The Myth Travel Is Expensive: How 5 Days in Stockholm Cost Me $100 Dollars

By Nomadic Matt | Published September 6th, 2012

the streets of stockholmWhen I came to Stockholm in July, I found myself spending around 100 dollars a day. That’s a lot of money, even for Stockholm. Eating out and going out frequently jacked up my living costs enormously. I was spending a lot more than I wanted. While I preach about budget travel, I am often not the best budget traveler. After all, this is my everyday life and when I want sushi, I want to eat sushi! So I tend to splurge more often than not.

But as I reflected on how much money I was spending, I wondered what would happen if I flipped the equation. How long could I make $100 USD last in Stockholm? What if I decided to be ultra-frugal? I wanted an answer, especially since one of the reasons many people don’t come to this city (or travel in general) is because it’s so expensive. So I set out upon a quest to answer a single question:

“How long can I live on $100 USD in Stockholm without sacrificing too much of the comforts that I enjoy while traveling?”

The answer: 5 days.

Where Did The Money Go?

It took me 5 days to spend my $100 USD. In order to keep my costs down, I couchsurfed with a friend the whole week (something anyone can do by using hospitality networking sites). I walked everywhere instead of taking the train. I cooked all my own food. I only went out to a bar one night. My money basically went to food – groceries, lemonades and brownies (my friend didn’t have Internet so I had to visit Internet cafes), and a few drinks.

That was it.

How Does This Relate To You?

Museum island in Stockholm
I don’t think my results are replicable for the everyday traveler. This experiment wasn’t meant to be an example I think you should follow.  Living like a pauper was boring. Incredibly boring. Sure, I did some stuff, but not nearly as much as I would have liked. It was hard to go out with friends because even buying a soda could bust my budget. See that movie? Nope. Eat out? Definitely not. Filling the days was easy – I walked around a lot, took the free walking tours, hung out in parks, did a lot of wandering, or worked. I was never bored during the day. But the nights? The nights were agony. Well, I watched a lot of movies on my computer or sat there nursing a beer because I couldn’t afford to buy more. When you can’t spend any money, there’s not much to do at night besides watch TV, work out, and sleep.

But the purpose of this experiment wasn’t to have you follow me. The purpose of this experiment was to show that when you are committed, it is possible to have some fun while making your money last, even in a city like Stockholm, home of the 10 dollar McDonald’s value meal.

People always say travel is too expensive, but if I can survive on $20 USD per day in Stockholm then the excuse that travel is too expensive doesn’t really cut it.

Realistically, your average traveler is going to spend that $100 USD quicker than I did, but this experiment proves there are always ways to stretch your budget. No destination need be off limits.

Yes, flights cost a lot of money, but luckily there are many ways to get free and extremely cheap flights. Once you get to your destination, there are plenty of ways to save money too. Cooking your meals, Couchsurfing or house sitting for free accommodation, taking the free walking tours, getting a tourist card – the list goes on. But those ways only matter if you are willing to stay focused and determined.

Even in Stockholm there is a happy medium between $100 USD a week and $100 USD a day. Using the above mentioned tips plus some city specific tips like sticking to beer (spirits are expensive), lunch buffets, taking advantage of student/youth discounts, or eating at the street carts, one can travel here for between $40-70 USD per day. At that price, suddenly your dream trip looks more like reality.

Gamla Stan Stockholm near Slussen

If you are focused, avoid unnecessary expenses, and think outside the “hotel/eat out/sightsee” box, every destination can be within your budgetary grasp.

And that’s really what this experiment was about. It had nothing to do with Stockholm specifically and everything to do with the fact that I wanted to show you the effect that budgeting and out-of-the-box thinking has on travel costs.

Do I want you to travel like this for a week? No. Is what I did sustainable over a long period of time? No way. The first thing I did when my experiment was over was go out for sushi and crack a bottle of wine.

But saying that a place is “too expensive” is never an excuse. A place is only too expensive in your head.  Everyone has a different travel style and their own budget, but there are always ways to travel for less than you think.

