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Expensive Countries Mean Extreme Vagabond Travel

Expensive Countries Mean Vagabond Travel The gap between the cheapest countries on the planet for travel and the most expensive is vast. The purchasing power of $10 goes from a full day’s necessities, a beer, and entertainment in some countries, while it others it is hardly even enough to buy a hamburger at a quicky [...]

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Expensive Countries Mean Vagabond Travel

The gap between the cheapest countries on the planet for travel and the most expensive is vast. The purchasing power of $10 goes from a full day’s necessities, a beer, and entertainment in some countries, while it others it is hardly even enough to buy a hamburger at a quicky mart. What sells for a dollar in the tropics can net ten times that much in the extreme northerly climes of Europe. I know that the Tropics are for cheap travel, but being a traveler with the ambition to travel the world and experience all of the countries and people of this great planet, I know that I must go to the expensive countries as well as the cheaper ones. Iceland is one of the most expensive countries on the planet, but I am traveling here and spending much more money than I do anywhere else in the world. How? I changed my strategy, I went into EVM: extreme vagabond mode.

What is extreme vagabond mode

[adsense]EVM is just a militaristic acronym to describe a way of travel in which you attempt to travel super cheaply through being as self-sufficient as possible, trying to minimize what you purchase through scavenging, trading, doing it yourself, or other creative means. Iceland is EXPENSIVE, and I know that each time I need something that I can’t produce or find is going to cost big money. Even the Lonely Planet — a guidebook generally used by tourists prepared to spend $50+ per day anywhere in the world — said sternly: “Iceland is a very expensive country.” But this statement did not make me cringe, as I know that I can travel through both the cheap and the expensive parts of the world for roughly the same amount of money: a simple shift in perspective is all that is needed.

There are three elements to world travel: transportation, accommodation, and food. This is all that is needed to move through the planet, and the more of these elements that I can provide for myself the cheaper travel will be. In cheaper climes, I tend to live like a vagabond king — getting nice rooms, 24 hour internet, and good food — but in more expensive tides I know that I must don the cloak of the pauper and go into EVM. Doing so means checking off as many of the three elements of travel as possible.

EVM in Iceland


A $16 bus ride from REK to the city told me that this was the last time I would ride in such luxury in this country. So I cut out the cost of transport by picking up a bicycle, now transportation will cost me nothing.

Note on bicycle and expenses: If I had brought my own bicycle, as I’d initially planned, the cost of such a vehicle would have been the $30 fee to cart it on an Iceland Express aircraft (Iceland Air transports bikes for free). But I did not prepare, and I dropped $125 on a mountain bike in Reykjavik. The cost of bicycles for travel can be as little as nothing or as high as $5,000+, therefore I mention what I paid for the bike but do not include its cost in my day to day expenses. In point, you do not include the cost of a car in your road trip expenditures, so I do not include the cost of the bike when I explain the costs of bike tramping in Iceland — to do so would give an inaccurate picture. At any rate, $125 would hardly get me across this country on a single bus ride.


I have not slept indoors one night since landing in Iceland a couple of weeks ago. I either sleep for free in farmer’s fields or on the sly in the bush or, when I feel like showering, stashing my bags somewhere, or using other facilities, I pay a reasonable amount (seven to nine dollars) for a campsite. I could easily camp for free every night here, and in the entries that follow I will show in narrative form what I do for accommodation.


I cannot grow my own vegetables and it would be a difficult task to slaughter my own meat when traveling, so I must rely on other sources for food. In Reykjavik I was able to scavenge 70% of my food from dumpsters and from the left over bins at the campsite. I am still eating off the spoils of Reykjavik as I write this from up the road in another part of the country. Meat is the big exception here, and is an unavoidable expense. Hot dogs seem to be a staple food in this country, and I’ve been gorging them whenever the opportunity allows. Hamburgers are also occassionally well price. In point, as far as food goes I know that if I’m always on the lookout for a free meal I will be able to fill my belly cheaply and effectively as I travel across this country. I am currently spending around $8 per day on food, but it may increase as my supplies from Reykjavik diminish down to nothing, but I know that if I stick to traveler food, that I can keep this cost relatively low.


How expensive is Iceland?

From an initial view, Iceland seems to be roughly 70% to twice as expensive than the USA for just about everything, and at least four times more expensive than the bulk of tropical countries. For a loaf of bread in Iceland, the cost is around $4; for a third kilo of gouda cheese (cheapest variety in Europe), $5; instant coffee is unthinkable at $7 for 100 grams; eggs cost around fifty cents a piece; a gas station hot dog is $2.50; the cheapest dorm bed in the outskirts of Reykjavik runs $20; a dorm bed in the center is $40; a private room in a budget guesthouse is $100+; to set up a tent at a campground is seven to nine dollars; but 24 hours of daylight is absolutely free.

