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Do Budget Travelers Travel In Comfort Or In Poverty?

Hitch-hiking in Australia

I’m always telling people that $1000 per month is more than enough money to travel around the majority of the world. There’s even been a few times on this blog that I’ve mentioned $500 being enough to travel, and travel relatively well, around certain regions.

But there is a problem with such claims and that problem lies right there in the previous sentence. What on earth does ‘relatively well’ really mean?

The more I think about it, the more that I realize that what is ‘relatively well’ for me might be absolutely miserable to someone else, or on the other end of the spectrum, my traveling style may even seem luxurious to others. And because of the wide range of possibilities that ‘relatively well’ may represent, any post I write about how much money I spend while traveling or how inexpensive traveling can be is nowhere near complete if I don’t clarify what ‘relatively well‘ means to me.

If I claim to spend $1000 per month or less while traveling, am I sleeping on the streets, eating only one plate of rice per day and hitch-hiking everywhere I go in order to keep my expenses as low as possible?

It’s easy to get excited about the possibility of traveling around the world for such a small amount of money, but it would probably be significantly less appealing if such budget travel involves you having access to a shower only once per week, sleeping in rat-infested abandoned buildings and begging for food.

MY BUDGET TRAVEL STYLE

So what does $1000 or less per month get me while backpacking?

First, I would never promote budget world travel if my claims of being able to do so for little money involved sleeping on the streets and starving oneself. And while it is true that I slept on the grass in the middle of the Ala Moana Park in Honolulu one night while passing through Hawaii, that was the only time I’ve slept ‘on the streets’ and that was purely by choice (which proved to be quite a poor choice once the sprinklers automatically turned on at 3am).

It is a fact that I am definitely a budget traveler. My goal is to travel around this world of ours while spending as little money as possible to do so….comfortably. Yes, I need a little comfort while on the road. While I may opt for very cheap accommodation options and I never eat in expensive restaurants, it is not my desire nor interest to travel around in poverty.

To give a better idea of what it’s really like to travel on a budget of less than $1000 per month, let me break down some of the more common expenses I face.


Accommodation


Hotel in Leon, Nicaragua

I usually sleep in hotels, budget hotels. These days, I rarely sleep in hostels as I prefer a little more privacy and personal space than what a dorm room can provide. There’s nothing wrong with hostels at all, and they are an absolutely excellent option for budget travelers, with cheap dorm rooms, a lively atmosphere and an instant social life with so many travelers being on one place. However, for me, after sleeping in dorm rooms for so many years, and because I now work online, I need that extra comfort to ensure I stay sane while traveling.

Interestingly, this ‘upgrade’ from hostels to budget hotels really hasn’t affected my expenses much at all. In many countries, budget hotels are a surprisingly good value, offering private rooms that often have a private bathroom as well. While prices do vary widely by country, in many parts of the world that have proven to be budget traveler-friendly destinations, I’ll typically spend between $6 – $20 USD per night for such a private room.

With that said, you won’t find any white-glove service at these kind of establishments and chances are you’ll have to lug your backpack up the stairs yourself. The rooms will usually be clean, but not even close to spotless and such issues as a faulty faucet, a couple of dead mosquitoes splattered on the wall or a missing tile on the floor are to be expected, as is having to put up with it and realizing that the chances of such issues being fixed are slim to none. (Here’s an amusing rant from UncorneredMarket.com about what is typically missing from such budget hotel rooms.)

But again, you get a private room, a bed to lay your head and a shower and toilet that you don’t have to share with a dozen other people, all for a price that most budget travelers can afford.


Eating


Indian Food in Singapore

You won’t ever find me cutting back on food as I’m addicted to sampling as much of a local cuisine as is humanly possible. Whether it be dining in local restaurants or grabbing a snack or quick meal from a street stall or food market, in no way whatsoever would I say that being a budget traveler has had a negative effect on my ability to eat well. While we may be used to paying $10 or more for a meal in the western world, that amount of money could feed you for 2 days in many other parts of the world where hearty meals can be had for as little as $1 or $2.

And don’t be fooled. Such cheap prices does not mean that you will be eating in dirty, unhygienic places or that three minutes after finishing your pad see ew from a street stall in Thailand, you’ll be stricken with a debilitating stomach illness. If a restaurant looks dirty, don’t eat there, but if you find a local joint that is full of locals, you can bet that the food will not only be tasty and cheap, but safe to eat as well.

As an example, during the time I spent in Mexico, a typical meal from a popular local restaurant would cost between 30 – 60 pesos ($2.50 – $5.00) and street stalls sold such items as tamales, esquite, quesadillas and tacos for as little 10 pesos (75 cents). You could eat five times per day without even making a dent in your $1000 budget!

One thing I should add is that I simply do not eat at expensive restaurants while traveling. First, I have always found it difficult for me to justify spending 2 or 3 night’s worth of accommodation on one meal. Also, I much prefer to eat where locals eat, as apart from the chance to eat real, freshly-prepared local food, such local eateries often prove to be great places to meet and interact with people. Eating a simple meal of yummy tostadas and huaraches, while surrounded by a friendly group of customers and restaurant staff, always sounds more appealing to me than eating a filet mignon at a tourist-oriented steakhouse that charges $30 USD per plate.


