I’ve always been frugal. It’s in my blood. In this guide, I explain how to travel on an ultra low budget of less than $10 per day so you can travel longer, further, and see more with less money. You may find some of these methods a bit hardcore. Some may be unethical. Some may even be illegal in certain jurisdictions. Pick and choose the ones you’re comfortable with. Any traveler can greatly reduce their budget by employing a few of these helpful money saving techniques. This is my guide to ultra low budget travel.
How Low of Budget are We Talking About?
This really depends on the region of the world you’re traveling in and your expectation of comfort. Whatever your current budget is, the following tips will help you reduce it.
For the purposes of this guide, we’ll set our travel budget goal to $10 per day. With that budget, you can enjoy many popular travel destinations around the world including Southeast Asia, Central and South America, India, and Eastern Europe if you’re frugal. Some hardcore budget travelers get by on as little as $5 per day.
It’s even possible to explore the developed world on this budget if you’re willing to use some of the more hardcore money-saving techniques. It all comes back to your comfort level.
Making a Travel Budget
If you don’t already have a travel budget, I recommend you make one first. To help you out, check out my guide: How to Make an Accurate Budget for Long Term Travel.
Once you have a rough idea of your travel budget, you can pinpoint the areas where you feel like you’re overspending and utilize this guide to help you cut costs.
Table of Contents- Guide to Ultra Low Budget Travel
This is a long article. Use the links below to help navigate the page.
- Food and Drink
- Additional Ultra Low Budget Tips
- Final Thoughts on Ultra Low Budget Travel
How to Reduce your Food and Drink Budget While Traveling
This is where the bulk of your $10 per day budget will go. This is also a pretty easy place to cut costs. Most travelers choose to eat out for convenience. The drawback is the fact that restaurants food is expensive. I know because I used to manage one. Typical food cost of a restaurant is around 30%. That means you’re paying an additional 70% for the convenience of having the food cooked for you and served to you. Is it worth it? In our case, no. We’re on a tight budget.
While traveling, my goal is to spend less than $5 per day on food. That’s $150 per month. In some destinations, I can eat healthy for less than $100 per month if I’m careful. Here are some tips to help you cut your food budget while traveling:
Buy and Cook Your Own Meals
When choosing a hostel always make sure to book one with a kitchen so you can prepare your own meals. Even if the hostel with a kitchen costs a couple of dollars more per night, you’ll save money in the long run by preparing your own meals.
With a bit of practice, you can cook a healthy, filling meal for less than a dollar per serving. If you’re determined to save money, you can eat for practically nothing.
Make a trip to the grocery store and stock up on healthy, low-cost foods. For example, I like to buy:
- Sliced meats
- Canned tuna
- Peanut butter
- Other local favorites
I also like to make a stop by a roadside stand to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. What I buy depends on where in the world I’m traveling. Choose locally grown options. They’re cheaper. Produce at roadside generally costs much less than supermarkets. I like to buy:
- Other local produce
I also buy a few additional items to add flavor to my foods such as:
- Hot sauce
- Soy sauce
- Vegetable oil or olive oil
- Tomato sauce
- Bouillon cubes
- Local seasoning or sauce
Simply pick and choose ingredients that you like from the above items and craft simple meals out of them. All you need to do this is some basic cooking skills. Some low-cost meals that I make include:
- Pasta with tomato sauce- This is simple, filling, and easy to make. It’s also something that everyone enjoys. I usually jazz up the sauce a bit with some onion, pepper, tomato, or any other vegetable I have. Sometimes I dump in a can of tuna for some extra protein.
- Stir fry- This is my go-to dinner. I just fry up whatever vegetables I have in some kind spicy sauce and serve it over rice. I usually use soy sauce as a base and spice it up with peppers or hot sauce. Sometimes I’ll fry up some chicken to make the meal a bit more substantial.
- Soup- This is a good way to use up all of your leftover ingredients before you move on to your next destination. Just boil up whatever you have including meat, beans, veggies, etc. Add a bouillon cube for a bit more flavor.
- Rice and beans- Another incredibly basic meal that everyone enjoys. Just cook up a pot of your favorite beans and serve over rice.
- Sandwiches or wraps- This is my standard lunch. I make simple sandwiches with peanut butter or meat and cheese and take them with me to eat while I’m sightseeing. I pack myself some chips, cookies, or crackers and a piece of fruit as a side. This makes for a simple lunch that you can enjoy on the go.
- Oatmeal- This is my go-to breakfast. It’s healthy, filling, and easy to make. Cut up some fruit to put on top to add a bit of flavor.
I recognize that all of the above meals are incredibly basic. You will get tired of these dishes after a while. It’s important to buy yourself a treat once in a while for a bit of variety. I buy myself a chocolate bar, cookies, or a soda.
For some more cheap meal ideas, check out this excellent list from The Simple Dollar.
Eat Street Food
While traveling, it’s important to enjoy the local cuisine. After all, that is one of the main reasons that we travel. Make it a point to try a few of the most popular local dishes in every country that you visit.
I have found that the best way to do this on a low travel budget is to eat street food. It’s usually the most authentic anyway. Many locals enjoy eating street food.
In some countries, like Thailand and India for example, eating street food costs less than cooking your own. You can enjoy a delicious hot meal for just a dollar or two.
While choosing a street food stand:
- Look for the busiest stand with the most locals- Chances are the food is fresh, affordable, and most important, tasty.
- Avoid eating in touristy or high-class areas- These stands generally charge more. They may also serve food that is target toward tourist.
- Avoid stands that look like they don’t get much business- Who knows how long the food has been sitting there. Food poisoning is a concern.
- Negotiate- Most stands don’t post the prices. Sometimes you can make a deal.