Even in “expensive” Stockholm.

comments 51 Comments

very true, something “being too costly” is only relative to how much you plan on spending there! haha, a self-fullfilling prophecy.

i’ve heard stockholm is quite expensive, as you said. i will be flying into Lima next month (10/11/12) and spending the next year in South America! i got the courage to do this largely from your site, Matt. so thanks for doing all of this, it inspired me to go after my dreams as well, and to know that i could do!

thanks

russ
TheWorldOnMyBack.com

Jim

Whenever I travel, accommodations are always the biggest part of my budget. Even when staying in hostels. So getting by on $20/day without having to pay for a place to sleep doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. I’ve done that before in NYC when staying with friends. But if you don’t feel comfortable with couchsurfing, or if you don’t have friends in every city you want to visit, then it’s all irrelevant. Hell, I could probably get by on $5/day if I could somehow get free food everyday, too.

It really depends on how low you want to go. You can dip into Freeeganism and do a few dives. I remember Rick Steves of all people telling how he ate food left on peoples plates in cafeterias when he was younger and traveling through Europe.

It really requires a mind shift and a kick to get people out the door, as far as travel is concerned.

I’ve heard it too many times, “I wish I could travel like you do, but…”

Jim

Travel and self-respect shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. I’m sure you could be a beggar in most major cities and get by on spare change and handouts, too, for a while. That shouldn’t really fly as travel advice though.

People say travel is expensive because they don’t want to live like a homeless person while traveling. And cutting back on everything that they normally do doesn’t sound fun to them. Most people don’t want to go traveling and cook the whole time. They might not want to walk all over a major city either. Even Matt here says that spending nights the way he did was “agony.” Who wants to travel like that? You aren’t going to win people over to the travel lifestyle by trying to argue that being in agony in Sweden is better than being comfortable at home.

Just because people don’t want to travel frugally, doesn’t mean they don’t want to travel. They just might not actually be able to afford to travel the way that they’d prefer. I went to NYC as a college student and lived like a bum at my friend’s house for next to nothing. It was okay. Even in NYC it was kinda boring. I went back later as a working adult, ate at nice restaurants, stayed in nice hotels, went to broadway shows, rode in cabs, took the subway, went to bars, etc. etc. etc. and had a blast. I also spent about $2000 over the course of 4 days. Given the choice, most people I talk to would rather not go at all if they can’t afford to do it like that.

Hey Matt! Great post about being frugal. When I was living in Quebec City last year, I cooked a lot of meals at home. I had a budget for rent, food, eating out etc. I kept every receipt and tracked it in an excel spreadsheet. Another thing I did was pay in cash rather than card. That act alone made me more aware of how much I was spending. Heading to Germany (Berlin) this fall and plan to teach english and work on my blog. Thanks again for all your great travel advice. Bill.

Matt!
I love your sit and your content! I just arrived in Reykjavik, another expensive little chunk of Euro-Scandanavian paradise. Keep up the good work!

evan

Hi Matt,

How can I view older blog posts? When I click on “Travel Blog” in the navigation bar I’m taken to a page of about 10 posts. How do I go back further? Towards your first blog posts?

Thanks!

NomadicMatt

Search button, the topics tab on the sidebar, and the back button on the main blog page.

evan

hmmm I’m not seeing the back button

Wildstarchild

There is no back button, but if you type ‘by nomadic matt’ in the search engine all previous posts will come up.

One tip about eating cheap in Stockholm: the food in IKEA restaurant is way cheaper than anything else I’ve seen, and tastes very good. But, IKEA itself is not very centrally located in Stockholm.

Nice try that you managed to spend $100 in five days. Living in Stockholm is really expensive that every traveler should be frugal. Every cent counts.

Take care of the pennies and the dollars take care of themselves!

I always like these little personal challenges. I do the same not only with travel but everyday life. I enjoy trying to stretch my budget and practice frugality.

Mostly because I get to watch my travel fund account tick higher!

I love this article because it shows how it is possible to travel on a budget. I understand that many people think that they’re on vacation and why not spend more on fancy meals and drinks. but then I also notice those same people don’t take as many vacations and wonder how we’re able to travel so much. We’re big into budgeting so that we can take more trips and even do more on those trips. Look for free hours/free days for museums. Look for Happy Hour specials, etc. etc.

digy

So, basically, you can travel for cheap if you have someone to mooch off of so that you don’t have to pay for accommodation, and then don’t do anything during the day/night that costs money (aka basically don’t fully experience what the place you are visiting has to offer. Just sit around and do nothing- what you would do if you weren’t traveling while you are traveling!). Great advice! Very insightful!

