Traveling to Tibet on a Budget

If you are planning a trip to Tibet on a limited budget, then there are some things you should know about traveling to the region that can help make your budget stretch to accommodate all your needs. There are several ways to reduce your travel costs for a trip to Tibet to be more affordable, and our travel expert explains the best of traveling to Tibet on a budget.

Winter Tibet Tour

Visit Tibet in the Low Season

Knowing the best time to visit Tibet is essential for any traveler. And since Tibet is a region that can be seen easily throughout the year, traveling in the low season is the ideal way to reduce your costs somewhat. This is the best time to travel to Tibet on a budget.

Tibet generally has four seasons for travel, a peak and a low season, and two “shoulder” seasons when travel is less expensive but not at its cheapest. The winter is the low season in Tibet for tourism, which is usually the most reasonable time to travel to Tibet. And while it can be colder than at any other time of the year, it is not the icebox that many people expect. It may be called the “Third Pole,” but it is not as cold as the other two, even in winter.

Samye Monastery in winter.

Winter travel can mean excellent discounts on several expenses for your trip to Tibet. Hotels generally reduce their room rates in the low season months as a way of attracting off-season travelers, and you can easily find a decent deal to suit your pocket. The transport cost in the region can also be a little lower, as demand is low and the prices are reduced.

Take the Tibet Train to Lhasa

Flights to Lhasa are the fastest way to get to the plateau, but they are by no means the cheapest or most cost-effective way to travel. Even with the more affordable flights you can get in the low season, flights are always more expensive than the fantastic Tibet Trains.

Departing from seven gateway cities across China, the trains to Tibet are one of the most popular ways to get to the plateau region. They are also the cheapest means of transportation to Tibet, costing much less than a flight from the same or nearby cities.

Tibet train
Hard Seats on the train to Tibet

Trains have three classes of tickets, soft sleeper, hard sleeper, and hard seats. The hard sleeper berths are the most popular options for most travelers, as they include a bed to sleep in and are not too expensive. For example, where an economy flight from Chengdu to Lhasa can cost from around US$155 per person, the rugged sleeper cabin for the trains to Tibet from Chengdu costs just US$99 per person.

And not only do you get a bed to sleep in and a lovely dining car for your meals, but you get to see some of the most outstanding scenery and landscapes in the world out of the enormous train windows as you steam across the plateau to the Tibetan capital. Trains may take a lot longer to get there, but they are a much more pleasant way to travel for a much lower cost.

Join a Group Tour

Another way to reduce the cost of your trip to Tibet is to join a group tour instead of taking private time off the plateau. Private tours can be expensive, as you will pay for all of the facilities and resources yourself. On a Group Tour, you join in with other travelers on a pre-arranged tour that starts on a pre-set date and pay a fraction of the cost.

Explore Tibet group tour
Explore Tibet group tour

Group Tours are usually join-in tours, where you can join other travelers booking the same tour. Group Tours is an ideal option for solo travelers and couples; Tibet Group Tours means you can save money on some of the most expensive costs of a tour in Tibet. You will equally share the costs of your guide, driver, vehicle, and fuel between all members of the tour party. The price can dramatically reduce the cost of your trip by up to 50%. And if you opt to share a room in your hotel with another group member, you can also save on the mandatory single room supplement if you are a solo traveler.

Stay in Guest Houses

Hotels in Tibet can be more expensive than you might expect, but that does not mean you have to stay in one. Tibet has many guesthouses where you can stay for less cost, though usually with lower-quality facilities. However, while the guesthouses may not have star ratings, they are generally of good quality in most major destinations and have heating, running water, and showers in all rooms. Some will have shared bathrooms, but these are also clean and well kept, so they are not a huge inconvenience for travelers.

A view of Potala Palace from the hotel in Lhasa
A view of Potala Palace from the guest house in Lhasa

Dine-in Local Restaurants

And for those who do not want to pay high prices for their meals that are not included in the accommodation cost, there are a wealth of restaurants and teahouses that you can eat in that cost a lot less. Your guide can point you in the direction of the places frequented mainly by the locals, where you can generally expect to pay a lot less than in the more tourist-oriented establishments.

These are the simple steps to manage your budget for traveling to Tibet.

Prepare Personal Items before You Go

Items that you may need for your trip, such as personal items of toiletries, medicines, batteries, etc., are best bought before you depart for the journey. While these items may not be overly expensive in your home country and can even be relatively cheap in mainland China, they are much more costly in Tibet. And there may be some items you need that you cannot get in Lhasa or Shigatse, the most significant cities on the plateau.

An effective amount of oxygen at different altitudes

You should also make sure that you pack any regular medications that you need before you depart from your home or resident country and bring enough to last the entire tour, plus several days just in case. Many of the medications you may require are not available in Tibet, and you will not be able to use your own doctor’s prescription, even if the drugs are available.