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The $30 a Day Budget Secret

A major goal of this blog is to show folks who think they don’t have the luxury to travel that it’s actually easier and cheaper than you think. The key is to get yourself to a “Developing Country”, aka, a country less rich than yours. Basically, if you save up for the $300 flight to Latin America, or reeaaaally save up for the $700+ ticket to Southeast Asia, you can live like absolute royalty for months on end.

That initial plane fare really deters people, but I assure you that (particularly if you stay in these countries for at least three weeks), the cost, including that plane ticket, will always be less than what you would have spent at home.

But if you’re living on roughly $30 a day, aren’t you in some rat-infested shack the whole time, subsisting on stale bread and cockroaches? No! In so many ways, backpackers in Developing Countries live better on $30 than they ever, ever would have at home.

To illustrate this, let’s examine what $30 a day is buying here in Mui Ne, Vietnam.

1. Albeit after some searching, we have a ridiculously clean, comfortable, safe hotel room with Wi-fi, a mosquito net, and the palm-lined ocean view pictured all over this article, for $10 a night.

A family member recently offered to put me up in a swank eight star hotel for a night for a birthday present because she was fearful that $10 brings you only bedbugs and pigsty rooms, but I declined (or rather, opted for a different present!) because there is truly very little difference between the $50 hotel next door and this one. I mean, look at the photos of the hammock-filled courtyard! What more do you need, really? My hunch is that the extra $40 next door just buys you one extra soap packet.

2. Two or three big, scrumptious meals of $3 to $5 each. These meals will usual include some luxuries that you would never have been able to afford at home, for example, fresh-grilled whole fish, intricate curries, or tropical fruit shakes. (Tummy grumble.)

Note that this food budget includes water for the day, coffee, fruit juice, and… ice cream.

3. $10 a day for tourism, entertainment, transportation, or any combination thereof. See the previous articles on the Mui Ne Sand Dunes or the Bangkok-area Tiger Temple for illustrations of how much fun you get for small change.

Also note that transportation here in Southeast Asia (and from my experience, in much of Latin America) costs roughly one dollar per hour, meaning a four hour bus ride ticket will cost just $4. In contrast, the 3 hour bus from Providence, RI to New York costs $45!

Each day, Europeans, Aussies, Canadians, Israelis, and even Colombians ask, “Why are there so few Americans traveling out here?” Dearest Americans, it IS within our reach! We can do it! Consider the mathematics… and the possible happiness!


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Sunday 22nd of February 2015

Very cool post! The cost of flying is what usually deters me from traveling. For example, next year we are planning on traveling to Savannah. We have to decide whether to bite the bullet of $2K on airfare for 4 or drive 17 or 18 hours with two kids under age 5. Did I mention I HATE driving and that I only do it Mon-Fri to get to and from work?


Sunday 22nd of February 2015

Yargh -- Kids bring so much new math to these equations! The airfare for a full family is no joke. I keep telling myself to learn how to use credit card points to get airline miles, but haven't gotten around to it yet.


Thursday 1st of August 2013

You think that is possible to travel the whole world with a S35 day budget? I am considering to do this and travel an entire. But I am not so sure if I can with this budget.


Friday 2nd of August 2013

Well, anything is possible, even $5 a day or $0 a day, as several recent books have explained! It's just a matter of being willing to use a set of tricks. Here's another article to help, and I wish you the best!

Global Nomads

Friday 21st of June 2013

Our long term average (past 5 years) for the two of us has been US$ 22 per day including everything. Our spending do not really depend of the country or continent. We lived with the same money in France and Italy for a few years.

1. We don't really use hotels or hostels. In the road we sleep in train and bus stations and airports, and when we stop we either rent a small room or stay with a hospex (e.g. BeWelcome) host.

2. Eating out is expensive and the food they sell is not compatible with our diet. We are strictly vegans and don't add to food any salt or sugar and refuse to eat MSG and other chemicals. Cooking all food by ourselves cuts the costs.

3. We don't do tourism or entertainment, but prefer to live like locals and with locals. For transportation we use our feet for distances up to 15 km (10 miles), and public buses for longer trips, and we never take taxis.


Saturday 22nd of June 2013

Fascinating! Thanks for sharing how you do it! My tactics are different, but the budget result is similar.


Friday 24th of May 2013

Great article! I know it has been a few years, but what is that hotel called?


Friday 24th of May 2013

Thanks, Lisa! Alas, I don't remember, but the principle remains that there are many great hotels like this for great prices in Asia! :)


Saturday 26th of January 2013

I totally agree paying a little bit more for the flight is definitely worth it for all the luxury you get :)


Saturday 26th of January 2013


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