How to Travel to Exotic, Expensive Cities on $50 a Day

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(Photo: Marc P. Demoz)

OK, I’ve had a few short posts recently.

Now it’s time for my favorite: a post you will want to print out, refer to often, and take with you on adventures. In this case, we’ll explore budget travel that is luxury travel.

But what does that mean? It means that traveling inexpensively is a decision for creativity, not simply a decision against excessive spending. Throwing money at a trip means you are ordering from the normal, plain-vanilla menu (e.g. Marriott or Four Seasons hotels). This often means physically changing locations without changing your perspective or worldview at all.

In contrast, looking at how locals live — and find hidden gems — ensures you have amazing experiences that no guidebook can capture. This post is written by Matt Kepnes, better known as “Nomadic Matt.” He didn’t have his first overseas trip until age 23, and now he’s traveled to more than 70 countries.

His specialty is engineering first-class trips from economy-class budgets… Perhaps it’s time for that trip you’ve been putting off?

Enjoy, and please share your own tips in the comments! Matt will be responding to questions there as well.

Enter Nomadic Matt

When I ask people why they don’t travel as much as they would like, the most common answer is “because of money.”  This is also the saddest and most frustrating answer.

There is an illusion perpetrated by luxury resorts, travel magazines, and travel agencies, that the wonders of some of the greatest cities in the world are out of reach for ordinary folks.

When I started traveling the world in 2006, I made many rookie and costly mistakes. More than 70 countries later, I’ve developed a handful of strategies and tips that can be applied to any destination, no matter how expensive.

Thanks to this handful, I’ve relaxed in the fanciest hotels in the world and stayed in hundreds of hostels. I’ve flown first-class, flown economy class, and hitchhiked through Central America. I’ve eaten at luxury restaurants and street stalls. Seven years of traveling the world on a budget has shown me that you can enjoy the best the world has to offer without sitting in your room eating instant pasta. “Budget travel” doesn’t mean you can’t have some luxury.

Think about your dream destination.  For that matter, think of the three most expensive and sought after cities: Paris, New York or Hong Kong. Wouldn’t it be great to spend a week in any of these cities while only spending $50 a day?

I’m going to show you how to hack these cities from top to bottom: what to do, where to eat, and where you can stay. In reading this post, you’ll also learn flexible principles that can be applied to any city you choose.

The Basics

Before we get to the specifics on each city, here are a few tips that will make flight, hotel, and bank fees vanish.

If this stuff bores you, feel free to skip directly to “City #1: Hacking Paris.”

Flights and Airline Points - I normally fly about 40,000 to 50,000 miles per year, which earns me enough frequent flier miles for a free flight in economy almost anywhere but you don’t need to have to fly to get a free flight – you can use branded travel credit cards and their sign up bonuses to fly free.  I’ve accumulated close to a million miles by taking advantages of credit card bonuses.

If you really want to nerd out and get obsessed like I am, the links below will help turn you into a point hacker pro.

The Points Guy
Flyer Talk
Million Mile Secrets
Hack My Trip
Boarding Area

If you want to keep it simple, it’s best to just get one to two travel credit cards. Here’s what you do:

1. Sign up for a branded airline credit card: All U.S. airlines have a branded travel credit card that gives you 25,000-50,000 points when you sign up and meet their minimum spending requirements (which is sometimes just one purchase). Airline credit cards are the best way to jump-start your mileage balance.  You can gain a lot of points really quickly.  Personally, I use American Airlines Citi Card but for someone just starting out, I would consider getting two cards: one for your favorite airline—whatever it is–and a second card that has flexible points, i.e. points that can be used on any airline. Probably the best beginner card the second card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred because it’s easy to get, has a lower annual fee, and a larger sign up bonus.

2. Sign up for a non-airline credit card: Sign up for a non-airline credit card like a Chase or American Express card. You can use the points earned from these cards and transfer them to your preferred airline. Used in conjunction with step 1, you earn a lot of points very quickly. I recently got two Chase Ink cards and received 120,000 points, which I can transfer to a variety of different airlines.

3. Watch out for special promotions: I sign up for all the airline email lists on the airlines website. I always watch out for special 2-for-1 mile deals, or when they have special card offers to earn extra miles. American Airlines gave me 1,000 miles for watching a demo on their new shopping toolbar. I once got 5,000 miles for joining Netflix! Often times you get miles for filling out surveys or they will give you a 100% bonus on purchasing miles. Promotions help big time, and airlines seem to always be offering them. Utilizing promotions over the course of a few months can yield big results.

Words of caution: While it’s true that “churning and burning” (i.e. opening an closing a lot of credit cards at once) can hurt your credit, opening a few accounts over a year won’t kill your credit rating. I’ve been opening and closing accounts for years and I still have a credit score close to 800 and have never been denied a card. [Of course, be sure to pay off the balance/debt on the cards so you don’t pay fees, but I hope that goes without saying.] (A complete guide to the ins and outs of travel credit cards can be found here)

Accommodation:  Hotel points are just as good as airline miles. I usually sign up for one or two hotel cards to get points for a couple of free night stays in any destination I visit (Recommendation: Starwood American Express). Hotels are not my first accommodation option but in case I can’t find budget accommodation or just want to pamper myself, these points are a good back up.

Bank fees: Don’t give banks your hard earn money via needless fees. If you’re American, you can avoid all ATMs fees by getting a Charles Schwab ATM card (no fees and they reimburse you for other bank’s fees).  For non-Americans, join a bank in the Global ATM alliance. This is a group of banks that have come together to waive each other’s fees. Additionally, use one of these credit cards that don’t have any overseas transaction fees:

American Express Platinum
Chase Sapphire Preferred
United MileagePlus
Any Capital One card

Now, let’s get specific with our cities…

City #1: Hacking Paris


(Photo: Express Monorail)

The first time I stepped out of the metro and onto the Champs-Elysees, I feel in love with Paris. The lights, the ambience, the people. I was in love for life. Every subsequent trip has only deepened that love. All those movies about how wonderful Paris is aren’t lying to you. Paris exudes culture, sophistication, and style. Its museums and monuments are among some of the best in the world, especially if you love art. The food, the music, the wine, the women! (OK, for me, the French woman).

There is so much history in Paris, and the magic I see in movies like Midnight in Paris come alive every time I wander the streets, turn down cobblestone alleys and stumble upon a little café on a plaza where I can sit, drink some wine, and just enjoy the city’s magical energy.

However, Paris is not one of the cheaper cities in the world and a visit here can be expensive if you don’t plan right. It’s what turns most people off from visiting. They search on Expedia or Hotels.com and see $1,000 USD flights and $250 a night hotel rooms and think “no way”! But Paris has its secrets and as always there’s myriad of ways to reduce your expenses.

ACCOMMODATION:
Lodging is the biggest barrier to doing Paris on a budget. The single best decision you can make is to avoid Paris in July and August when rates are there highest. (Also, Paris is crazy crowded and hot then too! Go in the spring or fall to get better rates)

No matter when you go, there are five ways to avoid breaking the bank on accommodation:

  • Use Eurocheapo.com – This is the most comprehensive budget accommodation website for Europe and lists tons of properties not usually found on websites like Hotels.com or Expedia. When I’m looking for budget hotels, this is where I go. You’ll find small, family owned guesthouses they personally review not found anywhere else. Double rooms can start at $50 a night (i.e. only $25 per person).
  • Rent an apartment – In Paris, hotels are the most expensive place to stay. Enterprising Parisians have used this to rent out expensive space in their apartments to help pay their high rent. You can find a lot of guest rooms and apartments on sites like Airbnb, Wimdu, and Roomorama. Private double rooms begin at $40 USD per night ($20 per person). Single rooms or shared rooms start at around $30. Book at least a month in advance as these bargains book up fast and last minute spots are closer to $100.
  • Hostels – Hostels aren’t just for young kids – people of all ages stay in them. My favorite is St. Christopher’s Inn. Hostels in Paris are the cheapest option for single travelers with dorm rooms starting at $20 per night. You can book hostels on either Hostelworld or Hostelbookers.
  • Couchsurfing – Couchsurfing is a site that allows people to stay with locals for free. It’s a wonderful site – you not only get free accommodation but also get a local guide to give you the inside track on a destination. Through the site, I’ve learned about Aussie politics, Danish culture, and saw a German rock shows in Munich.  Tim has a comprehensive guide to Couchsurfing here.

Accommodation is going to take up a large portion of your budget no matter but the more you save using these tips, the more you can splurge on food and activities.

FOOD:
The city of lights has some of the best and most expensive food in the world. Moving from market stall to market stall, sampling rich French food, and buying picnic supplies for lunch in front of the Eiffel Tower is an ideal morning for me. If you really want to try some truly amazing (and affordable) French food, skip any place listed in a guidebook, and do what the locals do, and visit the small cafes and markets.

