The world on $100 a day

This item appears on page 31 of the November 2018 issue.

Pat Ove of Aurora, Colorado, wrote, "There must be many budget travelers reading ITN who are having exciting adventures discovering the world on $100 a day [not including overseas airfare]. I would love to read about their journeys."

Regarding traveling outside of the US on $100 a day (excluding international air), subscribers were asked to tell us how they did it and where and when they traveled, specifying modes of transport, types of accommodations used and how those were found plus any other budget-travel tricks.

Responses were printed in the last three issues, and the remainder appear below.

I saw my first globe when I was 6, and my passion for travel was born. I wanted to see every country on that beautiful blue orb. But because my last name is not Buffett, the lottery jackpot numbers never match the ones on my ticket and no rich relative has left me millions of dollars, I had to find a way to see the world on an English teacher's budget.

While my imagination often whisked me to the Left Bank of Paris, my bank account always stranded me in North Carolina. Unless I devised a way to travel for less than $100 a day, I'd never set foot on a plane, let alone sit in a Left Bank café sipping absinthe.

Luckily, I have developed just such a strategy, which I have used alone or with my partner, David, for the last 20 years. Whether it's Mexico or Majorca, Switzerland or Slovenia, I never spend more than $98 a day — usually, far less — to travel quite comfortably. In fact, I even wrote a book about traveling this way in Western Europe.

I think the key to inexpensive travel is the lodging you choose. While I am far too old to enjoy sleeping in inexpensive hostels, where I have to schlep down the hall to the communal bathroom, and I'm far too thrifty to splurge on luxurious hotel rooms for weeks at a time, the apartment rentals offered on sites like and satisfy all my requirements.

David and I have rented apartments all over Mexico and Europe that cost us less per night than a private room in a hostel. We have stayed in many places that not only are inexpensive but are listed on the region's historic register; we save money and feel as though we're learning the history of a country all at the same time.

Short-term vacation apartment rentals are available all over the world. Some owners have a 2- or 3-night minimum, while others will rent for one night or a month or two.

The longest I've ever rented was for 32 nights, June 2-July 4, 2016, in Florence, ITALY, for the rather remarkable sum of 500, or 15.62 (near $18) a night. This was through

In contrast, in Italy on May 15, 2018, a friend and I rented Appartamento Il Timone (Piazza Fratelli Bandiera n° 816038 Santa Margherita Ligure) for one night for 140 (near $81 each) through

On that same trip, through Airbnb, we rented a 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment in a converted 16th-century building in Florence for $770.15 each for 14 nights. That translates to $55 per person per night.

Out of curiosity, I just checked on a very basic private room with shared bathroom in a hostel, Hotel Palazzuolo, in Florence, that was as ideally located as was my apartment. On the website, for the last two weeks in September — comparable to my "shoulder season" the last two weeks in May — the rate was $81.28 per person per night. That's $26.28 more per night than what I paid for my spacious private apartment!

With an apartment as your base, you can save on food-and-drink costs. Even if you prepare only your own coffee, tea or cocktails in your apartment, you save money. If you go one step further and prepare most of your meals, your savings are considerable.

You can enjoy breakfast in your pajamas if you pick up a few pastries the night before, and dinner can be equally easy. Europe is blessed with delis, where take-out is as delicious as restaurant food but one-fourth the price. I always get an entrée at a deli and augment that with a premixed salad, bakery-fresh bread and a fabulous dessert from the grocery store.

Also, assembling meals in your apartment means you will shop at a grocery store, where I guarantee you will learn more about a country's culture than you would in a lecture from a tour director.

Besides saving money, there are at least two more advantages to vacation rental apartments. If you're traveling with a partner, no matter how compatible you are, there often comes a time when you simply want to be alone. An apartment allows you to take a nap in the bedroom while your partner listens to the news in the living room.

It's also pleasant to feel as though you live, albeit only briefly, in the place you're visiting. You get to know the clerk in the pharmacy next door, say 'Hello' every day to the pastry shop owner and can visit the church on the corner for evening vespers.

Another way to save money on travel is by using trains — not planes — for transportation.

In the past couple years, train ticket websites have been created in Europe that are in English, are user-friendly and, most importantly, accept US credit cards. (for UK travel) and (European travel), as well as, sell tickets to every place you can imagine in Europe. These sites allow you to choose your class of travel and seat and even take advantage of senior discounts. You can do this conveniently online, printing the tickets at home using your own computer.