Transportation


Local Bus in India
Getting around from place to place has the potential to be one of the biggest expenses a traveler will have to deal with. However, it also has the potential to be one of the smallest. With my $1000 per month travel budget, I generally avoid first-class altogether, whether it be on flights, trains or buses, but I also don’t go around traveling on the rooftops of vehicles everyday or hiding in the train bathroom to avoid paying a train fare.

I travel somewhere in the middle, which is not only quite comfortable most of the time, but extraordinarily good value.

Second-class trains typically offer cushy benches with assigned seating in an acceptably clean environment. Local buses, or non-first class buses, usually offer decent enough seats, open windows that play the role of air-conditioning and a nice slower ride that allows you to share the journey with the other passengers.

Again, almost every time I travel, I do so in a proper seat. Not the floor, not on the roof and not hanging out the door while holding on for dear life with one hand. And the times that I do not travel in a seat are always by choice. Sometimes I want to sacrifice my comfort for a chance to have a unique cultural experience, such as traveling on a third-class train in India, on a stranger’s lap in a ‘taxi’ in Cambodia or kneeling down on a sack of wood shavings in the back of a van in Syria.

And while I always prefer to travel overland, sometimes it’s impossible and I need to take a flight to my next destination. Whenever this is the case, I’ll always seek out budget airlines in the region I’m visiting (examples include AirAsia, FlyDubai and Vivoaerobus), as such airlines often offer very low fares, especially if you’re flexible with your dates and/or actual destination.

And even though sometimes I may never have even heard of the airline I buy my cheap ticket with, such flights still take place on airplanes that look like all of the others I’ve flown, I’ve never had goats, buffaloes or armed guerrillas sitting next to me and the person in control of the aircraft has always seemed to be a highly trained pilot. Not bad for a $250 one way ticket from Bangkok to Melbourne, Australia on AirAsia or a $55 ticket from Mexico City to Puerta Vallarta on Vivoaerobus.

TRAVEL IS A BARGAIN

Hammock on Koh Mak, Thailand

As you can see, my travel style is anything but luxurious, however, I hope it is as equally clear that I do not travel in poverty either. Truthfully, I could spend more than $1000 per month if I wanted to, but I’m quite happy with my current travel style. I’m comfortable, not lacking for anything and I have money left over for such important things as travel insurance and even saving a portion of my income to be used later in life.

Of course, it goes without saying that how much you spend to travel ‘relatively well’ does depend on the country you’re visiting and your own idea of what is ‘comfortable’. But for anyone looking to travel for the first time or to simply test the waters of long-term travel, it’s usually a good idea to begin such an adventure in inexpensive, budget traveler-friendly parts of the world, which is where I do most of my own traveling. Regions such as Southeast Asia, India, Central or South America and even parts of the Middle East and Africa are all good options.

And if you think you may want to enjoy a little more comfort while on the road, then you just have to plan on spending a little more money. On the other hand, if you don’t mind roughing it more than I do, you’ll be able to get started with even less cash in your bank account.

Either way, I’d say that being able to travel around the world for around $1000 per month is an undeniably remarkable bargain that more of us should take advantage of!


What do you think of budget travel? Is this your style or do you prefer a different method? Does $1000 or less per month sound reasonable to you?

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81 Responses to Do Budget Travelers Travel In Comfort Or In Poverty?

  1. Cat says:

    For a place like Australia, which Im planning on going this month, how do I keep a balanced budget? And how much money should I carry with me if I will be there for 3 weeks exploring Sydney, Melbourne, Great Barrier Reef, Kangaroo Island, and Uluru ?

    • Wandering Earl says:

      Hey Cat – It’s tough to say as it all depends on your travel style. It seems that you’ll be doing a bit of moving around during those three weeks so that will make things more expensive because of all the transportation costs. It also depends on how many activities you want to do, what kind of accommodation you prefer, whether you will eat out all the time or make some of your own meals and on and on. Australia could be done for as little as $1000 USD per month but it can very easily cost double that.

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  4. Steve C says:

    Hi Mary,
    Just to let you know that there are others out here that think the same as you. I’m 64 and in a couple years I will be taking off traveling for as long as my mind and body hold out. I’d do it now, but I’ve got several things to take care of before cutting loose. Twenty-five years ago I traveled around the world for four years. I’ve also done many other two to four month trips over the years.

    My future will be much like you’ve described yours to become. I’m lucky, in that my family doesn’t think I’m nuts. Also, you will most certainly be OK on the budget you’ve suggested. Your budget is more than twice what I’ve spent.

    Listen and follow Earl on his blog, as he definitely knows what he’s talking about!

    • mary says:

      Hello Steve.
      Thank you so much for the encouragement. I really appreciate it. That four years away must have been the best. The most I have been away is six weeks, and I didn’t want to come back! In fact, when I went back to work, I told my boss that I was going to call him (from the Philippines) and ask for a few more weeks, but I wasn’t sure he would let me. He said “you should have, because I would have said yes.” Very nice man! But I was running out of money…lol. Have you seen the Philippines? It is my favorite place in the world.

