I guess we’ll address one of the great internet myths regarding travel. Well, maybe not a myth but definitely a miscommunication. This would be the statements that you see saying “travel for 50$ a day” or “you can travel for 30$ a day anywhere”. These things drive me just a little crazy. Why? Simple. They apply to a specific type of traveller, but are always given as generalizations.
(What I’m about to say applies to Western Europe.)
If you are an 18-25 year old backpacker, bumming around the globe, YES, you can PROBABLY survive on 50$ a day. Will you have a great time? Hard to say. That would depend upon your idea of a great time. If you consider walking tours, hanging out in the park, and free exhibits a great time then you will make it okay. If you plan on couch surfing, doing the group bunk room at the hostile, or the rare house sitting gig, you can probably get by on 50$ a day.
If you have managed to make it to adulthood and have matured out of the Hostile crowd, making your way through Europe for 50$ a day will be much more problematic. Why? Simple. Hotels cost money. Decent meals cost money. Good museums cost money. AND, let’s face it, decent booze of your country of travel costs money. As you get older, and your tastes become more refined, living on the cheap becomes an issue.
I firmly remember my younger days, bumming around Western Europe while in the military. Living out of a vending machine at the train station. Buying whatever beer was on special at the local bar in town. Staying at the seedy hotels because they were cheap and I wanted more money for booze. They were good times! Do I travel like that now? Of course not. Well, of course not, all the time. I still have the random meal out of a train station vending machine just because it’s easy. I still buy the local beer at times just to try something different. These days I do so because I choose to, not because it is a necessity.
The main reason for this is because I have gotten older and my style of travel has changed. I like a good hotel. I like good meals. You can learn a great deal about a country by its food. I love great museums, and cathedrals. Therefore, I budget more money when I travel now. When you’re younger, I think that you’re expectations about a country are different from when you are older. That. Or you are looking for different experiences from your travel choices. The difference usually always costs more.
Okay, now that I’ve complained about the low-budget, what is my opinion? For Western Europe (Definitely any country in the EU zone, yes I mean add England) a realistic number for a middle-aged traveler who is looking to have a good experience and be On-The-Cheap is probably 150$ a day. Now, stop the freaking out. That number has a real world value behind it. Your standard Western European hotel is going to run you just shy of 90$ a night. (In my opinion, the difference between the 15$ Hostile bed and the 90$ ** Hotel room is worth every cent you pay for it, but I’m not 20 anymore either.) Now, you have 60$ left. Running around a European city that has a decent metro system will set you back 8-10$ a day. Okay, we’re at 50-52$ left for the day. A good meal, at a local restaurant will bang you about 20-25$ per meal. So, one good meal, one breakfast at the hotel, and a quick snack stand stop somewhere throughout the day, and you have spent another 25-30$. This leaves you with 20-25$ to spend throughout the day (Museum entrance tickets, t-shirts, and the like). It’s not a lot of extra cash.
That is what I consider the baseline. If I’m only going to be traveling for 10-14 days, I usually budget 1000$ on top of hotel costs, and subdivide it by the number of days I need to survive. Yes, this isn’t budget travel. This is real world travel. Now, do I actually spend the whole 1000$? Almost always, no. But, running out of cash sucks! I don’t like that. I would rather take a hit on exchanging my Euros back into dollars than running out of cash. By the way, almost all exchanger companies will give you a receipt stating the original exchange rate and exchange unused currency back for the same rate upon your return. The rate is usually always bad, but still better than whatever their posted “Buying Rate” is.
Like I said earlier, that piece is specifically for the Euro-Zone, and England. There are a great many places on the planet that a middle-aged traveler can do quite well for 50$ a day. It requires research and investigation, but it is definitely doable. South East Asia, Indonesia, chunks of India, chunks of Central America, parts of South America can all be done well for 50$ a day. I would caveat that the price is minus airfare. Airfare these days is a topic all its own, and is usually always considered an item outside of the standard expenses. At least in my world. Airfare can be reasonable and it can be expensive, but it is seldom cheap these days. Cheap flights are accidentally finds, or heavy research items. Again, I’ll jump off that bridge later.
The nugget of advice being parted out here? Not really sure, probably it would be stop and evaluate what type of traveler you really are. If you are young and carefree, you probably read this and thought I was crazy. If you’re older, you may be looking at my thoughts differently. Once you understand how you like to travel and the experiences that you want to have, you can budget accordingly. Some people travel very well on very little. I like to have a little more comfort at this point in my life. I say do what works for you. Whatever you chose to do, make sure it fits who you are and what you want to do. Do not just head out based on what somebody told you on the internet. That includes me! Your best experiences are the ones where you are happy and comfortable. You can’t be happy and comfortable if you are constantly worrying about cash. Just sayin…..
No go. Get out there!
The view from my hotel room in Bruges, Belgium. 90$ a night. Circa 2015.