The Ultimate Guide To Budget Diving
Is scuba diving an expensive hobby? How can people afford to go diving on a regular basis? What are some tips for scuba diving cheaply? Where are the cheapest scuba diving destinations? Is it possible to go scuba diving on a budget?
If you’ve ever wondered about one or all of the questions above, you’ve come to the right place.
In this comprehensive guide, I’m going to take you on a journey through the world of Budget Diving.
Get to know the budget diving mindset, read my own hands-on approaches and experiences and learn my tips and tricks as for how to go diving on a budget.
1. What Is Budget Diving?
Budget Diving is the art of being able to save money on a sport that´s widely considered prestige. Using the right budget diving techniques enables pretty much anyone who’s able to afford any vacation to also participate in diving activities.
Budget Diving does not mean that you will have to go diving with the shittiest equipment and with a somewhat dubious dive operator that you don´t feel comfortable with.
With an open mind and active engagement, I genuinely believe that it is possible to grow into the budget diving mindset.
This budget diving guide teaches you multiple techniques to save money and various ways to enjoy your next dive adventure without having to spend a fortune.
2. Who Should Consider Budget Diving?
Budget diving is a worthwhile option for both novices and dive beginners as well as dive professionals.
There are people out there who’ve always wanted to try diving, but never had the money to do so. Maybe they didn’t even dare to try because they thought this hobby was way too expensive for them anyway and that they wouldn’t be able to stick to it.
During my time working as a Divemaster, I met a lot of dive beginners, who have completed their DSD or even OWD course a while ago but haven’t been able to include diving into their yearly vacations due to a tight budget. Hence they haven’t dived in years and literally have to learn diving again from scratch.
3. Why Should You Consider Budget Diving?
In order to become a good diver and learn safe dive practices, it is vital to gain experience on a regular basis despite expenses being quite high.
In fact, if you haven’t dived in months, your skills can already get somewhat rusty, which can lead to a severe misjudgment of both your own abilities and diving conditions. Now imagine, some people haven’t dived in years – their skills are not just rusty but literally gone. Especially with inexperienced divers who have less than 20 dives, this happens quite often – I speak from experience.
While I was working in the Philippines as a Divemaster, I had the opportunity to meet and talk to many novices and dive beginners, and I realized that, apparently, a lot of people think that if you want to go diving regularly, you had to spend an immense amount of money every year. That may be true, but only if you choose to do so.
Now, you might be thinking “But, Lena, diving is an expensive sport?!”. My answer to that: yes, it is not the cheapest hobby, but it doesn´t make your trip more expensive than if you go bungee jumping, zip lining or skydiving instead.
While budget diving is something that comes to me naturally, it seems a lot harder for some people. Below, I´m gonna share with you the three most important budget diving benefits. Because of these advantages, I would always choose budget diving over an expensive all-inclusive dive vacation.
The most obvious benefit of budget diving is to be able to save money. As a result, you will have money left to do even more diving than you had originally planned, to extend your overall stay or to spend it on other activities. Or perhaps even all three of them.
Finding ways to save money on diving-related activities is the essential thing when it comes to budget diving. Below you’ll find the best ways to significantly reduce your dive costs.
Believe it or not, budget diving can actually help you have a more authentic overall experience by purposely choosing a different kind of accommodation than you would have on a typical dive trip, by considering local food options and by immersing yourself in the local culture.
Don’t believe me? Read about having authentic travel experiences on a budget dive trip in another post.
Last but not least, budget diving, similar to budget traveling, will inevitably lead to personal growth. There are things that you will learn on a budget trip rather than an all-inclusive dive vacation. Some of those values may seem trivial to you, perhaps even completely non-essential. But mind you, growth starts with small things.
The most significant things I learned through budget travel: mindfulness, organizing itineraries, being able to budget, socializing with locals and using common sense. Also, read all about the wisdom budget travel has taught me.