Delicious market food meals can cost as little as $5. In my opinion the best markets in Paris: (This page lists all the markets in Paris:)

  • Rue Cler – Located near the Eiffel Tower, this street is filled with good Parisian eateries. You’ll find cheese, meat, bread, vegetables, and chocolate stores to explore. It’s one of my favorite streets in the city. Due to its location, it’s one of the more touristy markets, with slightly higher prices than others. Stick to the breads, meats, and cheeses here.
  • Rue Montorgueil – Half market, half foodie-paradise-shopping street, the pedestrianized Rue Montorgueil is filled with flower vendors, rotisseries, tempting bakers and fragrant cheese shops. Here your delicious and cheap options include hot chocolate at Charles Chocolatier, a pastry at Stohrer (the oldest pastry shop in Paris), and fruit and vegetables from the stalls. You can walk away from here with a large meal for 2-3 people for around $13 USD.
  • Monge – In Place Monge, not far from the Jardin des Plantes, the Arènes de Lutèce and the Panthéon, this little open-air market is one of the most well known markets in the city center. This market is open from Wednesday and Friday from 7.00 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. and Sunday between 7.00 a.m. and 3.00 p.m. It’s a popular market with locals and prices here tend to be the cheapest. Visit early to get the best selections. By the time lunch has rolled around, the freshest food is already gone.

Markets are going to be the most economical way to eat – and the most delicious. Markets survive and thrive in Paris because Parisians don’t have large kitchens and do their shopping every few days which means markets are always a hive of activity and deals.

Beyond just the markets, Paris offers many affordable meals. Just south of Notre Dame, Rue Dauphine has some worthwhile eateries. The place gets crowded with folks relaxing for drinks after dinner. Pull up a chair, grab a glass of wine, and people watch.

Two of my favorite restaurants are Jeanne A and Le Patio Provencal. Both offer delicious, rich, and inexpensive French food. Both are very off the beaten path but the staff does speak enough English where you can order without knowing French.

Jeanne A is also located near one of my favorite drinking spots, Josephine, in the Ménilmontant area, an area that is filled with affordable bars serving well priced drinks and often with live bands. While in Paris, avoid going clubbing. They are incredibly overpriced and often have a cover charge.

SIGHTSEEING TIPS:
The first thing any visitor needs to do is to get a Paris Museum Pass. This is a pre-paid pass that gets you access to over 60 museums and monuments around Paris. A 2-day PASS is only $51 USD, a 4-day pass is only $70 USD, and a 6-day pass is only $90 USD. And while this takes a big bit out of your daily budget, this pass will more than pay for itself. Without this pass, admission to the Louvre and Versailles alone  are $40 USD!. Admission to those establishments plus the top museums in Paris would run something like $150 USD.  Since most people visit lots of museums in the city, this pass is a great way to keep yourself to your $50 a day budget.

Crowds swarm the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral, creating long queues that wrap around each structure and can last for hours. Head there early in the morning or very late in the afternoon to avoid the rush. Lines start to form about an hour after opening.

The Latin Quarter is one of my favorite areas in Paris, and is less crowded than the touristy areas around the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame. It is a calm and beautiful place to wander around. Head deep into the heart of it for tiny winding streets and cheap cafes that look out into little plazas. Be aware that the cafes get crowded with Parisians during lunch time. Come around noon (Parisians eat late) and you’ll find plenty of space.

The Louvre is the biggest museum in the world with thousands of square feet of space and millions of exhibits. Most people don’t know that the Louvre has discounted admission after 6pm on Fridays and free on Sundays. During the low season, it is also closed on Tuesdays.  If you buy the Paris Museum Pass, you get free admission.

Be prepared to spend hours here and not even see it all. To see it all, you’ll need at least two full days.  But for those without the desire or time to see it all, the best way to optimize your time is to go early, see the Mona Lisa first before the crowds, and then wander around seeing everything else in relative quiet as crowds overtake the Mona Lisa. When I visit the Louvre, I head straight there (also the Marriage of Cana right behind it is also pretty spectacular), and then wander around the museum. The crowds go right for the main course so while they jockey for space at the world’s most overrated painting, you get to stroll through the museum before the crowds disperse.

Additionally, to skip the long lines, use one of two entrances that most people have no idea exist. Enter via the side entrance in the Richelieu Wing, just across from where you exit the Louvre-Palais Royale metro.

For this entrance, you’ll need a ticket already. You can use your Paris Museum Pass will work or you can buy a ticket at one of the Paris tourist centers that dot the city. Additionally, you can also find short lines at the Porte des Lions entrance in the south western wing.

The Louvre and the impressionist museums (Musee D’Orsay and Musee D’Orangie) might get most of the attention but there are plenty of other great museums in the city – the amazing Rodin museum see a surprising dearth of visitors, the Holocaust museum is one of the best I’ve seen around the world, and the Paris Sewer museum gives you particularly interesting insight into one of the oldest and largest sewer systems in the world. All national museums are free admission on the first Sunday of every month. If you happen visit this day, be aware of potentially large crowds and long lines.

If you want a good view of the city but don’t want to wait to get to the top of the Eiffel Tower, head to Montmartre.  I like coming up here, sitting near the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur for the view, and eating all the good food I found at one of the markets. 

A visit to the Palace of Versailles (free with your Paris pass) requires a whole day. It gets very crowded, especially when all the tour groups arrive. To avoid the crowds, I trying to see the actual palace at the end of the day. People tend to move from the palace to the gardens so I work in the opposite direction. I start at Marie Antoinette’s home and then the gardens and then the palace. By mid-afternoon, there are fewer crowds and your pass gets you into everything all day. Otherwise, you can also get to the palace when it opens to avoid the long lines and stream of people.

Potential visitors often think Paris is expensive and that all those museums are just going to add up. Not necessarily. If you get the museum pass, the four-day pass only costs $17.5 USD. To maximize your time seeing the city, here is a five day itinerary for sightseeing Paris.

Paris is a huge and expensive city but like all places, there are ways to make it affordable. Once you skip the big hotels and don’t eat near the tourist attractions, you’ve pretty much lowered your big costs, allowing you to enjoy Paris more and worry less about money. The markets are cheap, drinks in Ménilmontant affordable, and the Paris pass saves hundreds.

You may not want to visit on only $50 a day, but there’s no reason need to spend hundreds here.

City #2: Hacking Hong Kong


(Photo: Trodel)

Hong Kong is the like the New York City of the East–big, dense, hectic, multi-cultural, and open all hours.

But imagine New York City tucked into rolling green hills with towering crème and brown and pink skyscrapers that blend into one. When looking out at the city from the water, it looks as though someone photoshopped it into the mountains; this teeming metropolis set against a nature park.

Hong Kong: I can’t get enough of it.

I can eat at tiny dumpling shops while drinking dollar beers next to a seven-star hotel. How many cities can you do that in? And when you head out at night, you meet people from around the world. Hong Kong fascinated me before I visited – and then I went there and, ate there, and wandered its streets – and my fascination turned into love.

People think Hong Kong is expensive due to the massive high rises, banking industry, and expensive hotels. But the city located in Asia, a region of the world where those on the tiniest of budgets can make due thanks to guesthouses and an inexpensive street food culture that refuses to go away.

ACCOMMODATION:
In Hong Kong there are a few keys ways to not have accommodation eat your budget.

First, stay in Chungking Mansion. This dilapidated but interesting 17 story building on Kowloon island is home to cheap food stalls, markets (with goods that fall off the back of a truck), and plenty of cheap guesthouses where beds start at $15 USD a night. There’s nothing cheaper in the city.

Secondly, avoid staying on Hong Kong Island. Accommodation – from cheap guesthouses to expensive hotels – is much more expensive on this island (just like the island of Manhattan as we’ll see later). The other islands have much cheaper accommodation.

Your other options are slim but available. Airbnb and hostels all start around $20 a night for a dorm bed and go up to $40 for a private. You can Couchsurf but Hong Kong is a city where those free hotel points should be redeemed. All the major hotel chains are represented here and if you aren’t in the mood to share a room, redeem the points here.

FOOD:
While accommodation will eat a good chunk your budget, luckily food doesn’t have too. And it will be some of the best food in your life. Asia has a very pronounced street culture and all the major cities in the region have delicious meals (eaten by the locals en masse) served from street stalls. Hong Kong is no different.

To eat cheaply:

First, visit the local markets. Most locals shop at markets as they offer the cheapest and freshest foods, at times up to 50% cheaper than grocery stores. The Chun Yeung Street market in North Point, Hong Kong Island is one of the best. Many of the outdoor shopping markets also have small food vendors near them for quick, cheap and delicious eats. Meals will start at around a dollar.

Skip the fancy restaurants and instead go for the tiny little shops without the glitzy lights. You’ll find the best food there.  In fact, Hong Kong boosts a dumpling shop called Tim Ho Wan that has a Michelin star. Get there when they open or the line is usually about two hours long. Some of my other favorite cheap eats include Mr. Wong’s (located right next to Tim Ho Wan), which has all you can eat and drink for only $8 USD. Mr. Wong is a character. He’ll joke around and keep serving you food until you can’t burst. Additional, the string of restaurants on Jardin’s Bazaar road at Causeway Bay has tons of tiny little vendors.

For cheap drinks, experience the nightlife at Lan Kwai Fong. LKF is the main nightlife and party area in Hong Kong and is filled with tons of bars, clubs, shisha bars, and cheap drinks. It’s where all the young folks go to party, so the drinks are pretty cheap.

TRANSPORTATION:
Hong Kong, except for the outlying areas, is pretty walkable.  You can even walk up Victoria Peak if you don’t want to shell out for the tram. The city’s many walkways and skyways make for fascinating sightseeing in and of themselves, with steep stairs and glass-enclosed paths a city within a city. Additionally, take the Star Ferry between Kowloon and Hong Kong island. It’s only .30 USD cents and the cheapest way to get between the islands (plus the view of the skyline is great!).  I especially enjoy taking it at night when the city high rises are all light up.

