Thursday, October 20th, 2016

The Truth About Extreme Budget Travel


Kate in Senggigi

What does budget travel mean to you?

For some of my friends, it means downgrading to a three-star hotel instead of a luxury property. For others, it’s giving up their private rooms for hostel dorms.

Budget travel is unique to everyone. The broadest definition of budget travel is being financially conscious during your travels.

I asked my Facebook fans a question: how low-budget would you go? Hostel dorms? Couchsurfing? Never eating in a restaurant, ever? They had a lot of great answers and I’ve included them throughout this post.

Leon Nicaragua

Extreme Budget Travel

I define extreme budget travel — or what I like to call traveling “on the hobo” — as traveling while spending the least amount of money possible.

“I had some Couchsurfers come stay with me that are doing a long term trip with a $0 budget for accommodation. If they can’t find CS hosts they camp. One was sleeping in temples in Myanmar. He said his average is $5/day but oftentimes only spends $3. They also only hitchhike everywhere.” –Nathan

Accommodation? Free only. Couchsurfing or camping in their own tent or van. Possibly sleeping in churches, temples or mosques. Free lodging via working gigs. Hostel dorms if there’s no other option.

Transportation? Free or very cheap only. Hitchhiking or traveling in their own vehicle. If anything, an occasional bus ride or public transit.

Food? Cheap only. Supermarket fare or cheap street food. No restaurants, ever. Maybe an occasional takeaway kebab.

Attractions? Free only. In cities, walking around and taking photos, enjoying free museums and attractions. In the countryside, hiking and exploring. Forget about paying for a ticket.

How to get by? Working from time to time. WWOOFing, Workaway gigs, working in hostels or bars, busking, random gigs along the way.

And while there are occasional exceptions, the above is largely how extreme budget travelers spend their time on the road.

Here are some examples:

We Visited Over 50 Countries In Our Van Spending Just $8 Per Day

This is How a Guy Traveled Through Southeast Asia On Just $10 Per Day

I just came back from a 5-months travel. I’ve done hitch-hiked over 15 000km, and have been living as a homeless for pretty much 4 months.

Amman Skyline

The Pros of Extreme Budget Travel

Travel longer. See more. The less you spend, the more time you have to see everything the world has to offer. The price you would pay for a midrange two-week trip could grow into a multi-month extravaganza when traveling on the hobo.

Enjoying the same sights at a fraction of the price. Nobody charges you to walk through the piazzas of Florence, nor do you pay anything to enjoy the white sand beaches of Boracay. It feels awesome to look around and know that you paid far less than everyone else!

Expensive destinations aren’t off-limits. One thing I noticed was that extreme budget travelers don’t shy away from expensive countries. You find just as many extreme budget travelers in Norway and Australia as you do in Laos and India.

“Curiously enough it’s easier to spend less in expensive countries. It’s easier to say no to a $25 hotel room and camp, than to say no to a $5 hotel room and camp. In Europe I’d go camping and couchsurfing all the time out of necessity, but here in Asia I’d happily pay for accommodation, because it’s cheaper. But of course that adds up and in the end I pay more. I remember spending 6 months in the US and Canada and I spend $0 on accommodation. :D” –Meph248 on Reddit

Having more local experience. You’ll get to know locals more intimately, whether it means couchsurfing in locals’ homes, working with locals, hitchhiking with locals, or shopping at the local markets. Plenty of travelers will pass through the same town without having a conversation with someone who wasn’t a waiter or hostel employee.

The time of your life — on very little cash. You’ll have great stories to tell your kids someday!

“I did $5 a day while touring the Balkans for a month. I managed!
-Free lodging and food by volunteering at a hostel (even had my own room at the top floor)
-Free private beach access through a guy I was seeing
-Free drinks every night at the bar across the street because the owner swore I was Serena Williams

That about covers all bases! Lol” –Gloria, The Blog Abroad

The possibility of extending your trip indefinitely. If you pick up enough paid gigs in between, you can keep on traveling forever. This especially works well if you pick up gigs, either officially or under the table, in high-paying countries like Australia.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

The Pitfalls of Extreme Budget Travel

Reduced safety. If you don’t have funds allocated for accommodation or private transportation, what happens when none of the Couchsurfing hosts in town appeal to you? What happens if your bus is delayed, you show up in Tegucigalpa late at night, and you can’t afford a cab to your accommodation?

Not having money for instances like these sacrifices your safety.

“I would never want to absolutely rely on couchsurfing for the whole of my trip. I couchsurf where I can but when I can’t find a decent host I book a hostel. I think when you get too desperate to couchsurf you end up pushing the safety limit a bit and staying with dubious people.” –Britt, Adventure Lies in Front

Just how bad can the result be? Read this heartbreaking post by Trish on Free Candie.