4. Budget Diving Techniques
So, we’ve already covered what budget diving is and why it is beneficial. Let’s dig right into the hows.
First, we have to be thinking about the actions YOU can take to make budget diving work. Second, we’re going to take a look at external factors that play a role in budget diving and that you can easily take into consideration on your next trip.
Ways To Save Money For Diving
Budget diving already starts at home. You have to find a way to save enough money to be able to actually go on a dive trip.
Below, you’ll find some proven methods to save money for travel, diving and anything else actually.
Save money at home by living eco-friendly and reducing both energy and power costs.
You can easily avoid using electricity unnecessarily by unplugging unused devices and appliances, especially if you’re not going to be using them for a while, such as a TV or a computer when you go on vacation.
Energy expenses can be reduced by following simple but effective rules, e.g. turn off the heating when you open a window or wear warm layers of clothes instead of heating all parts of the house.
Also, check out these kick-ass ways to save power costs.
Save money by cutting down on supplementary costs for things you don’t actually need, such as coffee-to-go, ice cream, accessories, etc.
You might think “well, this is not a lot of money”… let me stop you right there! I saved almost 700 € by successfully implementing a coffee-to-go-boycott for 1 year (and avoiding unnecessary snacks). I never actually stopped DRINKING coffee, I just stopped BUYING coffee in coffee shops and coffee dispensers. Instead, I bought my own reusable coffee cup and brought my own coffee everywhere I went.
Back in 2014, I put all of the money I’d saved into a backpacking trip to Canada.
Save money by using shopping lists (or apps) and buying seasonal products as they’re often cheaper.
Save money by selling your old stuff.
Both traditional fleamarkets or platforms like eBay are great ways to get rid of items that you don’t need or use any more. And who knows, maybe there’s a little cash cow among the things you’ve long forgotten about?
Save money by using deals to travel.
Whether you’re planning to go on a weekend getaway or a more extended trip, always check for travel deals by hotels or tour operators. Airlines also provide special offers and, if you’re lucky, you might even score an error fare.
Creative Money-Saving Techniques
In addition to traditional ways of saving money, there are endless guides on creative money-saving techniques. Among my favorite ideas are the following:
Pay for your bad habits
This is a popular method among families when parents don’t want their kids to use certain bad words, for example, “F***” or “Shit” etc. Whenever the child (and parent) uses the word, they have to put 1 € or 50 ct in a jar. You can totally implement this for all kinds of bad habits that you want to get rid of. What I love most about this method is that it’s a win-win situation. Not only do you get rid of a bad habit but you also have the chance to save up some money.
Save particular coins
I’ve been collecting particular coins for over 5 years. Usually, I just remove all the copper coins from my wallet because I don’t need them in day-to-day life. For sure, they will not buy you a world trip. However, I also used to collect 10 ct coins for years and ended up saving a few 100 Euros with only 10 ct coins. Now, imagine saving 1 € or 2 € coins. How cool would that be after just 1 year?
The Three Days Rule
The Three Days Rule is something I’ve always somehow implemented. Then, recently, I came across this name and realized that this is, in fact, a real money-saving technique.
It sounds complicated, but it’s actually super easy: when you have the idea of purchasing something you really like, and you think you need, wait for THREE days. Waiting three days will help you determine whether you really need that particular item or if it had just been an impulse.
Impulse buying often happens when we see special offers or limited discounts (e.g. save up to 30% only TODAY), and we feel like we absolutely HAVE TO BUY this item RIGHT NOW.
I’ve never actually tried this method, but it sounds pretty cool to me. Also, this will undoubtedly help you save up a lot of money.
The idea behind it is that whenever you withdraw some money, transfer the exact same amount (though, you might also do an alternative version with 50% of the amount) to your savings account.
Not only will you be able to save money quickly but it also teaches you to spend your money more wisely as it feels like twice the amount you actually withdraw vanishes from your cash account.