      • Steve C says:

        Hi Mary,
        No, I haven’t been to the Philippines, but the last guide book I purchased for research on a next possible trip was on the Philippines! Please contact me on my personal e-mail, as I’d like to get more of your take on that trip. I’m at: stevecordis@ymail.com

        PS Earl; Is it OK to make third party contacts like this?

  5. mary says:

    Hi Earl.
    This is all very good advice! I am a fifty four year old woman who travels mostly by myself as often as I can. I am able to retire in three and a half years and my pension will be around fifteen or sixteen hundred Canadian dollars per month. I should receive two more pensions, Canada pension at age 62 and old age pension at 65. I am thinking of becoming a person of no fixed address. Maybe store a few personal items at my son’s house and just hitting the road, maybe come home once a year or less. Have you you ever heard of such a thing? My family thinks I’m nuts, but I can’t help it. It’s all I ever think about. Do you know of anybody who has ever done this, or where I could get some good advice? Thanks.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Mary – Not only have I heard of such a thing but I’ve met many travelers on the road who have done just that! I recently read about an 85 year old Australian backpacker who has been traveling around the world for the past 15 years or so. And that’s only one small example. As for getting more advice, most of these travelers don’t have websites so I can’t think of any blogs/sources of information off the top of my head. But in the end, there really is no difference between you taking off to travel and anyone else, at any age, doing the same. So if you do have any questions at all or need some advice about your ideas, please feel free to send me an email through the “Contact Me” link above. I’d be more than happy to communicate with you some more!

      • mary says:

        Hi Earl.
        Thanks so much for getting back to me. Maybe I should start my own geezer backpacking blog. It amazes me how many people would never do “such a thing.” Backpacking that is. I can’t imagine never doing it. My friends and colleagues tell me I am brave for going all over the place alone. I actually think they are depriving themselves of a truly awesome experience. I don’t get the fear part. I am dying to go to India. People think I am nuts. Oh well. Their loss I guess.
        I will read your most interesting stuff and you take good care of yourself and may the force be with you…take care.

  6. karthik says:

    east godavari n west godavari (andhra pradesh, india ) in this place u can live for 200 usd per month in a nice private apartments (without any equipment) including mouth watering food. you can enjoy good village culture with lots of coconut trees,banana plantations,paddy fields etc. you can find nice view of river godavari, there are forests and nice and clean beaches of bay of bengal. many foreign travellers dont know these places so less chances of u being ripped off and this place(rajahmundry) is well connected by trains all over india n even have weekly domestic airplanes. most people in this area can speak in english. so i think its the best budget option in the world.
    hoping u may find some use in this post
    namaste

  7. Rob says:

    Thanks Earl your a star!

  8. Rob says:

    thankyou for getting back to me really appreciate it. Thats great news about the visas. The only thing is, when i spoke to the people at the embassys today most of them said that to get a visa you need to prove your leaving the country and what day youll be leaving on? does that sound normal to you?

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rob – That’s generally something that all countries say when you apply for a visa at an Embassy. But if you’re applying at the border, the chances of you being asked for such proof is slim. In my 12 years of travel I’ve never been asked for such proof at all! The only time you may run into a problem is when you board the flight from the UK to your first destinations. For some reason, airline check-in staff often ask to see proof of an onward ticket but there are ways around it. I actually wrote a post about it here: Proof of Onward Travel

  9. Rob says:

    Do you have any information on Visas? Im finding it so confusing. We dont know when were going to go to vietnam, cambodia, bali or singapore, as we might want to stay in certain places for longer. Does that make a differnece? Rob

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rob – Visas can definitely be confusing! As for your plans, you don’t have to know how long you will stay in each place as long as you stay less than the period of time you are allowed. For example, you can show up in Indonesia, receive a 30-day visa upon arrival and that’s it. You can stay for 30 days. You can also obtain a visa upon arrival in Singapore and Cambodia. Vietnam requires you to obtain a visa from a Vietnamese embassy or consulate before you arrive but if you’re in Cambodia there will be plenty of tourist agencies in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap that will do all the work and get the visa for you for a small fee. So there’s really no need to get any visas for your trip before you leave…in fact, it wouldn’t make sense to do that. Just get them all at the border and about two weeks before you want to go to Vietnam, get a Vietnamese visa from the Vietnam Embassy in whatever country you happen to be in at that time.

  10. Rob says:

    Thanks Earl

  11. Rob says:

    Hi Earl, was wondering what you could tell me about Malaria tablets? And where in those countries i would need to take them.