While there is no advantage to buying short-hop train rides of only an hour or so duration before you leave home, huge savings can be obtained by purchasing long-distance train tickets ahead of time. Unlike with other modes of transportation, ticket prices for long-distance European train trips (once again, not short trips; tickets for short train trips of an hour or so can be bought when you arrive in Europe) are lowest two to three months in advance, with the price increasing as one gets closer to the date of travel.

For example, by purchasing three months in advance, you can travel by high-speed train from Florence to Naples for $38.65! For a Eurostar ticket to cross the Channel, purchase six months in advance and pay half what you'll pay six weeks in advance. (Note that Eurostar is the only European train operator that allows you to purchase tickets six months in advance rather than three.)

Local transportation is also inexpensive, and I love stepping out of my apartment and getting on a bus or a subway along with the rest of the people who live in the city. It's such a pleasure to pretend I live in Paris… or London… or Torremolinos.

If you rent an apartment, use your own rental kitchen to prepare most food and drinks, and buy your train tickets before leaving home, you will find that traveling on less than $100 per person per day is easy and even more enjoyable.

Feel free to write if you have questions:

Dru Pearson
Tucson, AZ

Without going into too many specifics, here are some tips I use for traveling on the cheap, and they work just about anywhere.

First, to get an idea of what accommodations cost at a destination, I do the usual Web search using, and whatever search engine comes to mind, but I don't actually book a hotel online.

When I land at my destination, I grab a taxi, tell the driver that I need a hotel and give him my parameters, such as a price lower than the Internet prices I found. I say the hotel must have hot showers and A/C or heat (depending on the climate). I also tell him what part of town I want to stay in. Taxi drivers are a wealth of information, so why not use them?

I first stumbled onto this method when traveling from Havana, Cuba, to San Salvador, El Salvador, in 2007. The Cuban government had blocked all travel-booking sites, so I landed in San Salvador without a hotel reservation. I figured, 'What the heck, there are always touts at the airport trying to sell hotel reservations. I'll just book one when I land.'

Wrong! There was nobody there trying to sell hotels, so, since I didn't want to sleep on the airport floor, I decided to ask a taxi driver for advice. I hit a gold mine. I have used this technique many times since — including in Vietnam, Cambodia and, in 2017, Mexico — and had only one bad experience, and that can happen no matter how you book a room.

As for eating on the cheap, I look for small restaurants where the locals are eating. Their prices for a filling meal are much, much cheaper than prices at more conventional restaurants that cater to tourists.

There can be challenges to this method, though. Many times, I think I know what I'm ordering but something else arrives. I just consider it part of the adventure and eat it anyway.

This is especially true for me in Southeast Asia because I don't speak any Asian languages. I try to find a restaurant with pictures on the menu, but that doesn't always work. I have experienced some really tasty food this way and only one time found that it wasn't to my taste.

Wayne Stickle
Long Beach, CA

I don't think my husband and I qualify as budget travelers. For sure, we don't travel high-end either, but when we travel, our main goal is not to see how little we spend; we'll splurge if need be given.

We travel each year for six months (more or less), and we do NOT feel as though we are on vacation. Rather, we have left our lodging during the winter in Michigan and have "moved" to a warmer climate, where we continue to live.

However, on looking at our expenses, I see we do often spend near or below $100 a day. For example, our fall 2016-spring 2017 trip (124 days) to MEXICO averaged out to $69.39 per day for two people. In Mexico, we rented an Airbnb apartment for four months in Oaxaca, never leaving the city for any great distance.

These figures would not work unless one were traveling as a couple and sharing lodgings.

Also, while these figures (which do include airfare) are low, it is because the airfares are prorated on a daily basis and spread out over the six months we're away.

Once we arrive at our destination, we generally walk or, on rare occasions, take public transportation. Even more rarely, we will take a taxi.

We don't usually take tours, preferring to find our own way while attempting to enjoy the local ambiance from a native's perspective. On occasion, we have taken free tours (donation only) with Global Greeters ( and Sandemans (

If there is a museum to visit or a performance to attend near where we are staying, we will go.