Missing cool activities and social events. You meet a cool group of fellow travelers and they’re all going whitewater rafting. They want you to join — but you can’t do that. And sure, you can walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge if the $300 Bridgeclimb is out of your price range, but would you go to Leon, Nicaragua, and skip $30 volcano boarding? What about a $5 wine tasting in a Tuscan town? And even if it’s just a $4 hostel shuttle to the beach, which all your friends from the hostel are taking, you’re stuck on the much longer 25-cent local bus.

Less exposure to local cuisine. Yes, there’s fresh produce and markets and supermarkets can be their own adventure, but if you’re making pasta in the hostel every night, you’re missing out on one of the best parts of traveling — the food.

“As a student in EU having a long-term schengen visa on a third-world passport, I think I have hit the bottom after sleeping at airports, night buses, railway stations, common areas of hostels. taking pictures of food in local markets and then coming back to cook pasta in hostel kitchen :-(” –Anshul

No backup savings. In the event of an emergency — say, you need to fly home for the funeral of a dear friend — you don’t have the cash to do so. Most of the time, travel insurance will only reimburse you if it’s a member of your immediate family.

Isolation and discomfort. If you’re not comfortable in your accommodation, you have fewer options and may be far from the city center or tourist zone. If you’re limited with money, you can’t just pick up and leave — you might need to stick it out for at least a night.

“Ive couchsurfed once and they tried to convert me to their religion so i just left.” –Christipede

No alone time. If you’re a natural extrovert, this probably won’t be an issue, but traveling on the hobo requires you to socialize with lots of people on a daily basis, especially if you’re couchsurfing. If you’re an introvert, you’ll have difficulties carving out alone time to relax your mind. (Camping solo is one way around this, however.)

Mooching off others. Conversely, depending on others day after day can wear away at you. Sure, you can help cook and clean, or play music, and you know you’ll pay it back to other travelers someday, but you might get uncomfortable having strangers host and feed you for free on a regular basis.

“It’s funny. I’m open to going extremely low budget. As long as I can be self-reliant about it. Meaning I’d rather sleep (legally or semi-legally) on an abandoned beach or in a corner of a park than ask for someone’s couch. This is strange, I know, since the spirit of travel is tied so intrinsically into the good will of others. I guess I’d rather rely on others for their company (and their rum!) and then slip off to my tent for the night.” –Bring Limes

Resentment. Is this the trip you had in mind? Is this even the kind of trip you’d want? Wouldn’t you rather be in a nice hotel room, eating in restaurants, doing cool activities, and not having to work every now and then? After weeks of depriving yourself, over and over, you could end up feeling resentful. It might not be worth the savings.

“I feel like [extreme budget travel] would detract from the travel experience itself. If I was wrapped up in my head worrying about money and a budget the whole time it would take away from experiences. I certainly don’t travel luxuriously, but I choose to travel within my means without missing out on things.” –Megan, Forks and Footprints

Blue Night Shadows

A Lot of People Think They Can Do This

I’m an avid Redditor but don’t comment often. What makes me comments are posts like these:

“Me and my cousin are going on a trip in 2015 for 16 months around SE Asia. we plan on visiting 19 countries in that time: Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri lanka, Tawain, Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan

We dont really know what months to go to the different countries and theres not much info online about it, so im asking you we kind of want summer all the time around. Also what places should we see in different countries? Im thinking that 12k USD will be enough for this trip? no including air fare, is that close to accurate?”

Oh God.

First of all, no, $12K will not be nearly enough. I really hope he meant $12K each, because even $24k for two would not be enough for a trip like that, especially with countries like Bhutan and Japan on the list. The only way it would be possible would be through extreme budget travel, and just the idea of traveling that way for 16 months makes me want to curl into a ball and hide.

I get emails all the time from travelers who want to travel as long and as much as possible, so they squish their budget down to the bare minimum. They tell me that yeah, they really want to see as much as possible, so they’re going to couchsurf and camp and they’ll be able to stretch their trip to as long as possible. I give them advice, wish them luck, tell them to buy travel insurance.

Some of them end up traveling this way — and have a fabulous, life-changing trip. Others end up miserable and return home much sooner than planned.

My worry about these travelers is that they won’t end up enjoying themselves on what should be the trip of a lifetime. I believe that far more people think they can handle long-term extreme budget travel than can actually handle this style of travel on a long-term basis.

It doesn’t help that traveling on the hobo is romanticized in popular culture, complete with scenes of waking up on a farm in Provence, harvesting olives all day, then having huge dinners with wine every night before hopping on a train to the next idyllic destination.

In short, it’s fun to travel on the hobo if you’re doing it for fun. It’s not so fun if you’re doing it because you can’t afford anything else.

Bike Lady in Ferrara

Special Concerns for Women Travelers

I feel like there needs to be an asterisk when talking about extreme budget travel as a woman. Just like there needs to be an asterisk with almost every kind of travel.

If you haven’t read Why Travel Safety Is Different For Women, please read it now.

