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.)

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

  1. This is really good! I read a lot of ‘$25 a day travelling’ which is way too much. You’ve given an honest interesting guide – thanks!

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  3. Hi Shirine. I’ve just stumbled across your blog and I have to say reading through it has been a treat. Your outlook on life and what it means to travel is refreshing. This breakdown is also very helpful (I KNEW it was cheaper to travel than $25 a day) I believe that you and I are very similar in our visions of travelling (i.e. to gather the cultural experiences through local people and hidden locations, away from the tourist masses). Next year, I will be starting my own journey around the world (cycle2conserve.com). I will be travelling in much the same way as yourself. Maybe (hopefully) one day our paths will cross. I will be following closely regardless. Happy trails and tail winds to you!

    • Great a! I know, before starting out myself I thought it would be 800-900 a month at least because everyone seems to advertise 20 oe so dollars a day. Well I’m happy to report that is not the only way. Especially if you are like us and cycle for the culture! Have an amazing time on your own adventure and I certainly hope our paths cross someday.

  4. in europe u can also live very cheap if you learn how to dupster dive. You can check trashwiki.org for sleeping u can find eco farms, commiunities, squats, abandoned buildings..
    My bugdet in asia was 3 euro per day. In europe i was living almost free!

    • Yeah! That’s what I am planning. My tent is always free, and I hope to work at hostel for free room along the way, that’s how I’m starting out in European! There is always a way.

  5. when in Ladakh, there is a small food joint in the middle of nowhere, very popular for all tourists that go there for trips and/or camping etc. Its supposed to be one of the best chai ( Indian milk tea) and Pizza places ever, is what my friend who went there said ( and I trust his palate). Did you get to try that one during you visit to Leh-Ladakh ?

    Wish the good health for the remaining part of your trip in India. You love the mountains, it might be a good idea (if you haven’t already done it, or planned to do it) to check out the North East part of India. Starting with Sikkim, Darjeeling, Gangtok, Assam etc. Supposed to give you exhilarating views of the Himalayan peaks (most of them in Nepal, which you have already been to).

    • I would have loved to go to the east and had planned to, but my plans changed a bit so it will have to be for another trip! I am not sure if I went to the restaurant… I don’t have any that stick out so clearly like that.

  6. Thanks for this post – it really puts our lifestyle choices into perspective. Nothing wrong with owning a car, a nice house, etc. but I think we can only appreciate the luxuries we choose to buy if we realise how little we actually need to survive. And we should certainly never feel tied down buy our “stuff.”

  7. Thant’s very good. I too was on 5$ when cycling in China and then it went for 5 to $3 a day in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Europe yes even in Europe I spent less money than in China XD It is possible indeed 😀

  8. Hey Shirine I’ve just started on my cycling trip through South America(almost one month now). Now in Brazil(expensive), targeting 15reais/$7 a day. Reading your perspectives further convinces me to cut down on a lot of stuff and expenses. You go girl!

  9. Hi Shirine,

    would you be cycling through Bulgaria? If so do you know roughly when? Me and my wife are planning to move back at some point next year so we might be able to give a you a place to sleep for a night or two;)

  10. Cycling is definitely the cheapest way to travel! It does take a lot of will power to stick to the smaller budgets though, but is totally worth it when you consider the unique lifestyle and experiences. Hope to see you out on the road one day!

  11. What a girl….
    Not only beautiful, but smart too, and knows how to live. Best of luck to you lady, says an old cyclist in Poland.

  12. Wow. Do You write every expense down (in a notebook or app)?
    What do You do, not to get week occasionally and just consume/spend/booze/have a sweet tooth? BR

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  14. You’re 20 years old??? Very wise my friend… Took me a long time to understand that this is the way to freedom and true empowerment- stay up

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  16. Wow, what a great post! We are currently traveling around Asia with a low budget but we are still spending over $10 per day, including all the transport etc. This really inspires us to aim for less 🙂 you can really save a lot when you go to eat where the locals eat. Yesterday we had a dinner for $0.35 each here in Cambodia. We met many travelers who told that they never found food for less than $2! It’s all about choices though.

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