    Thanks

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rob – I actually don’t know too much about Malaria pills as I’ve never taken them during my travels. But here’s a good resource to find out more: CDC Malaria

  12. Rob says:

    Thats brilliant, thankyou very much for your advice. Me and my friend im going with dont mind doing it cheap as we both want the proper travelling experience. Im glad you think our budget is reasonable aswell, as it was worrying me slightly. Thanks again. Rob

  13. Rob says:

    Hi Earl, me and my friend are going travelling for around 7 1/2 months leaving in september. Were landing in bangkok and spending 3 months there and in the surrounding areas, vietnam, cambodia, singapore and bali. Then were flying to australia for a month and then to new zealand for a month, fiji for 2 weeks, hawii for 2 weeks and then finishing on the west coast of america for a month. Was wondering if you had any advice on money etc, Weve been told about £1000 a month but is that really necessary in some of the countries were going to? If you also have any info on must see places in the countries were going to then any advice would be much appreciated! Thanks in advance. Rob

    • Earl says:

      Hey Rob – My guess is that 1000 GBP per month will be more than enough for your travels. In Southeast Asia you should have no problem traveling well on about 500 GBP per month, assuming you’re okay staying in hostels and budget hotels. Australia/NZ/Hawaii/US will obviously cost more money but still, those regions are well set up for backpackers so you should be able to keep your costs low. 1000 GBP for those places would probably be about right.

      Your biggest expenses will be accommodation and transportation so if you choose wisely in those areas, you’ll have money left over from your budget in the end!

  14. Cai O'Marah says:

    Hey, I’ve just stumbled onto this website and am inspired. I’ve been thinking of going travelling this coming summer during my break from University, and was thinking towards Central – Eastern Europe. How feasible would it be to extensively travel around Romania for two months with a £1000, putting flight costs aside?! Any advice would be appreciated, thanks.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Cai – Thanks for visiting the site! As for Romania, that should be enough for 2 months over here. In general, hostels cost around £8 per night, train travel is relatively cheap, food is inexpensive as well. I’d say anything less than that amount might be tough but £1000 should be fine.

  15. rachel says:

    hey Earl, just wanted to say that i LOVE your blog :) and i was wondering how much you usually spend per month in Europe, im going soon but i feel like 1000$ a month is based in other places in the world. Thanks so much!!!! big fan,
    Rachel

    • Earl says:

      Thanks so much Rachel! As for $1000 per month, I do generally use that figure as an average of what a traveler would spend if they were to travel around the world to a variety of countries. So you’re right, in parts of Europe it would be difficult to maintain that budget. But it does depend on which parts of Europe you plan to visit. Western Europe is obviously more expensive, and areas such as Scandinavia are as expensive as it gets, but as you move towards Central and Eastern Europe, prices tend to drop and you could in fact travel for $1000 per month in those parts. Budget accommodation in hostels is quite cheap throughout Europe and you can always minimize your food costs, but transportation and entrance fees to any sights you want to visit will be the biggest expenses.

      So it does depend on the region and what kind of activities you plan on doing, but even then, there are ways to ensure that you don’t spend much more than $1000 per month overall!

  16. Gigi says:

    For me, budget travel has started to mean staying put. I find that I can rent a room or even a nice little apartment cheaper if I stay in place for at least a month. (Compare $600 for a month in a nice European city to $50+ per night at a cheap hotel). Plus, renting space in a home means access to a kitchen, so you can eat cheaply for most meals and then splurge if you want on your nights out.

    If people don’t have the stay-for-a-month flexibility, hostels are a great option…especially for women traveling alone. I always feel safer with so many people around me at night. If something happens, someone is always there. Plus, of course, they’re cheap. Well, usually. :)

    Just thought I’d add my two cents. Hope it’s helpful!

    • Earl says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Gigi and I agree with everything you said. Staying for at least a month offers huge benefits in terms of saving money, which is exactly why I generally prefer to travel much more slowly these days. And there’s something to be said about having your own apartment to come home to every day. It feels as if you are a part of the town/city as opposed to being strictly a visitor!

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  18. Well said! I think many people just don’t realize there are so many low-cost (yet decent) options available out there.

    And there’s certainly nothing wrong with a little rooftop transportation! How could you say no to a seat with the best view, unlimited leg-room, fresh air exercise (dodging tree branches) and free entertainment (pigs in a sack)! :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Matthew – Very true, rooftop transport does have it’s highlights! I just remember having to sleep on the roof of a bus (while it was moving) one night in Laos and the next day I could barely move from the metal bars digging into my body with every tiny bump. So I’ve been a little hesitant since but a few hours of tree dodging can be quite a good time, especially if in the mountains.

  19. Shaun says:

    Erica and I travel with about the same comfort level as you and try to keep to our shared $1500 monthly budget. We’ve done fairly well staying within budget through most of Central America, but definitely struggle in some of the more expensive countries. I think the only real difference for us is that we like to occasionally splurge on a fancy meal (and for us that means eating in a restaurant that uses cloth napkins).

  20. Deb says:

    Great breakdown Earl. It is amazing how comfortably we can live during long term travel on a small budget. Once in a while we like to splurge on luxury as much as the next person but like you it’s budget hotels most of the time and they are getting better and better in standards each year.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Deb – Budget hotels do seem to get better all the time and now that it is so easy to get recommendations from other travelers, a good budget option seems to never be far away! And even with the occasional splurge, it’s still possible to travel without spending an absurd amount of money, as you guys have proven for a while now :)

      And congrats on your Mongol Rally adventure!

  21. Great article Earl. You go into great detail and it’s much appreciated. You may say that you don’t travel in luxury, but to me sleeping on a hammock of the coast somewhere is as luxurious as it gets! lol Keep up the good work!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ronald – That’s an excellent point! Being in a hammock on an island somewhere is absolutely luxury to me as well. I wouldn’t trade that for a Four Seasons any day :)

  22. Ozzy says:

    Earl. I’m back. How’s it going? I love the post. I was wondering something though. You mention many things here, but skip over traveling by sea and I don’t really mean cruise lines. Any chance you have any experiences or anything?