The best budget trick we can give is to travel for a long period of time and travel with someone with whom you are compatible.

Carole Shereda
Plymouth, MI

I spent 23 days in COLOMBIA, Feb. 3-27, 2018. If I exclude my three nights at a bird-watching lodge, which cost $160 per night in the El Dorado Nature Reserve (phone, in the US, 800/684-9680, — my main reason for visiting Colombia and which I highly recommend — the trip cost me $118.60 per day, which included three domestic flights, 11 hotels, food, 10 Uber rides, subway rides, intercity bus rides and all the souvenirs that I bought for my friends.

Hotel rates in Colombia were per room, the same price whether one or two people stayed in it. I traveled alone this time. If I had shared quarters with someone else, my comparable overall trip cost would have been reduced to $95 per day.

The total cost for the 20 hotel nights was $910.64 (averaging $45.53 per night). With two exceptions, I reserved all my hotels on Wherever I went, I stayed in or as close to the Old Town as possible, so lodging costs were higher. All my accommodations were very good, each with at least an 8 rating (out of 10) on

I never cooked on this trip, and I had three meals a day, plus I bought fruit and beers in the evening for at least half of my time there. For breakfast, I usually bought pastries, which cost, at most, COP3,000 per day. For lunch and dinner, I went to places that served daily menus, and the cost ranged from COP7,000 to COP15,000, or, on average, COP10,000 (near $3.50).

I ate in restaurants mostly but on rare occasions bought street food, such as a skewer of chicken for COP5,000 or a meal of chicken, pork ribs, sausage and fries for COP15,000 (both from vendors in Medellín).

I took three internal flights, Santa Marta-Bogotá, Bogotá-Popayán and Popayán-Medellín, all on Avianca. The flights cost $68, $78 and $92, respectively.

I have a few tips for readers traveling to Colombia.

Do buy a SIM card for your smartphone. I met an Oregon couple in El Dorado Nature Reserve, and they told me to buy one at an Oxxo convenience store. I couldn't find an Oxxo in Santa Marta, so I bought one from a store near the market, paying COP7,000 for the SIM card and COP6,000 for 500 MB of data. I used it all up in one day. Later, a guide took me to a store and I paid COP40,000 for 4G service for 30 days.

With the SIM card, I was able to hire Ubers, which were cheaper than taxis (except for rides from the airport, which were the same price).

I always check online to see if there are free walking tours in any city I'm planning to visit. These tours are not really "free," as "donations," or tips, are gladly accepted, but you decide how much.

For Colombia, I did Google searches using the key words "free walking tour Bogota" and "free walking tour Popayan." I ended up going on two walking tours in Bogotá: the 2½-hour "Bogotá Graffiti Tour" ( and the 3-hour "Free Walking Tour Bogotá" ( I also went on the 2½-hour "White City Tour: Popayan" (

(I tried to join a walking tour in Medellín [], but it was full, and one in Cartagena was a no-show.)

On the website for a free walking tour, I look to see if the tour requires advance booking. Almost all the ones that I have joined (21 tours in countries on four continents) have not required advance booking.

The website also will tell you the language the tour will be conducted in (tours in English are the most common, with Spanish and French less so) as well as the tour's duration (usually two to three hours), the time to meet and the meeting location. You simply show up.

For these gratuity-based tours, the amount I tip depends on the size of the group. (Typically, guides don't suggest any amount, but guides in Bogotá suggested COP30,000.) If the guide is good, you can pay her or him more. If she or he doesn't know anything and is really lousy, you shouldn't pay.

For hotel stays in Colombia, citizens pay a 19% hotel tax, but this is not charged to non-Colombians. If you are charged the tax, as I was at one hostel, you can ask for your tax money back.

Though I did not know this at the time, I was told by a flight attendant on the flight back from Bogotá that, because I am not a Colombian citizen, I could have gotten a refund for the departure tax. She said travelers should get a refund form first, before checking in. After, the airline personnel will send you to another window to get your money back.

My interests are churches, gardens, markets, colorful buildings, hiking, seeing how locals live, eating in nonfancy restaurants, etc., so those are free or low-cost events. I am pretty sure ITN readers can easily spend less than $100 on a do-it-yourself trip in Colombia. If they also hire a guide or driver or join some tours, they would spend more.

Stanley Mui
Woodland Hills, CA