Each month, we feature a reader on our community forum as a way to inspire others and remind potential travelers that people from all walks of life go out and explore their world! Today, I want to share the story of Will, a.k.a The Broke Backpacker, who like Tomislov, is traveling the world on an extreme budget of $20 a day. After ten years of travel, I like a little more comfort because of my insomnia, but I love reading stories like Will’s because it is always a good reminder that when you’re creative, you can save money without sacrificing adventure and fun on the road.
Nomadic Matt: Tell us about you. Where are you from, how did you get into travel, age, place of birth, etc!
Will: I’m Will, a 26-year-old amateur adventurer and freelance journalist. I like to get muddy, naked and painted. I first started backpacking when I was eighteen and was instantly hooked by all the inspiring people I met whilst hitching, camping and Couchsurfing around Europe.
Since then, I have lived in India for a year, worked in bars in Vietnam, herded goats in the Holy Land and conquered the highest navigable pass in the world armed with a poorly drawn map and a packet of Ritz crackers. I have survived knife-point robberies in Nepal, guerrilla encounters in Myanmar, motorbike crashes in Vietnam and numerous other mis-adventures. Recently, I started my most ambitious adventure to date: a two-year journey from the U.K. to Papua New Guinea, without the use of any flights.
I was born in Brighton, near London, and although I do love England, it is no longer where my heart is. I’m too restless to be in one place for too long. Right now, I’m on a recruitment mission – I’m heading across the world with the aim to find cool people to help me open my chain of hostels and then, eventually, the commune – yep, my life aims are not especially conventional, but heck, even us crazy traveler folks have gotta have a plan!
You call yourself an extreme budget traveler. What exactly is an extreme budget?
I try really hard not to spend more than $20 USD a day, the ultimate aim being to spend under $100 USD a week. In the past, I picked up bar-work, hostel-work and farm-work whilst on the road. These days, I support my travels through my travel blog, The Broke Backpacker. To help stay on budget I hitchhike, sleep rough when necessary, Couchsurf and liberate bread rolls whenever possible! In the past, I have travelled on less than this. I spent just $3,000 USD on a 14-month adventure around India and Nepal.
Do you think what you do is something most travelers want to do?
Anybody can do what I do, but to be honest most people simply don’t want to try it. A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction when I tell them that I hitch and Couchsurf; many folks seem to think this is just insanely dangerous, which is simply not the case. When it comes to sleeping rough or wild-camping, yeah, it helps if you don’t mind being a bit uncomfortable. As far as I am concerned, I would rather be uncomfortable and traveling than comfortable and chained to a desk – a sedentary lifestyle just isn’t for me. Most people want to travel, even if they don’t realize it. Everybody should travel, even if they have very little money – it is totally achievable.
How do you stay on such a tight budget in expensive countries, say Japan or New Zealand?
Staying on budget in more expensive countries is, obviously, a bit harder but the rules stay the same – hitch, Couchsurf and buy dirt-cheap food. In Japan, I pretty much survived off 7-Eleven stores… cheap pizza and rice-balls for the win! In countries like Japan, I have to plan a bit further in advance as, if I can’t find a Couchsurfing host, I end up sleeping rough the whole time and that gets pretty knackering. In some expensive countries, if you have plenty of time on your hands, it’s a good idea to pick up some paid work as you can earn a fair whack in a short period of time and then head off to cheaper destinations… I never got around to picking grapes in Oz with fellow drunken-Englishmen, but it’s on my radar!
Give us your most unique money-saving tip.
Always bring things back home from your travels to sell – I’ve brought back shirts, scarves, leather satchels, all sorts of odds and ends – you can make a fortune selling them at festivals.
Also, once I rocked up into Jordan after getting extremely lost whilst hitching from Israel, I eventually made it to Petra where I met up with a Rastafarian Bedouin, Ghassab, who was the proud owner of a bright pink Landrover, four goats and a rock-cut cave house. I spent two weeks living with him in the cave, collecting firewood and soaking in some truly stunning sunsets.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done whilst traveling?