NomadicMatt

Lovely sarcasm! I wasn’t “mooching” off a friend and free accommodation isn’t mooching either. I started with a question – if I was spending a 100 USD per day, how long could I really make 100 last? The question was for myself. It was a personal experiment but the takeaway for other people is simply that if you stay focused that even an expensive place like Stockholm can become doable. As I said, my days were full and I did go out at night a bit.

But if you just want to focus on that fact I didn’t do much and ignore the rest, more power to you. If I’ve learned anything from blogging, it is that people only read what they want to read.

There are always options for traveling on the cheap, you just have to be prepared to do a little more research and be extra prepared before you leave.

If you’re on the other side of the world in New Zealand , like I am right now, and want to go to Europe (which is where I am about to go), I can’t fly over there for less than $2 000. Then, unless you know someone in the country you’re going to (not likely in the beginnng), you’re going to have to pay out $200-$300/week for reasonable accomodation. Being poor is no fun, trust me on this one ;)

I totally agree. Not spending during the day is easy-walking about, site seeing, reading in the park, free museums. But at night, it’s so boring to not go for a beer with a friend-or to meet new people. But in the end, you’re right, it’s do-able to travel on a budget anywhere.

Maria Thompson

I love Matt’s blog and i don’t want to seem negative but this post is simply not realistic, at least not for all groups of people.
I know he clarifies it too, that he doesn’t recommend this experiment, but in the end he is trying to make of point of being able to actually travel in places like this for $40-70/day, which may seem right for a student who just got out of college and can stay in hostels, but he is not really addressing people like me, a 33 year old mother of two, who loves to travel with her family! Just wanted to share my perspective! :)

NomadicMatt

Why can’t you travel with a family of 3 to Sweden for say $100-120 per day? If you get an apartment through Airbnb and cook your food, there’s no reason why you and your family couldn’t travel cheap either.

Basharat

This is really an absurd example of “inexpensive” travelling, I am sorry to say. There appears to be a common theme on these travel blogs of out-doing and one-upping on how cheaply one can travel with utterly useless and impractical ideas.

After having put forward the “$100 a week in Stockholm” proposition, you go on to summarily dismiss the practically of it for the average “joe”.

If you are not going to partake in the activities the average “locals” do (going to the bars, eating out, dancing etc) plus the activities the locals don’t do on a daily basis but as a traveller one ought to do, such as visit musuems, art galleries, castles and other places of interest then what does travelling mean?

What is the point of going to: Paris and not go up the Eiffel Tower, New York and not go up the Empire State building or Chicago and not go up the Sears (now Willis) Tower and/or the Hancock building?

If you are just going to wander around the streets looking at the buildings and monuments, you might as well stay home and read books and watch Youtube videos about the city/country and save on the airfare.

NomadicMatt

You are absolutely right. It’s very dumb to travel and not experience anything about the culture. In fact, it bothers me greatly when people travel to Italy and cook pasta in the hostel. What’s the point? Travel for less time and travel better. In fact, I’ve written about it constantly on my blog. Here are two examples: http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/is-this-really-travel/ and http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/defining-a-budget-traveler/

But this article wasn’t about that. It was a personal experiment to see if I can go from crazy spending to frugality without sacrificing too much. It was really about talking about how when you focus on sticking to a budget and think a little bit outside the box, you can lower your expenses and make any destination more affordable.

Copenhagen is even more expensive than Stockholm. I recently wrote an article of some free tourist things to do in Stockholm. Because the scenario is a couple or family, I didn’t eliminate staying in a hotel or eating out, but the museums, etc that can be seen FREE certainly helps the budget.

NomadicMatt

Copenhagen is very expensive. That is a hard city to live on a budget in!

Amanda

Great post! I am a college student in the States who is interested in traveling abroad on a budget. I will take these tips into account whilst planning my adventure.

NomadicMatt

Welcome!

Living like a pauper is boring! But it’s a reality of backpacking some times – especially in Europe. People will be surprised what they can live on, even in Stockholm – as you’ve shown here.

Can totally relate to the bored thing! Every now and then I hunker down somewhere for a few weeks at a time to get work done and cook meals, etc and it is usually easy to fill the days with working, but by the time night comes I am so ready to get out of the same four walls! At least it has meant that I was able to watch 5 seasons of Mad Men within about five weeks at night time ;)

NomadicMatt

I got through a lot of TV. I highly recommend Breaking Bad.