In that piece, I talk about how women are attuned to the risk of sexual assault every minute of every day. It never leaves our minds, and each day we make dozens of micro-decisions for the sake of self-protection. For that reason, we need to be extra careful when it comes to extreme budget travel.

“extreme budget travel is a luxury that men can have I think. as a woman, I always need to have a little extra to get myself out of a bad guesthouse or take taxis rather than walk. I’m sure some women have managed it, but i wouldn’t feel safe on a low low budget. I usually budget $50/day with an extra $500/month of travel, although I rarely use it all. it gives me enough cushion to get a single room rather than share a dorm with just one man, etc.” –Lily

Camping alone or sleeping outside leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Staying in a sketchy guesthouse with a badly locking door leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Hitchhiking with strangers leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Taking public transportation in a rough city at night leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Accepting food and drinks prepared by Couchsurfing hosts leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

That doesn’t mean that women can’t do extreme budget travel — I know women who do it and love it. I know that some take extra precautions, like carrying pepper spray and a knife. And even then, many of them have done so safely; most of them have only had a few scary but ultimately non-dangerous incidents, like I have.

But it doesn’t mean that the risk isn’t there. You need to evaluate that risk closely.

Kyoto Apartment

It’s Not For Everyone

If you want to try out extreme budget travel and you think you would enjoy it, go for it! I’m happy for people to travel in any way they’d like, as long as it’s not harmful to others.

There are plenty of people for whom extreme budget travel is a great choice. And they’re a surprisingly diverse group of people.

My issue with it is that I think a lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to live this way on a long-term basis. In short, it’s not for as many people who think it’s for them. So many people attempt it, burn out, and leave their trip with regrets.

Costa Brava Mountains

Short-Term Extreme Budget Travel

What if you only did the extreme budget travel thing for a shorter time? Say, for a two-week trip or just for a month or two out of a yearlong RTW trip? What if you just did it when you traveled in Australia and went back to spending more money in Southeast Asia?

I think that’s actually a very smart idea. This way, you get to try it out, reduce costs in the most expensive destinations, and see if you are interested in doing it long-term.

“I don’t mind dorms for cheap travel, although a few weeks is the max I could do that without at least a few nights in a private. I’m planning to couch surf and WWOOFing a lot in Japan, since I want to go for a while without spending thousands and thousands. I can’t live on that low though- it’s boring to only have enough to eat and stay in the hostel!” –Alexandria

Marigolds in Pienza

How to Maintain Your Sanity While Traveling on the Hobo

Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Walking a mile out of the way for loaves of bread that cost 20 cents less is the definition of insanity. Instead, reduce your big expenses like accommodation and transportation, or stick to cheap countries.

Travel slower. Spending more time in fewer destinations will majorly cut down your costs. When you spend longer in a destination, you’ll get to know the cheaper places, you’ll spend less time sightseeing, and your transportation costs will be lower.

Stick to cheaper regions — not just cheaper countries. Most people consider Thailand a cheap country but don’t take into account that the beach resorts in the south are MUCH more expensive than the rest of the country. Stick to rural, less-visited areas for lower costs. In Thailand, you’ll find the cheapest prices in the north.

Set up a separate bank account for splurges. Use it for special activities like seeing Angkor Wat, getting scuba certified, or having a restaurant meal in a fabulous food region.

Plan on getting private accommodation every few weeks or so. Just a few days in a room to yourself will make you feel so much better, especially if you’re an introvert.

Have a re-entry fund saved up and don’t touch it. This is money to cushion your return home. How much do you need? Depends on your situation. Some people like to have enough to secure a new apartment and pay for a few months of frugal expenses; others just need a thousand dollars or so. The choice is yours.

Don’t scrimp on travel insurance. Even if you’re committed to spending as little as possible, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you weigh your health against saving money. Not to mention that it will save your ass financially in the event that you get severely injured and need an air ambulance to another country. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Leaving the Generalife

One Last Tip: Check Your Privilege

When you’ve been traveling on the hobo for awhile, there will be dark days. You’ll be down to your last few dollars and unable to eat anything but rice and pasta. You’ll be tired. You’ll be lonely. You’ll be treading water and you won’t know when you’ll earn enough to leave town.

This happens to all travelers. We all go through tough times, but extreme budget travelers are additionally vulnerable because of their lack of money.

Even when you’re at your lowest, it’s important to remember that you hold enormous privilege. You’re living this lifestyle by choice, and you’ve experienced far more than the vast majority of the world will ever be able to.

Don’t refer to yourself as poor. Don’t take food donations meant for the needy. And for the love of God, don’t compare yourself to the homeless.

Instead, practice gratitude each day. Be kind. Use what you’ve learned to create a better life for everyone you meet, both on the road and at home.

And if you choose to settle down for some time — whether it’s just for a few weeks or something more permanent — open up your home to vagabonds like yourself. Feed them, give them a place to sleep, show them your favorite spots in town. It’s time to repay the kindness that you’ve been gifted on your journey.

