“The cheapest trip I did was probably when I went through Northern Thailand for about $15 per day.”

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Welcome to the next interview in our interview series where renowned mile and point gurus share their insights on having Big Travel with Small Money!

Miles & Points Interview: Nomadic Matt

Matt runs the budget travel site, Nomadic Matt and his advice has been featured in The New York Times, CNN, Lifehacker etc.  He just released a new book for $10, How to Travel the World on $50 a Day on how to save money on your trip so I was looking forward to our chat!

Nomadic Matt – Interview with Matt

Nomadic Matt

Have you used airline miles and hotel points during your 6 years on the road?  If so, how and when did you start collecting miles and points?

I use miles and points constantly throughout my travels.  I even started using them back in 2003 when I got a Citi Premier Pass card and used the miles for a free flight to Europe.  Now, I collect hundreds of thousands of miles per year.  When compared to people such as yourself, I don’t really do much but I do enough to get by.

I plan to do more mile hacking this year because I’m painfully low on Starwood hotel points.

Why did you start Nomadic Matt?  What’s special about it?

I started the site to be an online resume for when I contacted travel magazines.  I wanted to be a freelance writer and write guidebooks for Lonely Planet.  But over time, the website grew and grew and I became an authority on budget travel.

I don’t know what makes me special.  You’ll have to ask my readers why they read me but I like to think it is because of my honesty about my experiences and depth of knowledge on the subject.

What’s the one single thing people can do to get more miles?

Those are two questions.  First, as your audience probably knows, credit cards sign ups are the best way to get miles outside of actually flying.  You can get hundreds of thousands of miles per year dong that.

I think the single best thing to do to travel more is to find cheaper destinations and get beyond the obvious.  If you aren’t racking up millions of miles a year, try cheap destinations where money goes far like Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, or Central America.

What’s your most memorable travel experience?

I have to choice one? After six years, I have so many.  I would have to say that one of my favorite memories was when I lived on the island of Ko Lipe.

I spent a month living on this island in Thailand doing nothing but relaxing, getting a tan, and making some lifelong friends.

What do your family and friends think of your miles & points hobby & your nomadic existence?

My friends and family have no clue about miles and whenever I try to educate them about it, they say it’s too complicated then ask me to give them some.  I’ve given up on it!

They don’t want to listen.  They are jealous of my lifestyle to the extent they wish they could travel more.  Now that I’m over 30 and they are all settling down they keep asking me when I am going to do the same.

What was the least expected way you’ve earned miles or points?

The most genius way I collect miles was probably by signing up my family to my cards.  Since you can add users to cards, I sign up for cards, put my family on them and then have them spend the money so I can make the minimum spending requirements and get the points.

They never seem to complain. I’ve also paid my taxes with my credit card to meet minimum spending requirements.

What do you now know about collecting miles and points which you wish you knew when you started out?

I wish I knew that it didn’t hurt your credit.  I always thought getting a lot of credit cards would kill my credit but that’s not true.  I have a great credit score and I opened like 10 cards this year.

I would have used cards a lot more in the past to get more free travel!

What would your readers be surprised to know about you?

I’m a pretty open book with my readers.  I tell them everything.  When I meet my readers they are mostly surprised by my age.  They either think I am much younger than I actually am or that I am much older.

They would also probably be surprised that I am a huge health nut and eat extremely healthy as well as work out a lot.

What’s the bare minimum amount of money needed to travel?

Of course, it really depends on where you go.  It varies greatly but I think that people on a budget could travel the world on $50 per day (hence the book title).

But if you really want to stretch your money, go to cheaper destinations and regions like Southeast Asia or Central America.  You can get by for between $20 to $30 over there.

You have the points to stay in fancy hotels, but you don’t seem to do that a lot.  Why do you prefer the budget hostels?

The W is my favorite hotel chain and I love staying there but fancy hotels are too removed from the city life for me.  I don’t feel connected to the places I am.

I stay in budget hotels and hostels because it’s cheaper (points don’t cover meals!), the atmosphere is friendlier and social, and these places tend to know the budget activities in a city better.

What’s been the cheapest trip you’ve been on?

The cheapest trip I did was probably when I went through Northern Thailand for about 15 USD per day.  That was some good cheap living and I didn’t really want for nothing.  I just did like a local.

Up in that part of Thailand, it’s very cheap.  Thailand may be a big tourist destination but like every place, once you get off the beaten path, prices go way down!

Matt– Thanks for sharing your thoughts on having Big Travel with Small Money!

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22 responses to ““The cheapest trip I did was probably when I went through Northern Thailand for about $15 per day.”

  1. Yay! So great to see a bit of info on budget travel. I absolutely agree with Matt, picking cheap destinations is critical. It’s a useful strategy for backpackers, but it also works for luxury travel. I paid $50 a night for a boutique hotel in the center of Phnom Pehn. Flights to a lot of the cheap destinations on my list – Laos, Sri Lanka, Borneo – are prohibitively expensive. So I redeem miles to get there, and the trip keeps itself cheap. I didn’t even have to budget when I went to Cambodia.

    Another good resource, in addition to Matt’s book, is Tim Leffel’s Cheapest Destinations book and website.