Taxis in Hong Kong are very expensive and should be general avoided by anyone on a budget. The train in Hong Kong can add up quickly as fares are based on distance. If you’re traveling fair in Hong Kong, getting a day pass for the train will be much more economical.

SIGHTSEEING TIPS:
Hong Kong has many cheap and free sights that will fill your days without emptying your wallet.

The Hong Kong Tourism office offers free cultural tours. Advance sign up is required but if you are interested in learning more about the local culture, this program is the best. Recently, a private company also started to do free walking tours of Hong Kong. This National Geographic article has a list of many free activities.

There are a large number of traditional temples and heritage sites throughout the city. You can visit the Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery, Lo Pan Temple, Sha Tin Che Kung Temple or the Yuen Yuen Institute. All are free.

Head out into the new territories – want to get off the beaten track? Visit the New Territories where you can avoid the crowds that is central Hong Kong, find inexpensive food, tiny villages, and more open space. Do the Ping Shan Heritage Trail, which is a small village walk that passes through historic museums and buildings.  The walk isn’t that long, taking only about an hour.

The Peak Tram This tram takes you to the top of the Peak, Hong Kong Island’s largest mountain, standing at 522 meters.  This is an absolutely spectacular way to view the skyscape of Victoria Harbor and Kowloon and marvel upon the encompassing beauty of the surrounding hills. The tram costs $10 round trip but as I said above, you can walk this route if you don’t want to take the tram, looping up on narrow roads to the top of the Peak.

Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront - Stroll along the Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront and take in the breathtaking skyline view of Hong Kong island. While you’re here, make sure to visit the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong’s answer to the Hollywood “Walk of Fame”. At 8 p.m., there is a fireworks and light show over the harbor and the waterfront is the best place to see it.

360 Ngong Ping – This is a cable car runs a little over 3.5 miles long, spanning from Tung Chung, across the bay, to Airport Island. The view gives you a panoramic view of the whole area and goes through the mountains. The ride lasts about 25 minutes long. It’s an expensive $20 USD gondola ride but on a clear day, the pictures you get are worth the money.

Hong Kong is thoughts to be a hard city to do a very tight budget. But between all the cheap food stalls, tiny local restaurants, and free temples and monuments, it’s definitely not impossible.

Not only can you visit this beautiful city without breaking the bank, it’s also worth every penny you spend.

City #3: Hacking New York City


(Photo: CCHO)

NYC is one of the most amazing places in the world and certainly within America (it eventually got me as a full-time resident). Sometimes though, it feels like you can’t step out onto the street without spending $50.

I never thought I would enjoy living in such a metropolis but–as a traveler–NYC is the closest I can get to being everywhere in the world at once. On any given day, I’ll here a dozen languages and be able to eat Bhutanese for breakfast, Chinese for lunch, and Jamaican for lunch. If I want to see a movie at 2 am, I can do that too.

The prices of New York City are intimidating, but once you look past, through and around them, you realize that New York is a city filled with a plethora of ethnic enclaves, cheap meals, and free attractions.

ACCOMMODATIONS:
The hardest part about coming to New York City is finding cheap accommodation. Hotels have been pushing out hostels and trying to get the city to crack down on apartment rental services for a number of years now and they are succeeding – to our loss. Luckily, New Yorkers are creative and there are a number of ways you can still stay for cheap or free:

  • Choose Your Own Price – Hotwire and Priceline feature amazing deals for those willing to be given a random hotel. Using their blind booking feature, I have found hotels in Times Square for $80.  And that’s Times Square, one of the most famous locations in the world. You can find rates cheaper than $50 if you expand your search outside Manhattan.
  • Jazz Hostels  – One of the best hostels in Manhattan features some of the cheapest rates.  Dorms start at $30 USD.
  • Couchsurfing – NYC features millions of hosts who are happy to show guests their city. Since hosts get inundated with tons of requests, ask early for the highest chance of success.
  • AirbnbDespite the news, Airbnb is still alive and well in the city.  Rooms start at $30 a night. Places outside Manhattan’s downtown area will be the cheapest.
  • Stay out of Manhattan – Like Hong Kong, Manhattan has the most expensive accommodation in the city, but boroughs such as Brooklyn and Queens have much cheaper food and lodging and are just a quick subway ride into the city.

The reason why people say, “New York is so expensive” is because they most look at hotel prices in Manhattan. But the NYC subway system is extensive and runs 24 hours a day. Lower your accommodation costs by staying outside Manhattan. It’s what most of the residents do, that’s for sure.

FOOD:
I get it. You want to come to NYC and eat well. The city has some of the best restaurants in the world but they take a huge bite out of your wallet. Save them for when you can afford them. For now, do what the rest of us do, and eat this way:

  • Eat at the food carts - You’ll find a million food cars in the city offers lots od different types of delicious and very inexpensive filling food. Check http://newyorkstreetfood.com/ to search by type of food to find locations.
  • Hot Dogs – Hot dog carts are everywhere, and a typical dog usually costs $2. For gourmet dogs, try Bark or Asia Dog. They cost around $5.00.
  • Pizza – Pizza is a staple food here in New York  – there are more pizza shops than Starbucks. A single-topping slice is usually $2.50-$3.50 (historically, slices stay commensurate with the cost of a subway ride), but many offer plain cheese slices for only a buck. Look for shops clustered together as they get into price wars and offer the cheapest slices.
  • Chinatown Street food – Food carts on Canal Street (between Broadway and the Bowery) sell steamed, grilled, and fried Chinese food for $1-$2. Neighborhood dumpling stands offer 5 dumplings for a dollar. Prosperity Dumplings is my favorite.  For the more intense Chinatown (what locals call the “Real Chinatown”, take the 7 train from Grand Central to the end of the line, Main Street in Flushing. Right next to the subway stop are dozens of stalls selling delicious eats for a dollar, roast duck and pork belly carts and basement food stalls with more cheap eats than you will know what to do with.
  • Falafel Stands – Tons of food trucks and stands sell quick and cheap falafel. For something a bit more established, visit Mamoun’s, which offers Baba Ganoush, falafel and kebabs for under $6. It’s located near Washington Square Park. There’s usually a line.
  • Great cheap tacos – Fabulous tacos around town, and more are opening every day. For authentic recipes in a great setting, try LES Taqueria on Orchard. Another great option is La Esquina on Kenmare, right in the middle of shopping districts. Don’t miss their elote either.

Some of my favorite places to eat are:

Chelsea Market (food stalls, local eats, farm-to-table)
Sao Mai, or Pho Bang (all Vietnamese)
Wondee Siam, Nahm (both Thai)
Bareburger, Corner Bistro, Siggy’s (each with delicious burgers)
Num Pang (Vietnamese sandwiches)

[NOTE FROM TIM: For a ton of my favorite spots in NYC, check this out -- The New York City Food Marathon: 26.2 Iconic Dishes in One 24-Hour Walking Tour.]

SIGHTSEEING TIPS:
One of the virtues of NYC is that you can sightsee some of its greatest attractions without spending anything.

To see the statue of liberty, take the Staten Island Ferry - That two-hour long line to see the Statue of Liberty not appealing? Well, walk a few blocks to the Staten Island ferry. The free ferry will take you across the harbor and give you a good view of both the Statue of Liberty and the city skyline. The ride takes about 20 minutes. In other words, you can see it for free and with no line!

Walk the Brooklyn Bridge – Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to experience an interesting view of the New York skyline and harbor. It’s a long walk but good food and drinks (like the brewery) await you on the other side. Again—free.

Museum hop for free - NYC is littered with some of the best museums in the world, from the Met to the MoMa to the Guggenheim. Many museums offer free entry certain days of the week. The Whitney Museum of American Art is free on Fridays after 6 p.m., the Solomon R. Guggenheim has “suggested” donations after 5 p.m. on Saturdays, the Museum of American Folk Art is free, the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design is free on Tuesday evenings free, the American Museum of Natural History is free, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met) is also free (suggested donation is $20). The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa)– free admission Friday nights, 4 – 8pm (be warned, it’s a mob scene on Fridays).

Get Discounted Theater Tickets - You can’t come to NYC and not see a Broadway show. Tickets though can run hundreds of dollars, especially for the new and popular shows. Luckily, there’s a way to get discount tickets. The TKTS stand in Times Square offers 40-50% off select shows. You need to arrive at the counter the same day to see what they have but it’s usually a widespread and good selection. Be prepared to wait in line for about an hour. TKTS also have offices at the South Street Seaport and in Brooklyn.

Many shows offer cheap “rush” tickets (i.e. first come, first served tickets) on the day of the show.  These are for tickets that often don’t sell well, like partially obstructed views or the last row of the balcony.  So you get cheap tickets ($25-40) but not great seats. However, for sold-out hit shows, these are sometimes the only tickets to be found. The best resource for rush ticket information is Studentrush.org.

Top of the Rock – Right in Rockefeller center, you can head to the top of the building to see panoramic views of the city. This is better than going up to the Empire State building because with the top of the rock, you can get the Empire State building in your photos. While there are only slightly fewer tourists at the Top of the Rock, it’s a vastly less clichéd experience with a much shorter line.