Travel with a Camp Stove and a Pot
While camping or staying somewhere where you don’t have access to a kitchen, you can still cook up your own meals if you carry a camp stove and pot. I have cooked in hotel rooms, on the side of the road, and even in parks. Your meals won’t be as elaborate most likely, but you can still cook.
When it comes to camp stoves, you have several options. I use an alcohol stove because it’s the cheapest option. You can easily make one yourself for free and you can find some type of alcohol to burn pretty much anywhere in the world. Check out this excellent guide from zenstoves.net for some ideas.
If you prefer to buy a stove, I recommend the MSR WhisperLite International Multifuel Backpacking Stove. It runs on white gas, kerosene, or unleaded gasoline. You can easily find at least one of these fuels anywhere in the world. This stove is also very compact and easy to clean and maintain.
Cooking Tip: Be very careful where you cook with your camp stove. There is an open flame. You don’t want to burn down your hotel or get a fine for cooking in a place where it’s forbidden. Also, make sure the area where you’re cooking is well ventilated. You don’t want to poison yourself with carbon monoxide.
For more info on cooking, check out my guide: How to Cook in a Hotel Room Without a Kitchen.
Take Advantage of Free Hostel and Hotel Breakfasts
When choosing a hostel or hotel, always try to choose one that includes breakfast with the price of a bed. Even if it’s just something simple like toast and coffee, the free breakfast saves you at least a dollar per day.
Unethical ultra low budget travel tip: Take some extra food for lunch and snacks. You may be able to make yourself a sandwich or grab a couple of pieces of fruit for lunch. This saves you even more money. I don’t really do this anymore because it is taking advantage of the business. It also causes prices to go up in the long run. If you don’t care about this kind of thing, you could cover 2 of your meals with the price of your hotel room.
Forage for Food
Harvesting wild plants is an excellent way to get food for free while traveling. There are a surprisingly large amount of edible plants growing freely all over the world.
Foraging can also be a fun way to learn about the natural environment where you are traveling. As an added bonus, it’s environmentally friendly.
Some examples of foods you can forage for include:
- Wild greens
Before heading into the forest to forage for food, be sure to do your research. You don’t want to accidentally harvest and eat something poisonous. You also don’t want to harvest anything illegally. Respect private property and don’t harvest anything endangered.
Every region and season has something different to offer. Some foods you can eat right out of the ground and some take a bit of processing to make edible. It’s all part of the fun. For more info on foraging, check out this excellent guide from Moneycrashers.com. There is a lot of good information here.
I haven’t foraged myself but would like to give it a try at some point. Foraging for mushrooms, in particular, seems like a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
Another way to cut your food budget is to forage in the city. In other words, dumpster dive. Many grocery stores and restaurants throw out perfectly good food at the end of the day. Many times they throw out foods that have been sitting around too long even though they are still perfectly good to eat.
I recognize that this method definitely isn’t for everyone. Eating food out of a garbage can isn’t too appealing. Digging through a dumpster makes you look and feel homeless. If you aren’t bothered by this, go ahead and give dumpster diving a try.
For a complete guide from an expert dumpster diver, check out this excellent article from Robgreenfield.tv
Never Pay for Drinking Water
In many countries, you can’t drink water straight from the tap. Sometimes it hasn’t been properly treated. Sometimes it’s contaminated with bacteria, minerals, and other contaminants from the water pipes in the city.
If you’re traveling on an ultra low budget, the cost of buying bottled water every day adds up. For example, if you drink 2 liters of water per day, you’ll end up spending upwards of a dollar per day on water alone. That’s a big chunk of our budget that we could better spend elsewhere.
To get away from paying for water, I recommend you carry a water filter while traveling. I bought the Sawyer Mini on Amazon and have been really happy with it. It allows you to filter tap water and water from lakes, rivers, and streams to make it safe to drink. I’ve used it to drink tap water in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America and have never gotten sick. Check out my full review of the Sawyer Mini here.
You can almost always find filterable water for free. Fill a bottle in the bathroom of your hotel, a restaurant, or a store. Find a clean looking river or stream if you’re camping. You can even just ask someone if you can use their tap. Most people would be happy to give you a liter of tap water.
If you’re traveling in a region where the tap water is safe to drink, go ahead and drink it. There is no reason to waste money on expensive bottled water.
Cut Down Your Alcohol Consumption
This is one of the easiest ways to cut your travel budget significantly. While traveling on an ultra low budget, it’s best to cut out alcohol completely. It’s just too expensive. This one simple change will save the average traveler $100-$200 per month depending on how heavy of drinker they are.
I do realize that most travelers don’t want to quit drinking entirely. Having a couple of drinks at a local bar is part of the travel experience, after all. If you still want to enjoy a few drinks like I do, there are a few ways to keep your alcohol budget low:
- Don’t drink at bars or restaurants- Just buy drinks at the liquor store and drink at the hostel, hotel, a park, etc. The average bar has an alcohol cost of around 20%. That means you’re paying 5 times the actual cost of the drink for the convenience of having someone serve it to you and the atmosphere of the bar. You can save a lot by mixing your own.
- Pick and choose the nights that you go out- Rather than going out whenever the opportunity presents itself, just choose nights when you feel like it. If the vibe isn’t right, go to bed.
- Don’t get too drunk- You don’t care about money as much when you’re drunk. It’s shockingly easy to drink $100 worth of booze in a night without even noticing. If you limit yourself to two or three drinks, you can still have a nice evening without overspending.
In the past, I’m embarrassed to say, I have spent up to a quarter of my travel budget on alcohol. I don’t drink nearly as much as other travelers I’ve met. I can’t imagine what some people spend on booze over the course of a trip. I’ve even seen travelers have their trips cut short because they couldn’t control their drinking.
