Is $5 a Day Really Enough?

This is the second article in our series of posts about perpetual travel. Subscribe to TravelBlogs for free to receive new articles in your email inbox or feed reader.
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Children at Jaipur Palace, India. By Ardy.

Last week, I wrote about Andy the Hobo Traveler, and his inspiring motto: If you earn $5 a day, you can travel forever.

Related post: How to Make Money with Your Travel Blog

That article received a strong reaction, and not just from people who were inspired by Andy’s approach to long-term travel. Others were skeptical. One reader, J Nizzle, commented:

5 bucks a day. I think that is totally possible. If you don’t mind those living conditions. How long can you sleep on the ground? Or better yet in some seedy places that work with a 5 dollar budget. What is the quality of food you are eating? How about not showering for a few days?

I understand the skepticism. I mean, most days I spend $5 by noon. And that’s not even taking into account the cost of renting a house.

But Andy sent me an interesting email last week, which perfectly illustrates how he is able to get by on so little. With his permission, I’ve published it here, for the benefit of all the doubters.

How Andy does it

I earn over 100-150 U.S. per day, and I am laughing at myself. I am splurging here and getting a really good room for one month and I am still living close to 5 dollar per day

“I just rented a room in an apartment building here in Bangkok. I am sharing it with my girlfriend. Huge room with queen size bed, hot shower, and air conditioning, security and a balcony.

“Cost is 5200 Bath for one month – or 152 dollars.

“This is an expensive apartment.

“However, if you think, the two of us are paying 5 dollars per day for a room, so half is $2.50.

“I ate chicken fried rice last night at the expensive apartment restaurant, it cost 40 baht, the cheap prices of Chicken fried rice is 20. It cost me one dollar.

“These days, I earn over 100-150 U.S. per day, and I am laughing at myself. I am splurging here and getting a really good room for one month and I am still living close to 5 dollar per day.

“Note, realize though in Japan, South Korea, it cost me 30 dollars per day… plus airfare.

“However, in Taiwan I lived in a room for free because I helped the owners four years ago to understand how to market their hostel, when I arrived they gave me a room.

“Wade from Vagabond Journey is uploading photos and making advertisements for hotels on HoboHideOut.com and did not pay much of anything to live in Europe. (Editor’s note: find out how here)

“I think the true test of whether a person is a traveler could be the question: ‘How much does is cost to rent a room?’

“If they say less than 15, they may be a traveler.

“I would say, 5-10 US, as this is the normal amounts I pay.”

Is it for you?

Andy gets by on $5 a day, and you can too – if you’re willing to make some concessions. For example, if you’re trying to get by on a $5 a day budget, you should probably avoid most of Europe. As Andy points out, Japan and South Korea were both more expensive for him.

And as Darren from TravelRants mentioned, there are luxuries in life you will have to let go of:

I could resign from my job, and live off what I earn on my blog, BUT, I am used to the luxury of living in a nice apartment, travel 2,3,4 times a year, have the latest gadgets and live comfortably.

Ultimately, the question to ask is not whether it can be done (Andy is living proof that it can), but: “Is it for me?”

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Discussion »

  • #1Debbie Dubrow

    I don’t worry so much about the creature comforts. When we’ve done extended backpacking in the past, those things just weighed us down… yes you need new clothes every once in a while, and shoes are expensive, but by and large you don’t need much.

    The expensive part is health insurance, and if you’re traveling to more remote locations evac insurance. I don’t consider that a luxury. Plus there’s phone calls to family back home, internet access, and the occasional plane flight to visit family.

    So yes, I believe that the actual travel can cost $5 per day, but there’s a non-zero cost above and beyond the necessities of food, shelter, and clothing.

  • #2Eric

    Good point Debbie. Health insurance is an interesting one, and it’s one of those things a lot of people would not leave home without. I haven’t asked Andy or some of the other perpetual travellers out there what they do about health insurance, but it would certainly add onto their costs.

  • #3pam

    When I did backpacker travel in India, Pakistan, and the Middle East, there was this sort of competition amongst the travelers you’d meet – how cheap could you be? How far could you get and on how little money? Meh, I’m glad to not be doing that anymore.

    That aside, because we’re a mixed nationality pair and are, from time to time, aggressively friendly expat types, we have friends everywhere who will put us up for free. Man, are we lucky. And hey, there are institutionalized ways to get a free bed, too, what with Couchsurfing and the like. But we’d be crappy guests if we didn’t bring our hosts more than a 5 dollar bottle of wine.

    Geography matters too. Cheap digs exist everywhere, but cheap in Vienna isn’t the same as what’s cheap in Hanoi. Though it might be equally as seedy. Heh.

    Also, while you can sleep and eat for five bucks, what about getting around? Is that part of the equation? Hitching is free, but not for everyone and even then, isn’t it good karma to toss in $$ for gas, buy coffee for the driver, etc…? If you’ve figured out how to sit in one place for 5 bucks a day, are you still a traveler?

  • #4Stuart

    Interesting post — easy to do if you sit at home all day eating fried rice day in day out.

    I met a guy back in 2005 who’d travelled extensively — he covered 32 Thai provinces in fact — on 250B a day for three months. Now that’s an achievement!

  • #5Phoenix Lawyer

    I can’t imagine living on $5 a day – maybe $25 a day, I think that would go a long way to getting you by even in 3rd world countries. I’ve never tried it, but I could see doing it.

  • #6NewWrldYankee

    Ok, that makes sense. I live in Europe, and I cant think of a conceivable way to live on $5 a day. And I skimp and save a ton. But I love any money saving tips, and maybe I can apply some to Europe, too. I get it now – Yes, of course when you live with someone, it is cheaper. And if it is a significant other, then you can share a room, or even a bed. So that makes it even easier to save money.

  • #7airportdrunk

    To be honest I’ve never really understood this competition between backpackers to see who can scrape by on the least… I’d rather save up a bit more a few more creature comforts on my trip.

  • #8manjit,Rishikesh-IIndia

    Yes you can do so as a tourist in India.Go to any tourist destination,there are Sarais/Dharamshalas(resting places),where u can get a (single)bed in a dormn.for US$0.1-0.8 per night.Such facility may be availed in youth hostels,kisan bhavans,govt run holiday-homes(pwd/forest/pub health/festival-commitees).
    However, Temples/Gurudwaras offer it free of cost,besides free food.It is considersed auspicious to spend a night or two here by most indians.Here u can enjoy a 100% security + pious ppls company.
    To get cheap food, local foods are best.You provide raw-mat.(rice-lentils-vegetables) to any family,half an hour before u want to dine & get it cooked & served with honour.(This mode is more hygenic than most way-side eateries).
    You just have to locate a religiuos flag in India,when u r in a need of shelter/food,I am sure you will get it free,if you can spare your western(hippy) way of life for a night.(drugs/whisky/loud-music/dance/sex).

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