High adventure on the cheap

<em>Illustration: michaelmucci.com</em>
Illustration: michaelmucci.com 

There is no reason for holidaymakers on a budget to deprive themselves — you just need a planned approach and an eye for a bargain.

Wish you could go travelling next year, but think you can't afford it? That's rubbish, says an expert budget traveller. Matthew Kepnes has been travelling the world for six years now, and has little patience with those who say they can't afford to travel.

Kepnes, or Nomadic Matt as he is known to fans of his popular travel blog nomadicmatt.com, says travel is "only as expensive as you make it", and that anyone can afford to hit the road if they make it a priority.

Kepnes, who first set off when he was 25, travels on about $US50 ($48) a day, or $20,000 a year. The 31-year-old American is now making about five times that through his website and book sales.

Yet he sticks to his modest spending as a way of life rather than a necessity.

"I personally don't believe you need to deprive yourself when you travel, you just need to pick and choose where you spend your money," he says.

"Frugal travel isn't bound by age; it's simply knowing that more money doesn't equal a better holiday and there's no reason to spend unwisely."

 

Getting started

Kepnes was working in an administrative job and earning only $30,000 a year before he set off on his first overseas trip.

He managed to save about $20,000 through cutting out non-essential spending and selling off possessions.

Kepnes recommends that those who want to travel make a list of all of their set expenses and discretionary spending and start cutting.

His top targets include takeaway coffee, running a car, eating at restaurants, pay television, alcohol and having a telephone landline.

 

Getting smart

Kepnes's No.1 tip for travelling on the cheap is being flexible, both with timing and plans.

"The difference of a day or two can mean the difference in hundreds of dollars in the price of a plane ticket," he says. "By being flexible on your destination, you can get amazing last-minute deals on cruises, tours or hotels.

"For example, on a cruise, they need to fill cabins, so if you wait until the last minute you can find deals for less than $US100 ($95) a day.

"Take time off work and go wherever the prices are cheapest."

Kepnes says travellers should also learn to mix and match their destinations. "Get out to destinations and areas that aren't as expensive in order to balance all the expensive ones," he says.

 

Finding a bed

When Kepnes first started travelling, he spent all his time in hostels or "couch surfing", in which travellers stay in people's houses for nothing (see couchsurfing.org).

He now breaks up hostel accommodation with stays in rented apartments or budget hotels, without blowing his spending.

"I don't care where I stay, so I pick cheap hotels and I tend to walk everywhere so that I have money for what is important to me - activities and food," he says.

 

Getting around

Where he can't walk, Kepnes will most likely go by bus or train.

"I rarely hitchhike ... it's not something I feel comfortable doing, considering I carry a lot of electronics," he says.

"Buses are by far the cheapest form of transportation and I normally get bus passes where I go.

"In Europe and Australia, I purchase rail passes and take the trains."

For flights, Kepnes recommends Australian travellers take a budget airline such as Jetstar, Air Asia or Tiger Airways to a major city in Asia and get an onward flight from there.

"It will require more work and flight changes, but you can potentially save a tremendous amount of money," he says.

Kepnes uses the website Kayak to find all flight options out of a given city.

"That way you can simply find the cheapest destination and go there," he says.

 

Staying fed

Kepnes shuns restaurants and cooks all his own meals but says he never feels like he is missing out.

"If I'm travelling in France, of course I want to try the local food, but you can still enjoy local food by heading to the market," he says.

"Get some cheeses, meats and vegetables and have a picnic."

Kepnes says supermarkets are also a great way to learn about local ingredients and preferences.

"Yes, I want to go to amazing restaurants and eat delicious meals, but you can learn more about local food from local markets," he says.

 

Seeing the sights

"I never skip anything I really want to see," Kepnes says. "If I want to see it that badly, I'll always pay for it."

Kepnes says he looks on the internet for details of free exhibits or free museum days.

"A lot of museums offer special times when they are open for free, and I try to go then," he says.

"I also look for combination passes where I can get multiple attractions for one price."

jane@janeefraser.com.au

What are your top tips for saving money when you travel? Post a comment below.

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