How to travel on next to nothing: tips from Ryan the super saver


Kaleigh Steinorth

Kaleigh Steinorth

Blog author Kaleigh Steinorth

Kaleigh Steinorth writes for PolicyGenius, a digital insurance brokerage trying to make sense of insurance for consumers.

Published January 15, 2015|5 min read

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We're tracking down the most interesting super savers we can find and asking them how they do it. Find out more about this series here.Other super saver interviews:

Our next subject is Ryan, a cartoonist who boasts he can travel anywhere on $20 a day. (He's even written a comic [PDF] about it.) While a few of his strategies—like sleeping at the Lincoln Memorial—are outlandish even by super saver standards, he still offers some great practical tips on how to avoid the "tourist tax" and live like a local, wherever you are.

Describe your spending personality and relationship with money.

I'm a cartoonist, and a self-employed one at that. So over the last decade, my income has ranged from 'pretty good' to 'I haven't made a cent in 7 months.' But along the way, I figured out that while I would be destitute in the US, I could go overseas and live like a king! For example, a couple thousand bucks in the bank is enough to live for a year in your own private Costa Rican beach house with a landscaping crew, high speed internet, and life surrounded by monkeys. So while I've spent a lot of time poor, I've spent a lot of it living the good life, to the point that people hearing about my adventures assumed I was rich!

What inspired you to begin traveling so cheaply? What steps did you take to start cutting costs?

My first bout of budget travel came quite by accident, when a series of disasters left me stranded in Japan with no money, no place to stay, and a typhoon canceling all flights out of the country. After spending a cold, wet night on a park bench in the middle of a raging typhoon, I decided I'd better figure out how to do that sort of thing more creatively. And when I did, it allowed me to travel in much more comfort across Korea, Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Singapore, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

What are some ways you save money that could be seen as unconventional?

The one tip that's the most helpful, but that everyone I tell about it is the most scared to try, is to never book anything before you arrive. I like to scour Wikitravel for tips on neighborhoods that are nice, and a rough idea of how much things cost, then show up and have adventures, then find a nice place to sleep when I'm tired. I end up saving on expensive tourist hotels that market themselves internationally, and also save on taxis to get back to some hotel I'd booked months earlier without knowing where I'd end up. Of course, this means you have to pack crazy-light so that you can take all your stuff with you!

What is your thought process before you spend money on something?

When I travel, I simply think "Am I being tourist taxed?" That is, is this price only this high for visitors? Then I try to make the decisions that a local would make to get the better price. Once I was in Tanzania with my sister. We got off a bus, went to a hotel, and were told it was $90 a night. I turned to walk out, and the manager shouted that he was the cheapest hotel in town, there was nothing cheaper. We walked next door and it was $50. My sister insisted that we go there immediately. But I said no, these are the two hotels right across the street from the bus stop. Every tourist goes there, so they can charge whatever they want. I insisted I could find a room for 10 bucks a night. She laughed at me. I found one for five. Not only that, but it was much nicer than the first hotel, and since it wasn't overlooking the bus stop, we had a beautiful view of Kilimanjaro.

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What is the craziest thing you've done to save money while traveling?

The types of money-saving tips I wouldn't recommend to others are all the free places I've found to sleep. Sidewalks, train stations, baseball dugouts, stadiums, beaches and the Lincoln Memorial. When I got tired of sleeping on the street, I would go to a 24 hour laundromat, put some dirty clothes in a dryer without turning it on, and sleep on a bench so I could pretend I'd just nodded off waiting for my laundry to finish.

What do you like spending money on?

I like spending money on adventures! If there's something that I've never experienced, that I think will be memorable and that is unique to the place I'm traveling, I'll toss down some money for it.

What opportunities has being a super saver given you that you might not have had?

From package tours, to tourist restaurants, to fancy hotels, all of the expensive stuff that gets marketed at travelers works only to shield you from the place you're visiting. When you hit the streets to find a cheap hotel, stay at the same place as locals, dine at a hole in the wall place, and explore on your own instead of paying a guide, you really get to see and experience the place, the people, the culture, and discover things that tourists would never see! A fancy chain hotel is the same no matter where you are in the world, but hammock hotels, jimjilbangs, capsule hotels, and other local specialties are experiences that you remember, and lead you to discover even more! Tours are specifically designed to remove any and all surprise from your journey. But then you will never have an adventure!

What advice would you give to someone who needs to start saving money?

I did a short comic called "Travel anywhere on $20 a day" that you can read for free with all sorts of tips. If you want even more advice, look out for the full length book version "Poorcraft: Wish You Were Here."

Why do you think traveling cheaply and lightly is so important?

The cheaper you travel, the MORE you can travel. And the more you get to see the world on your own terms!

Self-proclaimed artist and adventurer Ryan Estrada is a comic and world traveler, currently living in South Korea. He is also a Radio Producer for eFM 90.5 Busan South Korea, which is Busan's only English radio station. _