Many reasons keep us from seeing the world, but one of the most common is the misconception that travel is expensive. Maybe it's the Instagram-fueled fallacy that traveling has to involve stand-alone tubs and flashy hotels, but after backpacking for five months before moving to New York, I can vouch that traveling is the more affordable option.
When I started my trip in Cambodia, I set myself a challenge: How long could I travel with the money in my savings account? (I didn't want to touch my credit card) So I started tallying every expense in my phone, and the habit stuck. I now have five months' worth of financial data that accounts for every cent I spent.
Two months into the trip, and I averaged $50 per day, including accommodation, food, activities, and transport. And I wasn't just camping in the desert, hitchhiking, or eating two-minute noodles—I traveled throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, and North Africa, dining out and embracing experiences, regardless of the price.
It's possible—here's how I managed to travel for $50 or less a day.
Choose Your Destination Wisely
It goes without saying that some destinations are just much more expensive than others, so if you're trying to travel on a budget, reconsider major cities. Skyscanner analyzed flights, accommodations, and cost of living data and found that Cambodia and Vietnam are the most affordable travel destinations to visit in 2017. Surprisingly, Hungary, Greece, the Dominican Republic, and Ireland also made the list, proving that there's an array of cheap destinations, depending on the type of trip you're planning.
Of the 20 plus countries I visited, the most affordable ones were also the most memorable: Slovenia is the perfect place to plan a scenic mountainous road trip, Cappadocia, Turkey, has incredible hiking terrain, and the communist regime relics in Bulgaria will transport you back in time.
Take It Slow
Scrolling through the long expense tracker, it's clear that the most expensive days of the trip had one thing in common: Transport. It's one of the most under-estimated travel expenses. If you're planning on seeing multiple cities in a matter of days or weeks, the costs of airport taxis, trains, car hires, and flights quickly mount up.
The bottom line: Take it slow, and plan an itinerary that makes logistical sense, rather than an erratic schedule guided by dropping pins on a map. If you only have a few days, spend it exploring one city in depth. If you have the luxury of weeks or months, map out a region, and find out the best way to move between each city. Frequent flyers swear by booking nearby airports to cut the cost of your ticket.
Ask Your Waiter for Advice, Not Your Hotel Concierge
If you'd rather explore a city like a traveler, not a tourist, be selective about the people you speak to for advice. Hotel concierge or tour guides will tell you to visit the usual ticketed haunts, which can quickly add up. Instead, chat to locals—Uber drivers, waiters, and other guests at the bar—to find out where they recommend. We found the most incredible hole-in-the-wall cafes and hidden beaches by talking to the right people.
Travel With a Group
Traveling with a group rather than solo can seriously cut your budget when it comes to almost every travel expense. I found that it was far cheaper to book an Airbnb house than stay in a hostel or hotel, car hire is more affordable (and often cheaper than getting a cross-country train in Europe), and it's easier to get tour discounts when you buy multiple tickets.
Research Vantage Points, Not Attractions
Major tourist attractions can be costly, but that doesn't mean you should skip them. Instead, I aimed to spread out my big sightseeing activities to one per week, and I also researched affordable alternatives in each city. While it's great to climb a landmark, it's often just as beautiful to see that attraction from another high vantage point. For example, skip the Empire State Building, and opt for a rooftop bar with a view of the building instead—the skyline views are often just as good.
Always Eat the Local Food
Markets and local cuisine is always cheaper (and better quality) than foreign dishes. After all, local food is usually made using readily available fresh ingredients, and there's already a high demand for it, so it's generally a safe and affordable option. When you arrive at a new destination, opt for an Airbnb with a kitchen, and head to the local markets. It's a great way to immerse yourself in a new culture and feel like a local—there's nothing quite like buying fresh mozzarella and plump tomatoes from the markets in Italy and whipping up a platter at home.
Track Your Spending, and Use Cash
Tracking every cent might seem excessive, but it's one of the main reasons I was able to travel for $50 a day and stretch my savings for five months. It allows you to see where your money is going, and without a realistic tally, it's tough to create a financial game plan. In the long term, this helped me to be less frugal. I knew that if I splurged on shopping in Paris or hot air ballooning in Turkey, I'd just have to balance my habits the following days. I stressed less about money and focused more on the experience and the big picture.
Have you managed to travel on a budget? Tell us what advice you'd give other travelers.