Ultra Low Budget Accommodation While Traveling
Paying for a place to sleep each night is the biggest cost of most trips. The goal here is to cut that cost to as close to zero as possible. Unfortunately, hotel and hostel prices seem to just keep going up. One thing I have noticed in the past few years is that many hostels have begun trying to appeal to a higher-end clientele. They brand themselves as ‘boutique’ and jack up the rates. At the same time, they don’t really offer any better facilities or additional service. $10 per day doesn’t go very far when it comes to accommodation. Luckily, there is one budget-friendly accommodation option left. That is camping.
Basically, camping is the cheapest accommodation option available. In fact, you can usually camp for free. If you’re traveling on an ultra low budget, camping is your best accommodation option.
When I first started camping, I just did it to save money. Now, I have grown to love it. There is just something natural about sleeping outside under the stars. It’s a thrilling experience.
For more reasons to camp, check out my article Travel with a Tent: Why Every Backpacker Should Check Out of the Hostel and Camp.
How to Cut Costs by Camping While Traveling
First, you have to get some camping gear. You need:
- Shelter- You need something to protect you from the weather. Choose from a tent, bivy sack, hammock, or tarp. I prefer a tent or bivy sack depending on where I am traveling and how often I plan to camp. To help you decide on which shelter is right for you, check out my guides which compare tents to bivy sacks, hammocks, and tarps. A basic shelter starts around $50. Expect to pay around $100-$200 for a nice mid-range tent.
- Sleeping bag- You need to stay warm while you sleep. Make sure the bag you choose has a warmth rating suitable for the climate in which you plan to camp. There is nothing worse than spending a night curled in a ball trying to survive a freezing cold all night. Your sleeping bag will probably be the most expensive part of your camping setup. Decent 3 season down sleeping bags cost around $120-$200.
- Sleeping pad- You need to have some comfort to get a decent night of sleep. The mat also plays a major role in keeping you warm. I recommend a simple foam mat. They are cheap, durable, and easy to use. You can pick up a foam mat for around $14-$50 depending on thickness and quality.
Admittedly, there is a pretty high initial cost to buying camping gear. If you shop around a bit or don’t mind buying used, you can buy yourself a nice mid-range camping setup for around $250-$300. I recommend you avoid low-end gear. While it lasts just as long, it’s just too heavy and bulky to carry around while traveling. If you spend enough nights of your trip camping, even high-end gear pays for itself.
Another thing to remember when buying camping gear is that it needs to be comfortable and easy to use. When I first started traveling with camping gear, I packed a cheap non-freestanding tent and lightweight sleeping bag. I dreaded camping because the tent was a hassle to set up and my sleeping bag was too cold. You’ll camp far more often if you have quality gear that keeps you warm, dry, and comfortable while you sleep.
Where to Camp While Traveling?
Finding a suitable campsite while traveling can be a challenge. Particularly in urban areas. If you search long enough, you can usually find a free place to camp. Some campsite ideas include:
- Wild Camping- This is my favorite way to camp. Basically, you find a hidden spot away from any people or business and pitch your tent. The goal is to camp without being caught or found by anyone. This is easiest in rural or forested areas where you can easily hide. I recommend using Google Maps to scope out the area. The legality of wild camping varies by region. In most places around the world, it’s illegal. Wild camping is also known as rough camping or stealth camping.
- Ask permission to camp- Simply find a friendly looking person and ask if you can camp on their property. You can do this with individuals and businesses. If you do this, it’s good practice to return the favor in some way. Maybe buy your host some food or a beer. If you’re camping at a business, you’ll be expected to buy something from them.
- Ask the police or a fireman- Whether or not this will work depends on the country you’re traveling in. In many regions, police and firemen are incredibly friendly and helpful. I wouldn’t try this in my country but it is a good option in much of the world. As an added bonus, camping outside of the local police station is incredibly safe.
- Churches, mosques, or temples- Religious people are often charitable and welcoming to travelers. It’s part of their beliefs. Often times, you can camp on the grounds for free. Just be sure to be respectful of the building and any worshipers you encounter.
- Camp at a hotel or hostel- Many hotels and hostels allow you to camp on their property for a reduced rate. You still have access to all of the facilities. You’re just staying in your tent instead of a room or dorm. Most places don’t have camping posted on the price list. You just have to ask. Expect to pay about half the rate of a dorm bed.
- Campgrounds- Many cities have campgrounds conveniently located within city limits. These are particularly common in Europe. Of course, there is a cost to camp in a campground. The price is almost always lower than a hostel. Oftentimes you can access urban campgrounds by public transport. For example, while traveling to Amsterdam, I realized that the hostels were all way overpriced. I found a beautiful campground that I could easily access by tram. I ended up camping for less than half the cost of a bed in a hostel.
As you can see, finding a suitable campsite is doable pretty much anywhere, though it can take a bit of work and asking around. If you’re traveling on an ultra-low budget, it’s worth the effort as you can cut your accommodation budget to almost nothing if you can camp for free every night.
Occasionally, you’ll want to sleep indoors and enjoy a warm shower. A great free accommodation option is to use the popular website Couchsurfing. Warmshowers is a similar website which caters to bicycle tourists. Both of these sites allow you to make a profile and connect with people all over the world who are willing to host travelers for free.
This sounds great at first because you get to save the $10-$20 per night that most hostels charge. While the service and room are free, you do have to be careful.
You can end up spending more money than if you’d just payed for bed in a hostel. Here’s how:
- Transportation- If your host lives outside of the city center, you may need to take the bus or metro into town to sightsee. This adds up if you’re making multiple trips per day. You don’t really know your host’s exact location unless they tell you in their profile.