Ways To Save Money On A Dive Trip
Now that we’ve covered money-saving techniques before you go on a dive trip, it’s time to look at the different dive trip components that you can cut down on.
Obviously, some of the best dive spots are likely located quite a few flight hours away from your home. And flying somewhere is usually not the cheapest way of transport.
Nevertheless, it is possible to find cheap flights and save significantly on airfare.
Check out the ultimate guide to finding cheap flights and also learn how to book the cheapest flight possible to anywhere. Both of these posts really go into detail and will help you save a lot of money on airfare.
The things that have helped me most are:
Turning on private browsing
Identifying the cheapest days to fly out by checking the prices for a whole month (e.g. Skyscanner)
Seeing which fares are available and being flexible with flight dates
Generally booking far ahead of time (e.g. 3 months in advance for domestic flights, 6-8 months in advance for international flights)
A lot easier than finding cheap airfare is to save money on accommodation.
Apparently, it’s still in the mind of many divers that they have to check in a dive resort when they want to go diving.
Typical dive resorts usually offer cozy rooms, all-inclusive meal and beverage options, a recreation area, bars, and a discount when diving with the in-house dive center crew.
I don’t have a problem with dive resorts per se. However, regarding budget diving, dive resorts don’t make a lot of sense to me.
And here’s why: when I am doing 2-3 dives per day for a few days in a row, I’m out (on the boat) diving all day. I don’t have the chance to use all the hotel’s fabulous amenities. I only have time to enjoy the incredible all-you-can-eat buffets in the morning and evening, which means I miss one already-paid buffet meal per day. Also, I don’t really have the chance to properly enjoy my cozy room because all I want to do at night is sleep, so I’m refreshed to go diving again the next day.
I don’t know about you guys, but I feel pretty bad paying hundreds of Euros to stay in such a top-notch resort when I hardly have the time and energy left to enjoy its luxurious facilities thoroughly.
So where do I stay instead?
Well, surprisingly, there are more affordable accommodation options than you might have imagined.
Budget-friendly accommodations include local guesthouses, homestays or Couchsurfing, hostels, and Airbnb.
All of them have their own individual benefits. Which one is the best option for you depends on your personal preferences and needs. However, no matter which one you decide to stay at, you will get the same basic amenities and level of privacy as you’d get at a dive resort but at significantly lower prices.
And who knows, perhaps that experience will help you get to meet locals who might even provide tips and advice for your dive plans. Don’t think that’s likely?
Here’s what happened to me in Martinique a few years back: I was staying with a host family, and their neighbor was a PADI dive instructor working in a small dive shop in another bay. Not only did he introduce me to this locally-operated and off-the-beaten-path dive center but I also ended up doing some of my first diving courses with him as my instructor.
When booking your accommodation, make sure it is situated somewhat close to the dive center, preferably within walking distance. If you stay at a cheap place out of town and you have to take a cab or bus every day to go to the dive shop, it will likely not save you any money. However, in some spots, dive centers also offer free pick-ups. Always ask your dive shop beforehand if they provide free transfer or not.
Food is definitely one of the primary expenses while traveling. And that is okay because we all have to eat several times a day. Especially on a dive trip, you have to make sure that you get solid food at least twice a day.
While meals during an all-inclusive resort stay usually don’t cost you any extra, it is part of what makes the whole hotel stay expensive.
Depending on the country you’re traveling to, you can save a lot of money if you don’t take the all-you-can-eat buffet food options every day.
You then have two options: eating out at a restaurant or cooking yourself.
Some people have the attitude that cooking should not be part of their holiday (I don’t really feel the same way). Nevertheless, you can still save money even though you go out for dinner every single day.
Ask reception staff, dive shop staff or any other local on the street for cheap eats and places they prefer or regularly go to. Eateries, street food or small local restaurants – by eating where the locals eat, you will not only cut down on food expenses but also get to know the local cuisine more authentically than by dining at your hotel all the time.
