NYT Travel Show: Budget Travel Guru Matt Kepnes Offers Easy Ways to Save Big Money When You Travel

Free sightseeing with a local and cheap eats: Athens with a Native, a free program through MyAthens, matches visitors with a volunteer who takes you on a walking tour. My guide, Constantine E. Cavoulacos introduces and the owner/chef of Panagiotis © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

When I first Eurailed across Europe when I was in college, I was among the minions clutching Arthur Frommer’s “Europe on $5 a Day.” A new budget travel guru, Matt Kepnes, has come on the scene with a tome for today, “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day (Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter)”.

Kepnes shared his strategies for traveling on a shoestring at the 2017 New York Times Travel Show, in his talk, “12 Easy Ways to Save Big Money When You Travel” to a standing room/sitting wherever you could find floorspace audience, in which he shared tips on how to bank smart, save on flights, book quality budget accommodations, eat for cheap, and save on transportations and attractions.

Budget travel guru Matt Kepnes offers easy ways to save when you travel to a packed audience at the New York Times Travel Show © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here are Kepnes’ key strategies:

Use  Your Money Wisely:

Avoid ATM fees

Buy in the local currency

Never exchange money in airports (Travelex is bad)

Never use travelers checks

Never use random ATMS

His recommendations: CapitalOne, Fidelty, CharlesSchwab (open an account and get a card), Global ATM Alliance

Collecting points or miles to fly free is an art that lately has stymied even travel experts. There is even a term for it, Kepnes says: Travel Hack is the art of collecting points/miles that can be used for free flights and hotel rooms (see nomadicmatt.us/HackTravel)

Kepnes offered these strategies, beginning with the notion that you can get 50,000-100,000 points as a bonus just for signing up. He says he recently took a flight from Germany to Austria for just $7 out of pocket.

Get a Travel Credit Card

Get a card that gives something back, even if you only travel once a year

That offers consumer protection

That avoids foreign transaction fees

Use everyday spending to amass points or miles

Pay your taxes to the government on a credit card (to accumulate points).

Get a new card and pay your taxes on it

His favorites: Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink, American Express SPG, Barclaycard

Find Cheap Flights

Be flexible with date/time/destination

Fly budget airlines: WOW, Norwegian Airlines (Ny-Oslo-Bangkok for $400)


Ignore the “myths” (such as the best day of the week to book is a Tuesday)

Search in other currencies (choose a weak currency, like New Zealand and search in that currency; often, prices cater to a local market)

Search as one person

If you are a student or educator, you can take advantage of discounted travel at such sites as. STATravel for students and teachers; ISIC  (he says he traveled Athens to Bangkok for $350).

Best sites to find flight deals:

HolidayPirates – great for Europe

The FlightDeal – out of US

SecretFlying-flights anywhere

Cheap Flight resources:


Kayak (Don’t book through kayak, he says, just use for reference and get a second opinion)

Momondo (search websites around the world)

SkyScanner (search websites around the world)

Stay Cheaply

Stay in Hostels:

Hostels are budget friendly

Made for socializing and meeting people

Have a kitchen to cook your own food

Usually offer the option of a private room and private bath

Centrally located

Knowledgeable staff (know what’s going on, where to go)

Great source: Hostelworld

Green Tortoise hostel in San Francisco: Staying in a hostel isn’t just inexpensive, but provides for social interaction, let’s you save on eating out by cooking your own meals. Green Tortoise also organizes dine-arounds and tours © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hostels have really upped their game, Kepnes says. They are nicer, typically offer WiFi, rooms are cleaned daily, offer breakfast, and even organized tours

Hostels offer a social aspect even if you are staying in a private room (because there are communal facilities and the people who stay tend to be outgoing)

“Cheapos stay in hostels so the staff are experts about cheap restaurants, what to do for free or inexpensively.”

Sharing Economy

Bypass the traditional travel industry

Gives access to locals using their own assets and skills to become small tourism companies with cheaper prices.

Locals know where to find

Share Accommodations:


A Camp in My Garden (which directs you to places where you can pitch a tent in someone’s backyard)

Where to stay with locals (for free) – these sites do vetting and offer reviews:

Be Welcome


The HospitalityClub


Kepnes notes that these kinds of shared accommodations are not just for youthful backpackers; a lot of families take advantage as well, and see it as an opportunity to expose their kids to other cultures.