- Food and drinks- Most hosts want to get to know their guest. That is the whole reason they participate in Couchsurfing. This usually involves going out to enjoy a meal or a few drinks together. As the guest, you are expected to treat your host or buy them a drink or two. If you’re not careful, you could easily go over budget.
- Hosts asking for money- I only encountered this on one occasion while Couchsurfing in Uganda. My host asked for a few dollars to cover water and electricity cost. They even had the nerve to ask while drinking the beer that I had bought them. In this case, I just paid to keep myself and the host on good terms for the night but I got out of there the following morning.
Keeping the above points in mind, you can still cut your travel budget considerably by Couchsurfing. Here are some tips:
- Stay at least 3 nights- You’re saving $30-$60 that you’d otherwise spend on a hostel if you stay 3 nights. You won’t spend anywhere near that much on your host. Even if you spend a third of your savings on food and drinks for your host, you still end up saving money.
- Write on your profile that you are on a tight budget- Just explain that you can’t afford to go out to a fancy restaurant or bar. Most hosts understand this. People couchsurf to save money, after all. You can always find an inexpensive way to spend time with your host.
- Offer to do some chores around the house- It could be anything from taking out the trash to fixing a leaky faucet. This could be an alternative to treating your host to dinner or drinks.
- Cook for your host- This is an inexpensive way to show your host your appreciation. Cook a meal from your home country.
As you can see you can save a significant amount of money by Couchsurfing but you do have to put in a bit of effort to realize those savings. The host needs to get something out of the interaction. You don’t want to be a bad guest. On average, Couchsurfing is cheaper than staying in a hostel.
For ultra low budget travel, hostels aren’t ideal but sometimes it’s the only option. The average hostel dorm bed costs about $10-20 per night these days. In lower cost countries beds go for around $5 per night. In expensive parts of the world, expect to pay $30 plus per night. As you can see, they aren’t that cheap. Here are a few ways to save money at hostels:
- Look for a hostel that includes breakfast- This is worth at least $1-$2 to you. Free breakfast reduces your food budget.
- Look for a hostel near the city center or main sites- You can save a good chunk of money by walking to all of the city’s sites instead of taking a bus or metro. Some cities are more walkable than others. Take into consideration the location of the sites that you’d like to visit as well.
- Ask for a discount- Sometimes you can negotiate a deal. Particularly if you are staying longer than a week or so. This is more likely to work at small mom and pop type hostels than corporate run businesses. It also works better during the offseason when business is slow.
- Book directly with the hostel rather than through a booking site- Hostels can charge less because they don’t have to pay the booking company commission. For example, Hostelworld charges a 15% fee to all hostels who use the service. They pass some of the savings onto you if you book directly.
- Shop around- Some cities have dozens of hostels located within just a few miles of each other. Spend a bit of time checking prices and negotiating. Sometimes you can save a nice chunk of money by walking a few blocks and shopping for the best rate.
While staying in a hostel every night isn’t ideal for ultra low budget travel, there are ways to reduce the cost. For more hostel booking tips, check out my guide: How to Choose the Best Hostel.
If you plan to stay in a city for more than a week, check the prices on Airbnb. Often times hosts offer discounts of 20%-50% or more for long term guests. In some cases, you can score a private room for less than the cost of a bed in a hostel.
When I visited Mexico City last year, I found a room in an Airbnb for $100 for a whole month. It included access to a full kitchen, washer and dryer, wifi, and all utilities. That’s a steal. It was too good of a deal to pass up. I ended up staying for the month and fell in love with the city.
For more info, check out my guide to Airbnb Vs Hotels.
Surprisingly, you can oftentimes find a room in a budget hotel for less than a hostel dorm bed. I find this to be particularly true in smaller towns or cities that don’t see too many tourists. These types of places only have a couple of hostels but lots of hotels. The hotels need to stay competitive so they offer low rates. The hostels have less competition and market to a different demographic so they can charge more.
To find cheap, basic hotels, you really just have to take a walk around. In my experience, the cheapest hotels don’t advertise online. Having said that, I always look online and compare hostel and hotel prices anyway just to get the lay of the land. Use the same tips listed above for hostels to save more money. Most importantly, negotiate the rate.
For example, when I first arrived in Nairobi, I found a decent hotel room with wifi, a private bathroom, hot water, and a tv for only $12 per night. That’s a deal. The best price I could find at a hostel was about $13 per night. All else being equal, I prefer hotels to hostels. It’s just nice to have a bit of privacy. Private rooms offer a bit better security as well.
Tip: Wherever you’re staying, always check for bed bugs before getting settled. For help with this, check out my guide: How to Avoid Bed Bugs While Traveling.
Ultra Low Budget Transportation While Traveling
Another major expense of your trip is transportation. When traveling on an ultra low budget, you can’t afford to just order an Uber whenever you like or hop on a domestic flight to get to the next city. You must put in a bit of work to get from point A to point B in a cost-effective manner in order to stick to your $10 per day budget. Here are some great budget-friendly ways to get around:
This one is my favorite. Walking is free, healthy, and allows you to see parts of a city you otherwise wouldn’t get to experience. If my destination is less than about 3 miles one way, I’ll simply walk. Anything further than that, I’ll look into the cost of transportation and weigh my options. I’ve been known to walk over 20 miles in a day just sightseeing and getting to know a city. Some walking tips include:
- Take care of your feet- Bandage any blisters. Change your socks often. Keep your feet dry. I like to switch between my sandals and shoes for walking around. Wearing sandals gives my feet a chance to air out so athletes foot is less likely to develop. Switching to different footwear gives your feet a break from rubbing which reduces blisters. If you allow your feet to get injured or overworked, you can’t walk as far.
