How to Live Your Adventure Sports Dreams Without Breaking the Bank

Nov 26, 2018

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

The Points & Miles Backpacker is a weekly column appearing every Monday. TPG Contributor Brian Biros, who has backpacked the globe for the past 15 years, discusses how to fund this adventurous, budgeted and increasingly popular form of travel with points and miles. He’ll also explore all things backpacking-related. Read his story here and his high-level approach here.

No great backpacking adventure is complete without a good dose of adrenaline. Luckily, every backpacker trail has a stop along the way that has earned its reputation as the local adventure sports hub (think: rock climbing, bungee jumping and paragliding). However, these destinations are notorious budget busters with an endless array of money pits. Of course, it’s still possible to experience a city’s iconic thrills without going completely broke. Just follow these guidelines, and you’ll be able to visit adventure capitals of the world without emptying your wallet.

Experience the Signature Adventure

You’re here. You shouldn’t walk away without at least one epic experience.

Adventure sports hubs are typically famous for a few specific activities, with tangential recreational options cropping up specifically to cash in on the adventure crowd.

So choose to do the one iconic activity a destination is best known for, especially if it’s something geologically unique to that region. This means canyoning the Chli Schliere in Interlaken, Switzerland, or rafting the mighty Zambezi River at Victoria Falls.

DCIM100GOPROG0010891.
Why just paraglide when you can paraglide with hawks? Image courtesy of Chris Jung.

Paying several times your daily budget on one activity may be tough to swallow, so you need to make it count. It’s possible to make up the budget elsewhere, but give yourself a pass for this. You don’t want come back from Pokhara, Nepal without having gone parahawking, right? (Yes, paragliding with trained hawks is a real thing.)

Don’t Feel Obligated to Repeat Bucket List Items

Got your photo bungee jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand? Check. Did you see the Palm and World Islands while skydiving over Dubai? Check. While I highly recommend taking these leaps — especially if the thought scares you as much as it did me — taking that plunge a second time is rarely the same.

asdf
Jumping off a platform and plunging toward the ground is a feeling everyone should experience. Once. Image courtesy of Ultimate Queenstown.

Unless you really, really enjoy these expensive activities, don’t feel compelled to do them again — especially if you’re monitoring your spend or saving to splurge on a single adventure.

Personally, I’ll go white water rafting anywhere that has a river worthy of it, but I’ve probably jumped out of all the airplanes I need to in my life.

Go on Free Adventures

Fortunately, the world’s most famous adventure spots are often exceptionally beautiful. Which means extraordinary — and free — hiking trails. Ask a hostel employee or manager to tell you the easiest and cheapest way to get to a trailhead, or check out the app what3words: a geocoding tool that can help you identify specific locations all around the planet.

The Eiger Trail near Interlaken, Switzerland is a free and beautiful hike. Image courtesy of jungfrau.ch.

My personal favorite hikes tend to lead to waterfalls, where a dip in the river or natural pool is well earned. Even better if there’s a rock ledge you can climb up to and jump off of. It’s best to follow a local’s lead though: You don’t want to land on a submerged rock.

Don’t Book Tours Through a Hostel

Normally, hostels are unbiased sources of budget-friendly information. But in some adventure towns, this can get skewed, as many tour operators give kickbacks to booking agents, so agents push you in the direction of a specific company or experience. The “down payment” is often their commission.

Image courtesy of Experience Zimbabwe
Check the price of booking an activity direct before booking through a hostel. Image courtesy of Experience Zimbabwe.

Check online reviews, and ask other backpackers for recommended tour operators. When you find one you like, inquire about a discount for booking direct — and at least be sure to compare prices before making arrangements with a hostel or hotel.

Skip the Gimmicks

In every adventure hub, there are vendors trying to piggyback off your adrenaline kick. With a mid-range price tag, you may not think much of it. Or you may see these as a cheap alternative to the signature adventure. Don’t do it.

Ropes courses and zip lines are cool, but unless you’re in a destination famous for these attractions, don’t shell out for a thrill you can find elsewhere (and at a better price). And as much fun as rolling down a hill inside a giant inflatable ball looks, a 30 second Zorb ride isn’t your best use of $30. Trust me.

The Extremo Zip Line Canopy Tour in Monteverde, Costa Rica is worth it, but don’t spend your money or time on much less. Image courtesy of the author.

Choose Cheaper Hubs

Expensive countries will have expensive adventures, and more affordable countries will have cheaper adventures. So if Switzerland isn’t in the budget, head to Bovec, Slovenia instead. And while Pucon, in Chile, might hold the South American adventure crown, prices in Banos, Ecuador are more friendly to budget travelers. We have plenty of adventure destinations within the US, too, but south of the border in Veracruz, Mexico, travelers can find plenty of thrills with much friendlier price tags.

Travelers should be cautious, however, as cheaper destinations do tend to be more lax on regulations and restrictions — and that’s not something you want to mess with where your well-being is concerned. However, there are plenty of legitimate and safe tour operators. Just do you research and pick an operator and activity that’s highly rated, even if it’s a few dollars more. Never follow the cheapest hawk into a random shop.

Mountain Bike riding down “Death Road” in Bolivia is a good example. You can find local outfits charging $50 while the highest rated shops charge more than $100, but a quality bike really can mean the difference between life and death. Dying on death road is no way to go.

Make sure you don't skimp on bike safety. Image of Death Road in Bolivia courtesy of Gravity Bolivia.
Make sure you don’t skimp on bike safety. Image of Death Road in Bolivia courtesy of Gravity Bolivia.

The Bottom Line

Backpackers interested in traveling on a budget shouldn’t be discouraged from traveling to adventure destinations — or taking advantage of the signature sport. But there are plenty of ways to manage the experience so it doesn’t cost more than you can afford.

In addition to fee-free hikes, there are plenty of other activities that can cost nothing, but they do require experience to make them safe. Mountain biking, rock climbing and bouldering are all great examples of adventures that can be free with your own equipment, but if you’re a beginner, you’ll want to hire a guide.

Finally, don’t be afraid to chase that rush. With a highly-rated tour operator and your own common sense, you’ll be fine. Statistically speaking, you’re safer jumping off a bridge than you are riding to it in the back of a pickup.

If you’re looking to back that pack up and get some guidance, send your questions to backpacker@thepointsguy.com !

Feature photo courtesy of Ultimate Queenstown.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 12 months
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.