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ozzy! Welcome back! I really don’t know much about traveling long distances by sea but from what I’ve heard, it’s quite expensive unless you are able to find work as a crew member on a sailboat or yacht. Catching rides with cargo ships and stuff like that costs quite a bit of money I believe as long gone are the days when you can just show up on a pier and hope to catch a free ride!

    • Steve C says:

      Ozzy,
      I’m not Earl, but I’ve had some experience with traveling by sea.

      First, there are many long distance ferry’s, huge ocean going ships that ply between nations that generally cost very little. You’ll find them in Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

      Second, ships and ferry’s that ply the rivers of the world. I once hitch hiked on one of the long, skinny cargo ships on the Rhine River. I stood on the side of the river in Koblenz, Germany, stuck out my thumb and was picked up within a half hour on a Dutch ship carrying cargo up the river to Heidelberg. I ended up being on the ship for a whole month, working and earning money for two of the four weeks while sailing back down the river to Antwerp, Belgium. I know this is very rare, but it’s still evidence that it can be done!

      So, go out there and ask around by the docks or stand by a river and see where it takes you. You just never know.

  23. Great post Earl! Very thorough and excellent examples. I’m in SE Asia right now and also keeping my $1000 a month budget — and I have not once stayed in a dorm room. And you are so right about flights — I paid $40 for a flight from Phu Quoc to Ho Chi Minh City. It would have cost me $25 to take the ferry and bus ride totalling almost 20 hours. Instead got there in 1 hour and 10 minutes. :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Raymond – That’s the perfect example of the benefits of these budget airlines out there. I was just talking with someone yesterday about budget airlines and she was shocked because she never even knew that they existed around the world. And it makes sense because you have specifically look for them online in order to find them. But once you find them, you can often save yourself a lot of time and money, as was the case with your trip in Vietnam!

      Keep on enjoy yourself and safe travels over there!

  24. md says:

    Hey Early, Thank you for inspiring me.

    I’m traveling around Europe for the first time ever and I’ve met some fascinating people. I don’t mind the big dorms because they usually offer something to do. It’s impossible to get bored. I do find that every few days I prefer something a little more private so that I can get some real sleep.

    Food is the same every where. If you go looking for the Hard Rock Cafe you’ll spend money. If you go to the grocery store you can prepare yourself a pretty decent meal.

    • Earl says:

      @md: Glad to hear you’re enjoying Europe and you’re right about the dorms. There is always something to do and someone to talk to when staying in hostels, which is something I do miss. But at the same time, I need to get my work done and that is considerably harder to accomplish while staying in a hostel! And your mention of grocery stores is a good point that I failed to bring up. That is one way to keep expenses way down and there are plenty of fresh local items to buy in such stores all over the world.

  25. Traveling really can be a bargain and I wish more people understood that. People always think it’s expensive to travel and like you have illustrated they are totally wrong. Even if you travel the way I do, in poverty (not by choice lol), you still get used to it. And from my experience I have found that the less money I have, the more adventures I have. The more I am forced to handle situations and afterwards gain confidence from them. To tell you the truth though, I can’t wait for my travel blog to start making some money, even if it’s only 10$ a day, that way I can travel properly. I will then be able to do all the travel things I always miss out on. I used to think I was too cool for all the touristy stuff to try and justify my poverty, but I actually want to do ride the Elephants! lol, I want to take those river tours and go to cool castles. In any case, bottom line is, whether you have 0$ 500$ or 1000$ a month, you can definitely go traveling.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Leif – That’s a good goal you’ve set for yourself. Every bit of income counts and helps make traveling a little easier of course. And there’s nothing wrong at all with wanting to visit castles!!

  26. Spend a 1000 per month is definitely possible! I spent less in Mexico and was eating 5 times per day and sometimes slept in 5 star hotels :)

  27. Audrey says:

    Thanks for the shout out to our humorous post on cheap hotel rooms. I find the “budget” is a relative word – I recently was asking a tour company for help and said we wanted budget accommodation. The quote came back with 4* hotels. Often when I ask for advice on cheap/budget places on Twitter, the responses are what I would consider luxury. But everyone has different comfort levels and what makes them happy – it’s important to travel in a way that fills your needs. Otherwise, you’ll be miserable and that’s not worth it either.

    Like you, we prefer to forego some comforts in order for our money to go further. Often, I feel like the exchange provides us with more experiences, interactions and stories through the process. And we often eat extremely well by spending a fraction of what other people do, just by eating street food or finding the local restaurants that match local wages. I sometimes laugh when our friends back home ooh and aah over our food pictures of dishes that cost $1 – they can’t believe it.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Audrey – It’s the same as if you do a Google search for budget hotels in a particular destination. The results are almost always well beyond my budget! But like you said, and I think this is important for all travelers to realize, the goal of every traveler should be to find that travel style that makes them the happiest. It sometimes seems as if there is a bit of pressure for people to travel a certain way or on a certain budget when there should never be any pressure of that sort at all.