Have you ever tried extreme budget travel? Did you enjoy it?The truth about extreme budget travel


71 Responses to “The Truth About Extreme Budget Travel”
  1. Anna says:

    I stayed in hostels while studying abroad in Europe over a decade ago and decided that I won’t travel again until I can afford a proper hotel (bed, window, separate bathroom facilities in a safe part of town). I also dont need fancy meals, but I 100% agree that local food is an essential part of travel, and you just dont get that if you’re popping into a grocery store for some ramen and bananas that you’d eat in your hometown.

  2. Annika says:

    Love that last notion to remember that you are indeed not homeless and that one must be grateful. My ‘problem’ with extreme budget travel would be that I may not get the full experience of a country – there are just certain sights and things to do that belong to a trip experience. I don’t simple want to travel as much as possible and as cheap as I can if that means skipping a lot of great experiences to be had. That to me defies the purpose of travel as well!

  3. Lauren says:

    I’ve been travelling Western Europe for the best part of 6 weeks on a tight budget of £200. I’ve hitchhiked, couchsurfed and work exchanged my way through 12 cities and 6 countries. After 5 weeks I’ve felt it, especially now that I’m down to my last few euros but I wouldn’t change the experience for the world. Travelling like I do makes me feel like I can do so much more back home. I’ve never spent so little in such a large amount of time and I’m planning to do the same in Japan whilst spending money in Thailand. The only thing I resent is being unable to see more art galleries or having the money to put my luggage in storage instead of carrying it around all day.

  4. Rebecca says:

    What fantastic advice! I’ll be honest and sound dumb but it never even occurred to me to mix it up, I had the “go big or go home” in my mind but actually you could have the best of both worlds if that’s what you wanted.

  5. Amanda says:

    Extreme budget travel definitely is not for me. If I’m spending money to travel, I want to have enough to travel the way that I want – I naturally just enjoy the experience more that way!

    But more power to the people who can travel on the hobo! It’s just not for me.

    One thing that I DON’T agree with, though, is the extreme budget travelers who try to convert you and tell you that you aren’t really having a “real” or “authentic” travel experience unless you’re sleeping in temples and hitching with locals and eating street food. That’s not true, either – there’s no one “right” travel style; only the travel style that’s right for YOU.

    • Noelle says:

      I agree with you – if I’m going to go on vacation I’d rather just spend some money to really enjoy myself. That’s half of my motivation to work, after all!

  6. Noelle says:

    I’m too much of a comfort creature to do extreme budget travel – I really like to plan my trip and know I have a reliable place to sleep and can afford to get around transportation wise. The budget travel part of my trip is hostels and eating some meals from grocery/convenience/take away places. I also always try to find some cheap activities to do (free museums, walking tours). To each their own though!

  7. Zascha says:

    I’m all for budget traveling. In fact, I promote it on my blog.
    However there are certainly limits. I’ll stay in hostels – I love hostels – but I want some nice, clean ones with a good social atmosphere. Those hostels tend to cost a couple of dollars extra, but I need the comfort. I can’t do extreme budget traveling!

  8. Liz says:

    Wow, this is very thought provoking. I travel on a budget, but I agree that a budget just means there’s a set amount of money for the trip. I believe that a lot is missed through extreme budget travel and as an introvert I could never do it. I love finding free and cheap activities and off-the-beaten-path ways to see cities, but I don’t think I could commit to many of the “extreme budget” norms.

  9. This is a really good and comprehensive overview and I’m glad you call it “extreme budget travel”, because that’s what a lot of long-term travelers end up doing but you are so right, sustaining it for a long time is TOUGH, and is not for everyone.

    My first big travel experience was backpacking Europe with a friend at 25. We did 2 months and spent probably about $3500 each. Honestly, that was pretty darn budgetty. We couchsurfed a bit, but mostly just chose the cheapest hostels. We cooked lots of pasta, pre-gamed in our hostel with cheap-ass wine before heading out for the night, and opted for free activities the majority of the time. Oh, it was a wonderful trip, but I laugh now thinking of how extreme some of the budgeting was.

    When you have to be so tight with money, you can end up making mistakes too. We were trying so hard to save that we hopped on a tram in Prague “just to ride one stop” and didn’t bother buying tickets. ah, the folly of youth. Of course we were asked almost immediately for tickets, which we could not produce, were kicked off the tram, and fined about $90 USD. So…needless to say, an expensive mistake brought on by our financial desperation.

    Now that I’m almost 30, I definitely know I need more comfort than I used to. I also can’t handle the noise and crowded hostel dorms as well in this day and age. I love the tips about slower travel to reduce costs –this is a big one for my fiance & me– and would add housesitting to that list. That’s a great option for some longer term stays in one location.

  10. Britt says:

    I love how you put this post together, especially the aspects about safety. Also what a heartbreaking post on the dangers of couchsurfing- better make sure my mum never finds that one.