- Carry a map or use GPS- You don’t want to get lost and end up walking further than you had to. Before heading out, map out your route so you know roughly where you are going. Wandering aimlessly is nice sometimes too if you’re just trying to get to know a city.
- Carry water and snacks- While walking you burn calories and sweat. You need to keep hydrated and eat enough food to keep you going. Even though you save money on transport tickets, you must spend a bit more on food if you walk a lot. Keep your body energized.
- Don’t walk through dangerous neighborhoods- If you feel unsafe, hop in a bus or metro. A public transport ticket is always cheaper than getting mugged or pickpocketed.
- Don’t walk at night- This depends on the city. In much of the world, you can walk at all hours without worry. In other parts, you shouldn’t leave your hotel at night. Ask a local if you’re not sure.
- Don’t walk while drunk or intoxicated- You could get lost, scammed, robbed, or worse. It’s best to shell out for a cab or bus ticket while on your way back to your accommodation from the bar.
Hitchhiking is the best way for ultra low budget travelers to cut long-distance transportation costs. Rather than paying for a bus from one city to the next, hitch a ride. This is also a great way to meet locals and see parts of a country that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see. Hitchhiking is always an adventure. Some useful tips include:
- Choose the right location to catch a ride- You want to be on the edge of town in a place that is easy for drivers to see you and pull over. Highway on-ramps are ideal.
- Be ready to wait- You may have to wait hours or days between rides in some locations.
- Use a cardboard sign- You could write your destination, direction, or distance you want to go, or just a funny message. Whatever works best.
- Know the law- Hitchhiking is illegal in most of the world. Try your best to avoid breaking the law.
- If something doesn’t feel right, turn down the ride- Hitchhiking isn’t necessarily a dangerous activity in itself but there are risks. If a driver seems strange, it’s best to say no thank you and wait for another ride.
- Consider traveling with a folding bike- You can fold it up and store it in the trunk of your ride’s car. You can also use it to travel to a better location to get a ride if you aren’t having any luck. For more info, check out my folding bike pros and cons list.
For some more excellent hitchhiking tips, check out this article from Wikitravel.org.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of hitchhiking. Probably because of all of the horror stories that I’ve heard about it. Having said that, one of my greatest travel experiences was hitching a ride across the Kalahari Desert in Namibia from the border with Botswana to Windhoek. I rode with a semi driver who was on his way from Johannesburg to the Angola border. He had EDM music and the air conditioning blasting. It was almost surreal. Sitting high up in the truck while gliding over the desert is an unforgettable travel experience.
Travel by Bicycle
Possibly the cheapest mode of travel, bicycle touring and bikepacking have been gaining in popularity over the past few years. In this mode of travel, you simply attach your gear to your bicycle with bikepacking bags or panniers and cycle to your destination.
Most bicycle travelers ride all day then wild camp most nights. Occasionally they use Warmshowers or Couchsurfing for a free night of accommodation indoors. Bicycle tourists carry a camp stove so they can cook most of their own meals.
Between the incredibly low-cost transportation of a bicycle, free accommodation, and cheap meals, bicycle touring is possibly the best way to travel on an ultra low budget. One can travel by bicycle long term for just a few thousand dollars per year.
For more info on bicycle touring budgets, check out this great list from Travellingtwo.com which outlines touring costs for different regions around the world.
Bicycle touring does have a pretty high initial cost. The biggest expenses of bicycle touring are buying a touring bike, panniers, tools, and additional gear as well as flying with your bike to your starting destination. You’ll end up spending a couple of thousand dollars before you hit the road. Luckily, there are ways to get started on the cheap. For more info, check out my guides:
- How to Convert an Old Mountain Bike into a Touring Bike
- How to Build a Low Budget Bikepacking or Bicycle Touring setup for less than $100
Bicycle maintenance cost is minimal as long as you carry a few tools and learn the basics.
I started getting into bicycle touring over the past few years and really enjoy it. Check out my review of my first tour here.
Take the Bus
If you find yourself in a situation where you absolutely have to pay for transportation, the bus is usually the lowest cost option. For routes within a city, the buses cost less than metros, taxis, or rickshaws. For long-distance routes between cities, traveling by bus generally costs less than trains or flying.
To save money on bus fare between cities, I have two recommendations:
- Take a 2nd class bus- Most countries have a smaller, 2nd tier bus company that operates older buses. These cater to people who are on a tighter budget who can’t afford the 1st class or ‘VIP’ bus. Tickets usually cost around 20% less. There are a few drawbacks. These buses aren’t as comfortable and generally don’t include features like bathrooms, reclining seats, or wifi. They are also less reliable. For ultra low budget travel, seeking out these cheap bus companies can save you a few dollars per leg of your journey.
- Take a minibus or colectivo- These are the cheapest mode of paid transport. Minibusses run hop-on-hop-off service within and between cities. Travel usually costs around $1 per hour. Minibusses have a few drawbacks. They often operate short routes so you may need to transfer buses several times to make it to your destination. This is a hassle. Minibusses are also incredibly uncomfortable because they get packed so full. Watch your belongings on minibusses. My phone was pickpocketed on a minibus in Tanzania. Luckily I got it back.
For info on bus travel in Africa, check out my guide here.
Airfare is one of the biggest costs of any trip. A round trip ticket to the other side of the planet can cost well over $1000 depending on your origin and destination cities. For ultra low budget travel, this is just too much. Luckily, there are a few ways to reduce flight costs.
- Use credit card points- Many banks and credit card companies offer introductory bonuses for signing up for their card. Oftentimes they give enough for a free flight. The only catch is that you usually have to spend a certain amount of money before you get the points. I scored a free round trip ticket from the US to Africa with one of these credit card deals. For my card recommendation, check out my guide: The Best Credit Card and Debit Card for International Travel.