Eat Cheap:

Eat cheap, skip fancy meals, don’t eat out every meal; cook your own meals; take your own water bottle.

Avoid eating near tourist areas (he has a five-block rule)

“Don’t ask ‘Where should I eat?’ (because you are a tourist). Ask ‘Where did you eat?’ That’s how you find the local, cool restaurants.

Use apps to find local hotspots, like FourSquare, OpenRice, Yelp

Dining out in Gjirokaster, Albania, where the dollar goes far © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sharing Food Economy:


CoLunching (feed your network)


Get Around Cheaply:

Use public transportation

Ask hostel staff for timetables and cheap transportation options

Avoid taxis

Get a train pass (ie. Eurail, or in-country pass)



Best tour in San Francisco is, of course, the cable car: just $7 to ride. And definitely visit the San Francisco Cable Car Museum, admission is free © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ride Sharing sources include:








Kepnes says he hopped a ride from Geneva to Zurich with a father who was driving his son back to school, which cost him $10)

“You save money and meet people in a way you wouldn’t if you just booked transportation.”

Seeing Things/doing Things

City Tourism Cards, which you can find through tourism offices and/or online, often provide admissions or discounts to multiple museums and attractions, city tours, public transportation, restaurants, shopping.

You typically purchase these by the number of days, (1, 3, 5, 7)

CitizenCards: Some places have passes only for country, county or city residents, like London restaurants for UK residents, Kepnes suggests you can get around this by using your AirBnB address.

Find Free or Inexpensive Activities

Ask tourist offices (and go online) and hostel staff

Time Out

The Local (Europe)

Take free walking tours (New Europe; Free Tours By Foot)

Google It! (Use as terms “free things to do in…”; “free activities in….”; “cheap events in…”, “what do locals do for fun in NYC?”)

NYC: Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the greatest museums in the world, let’s you pay a donation, rather than admission fee and there are free tours led by docents © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Tour with Locals

Connect with local guides (for example, Athens tourism bureau matches you up with a volunteer guide, myAthens.org; Big Apple Greeters through the NYC visitor bureau connects travelers with a local tour guide)

These tend to be small, intimate groups and offer quirky experiences like

Hidden Treasures of Paris

Florence: Bike the Local Backroads

A Photojournalist’s NYC

Melbourne’s Street Art

San Francisco: Urban Night Hiking

Istanbul: Learn to Bargain

Sources: ShowAround, Rent-a-Guide, Vayable

Where to Meet Locals:

Online communities



Lonely Planet’s forums

Couchsurfing (host travelers; stay with locals; grab coffee with travelers/locals; travel events)

Sources: Couchsurfing, TravelMassive, Meetup

Matt Kepnes (nomadicmatt.com) is the author of “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day” (Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter), nomadicmatt.us/amz50nm; Instagram.com/nomadicmatt; Facebook.com/nomadicmatt; Pinterest.com/nomadicmatt; Twitter: @nomadicmatt

The New York Times Travel Show, which just marked its 14th year, is the largest and longest-running trade and consumer travel show in North America, featuring the Travel Industry Conference, Consumer Seminars, and an interactive Exhibition including more than 500 exhibitors from Africa, Asia, Australia/South Pacific, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, Mexico and the United States.  In addition to discounts and special offers, the show provided educational seminars and live entertainment for families, individuals, couples and seniors. Seminars focused on home exchange and rentals; festivals and markets as a window into the soul of a place; wellness travel, family travel, global travel tips for women, LGBT travel, traveling solo, senior travel, cruising, planning the perfect African Safari, Italy, Japan, Cuba; ethical travel; choosing a travel agent, travel photography, travel writing; Expecting the Unexpected-Planning ahead for When Disaster Strikes (nyttravelshow.com)

See also:

NYT Travel Show: Greenberg Tells Intrepid Travelers to Exploit ‘Brave New World of Travel’

Pauline Frommer at NYT Travel Show: How to Get Best Value for Your Travel Dollar in 2017


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