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With Saudi Arabia newly opened to tourists, it seems that it’s the intrepid backpackers like myself wanting to see what this closed-off Kingdom is like over the traveller with plenty of money.
We associate ‘backpacking’ with ‘budget travel’, so can you backpack Saudi Arabia and can you travel Saudi Arabia on a budget?
Well, I will tell you now that Saudi is NOT a budget destination, at least not right now whilst it gets used to tourism.
I think in the next few years Saudi Arabia could become more budget-friendly with hostels, the completion of the metro in Riyadh and day tours more reasonably priced than they are now, however in 2020, that is not the case. And I think the same will apply in 2021 too!
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel to Saudi Arabia though. Exploring the Kingdom is a fascinating experience, especially if you travel like a local and meet some locals.
In this Saudi Arabia travel blog, I’m going to tell you some ways that you can backpack Saudi Arabia, give you an idea of how much things cost in Saudi Arabia, and how to save money in Saudi Arabia all whilst visiting the best places in Saudi Arabia, Yalla!
How to Travel Saudi Arabia on a Budget!
For more of my posts on Saudi Arabia to help you plan your trip see:
Budget Accommodation in Saudi Arabia
Cheap accommodation doesn’t really exist in KSA, at least not cheap, good accommodation, because hostels do not exist, yet!
*To get £25.00 / $30.00 off your Riyadh stay, create a NEW AIRBNB ACCOUNT USING THIS LINK! It’s totally fine to create a new account and this helps you save money in Riyadh!*
In Riyadh, you can expect to pay around 300SAR / £62.00 / $80.00USD a night for a decent hotel or less for a more budget quality option.
I found accommodation in Jeddah considerably less expensive than Riyadh at just 100SAR a night / £20.00 / $25.00USD.
However, once you leave these 2 main cities and go to cities such as Abha, Dammam, Jazan and Tabuk, you will have to pay more.
It’s worth noting when it comes to hotel reviews in Saudi Arabia that Saudi’s are very harsh in their reviews. Normally, I never book a hotel that is rated less than 8 on Booking.com, and usually, I always book a 9 rating, but in Saudi Arabia, a 7 rating is pretty common and average. I found the quality isn’t as bad as 7’s in other areas of the world, which is good!
How do to do it on a budget?
Couch Surfing is the best way to save money on accommodation in Saudi Arabia, although it must be noted that Couch Surfing is more than just saving money on accommodation. You must be willing to meet locals through the app and socialise with them.
My trips to Saudi Arabia have been highly enhanced because of couch surfing. I have stayed with males and females. As a solo female traveller in Saudi Arabia, I felt very safe Couch Surfing, of course, you need to be careful with who you choose and read their reviews but this is the case all over the world.
If you are doing a road trip and the weather permits, you can wild camp in many places in Saudi Arabia for free!
The other way to save money on accommodation is to work out your Saudi Arabia itinerary based on where the cheaper hotels are. For example, Jeddah is cheaper than Riyadh so spend an extra night in Jeddah rather than Riyadh if you plan to visit both!
TRAVEL INSURANCE IN SAUDI ARABIA
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Get a free quote here while you’re thinking about it:
Budget Transport in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is a huge country and cities like Riyadh are huge too!
There is a metro being built in Riyadh right now and once it is open it will help travellers visit the best places to see in Riyadh much cheaper, as, at the moment, the only way to get around Riyadh is via taxi, this is the same in Jeddah, Dammam, Abha, Jazan.
In terms of getting from city to city in Saudi Arabia there are a few options:
Bus – This is the cheapest way to travel around Saudi Arabia. SAPTCO is the most regular bus service in Saudi Arabia with InterCity Buses like I got from Jeddah to Madinah, and they also offer Urban Transport within the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam, Makkah and Madinah.
I found the SAPTCO Bus to be well organised, on time, relatively comfy and well priced, so I recommend using it!
Train – Whilst the train does not connect all cities in Saudi Arabia, it does connect part of the city and if you book tickets in advance so you can get an Economy ticket the prices are reasonable and cheaper than flying. I used the train to get from Riyadh to Dammam however I booked last minute and could only get Business class. The trains in Saudi are high quality and comfy however compared to the buses, they do not run as frequently.