- Keep an eye out for deals- Occasionally the airlines have a sale or even make a mistake. To help you look for these deals, consider signing up for a service like Scott’s Cheap Flights. These guys scour the web to find the best price on international tickets. Sometimes you can buy a ticket for a quarter of the regular fare. They offer a paid and free version of their service. This is great for those who are open with their plans.
- Travel to the closest big city to catch your flight- If you live within a few hours of a major air hub, you can save a chunk of money by taking the bus to a major international airport and flying from there rather than your local airport. For example, when I was living in Tijuana I always took the bus up and flew out of LAX. This saved me a few hundred dollars every time I caught an international flight.
- Start your trip by flying into a major hub airport- This works the same way as the previous point. It’s always cheaper to fly into a major hub than a small airport. For example, maybe you want to travel to Uganda. You can save money by flying into Nairobi, which is a major East African hub, rather than Kampala. From Nairobi, you can take the bus to Kampala. Even with visas and bus fare, you end up saving money.
- Fly somewhere cheap- This depends on your origin. If you live in Los Angeles, travel to Central America instead of Southeast Asia. If you live in London, travel to Eastern Europe instead of South America.
- Don’t fly- As long as you live on the mainland, you can just walk out of your front door and start your trip from there. If you live in North America, just head south. If you live in Europe, head east. You don’t have to buy an expensive airline ticket to have an adventure.
- Take advantage of budget airlines- If you’re willing to endure an uncomfortable seat and deal with multiple layovers, you can score international tickets for less than $100 on many budget airlines. Pretty much every region has these. In the US, you have Spirit and JetBlue. In Europe, you have Ryanair and Easyjet. Asia has, AirAsia and SpiceJet.
- Pack light- Sometimes checked bag fees cost nearly as much as the ticket itself. This is particularly true on budget airlines. I always try to only travel with a bag small enough to carry on.
Travel Activities on an Ultra Low Budget
Ultra low budget travel is more about the experience than the things you see and do. You can’t afford to go skydiving or whitewater rafting on a travel budget of $10 per day. Many activities are just out of our price range on this budget. That doesn’t mean that we have to miss out. Luckily, there are plenty of free or cheap things to do in every city around the world.
Free activities include:
- Free walking tours- Pretty much every decent sized city offers one of these. You meet in a central location and the guide walks the group through a few interesting points in the city. This is a great way to learn the lay of the land and get to know the city a bit better. Of course, you are asked for a tip at the end of the tour. If you don’t have room in your budget, just give a thank you and write a positive review.
- Go to the beach- This is a great place to take a walk, people watch, or just relax. It’s also free.
- Museums- Some museums are free to enter. Many museums offer free entry weekly or monthly.
- Libraries- This is a great free way to spend an afternoon. Learn a bit about the history of the country you are traveling in.
- Hiking- This is my favorite free activity. Just find a nice trail and go for a walk. This is a great way to enjoy the natural landscape of a country.
- Go to a public park- Another free activity. Have a picnic, people watch, or just hang out.
- Markets- It’s always interesting to go for a wander around a market in a foreign country to see what’s on offer. You don’t have to buy anything.
- Visit a church, temple, or other religious building- Even if you’re not religious, it’s interesting to take a walk through these places. Everyone can appreciate history, art, and architecture. Plus, it’s free.
- Strike up a conversation with a local- This is a great way to learn more about a country. Many people are happy to talk to a tourist for a bit if you’re friendly.
For more ideas, check out my guide to 30 free things to do while traveling.
How to Save Money on Expensive Activities While Traveling on an Ultra Low Budget
While free activities are a great way to get to know a country and its people, sometimes you need to spend a bit of money for the full experience. For example, it would be a shame to miss out on seeing the Great Wall while visiting Beijing just to save a couple of bucks. You wouldn’t want to skip visiting the Hermitage while in St. Petersburg just to save enough money to extend your trip by a couple of days.
Luckily, there is usually a way to make visiting these major sites affordable. Here are some ideas:
- Take advantage of student discounts- Be sure to pack your student id.
- Use public transportation- Many major tourist sites are located outside of the city. Rather than using expensive tourist transportation, take a local bus. This can cut costs significantly.
- Skip the tour guide- In my experience, most tour guides are useless. They often give misinformation and charge way too much for their service. I prefer to visit a site myself and read up about it online or at the local library. I can learn more from Wikipedia than most tour guides can teach me.
- Look for coupons or discounts online- For example, some sites offer discounted entry on a slow day of the week.
- Organize a tour yourself- To see some sites, you have to be on a tour. My friends and I saved hundreds of dollars by organizing our own safari in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. We used public transport to get there and booked our own camping, guide, and truck. It took a bit of work, but we saved a nice chunk of cash.
- Find people to split costs with- This can greatly reduce transportation and accommodation costs while visiting certain sites. For example, maybe you want to visit a national park and there is no public transportation available. If you have a large enough group, renting a car or hiring a driver becomes affordable. Hostels are a great place to meet fellow travelers who you can split costs with.
- Look for last minute deals- If you’re willing to take a chance, tour companies often deeply discount tours if they need to fill a spot at the last minute.
- Negotiate- Prices are almost always negotiable. Make an offer. Play travel agencies against each other to see who can give you the best deal. It takes a bit of effort, but you can save a lot of cash by negotiating hard.
- Travel during off season- Some attractions cost less to visit when there are fewer tourists.
- Skip it- You don’t have to see every site. Visit the major sites and places that interest you and skip the rest.