      Of course, no matter how much a person wants to spend while on the road, it would be hard for anyone to turn down $1 meals of undeniably yummy local food!

  28. Liv says:

    I imagine that whether or not you plan to drink a lot of alcohol on your trip will make a significant difference to your budget too.

    I love that you were woken by sprinklers Earl – hee hee!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Liv – Good point…alcohol does play a role in one’s expenses and for some, I guess that can become one of the more major expenses while traveling. On the other hand, if alcohol becomes a big enough expense, then such travelers will probably save money on transportation because of all the times that they wake up late and miss the bus :)

  29. Interesting! I call this “budgetitis syndrome” and even I can get carried away with it. What I also find is that if I try to be so hardcore, I end up overspending in other arenas of travel just to overcompensate.

    When you do this against your will, you are risking missing out on the beauty of the moment, which is a shame. I’m similar to you mate, I will “rough it” on transport and accommodation but it’s ALL about the food when it comes to treats :D

    • Earl says:

      Hey Anthony – Forcing the budget lifestyle (whatever that word means to a particular traveler) is never a good idea. If we are not able to find our comfortable style of travel then we run the risk of traveling around unhappy and frustrated all the time. If someone needs to spend more money to be happy while on the road, then that’s what they should do. Even if it means their trip will be shorter than planned, it is almost certain that it will be much more rewarding.

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  31. Hi Earl.
    Great post. I’m currently travelling around south east Asia at the moment on around 350pounds per month which is plenty, and I wouldn’t say I’m living in poverty. It’s interesting that many people seem to think travel is such an expensive, luxury thing to do when in reality it’s really not! A few years ago, myself and a few friends travelled through scandanavia from Finland to the Netherlands for 1 month. We hitchiked the whole way (paying people in drawings with personalized notes) and used the Hospitality Club/ Couch Surfing for accommodation. In return we’d cook for the people we were staying with. Despite Scandanavia being a pretty expensive part of the world, we managed to do it pretty cheaply :)

    • Earl says:

      Hey Clare – You’ve provided such a good example of how a seemingly expensive travel destination (Scandinavia) can actually be done on the cheap. And even better, you wanted to give back to the people who helped make it a cheaper trip along the way. I have no doubt that it must have been such a wonderful adventure as a result, especially considering all of the people you must have met and interacted with.

      If you can travel through Scandinavia on a budget traveler’s budget, then you could travel anywhere for that amount!

  32. ayngelina says:

    I can vouch that Latin America can be done for that price. In Mexico and Central America I was traveling how I liked and not coming close to $1000/month.

    Colombia was a bit tighter due to the nightlife as was Chile and Argentina but that was still all about $1000/month. It balanced out with other countries as I settled down in once place in Ecuador, and only spent $400 that month.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Ayngelina – Thank you for that info about Latin America! It’s also good to point out, as you did, that things tend to balance out. While not every country can be visited for the same amount of money, there will be dirt cheap destinations and more expensive destinations and in the end, the average money spent can easily remain well under $1000 per month. And I didn’t realize Ecuador was that cheap!!

  33. Greg says:

    I’m currently planning for $1250 USD/month for a trip to SEAsia this coming summer/fall. Of course I plan on trying what I can to keep below that amount per month. I want to see how long I can travel on a limited budget, look for work and ways to sustainably move from place to place and find more inspiration for my writing. I like that you take effort to outline what you manage within your budget. It helps quell my mind that I’ll be able to easily manage my trip well within my budget. I’ve stayed in some pretty bad (comparably) places but at the time was glad for a roof and soft spot to sleep. Have you ever stayed anywhere you’ve been really sketched out by?
    -Greg

    • Earl says:

      Hey Greg – As long as you’re not looking to stay in large hotel chains, you’ll have no problem at all staying well under your budget in SE Asia. You’d be able to halve that amount and still travel quite well in most of those countries. And I have stayed in a couple of places that could only be classified as the worst of the worst. One was a closet in a small town in rural Bangladesh. It was literally a closet and I had to sleep with my legs up the wall and there were always sketchy people hanging outside of my ‘door’, including a older prostitute who would never leave me alone.

      And then there was a hotel I stayed in while in Kabul that was covered in fresh, red stains all over the floor, mattress and walls, with thousands of flies in the room, trash everywhere, the most dusty, torn mattress I’ve ever seen and a share bathroom next door that was filled with human waste all over the floor and was simply unusable. I actually had to walk outside the hotel, down the street, around the corner, down a couple of small alleys and into a public bath house in order to shower or use the toilet!

  34. Phil says:

    Hey Earl,
    Great post — entertaining an illuminating. Hopefully it will help dispel some of the myths about budget travel. A lot of people really don’t understand how much you can get on what appears to be a limited budget, especially if you are traveling in developing world areas. I’m also out of the hostel game, but like you said, hotel rooms can still be found for cheap, and there’s also couchsurfing or even short-term apartment rentals, which are often really affordable as well (one doesn’t need to look further than your time in Mexico for evidence of that!).