What’s confusing is that the train networks in Saudi Arabia are not under 1 website and company so you need to search to find the right website to book your train on.
SAR is the website you use to book trains leaving from Riyadh and you can book trains to and from Riyadh, Qassim, Hail, Jauf and Majmaah on here.
SRO is the website you use to book trains between Riyadh, Dammam and Al-Ahsa.
Flight – Flying is the quickest way to get around Saudi Arabia. There are a few budget carriers like Flyadeal and Flynas with really regular domestic flights all around the country. Flight prices can be really reasonable if you book in advance, are flexible with the time you fly, and you take hand luggage only! I got a flight from Riyadh and Jeddah and Jeddah to Madinah for just 150-180 SAR / £30.00 – £37,00 / $40.00 – $48.00 SAR.
Skyscanner is the best place to look for and compare flights within Saudi Arabia!
Car Hire – Fuel in Saudi Arabia is cheap, as you would expect so this is one way you can travel Saudi on a budget, however, car hire is not that cheap, and be warned that driving in Saudi is not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced!
How do to do it on a budget?
If you are booking last minute, look into the bus option, it will take longer but prices seem to remain cheap until the date of travel. If you are looking your Saudi Arabia itinerary in advance, book your flights and trains in advance to get the best price!
Budget Sightseeing in Saudi Arabia
As mentioned, in order to see the cities, towns and countryside in Saudi Arabia, you will need to drive or get taxis because there is a huge lack of public transport in Saudi Arabia.
As with any city, the best way to sightsee all of the top attractions on a budget is to plan your itinerary in advance and visit places that are in the same location in one go so you are not getting taxi’s up and down the city.
For example, in Riyadh, I recommend you visit the National Museum of Saudi Arabia and Masmak Fort on the same day as they are close together.
The Diplomatic Quarter in Riyadh and Old Deerah are also close together in the East.
For more ideas of things to do in Riyadh including lots of local, have a look at The BEST Things to do in Riyadh as a Tourist but like a Local!
There are some day tours available in Saudi Arabia, especially from Riyadh to the Edge of the World and the Red Sand Dunes. Although group tours here cost about 300SAR, they are much cheaper to do as a group rather than on a private tour.
I recommend Riyadh Hiking if you want to visit the Edge of the World. Not only is it a great tour but lots of Saudi’s go on the tour too so you’ll meet some new, local friends. These tours only happen over the weekend (Friday & Saturday) so again, work your itinerary for Saudi Arabia around this!
Budget Food & Drink in Saudi Arabia
Food can be expensive in Saudi Arabia. Local food like Kapsa (Rice & Meat) is on offer but Saudi’s love their international food and western brands and it’s easy to eat mostly at these which will add up.
In Riyadh especially, Burgers are big business and they come at the same price as you would pay in London or any Western City.
The most budget-friendly food in Saudi Arabia is Shawarma and luckily there are an abundance of Shawarma places around the country!
If you want to eat cheap, local food, and if you’re happy to eat Indian food, there are plenty of small, local restaurants run by Indians, Pakistani’s etc however they are not always easy to find. In addition to this, as a man, you will probably feel ok going into them but as a woman you may not, and you may not even be allowed in!
In terms of drinking, because Saudi Arabia is a dry country, this keeps alcohol costs to zero. However, instead of alcohol, they do drink a lot of coffee and the cafes in Saudi Arabia are really impressive and fancy which then brings a higher price tag with the coffee.
The cheapest coffee I found is from Dunken Donuts, and aside from coffee shops and chain brands, usually around parks and on the street there are men selling coffee and chai from their car which is really cheap and only a few SAR.
You do need to buy water in Saudi Arabia as you cannot drink the tap water. Water costs about 2SAR per bottle. It is, of course, cheaper to buy water from a supermarket or corner store rather than in a restaurant.
If you happen to live with locals in Saudi, you’ll find that everyone will have a filter tap in their kitchen which will save you buying bottled water, and reduce plastic (which isn’t something Saudi is conscious of right now, unfortunately!)
I hope this helps you with ideas of how to visit Saudi Arabia on a budget and how to save money in Saudi Arabia!
For more of my posts on Saudi Arabia to help you plan your trip see: