This view of Florence, Italy can be yours for way less than you think. (Photo: Thinkstock)
The average American with an outer-city apartment spends $25 a day. We are Tommo & Megsy, the travel bloggers behind Five Dollar Traveler and the podcasters behind 5 Dollar Planet, and we spend only $23 a day—while traveling the world instead. This is not a vacation; this is our lifestyle.
Welcome to our secret world of superior travel hacking. We don’t hitchhike. We don’t stay in dorms. For the past two years, we’ve visited 21 countries while traveling full-time, and we’ve eaten well and gone to some of the most expensive destinations, like a 16th-century chateau in France, a volcanic spa in South Korea, and a dive resort in the Philippines.
But our adventures are more than just travel hacking accommodation. We crossed the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, overland. We got covered in color at the Holi festival in India. We learned to make real Italian pizza and gelato in Florence, Italy.
Tommo taking in the view of the Gobi desert in Mongolia. (Photo: Five Dollar Traveller)
Megsy looking on the bright side at the Holi festival in India. (Photo: Five Dollar Traveller)
These experiences happened because we were at a crossroads in our life. We were approaching our 30s and living in Brisbane, Australia, and we’d been saving for a mortgage. But then we realized something: Home ownership would mean endless years of debt. We thought, “What if we spent our money on experiences rather than possessions and property?”
In April 2013, we took the money that would have been our mortgage deposit and flew out to Bangkok. We knew that our savings would give us at least 18 months to see the world and learn how to create an online income so that we could be what’s known as “location independent” indefinitely.
Two years later, we’ve tracked every dollar we’ve spent. Twenty-three U.S. dollars per person per day, on average, includes all our travel expenses and living costs: flights, accommodation, and even shampoo — no stinky backpackers here.
You may be thinking, “Even a budget flight is going to come in at more than $23. So how can you even arrive on that budget?” Here are five of our juiciest tips.
1. Travel in the off-season
May is the lowest of low season in Koh Samui, Thailand. It’s hot, and it rains most days, and those weather stats put off many travelers. But they shouldn’t, because you can still have a great time and save tons of money. An average room is about $18 per person in high season. But in low season, that same room costs only $7 — saving you more than half your accommodation cost.
A view of Ang Thong National Park in Koh Samui, Thailand (Photo: Thinkstock)
And the low season has its perks. It rains briefly in the afternoon, so in the morning you can bask in the sun. In the evening, you can enjoy a cold beer sitting on the beach. The afternoon rain cools the air, making the temperatures more comfortable. Plus, you can always take a dip in the sea to cool down, especially when your room is only 30 seconds from the waterfront. Air conditioning is also included in your fee, so you’ll sleep well, out of the tropical heat.
Also of note: In Asia, the best deals are often at places without websites. We generally just turn up to towns, walk into places that look affordable, ask to see the rooms before agreeing on a price, and then barter.
Remember we mentioned staying in a 16th-century chateau? We stayed for free. Situated on the banks of France’s UNESCO-listed Canal du Midi, our chateau came complete with two lovable dogs.
Our only responsibility was to “wine and dine the puppies,” as our host put it. In return, our host left us provisions to wine and dine ourselves as well, which we did after taking daily bike rides along the canal and through the surrounding fields of sunflowers.
Who wouldn’t want to give this adorable pup some TLC? (Photo: 5 Dollar Planet)
We now housesit about 50 percent of the time, which translates to free accommodation 50 percent of the time. Our favorite housesitting website is TrustedHousesitters.com; they recognized us as some of the top 10 percent of housesitters just three months after we started. Annual membership is about the same as a one-night stay in a one-star London hotel.
3. Eat like a local
A typical tourist lunch in Paris may cost you $20. But thrifty travelers know you can picnic on the lawn by the Eiffel Tower. For $3 per person, enjoy a traditional French baguette, cheese, saucisson, and wine with a view of one of the world’s most iconic landmarks.
Say cheese! (Photo: Five Dollar Traveller)
Similarly, in Australia a pub meal may set you back $15 to $30. But you don’t have to sit in a pub, especially because most parks and beaches have free public barbecues. Grab a couple of beers, bread, and sausages and have a true Aussie BBQ out in the sun for less than $5 per person.
4. Be flexible with your transit
We let special deals do the deciding when we’re booking our transit. We took a Megabus from Paris to Barcelona for $5, for instance, and we got a $30 flight from London to Rome with Ryanair.
How? We use a new website that major search engines don’t want you to know about called WhichAirline.com. It searches every single budget airline and creates composite flight routes from multiple airlines to get you the best possible price. Or, for many long-haul routes, Norwegian Air is our airline of choice. We’ve seen a flight from New York to Bangkok for $379, including taxes.
5. See attractions for free
Want to see world-famous landmarks? Visit when the admission is discounted or free.
A couple pro tips: The Louvre has free entry on the first Sunday of every month, as does the Colosseum in Rome. At the Taj Mahal, we pretended to be disinterested in hiring a tour guide and eventually got ours for half price. We also teamed up with another couple and shared the cost.
Working the system never looked so good. (Photo: Five Dollar Traveller)
In the end, the overall key is to make a psychological shift and choose travel as a lifestyle, not a vacation. These tips can be applied to any trip, but to hit a $23-a-day average, you have to travel long term. Once you realize you don’t have to see the world in two weeks, you can spend the rest of your life experiencing the world instead, for less than staying home. Going minimal and choosing experiences over possessions may sound scary, and it’s not for everyone — but it’s the best choice we’ve ever made.