We recently caught up with budget travel expert Matt Kepnes, best known through his blog, Nomadic Matt. Since 2008 Matt has been chronicling his travels and sharing carefully researched information on how to travel better, cheaper, and longer – aka on a budget. His new book, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, compiles years of budget travel wisdom into one place.
In our Q & A interview with Matt, he lays out practical travel advice, his one can’t-live-without splurge, and where he’ll be travelling next.
What does travelling “on a budget” mean to you, and how did you become a “budget traveller”?
A traveller who spends his money wisely, no matter how much he spends, is a budget traveller. It’s not about being cheap, it’s about being frugal and looking for value when you travel. I don’t think there’s a process to become a budget traveller. If you travel on the low end, you’re a budget traveller.
How should someone evaluate whether high-cost items, such as a round-the-world plane ticket, are worth the cost?
You can’t get around the price of the ticket – it is what it is. That being said, you can take an alternative method of travel. Go overland as much as possible, use budget airlines, use travel reward credit cards to gain points for cheap flights. It’s less convenient but it’s cheaper. Is that expensive plane ticket worth it? Only you can decide that.
How much money should travellers expect to have in savings before embarking on a long-term trip?
That depends on where you are going. As I talk about in my book, the typical year long round-the-world trip costs about US $18,250 ($50 per day). But, if you are just going to Asia, you’ll need less. If you are going to Europe for a year, you’ll need more. Same with Australia. It really depends on where you are going.
What’s worth splurging on when travelling?
Anything that you’re passionate about. For me that’s sushi, for others it’s wine tours. For one of my friends, it’s golf. Whatever excites you is worth spending money on. After all, the purpose of money is to spend it, right? Spend it on what you love.
How do you discover where locals dine and drink?
Ask. I usually ask the hostel or hotel staff where they like to eat. Same with taxi drivers. Yelp! [an app] is also good for discovering which places are popular where you are.
How do you keep to a budget when travelling in peak tourist season, or when going to a stereotypically “expensive” destination?
I avoid the same things – big name hotels, touristy restaurants, expensive tours – no matter where I go and no matter what tourist season I’m in. Picnicking and taking advantage of free walking tours are two great ways to keep costs down.
What should people do if they run out of money on the road?
You should always keep enough [money] to buy that return ticket home, even if you leave with just a one-way ticket. Keep a little extra just in case. I’ve seen too many travellers go broke with no way to make money or plan to get home. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Other than budgeting, what about travel have you found most challenging, and what inspired you to keep exploring?
I stay inspired because travel is my passion. It’s what I love. I love exploring new cities and places and seeing how people live.
What was one of your most memorable travel experiences?
This year, you picked Tikal, Guatemala, as your top trip for the Rough Guides 2013 Bucket List. What trip is next on your horizon?
This year I plan on exploring a lot of the Caribbean, Ireland, and hopefully Bhutan.