Staying Healthy While Traveling on an Ultra Low Budget
While out traveling, you need to take care of your health. This is particularly important while traveling on an ultra low budget. Your diet probably won’t be ideal. Your sleep schedule will be unpredictable. You may not get enough exercise. All of these factors contribute to poor overall health and increase the likelihood of sickness during your trip. This costs you money in healthcare in the long run.
To help you stay healthy while traveling you should:
- Avoid sickness and disease- Get all of your vaccinations. Wash your hands. Take prophylaxis if it’s available. Avoid mosquito bites. Take antibiotics when necessary. Visit a doctor or clinic if you feel ill. Catching something early can save you a lot of money in treatment costs.
- Be careful what you eat and drink- Wash your fruit and veggies. Don’t eat foods that have been sitting out. Avoid drinking tap water.
- Exercise- Go for a walk or run. Visit a free outdoor gym. Go for a swim. Do some simple bodyweight exercises like pushups and pull-ups.
- Get plenty of sleep- Try your best to get a solid 8 hours per night. Sleep on the plane, train, and bus. Nap in a park or on the beach. Don’t go without sleep.
- Take care of your body- Brush your teeth and floss twice per day. Shower regularly. Wear sunblock and sunglasses. Go easy on your back and feet. Shave and cut your hair regularly. Tip: Pack hair clippers so you can cut your own hair rather than paying a barber. This will save you an extra $5-$20 per month.
- Take care of your mind- Read a book. Don’t stress too much. Take some time to relax.
- Carry a first aid kit- Treat any minor injuries before they develop into something more serious. I recommend the First Aid Only 299 Piece All-Purpose First Aid Kit. It includes a lot of gear at a reasonable price. A small first aid kit can save you from spending money at a clinic or doctors office if you know how to use it.
By taking the simple precautions listed above, you can cut your healthcare budget significantly. If you’re not careful, one trip to the hospital can eat up your whole travel budget and more.
For more health info, check out my guide How to Stay Healthy While Traveling: Tips for Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Avoiding Sickness.
Travel Insurance for Ultra Low Budget Travel
Most ultra low budget travelers simply go without. This isn’t too bad of an idea because healthcare in the developing world is pretty affordable. If you need to bandage up a scrape or buy some antibiotics every once in a while, it’s cheaper to pay out of pocket than to pay for insurance.
Where this plan fails is in the event of a catastrophic accident. Maybe you were involved in an auto accident and require major surgery. What then?
Emergency surgeries aren’t available everywhere. Some countries just don’t have the technology or infrastructure. You may need to be transported to a hospital hundreds of miles away. In some countries, healthcare is incredibly expensive. In some parts of the world, you need to show proof that you can pay before you’re even treated. Travel insurance saves the day in these situations.
I use World Nomads travel insurance for most of my international trips and have been happy with their service. They cover you in the event of an injury or medical emergency as well as theft or cancellation. For more info, check out my travel insurance page.
Saving Money on Healthcare Abroad
Sometimes you can save money by receiving healthcare abroad. This tip mostly only applies to travelers who come from a country where healthcare is very expensive or unavailable. For example, you can:
- Go to the dentist- Many insurance companies don’t cover dental work. You can save a nice chunk of money by getting dental work done abroad while traveling.
- Buy your prescriptions- Sometimes you can save some cash by buying any prescription medication that you require at your destination. Be sure to bring your prescription and do your research. Quality varies greatly.
- Buy glasses- Many insurance companies don’t cover vision. You can get a new prescription and glasses abroad for a fraction of the cost. For more info, check out my guide to travel with glasses and contacts.
Additional Ultra Low Budget Travel Tips
Consider Visa Costs
Visas are one major travel expense that people often forget to factor into their budget. For ultra low budget travel, consider sticking to countries that either don’t charge for visas or charge a reasonable amount. A country may be cheap to travel in but an expensive visa can wipe out that savings.
For example, the Tanzania visa cost me $100. I stayed in the country for about 3 weeks. That means my daily visa expense was $4.76. If you’re traveling on an ultra low budget and trying to spend less than $10-$15 per day, this just isn’t doable. The visa alone eats up half the budget.
Visa cost depends on:
- Your passport- Many countries charge different visa fees by nationality. Some do reciprocal fees meaning you pay whatever their citizens pay when they visit your country. Of course, many countries don’t charge for visas as well.
- How long you plan to stay- Many countries offer 1,3, or 6 month visas. Generally, the longer the visa validity, the more they charge.
- How many entries you need- Many countries offer single, double, and multiple entry visas. Generally, the more entries, the more they charge for the visa.
- Additional expenses- Besides the visa fee, you may need to gather a few additional documents which can add to the cost. Some countries require a letter of invitation. Some require passport photos. You may also need to pay for shipping to transport your passport between your home and the embassy. All of these costs add up.
For an idea of how much visas can cost, during my trip through East Africa, I ended up spending around $500 on visas alone. Most countries in the region charge $50-$100 for a single entry visa. Some visas can cost significantly more. For example, I was looking into visiting Russia and found that the visa would cost me around $300. Luckily I found a way to visit St. Petersburg visa free.
You can travel many regions without spending a dime on visas. Eastern Europe and South America are two excellent examples. Visas in these regions are generally free. By saving money on visas, you cut your budget significantly.
Everything is cheaper during the slow season because demand is down. You can save money on accommodation, tours, airfare, etc. Keep an eye out for deals and negotiate all purchases.
Some destinations are more seasonal than others. In some places, people in the tourism industry are starving for business. You can score some great deals.
I understand that bargaining is uncomfortable for many people. In the developed world, it’s not something that we do too often. With that being said, negotiating is basically required to travel on an ultra low budget. You’d be surprised how much money you can save. You can negotiate the price of:
- Hostel and hotel rooms
- Street food
- Fruits and veggies from roadside stands
- Tours and guides
- Taxis, minibusses, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, etc.