Also, keep an eye out for meal deals at restaurants. For example, many restaurants often have special 3-course meals for lunch.
If you don’t mind cooking while on vacation, you will significantly reduce costs.
Locate the closest supermarket, buy local groceries instead of your favorite foods from home, and then prepare your own meals. That way you can not only save money but also observe how your food is being prepared.
I also recommend stocking up on water, fruits and cereal bars from a local grocery store instead of purchasing expensive snacks in touristy locations.
Also, consider skipping alcohol for a while. Firstly, alcoholic beverages are considerably more expensive than soft drinks. Secondly, drinking a lot of alcohol when diving on a regular basis poses potential risks for divers. Alcohol ingestion may influence blood circulation, cause dehydration and enhance the effects of nitrogen narcosis.
Frequently overlooked is the fact that you can reduce diving costs by choosing a dive shop that offers moderate prices.
Most dive center chains and large international dive operators usually offer expensive rates, so I would always, at least, check out local alternatives. Local dive shops are often cheaper and still provide decent quality and English-speaking staff!
When trying to find a good dive center, I recommend visiting several of them and compare their prices. You may also ask for a discount, especially if you’re planning on diving with them for a few days.
Make sure to check for hidden costs and additional fees they might not let you know about straight away. Decent dive shops are usually transparent or have all-inclusive dive packages. But better safe than sorry. 🙂
If you happen to come across a dive center that has single offers (e.g. Shore Dive = X, Boat Dive = X, Equipment Rental = X, Environmental Fee = X, Lunch = X, Insurance = X, Dive Computer = X,…), ask the staff what you absolutely need on your dive trips.
There might be dive sites where you don’t have to pay an environmental fee because it’s not a marine sanctuary. Or you might not need dive insurance because your travel insurance covers dive activities as well. Or you might not have to rent a dive computer if you’re going on a shore dive and you’re diving together with a Divemaster who has a computer.
Once you know which services you’re going to need, negotiate the price for an all-inclusive package. Otherwise, you might end up paying more than you would have paid if you had arranged a package.
Of course, finding the cheapest dive shop does not mean that you should go diving with a shitty operator that you don´t even feel comfortable diving with.
This is what happened to me in Malapascua, Philippines. I checked out numerous dive shops (some of them were super expensive, OMG!!), there was a local one that was at least a little cheaper and happy to give us some discount as well.
However, some locals also pointed me towards another dive center claiming that this was the cheapest dive center on the island. It was a rundown dive shop (it was merely an office with a table and chair and a fish poster on the wall). The owner wanted to take me diving for a third of the price the large dive shops asked. When I asked him to see the equipment (because I didn’t see any in the room), he said he kept it on the boat. All he needed to sign me up was my first name – no signature, no qualification, no level of experience. And I would have to pay in cash.
I was honestly very skeptical and trusted my gut on this matter. Eventually, I decided to go diving with the other local dive operator despite having to pay a little more. In the end, I was very satisfied with the dive experience there.
Finding a dive shop with moderate rates is definitely worth the effort. However, when it comes to diving, the most important issue is safety. That is and should be more important than money. Therefore, always make sure to dive with a dive center that you feel safe and comfortable with!
Dive Organization (PADI, SSI, CMAS)
While it should not matter which organization you use to get certified in terms of safety, it does make a difference regarding prices.
PADI & SSI
Regarding the dive training, there is very little difference between the most famous organizations SSI and PADI. Both of them follow the diving standards set by the World Recreational Scuba Training Council. Hence the skill requirements are almost the same, and both certifications are accepted in each other’s dive centers.
Through my work as a Divemaster in the Philippines, I realized that both SSI and PADI have become extremely commercialized companies over the past decade.
Especially PADI cultivates their slogan “the world learns to dive” offering OWD courses at record speed. Though, the rates are pretty high, even if you decide on the e-learning instead of theoretical courses at the dive shop. What makes PADI especially expensive are the material and certification fees, which you have to pay regardless of the money the dive instructor gets (which is NOT a lot, believe me!).