Take a free tour – New York is a great place to walk around. However, only seeing New York from the outside is half the story. Take some of the free tours to see learn about the history of the city.  The best tours:

  • The Central Park Conservancy offers several park tours each day based around certain themes: history, design, ecology, and horticulture.
  • The Grand Central Partnership gives tours of the famous terminal every Fridays at 12:30pm.
  • The Village Alliance leads walking tours of Greenwich Village, June – October.
  • The Lower East Side BID offers walking tours every Sunday at 11am, April – November. The tours last three hours.
  • Free Tours By Foot offers walking, food, and bike tours of NYC’s neighborhoods for free (though you should tip the guide!). There are multiple tours throughout the day making them easy to schedule.
  • Big Apple Greeter provides free walking tours, lead by locals, as part of a city tourism initiative. You’ll need to make reservations about a month in advance.

Federal Hall  – Right next to Wall Street is an often-missed museum. Federal Hall is where George Washington, first president of the United States, was inaugurated in 1789. The hall, which is free and open to the public, showcases life in the city at that time as well as some information about the early founding of our government.

New York City may be famous as one of the most expensive cities in the world but sightseeing, eating, and drinking can all be done on a budget if you know where to look and how to navigate the system.***

If you can take three of the most expensive cities in the world and turn them into an affordable destinations, you can turn any dream destination into a reality. Just a few universal travel principles make travel to anywhere possible. Budget travel isn’t about being cheap; it’s about not being wasteful.

The tactics we’ve covered–using hotel and flight points, searching out alternatives to hotels, eating at tinier stalls, morning markets and less glitzy places, and using attraction passes – can work in any city. Traveling the world on $50 is more than just traveling by a simple number, it’s about being a smarter traveler. It’s about training yourself to look for deals in unknown places, to travel like locals live.

###

If you’ve ever fantasized about taking time off to globe-trot, I would highly recommend Rolf Pott’s Vagabonding. It is one of only two books I took with me when I traveled the world for 18 months. Outside Magazine founding editor Tim Cahill calls Vagabonding “the most sensible book of travel related advice ever written.”
I recently partnered with Rolf to release the exclusive audiobook for Vagabonding. For more on this incredible book, click here

Matthew Kepnes runs the award winning budget travel site, Nomadic Matt. He got the travel bug after a trip to Costa Rica in 2004, and decided to quit his job, finish his MBA and travel the world. His book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day–a guide for traveling cheaper, better, and longer–is now available.

Posted on: August 5, 2013.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

235 comments on “How to Travel to Exotic, Expensive Cities on $50 a Day

      • Sydney is tough but doable. The fast growing Aussie economy has driven prices through the roof! Luckily, the dollar has declined a bit (10% in the last month) but some specific tips:

        1. Drink goon – it’s box wine and the cheapest drinks you can find. Beers are about $8 in a bar and a 6 pack is about $15 in the stores.

        2. Eat at hostels – most hostels have restaurants attached. Typical pub food but darn cheap!

        3. Get a transportation pass – saves you money on the way to and from the beach! :)

        4. Take a free tour – http://www.imfree.com.au/sydney/

        5. Stay with locals, don’t pay for accommodation – Couchsurfing and Global Freeloaders are very big in Sydney and you can find a lot of hosts!

        – Matt

        Like

      • Just a heads up that ‘goon’ while certainly commonly used is a racist term for native Australians (with the stereotype being that they drink it a lot).

        Fine to use in a comment but I wouldn’t put in say a travel article or ask for it at a bottleo!

        Like

      • Ditto – Goon isn’t a racist term here. Aussie vernacular 101:

        “Coon”: Racist term for an indigenous Australian. Using this term will likely lead to you getting a fist sandwich and being labled as racists.

        “Goon”: Wine in a cask… likely to lead to lead you on a night of shenanigans, and leave you with a splitting headache in the morning.

        Either way.. both may result in you ending up with a sore head

        Like

      • Great travel hacks Matt! Managing Chiang Mai on $30 no bother but Perth was a whole different game!

        Australia is definitely one of the harder places to live on a budget as most hostels hit $30-$35 just to sleep in a dorm..

        Each what is cheap from coles and share boxes of wine and it can be done.. If staying for a while then try and get free accom to make beds in the hostel or check sites like Helpx to see if there is anything near (although never in cities, but occasionally)…

        Keep coming with the tips :)

        Like

      • I just came from a barebone Sydney trip, which I did for 49.97AUD/day, excluding the flights to/from Sydney and the airport gatepasses. I doubt anyone would repeat this, unless they find substantial joy in the little things of life.

        30.00AUD – 4-bed share at Jackaroo Hostel
        6.40AUD – MyMulti WeekPass per day – All access travel in the City
        5.50AUD – Big Brekkie Wrap at Hungry Jacks
        3.00AUD – Ham Wrap Special at Subway
        3.00AUD – Meatball Wrap Special at Subway
        2.07AUD – 1Litre BrainJuice from Coles
        ———————————————————
        49.97AUD Total

        Like

    • Ahh yes! I was working on my Aussie visa after hearing good news back from a hostel on Coogee beach in Sydney for a work/stay situation. However, then I found out that you needed 5000 in your bank account to get the work and travel visa. :/ If anyone knows if there is away around this, please let me know! I just can’t wait to get to Sydney!

      Like

      • Kate, Pls, pls, pls be extremly careful with working visas in Australia. There is no issue getting the visas however the rules/regulation around the amount and type of work you can do are quite strict. Due to the demand for visas there are a lot of unscrupulous people that will try and make you work for nothing. Have a look at Helpex.net – basically 4 hours work in exchange for board and accomodation. If you like the outdoors its a great option, and avoinds the $5k requirement. If you really want to work in Aust then look at a 457 visa (skills visa). If you have any experience in nursing, constructionor accounting these are reasonably easy to secure and they are in high demand.

        Like

  1. I’ve been to Korea, Chile,and Ethiopia, but would love to see Europe someday, so I’m loving all these ideas. You ought to add a Pinterest button to this post– this is the type of thing a lot of folks would share.

    Mary

    Like

  2. What a generous post, Matt! This is a keeper, for sure.
    I’m currently traveling all around the US on my Vespa (the gas costs are certainly low!) and here is a reverse/ bonus hack on the NYC hack… I rent out my ridiculously expensive NYC apartment on Airbnb and then go travel. The income above and beyond what covers my rent (and income tax, people need to remember that it counts as income) pays for my accommodations elsewhere. I scour Priceline and Airbnb for my overnights. I’ve met incredible people this way and am enjoying a pretty epic trip!
    Next week, I’m getting a motorhome, another fun way to travel.

    Like

  3. I love the Paris tips! I went when I was 18 and want to return again soon. The museum pass sounds like a great deal. And I think I need to get a Charles Schwab ATM card ASAP. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

  4. Hola Tim!
    Actually, I still haven’t read your latest post, but I wanted to be the very first one to comment on it! I know, silly me ;) Anyway, I just want to tell that ever since I read the 4HW it has profoundly changed the way I look at life and it’s given me the courage to chase my dreams… To be honest, one of my wishes in my bucket list is to meet you in person and have some buen tequila together while trying to sing some traditional Mexican song! Keep up the terrific work you’re doing and I send you un fuerte abrazo :)… Greetings from Jalisco, México, land of tequila and mariachi! ( which I happen to be- a fifth- generation, 24-year-old identical twin female mariachi musician in a family band ;)

    Like

    • Hola Belen, I am fan of 4HW and 4HB too, I live in Guadalajara as well, would it be nice if we can plan meet Tim once hehe, invite him to our city.

      what is your fb url? May I can send you messages in private.

      Like

  5. Nice job on this detailed post. Love the specifics on hacking by city.

    My family (wife and 3 boys under 8) and I are traveling the world for 2 years and most of these options aren’t really great for us…but if I were still a younger solo traveler….

    ~Jeff

    Like

  6. Epic. Staying right outside of an expensive city is key — not too far to be inconvenient but not too close to be expensive. Great tip.

    Going to get on this travel hacking thing first before I travel to my next big city. Thanks for the resources.

    Like

  7. Love this post. Thanks.

    I’m planning a trip to Paris, so your tips are most welcome.
    On the Hong Kong part…the Chungking Mansion, is special, cheap, yet I would advise to check Airbnb for comparing options

    Like

    • Chungking mansions, I’ve been through there and walked around…it’s definitely for the more adventurous.

      I looked through 2 or 3 hostels there and it was dark and dank. There might be other hostels there that may be cleaner though.

      Like

  8. I love this post, it has got me thinking how can a family hack travel and getaway to those places most of us believe we are never going to have the chance to go to?
    Sounds like families could be going at off peak times (still possible in school hols if you go away from local hotspots), staying away from popular places where everyone else wants to stay & eating street food…time for some research!

    Like

  9. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for the detailed post. It’s obvious that you have spent a long time refining your craft of living well in different parts of the world.

    After reading the post, I had a question come to mind (for either Matt or Tim):

    Aside from leveraging the technology you suggested, what do you recommend when it comes to visiting a new location with little to no preparation? What principles or techniques would you suggest for finding information that only locals or past visitors would know – preferably in a short period of time?

    Thanks again for the insightful post!

