Money Mustache vs. Tourist Trap

So the triple M family just spent a couple of nights in Santa Fe on our way here to Phoenix. I’ve been to Santa Fe a few times now, and it’s quite a pretty city. Nestled in a high desert valley surrounded by tall mountains, it’s over 400 years old, with the randomly arranged little streets and neat historic buildings to show for it. Even the newest buildings are still made in Adobe style with rounded corners and brown stucco exteriors. So when viewed from a hilltop, the entire city looks like an ancient settlement, despite the fact that it’s right in the middle of the United States.

While the place is physically beautiful, there has always been something just mildly unpleasant about spending time in the central historic district of that city. This year is the first time I’ve visited the place as Mr. Money Mustache, and my new superpowers allowed me to put my finger on the problem: it’s a tourist trap.

What exactly is the definition of a tourist trap, you might ask? I would define it as any location that makes most of its income from selling things to visiting tourists, as opposed to a valid local economy.

This sounds harmless enough, since we’re all free to buy, or not buy, whatever we like. And it works well for standard tourists, since a large part of their idea of a vacation is going “shopping”. When they go to a new place, new products are available – in Hawaii there are unique tropical-themed trinkets, and in New Mexico there are turquoise pieces of rock carved into jewelry and even fabric that mimics traditional Native American patterns. Santa Fe has evolved into an upscale tourist trap where dozens of fancy art galleries can open up next to each other and sell art very profitably even in the high-rent district.

The stylish polished copper logos and crisp halogen lights of these galleries are pleasant to walk past on your way to the central square where the big old trees are beautifully lit up for the holiday season. But the experience is compromised by the fact that every single street of central Santa Fe is absolutely jammed with tourists motoring around pointlessly in their expensive cars. The entire area is very compact and everything is within a five minute walk, yet all around you are fluffy-haired ladies with oversized sunglasses and fur collars, perched on the wide tan leather seats of Escalades, X5s and Range Rovers, bumbling down the crowded narrow streets while the pedestrians squeeze past each other on poorly maintained three-foot-wide sidewalks. There’s a beautiful hill right next to downtown with a walking trail all the way to the top, but the trail is almost vacant even while the streets directly below are jammed with the idling SUVs.

All of this represents a deep conflict of interest to Mustachian Travelers like ourselves. You and I like to travel the world as a way of learning more about the different cultures and geographies. Travel is also a good way to teach your children about life outside of your own city, and even a way to take a break from winter and do some swimming and frolicking out in the sun.

But just because you are leaving your home town doesn’t mean you suddenly want to transform into a mouth-foaming consumer who derives enjoyment solely from making purchases. In fact, you probably want to continue your naturally efficient and healthy lifestyle regardless of where you are. This becomes even more important as an early retiree, when you have the option of spending much more than two to four weeks per year on vacation.

So when the tourist trap sticks out its ugly candy tongue and tries to lure you in so it can bite you, you simply need to recognize the signs and avoid them. I’ve developed a few tricks of my own over the years, and I am happy to present a few of them in this handy dandy list:

Mr. Money Mustache’s Tips and Tricks for Fulfilling Family Travel:

Food: Wherever you go, you’ll still be eating every day. At home, you have carefully optimized your eating routine to achieve maximum health and enjoyment at the minimum cost. So why not replicate this as closely as possible even when you’re on the road? When traveling by road, I always throw two large food carriers into the car: large self-chilling (12 volt) cooler for cold stuff, and a zippered-top fabric bag for everything else. Then I pack things like nuts, fruit, cheese, peanut butter, cucumbers, carrots, eggs, milk, cereal, and good leftovers from recent home cooking. Along with this I need a knife, fork, spoon, a few beers and a bottle of wine, and an opener for both. Now the MMM family is a rolling party – we can eat while we’re driving, or bust out an impromptu picnic on any mountainside, and sit back with a nice alcoholic beverage at the end of a long day.. with no need to ever search for McDonalds or Subway fast food stops for less healthy and more expensive fare.

If we’re not camping, we always choose hotels with an in-room kitchen. But in a pinch, the 12-volt cooler mentioned above can keep the food fresh in any hotel room, and you can add a camp stove for cooking up nice meals anywhere. And there is always a grocery store nearby. For airplane-based travel, you won’t be bringing as much stuff, but you can still find good natural food when you get there at the nearest grocery store, just as the locals do at whatever location you are visiting.

The most recent example of using the power of Mustachianism to eat like the locals?

