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Get Coffee Cheap When Traveling Abroad: Make it Yourself

To save money traveling make your own coffee. By brewing your own mugs of Java you can save hundreds of dollars over a year of traveling AND have coffee whenever you like.

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cup of coffeeI enjoy drinking coffee. No matter where I am in the world I like being able to get myself a big mug of Joe whenever I want to throughout the day. The only problem is that good coffee is generally not cheap and cheap coffee is generally not good. Even bottom of the barrel instant coffee often comes with a price tag of $1 to $2 per cup in restaurants and convenience stores the world over, and may cost even more than this in countries where drinking coffee is not a part of the culture. For what could be considered a quality cup of coffee, you’re looking at $2 to $8 almost anywhere on the planet — too much to pay when you want multiple cups daily and are living on a $10 to $20 per day budget.

I want to pay no more than 25 cents per mug of coffee, and I don’t know of any cafe, restaurant, or stand in the world selling it this cheap. This is why I make my own coffee when traveling. By carrying with me all the equipment to grind, steep, and heat a cup of coffee I’ve found that I can cut at least $2 per day off my travel budget AND consume a drink that I truly enjoy virtually on demand.

Equipment for making coffee on the road

The type of equipment that you need to carry to make coffee depends on the type of coffee you wish to consume. If you’re a freeze dried, instant coffee sort of chap (in many places this is the only option you’ve got) then you’re not going to need some of the gear I list below. But if you want good, fresh coffee then you’re going to need to carry some extra gear and do some prep work.

Electric coil water boiler

Immersion water heaterAn electric coil water boiler is an essential piece of travel gear. They are effective, cheap, and can boil water for you anywhere that you can plug it in. This is not only beneficial for making coffee or tea but also for purifying drinking water. They can be used in your hotel or hostel as well as at bus and train stations or even airports. This is truly a portable, cheap way to make hot water just about anywhere.

Manual coffee grinder

Hand crank coffee grinderI don’t recommend electric coffee grinders for travel mostly because they are needlessly complicated and are prone to breakage. The less things you have that needs to be plugged in, the easier travel will be. When I want to grind some coffee on the road I don’t want to go around looking for an electric plug. I want my life to be as simple as possible so I err towards the simplest tools available — and coffee grinders don’t get any simpler than the hand crank variety.

Depending on the design, you just dump in some beans, shut the lid, spin the crank, and out comes ground coffee. If I’m traveling with a thermos of hot water or I’m somewhere that I can get it for free then I don’t even need electricity to make a cup of Java.

Though it’s possible to crank out enough ground coffee for a single mug, it’s a much better idea to grind enough to last for a while and keep it in a secure container.

Cloth coffee strainer

Cloth coffee strainerI have no idea why people developed advanced technologies to strain coffee. The process is too simple. All you really need is a reusable cloth strainer, and you’re good to go. Just dump your ground coffee in the cloth sleeve, position it over your mug, and slowly pour hot water through it. When the water hits your mug it will be coffee.

A good travel mug

Travel mugNow that you know how to make coffee on the road you’re going to need a place to pour it. There are many good travel mugs on the market, and getting one is essential for being able to move from point A to point B with your cup of coffee in your hand. I usually go for the stainless steel, thermos variety, but any type will do. Just make sure it has a lid that closes securely.

Coffee canister or container

Coffee canisterYou’re also going to want a container to store your dry coffee in. I neither like traveling with glass jars in my rucksack nor with bags of coffee than could easily break open, so the containers that coffee is generally sold in are out. Instead, I keep a simply, plastic screw-top container with me to store my dry coffee in.

There are many varieties of coffee canisters available, and just so it closes securely and is not made of a material prone to breakage, just about any will do.


The type of coffee that you consume depends on your preferences as well as what is available locally. When you’re in a coffee drinking country you have a virtual free run of varieties, but in places where coffee is not a part of the culture only cheap-o instant type will often be readily available. I’m not a coffee snob or a connoisseur by any means, so I take and enjoy the best type of coffee I have available to me at the best price.


Being able to fend for your own needs and wants on the road makes you a far more self-sufficient, independent, and budget wise traveler. If you drink coffee daily, buying it by the cup from cafes, restaurants, and street stands will wear down just about anyone’s travel funds. I don’t want to spend $700 per year on coffee alone, so I buy it raw and make it for myself for a fraction of the cost.

It is unbelievable to me that even cups of cheap, instant coffee often costs over a dollar in countries where coffee is produced. If you think you’re going to go to Guatemala or Colombia and drink cheap mugs of good coffee, you’re mistaken.

You don’t need to pay $5 for a cup of coffee in the airport; there is no reason to go to expensive cafes just to get your daily dose of caffeine; why drop $2 for a tiny cup of Java with your meal when you can can make and entire travel mug of it for for a couple dimes? To travel cheap with a coffee habit it is far better to gear up with a few simple tools, buy beans by the kilo, and brew it yourself.

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Filed under: Coffee, Food, Travel Gear, Travel Tips

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

7 comments… add one

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  • trevor September 1, 2012, 6:48 am

    good thing about China….. hot water everywhere…. buy some tea (or coffee) et voila!!!!

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    • Wade Shepard September 1, 2012, 9:18 pm

      Right on, this is excellent when wanting coffee or tea in China. I’ve also found that most restaurants, food courts, and cafes most places in the world will let you get some hot water for free too if you don’t feel like heating it yourself. It’s almost too easy to get super cheap coffee almost anywhere if you’re prepared to carry it yourself.

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  • Jack September 2, 2012, 5:51 am

    Nice article, but I do have to say that you can get an ice coffee in Thailand for under 25 cents, or at least you could when I was living there. Sure it was made with Nescafe. but it was coffee.

    I’m wondering if you could toss that coil into a quart thermos and heat up with the water in the thermos? I know mine can keep it hot all day….maybe I need to explore this.

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    • Wade Shepard September 2, 2012, 8:17 pm

      Hello Jack,

      Yes, I do remember those Thai ice coffees. Too bad that model isn’t repeated very often.

      For sure, these electric coils will heat up water in a thermos. Going the Argentinian route and keeping a thing of hot water with you throughout the day and keep the caffeine stimulation constant is the way to go 🙂

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  • Reader September 14, 2012, 8:18 pm

    I noticed Starbucks in China actually prepare their coffee from some kind of instant coffee powder.

    Did you ever try to prepare your coffee without the strainer?

    It’d be too much of a hassle for me thats why I stick to tea.

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    • Wade Shepard September 15, 2012, 1:20 am

      I often just make instant coffee. But the strainer is necessary if you want real coffee, but it’s truly not much of a hassle at all to use and is no more difficult than making loose tea.

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  • Peter Giannakis December 13, 2012, 5:41 am

    Very nice blog about cold coffee making. Thanks for sharing it………..

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