    Like

    • I do two things: First, I walk to the local tourism office and ask a million questions: what to see, do, where to eat, how much is the bus, is there a pass, does it save money, etc etc. I’m usually there for 30 minutes!

      Secondly, I go to a hostel….even if I’m not staying there. They always have their pulse on cheap things to do, see, places to eat, free activities, and what’s really a good deal. Great resources!

      Like

      • Thanks for the quick response, Matt!

        I’m visiting Costa Rica for the entire month of October, and I’m going in blind. Would these locations come recommended for finding short-term work (roughly 2 to 4 weeks at a time) or is there usually a better place to focus my efforts early on?

        Thanks again!

        Like

      • I don’t know a lot about short term work there or if it is even possible. Maybe Puerto Viejo because there is a backpacker community there as well as Santa Theresa. My best guess.

        Like

  10. Hi Tim & Matt,

    Thank you for another long hacking post, I love reading these!

    I have read a bunch of hacking tips before, regarding miles and credit cards, but most tips, you have to be situated in the US from the beginning. Can you share some tips to the people from the rest of the world as well? I know we have some frequent flyer bonuses in Europe as well, but I am not sure they are anywhere near as powerful as in the us.

    Thanks again

    Like

      • Thanks for your reply Matt, unfortunately I am not in the UK but in Scandinavia, that is Denmark / Sweden. Is it still possible to sign up for the US credit cards and reap some of the bonuses?

        I am traveling a lot, and never use any bonus systems what so ever, I guess the hotel bonuses work for Europe and Asia as well?

        Can you share some tips?

        Thanks

        Like

  11. Wonderful post you guys. My best hack was purchasing a travel agent license (it’s roughly $300/year). Don’t get the home based business type ones with monthly fees and stuff, just grab the annual pass type ones. Once you have an IATA number, you get access to FAM trips, ridiculous discounts like 75% off hotels – which actually makes them feasible, and other perks. Pain in the butt part is you need to take another smileless passport photo for the ID, but having that card is worth it.

    That trick alone saved me on average of 10k a year – but still let me stay in the hotel zone :). Well worth it if you have to travel for work at least twice a year. Y’know this has inspired me to start my own post about travel hacking. I think I’ll work on that now… Killing my wantrepreneur AND travel hacking at the same time. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Like

  12. Matt, have you “hacked” Tokyo yet?

    my 2 cents:
    Couch surfing isn’t so popular here, but the committed cheapo can save a bundle staying overnight in a Manga cafe (you get your tatami mat cubicle to sleep on plus ~2bucks extra for a shower in the morning)

    Like

  13. Right on Matt!

    I guess picking just 7 cities was pretty hard to do. The Paris guide is especially fascinating. And I’d be interested to hear your opinions of the local chicas from place to place ;-)

    Any tips on hacking San Francisco? I actually used to LIVE there (well, Balboa Park) and I was still *struggling* to not overspend…

    Like

  14. Just gave the article a quick scan (no travel plans currently). Seems some of the tips are geared towards people based in the US – what are the counterparts for Europeans (ie. Airline credit cards, this whole promotions stuff which is not so common in Europe afaik)? Thanks in Advance!

    Like

  15. Hi Matt and Tim,

    thank you for the article, it was very nice reading all these little hacks that can make a huge difference in your wallet.

    I would like to add an opportunity to save money in Paris, because I recently have been there: do your sightseeing in Paris by bike. Vélib is a city-wide service to rent bikes. With a ticket you can take bikes all over town, drive somewhere else, leave the bike at a station, and take another one somewhere else within the renting period. The website is: http://en.velib.paris.fr/

    I did that, and it was great. There is so much freedom of sightseeing for so little money.

    Cheers,
    Holger

    Like

  16. One of my favorite movies is “A Map for Saturday.” It’s a documentary about a guy who up and quits his job, then does a year long RTW trip. He films the trip and talks about his experiences, the people he meets, how much it all costs, etc. All in I think he spends $20k for the year including a fair amount of time in Europe and Austrailian. I highly reccomend checking it out.

    Like

      • I also love that doc! A couch surfing host sent it to me in a couch surfing message haha. It gave me the travel bug again like crazy. Matt – I am a HUGE fan of you, and of Tims. You both are honestly my idols and not a day goes by that I don’t spend a few hours (okay, or at least an hour some days haha) on both of your blogs or reading your books. My question is this: I am a newbie when it comes to signing up for any credit cards. However, I am trying to get to Europe ASAP. Can I use points/miles from only one card for one flight? Or can I combine cards to pay for flights? I hope that makes sense… I don’t know how that would really be possible to split the price on 2 cards even though I do plan on getting a card to use for all airlines like the one you mentioned above as well as cards directly from airlines themselves.
        Thanks!
        You and Tim keep on inspiring and being super-human, now! xx – Kate

        Like

    • thanks for that tip.. i was actually wondering how much i can expect to start saving. I plan on a 6/mo gig and will involve my son, but it might be a great documentary we can watch together :-)

      Like

  17. It´s good to hear about this possibilities Matt. I did New York staying in Jazz Hostels 5 years ago…

    If anyone’s interested, I did 10 days in Mallorca, Spain last month for an incredible low budget, while enjoyed everything the island has to offer:

    – Return flight from Berlin ~200€
    – Rented car Ford Fiesta for 24€/day to go everywhere, for 6 days we spent 60€ of gas.
    – Slept for less than 50€ a night for two people, in the best locations and apartments (airbnb), (and did couchsurfing the last 3 days).
    – We cooked all the time, so we spent about 70€ in food.
    – If you know where to look for less than 15€ you can have the most amazing meals: “paella” for two + white wine + dessert or eat a full meal in the market for 7€, cooked in front of you.
    – Museums in the capital, between 3 and 7€, including the Gaudi expo.
    – Enjoyed open air cinema nearby the sea for free.
    – Paddle surfing and other activities are extremely cheap, because of the recession in Spain.

    Cheers!

    Like

  18. Hi

    I’m wondering if you have a few ‘hacks’ for Florence, Italy as there are so many museums and art to see that I don’t know if I can fit it into a 3 day trip?

    Like

  19. You can get free walking tours in Paris as well. While interrailing (students who travel around europe by rail during holidays/gap years) I found the Sandeman’s Free Tours (http://www.neweuropetours.eu/) to be awesome, the tour guides were charismatic and hilarious, providing funny anecdotes at all the famous sites. (Did you know Munich triples in population during Oktoberfest from 2 million to 6.5 million?)

    Also the same can be done in London. Cheap Market food can be found in Camden (the classic punk/goth scene in London, right next to where famous celebrities live). Also Borough Market and Greenwich Market also offer higher quality market food, which is more pricey, but definitely cheaper than if it were to be found in a cafe/restaurant. Couchsurfing and Places to stay can be found as long as you stay away from Zone 1 and inner Zone 2 (otherwise known as Central London). Only advice is don’t live too far out, as the subway closes at midnight, and night buses can take a while (during my student adventures I fell asleep on night buses three times, ending up in the countryside outside of London. Alcohol is a depressant for a reason).

    Like

  20. Great tips. Doing a roadtrip thru the states in oct and will see if I can hack my way thru nyc. Did 32 countries last year and among my favourites are hungary, slovenia, croatia and slovakia. So beautiful, great people and easy to live great on a budget.

    Like

  21. Great post. I would love to see hacks for families. I have 5 kids, 1y-15y. Couchsurfing is trickier ;-) I grew up traveling around the world. I want to give that experience to my kids, too. (I see I’m not the only person interested in a family hack!)

    Like

  22. Hey Matt and Tim, basically wanted to know more about the best airline points card for non americans [read: Brits]?

    I’d love to do this sort of thing, but there’s usually never a free flights guide for us limeys :(

    [All the awesome travel blogs are usually aimed at an american audience]

    Like

  23. Couchsurfers are generous (I know because I am one) but staying for longer than a week or two is often a little too long for most hosts on the site.

    And after reading Vagabonding I determined that spending more time in each location is much better than a quick 2 week jaunt and even $20 a night for a hostel is a little too expensive for my taste.

    So for me I like craigslist, you can rent a room for a month or 2 or 3 or 6 depending on how much there is to see and do in a place and how much you like it there and spend significantly less money than a hotel or hostel and also have the benefit of living with someone who knows the city. You don’t just get to live like a local you get to become one.

    Once you find a place you like that’s in your price range then be sure to do some research on the neighborhood and crime rates so you know that your cheap location isn’t cheap because you are risking your life being there, then contact the person to iron out the details and make sure you hit it off well enough to live with them for your planned time period.

    Hope this helps some other travelers!

    Like

  24. Excellent post!

    I’d like to hear the opinion from the author or even Tim about long term travelling Vs. short-term … As an entrepreneur, I can say I’m not stuck to the 15-day a year of vacation, so if I wanted to move somewhere, I could. So, what’s stopping me? Vagabonding is certainly not for everybody and although the experience sounds attracting I’ve been having issues imagining boredom and lack of friends after the first couple of weeks. I guess excitement goes down after a while and at the end, YOU NEED TO HAVE A LIFE… You need to have something to do… more than museums and bars. For instance, after a week as a tourist in NYC, I was like: “Ok, I want to go back home… I’m done” — Have you guys experience that? Normal? Or just a sign that short-term traveling is my thing ?