Mr. Money Mustache Eats for Free

I was walking through the lobby of the Santa Fe hotel, and a bunch of Texas business people were finishing a catered company meeting in one of the opulent meeting rooms off to the side. “A guy came out and said to me, “Hey! Y’all like pizza? We ordered too much and don’t want to let it go to waste”.

I was skeptical at first, expecting a big soggy Domino’s cheese and pepperoni pizza. But I decided to check out what he had to offer, and it turned out to be an enormous, unopened, very fancy vegetable pizza from a trendy local restaurant. I graciously accepted the offer and packed it into my fridge, and I’ve been eating for free ever since.

Amazingly enough, this good luck was compounded with the addition of another food group when we arrived in Phoenix. We were outside horsing around on the kids’ play structure, and I noticed an area of orange trees that the hotel had grown as part of its decorative landscaping. They were drooping with delicious ripe oranges, some of which had even fallen to the ground and been left to rot. With no competition for the free food, I was able to pick the very best oranges from the trees.. and we’ll all be enjoying them every day for the rest of this trip! Delicious, and educational too.

Destinations: The world has its popular vacation destinations (which are often the crowded and expensive tourist traps), and it has its beautiful places to visit. But these two things are often completely uncorrelated. Your job is to find the beautiful spots that are not overrun with people. If you see a long line of bumbling 45-foot RVs winding along a road, or slick corporate logos selling timeshare properties, or photographers who take a picture of you and then try to get you to buy it (holy shit that is annoying), you are in the wrong spot. If you see plants and animals and perhaps the odd person going about their daily life in a natural manner that has nothing to do with your presence, then you have probably found a good place to enjoy a vacation.

Activities: The most satisfying and memorable things to do are generally the ones that take the most effort from you. It may seem convenient to ride a cog railway or a helicopter to the bottom of the canyon so you can get out at the bottom, buy a picture of yourself, and eat a giant helping of cotton candy on the way back up.  But it is even more fun to pack a lunch and a few bottles of water, figure out how to get down yourself on the walking trail, swim around in the cold river at the bottom, and then make the 3,000 foot climb back up in the hot afternoon sun. Then you get to marvel at your tired feet and dusty but well-exercised calves when you kick off the shoes at the end of the long day and crack into the cold beer from your cooler.  While the other people in your travel group pay for a 4×4 tour around Cozumel’s jewelry shopping district, you might prefer to go for a walk through the streets where the people actually live and see if you can join a soccer game with some of the little kids out in the street.

This philosophy of travel would seem shocking to the standard Wealthy American or European traveler, and it does not fit in at all with the examples of expensive restaurants and white-suited valet parking attendants at the gatehouse of prestigious golf courses I sometimes walk past while on vacation. But I can guarantee it will allow you to have more fun than the big spenders are having, even while you spend about 90% less than they spend per week of vacation. You’ll be able to maintain a much healthier lifestyle, and a much bushier Money Mustache than they could even dream of attaining.  Happy travels!


  • Mr. Dahlin December 20, 2011, 12:58 pm

    Great article MMM. I have often thought how ridiculous tourism has become. Instead of actually going on a tour do discover the area and culture of the place in question, it is about buying trinkets and souvenirs that just clutter your home in the end.

  • zero3blur December 20, 2011, 1:00 pm


    This is what squicked me out about Moab – as staggering as the amazing national & state parks are, the town is a teeming tourist-trap. After a few regrettable meals in overpriced tourist restaurants, we decided to buy ingredients at the town Safeway & make our own food in our motel room & had a much better time as a result.

    • Nick December 20, 2011, 2:09 pm

      One of the best off-the-beaten-path places in Moab is the Fiery Furnace. They limit how many people can go in by issuing permits, so you probably won’t see anyone else while you’re there, and the bouldering and scenery are awesome.

      • zero3blur December 20, 2011, 2:48 pm

        Agreed! We didn’t get a permit for that area, but saw it from the main part of Arches NP – we’d totally go in, the next time.

        We actually had lots of the park to ourselves, just by choosing to go on a rainy afternoon. 90% of the other tourists took off for town. So what if we were stuck in the car during a raging thunderstorm? When it was over, the rainbows were like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

  • ATVCOWBOY December 20, 2011, 3:44 pm

    A friend and world traveler told me that when you get off the cruise ship and everyone starts going to the left, wave a taxi down and head to the right. This simple advice is exactly what you are talking about. Actually get into the city or wilderness you went to visit and get to know it. Ask a local where their favorite hole in the wall restaurant is.