All roads are open when on the EVM

Many travelers of the world seem drawn to Western Europe — probably the most expensive region for travel. I have no idea why this is, other than the fact that the people are mostly white and many travelers therefore feel that it is safer. But the fact still remains that most of the readers here will be drawn to Western Europe over Africa, China, Mongolia, or South America. This continent holds a special draw for the bulk of the travelers of the world, so, as a writer who publishes information about such things, it is my job to show how these very expensive countries can be traveled relatively cheaply. I am going to do this here in Iceland. If you follow along I will lay out the groundwork as to how the most expensive countries in the world can be traveled well on $15 per day.

Regardless of what anyone tries to feed you, $50 per day is not a cheap travel budget anywhere in the world.

I am not a king in Iceland, I am a pauper — a vagabond in the truest sense — but I am living it up in views, experiences, and the bits and pieces of knowledge that I’m taking just because I am traveling very close to the ground, on the cheap. On the back of the business cards I have for Vagabond Journey Travel I put a quote by Richard Hallibuton that seems to sum up the deeper value that is inherent to vagabond in one sentence:

The Vagabond Life is the logical life to lead if one seeks the intimate knowledge of the world we were seeking.

Traveling as a vagabond means perpetually being on the lookout for every opportunity to get what you need and want on the road. It is more of a struggle to live this way, for sure, but at the end of the day the added effort given towards obtaining your daily bread is paid for in full through the experiences you will have and the knowledge you will gain. Vagabonding is nothing if not a challenge — an endless protrusion of min-adventures, some find this precariousness fun: cheap travel is not just to save money.


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Filed under: Adventure, Budget Travel, Europe, Iceland, Western Europe

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3722 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

6 comments… add one

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  • Denise June 29, 2011, 3:55 pm

    I have to disagree with you. People travel in Western Europe not because they feel safer but because;

    – Western Europe is jam-packed full of culture, good food, beautiful places and touristic attractions
    – This corner of the continent is well set up for tourism
    – Unlike parts of South America, Africa and Asia, there is little or no risk of health issues like malaria, mosquito transmitted diseases, hepatitis A and B etc.

    Added to that, Western Europe can be done on a budget – not in the same basic way as you are doing Iceland, but while sleeping in a comfortable bed, eating good food and seeing lots of things and still paying little. To be honest, for many people, 50 dollars a day is a very reasonable ‘budget’ budget. The exception is Northern Europe, rather than Western Europe as a whole – Nordic countries cannot really be done on the cheap unless one does them as you are.

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    • Wade Shepard July 3, 2011, 7:10 am

      I can give you the third reason you stated, the other two I could argue on indefinitely haha.

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  • Brandon June 30, 2011, 5:04 am

    Ahh I remember those naive days of jetting off to Stockholm with $3,000, no return ticket, dead set to travel the world as an illegal immigrant.

    A month later returned home because of the $10 big mac combos, $30 night hostel beds, and no thrift stores.

    it can be a real test of will when you are trying to keep it as cheap as you can but still going broke. You start to think:

    “What’s the point of traveling if I can’t spend any money to enjoy myself? If that’s the case, what the hell am I even doing here? I could be doing nothing at home.”

    But you soon snap out of that line of thinking when you realize that you started traveling BECAUSE you were doing nothing at home. You wanted to see the world, not work for The Man.

    then you realize that if you are going to be living your dream of traveling, its not all going to be restaurant dinners and taxis everywhere. You actually have to work for it sometimes.

    But a meal worked for tastes better than a free one. Even small victories fill you with satisfaction.

    There’s always a way, if it’s important enough to you.

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    • Wade Shepard July 3, 2011, 7:09 am

      It is fun vagabonding, just so that it always remains a good memory in retrospect. So much of the value of travel is found when the event has closed. Sort of like giving birth (I’ve been told) the pain and hardships are not remembered, only the joy. So the hard road may be difficult for the time that you are on it, but once finished the value rises like cream to the top.

      That is a funny question: what’s the point of being here if I can’t afford do anything? But conversation is always free, walking, hiking, exploring usually cost nothing, and the investment of traveling hard — although often difficult — pays off in great dividends farther down the road.

      Right on, a meal that you work for tastes better than one you pay for.

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  • the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell July 3, 2011, 9:22 am

    Travelling is it; really f**kin’ it. Whether it be on $10 or 50 or 100+ per day. As not everyone, has a choice of budget but travel usually enlightens everyone (except: dumb f***kin’ racists, who don’t travel much, except to holiday).

    Personally, I prefer to make money, then spend as I wish, as I travel then … ouch, time to make some more. Each to their own.

    MRP | the candy trail … a nomad across the planet, since 1988

    PS: Europe, USA, Australia / NZ, Japan, etc, will never ever be cheap to travel – unless, you go VJT style … So, listen in.

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    • Wade Shepard July 3, 2011, 2:33 pm

      Right on, wherever the fun is to be had is the prime directive of travel. You sometimes spend big and seem enjoy every cent of it, while I find some sort of strange sport in not spending money. All the same game in the end — working to make money and working to save money are each other hand maidens, although having money presents the option to enjoy spending it gregariously, which is something that I would love to do at some point. Man, sometimes I daydream about just dropping cash on enjoyable pursuits without being uptight about it. Someday I will go on a gregarious journey! Travel MRP style!

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