    Like

    • Hi Joel, my husband and I have been doing the “digital nomad” thing for 6 months now. We stay in places a while (usually AirBnbs) and then move on. I agree with what you said. We miss having friends and things to do. We go to some events we find online, but it CAN get lonely, especially for extroverts like my husband. I’d say it’s not been as fun and wonderful as we thought it would be.

      Like

      • Hey Kelly (and Joel!) This comment just made me feel a pang of empathy. I have been working location independently and traveling for two years now, and I have faced many hardships in doing so but boredom and loneliness have not been part of them. Perhaps I’ve been lucky but I do have some recommendations.

        I do a good mix of medium-paced backpacking and expat living. When I’m actively traveling, I’m never bored because I’m on the move so much and there is a constant mix of new stimulation and a new cast of characters.

        But when I settle down for a while, that’s where I need to work at it (especially as a solo traveler.) As Joel said, you DO need to have a life. So I just make one wherever I am! I get into a routine going to yoga regularly, chat up the owners of my favorite cafes, volunteer at a local animal shelter or sign up for some sort of classes in order to meet people. I also network with other digital nomads, and so often arrive in a city I’ve never been before to the open arms of virtual friends.

        Here’s an example. I arrived in Indonesia knowing not a single soul. I signed up for my Divemaster course (which is expensive but allows for unlimited fun dives for the entirety of the course) and within hours had an extensive network of built in friends, and something to do when I needed a break from the computer — and I was learning a new skill to boot. I’m done with the course and have spent the last month here just working from home as usual — but I have a network of friends so close they feel like family.

        Just some words of encouragement from a fellow vagabond. Best of luck in finding bliss on the road!

        Like

    • The combination of renting a room from a local, as well as meeting up with locals on couchsurfing and meetup.com is enough to find plenty of friends in any area that have similar interests. Making friends with locals is the best route to becoming a local. Rather than following blind advice on the internet about where to eat what to see and which events to go to you have people to hang out with and show you the city from their eyes.

      Like

  25. Beautiful information here. Now I’ve gotta try NYC again. I’ll be living in a big city for my first time ever this fall, being originally from a town of 3000, and these tips could help me experience a little luxury while saving big bucks in Chicago.

    Like

  26. Thank you Tim and Matt. I’ve been re-designing my life and body and hope to be joining some of you NR folks out there abroad. Launching my book and website as well as losing weight. Can’t thank you enough Tim. Life was truly headed in the wrong direction before the 4 hour books.

    Like

  27. Matt –
    I’m heading to London in a week (on points/miles). Any tips there on food/sightseeing?

    Tim – THANK you for having Matt’s post at the perfect time!

    Thank you both!

    Like

  28. Definitely bookmarking this. I just came back from Singapore – if I were solo, $50/day would’ve been manageable, but since we were a family of 4, it was more like $100/day. I would love to see more family-friendly travel hacks from Mark :)

    Like

  29. A question for Matt, Tim and anyone else with experience but (at the risk of sounding like George Costanza!) what are the toilet and bathroom conditions like in these hostels? Because that’s the one worry that always prevents me from doing what Matt’s written about.

    Like

    • Cleaned by staff daily. Bright in early. In the party hostels, it can be pretty gross on a Saturday morning (picture college) but there are many hostels for families, seniors, or people who aren’t in the mood to clog a toilet. I’ve definitely seen some nasty stuff in the men’s bathrooms but no worse than college and they get cleaned up pretty quickly. However, you can read the reviews of hostels online and find out which ones are worse than others.

      Like

    • It’s harder but not impossible. It essentially requires you to go camping (you can camp for free on public lands) or stay with locals for free using a site like Couchsurfing. In Norway, you can never eat out or drink or your budget is blown to pieces! Sweden and Finland is a lot more forgiving with food and drink as is Denmark, except for the food, which can be expensive if you aren’t cooking your own meals.

      I have country guides to all those places here with suggested tips and budgets that you might find helpful: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-guides/

      Like

  30. Great post Matt and thank you Tim for showcasing it

    Matt, i have not done much traveling, but after graduate school i plan to… all things being equal, do you prefer to stay in a hostel, or rent out room in a current tenant’s home/apartment? especially from a first-time budget traveler’s POV

    Also i am big into art, have you found any hidden art-scene gems around the world besides the norms?

    Thanks Matt and Tim

    Like

  31. Hey Matt,
    great post! Do you have any advice for Lisbon, Portugal? I will be going there next week.

    I just spent a month in Barcelona and accommodation was more expensive than expected. Renting an apartment seemed to be only possible with a 6+ months contract. So I used Airbnb and negotiated some direct deals with the host, if I stayed longer at one place. Still, it added up to about 1000 EUR/month for just a room and not a whole apartment.

    I assume Lisbon will be quite similar. Maybe you have some advice on reducing the accommodation costs.

    Thanks!
    Christian

    Like

  32. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    My husband and I have been travelling from Canada to multiple European countries for a few years now and find one of the easiest ways to save money is to buy most of our meals at grocery stores. It is so nice to throw together a picnic and dine wherever you choose, whether it be the beaches of Spain, a park in Amsterdam or simply a quiet dinner for two on the balcony of your hotel room. We usually try to get our fruits and vegetables from market though as the quality and price is usually better.

    House sitting is also an incredible way to stay a lot of great places for free or for only the cost of utilities. We have done two house sit assignments in Spain so far and have loved the experience, never mind the money saved!

    Thank you both!

    Glenna

    Like

      • Hey Shelly,

        Two bloggers called Globetrotter Girls have written a fantastic e-book on housesitting (they are veteran housesitters who have scored assignments in NYC brownstones and beachfront Mexican villas!) I’m not sure if it is okay to link here but I’m sure you can find them :)

        Like

      • Hey Shelly, saw your question re house sitting assignments.

        Thought you might be interested in this blog post. It’s a blog I follow called Wanderlusters and they recently did a post about Housesitting.
        http://wanderlusters.co.uk/house-sitting-house-sitter-faqs/

        We looked into housesitting assignments, there are so many available in different locations, and particularly useful if you like animals as many include looking after a variety of dogs/cats or other pets.

        Also – my husband and I did a 3 month trip to Thailand and ended up doing a House Swap, where you trade your home for someone elses and you can specify on their website your preferred countries and travel dates and they match up options. We used a site called lovehomeswap.com (there is an annual fee but if you intend to travel away once or twice a year it’s well worth it, we got free accommodation for 6 weeks in Koh Samui). While they have plenty of high end homes, there are also lots of really cosy family homes, cottages, apartments, all sorts!

        Hope that is useful.
        Best wishes
        Bernadette :)

        Like

      • Hi Shelly,

        We registered as house sitters on http://www.mindmyhouse.com/homepage. There are other house sitting websites but this one had the lowest sign up fee of $20 CAD, compared to some which were up to $60. You can actually view what house sitting opportunities are available before you sign up to see if there is anything you would be interested in.

        Once you are registered you create a profile by filling out a simple questionnaire and attaching a couple photos of yourself. Now you just pick and choose whichever home owner listings sound good to you and send off a few e-mails. If someone likes your profile they will contact you directly through e-mail.

        At this point there is a fair bit of back and forth communication to hammer out details and make sure that everybody is happy with the upcoming house sit. If you can do this step through Skype it will make things easier.

        Here is another site as well: http://www.trustedhousesitters.com/

        It really is beneficial if you are an animal lover as a lot of people seeking house sitters have dogs or cats. However there are also lots of assignments where people simply need someone to water their gardens and keep the house tidy.

        If you just want to try it out for a day or two the UK has a lot of short sits listed, or you can just jump right in and arrange for one month, six months or a year there are all kinds of listings available! Our first house sit was for one month near Gaucin, Spain with two houses, one dog and a beautiful orange grove to pick our breakfast from!

        I hope this information helps!

        Glenna

        Like

      • Another +1 for trustedhousesitters.com. Mindmyhouse is cheaper but a lot of the assignments are already filled and not marked as such. Still a member, but I think you get what you pay for when it comes to house sitting websites.

        TrustedHousesitters.com also has a page for long-term assignments which makes it incredibly cheap to live in a place for several months at a time: http://www.trustedhousesitters.com/h/long-term-house-sitting/#?sortby=add

        Would also recommend reading blog posts by Hecktic Travels. They have done a lot of house sitting around the world and I believe also written a book on it.

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  33. There is some good information here. In addition to living in Paris for nearly two years I also write extensively on traveling cheaply in Europe.

    Louvre isn’t free on Sunday but it is free the first Sunday of each month.

    If the weather is nice then I highly recommend going to the Canal St. Martin. On a nice night there will be hundred (or even thousands) of young people sitting along the banks while drinking wine/beer. It really is amazing.

    James — The Savvy Backpacker

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  34. Great job breaking down some of the most expensive cities. When I used to travel for work, I’d get the hotel points and just convert them all to airline miles. Anyway, that can be a handy trick if you’re going to stay in low-cost accomodations or Couchsurf. I’ll be putting your tips to use, Matt. Nice article.

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  35. What a generous amount of information. Thank you so much!

    I am headed for Auckland and Wellington in April. Any reasonable food, tours, around town transportation tips from anyone?