    I often drive my wife crazy when I stop on a dirt road somewhere jump out of the Jeep and start hiking somewhere with the dog, my best adventures have been doing just that.

    • Ralph December 13, 2015, 1:29 pm

      Totally agree, go with the crowd and you end up with mostly Chinese made trinkets, western cuisine (is KFC a cuisine?) and a Disney/FOX type entertainment package most of the time. The idea of travelling is seeing the locals as they are, not as a flashy tourist strip.

    • Keith February 14, 2016, 10:40 pm

      One of our best culinary experiences was when we asked our driver in Roatan, Honduras where he planned to eat lunch. We had some of the best local cuisine without other tourists present that day. Experience the culture and go off the beaten path. It’s cheaper, more enjoyable, and broadens one’s perspective.

      • Rigo September 29, 2016, 1:37 pm

        Very nice, Keith!
        I am glad you enjoyed Honduras! I am a local from Roatan/La Ceiba (mainland coast city of Honduras) and its good to see other Mustachians are enjoying what the people and my country have to offer :)
        I don’t live there anymore ( now USA) but my childhood was like paradise there.

  • bethh December 20, 2011, 4:27 pm

    I agree with you 95% – I definitely pack food to eat while driving (or at rest stops) and I prefer a basic breakfast from supplies.

    But I would submit that part of what makes travel interesting is trying food specific to the region, and buying your usual supplies at the grocery store isn’t really going to give you that experience. I hope you got SOME food that is special to New Mexico! I loved the fact that you can order your food with red chile sauce, green chile sauce OR both – and if you want both red & green, you just say you want Christmas. (I probably got some of the lingo there wrong, but I think you get the idea.)

    • poorplayer December 20, 2011, 5:51 pm

      I have to agree here. True confession time – I love road food! Not fast food road food, but local road food. Finding the aformentioned “hole in the wall” restaurant is about as good as it gets as far as fun is concerned. When the kids were small we did all that food-packing, yes, because the $$ add up and we couldn’t afford to feed five in a restaurant. But now that it’s me and DW (or just me when on business), I dig the road food lifestyle. PS – I have that same 12V cooler. Awesome!

      • MMM December 20, 2011, 10:06 pm

        Yeah, I also agree with you both – I’m totally in favor of local restaurants too. We’ve just been a little bit out of the scene for the last almost-six years since the fine dining is mostly ruled out by an unruly little boy who doesn’t dig restaurant food at all. In the future, this aspect will surely come back to the travels. It will just never be the steak and lobster with $300 wine at the Four Seasons Maui.

        • GregK June 8, 2012, 2:30 pm

          As you mention in the article, though, this can be substituted, or at least supplemented with visiting local grocery stores. With our international travels, one of our favorite destinations is the local grocery store. There is something really authentic about seeing what the locals REALLY eat (typically they’re not eating in restaurants most of the time if at all — that’s an American bad habit). In any case, we end up saving money, being entertained, and learning about the local culture all at once.

          At the same time, we love going to local hole-in-the-wall restaurants; again, they tend to be the cheapest, and most authentic (read: delicious!) option apart from groceries.

    • stepthrough December 21, 2011, 8:31 am

      Absolutely! I like to pack food for times when there is only average, unhealthy restaurant food available. And tourist area food is usually way overpriced, uninteresting, and gimmicky. I have regretted almost every meal I ever purchased from a tourist restaurant. But the real food – if you can find it – can be amazing. The best meal I had during an entire week in Jamaica was when I dodged all of the tourist hives and went to the local equivalent of Denny’s in a low-key corner of town. Just get out of the tourist area or off the main road. Strike up some conversations with interesting bystanders. Find out where the locals go and where to find the cheap street food, crash block parties and neighborhood festivals, and make some new friends.

      • Danielle May 19, 2012, 10:42 am

        Jamaica is amazing for that! For 35$/night you can stay in a tiny bungalow and eat amazing local food for $15/day in Negril. I love the hippy vibe on the south end of that beach. It’s touristy in that Jamaicans will try to sell you stuff, but once you get a hang of turning them down, it’s easy to enjoy the waves and the music.

      • Ralph December 13, 2015, 1:43 pm

        I have regretted almost every meal I ever purchased from a tourist restaurant. But the real food – if you can find it – can be amazing.

