Expert Interview with Robert Schrader on Traveling Cheaply for Mint

Robert Schrader's opinion of the 9-to-5 workweek is right there in the name of his website, Leave Your Daily Hell. As a result, he's an expert on traveling while not breaking the bank. He talked with us about traveling without going broke.

Why do we think travel is so expensive?

There are two parts to this answer. The first is that many people don't see travel as a priority in life, and as is the case for anything deemed unnecessary or a luxury, the cost will seem larger than it is. Many people will happily spend $100 on a night of dining and drinks, for example, not realizing that this same amount could buy them three to five days of food, lodging and transport in Southeast Asia, to name just one example. The second is that people who don't travel a lot don't know how to look for deals - or, most importantly, when they're getting ripped off.

What travel costs can we cut out of our travel budget?

For me, the most unnecessary expense during travel is shopping. Unless you're purchasing a specialty good you can only buy in a particular country or region, most souvenirs you buy abroad are crap, and while it's good to support the local economy, a photo or story makes a more meaningful and permanent memento or gift. I also find people spend more than they need to on what I call the "Big Three" travel expenses - lodging, transport and food. By staying in a three-star hotel instead of a four-star one or, even better, a hostel or guest house, taking a bus or train instead of renting a car and eating at a simple local restaurant instead of the fancy one your guidebook recommends, you save serious cash, sometimes 25-50% of what you'd spend otherwise!

What are some of the more creative ways you've seen people trim their travel budgets?

Many of the most "creative" ways people use to save on travel are the least beneficial to the experience, in my opinion. I often see couples sharing a meal meant for one person, or sleeping the same dorm bed in a hostel. While this is sort of sweet, you don't want to sacrifice your nutrition or your personal space to save money - it will tire you out faster and, ultimately, hamper your enjoyment. You might even get sick! To me, saving on travel should never be a matter of financial sorcery, just common sense.

What misconceptions are out there about saving money on travel?

I think the biggest misconception about saving money on travel is the idea that being a budget traveler means never splurging. For me, a big reason I'm willing to stay in basic accommodation, eat simple food and move myself around like a local is so that I have money for incredible activities and excursions, whether I'm hiking into the crater of an Indonesian volcano that spews blue fire, relaxing at the best mountain hot spring in all of Japan or taking a camel safari through the Moroccan Sahara. If you skip out on once-in-a-lifetime experiences due to money, you will always regret it.

Another big misconception is the entitlement many budget travelers feel to local prices. One time, when I was in Egypt, I saw another traveler curse out a falafel seller because he got charged six Egyptian pounds instead of three - that's a difference of 40 cents! Although scams do happen and it's important to be vigilant of them, I don't personally feel cheated if I have to pay a little more than locals - I have more money than they do, usually quite a bit more. The way I see it, my money empowers the person I'm paying to keep doing what he does, and if I value what he does, it's an honor to help him keep doing it.

Is there a point where a travel deal isn't worth it, and how do you know?

If saving money requires me to significantly compromise my health, safety or comfort, I know it's not worth it. Also, I tend to shop around a lot, and if one price is much lower than all the others, I always assume that strings are attached and decide not to pursue it.

What destinations are a great trip on a low budget?

One thing that surprises people who don't travel a lot is that many places in the world are budget destinations and are way cheaper than even your daily life at home. It's easy to get by on 25-50 USD per day in Southeast Asia, India, China, Sri Lanka and much of Eastern Europe, while 50-75 USD per day will do you in South America, and 75-100 USD is feasible in Western Europe, Japan and much of the Middle East. To be honest, the only countries I think are really difficult for budget travelers are Switzerland, Norway and Australia. Much of Africa also tends to be rather expensive, which is a bit puzzling.

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