    It’s funny but I couchsurf quite a lot but I’d never ever say I’m an extreme budget travel. I worked 7 days a week for 2.5 years IN AUSTRALIA to save for this trip so I can’t say that I don’t have enough in a budget to afford hostels for every night of my trip, or to not have to cook for myself most nights. Couchsurfing for me is just a way to meet local people and have local experiences rather than hanging out with other Aussies in hostels- I’ve got great stories from the 1 euro beers I got with my couchsurfing hosts in Regensburg because both of them were university students and know where the good deals are.

    Or the three days I spent in the countryside in Austria with a couchsurfing friend’s parents who cooked me amazing Austrian food. Sure the money saving aspect is great- if I have a couchsurfing host it means I can justify a splurge on a nice meal, like the 38 euro degustation I had in Granada because I saved 40 euros on a hostel for those three nights. To be honest if I was using couchsurfing just because I was an extreme budget traveller it would make me sad- there are lots of activities I’ve done with my couchsurfing hosts that I possibly wouldn’t be able to do if I was trying to save money.

    But that said it works for some people- just not me! I’ll still couchsurf (where its safe) but I’ll also spend way tooooo much money on food (of course I blew my whole Spain food budget like everyday because of Iberico haha).

  11. I actually quite enjoy travelling like this, I guess I’ve rarely had an opportunity to do so otherwise so i don’t know the alternative. It’s a challenge though- I find comfortable life pretty unfulfilling after that.

  12. Emily says:

    I had an unpleasant experience with an extreme budget traveler once in Serbia. I booked a flight from Prague to Zagreb that stopped in Belgrade for 20 hours (it was the cheapest flight available and I thought it would be cool to see another country). At my hostel, I was mocked for choosing to fly vs. take a bus–apparently, I was “so American” and I just wanted to spend money needlessly. Actually, I flew because there were no buses running when I wanted to travel and I had a limited timeline to see Croatia.
    Then, I was mocked further when I wanted to go out for a typical Serbian meal. For those who don’t know, Serbia is extremely cheap. They even tried to convince me not to go because they considered it a waste of money! I finally said I would go by myself but they ended up tagging along and we had a GREAT meal.
    Needless to say, I think extreme budget travelers who feel they are better than others for seeing another country on the hobo are really missing out and aren’t adding to the travel experiences whatsoever.

  13. Even though I have a lot of respect for those who can travel on such a small budget, I could not and would not ever do it. Not that I favour luxury; but basic comfort and safety are absolutely non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned – not to mention private space (I call it the only child syndrome). I’m also close to 30 years old, which means it’s not my first rodeo; I know what my limits are, and I know better than to disregard them.

    I would much prefer to stay at home, save more money, and have the trip I dreamed of instead of pinching every cent and end up crying in the street because I can’t afford a coffee. But kudos to those who can manage to see so many countries on such a small budget!

  14. Thanks for the mention Kate! Great post! Really great way to lay it all out on the table. Bet you’re feeling like an extreme budget traveler sleeping on a duvet on the floor 😉

    I think budget travel can be good if done right. If you allow yourself the financial flexibility to still be able to do the things you want and see the things you want but making conscious, informed decisions when it comes to food or accommodations or transportation. I feel that some experiences complete your travels and without them you don’t really actually get to know a place.

    Welcome to NY girl!

  15. I’m a budget traveler, but I term it “grown-up budget traveling”. I want my own space when I go places, so I know I could never couchsurf or stay in a hostel. I enjoy street food and shopping the markets when I go places, but I also tend to pick some splurges when eating out, because it’s the best part of going new places for me.

    I will always it up the free attractions and activities when I travel, but not exclusively. I use them to stretch my budget and do things that most travelers don’t always tend to experience. Sometimes those are the best memories from a trip, but sometimes I’m glad that I didn’t pay for them, because they can be lame 🙂

    This is a great perspective though, since it’s totally honest for those that think nomad travelers have a glamorous lifestyle or that you have to be extreme to actually afford to go where you want.

  16. Lovely post Kate!

    Yes, I’ve done extreme budget travel when I was young and in my 20’s. And it was great! Mind you, I always had emergency money hidden away and two credit cards.

    And, as you say, I did it for fun. I always do. If not, why do it! Travelling is a life-time experience not an experiment and when I look back, I have loads of really cool and interesting stories to tell my young son. Yes, I’ve slept in a casino. Yes, I’ve taken a bus-coach from Berlin to London (‘cos it was cheaper than flying in those days) and all because I was home-sick and I wanted to go to England for just 24 hours and hear a proper English voice! Yes, I went to Prague and spent nothing in a month ‘cos I used to live there and still had local friends who wouldn’t let me pay for anything and who knew “everyone” so I was always on the “guestlist” etc, but even then I would take everyone out for a slap-up meal every now and then and pick up the bill.