        Too true Stepthrough, many years ago I was in Malaysia/Singapore/Thailand and the guys found a genuine ‘ocker donut shop’ with all the ritzy/flashy gizmo’s outside. Smelled OK but I didn’t want snack food from my home suburb, they bought donuts & apple pies and I bought some weird looking (????????) from a local stall in a side street.
        Must have been bad icing or year old cream, because they ended up back in the rooms and I had to spend the rest of the day drowning my boredom knocking back some local ail.

        Always eat where the locals eat as they know where it is good, plus isn’t that why you travel?

  • Mark December 20, 2011, 5:03 pm

    “Red or Green?” was made the official question of New Mexico a few years back. I don’t know about restaurants in Santa Fe but if you only do grocery store shopping, at least get some Bueno red or green chile from the freezer aisle and burrito fixins.

  • Jim Schoch December 20, 2011, 5:41 pm

    How about a free Pedicab tour of downtown Phoenix by me :) My wife and I love living here in Phx downtown and I would love to show you our fine city.

    • MMM December 20, 2011, 10:03 pm

      WOW – now that sounds like an awesome way to see the city, we just might take you up on that – as long as I can be allowed do my part and pull the cab occasionally too :-)

      • Jim Schoch December 22, 2011, 7:41 pm

        You will love the Pedicab for sure. 419.783.9593 when you are ready :)

      • Jim Schoch December 22, 2011, 7:44 pm

        PS. We have a great pool and hot tub u guys can enjoy too.

  • Monsoon Matriarch December 20, 2011, 6:48 pm

    Was there for a week 10 years ago and found same problem. After day 2 we found the whole foods market and another small out-of-the tourist trap cafe and only went on a few tours. There was a lot of cool stuff to see just walking around and walking through the old hotels, etc.. The adobe churches and the museums were also interesting and inexpensive. We still hang out in New Mexico, just try to stick to the ghost towns and old mining camps at least 50 miles from the nearest town over 5,000 people. Better crowd of people, mom and pop cafes with freshly-made chili and lots to see for free. You may have had a better time going to Las Vegas or Chama in the north; Mogollon, Glenwood, Kingston or Mimbres in the south…

  • Marianna December 20, 2011, 8:19 pm

    There is a whole forum dedicated to this “slow travel”. Staying in apartments (via VRBO or airbnb or couchsurfing or hospitality club) is a great way to save dollas – on lodging AND food. I hate paying out the nose for accommodations that, IDEALLY, I will spend 8 hours a day in – UNCONSCIOUS. Plus you end up in a different part of town than all the hotels.

    I did a lot of that type of traveling as a student – including buying a lot of souvenirs I don’t know what to do with. Next time, all the saved moolah is going to food food food. It’s just one of those priorities for me that’s worth the money.

    • Grant December 21, 2011, 2:59 am

      Can’t agree more. A huge part of travel for me is food. When travelling in England and Europe, I loved stumbling onto food markets and sampling the local produce.

      In France, my most memorable restaurant was in a little divey place that presumably was full of locals. The menu was only in French, and the waitress didn’t speak English. Luckily my wife had some primary school French, so talked to the waitress like a 9 year old. The waitress was great too – really seemed to appreciate the effort of talking to her in her own language.

      Similar experience in Hong Kong – I went to the venues that didn’t have any (obvious) tourists there, and loved the feeling of being completely out of my depth!

  • Mary December 21, 2011, 6:12 am

    Loved your story about the pizza from the hotel. I work at a university and bring home “university pizza” about once a week for my kids. There’s always some function going on where someone has ordered way too much food.

  • Matt December 21, 2011, 9:41 am

    We won a trip to Disney World and made up our minds we weren’t going to eat any of their crap food. Jerky, string cheese, nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, and ice cold water from our nalgenes kept us happy (and with three little girls happiness is key). Then we discovered local pizza places would deliver to our hotel in the park. Between the two we spent a week there and never bought any amusement park food. We saved hundreds of dollars and snacking while waiting in line felt like we were cheating somehow. That backpack full of food was great.

  • Sharon December 21, 2011, 9:47 am

    Fresh free oranges – I dunno, considering some of the toxic crap that “ornamental” fruit trees get sprayed with to reduce pests and disease… I don’t think I would have been brave enough to eat them. Though, I guess I could also argue that any pesticides would have been on the outside of the peel, and most folks don’t eat that part.

    • MMM December 21, 2011, 3:50 pm

      Mr. Money Mustache don’t give a shit.. he just takes what he wants :-)

    • Machteld April 28, 2016, 4:49 am

      You can also ask if the fruits are sprayed or not. I did once when we saw this gorgeous grapefruit tree filled with ripe fruits at a museum. They were not sprayed, we could take as many as we wanted (the staff did not like the fruit) and so we did, delicious!