  2. Honestly, who would want to travel on $50 a day?? That’s not a vacation, that’s absolute torture!!

  3. Great interview! I’ll be checking out his blog!

  4. Bob H, This guy is not doing “Vacations”….. he is traveling. “Torture” is suffering dopes like you.

  5. @Bob H,

    It’s not even close to torture. It all comes down to what you are looking for in a holiday. If you are looking to be pampered then yes it will be hard to get by on $50 a day. But if you have a little bit of flexibility and an open mindset to outside experiences its easy to accomplish. Although I’ve had some great $5 dollar massages in Thailand and elsewhere to get the occasional pampering and still managed to fit it in the $50 a day budget.

    In terms of rooms, I’ve had great guest rooms at a local guesthouse for 10-20 dollars a day for a room. So if you are with someone else, half that. Not as fancy as the W or a hilton, but if you’re visiting a place, all you really need is a clean bed to get some sleep.

    As for food, street food or local restaurants tend to be just as good as any nice restaurant in terms of taste. In terms of presentation you switch the food presentation for what the overall local community presentation. Although there has been plenty of times we’re I’ve had amazing meals and presentation of the food for under $5 in great intimidate settings. One of my best meals of all time was in Antalya Turkey, where for $15 between two people, got two filet mignon meals and a bottle of wine, in the courtyard of an old villa with a lit up swimming pool and live music.

    Anyway Matt and Darius, thanks for the great read. I’d be interested in reading more budget/independent travel pieces in the future.


  6. Appropriate reply Jason. E you made me laugh. Go collect your points for a trip to Orlando some day :-))

  7. I love the NomadicMatt site because its so different than my travel style. I could never call $50 a day a vacation but it is interesting to read a different perspective and I do pick up things from it. Everyone has their own travel style and Matt does a great job with his travels and blog.

  8. I bought your book a few days ago on Amazon, Matt. I’m going to start reading it soon.

  9. @Bob H – I totally disagree with your original comment (well, mostly), but I like your reply. I don’t like mean spirited comments, but sometimes the angry ones inadvertently make me laugh. We all need a vacation. 🙂
    @darius, Matt – enjoyed the interview. I think we each have our own travel style, so it’s great to pick and choose bits of advice from people to help make your own trip the best for you.

  10. @Jamie 😉

  11. Do you know in France Big Mack is called Grand Royal!

  12. That was some good cheap living and I didn’t really want for nothing. I just did like a local.

    [My head meets my desk.]

  13. I travel backpack style like Matt. I travel with my wife and use airbnb. Awesome stays under 100 in Italy and cheap everything if you staying with locals

  14. $50 a day looks really different in Southeast Asia than in Paris. In the US, you’re camping for $50 a day, in SE Asia you’re staying in hotels and taking taxis. $50 a day also makes long travel possible. I’d rather be on “vacation” in private hostel rooms for six weeks than at the W for a week.

  15. I have stayed for $10 a night at a homestay in Kerala, and for $10 a night at a “hotel” in Zanzibar. Both were better than most $40 a night places I have booked in the US via Priceline. Good interview. Future stops = Ko Lipe and Matt’s blog.

  16. Great interview! I am slowly learning what my travel style is after collecting points for about a year now. I think it’s somewhere between luxury and budget, leaning perhaps a bit more toward budget. I will certainly check out Matt’s website and maybe even buy his book (I already own Tim Leffel’s) b/c I am sure it is full of great ideas for keeping the cost down!

  17. Remember everyone, you can’t do exactly as locals do everywhere you go. If you went to some Central American countries and found a 13 year old wife, the locals wouldn’t bat an eye. You would be jailed upon arrival back home, however. So..uhhh..ya. Like I said. Be careful with the When in Rome stuff.

  18. Not even a hat tip for the introduction? of course we love Matt! He is a great guy , fun to be around and a great read!

  19. $50 a day is a lot. Of course this does not include the cost of flight/train (or use of points which can be seen as cash equivalences). I ready some of Matt’s blog last year. He comes across as a bit naive. For example, after 6 years on the road, his recent problem finding a long term place to stay at in Stockholm could have easily been avoided by doing some homework. In short, there is better travel information out there.

  20. I’m always amazed how people criticize someone who doesn’t do things the “right” way. The fact is, Matt is out there doing it — traveling for 6 years.

    I’ve been criticized because my RTW trip is “too short” or “too urban.” That’s cool. When you do your trip, you should do it how you want/are able. But don’t fill the interwebs with a bunch of negative juju. Boring.

    There are lots of ways to travel. We should try to build a supportive community of wanderlusters instead of picking apart people’s aproach.

    Keep going, Matt.

  21. Very cool. Nomadic Matt is actually how I became interested in traveling on a budget. He opened up a whole new world (literally). Then I stumbled upon Million Mile Secrets, which introduced me to credit card churning. I just want to take the time to thank you both for allowing me and my wife to enjoy this beautiful world we live in!

  22. Great interview – two of my favorite travel blogs in one! Almost all of my travel hacking focuses on airline miles, because like Matt I prefer staying in cheaper, locally-owned places.

    They’re more social, have their finger on the pulse of the area, and the money you spend with them supports the local economy more.

    And I agree with Kay – I’d rather spend 6 weeks in private hostel rooms than one week in a Hilton.