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  36. My husband and I are in a planning and prepping stage to be able to travel for an extended period of time – it’s still a ways off but thanks so much for the tips! These will help us start “saving” now since we can’t literally be putting away money at this point. It’s nice to feel like we are actively getting ready with such simple things like which credit cards we use.

    And Tim, the 4WW has made such a huge difference for my husband and I! He’s a natural entrepreneur whose has greatly benefited from your hacks as he thinks through and implements new business ideas. I’m the opposite – assuming if I wanted to earn money I had to go work somewhere. You’re books have helped me think more strategically – allowing me to start a business I never thought I’d have the guts to start AND still be at home spending most of my time with our 1 year old. You’ve blessed my family and we’ll probably never get to thank you in person. Good work, man.

    Alisa

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  37. I cant tell you how excited I was to see that Matt was featured on this blog!! This article was fantastic. I visited Paris this past December and stayed in an apartment via Airbnb on Rue Cler which was an amazing experience. The next place on my list is Thailand.

    I am a huge fan of both Tim and Matt so having them pair up for this was awesome! I will definitely keep my eye out for more of your City Hacks!

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  38. This is such a detailed post. I love it! I heard of coachsurfing.com through Chris guillebeau and I love the concept. I found Steve’s site at nerdfitness to be another great resource for travel hacking. Tim; do you have a credit card that you use for all around items, not just for airline points?

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  39. I enjoyed the article Matt. Tim, always an inspiration and appreciate the fact that you take a liking to the “pura vida” saying of Costa Rica. I used to live there and go back every year. I remember the days that 1000 colones would get me through a weekend! It would be fun to do a hack on Costa Rica currently though. Also, Matt, I would like to see a hack for London since I just got back and could only tell people how to spend too much money on food/hotel! There a lot of free museums though and the “London Pass” is worth it for the paid museums. Not to mention “Half Price Tickets” booth at Leceister Square for theater shows.

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  40. Hey Matt, great post! I just spend two months in Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities for sure!

    Few things:

    – I would recommend getting an Octopus card. You can use it to pay for all public transport but also in convenience stores and many other places.

    – Trams and MTR (trains) are very affordable. Tram costs $0,40 per ride (you can go as far as you want) and the MTR takes you from Sheung Wan to Chai Wan (across the island basically) for about $1.

    -I wouldn’t say drinks are cheap in LKF. You can find a few good happy hours but after 9pm you’ll pay close to $10 per drink in most places. You’re right, youngsters do hang out here, but they buy their drinks at 7/11 and drink on the street. (Which is a good budget option as the bars get so crowded that people spill over to the streets anyway)

    Finally, if you do want to try the fancier restaurants around Soho: almost all of them have lunch specials during the week. You can get a pretty good lunch for around $10 – $15. My favorite: Tapeo. When I was there they had hands down the best lunch deal and the food is amazing!

    Happy travels!

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  41. Awesome epic post Matt, thanks. We’re still in the early days of practising long term travel and nomadic living on a budget so this is really helpful reading your tips, always triggers new thinking. We love your blog site and we’re huge fans of 4HWW, which supported us in our move to freedom and nomadic living. Awesome to see your post here! Thanks again. Bernadette :)

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  42. One addition to NY: The Frick Collection is pay-what-you-wish on Sundays from 11am-1pm. It’s a fantastically random collection of art and is not hung by period so you will see some later pieces and then a Rembrandt right next to them. Lots of fun.

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  43. I used to be an executive at Expedia and wrote a short guide on how to hack the travel booking sites (it’s on my website available for free) and the hotel VIP programs.

    There are some relatively easy ways to get ~$50/night off your hotel spend. There are more complicated ways that people get free hotel nights (that are dubiously ethical – but I detail them anyway so you know they are out there).

    In managing points there are plenty of ways to game the system. It’s all about understanding the behavior the company is trying to encourage and utilizing it to your advantage. For example, on Expedia you can earn almost 20% back in point value, but if you just do the default way (book flights and hotel separately; use your points on flights) you will be lucky to get 1% back. The eBook spells out how to do the right way for Expedia, but more importantly how to think through it so you can do it with any point system.

    Finally there is a section on how you can get Platinum status with hotels if you can manage to stay ~14 nights a year (you usually need ~50 nights to get that level of status).

    Specifically on this article:
    I think you are dead on on the hotel advice (which is what I’m qualified to comment on) – especially Priceline/Hotwire which is one of the best ways to get hotel discounts. A few additions:

    In Europe, booking.com has very good inventory on the smaller hotels. Be sure to use their filter features as the default search will send you to some of the more expensive properties

    Subscribe to Groupon and LivingSocial’s hotel product. If you wait long enough you will get some deep discounts in those destinations (especially off-peak)

    Travelzoo sometimes lets good prices slip though. If you have more time than money it’s worth a subscription

    Expedia does weekly hotel sales. When I was there it was on Wednesday. Find out what day and, if you have time, wait for one to book (price will be discounted everywhere, but Expedia drives the timing)

    Packages: Book your flight and hotel together. It’s not a marketing gimmick, it’s a way for hotels to give opaque discounts. And you can sometimes get big ones, especially if you flight is from overseas (It was not uncommon for Vegas hotels to give free nights if bought through a package)

    Hope that’s helpful,

    Edward

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  44. Awesome post! I haven’t been to Hong Kong yet, precisely because I’ve always heard it is so expensive. I’ll have to move it back up the list. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • San Diego savings-lover here!! Sign up for MOGL and link up your credit cards – you’ll get 10% back on many, many restaurants and bars in San Diego. I love it because you don’t even need to know if you are at a participating restaurant; it just happens! My favorite savings app. Here’s a link: http://mo.gl/1pe46h4

      There’s another app called LevelUp that can save you a little money, too.

      Hmm, what else…find tickets for the zoo on Craigslist.

      Like

  45. It’s often never about money. Those who really have the heart to travel will always find a way. Those who use money as an excuse will find another excuse when they have money…
    Just like my sister! (Let’s just say we are nothing alike)
    Great post however, did find it intriguing to see Hong Kong on the list as it’s not expensive to travel in at all, but then again, I don’t use money as an excuse ;-)

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  46. From another traveling Matt, I’d definitely say your tips are pretty spot on for staying in budget in these expensive cities. You lost me a bit though at suggesting that most New Yorkers regularly (or even ever?) eat at hot dog or falafel stands. I can’t think of anyone I know that does. I mean maybe if it’s Halal Guys around midtown, but nobody touches those grody Central Park hot dog stands unless they plan on sitting on the plastic throne all day long. Also on the list of fav places there’s much better Thai food than say Wondee Siam for far cheaper. Lots of $8 lunch specials with Thai and Indian food all over the city.

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  47. $50/day in these huge cities is a great deal. But on my freelance budget, I try to keep it at $20/day in places like BALI! $11/night for accomodation (look up Big Pineapple Hostel if you’re solo, otherwise plenty of “Homestays” for under $30 that you can split with a friend or two). Nasi Goreng, the typical fried rice dish, averages at about $2.50 US. A beer is $1.80, cheaper if you stock up at the grocery store. Moped for the day is about $4. Beautiful sunsets are free :) If anyone would like further BALI on a budget recommendations, I would be happy to provide.

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  48. Awesome post! I shared it on facebook. Thanks for the tips guys!

    Props to prioritizing travel. I need to do that more – and saving money to enjoy those experiences is key. Living in San Francisco, I’ve met Tim, which was fun! Nomadic Matt – would love to meet you sometime if you ever visit! :)

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  49. RENT A SCOOTER for transportation. Most places you can park virtually anywhere, and it’s super inexpensive. Great for 1-2 people.

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  50. Hi Matt, Tim!
    As I see from your posts about cities hacking you’ve visited a lot of European countries and cities. But it seems that you ignore Russian regions…
    It’s a pitty that you don’t include Russia in a list of European countries. Or?
    Please try to hack one of big Russian city (not necessarily to visit only Moscow). I need to realize that we have a chance to live as Europeans live…
    Hope for your short answer.
    Thank you!

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  51. Great introduction to travel hacking. Thanks Matt and Tim for publishing!

    For specific travel hacks I would recommend http://travelant.co/
    There are no subjective tips, only proven hacks that save either time or money.

    For Jenny Truong, in Scandinavia there’s great list for Stockholm (http://travelant.co/sweden/stockholm) and other Scandinavian cities.

    Petra, here are some hacks for Paris http://travelant.co/france/paris

    By the way, Tom from Sydney, if you’ve managed to hack your city – would be great to have first Australian city there.

    P.S. If any of you guys want to share hacks from your city get in touch via https://www.facebook.com/travelantco

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    • Nice, thank you!

      There are some hacks, but I’d rather get more general info about / guidelines…

      Anyway, my particular interest is Stockholm, and I’ve been there twice, so I got the general idea how to save there…

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  52. Wowza, I don’t know how I ended up on this site, but I am in awe. I have been looking for ways to travel in pursuit of learning about other cultures & writing and sharing about my foodie experiences. I’m not an adventurist by any means, but to see people actually sharing their experiences gives me some hope! Thank you all. I will be a regular visitor to this site…Now, lets see if I can actually break out of my comfort zone and take heed to this great advice

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  53. My friend is currently in Hong Kong for 3 months on a limited budget. She is staying in a Hostel and said the quality of accommodation is excellent. Looking at her photos makes me envy her, it looks like a fantastic city. It is great to see you can travel to the bigger cities on a small budget :-)

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    • Bali can be done on $20 a day or $2,000. It has some of the most expensive resorts in the world but most hotels (with a pool) are $20-30 a night and you can get most guesthouses for $10. Local food is only a few dollars a dish.