  • Nik December 21, 2011, 11:32 am

    Thanks MMM! Totally didn’t even REALIZE that 12vdc freezers, or coolers existed!!! I just got super excited for a family trip next summer! Thanks again!

  • Joe December 21, 2011, 12:31 pm

    Yes, I agree completely with your double cooler tricks, I think the best way to hit the road is to load up on all your favorite foods you have from home to serve as you base food, and then after you run out you can hit up a restaurant for a meal or two. Or you can just pick wild berries and leaves on your journey and save those in the cooler for a delicious smoothie :)

  • GayleRN December 21, 2011, 12:35 pm

    If you are headed Grand Canyon way check out the accommodations within the park. We landed there in January and stayed in a funky little cabin on the rim one night. It was absolutely a thrill for me and absolutely accidental. There were only about 10 cars in the parking lot that night, but of course there was a gifte shoppe. We walked around in 6 inches of snow which is nothing to me as I live in Michigan.

    If you pass through Northern Michigan I will let you in on the locals secrets.

  • Ramses December 21, 2011, 1:51 pm

    You just reminded me… the park where the Capitolio resides in Sacramento, CA, is jam packed with orange trees. Some look delicious, some do not, but for the most part they all look edible.
    One day, while walking with my female partner, I was about to pick one of them oranges that was carefully hanging from a branch in one of these trees.. it was teasing me, inviting me to partake of the forbidden flavors.. and as I was reaching for it.. a cop said something along the lines of:

    “It’s a felony to take fruit from these trees” or “I’ll give you a ticket if you get that fruit” or “that orange will earn you jail time” or all of those warnings at once.
    My point is, some of those poor starving congressmen decided that eating fruit from city trees is highly illegal. The cop added that if the fruit was on the floor, it was OK to eat it.

    Is great you are enjoying your trip sir!

  • LG December 21, 2011, 2:03 pm

    Get ready for southwestern paintings and kitsch! Scottsdale is full of that crap if you were to stick to the tourist areas. Use kachina dolls as a barometer.

    We are having great weather and welcome the MMMs’ to the valley, hope you enjoy a break from the snow!

  • Cass December 21, 2011, 5:30 pm

    Haha, this is the only way my family travels! My parents didn’t have the money to stay in hotels, so we always found primitive camping around state parks and brought coolers of home-cooked food to make. My family has picked up on this; there’s nothing quite like seeing what the local life is like as compared to the touristy areas.

  • Pachipres December 21, 2011, 6:37 pm

    Going to check out this cooler you have!

  • Sean December 22, 2011, 3:09 pm

    SCORE! FREE PIZZA! I hope you found your gold on the streets of El Dorado. I’ll be driving through there after the New Years and may get the cooler you mentioned.

    Sean @ http://www.economicallyhumble.com

  • George December 22, 2011, 4:57 pm

    My favorite tourism technique is to get lost. Arrive in Venice (don’t check the map yet), eat a meal with plenty of wine, and then go wander the paths until you’re tired & come to a quiet corner so you can nap for a bit. When you wake up, *now* you can pull out the map and try to find your way back.

    • Amonymous August 8, 2016, 9:38 pm

      Sounds awesome! The best travels aren’t planned.

  • Rich M December 22, 2011, 4:57 pm

    I try to do a similar thing with road trip dining. Cooking yourself not only saves money, you know the nutritional value of your food better.

    On our road trips, we have been camping a lot but when we do get a hotel/motel, I like to get a cheap place and ‘hotel-camp.’ That is, use the room (non kitchette) but go outside and cook food on my camping stove. We did this in Canyon DeChelly Thunderbird lodge recently. The cool thing was, our “neighbor” was doing the same thing.. We actually had a long interesting conversation with a person staying at the same motel—how often does that happen?

    • MMM December 22, 2011, 5:22 pm

      Nice! I have done Hotel Camping too. I should have written the article to explain it this way: “You’ll be eating at least three times a day, and you’re not allowed to go to restaurants that often.. too time-consuming, too expensive, and too unhealthy, on average. So eat from your ultra-healthy cooler most of the time, so you can save the big luxury Road Food meals for when you are actually ready to sit down and savor them.”

  • Bakari December 23, 2011, 4:07 pm

    When I was little, my mom took us to New York City (where she is from, and many of her friends and family still live) via train.