Brooke

love Breaking Bad, and love your blog Matt.

Great post… Money plays an important role in our life. Without money it is very difficult to live in this world. So we should make plans when and where to spend money.

Tara

This is a great post. I spent 9 days in Stockholm in June, and can attest to being able to travel cheap. I stayed with a friend, and we cooked most of our meals at his place. I even ended up going home with money, which has never happened on any other travel adventure. I am planning a longer excursion in the near future, and enjoy reading your blog for tips, as it’s helping me stay focused on my goal.

I understand the experiment and enjoyed the insights you shared about trying to be on such a tight budget. We had a similar mindset when we traveled to Japan last year. We knew it would be really expensive and planned to do as much as we could to minimize our spending. I don’t feel that we sacrificed too much to stay under $100/day. For those interested here’s what we learned about traveling cheap in Japan.

Matt, thanks for sharing the results of your personal experiment!

Jesse

Matt, great article, and great personal experiment. I live in NYC (and have for ten years) and in that time have learned how to live very frugally, but also VERY well on little money. I recently got married and we went to Spain and Portugal for our honeymoon (two of our favorite countries, to date), and after about four days, we realized how quickly we were going through our honeymoon fund, so we made a budget, and spent the remainder of the trip putting our money towards the things that we REALLY wanted to do. Granted, this included a semi-drunken decision to take a horse and carriage in Seville (something we would never in a million years do in NYC), and some other foolishly expensive decisions, but we countered the costs of these excursions by cooking several nights a week at the fabulous airbnb art gallery we stayed at in Lisbon (that we paid 47USD for). Bottom line: it is VERY possible to budget while traveling, and still find great inexpensive cultural things to do. And the creativity that this sort of plan requires can be quite fun. Cheers on a great post!

Alana

Thanks for another interesting post Matt. It’s a shame some people totally miss the point and as you say, only read what they want to read’.

I agree with Jesse: ‘it is VERY possible to budget while traveling, and still find great inexpensive cultural things to do. And the creativity that this sort of plan requires can be quite fun’.
I have been living and working in Thailand for the past year and trying to save money at the same time. My boyfriend and I had all of our cash stolen (2000USD) just after pay day last December and we had to be very creative to make the little money we had left to go a long way until next pay day. It wasn’t a major blow at the time but it was an interesting involuntary experiment and paved the way for the remainder of our experience here. We live in a small, cheap but pleasant and well located apartment. We have one night out a week which usually starts with pre-gaming at home/friend’s house; sushi and a movie at the mall once a month and we get through a lot of seasons including Madmen and Breaking Bad. we would cook at home but in Thailand, it’s cheaper to eat out.
It’s a simple way to live but as a result, we will be travelling to the UK and the USA for 3 months before returning to Asia to work. Good training for getting by in those two countries on a low budget. :-/

Alana

**should say ‘was’ a major blow

BK

Great articel. I think one of the reasons people don’t travel is what I call the “Disney effect”, if you want to take a family of 4 to Disney expect to spend $500-$600 a day minimum. People tend to think that everywhere must be that expensive too. How you travel is equally important as to where you travel. Your example of living on the cheap at your friends place is great example of how to go somewhere expensive and spend very little. When I travel for recreation the lodging is not very important, you don’t want to stay in a dirty, flea infested dump but staying at a 4 star hotel is a huge waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. A clean one star or two star in a great location is really the way to go. As far as eating and drinking that farther off the tourist trail the better, it tends to be more authentic and much less expensive. An added bonus to getting off the beaten path is you stop being an annoying mob of tourists and become a interesting novelty that the locals want to get to know.

NomadicMatt

I agree.

Connie L

Ok, I read many ways to travel inexpensively, however they all require you to sleep on a couch or a friend of a friend etc, so other than the hostels or seedy hotels what are your ideas?

Gabriel

That was an interesting read. While I agree with you that you can travel on less money, like you said it can be kinda boring. I find it a better solution for me to simply plan out what I’m going to do and what it should cost and then just save up enough money to do what I want and planned.

Thanks for the post, I enjoyed reading it.

