365 Days in Money: How to Live on Five Dollars A Day

“You know all those things you have always wanted to do? You should go do them.”

1,923$. That’s how much money I spent in the last year for everything from shampoo, to guest houses, to food, to pepper spray. I was able to complete one of my goals along this trip which was to prove that it’s possible to live and travel for less than 2,000$ a year. This doesn’t include visas and flights, which for me were costly and upped this years expenses to 3,458$, but still, how many of you can tell me you lived for a full year on that amount back home? People tell me they can’t travel because it’s expensive as they proceed to drive away in their car (which costs over 10,000$ a year on average just for insurance and gas) and straight into a Starbucks for their daily coffee (which, if you buy a four dollar coffee everyday, adds up to 1,500$ a year). You can travel, you just have to get your priorities straight in order to do so.

Many people will look at this number and tell me it’s impossible. Five dollars a day hardly even covers your bottled water as someone once pointed out to me. (Hint hint, you don’t drink bottled water when you travel as I do!). People will tell me that I must have lived like a hobo and surely missed out on cultural opportunities because I wasn’t willing to pay. Pay for what? Eating out at the expensive tourist restaurants instead of the cheap local ones? Staying at hotels instead of with families in small villages? Visiting local temples instead of the ones done up for tourists? Travel for me is not about following everyone else on some guided tour, but rather about visiting the beautiful landscapes and local villages, and lucky for me, this travel style just happens to be a lot less strenuous on the wallet as well.

Now, I understand this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Not everyone wants to call their tent home, and I have yet to meet many people willing to cook every single meal on a small petrol powered backpacking stove. It would be easy to spend thousands where I spend hundreds and travel in comfort, but, as a twenty-year old who has never made more than ten dollars an hour, that is definitely not an option. Nor do I want it to be. By traveling cheap — living out of my tent, staying with locals, and eating street food (in developing countries) — I end up experiencing the culture in a way most people miss. Besides feeding me and giving me a place to sleep for the night, the countless families who took me in gave me a chance to see their culture as it truly is without the whole do-up for westerners that is found in every tourist town.

So what does five dollars a day get you? In cheap Asian countries such as India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, and a few countries in South America (Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru), this gets you a room in the simplest hostel or guest house and a meal (sometimes even three) out in the market or at a cheap local restaurant. In most of the world though, a five dollar a day budget means you are sleeping in your tent every single night (unless a local takes you in of course), and you are eating a whole lot of pasta, rice, oatmeal, and bananas. It also means you are cycling or hitchhiking because transportation, even in the cheapest countries, definitely adds up. What five dollars a day doesn’t get you is luxury. Forget the fancy restaurants (or restaurants of any kind outside of developing countries) and shopping sprees. It won’t pay for your nice hotel room, or even a shady motel room at that, and it certainly won’t cover a night drinking at the bar. Traveling as I do has made me pick and choose what is important to me while imposing a simplicity of life that is hard to beat.

Now that I will be flying out to Georgia in a month to commence my next year of cycling through Turkey and Europe I expect to increase my daily average to about ten dollars a day (300$ a month). This will allow for me to eat the local specialities even in the more expensive countries as well as provide myself with a cushion for visiting museums or important cultural sites. Of course, 300$/month is still nothing in countries such as Switzerland which are notoriously expansive, so in order to continue traveling as I do, I will be taking advantage of resources such as couchsurfing and warmshowers, woofing (working on farms for free room and board), and hopefully the chance to work along the way. There is always a way to travel, it’s all about figuring out what works best for you.

Here is the detailed breakdown from my last year on the road:

-855$ (San Diego to Delhi)
-200$ (For my bike to fly)

-0$ (USA)
-110$ (India- three months)
-280$ (Nepal- six months)
-90$ (India- three months)

Pacific Coast USA: 4.5$/day

-Food: 127$
-Lodging (more like tent space): 22$
-Bike maintenance: 0$
-Medical: 0$
-Other: 25$
(Bike mirror and pepper spray)

Total: 174$
Days: 38

India: 6.55$/day

-Food: 225$
-Lodging: 200$
-Bike maintenance: 15 cents
-Medical: 15$
-Transport: 110$
(High since I had expensive taxi and bus rides to get to Ladakh, my starting point)
-Essentials: 15$
(Maps, gas, ATM fees, passport photos, shampoo…)
-Nonessential: 50$
(Clothes, internet, nose piercing…)
-Permits: 22$

Total: 635$
Days: 97

Nepal: 4.43$/day

-Food: 368$
-Lodging: 216$
-Bike maintenance: 14$
-Medical: 3$
-Transport: 68$
-Essentials: 44$
(ATM fees, fix shoes, soap, toilet paper, shampoo…)
-Nonessentials: 39$
(Gifts, clothes, internet…)
-Permits: 32$

Total: 784$
Days: 177

(Though I haven’t finished my time in India, here is how much I have spent so far.)

6 thoughts on “365 Days in Money: How to Live on Five Dollars A Day

  1. Since I got your blog from Florian Schmale (www.onemanonebikeoneworld.com) I feel so proud to see that I was and I am not alone with my life-style. I traveled with an old cycle from India to Nepal and my costs were covered by friends and even strangers. I did not spend more than 4-7 dollar a day. When I had more money, I spend the money with locals or even spend it per paypal to other travelers who traveling the world by bike, like Julian from http://pilgrimsandashes.com/ – I can just agree that if you want something from the deepest place in your heart, you can reach it. That´s something that I can see on your face. You are pure and I would like to help you, as soon as you come to Europe and Turkey. Funny is, that I am also planing right now my Turkey Trip for the mid of September…

    I am thankful that you spreading this good vibes and showing us, how it is possible to travel on ” light budget”. I did the same and I will continue to do this – because I realized so much, that we do not need a lot in life. Friends, a place to sleep (even if its not a house, the sand on the beach and the starts above our head is the best in my eyes, we need some food, which is actually on the trees, you will see that in Europe, specially in Turkey…)

    Please, see here how I traveled on a very low budget and I had the luck that I got my friends involved, who have seen the same, what I see in your blog: You do it to inspire people, not to show off, what you can do… You do it, to tell people: Open your heart and your eyes and see the beauty in this world.


    Thanks for that and all the best on your travels, that you will be protected by the positive vibes, that you send outside to us.

    Alexandros from http://www.bike4peace.eu

    • Hello and thank you! It’s great to meet others who travel like I do, and who have see that material goods and money does not at all equal happiness a! Thank you of the comment, and maybe our paths shall cross in turkey!

  2. Dear Shirine & boyfriend,

    since you are heading for Europe I just want to invite you at our house in the centre of France … a beautiful country side, nice people and warmshowers.
    We have a big house in renovation, a lot of work but you might just come in for a “recovering-period” or if you want to, earn some money (but you don’t have to). André and me (Wilma) will receive you as our family and we would be honoured to meet you guys !

    Take care kids,

    Wilma and André

    • Hello! That would be absolutely wonderful! Boyfriend has lots of construction experience, and I’m a quick learner! Merci pour l’opportunité, je vous dirai quand on se rapproche un peu.

      • Lovely …. and sorry for “boyfriend” I know it’s Kevin … 🙂
        Looking forward seeing you !

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