    Last year, my son and I took the bus-coach from Estonia to Germany. It took 26 hours but my husband flew home lol! I wanted to know what it would be like. It was tiring but such a lot of fun so we kept sending selfies to everyone we knew on how disgusting but happy we looked!

    Now of course, I don’t do extreme budget anymore ‘cos I take a lot of electrical stuff with me, I have a tween who needs a clean bed, WIFI and good food, and a German husband who trusts my judgement!
    p.s. I still take long bus or train rides every now and then because I like reading lol!!!

  17. great post! I’ve done several types of budget travelling, but not really the extreme one with couch surfing and hitching! It meant hostels not hotels when I was younger, supermarket food not restaurants, souvenirs over dinner , 30 h on the train instead of a plane etc. But I’m older now and have more money and like to spend a bit more now:)

  18. Audrey says:

    My perception of budget travel has definitely changed with age. On my first backpacking trip to Europe my idea of budget travel was paying $12 for a hostel bed in a shared dorm. Fast forward almost 10 years later, and I’m happy to snag a $50 AirBnB for what I think is a budget! I couldn’t hack camping every night and hitchhiking across countries – I respect people who can, but it’s not for me.

  19. Neil says:

    Thanks for a well though out, well researched and well written post. I appreciate how balanced your treatment of the subject is. I think that travel is it’s own reward and that any way someone can figure out how to leave home and have new experiences is worth it, but as you say, for the short term. If they become as enamored with travel as we are, then the next step is to figure out how to do it long term. That takes a different mind set, proper planning, and an escape plan. There are so many places in the world where we can live like locals and spend very little. Instead of tourist attractions, have fun the way the locals do. In other words, long term travel is more like living your life in a new place. That can be tremendously rewarding and lots of fun. And when the travel itch comes, just do it again some place else. I believe that this is a way to do sustainable travel, but of course, it does require the ability to have some money coming in or a small bank account.

  20. Kathryn says:

    I could never do it. Even staying in a hostel dorm is something I could never do. Hearing other people sleep – ick!

    After 7 months of travel, I’ve got to the point where I realise even semi-budget travel is not good for me. I had been tending to pick the lower budget Airbnbs and then not being happy. But hey, I work while I travel and need the space for that so if I’m making more money staying in a more expensive place then it is actually more “budget” than going with rock bottom prices.

  21. Vida says:

    Great tips. Travel and exploring the world is great fun. Even though traveling on a budget may be appealing to some, I think balance is a great thing. One can well prepare and save up to have a much more enjoyable time, wherever they travel to. That’s my 2cs.

  22. Hey, this is a great, really comprehensive piece. I’ve never gone super hobo on a trip but travelling cheap is great. I now find hotels quite impersonal and prefer when you meet hosts (I even got a happy new year text from one of them 6months after my trip). I’m attempting lots of budget weekends around Europe this year so it will be interesting to do it in a more expensive region.

    Anyway, I really like the post and your blog generally. Keep up the good work!

  23. Alice says:

    Really interesting post, thankyou, and such an awful story from Trish. I hope she does come back to London (my hometown) and own it one day. Proper low budget travel isn’t really for me – one of my favourite things to do when travelling is to eat out in all the local restaurants! I am quite happy to go low budget when I have to – ie in off-the-beaten-track places where you can only stay in really cheap hotels / camp but I always like the first night back somewhere with a proper bed! I think I’m happy to travel more often, for less time, on a more comfortable budget 🙂

  24. Rhiannon says:

    I’ve read this post so many times over the last couple of days!
    Such a good read and definitely something to think about before setting off on a big trip.
    Love it 🙂

  25. Sam says:

    Very interesting and informative post for anyone thinking of doing a backpacking or solo trip. I think you have highlighted the pros and cons and answered a lot of questions that many people may have had. I think the extreme budget travelling is great for solo travelling but you need a very open mind. A lot depends on where you are travelling as well.

    Good post!

  26. This was a great, informative post, like always, Kate! Luckily, I never had to retort to extreme budget traveling, because I’m more of a “plan-ahead and save up for the trip” kind of person. I feel a bit iffy about hitchhiking and couch surfing, but it’s just my personal preference.

    When I was 25, me and a good friend took a low cost train trip all over Italy and Switzerland: we flew low cost from Romania to Italy, we purchased Interrail passes discounted for travelers under 25 yo, we spent our nights in cheap hotels and once even on the train from Milan to Zurich, and dined on street food and supermarket fair. It was one of the best trips I ever took, but I doubt that nowadays I would do it again in the same way.

    I guess I got too spoiled now – but the older you get, the less patience you have and comfort plays a much bigger role when planning a vacation.

  27. Angel says:

    Thanks for mentioning privilege and mentioning a woman’s safety!!!! How we forget this! I’m a black woman from London who has traveled to more than 30 countries and it’s simply not possible to depend on others’ kindness in the same manner. I’ve tried hitchhiking on multiple occasions with friends and it’s so difficult to catch a ride as a black person. Once at a hostel in India, when I was using the communal supplies and shared spices, the owner said loudly in front of others, that all “African” guests in the hostel always take and don’t give.