    • Earl says:

      Hey Phil – Good to hear there’s another traveler who’s moved out of the hostel game! For a minute I thought I was going to come across as snobby :)

      And I assume you’re partly speaking from your experience in Africa in terms of budget hotels being affordable. Often times when we think of budget travel we automatically think of hostels and dorm rooms, but there are those other options. The short-term apartment rentals are a great option too, and often keeps expenses way down simply because we end up staying in one place for an extended period of time and don’t have to pay for the transportation involved with always being on the go.

      Thank you as always for your useful input!

  35. Linda, I'd rather be traveling says:

    I think you are so brave! I was spoiled as a “tour rep” but some of my favorite places were where the style was simple. It’s a challenge, an enjoyable one, to do with less. My husband and I will begin our travels in less then 3 years. I enjoy reading from you, keep up the great travel advice. I do have one question. What do you suggest to obtain cash while traveling…., transfer monies for spending? I trust you do not travel with lots of cash or even travel checks, credit cards? With all the stealing of ID, it was one of my concerns. Look forward to your next writing….

    • Earl says:

      Hey Linda – How cool that you’re planning to embark on some travel adventures in a few years! I’ll be curious to hear where you plan to go…

      As for money, I simply use ATMs. I have an online bank account with Capital One bank because they do not charge any fees for international transactions or withdrawals from non-Capital One ATM machines. Also, they have a checking account that will reimburse you for the fees that other banks charge when you take out money. This has proven to be the best option for me as I never have to worry about all of those crazy fees often associated with trying to obtain money while overseas. I also have a credit card from Capital One because that too does not have any fees associated with it. And that’s basically what I use, although I do have a backup bank account as well just in case I can’t access my money for some reason.

      And while it is true that identity theft seems to be quite common these days, I don’t worry too much. I never give my credit card to anyone unless I am able to stand right next to them while they process my payment and I always check my online statements every week to make sure that any charges or cash withdrawals were mine!

  36. Jodi says:

    This is a really well written post which perfectly describes my expectations of budget travel. In 8 days, I’m starting my first backpacking trip, and I plan to do it on a budget. I’ve gathered knowledge from several blogs scattered around the internet, but it’s really nice to finally find a post which summarized everything. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive, bit 90% of the world still thinks so!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Jodi – Only 8 days away from your backpacking adventure! You must be super-excited (which you should be)!

      And I’m sure it feels good to know ahead of time that you won’t have to spend a fortune to achieve your travel goals. You’re right about the majority of people thinking that travel is a pricey thing, but at least you’re in the minority who knows it’s not expensive in the end :)

  37. Even as a couple, my wife and I can often live comfortably on $1000 per month. We try to save expensive items like fine food, wine, live concerts, theatre, etc. for more inexpensive countries, but I don’t think we sacrifice much.

    The best part is that we don’t need to work much. Our life is much simpler, but also richer with a lot of free time.

    • Earl says:

      Hey John – It’s good to hear from someone traveling as a couple as I am quite limited with such experience. And if a couple can travel to many regions of the world for $1000 per month, than a solo traveler will definitely have no problems. And the final two lines you wrote are probably the most important points about traveling on budget. It’s all about the balance and although it may take some getting used to for many people, traveling on budget so that you can work less and free up time to simply enjoy life, is a life formula that should not be underestimated. The focus is often on earning as much money as possible when it should be on enjoying life as much as possible instead!

  38. Christine says:

    The best budget travel is when you figure out a way to travel so that YOU are comfortable–and also within your budget! For me, this means hostels or budget hotels–sometimes a private room, sometimes a dorm, depending on how social I feel and how much I feel like spending. Food is one area where I’ll splurge! I don’t love eating out all the time, so I try to balance it with fruit and veg from markets and grocery store yogurts, etc.–but I do love splurging on a nice meal in a locally well-reviewed restaurant. I don’t think it’s worth it to travel if you’re not willing to spend any money to do anything or see anything: if you’re going to only eat what you like from home and not see the sites and stay in the cheapest room possible…what’s the point?! Need to be able to enjoy it!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Christine – It is indeed all about each individual traveler finding their own style that suits their needs best. And I agree completely about the need to spend money while traveling. It doesn’t have to be much, but at the end of the day, certain things cost money in life and trying to travel without spending anything does not really seem worthwhile. If a person likes food so much (as we both seem to!), then it will only benefit them to spend some money to try out as much of a local cuisine as possible!

  39. scott says:

    Earl,
    Great post, full of useful information and a good description of how you define Budget Travel. Although I prefer a different type of travel, your story clearly shows that nearly anyone can travel the world. My take away is more that no matter how you prefer to travel that it is important to have a budget. I have come across many travelers over the years and I have asked many of them if they set a budget for their trip or are just “winging it”. Surprisingly, many that I’ve talked with are Winging It. Personally I set a budget for every trip I take, sometimes I exceed that budget and other I don’t. The key is to make a budget.

    Thanks for the great post.

    Scott

    • Earl says:

      Hey Scott – Having a budget is definitely important or else it becomes too easy to spend all of your money very quickly. A budget gives us something to think about before deciding whether or not we should make a particular purchase, do a particular activity, etc. That doesn’t mean that we need to follow every dollar we spend, but having a general spending goal per month does help ensure that our spending stays reasonable.

