This post is not a judgment on those who choose to spend more or less while traveling. I do not mean to imply that literally every person can always spend less than fifteen dollars to really experience a city. Spending less than fifteen dollars isn’t going to get you into the finest art museums in the world, it isn’t going to buy you a ticket to a Viennese Opera, and it isn’t going to let you take a cruise down the river. I can promise though that if you start in a central location, you can get a feel for any city for fifteen dollars.
Food: Honestly, I’m almost content to eat from a grocery store every single day. It’s generally the cheapest way to eat and lets you sample a variety of fresh breads, unique chocolate bars, and add some fruits or vegetables to your travel diet (something I’m really bad at).
The grocery store veggies might also make up for my alternative suggestion to eat at street carts and fast food chains. Yes, I said it, fast food chains. I know that I may get a lot of hate for this, and if you are taking an active stand against corporate life- I salute you. However, the honest truth of the matter is that for many students, living off food budgets of under 7 dollars a day, fast food is a viable option. You don’t have to completely sell out either- chains like McDonald’s vary their menus depending on location. I’ve tried a virgin mojito in Lithuania, donuts in Austria, and shrimp in Slovakia (and no, it didn’t kill me).
Average Daily Meal Expense: 1-7 dollars
Transportation: I’m a huge advocate for walking, and if at all possible, walk. I tramped all over Rome and Vatican City and I’m plenty better for it. However, I understand that sometimes you have to book the sketchy hostel 5 miles out from the city center. If you feel that you need to see things far from your base camp- plan your itinerary so that you maximize a one-day public transportation ticket on one or two days while sticking within walking distance the rest of the time.
Average Daily Transportation Expense: 0-7 dollars
Sightseeing: If you want to tour on a shoestring budget you probably can’t afford to go into any museum or major monument. Throughout my limited experience, I’ve found more than enough cathedrals and churches to satisfy my architectural and musical curiosity (you can often sit in on choir practices and concerts for free), plenty of public parks to cure my need to people watch, and numerous hills and tall department stores to take cityscape photos from.
In Europe especially, there are free walking tours offered in English in nearly every major city. I’ve known people who’ve had varied experiences, but I’ve never been on a bad free tour. These tour guides do work for tips and so it’s important to give anything you can to share your appreciation.
Finally, being unable to tour museums doesn’t mean they aren’t worth visiting. I’ve wandered through the free gardens and parks surrounding the Louvre, and while they certainly don’t compare to the interior- as a free supplement, they are quite phenomenal.
Average Daily Sightseeing Expense: 1-3 dollars
Travelling on a budget always beats not traveling at all.