For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.
— Carl Sagan
For the last two years I’ve been fortunate enough to travel full-time on $1,000 a month.
Let me start by saying I’m not rich. It took a lot of research, planning, and cutting back on expenses to make full-time travel possible.
Before I quit my day job, I saved up money by working overtime shifts and crashed on a futon in my friend’s unfinished basement.
Now that I’m on the road I travel slowly, staying in each place for a while, with the flexibility to wait until there’s a cheap flight or bus ticket before moving on (my last flight from Naples to Thessaloniki was just $15).
By going slow, I can afford to travel full-time on $1,000 a month.
Many months I spend far less than $1,000.
At the moment, I’m in Saranda, a small city on the Albanian Riviera just north of Greece.
I’m paying $150 a month for a private room in a guesthouse, including breakfast each morning and a terrace with sweeping views of the Ionian Sea.
Including food and daily needs, I’m living here for about $300-$500 a month, well below my average.
But it’s not just places like Albania where you can travel full-time on $1,000 a month.
I spent most of the summer in Prague, a city only four hours from Berlin that receives millions of international visitors each year.
With a great hostel just across the river from Old Town for $270 a month, I still had $24 per day to enjoy the city.
It was plenty. I even had enough left over for the bus ticket to Budapest.
I’ve boiled my travel strategy down to three basic rules:
Travel Rule #1: Never Stay in Hotels
Instead, stay in hostels and long-term rented rooms. I find them on Airbnb, Booking.com, and in many cases by asking around locally.
A sub rule is never use private transportation. Don’t rent cars, take private airport transfers, or call for an Uber.
Take public transportation, not only for the affordability but because you’ll get to see more of the city and the people. In most cities outside of the United States, especially in Europe and Asia, public transportation is excellent.
In rural areas, you can take a minibus or hitch a ride. In fact, I hitched a ride into Albania from the Greek border with a nice older couple who brought me all the way to Saranda. When I offered them a few euros, they kindly refused.
Travel Rule #2: Don’t Be a Tourist
People laugh when I tell them I was in Prague for five weeks and didn’t visit the world famous castle (I could, however, see it from the hostel’s terrace while sipping Czech beer).
You’re going to burn through money quickly visiting the usual tourist traps, eating in rip-off restaurants, and paying for pre-packaged tours.
Talk to locals. Make some friends and ask questions. They’ll show you the best places to eat, and if you’re lucky, share a little of their lives with you.
Travel Rule #3: Visit Cheap Countries
Sure, Germany and Japan are great, but there are lots of cheaper places to travel.
I’ve fallen in love with Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Money goes so much further in places like Albania, Bulgaria, and Ukraine, and in my experience they offer more authentic opportunities to experience new languages and cultures.
Use Numbeo to compare the cost of living in different cities. With a quick search you can find the price of everyday expenses such as bottled water, groceries, restaurant meals, and public transportation.
I’ll visit Norway someday but for $10 a beer I’ve got to pass (nothing against Norwegians, you’re all lovely).
Seven More Tips for Cheap Travel:
- Negotiate! As Westerners this can be a tough idea to grasp, but much of the world works this way. Don’t settle for the first price on accommodation, especially if you travel in the off season or stay for a longer period of time. My friend Jay negotiates jaw-dropping deals on Airbnb.
- Cancel your recurring billing subscriptions. It’s amazing how much those little $10 a month bills start to add up. Get rid of them before you travel and entertain yourself with the people, the food, and the culture.
- Pack lightly. I avoid any baggage fees by traveling with a carry-on size shoulder bag. You don’t need to bring everything with you. There’s an H&M or place to buy cheap clothes in nearly every city, so you can always pick up new things as the seasons change. It’s also much easier to navigate public transportation or walk when you aren’t dragging heavy luggage.
- Eat street food. It’s delicious and cheap, in some cases so cheap that it beats buying your own groceries and preparing meals. Look for the places where the locals eat and you know it’s good. In Palermo I used to eat panini on the side of the road at 4 a.m.
- Buy beer at the market. Overpriced drinks in bars and clubs will kill your budget. Save money by buying the local beer and drinking at the hostel before you go out.
- Hitchhike. You won’t get murdered, though it’s a good idea to check the rules wherever you are. Here in Albania, it’s very common and I get picked up by one of the first few cars going past. In Mexico, I drank beers in the back of a pickup truck all the way across Yucatán state and got invited to a house party by my traveling companions.
- Work as you go. Most hostels take on volunteers that help with daily tasks like cleaning in exchange for a free place to sleep. Not only will you save a lot of money, but you’ll make loads of friends.
The Golden Rule
The golden rule of travel is to be creative.
It becomes like a game, figuring out how to get from point A to point B for as little as possible, or swapping stories with other travelers about the cheapest places to stay.
Don’t settle for convenience. Flex your creative muscles and push yourself past your comfort zone to explore new things.
It’s not always easy, but travel will change you.