NomadicMatt

That’s exactly how I feel. Better to budget ahead of time so you don’t end up bored like I did in this article.

I totally agree!
This is something I often have arguments about with my boyfriend. Everytime I come up with a new travel plan (and that’s pretty often, I admit :-)). He’s like: “Yes, but we have to save first”, or “Do you know how much that costs”, or “Yes, someday…” and it makes me so grrrrrrrrrrr!!!
I feel like you (almost) spend as much as you want. In most places there’s so much cool stuff you can do and see by just walking around. Idon’t need to see every museum a city has and I definitely don’t need to go to a restaurant every night, although I loooooooooove food. I can just as easy enjoy a cupcake (mmmm cupcakes) bought in a bakery and eaten while sitting on a bench, watching people pass by.
Of course you have flight costs, but even there you can often find cheaper prices depending on how flexible you are with your travel dates.
It’s not that I go for the cheapest option every time when I travel, but it’s good to realize that option is there.

The fact that you say “I stayed with a friend for the five days” pretty much makes your enticing catch phrase “$100 for five days in Stockholm” a complete farce. You can’t simply LEAVE OUT the cost of stay and then turn around and spout “I went around Stockholm on $20 a day!”. Liar.
Exactly WHO IN THE F**K knows someone well enough or anyone at all in a place they are T-R-A-V-E-L-I-N-G to.
You write a travel blog? Setting up with THAT kind of BS? ridiculous.

NomadicMatt

Mike, check out Couchsurfing.org, which lets you stay with locals for free. Locals who you don’t know. I mention and link to it in the article.

I like the underlying premise of your article that travel doesn’t have to be expensive. When I travel, I spend a few months at my destination for far less than I would spend back in the states, so that makes travel MORE affordable than life back home. It’s all in how you decide to travel and where you put your priorities when it comes to your daily life.

Another great post. I have stumbled upon it, because I am actually about to book a flight to Stockholm for a night (I’m in Budapest now so it’s close). I have heard many stories about how expensive Stockholm is, but know from my personal experiences that people will always label the most famous cities as expensive. It’s the perception, not necessarily the reality. So many people warned me: “Don’t go to Rio/Rome/London/NY etc. because it’s so damn expensive there!”. Well, I didn’t listen to their advice and somehow managed not to break the bank.
I really like your experiment Matt – it’s a great example of what is possible.

Quick question: I’ll be going to Stockholm for just one night. What is one club/bar that’s a must see in your opinion?

Cheers

stockholm bound

i’m about to leave for stockholm next week…read this article thinking i’d get some great tips and…bummer.

i get the premise (it was a challenge for you). i just think before people are directed to this blog and read through the article anticipating some great travel tips (the title is misleading)…there should be a giant asterisk (one you got on discount or borrowed from a friend) clarifying what you are about to read.

what i got from this: that i hope i have a much more groovin’ expensive adventure.

Carol

Yeh right. What if you don’t have a friend to stay with in Stockholm? What about skyrocketing and exploitative airfare and hotel bills for the rest of us? You mean you didn’t give your friend a few dollars for his/her kindness? did you take him/her out to dinner before you left? did he/she drive you to the airport or did you take a bus or taxi or metro?

It’s not a myth. Travel IS expensive. 1,000 + for airfare from easter US to Stockholm. A decent clean hotel is at least 100 per night up to 200.00 (for an average hotel/BB/hostal with private room).

NomadicMatt

You can get flights for around 400 now with Norwegian Air and, like I said, you can use a hospitality network to stay with locals for free (Servas, Couchsurfing, Be Welcome) and many hotels are around $60 a night. So yes, it is possible to travel cheap.

travelnewbie

I liked the post, it got me thinking about a few things. I live in a big city, but my daily routine is pretty much your routine in Stockholm. I walk around a lot (or ride my bike), do a lot of free things like visiting parks, cook my own meals or eat from the $5 food carts, and usually stay in at night and read or do free things like play music with friends. So I wouldn’t have too much trouble doing the same thing in another place. But finding inexpensive, safe places to stay, cheap airfare, and cheap transport (bus,shuttle, subway to and from airport for example) makes all the difference. Even with my budget lifestyle, I just priced a trip to San Diego from the pacific NW where I live and couldn’t come up with less than $100 a day for a 5 day stay. That includes air fare, hostel, food, bike rental.

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