    We did the tourist thing – sort of – and went to see all the sites. She found a list of every museum and attraction, and set up an elaborate plan that had us hopping around on public transit (unlimited day pass) every couple hours, in a carefully routed pattern that optimized travel time by never having to double back.
    And because there are so many hundreds of things, there are dozens upon dozens that are free (or suggested donation, which to a single-parent household with 2 kids and a parent still in school, means “not very much”)

    I don’t think we paid for anything but the bus passes. We saw the firetruck museum, the holograph museum, a couple art museums, central park (which has a dozen free attractions by itself), spent a couple days at the natural history museum (you can’t really comprehend how massive a blue whale is unless you stand under a lifesize model). It turns out that its the elevator ride that costs money at the statue of liberty. If you are willing to walk the stairs to the observation deck, its free (this was 20 years ago, so who knows anymore). We rode the Statan Island ferry, visited the homes my mom used to live in, and of course visited her family and friends. It was at least a couple weeks (not including travel time – which was an adventure of its own) all for not much more than the cost of the tickets.

    • Bakari December 23, 2011, 4:26 pm

      The only time I’ve really traveled on my own… (not counting driving the RV cross country, which was part adventure, part move – I stayed on the East Coast a year and had 4 different jobs, so it wasn’t really a vacation)…
      was right after my first year of college.

      I traveled about 2500 miles over about 2 months, and saw all the major west coast Mexican places; Baja, Acapulco, and Mexico City.
      I also got to see all the authentic tiny local areas in-between. I slept on beaches and on semi-generous peoples porches. I was mistaken for wealthy and mistaken for homeless. I crossed roads blocked by donkeys and others by military checkpoints with guys holding sub-machine guns who looked about 16 years old. I rode though towns where chickens roamed free, and ate at “restaurants” consisting of a families back room, where there was no menu – you just ate whatever the family was eating that day. One hotel I stayed at let me borrow a canoe for free, and I visited an uninhabited island – except by scores of tiny tree climbing crabs, which I would not have believed existed if not for having seen it with my own eyes.

      What allowed me to actually experience all this? I traveled not by plane, or by cruise ship, not by car or even by bus. I went by bicycle. With 90lbs of water and food and camping gear and tools and spare parts. Through desert and tropics and mountains.
      Best of all, this entire trip was all expenses paid.
      Awwwww yeah.

      But there was one guy I met who made even that mode of travel seem decadent. When I was about 2 or 3 weeks in to my trip, on the West Coast of Mainland Mexico just south of Baja, I met a man who had left from LA over a year prior, and had just reached that particular hotel we shared BY KAYAK.
      Because the sea of Cortez (between Baja and Mainland) is too far to kayak, he went up north along the baja coast and back down again (I just took a ferry across). He left without speaking any Spanish, but was fluent by the time he got to the same spot it had taken 2 weeks to bicycle to.

      • Liz May 25, 2012, 2:33 pm

        Things men can do that women can’t.

        • AdventurousZ June 29, 2014, 5:42 am

          Wow Liz, it really saddens me to see such a limiting belief broadcasted out. I knew you were wrong even before I read his long post. I traveled from Cancun to Nicaragua mostly on my own, although I was using public transport, nothing as extreme and awesome as kayaking, but in that time I met a women who was biking (a bicycle) and camping on her own and her goal was to reach the southern most point in Patagonia. She had done a separate biking trip from the arctic circle to the US. Anything is possible, you just have to believe it.

        • Mac April 28, 2016, 5:09 am

          I’ve travelled as a woman alone through Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Botswana. It was great! Though, yes you have keep a weary eye on things as you are a target as a woman alone. Don’t walk the streets alone at night (yes, as soon as it gets dark!), don’t find yourself alone with a man (in the evenings/at night) even if it’s your guide (for example), especially in machismo countries. And if you happen to stray from this and something happens, be very clear and just hit (hard) if anybody gets frisky. Some basic self defense knowledge is no luxury…

          Oh, and travelling alone through Europe is completely hassle free by the way for a woman alone. I don’t find anything special about that.

          And couldn’t completely agree more on travelling on bicycle. The mode of travel is so important. Traveling on a motorway is boring and you don’t see anything. If you cycle you pass these cute little villages and you see and experience way more.
          If you find cycling dangerous, pick a country where the cycling is way more standard than what you’re used to. For example, the Netherlands and Belgium are well-known for it. There are special cycle paths everywhere and motorists are completely used to cyclists. You can also cycle nicely through other European countries and cities. I did and do (I’m a Dutchie by the way) and I love it!

