staying at a B&B and eating out.)
Wild camping will keep accommodation costs down, but I’ve read it can be difficult to find suitable places on this section of path. This means I might have to pay for the odd campsite so I need to do some more research to find out where these sections are. I’ll post details of that next time.
This can be a big issue when you’re backpacking on a budget. For this trip I need to get a train to Plymouth, which costs £7.25 and then back from Dawlish, which costs £15. I was expecting the return trip alone to be closer to £25, so this was a nice surprise!
A little bit of research revealed there are several ferry crossings on this section too. 5 to be precise: there are a lot of estuaries in south Devon! A ticket for a foot passenger is usually a few pounds so I’ve factored in £10 for it. In the last resort I can walk the extra 9 miles or so around a few of them, but that doesn’t sound like much fun!
Maps and Guide Books
The A-Z Adventure Series (Amazon link to whole series) of national trail maps with OS 1:2500 mapping are the most cost effect maps I’ve found (they cover trails across the country). The paper quality’s not great (just keep it in a map case), but one book saves a hell of a lot of cash – and weight.
There are 5 books that cover the whole of The South West Coast Path (around £7 – £9 each) compared to the 16 OS Explorer maps you’d need (from £7 up £15 each if you prefer a waterproof version).
I bought the South Devon book (below) for £8.43 on Amazon. I also need a tide table, which set me back £2.75, and a guide book. I don’t take guide books with me, but I do find them useful for research.
My favourite guidebooks are the Trailblazer series, which cost about £12. That would be a fair chunk of my budget, but I save Christmas and birthday gifts for just such occasions. I had a £10 book token burning a hole in my pocket (thank you sister!), so that’s just £2 from my budget. Result.
Backpacking On A Budget: My Spend So Far
So far I’ve spent (or budgeted for):
- Return train travel £22.25
- Ferry crossings (budgeted) £10
- Map: £8.50
- Tide table: £2.75
- Guide book: £2.00
The Totals So Far:
- Total spent/budgeted so far £45.50
- Total budget (excluding £25 contingency) £125.00
- Remaining £79.50 (eek!)
I’ve still got to budget for food, fuel for cooking and potentially a couple of campsites. I can’t do that until I’ve worked out exactly how many days I’ll be away, which is my goal for the coming week. Make sure you join me next Friday to find out how that pans out! Until then here are a few tips you might find useful for planning your own trip:
A Few Tips For Backpacking On A Budget
Choose Your Hiking Companions Wisely!
I’ve found backpacking on a budget is much easier when I go solo. When you’re hiking with other people that have more to spend it can be dispiriting. It’s hard to say ‘no I can’t eat at the pub tonight’ or stay in a hostel just because it’s raining. If you’re hiking with friends, share and agree your budget beforehand – make it part of the challenge. (It’s definitely going to be a challenge on the £79 I’ve got left, haha!)
Equipment, maps, guide books, etc
Gifts You’ll Love
Hikers are easy to buy gifts for – we love a good pair of socks! Ask family members to pick something from a pre-prepared list (an Amazon wish-list is a great way to do this on-line), or save gift tokens and cash until something comes up that you need.
Check whether friends or family have maps, guides or equipment that you can borrow until you can afford your own.
This can be the most expensive part of any trip, so make sure you do your research! (Don’t be caught out with unexpected ferry crossings for example.) Remember that the further from home you travel, the more it’ll cost you – why not check out the hiking trails closest to home?
Train companies release discounted tickets a few months before travel, which can save you quite a bit. Sign up to ‘alerts’ so that you don’t have to remember to check. Railcards are another way to save your pennies and there are a number of different types available. Two Together or Family and Friends are good for people in groups, but there are also Regional Rail Cards for residents. There’s a Devon and Cornwall card, for example, which costs £10 for a year and will get you 1/3 off full ticket prices in Devon and Cornwall. Check out whether your area is covered.
Other Travel Options
Other options for point to point walks include bus and coach travel, which can be surprisingly cost effect (unfortunately I get really travel sick!). Try a site like Check My Bus to find the best deals.
If you’re not hiking alone and you have 2 cars available you could leave one car at the start and one at the finish. This might be a good option for shorter trips, or trips that aren’t well served by public transport.
Another tip is to hitch a ride with someone heading in your general direction. Ask friends and family or try a car-share website like Liftshare.
More Tips For Backpacking On A Budget To Come Next Week!
Be sure to pop in next Friday for my tips for budgeting for food, accommodation and equipment.
Share Your Tips
Social media makes hiking adventures look easy, but there are plenty of us who sit and wonder how people can afford it or find the time. So, what tips have you got for making the time for a hike, or backpacking on a budget?
No matter what length of hike you’re planning, whether it’s a few days or a few months, share your tips below! Let’s support each other to get out there for some fun.