How to Travel on $50 a Day? This Guy Has the Answer


Travel blogger Matt Kepnes, pictured here in Iceland, literally has written the book on budget travel. (Photo: Matt Kepnes)

Being cheap isn’t widely acknowledged as an admirable quality. But travel blogger Matt Kepnes wears it as a badge of honor.

“I’m cheap. You can quote me on that,” Kepnes, founder of the site Nomadic Matt, tells Yahoo Travel. Kepnes picked up the budget-travel bug after quitting his job and traveling the world in 2006. And he admits his approach to budget travel has changed over the years. “I’m not the 25-year-old backpacker I used to be; now, I want at least a $6-a-night hotel, not a $5-a-night hotel,” he jokes. “I like to try to find that middle where it’s not ultra-budget but you’re not spending a lot of money. I like the challenge of going to a destination, especially an expensive one like the British Virgin Islands or Iceland, and trying to figure out how I can do it on a budget while still enjoying everything the country has to offer.”


New and improved: The new edition of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day (Photo: Matt Kapnes)

If traveling on the cheap is like a religion for Kepnes, he just updated his bible. He just released a “revised, updated, and expanded” version of his 2013 book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter.

“A lot of people ask me, ‘How did you pick $50?’” Kepnes says about his book’s title. He stresses that $50 is not a hard and fast daily spending limit; it’s an average daily amount for a one-year around-the-world trip. That means in a place like Australia, you might spend around $70 a day, while in Indonesia, you may find yourself spending around $30 — all averaging to about $50. “You can go over, you can go under,” Kepnes says. “It’s really up to you.”


Here’s Matt in Bali: He’ll tell you how to see it cheaply. (Photo: Matt Kepnes)

Kepnes says that in the two years since he wrote the first edition of How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, a lot has changed in the cheap-travel game — from the revamping of airline loyalty programs to the rise of home- and ride-sharing sites like Airbnb and Uber. But there are still some basic rules for traveling on the cheap that never change. Here are some of Kepnes’s tips for traveling the world on $50 (more or less) a day:


Blindly searching for bargains can lead you to some bad places if you’re not careful, so do your homework. “Research is very important because you could end up at a place that seems nice online and then it turns out to be the worst hostel you’ve ever stayed at — with broken beds and showers and smells,” Kepnes says. “I’ve done that before.”

City tourism packages are your friends

These discount packages to see local attractions for reduced entrance fees can be huge money savers — another lesson Kepnes learned the hard way. ”I’d never even heard of city tourism passes until years into my travels,” he recalls. “ I remember my first time in Paris. I was paying individually for all those museums. I did not know the Paris Museum Pass existed.” Kepnes recommends unearthing such bargains by looking at your vacation spot’s tourism website before you travel. Or better yet, once you get there, visit the tourism office in person and ask about the available money savers.


The Paris Museum Pass is a lifesaver (and a money saver too). (Photo: Paris Museum Pass)

Related: Easy on the Eyes and the Budget: Cheaper Alternatives to Pricey Vacation Spots

Go to cheap places


You can be pampered, cheaply, in Vietnam and other Southeast Asia destinations. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Some areas of the world are cheaper than others. What are Kepnes’s favorites? “Even though Southeast Asia is one of the most traveled regions in the world, you can’t beat the value there,” he raves. “The amount of value, the bang for your buck in Southeast Asia, is just phenomenal.” And while he raves about Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, he says there’s one Asian country (not in the southeast) that’s consistently underrated. “South Korea is one of the best value destinations in the world,” he says. “Nobody even talks about it or goes there. And it is just a phenomenal country and it’s incredibly cheap. It’s a great budget destination.”

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Kepnes also singles out Eastern Europe (“I mean east Eastern Europe,” he says. “Bulgaria, Romania, the Balkans — those are all incredibly affordable destinations that few people ever venture to”) and Central America (“Nicaragua is a great destination,” he says. “Guatemala, Honduras — there are some good, affordable destinations”).

Go to expensive places


Gosh knows it’s not easy, but you can travel to New York City on a budget (free tip: Stay away from Times Square). (Photo: Thinkstock)

“I think it’s also easy to do some expensive destinations on the cheap,” Kepnes says. Take New York City. “This place is ridiculously expensive,” he says, “but there’s so much cheap food around and apartment sharing and free activities that you can come to New York and not spend a lot of money.” Kepnes says you can apply that same thrifty approach to expensive international destinations like Iceland.

Related: How to Hack Will & Kate’s Trip to NYC on Any Budget

Ride-sharing websites: Use ‘em


Ride-sharing websites can help you get to your destination cheaply — and, potentially, with some new friends. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Kepnes is a big fan of these. “[Imagine] you’re driving from Paris to Bordeaux and you have three empty seats in your car,” Kepnes says. “You can fill that with three people for the cost of gas.” And if you’re the tourist, these arrangements can save you a ton of money. “Now you have a ride that’s a lot cheaper than the train. You get to meet a French person, and there’s more flexibility because then you can stop at places. It’s not just a bullet train experience.”

Stick to your plans…

Being flaky is not conducive to cheap traveling. “Stick to your plans when you’ve committed money to them,” Kepnes warns. “If you buy a flight to a destination or you’ve booked your hotel or something, don’t change your mind, because you’ll be out lots of money.”

Watch: Trips Deal-Hungry Travelers Should Take in 2015

…but also be flexible

While you should stick to your plans once they’re finalized, Kepnes advises being extremely flexible while you’re making those plans. “The more flexible you are in where you want to go and when you want to go, the easier it is for you to capture deals and discounts and travel on the cheap,” he says. Kepnes recommends simply going when and where no one else is going. “I like to fly on Christmas because no one wants to fly on Christmas, so flights are cheaper,” he says. “I don’t go away during school breaks because everyone else is going away during school breaks.”

That contrarian philosophy also applies to picking your destination. “I love Paris. It’s my favorite city in the world,” he says. But he stays the heck out of Paris in August. “For one, there’s no French people there [in August] because they all go down south having their vacations and it’s just overrun with tourists. Go in April and May or October.” If you want to hit Australia or New Zealand, Kepnes recommends avoiding December and January (which is also a good time to skip the Caribbean).

Cheap travel doesn’t mean cheap travel


Remember: You don’t have to live out of your backpack to see the world cheaply. (Photo: Thinkstock)

Yeah, you can travel on $5 a day instead of $50 a day, but you’re not going to be very comfortable. Kepnes makes it clear: Too many people spend way too much time competing over how little they spend on vacation. “Especially the backpacker set,” Kepnes says. “There’s always a ‘I-did-it-cheaper-than-you’ attitude.”

But most travelers aren’t cut out for that level of extreme frugality. “It’s great not to spend a lot of money, but people don’t want to dumpster-dive [for food] every day,” he says. “Couchsurfing is a great website where you can stay with locals for free. But sometimes you don’t really want to stay on a couch.”

It’s that kind of cheap-at-all-costs mentality that tends to snuff out the point of going vacations. “Did you really come all the way to Italy or fly halfway around the world to Australia to not enjoy what that destination has?” he asks.

Instead of following that race-to-the-bottom budget-travel mentality, Kepnes recommends that you focus more on value and less on cheap. ”I have a ‘$10 rule,’” he says. “If a meal or a room is only a few dollars more and it’s going to be a lot more convenient or it’s going to make a more pleasurable experience, I’m willing to spend that extra cash. I can walk an hour to save a $10 cab ride. But I’d rather have that hour more than that $10. You can save money doing anything, but you might be uncomfortable and regret it. Understand what you’re willing to spend for comfort and value.”

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