When I claimed that it was possible to travel on minimum wage, I received a number of interesting replies, many of them requesting proof. Some of the more private responses were from readers who were a bit miffed that I would make such a bold claim! They seemed to imply that such a feat could only be accomplished (1) in certain parts of the world and (2) by those willing to live on bread and water while hitchhiking.
I disagree, and I have set out to prove it. I have documented my mini-experiment into traveling on minimum wage while still living in comfort. I’ve keep track of every penny spent along the way and detailed my exact methods below, including pictures of where I stayed and what I did.
For my first such trip, I started in a country that is notoriously expensive: Sweden. Admittedly my destination was a tiny bit cheaper of a country, but I’ll explain at the bottom of this post how it is possible to use these strategies even within Sweden or surrounding areas. It is also worth noting that almost all of my expenses were actually within Sweden, and that I will be using this same tactic for other “expensive” countries.
Disclaimer: Sweden is an expensive country. This trip took some planning and recommendations from friends.
Last weekend I took a cruise from Stockholm, Sweden (where I currently reside) to Tallinn, Estonia. I left at 4pm Saturday afternoon and returned at noon on Monday (2 nights). The cruise ship traveled over night in both directions, giving me a place to sleep included in the cost and a full day to explore the gorgeous city.
The price of the 2-night cruise? $31.84 USD (200 SEK)
It gets even crazier: that is the price for a full 4-person cabin! With a group, the price comes out to a mere $3.98 per person per night! To get these prices I had to navigate the Swedish version of the website (prices differ based upon language), but I always had Google Translate to fall back on if needed. The reason I was able to get these prices, though, was that a friend who lives here in Sweden forwarded me an email she received with special deals (usually the cruise would cost 4-5x as much, but there does not appear to be any real restriction on these special prices – you can even use the promotion more than once).
Right now you’re probably imagining me floating across the sea on a rusted out bucket from the cold war era, hanging on for dear life. In fact, the cruise ship was spacious and comfortable with restaurants, shopping, a casino, a nightclub, and even (gasp) free wireless internet! Of course the ship also had plenty of tourist information about my destination, so I was able to load up on maps and do plenty of reading before I arrived.
Once on board, it quickly became apparent how the ship really made its money. You effectively enter a little world that they control, filled with things to separate a tourist for his hard-earned buck. But with a little determination I managed to not spend an extra dime aboard the ship.
The night before I left, I cooked a huge batch of risotto for friends and myself. I stashed it in plastic Tupperware and brought a fork with me and viola! I had plenty of leftovers to chow down on. All the ingredients cost me 246 SEK (though I did even not use all of them and actually even cooked a few other meals with them), which worked out to 31 SEK per serving. This means my cost for food for the entire trip totaled about $12.47 USD.
I stopped in a cafe and treated myself to an Estonian coffee and salmon sandwich (I always make a point of ordering the most local-sounding things on the menu – who knew Estonian coffee is alcoholic?). I sat in the cafe for a few hours reading a novel written by an Estonian author, which was an incredibly educational experience about the history of the country. I ended up having a second (normal) coffee as well, for a grand total of 10.40 EUR or $14.67 USD – not bad for a relaxing afternoon and a little bit of a suntan.
I also walked around and saw architecture, museums, and so on (I’m a bit shameless about listening in on tour groups for short periods, which is also a great way to practice a foreign language and save money at the same time). Overall, I felt I learned an immense amount about the country, its history, art and so on.
Of course, there are always certain hidden costs. I had to get to the docks in Stockholm, for example, to start on the cruise. I used my Stockholm public transit pass, which cost me 420 SEK for 30 days. I’ll also tally up the 100 SEK my cell phone costs me per month, for a grand total of 52 SEK or $8.28 (once these costs were divided into the three days). Of course, there are other small hidden costs like that of health insurance. However I will assume that most jobs provide such coverage, so I still consider it well within the bounds of “traveling on minimum wage” to not include such costs here. There is also a hidden cost of the currency conversion from USD to SEK – many banks charge 5%, so I have added this to my total cost below.
The Total Cost
My total cost for the trip was $70.62. As I have said, this number is all-inclusive – from transportation, to a place to stay, food, currency conversion costs and even WiFi internet. Technically the trip spanned three days, though I was back in Stockholm within 48 hours of departure so I will consider it to be a 2-day trip.
Assuming the federal minimum wage is $7.25 / hour at 8 hours of work per day for a total of two days ($116)…
I actually saved $45.38
Inside Sweden, it is also possible to travel on a very tight budget. It turns out that Sweden does not have private property. This means that it is perfectly legal to set up a tent in any random field (super secret government compounds excepted, of course). You can even forage fruit and other food from the countryside! As a taxi driver explained to me, the rules are basically the following:
- You cannot camp in the same place more than 2 nights
- You must close all gates behind you (so livestock does not get out)
- You cannot take crops that were planted by a farmer, but naturally growing plants are fair game – as long as you don’t take an unreasonable amount (more that a basket full or so)
For us from the USA, this probably seems like a completely outlandish concept. Still, it is true! You can bike around the Swedish countryside and, hypothetically, pay absolutely nothing.
The cruise line I took travels from Stockholm all over the nearby area, including Germany, Finland and more. I’m actually leaving on another identical cruise to Riga (Latvia) this evening.
One of the most wonderful things about travel is that it gets easier the more you do it. Not only do you become more adept at handling tough situations (smiling lots and even being a jerk at times), but you develop friends on the road. Friends from another country are always the best resource for finding cheap ways to do interesting things. After all, the cheapest way to travel is to adapt to local lifestyles rather than to treat your trip as a vacation.
Most of my destinations are chosen by what languages I want to learn, where I have friends and simply where looks interesting. Next week I’m going to Copenhagen for a festival, and then perhaps a nearby concert, which I may attempt to do “on minimum wage” as well. I plan to do Ireland on minimum wage at some point, but I am very open to suggestions about where to take these mini-experiments next, if you find them interesting.
Do you have anywhere you would recommend or are curious about? Have you traveled in luxury but on a tight budget, and how did you do it? Let me know below!