  28. Jill says:

    I’ve never traveled full-time and am now close to retirement age so if I started traveling full-time it would not be extreme budget travel. So I have no experience in this area. But I love the Check Your Privilege part of this article. Wonderfully said!

  29. You’re absolutely right on a point that too extreme budget traveling is not about enjoying the process anymore. Remember me and my husband traveling that way around USA – we used to speak about all the opportunities we were missing all day round instead of enjoying that little we could afford. Of course, only good memories are left afterwards, but anyway I would recommend everyone to have extra money for some really worth it activities! Cause traveling means trying an not only suffering after all!

    Ksenia, (Russia)

  30. Cassandra says:

    I worry that the cons outweigh the pros. When planning I start with the mentality of extreme budgeting, but when I actually arrive it all goes out the window and I spend way more than I planned but it doesn’t seem to bother me because ultimately I have a great time!

  31. Elina says:

    I went to Australia with an extremely tight budget. I stayed in hostel dorms because I wanted to make as many friends as possible, but everything else I did as cheaply as possible. I ate only tuna and cold noodles for dinner for months. I never bought myself a drink when we went out to party. I skipped skydiving, Frasier Island and the Harbour Bridge walk that you mentioned because of money. I had a blast, but at the same time I really, really worried about money all the time.

    My parents actually sent me money sometimes when I most needed it and I will be forever thankful for it. You are right about checking your privilege (although I hate that expression! not what it represents, just the expression) because most of us budget travellers have chosen the lifestyle, and a lot of us have friends and family back home that could pay for our ticket back home if things got that rough.

    Now that I’ve started saving more seriously towards my travels, eating in restaurants and doing fun excursions etc, I am a much happier traveller. I still try to spend as little money as possible, but I also recognise that I can’t do it with a close to non-existent budget.

    This was a very interesting read, thanks for sharing it.

  32. Mary B says:

    For me, it’s all about balance – I stay in hostel dorms and buy yogurt or fruit for breakfast, but I treat myself to a nice dinner or a trip to the local hammam. I’m not going to go to Istanbul and not see the Hagia Sophia because I’m on too strict of a budget. I’d rather stay home and work longer, so I can afford to do more of those things that are important to me. I don’t think you have to do lots of expensive things to experience a place, but if you are eating pasta from the supermarket every single meal you’re probably missing out on quite a bit.

    One issue that I have with extreme budget travel, especially in lower income countries, is that you’re not contributing to the economy AT ALL by being there – in fact, as you pointed out, sometimes you are mooching off of people who have less than you. I’ve heard some travelers brag about being invited to stay in very humble homes and being fed for free, and how much they saved. This in a place where a meal costs less than $5. If you can afford a plane ticket to another country and time off from work, then you have an enormous amount of privilege compared to most people in the world. So don’t take advantage of the kindness of others. Be a contributor.

    That said, I do want everyone to be able to see the world, and I know not everyone has resources to do that in the same way as me… so, do what you have to do, but consider your impact on the places you’re visiting? Clearly my feelings on this are complicated.

  33. Nevin John says:

    Everybody have the passion to see this world with minimum cost. Most of them have less knowledge to travel with minimum cost. This article is really interesting. All the pros and cons of extreme budget travel is mentioned in it. Thanks for this interesting article and fantastic advice.

  34. It takes a special kind of person with a passion for travel to do this. Part of the joy of travel to me is that I am comfortable and it is not stressful. This, to me sounds amazing for many reasons but then I think some of the joy would be taken from it due to the free accommodations.

    Thank you for your tips, I will try to include some of them when I finalize my plans for my Europe backpacking trip!

  35. Lyndsay says:

    I was actually an extreme budget traveller when I started which is why my blog was born. There are pros and cons doing it, during my time I didn’t mind the cons just for the heck of seeing more and stretching everything as a challenge.

    As time passed by, I guess you grow up and even the most random things you do when you’re traveling becomes a routine a.k.a you grow, you somehow mature and change, the way of travel and interests change overtime as well.

    As long as you have fun and makes the travel a worthwhile experience, I think it’s good.

  36. Ryan says:

    Awesome article Kate! I really enjoyed the hybrid theory you mention in Short-Term Extreme Budget Travel. I believe it allows you to save money for really awesome experiences that might not be affordable in your daily budget. I traveled like this in Brazil for 6 weeks and was able to take a helicopter tour of the Iguazu Falls, something I’ll never forget!