Compared to PADI courses, SSI may be a little bit cheaper in some places. However, SSI being the primary dive organization for French people, it is often situated in Francophone countries, which are usually rather expensive thanks to having the Euro as a currency. Whether that is in France or in an oversee department around the world, prices there are always considerably high.
So, in the end, it doesn’t really matter if you go for a PADI course in the Philippines for 400 € or an SSI course in Martinique for 400 €. What is considered pricey in Asia is actually considered low priced in the Caribbean. 😉
CMAS is a different story.
CMAS qualifications are not equivalent to typical PADI or SSI qualifications, which you can rather easily obtain after completing a dive course.
In my opinion, CMAS is a more sophisticated dive organization with harder requirements but also safer diving techniques. For example, the CMAS* qualification is equivalent to the PADI Advanced Open Water Diver qualification.
For a CMAS* qualification, you’ll also pay around 400 €, maybe even a little less in cheaper countries. However, for the number of dives and amount of training you get with this organization compared to SSI and PADI, I consider CMAS the best value for money.
Last but not least, you might be able to save some money by bringing your own dive equipment.
However, keep in mind that in many dive locations, equipment rental is already included in the dive rate and even if it isn’t covered, it’ll only cost you something between 10-15 €.
Bringing your own equipment means purchasing your own stuff first, which is probably between 300 – 500 € depending on all the items you buy.
Also, don’t forget, you’ll have to transport your equipment to the dive location. Depending on the airline, you will have to pay baggage excess costs.
So, even if you’re a regular diver, buying your own equipment and getting it around the world may still be more expensive than using rental equipment that’s already at the dive shop.
Therefore, always compare baggage excess costs vs. dive gear rental costs beforehand.
For comfort reasons, it certainly makes sense to make an investment in your own dive gear at some point, especially if you dive regularly. However, I´d suggest waiting for a special offer by one of the dive brands. Just keep your eyes open for deals on online platforms like Amazon and buy one piece at a time instead of everything at once.
Budget Dive Destinations
One thing we mustn’t forget is the fact that there are factors you cannot influence or change despite implementing all the money-saving techniques I mentioned in the previous paragraphs.
One of the main factors is the difference in the cost of living in each country.
Although you’re considering to stay in hostels or AirBnB places, you’re putting a lot of effort into finding cheap flights and planning to go diving with a local dive operator, you might still end up paying a lot of money – that is because some countries are way more expensive than others.
In order to travel and dive as budget-friendly as possible, I recommend choosing to go to budget dive destinations.
How To Determine Whether A Place Is A Budget Dive Destination?
When determining whether a country is budget-friendly or not, you should take a look at different components, such as accommodation, transport, activities (e.g. costs for scuba diving) and food.
Depending on the average costs for each component, you will see how and if a destination fits into your budget.
Comparing numbers like the cost of living index will help you conduct a proper analysis.
Top 15 Budget Dive Destinations
I checked out several websites and indexes on the internet and created the following list of the Top 15 budget dive destinations.
Obviously, prices always vary in different regions or cities within the country.
So, depending on the region you’re planning on traveling, I suggest you do your own research and see whether that’s a budget-friendly place or not.
For example, the Philippines are generally pretty cheap when it comes to both traveling and diving. However, dive hotspots like Malapascua, Apo Island or Panglao Island may be rather expensive compared to diving in Thailand’s popular dive el dorado Koh Tao.
Nevertheless, this list will give you an idea and perhaps some inspiration for your next dive trips.
4. Sri Lanka
14. El Salvador
If you’re looking for a place to get scuba certified, check out this list of cheap countries to learn diving.
What are your experiences with budget diving? Do you have any other suggestions for ways and methods to save money on a dive trip? Let me know in the comments below!