One of my craziest stories involves canyoning in Nepal. I hiked with a guide and three other backpackers for nearly two hours until we reached some nearby waterfalls. At this point, the guide realized he had forgotten one helmet so I ended up being the sucker who had to start off with a huge leap of faith, a 6-meter jump into nothingness with no protection.
Later, whilst abseiling down a waterfall, the rope sliding through my fingers felt kind of strange, I looked down and saw it was held together with gaffa tape, which was coming apart. I panicked somewhat, slipped and then made the brilliant decision to unclip myself before the rope actually broke – which it probably wasn’t going to do in all honesty. I fell backwards and luckily ended in a deep pool of water, having fallen perhaps 4 meters (nowhere near as far as I thought it would be). I emerged shaken, but laughing uncontrollably.
What are some of your biggest travel tips?
Go out into the world with an open mind, smile at everyone, and never say “no” to a new experience… this is the best advice I can give to folks looking to ditch their desks and hit the road for the first time.
Travel is like anything, if you put it off it may never happen – accept that you could die tomorrow; do you really want your last memory to be working a job you dislike to pay for shit you don’t need? Whilst it does make sense to prepare before you embark on your first big adventure, I recommend not planning too much – go with the flow and accept that some things might go wrong. When you travel, you have two choices – to be stressed or to be chilled, the latter is definitely the way to go.
Ooooh, and when you do, take a head-torch – it’ll be handy for exploring!
If you could tell your younger self four things, what would they be?
- Start a travel blog earlier! – Seriously, I wish I had known it was possible to forge a career for oneself on the Internet without having any major tech skills.
- Long-distance relationships, especially whilst traveling, are doomed to failure.
- Stuff is going to go wrong, so chill out and roll with it.
- It’s good to be scared, it means you are learning.
What’s your least favorite part about traveling on such a tight budget?
Long-term budget travel does get tiring. I miss steak, and wine. Currently I am in Europe, working my way East to Iran and Pakistan. Europe is seriously expensive so I find myself counting my Euros if I want to party in the evening, which isn’t ideal. Luckily, you can buy cheap beer in the supermarkets so it is still possible to get the most out of the Euro-backpacking experience!
When I am really broke and can’t find a Couchsurfing host, that sucks as I am forced to sleep rough or wild-camp. I don’t mind doing either but when you suddenly have to do it, out of the blue, the chances of finding a good spot are not great.
Do you ever splurge? If it gets tiring, why not treat yourself? I love traveling on a budget but sometimes you just need to splurge and get that bottle of wine in Argentina.
Sure, sometimes these days I can afford to splurge if I want to. When I first went traveling, it wasn’t an option but every now and again some kindly Couchsurfing host would treat me to a decent meal and a few drinks; the irregularity made it all the more special. These days, now that my blog is making money, I can splurge if I want to. I tend to stick to my tight budget as I feel it’s the best way to get into real adventures and meet cool people; in Berlin for example, rather than paying to get into museums or any of that jazz, I happily spent a week breaking into old abandoned buildings – check out “urban exploring” to get an idea of what I am talking about – it was free, and it was awesome.
Some quick questions:
- Favorite country? Nepal for the scenery. Myanmar for the people. Philippines for the adventures. Venezuela for the trekking.
- Least favorite country? France.
- One item you can’t travel without? A headtorch.
- If you could have a superpower, what would it be? If I had one superpower it would be teleportation; I would save a fortune on flights. I would probably become obese though as I would definitely teleport from the sofa to the fridge.
P.S. — On April 20th, I’ll be hosting a meet-up in NYC! If you’re in the city, come down to Solas for my last meet-up before I move full-time to Austin! You can RSVP by clicking here.
P.P.S. — We’ve raised over $4,000 to send our next FLYTE group to Cuba!!!! Every semester, we send one underprivileged and underfunded high school class on an educational trip! Your contribution helps give these kids a chance to experience the wonder of travel we take for granted. Give back, help this class from inner-city D.C. get to Cuba, and get lots of amazing travel gear in the process!