  37. Dev says:

    Hey, you have a knack of writing. Very nice and informative article. Keep up the good work 🙂

  38. Caterina says:

    such a useful post!
    have you taken all the photographs in this post?? i am just curious because it is so surreal to me to find a photograph of a few years ago of my small home-town here. (its ferrara, the pic with the cartoleria sociale!!) 😀

    i totally agree with you when you say that lingerie is firstly meant for you!!! perfect excuse for a valentine’s day gift by the way! (:

    xx from Brighton
    Cate ღ kate/idoscope | youtube

  39. Lauren says:

    I’ve traveled like this in some ways. Mostly doing Workaways and wwoofing, but I’ve also dabbled in couchsurfing and even hitchhiking. Personally I found it very comfortable. I did go very slowly and I didn’t put pressure on myself to see EVERYTHING. I traveled in Europe for one year and spent about $2,500 US.

    Basically when I started I had two choices: either go for a couple of weeks and blow all of my money or spend as little as possible and live that way for a long time. I was free of obligations at the time so I chose the latter. It worked beautifully for me.

    The most important thing is to have a backup plan. If you end up some place sketchy and don’t want to stay you should have enough to get out of there and go book a proper room. Apart being able to live abroad with total freedom, I learned that people in the world are usually generous and helpful, and you don’t need as much as you think you do to be happy.

  40. Nina Lee says:

    I understand the importance and perks of budget travel, for sure, but I don’t personally think that I could do it. I like to be comfortable and, as you said, have the trip of a lifetime, which means spending a little extra on those adventure activities or local cuisine. Though I do absolutely love WWOOFING and Work Away because you can save but also truly immerse yourself in the culture, which in the end, is why I travel to begin with.

  41. Joan says:

    I have been following your blog and at first glance it sounds great but after really reading it I find that you are not really traveling alone because you are always with someone. And you talk about budget traveling while you promote a $250 back pack. Getting free drinks from a bartender means only one thing, you are leading him on to believe he is going to be paid back in liberties. Also I have read that you should dress conservatively in other countries as to not offend the locals with what they think of as nudity. You are dressed in tank tops and shorts which are fine for the US as we have no boundaries here but would be very offensive in most countries. So I do not mean to bust your bubble but our ideals are very different. I am sure this comment will never reach the internet but I just wanted to vent my opinions. Take care.

    • Joan, I already replied to you privately by email, but I’ll keep this response for everyone else:

      –Yeah. I write about budget travel in this post. But I’m not solely a budget traveler. I don’t know why you thought that. And $250 for a high quality backpack is excellent value considering that an ill-fitting backpack could ruin your trip and potentially cause health problems down the road.

      –Your free drinks remark is misogynistic and does not warrant a response.

      –Tank tops and shorts are not exclusive to the U.S. They are also culturally appropriate in many places around the world — particularly beaches and resort towns.

  42. Andrew says:

    great post Kate! I try to find a balance. I think it’s important to try and put some money into the local businesses where possible. I am yet to try couch surfing – i think it became popular around the time i felt a bit older. Im 40 now but you know, 40 going on 80! Easier to do budget travel in your twenties I think the older i get the more I look for the occasional luxury.

  43. Claudia says:

    Traveling on an extreme budget is simply not my thing. What is the point of going to Peru and then skip Machu Picchu because it is too expensive to get in? I don’t get it. That isn’t traveling – that is just “moving” from one place to the other. I appreciate budget travel, I really do. But sometimes paying for a local guide, getting a room, paying a ticket etc are FUNDAMENTAL to actually make the experience worth it.

  44. Working on a budget is definitely hard, which is why I take my time to save up and then splurge when I get the chance to. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. It’s truly and eye-opener. But it’s always best to be prepared, don’t you think?

  45. Leigh says:

    Definitely not for me, but I don’t travel full-time. Perhaps if I had done more international travel when I was younger, but now I work 48 weeks a year and save up so that I don’t have to sacrifice anything while traveling – be it a nice meal, souvenir or spa day. I love camping and the outdoors, but if I’m sleeping in a bed, it better have nice sheets, no bugs and privacy!

  46. Dominic says:

    Awesome post! Very detailed and informative. Personally, I don’t think I can live like this on the road. I travel roughly 80-100% for work and am spoiled by the hotel beds 🙂 Thanks for writing this!

  47. Demi says:

    Interesting article, you made a good point when you said “will extreme budgeting mean missing out on the trip you thought it would be”. I done South America during the summer and stayed in some questionable hostels and it made me realise, I like my comforts! It doesn’t have to be five star but I like
    It makes all the difference to me to have comfortable surroundings!

  48. Lavina says:

    I’m gonna refer your post to every person who asks me how I can afford to travel!
    I have a full time job and I use every penny to travel(barring the bills of course)
    However a lot of students assume I get paid to travel or because I write occasionally my trips are sponsored – none of the two!
    Following your passion is great but not all get that it isn’t all roses – especially the sanity and safety issues. Extreme budget travel is not what everyone expects it to be!

  49. Shelly says:

    Extreme travel definitely is NOT for me. I’d rather stay home and be safe than sleep on a stranger’s couch, or worse yet in a park. If I had to sleep on the ground I doubt I could walk the next day.

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