- Entrance to some attractions
No salesmen wants to see a potential customer walk away. Most businesses will gladly cut you a deal in order to make a sale. Even if your negotiating skills only manage to save you $3 off the price of a hotel room, that still pays for your lunch the next day. Congratulations!
For some helpful bargaining tips for any situation, check out this great article from Businessinsider.com.
Choose a Cheap Travel Destination
Travel-related costs vary greatly by region. When traveling on an ultra low budget, you’ll mostly want to stick to budget-friendly destinations. These include places like India, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central and South America. In these destinations, you could get by on as little as $10 per day if you follow the money-saving advice in this guide.
If you want to travel somewhere more expensive like Australia, the United States, Canada, or much of Western Europe, you’ll probably end up spending substantially more. Plan your budget accordingly so you don’t run out of money.
For example, if you have a $1000 budget for your trip, you can travel much further and longer in Ethiopia than Norway. In Ethiopia, you could enjoy a nice filling meal for less than $1. You might be able to make that $1000 last 3-6 months if you’re a hardcore budget traveler. The same meal in Norway could cost you $20. Traveling on less than $1000 in one month would be considered a low budget for travel in Norway. You destination plays a major role in what low budget travel means.
Fly as Little as Possible
Airfare is one of the biggest expenses of an international trip. When traveling on an ultra low budget, always travel overland if possible. Taking a bus or train is almost always cheaper than flying even though it takes much longer.
For example, I chose to take the bus from Addis Ababa to Nairobi to cut costs. The flight costs around $200. Traveling by bus costs closer to $40. The only drawback is the fact that the bus journey takes 3-4 days. Even when factoring in hotels and food, I saved well over $100 by traveling overland.
There are exceptions to this rule. Sometimes flying is cheaper than overland travel. Examples of this include:
- Crossing a body of water- Fairy crossings and cruises can cost more than a budget flight.
- Extreme distance- If you’re traveling from one hemisphere to another, you’re probably better off flying.
- Time-consuming journeys- Maybe the overland journey takes a week but you could fly in a day. Consider the cost of food and accommodation for that week. In general, I would still travel overland just for the experience. Sometimes the journey is just as fulfilling as the destination.
- Visas- Sometimes you must pass through a third country to reach your destination. If the country that you must to transit through requires an expensive visa, you may save money by flying over it. Visas sometimes cost several hundred dollars depending on the country and your passport.
Before making a decision, always compare the cost of a flight versus traveling overland. For some busy routes, airfare is surprisingly cheap. Particularly on budget airlines. Sometimes a short flight can be shockingly expensive. It always pays to do your research and shop around a bit.
Consider Working or Volunteering
This point isn’t really what this article is about but I’ll throw it in at the end anyway. You can earn travel money or at least cut your expenses by stopping to work while you travel. Some jobs pay and some just exchange work for free food and accommodation. Popular jobs travelers take include:
- Hostel work
- Harvesting fruit and vegetables
- House sitting
- Teaching English
- Scuba/surf/yoga/ski/fitness instructor
- Au Pair
- Tour guide
- Seasonal work
- Working Holiday visa
As you can see, most of these are low skill, low paying jobs with a few exceptions. Some don’t even offer pay. The idea of taking a job while you travel is to offset your expenses by covering your accommodation cost or putting a small amount of money in your pocket.
In general, I don’t think working while you travel is the greatest plan for most people. Particularly those from a developed country. Most travelers are better off working in their own country where they can earn a higher wage, save as much as possible, then traveling on that savings.
The legality of working in a foreign country varies. Sometimes you need a work visa. Some travelers just work under the table. It really depends on the job and your skillset.
For more travel job ideas, check out this extensive list from The Broke Backpacker.
Final Thoughts on How to Travel on an Ultra Low Budget of $10 Per Day
As we have seen, travel doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re willing to camp, hitchhike, cook your own meals, and forgo a few creature comforts you can see the world on less than $10 per day.
It takes a little bit of work to travel on an ultra low budget. You have to be willing to rough it, negotiate, and spend a fair amount of time researching everything to keep costs down. In my opinion, putting in the effort is worth it.
The experience of ultra low budget travel can is much more rewarding than luxury travel. Traveling on such a low budget shows you what you’re capable of and proves that you don’t have to be wealthy to go on the adventure of a lifetime.
What is your travel budget? Share your low-budget travel tips in the comments below!
More from Where the Road Forks
- Solo Travel Tips: Save Money, Stay Safe, and Make Friends While Traveling Alone
- How to Visit Mexico City on a Budget of $20 Per Day
- Solo Travel Vs. Group Travel: My Pros and Cons List
- The Ultralight Travel Packing List For Men
- Travel Money Tips: Banking, Saving, and Avoiding Scams
- How to Pack Toiletries into a Carry-On Bag
- How to Meet People While Traveling Alone
Saturday 18th of December 2021
Hi! Thanks for sharing your tips! Here are some few more resources about alternative traveling that I found useful: * https://app.couchers.org/ - Relatively new hospitality exchange community for alternative travelers; was founded by two old school experienced couchsurfers. This community, since its launch last year, is constantly growing and more and more travelers are joining almost daily.
* https://www.stiffarmingsociety.com/hitchhiking/ - A series of long-distance hitchhiking strategies, including ways to plan trip architecture, selecting useful rides and utilizing a map, as well as links to external hitchhiking resources.
* http://www.hitchhikingtips.com/hitchhiking-tips-backpacking-insights/ - Insights covering both the material and mental preparation for hitchhiking and backpack traveling, things to pack, where to rest, rules to respect and techniques to apply.
* https://www.hitchlog.com/en - Online logbook for hitchhikers to keep track of the routes they cover.