      And as you said, this is a good idea for everyone, whether they prefer to travel on $500 per month or $5000 per month. Excellent points you made!

  40. Maria says:

    Oh My Cheeks hurt from laughing! The things you list that you DO NOT do are knee slapping funny! Really Earl, you just haven’t lived until you’re sitting next to at least 3 goats, buffaloes or armed guerrillas on the first leg and hanging out the back door of the train on the 2nd. Thnx for brightening my day.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Maria – Well, I guess I need to be a little more adventurous! Do you have any suggestions of where I can find such animal and weapon filled transportation? I’m not sure what would be worse, the armed guerrillas or the buffaloes :)

  41. Steve C says:

    You covered the topic well in every aspect. I have traveled on many different trips including a RTW trip on a similar budget by choice. It’s my style.
    I get a kick out of many who live high on the hog while on a vacation. They stay in expensive hotels, eat in expensive restaurants and go on wild shopping sprees. After a couple weeks, they come home exhausted with their credit card accounts maxed out. That’s fun for some.
    Me? I’d rather take that same money and stay for a couple months or more. I’ve always eaten well and although I’ve stayed in some funky little places, they always more than fill the bill for what I require. It’s a way of life and I enjoy it.
    A typical day would be to go out for a walk, wandering around either in town or in the countryside. Stopping to take photos, do a drawing, listen to the sounds, talking with new found friends, write in my journal are all things that don’t cost very much. Take a nap than go out again and do the same thing through the evening. I never think that having a good time requires spending money.
    A thousand bucks a month is more than enough all through Southeast Asia, parts of Africa, Central and South America.
    Being a traveler isn’t for everyone. If you think you are one, make a plan, do your homework, save up your money then take off. It’s good for you!

    • Earl says:

      Hey Steve – Good advice for sure! Everyone has their own travel style and I certainly have no problem at all with however anyone chooses to travel. The main idea is that travel can be affordable even for those who do not have much money at all to spend. As you’ve shown with your own travels, it is quite easy to fill up one’s day with rewarding activities that don’t cost anything at all. I too prefer to walk outside my hotel and go for long walks, never knowing where my day will end up. This is much more appealing to me than taking a bus tour around that same city, even if it means that I miss out on several of the main sights.

      And once more people realize that travel doesn’t need to be expensive, hopefully they’ll get ready to take that step and start exploring the world as well!

  42. TravelingFirefighter says:

    Thanks Earl for yet another good, useful article. If you wouldn’t mind now getting just a tad more specific, that could help quite a few of us further. For example, you are in Thailand and are looking for a “budget” hotel. WHERE EXACTLY do you look? What website(s)? What book? Thank you!

    • Earl says:

      @TravelingFirefighter: Thanks for bringing up those questions! Basically, I tend to do a little research before flying to a country so that I at least know of a particular area that I should head to upon arrival. It could be as simple as reading through the forums on BootsnAll.com, quickly glancing at Hostelbookers.com or if I’m in Southeast Asia, looking at the super-useful Travelfish.org website. On some occasions, especially if it is a long journey to reach my destination, I might book a room for one night in advance so that I don’t have to worry about searching for a room upon arrival. Then I will wake up the following morning and go for a long walk around the area, checking out other places to stay that might be more suitable.

      Generally, finding accommodation can be a challenge only for the first city you visit. After that you’ll meet other travelers who have recommendations of places to stay and so it becomes much easier to know ahead of time where you should go in every town and city you visit. And if you ever find yourself stuck, just jump online, check out Travelfish or Hostelbookers and get the name and address of a couple of places to stay. At least it gives you a starting point and often times, budget accommodation will be bunched together so you don’t have to go very far to find more options.

      Another option is to find an information booth at either the bus station, train station or airport where you can ask for recommendations of where you should head to find cheap accommodation. Often times the staff will try to book a room for you (which is not recommended as it will usually be at an inflated rate and it is always best to check out a place before booking a room when going the budget hotel route) but if you can have them point out on a map where such hotels are located, then you have enough information to take a taxi/bus to that area and begin your search.

      I personally don’t use guidebooks when I travel but of course, that is another option. You don’t have to stay at any places listed but at least such guide books can give you an indication of where the budget hotels/hostels are located in a particular destination. Then you can walk around and choose one that is in the same area but not in the book. Such places are usually cheaper than those listed!

  43. Giselle says:

    Budget travel is what we plan on doing come February 2012.
    $1000 or less is exactly what our budget is per month. Our second stop on our rtw journey is India, we plan on travelling for 2 and a half months through India,
    we hope that our budget will be more like $500 per month (fingers crossed)

    We much prefer budget travel, it immerses us in the true culture of a country,
    we get to be close to the locals and make new friends.
    We also plan on couchsurfing, so that will save us some hostel/hotel expenses.

    • Earl says:

      Hey Giselle – You should have no problem keeping to that budget in India! I generally spend around $500 per month their myself and I rarely pay attention to what I’m spending over there. And if you do some proper research, you can find great budget hotels for much less than $10 per night. Such cheap travel in these parts is why many travelers find it hard to leave India once they get there :)

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