Can You Travel Nepal On A Shoestring Budget?

can you travel nepal on a shoestring budget?
Johanna
Johanna 
Updated

In budget travel, it’s all about answering, how low can you go? In Nepal, you can go as low as 15 USD a day. That’s music to the ears of budget travelers. There’s cheap accommodation, do-it-yourself trekking, accessible bus rides to other areas, and filling carbohydrate-heavy street food. If you’re looking to spread your dollars so you can stay longer, which is highly recommended because there’s just so much to see in this lovely country, here are a couple of tips and tricks you’ll want to keep in mind when you’re traveling in Nepal:

1. Try hitchhiking

2009-03 Janakpur 27
Source: Photo by user Ralf Lotys used under CC BY 3.0

If you’re incredibly brave or rather good at penny-pinching, you can try hitchhiking in Nepal. You’ll be surprised that it’s quite a common practice not only in big cities like Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, or Pokhara, it is also an option when you reach more difficult areas such as Southern Nepal. How do you start? Well, the best way is to do it like in the movies. Put your thumb up, and point to the direction of where you’re heading. In more provincial areas, you can try waving. Of course, the last resort would be to take commercial buses (not the tourist buses). At 5 USD one way on average, it is still quite cheap compared to other countries for long-distance travel.

C & K Nepal Transport Department

Address: Sleshmantak Street, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal

Website: C & K Nepal Transport Department

2. Live off street or lodge food

Kathmandu, Nepal
Source: Photo by Flickr user Juan Antonio Segal used under CC BY 2.0

Nepalese cuisine is almost always a hearty one, because it caters to a diet that’s meant to withstand the coldness of the Himalayas. It isn’t as spicy as Indian food or as clean-tasting as Tibetan. It’s more or less a hodgepodge of these two countries, and the best meals are best tried on the streets. Most of the time, a typical meal is a combination of lean meat, vegetables, and rice. If you’re looking for a filling meal, scour around for momo meals, which is a complete meal in itself with vegetables, meat, and carbohydrates packed into one delicious dumpling. All this goodness is around 1 USD to 1.50 USD. Of course, the most common and must-try should be the daal bhat, a combination of rice, lentils, potatoes, and curry. You can also try some of the pastries from local bakeshops for breakfast, paired with coffee. When you’re trekking in the provinces, the common practice is that you eat in the lodges where you’re staying, as most of the lodge owners earn more from the food than the accommodation. They will usually have an open diner downstairs to cater to outsiders, as well as the sleepers. Whatever your options are though, make sure that you’ve personally seen how the meal is prepared or that it comes out of the kitchen hot, to ensure that the parasites have been killed.

Read our article on the best food you must-try in Nepal.

3. Be your own guide

A porter carrying a heavy load in the Everest region, Nepal
Source: Photo by user Agnes Kwong used under CC BY-SA 4.0

For short treks, half-day or day treks, most travel places will offer not only a tour but a porter, a mule, and an assistant to your main guide as well. This is easily around 30 USD already. For treks that need its fair share of equipment, they might even ask you to buy instead of renting some out. That’s another 20 USD if you buy the local brand. These additional expenses can take quite a toll on a normal trek in Nepal. Not only will you want to save, but you’ll also want to spread the funds around since there are so many beautiful, must-see trekking sites in Nepal. For short half-day to day treks, be your own guide instead. Have a physical map in hand (since WiFi is mostly intermittent here) and lots of will power, and trek your heart away. Don’t mistake this for not getting a guide for longer treks though. A three-week-long trek like hiking the Annapurna circuit is a different thing altogether, for which you’ll need a very qualified local guide.

Regardless of whether you get a guide or not though, you’ll also need to be quite fit when you go out in these escapades. Fitness is key to saving those dollars here in Nepal, because it’s the kind of place that really is best seen on foot. You’ll find that most places can be reached for free if you make the effort to trek it. So, at least two weeks prior to your trip, walk a couple of kilometers on steep roadsides if possible just so you can practice what the high elevation and steep trails will feel like.

Annapurna Circuit 18 Days

Address: Central Nepal

Website: Annapurna Circuit 18 Days

4. Find a host for couch surfing (from USD 6)

Nirvana Peace Home
Source: booking.com

Kathmandu, the capital, has to be the most expensive part of Nepal. It’s quite difficult to find something cheap especially in the touristy areas like Thamel or even down at Old Freak Street. In which case, it would be best if you could find someone to host you during your stay in cities like Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, and Pokhara. You’ll find though, that plenty of cheaper options open up in trekking routes outside of the city. You can find teahouses that also serve as lodges, for as little as 1 USD a night, in the more rural areas. In the city, you can still get accommodation for 3 to 5 USD a night. These may be private rooms with bathrooms, but don’t expect anything fancy though. The bathroom might not be as clean or efficient as you’d expect and the shower might not have an accompanying heater. Nevertheless, you’ll be spending more time outdoors anyway, so hostels, lodges, and Airbnbs are your best bet with an occasional hotel or two in between just to rejuvenate.

Yes, it’s still possible to travel in Nepal on a shoestring budget

While a lot of things have changed in terms of backpacking in Nepal since the 70s, when budget-savvy backpackers would get a meal for as little as 0.50 USD or a nice hotel for as little as 2 USD, it is still entirely possible to backpack through this lovely country of rich culture and ancestry. While there are some mandatory fees such as entrance fees, permits, environmental fees, visas and such, you’ll find that there are many other aspects that you can scrimp on without feeling like you’ve deprived yourself entirely. But really, with access to world heritage sites and some of the best highland views in the world, you’ll find that deprivation really shouldn’t be in your vocabulary.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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Johanna Michelle Lim is a brand strategist, creative director, and travel writer based in Cebu City, Philippines. She swims in jellyfish-infested oceans, treks through mountains, rides rickety...Read more

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