      Like

  54. Great article! Definitely worth saving for future reference! I find that 80% of the travel budget in world wide travel goes into transportation (the actual “getting there”), while the rest 20% is spent on location. Would be great to hear how to shrink that 80% as much as possible by means of creative/alternative transport (with children :))).

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  55. Great great post Tim. FYI for those wanting to head over to Hong Kong – I have used airbnb there and was able to get a one bedroom apartment in Central for $60 a night during the Christmas Season. Much better than the $250 minimum hotel rates in that area of the city.

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  56. When I was in college I went to a Model UN conference in Geneva Switzerland that was (very fortunate for me) one week before our spring break. So our advisor allowed us to book our return flight for whenever we want…I booked mine for the end of spring break week and took a train to stay for a week in Paris, courtesy of our International Studies department!

    I was very surprised when my first day there (a Sunday) I happened upon The Louvre and was admitted to see the Mona Lisa for free (and yes, it’s very small in person and you can’t stand in front of it to gawk).

    Last Thanksgiving we were able to take a five-day trip to Michigan to visit all of my family thanks to opening up a rewards credit card. So your tips really do make a difference!

    I enjoyed the rest of your article, and look forward to scoring additional cheap travel outside of college!

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  57. Great stuff here! My girlfriend and I are travelling Ireland for the fall. I don’t think it would have been possible without Airbnb and some couch surfing. Paris is next on our list so this is perfect.

    Most of my previous travel has been in the more expensive range, so I’m hoping this will open up some new travel opportunities.

    Thanks guys!

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  58. We travel hacked all the Western USA and the entire country of Canada with driving. We couchsurfed every night, which also introduced us to new friends, free home-cooked meals, and things to do.

    We ate a lot at places like subway where a footlong sub was $5, which we then shared at $2.50 each.We stocked up on protein bars at Costco (about 80 cents each) and used those as some meals as well or just to add to a small cheap meal.

    As far as “travel hacking” outside the USA. Canada is great, which is why I started a travel hacking site just for Canadians. You’d be surprised how many deals are up north. Since January, I’m well over 200,000 points!

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  59. Terrific article… especially helpful were the city “hacking” tips. I think they provided enough “nitty gritty” specifics that I could be confident in planning a trip to one of those destinations, even though I’m a novice.

    Thanks!~

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  60. Excellent post! Here are a couple more frugal travel tips from my experiences:

    1. Get the all day metro passes in cities its available. Paris, Boston, Chicago, DC, NYC are some of the most recent places I’ve been where the all day public transportation passes help save a lot of time, not just money.

    2. Search for free walking tours online. I had been to Amsterdam probably 20 times, but never learned as much as I did on a 4 hour walking tour where I just had to tip the guide $5. Even my friend that grew up there said he learned a lot from the tour.

    3. Search for that city in the apps available for your phone. If you can’t find a free guided walking tour online, you might be able to find one you can walk yourself on your phone. There’s one for the Freedom Trail in Boston that’s pretty cool.

    4. My mom is the queen of frugal trips and may have been known to attend a resort sales seminar if they were offering something good. This is how we got a free whale watching dinner cruise in Hawaii and Fort Lauderdale, free tickets to Disney World, Busch Gardens and more for our family of 5.

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  61. Hey Matt~
    My daughter & I hope to visit Australia in 2014, so we’ll be looking for tips on your blogs & thoroughly reading your book.
    Glad to see your article here! Woo Hoo!

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  62. Hey Matt,
    Great Article! Super exciting stuff. I have a dream of seeing what I call “The Sinking Cities” Galapagos Islands, Republic of Maldives, and Venice. Any advice? These are seemingly expensive in every way imaginable. Have you seen any? Any help would be great.

    Kyle

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  63. Hi Matt,

    Great and concise post on smart travel hacking! I will for sure try out your recommendations about NYC when going there later this fall.

    I have only the best of experiences with AirBnB (I kinda prefer to rent an apartment or a nice house instead of staying in a small hotel room. It also feels more “real”).

    Regarding couchsurfing I can totally recommend people to build a niche couchsurfing community in there niche/hobby/religion/workplace/etc. I created a facebook group for AIESECers (student organisation) who couchsurf and now I have access to “free” living with 11 000 members. Pretty sweet.

    Anyways, thank you for the awesome guest post.

    Thanks
    Victor Björklund

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  64. Hi Matt, great info.
    We are a family of 4- mom, dad and two teenage daughters. I am always on the lookout for great deals.
    We currently have a trip planned this fall. Got one way air using flyblue membership but still flying on Delta for 1/2 of miles that Delta requires. So for 4 of us it was 100,000 miles to Rome.
    Staying in small B &B for 4 nights in Rome. Then traveling to Barcelona for 3 nights and staying in rented apartment. Cheaper to fly to Barcelona then take the long train ride. 150.00 for 4 of us. Using metro to get around in both cities.
    Then taking transatlantic cruise for 16 days back home.
    Right now I am at 28.00 per person per day. I still need to figure in cost of food in both cities for the land portion, so I will use some of your tips for other places, such as markets.
    Do you have any other tips for either of these cities that I might be able to use?
    Thanks, Renee

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  65. Very useful tips, and one most budget backpackers may already be following. It’s very possible to travel cheaply (like I did in Europe), you just have to be willing to push your boundaries :D

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  66. I love posts like this…especially when costs are included. I got my pencil out to see that the actual cost of staying in Paris with a friend. It would be more like $75 a day.

    $20 for shared room

    $30 for meals (at least $40 if you dine at one of the 2 restaurants mentioned above.

    $17.50 for the museum pass.

    Total: $77.50 conservatively. Many Parisians walk a lot, but you probably won’t walk everywhere, so add a few bucks for metro fees.

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  67. The post is brilliant and I don’t wanna sound arrogant, but I have been in quite a few places with far less than 50$ per day. Fifty dollars is around 30/32£ (british pounds) and I have been able to travel everywhere in Europe for much less than that. I have been to Scandinavia a few times, Germany, France, and so on. I have been to Australia and I lived with less than 25$ per day (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane).

    I guess the biggest cost is always the accomodation; I find air bnb a good idea, but its pretty overpriced sometimes.

    What I do before going anywhere is doing some research: the reason that moved Casey Fenton to create Couchsurfing was somehow inspiring and now I embrace a similar attitude. There are tons of cheap places to stay that often are not displayed online, but asking the right questions to the right people (and today this is very easy with all the social networking websites), you will find things such ‘school converted to mini apartments’ or actual people who will rent you space in their flat (slightly different from air bnb) and so on.

    Few examples of where I have been include:

    -Single room in Florence for 12$ per night
    -Mini apartment in Stockholm for 390$/month (I stayed 1 month and thats 13$ per night)
    -Single room with kitchen in Sydney (and then Melbourne) for around 12.4$ per night
    -Converted attic in central London for 15$ per night (the owners just asked me to cook pasta every day in exchange)

    Good links Tim and Matt!
    Hope to meet you for a glass of wine someday!

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  68. I would have to say Tim,
    This is the most factual piece of blog-o-meter that I have read from you in some time. This content about cheaper international travel is very compelling, especially to me and like minded fellows. I have a hard time leaving the United States, on my own accord. This is due to governmental obligations more than anything. But, I think that you are on to something here. And I could see a “4-hour traveler” here in the near future, based on this post. I’m not kidding, I hope you are working on this knowledge of traveling, it seems like you have plenty of experience and the know how to make another venture quite possible.
    I hope it all works for you,
    Pete

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  69. A few small tips (no pun intended) on money saving in Paris, as I just returned from a trip to Paris (and Rome and The Vatican).

    – First, if you are a non-drinker who likes to drink non-alcoholic beer (like me), don’t waste your money; just stick with water in the restaurants. Because the non-alcoholic beer contains a half a percent of alcohol, it is still considered alcoholic, and therefore subject to the outrageous alcohol tax of 19.5%. The restaurant adds that as a separate line item to a 6 euro cost for the bottle, and you end up paying over 7 euros or almost $10.

    – Most of the restaurants in Paris are ‘service compris’ or ‘prix net’. Many Americans are not aware that it means the tip is included, so don’t feel guilty about not adding additional funds.

    – Lots of things to see for free by just walking: the Jardin de Tuileries, the Champs-Élysées, La Rive Gauche (The Left Bank), etc.

    – Free bicycle rentals for a half hour with stands throughout the city. (The catch is that if you go over a half hour, you get charged; in addition, you have to access the bike stand with a microchip credit card.)

    – Since time is money, avoid the long line through the main pyramid entrance to the Louvre, which can be a 30-minute experience. If you have a museum pass, you can bypass or go in a side entrance from the Rue du Rivoli. Without the pass, try the entrance through the Carrousel du Louvre shopping center with a much shorter line.

    – It should go without saying but one of the best ways of saving money is by avoiding the scams. I had heard about the gold ring scam but never thought that it would actually be tried on me. If someone says ‘Look at the gold ring on the ground,’ just keep walking, like I did.

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