  • Pablo December 23, 2011, 10:19 pm

    I loved the post. One of the best trips that I ever went on was a 2-week trip to Mexico. I spent the first week doing yoga up in the mountains. The whole week only cost me $300 USD and it included lodgings, yoga classes, and food. I felt good about it because the money went directly to my teacher who lived there and I had a fun time practicing Spanish for free with the locals. :)

  • Doug December 24, 2011, 1:12 pm

    MMM – have you read Vagabonding by Rolf Potts? Tim Ferriss recommended it in 4HWW and it expands on a lot of what you discuss in this post. Great book.

  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple December 28, 2011, 11:50 am

    I love Santa Fe. We have friends there. When we visit, we mostly avoid the tourist traps because we stay with our friends (or in their parents’ empty “summer home”) and we follow them around. I do love the red and green chile.

  • Nermal December 28, 2011, 3:50 pm

    I tried your orange tree trick while in Mexico, found some fresh mango from the decorative trees. Half way through I discovered the fruit was fully worm infested: they started crawling out onto my plate! Hope I didn’t eat any of them.

  • Jeff January 4, 2012, 1:59 pm

    I’m still learning the early/partial retirement road, but I knew even as a kid in middle school that something about vacationing was very wrong. At one point I told my parents “I don’t want to do anything on vacation that I can do within a 30-mile drive of our house.” Our vacations changed dramatically. No more putt-putt or go carts. Instead we went white water rafting and hiked gorgeous trails.

  • Sarah June 7, 2012, 7:47 pm

    Wonderful – I’m now referring to our upcoming 13-hour road trip as a “rolling party”! And probably all future long trips! My kids will be so thrilled.

  • hands2work September 28, 2012, 1:52 pm

    My SO and I have a 1986 RV that we adore, There is nothing I love more than standing up from the passenger seat and walking back to the kitchen to make sandwiches or get ice for our water or grab some chips or cookies. No need to stop!

  • Alex June 20, 2013, 8:59 am

    Can’t agree more with avoiding the crowds when traveling. It has been my travel philosophy for some time and has allowed for cheaper, more relaxing and, most importantly, more fulfilling trips!

    If you like to sample the local, free fruit on public trees (must be on the ground to be technically legal), check out http://fallingfruit.org/ . It is a really cool website that aggregates all the available fruit in many places around the world.

  • AdventurousZ June 29, 2014, 5:49 am

    MMM, I wanted to suggest Airbnb for finding places to stay in your travels that are much more interesting than hotels. Airbnb is a sharing economy site where people list there homes/apartment/spare bedrooms as short term rentals. I love it because it usually comes with access to a kitchen, a local contact, and you get to see how the locals live/decorate. It’s pretty neat. Not to mention that you are supporting the local economy directly, empowering individuals to be micro-entreprenuers. Another plus is that people can list any sort of living space, so you can sometimes find really unique spots like air streams on a beautiful piece of property, tree houses, yurts, castles, cabins, TPs, etc. http://www.Airbnb.com

  • Salvador August 18, 2014, 11:44 am

    Definitely agree!!

    I’m from Europe, Portugal actually, and I always laugh when people say it is so expnsive to travel and such.

    My just recent wife, did have such a mentality I believe but after showing her that you don’t need fancy hotels and eating out everyday while on vacation. Not only is cheaper, you also get to experience much more.

    We just spent 31 days around Europe, we traveled around 12 cities and with accomodation, traveling, food, entertainment we spent both of us 2800 euros!

    And I should note that we splurged a litte bit by the end of the trip, otherwise we could’ve made it around 2400 or less.

    Bear in mind, we didn’t starve or anything, but most times yes we cooked ourselves in the kitchen of our hostels, which we used most of the time around our time in europe.

    All in all, those 2800 euros for both of us made us an itinerary of Lisbon->Berlin->Dresden->Prague->Krakow->Budapest->Vienna->Bratislava->Bled in Slovenia->Hallstatt->Innsbruck->Zurich->Basel->Millhouse Ville->Marseille->Barcelona->Sevilla->Algarve->Lisbon

  • Laura September 1, 2014, 11:12 am

    Loved this post. On my fancy, unfortunately super-expensive honeymoon on Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays, probably the most fun we had was running around on the beach collecting coconuts that the resort was pruning off its trees (to prevent a head-cracking hazard to the tourists). We drank the water and ate coconut flesh every day; it was awesome, and the memory has stuck while others of $30-$45 restaurant meals has long faded.

  • Ethan March 27, 2015, 2:38 pm

    YES! My wife and I honeymooned in Prince Edward Island (she wanted beaches, but not TOO touristy) and we did what you did in some ways – paid for a suite in a resort with credit card points. While we did have to try the obligatory lobster dinner (because it IS a honeymoon in PEI after all), some of the most memorable moments were back in the hotel room chilling out after a long day and eating sandwiches, wine, and other goodies we had bought grocery shopping. We probably saved a couple hundred bucks not eating out all the time, and it was just so great to spend quiet time together after a chaotic wedding.

  • Jay April 4, 2016, 10:35 am

    We visited Washington DC a few years ago. We stayed in a hotel about 10 blocks from the National Mall. We did not rent a car, and we walked everywhere. Out entire days were spent walking to the various attractions. It was a blast. We were pretty tired at the end of the day but it felt great, and the beer afterward was very good!

  • Wolfgang April 28, 2016, 2:48 pm

    Just for fun, get a brief historical perspective (1958) and read Jack Kerouac’s, “Dharma Bums”. Now, that’s getting around the ole U S of A cheap and fun! A great read which made me smile and written well before Jack hit the alcoholic skids.

  • Andres June 23, 2016, 6:16 am

    Back in the day, I would take the slow train from Tokyo to far-flung destinations in Japan using a special train pass called 18-kippu (meant to help broke students during summer holidays).

    I’d take the slow train (admittedly I use the bullet train nowadays!) to, for example, Osaka or Fukuoka, and then hop on a boat to somewhere like South Korea or China.

    Once there, in those days, I used the website Couchsurfing.com (not sure if it’s any good anymore) to find amazing places to stay for free (with gracious, fascinating hosts).

    I didn’t have much money in those days, so this type of travel was partly inspired by a lack of funds, but unsurprisingly it was also tons of fun and led to some of my best travel memories.

  • Colin September 23, 2016, 8:45 am

    “I graciously accepted the offer and packed it into my fridge, and I’ve been eating for free ever since.”

    Man, I want to find one of these pizzas that can feed me for 5 years straight!

  • Erica November 21, 2016, 10:48 pm

    Oh the edibles in AZ! Citrus is amazing and grown almost everywhere. Every winter I’ll find posts in the much beloved Craigslist of someone wanting you to pick their fruit in exchange for free fruit. Even fancy stuff like blood oranges and pomelos. We also have acorn, pinon, carob, pistache and mesquite trees. I’m a bit of a plant nerd and foraging advocate ;)

  • Mr. Bare Face November 29, 2016, 9:39 am

    Overall I agree with much of this! I don’t normally go for tchotchkies as they take up space, money, and create clutter that needs to be dusted around.

    BUT …. on a trip to Europe this past year I did decide to splurge on a few items that I don’t need but bring me immeasurable joy every day. One was a Swiss watch that is a replica of the railway clocks in the Swiss train stations. This watch is a daily reminder of my trip. My other “splurge” was on a cuckoo clock with wood chopper, water wheel, and music box. While it was expensive, I consider it a piece of my German heritage and I enjoy it happily letting me know the time throughout my home.

  • Lisa August 23, 2017, 6:08 am

    Love love love this article! I’m a late comer to this website but I will add…if you must buy Native American jewelry the Santa Fe Plaza is the most expensive place to get it..Plenty of places in Albuquerque (my home town) for much less!! And plenty of places actually on the Indian Reservations around the state. 😊 I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog… thank you!!

  • SocraticGadfly September 20, 2017, 8:38 pm

    Native and semi-native New Mexicans? We’ve long known the truth about Fanta Se. And now Taos is getting about as “discovered” and Californianized.

  • Phil December 11, 2017, 12:10 pm

    Museums and archeological sites are tourist traps or not ? (I love to visit ancient places but try to avoid tourist season ;) )

  • Anonymous December 18, 2019, 4:20 am

    My family is planning a post Christmas road trip through Ontario from Detroit to Toronto. Sounds like this is your homeland. Any suggestions for a Mustachian itinerary? Planning on spending a day in Toronto but would like to stay outside the city in a small Canadian town to get a different experience.

  • Johan Rudenå June 3, 2020, 7:21 am

    In regards to eating when staying at hotels I have perfected a way but it requires at least a minibar fridge to keep my food cool since I usually travel by air.

    I work a lot away from home and at one point I was traveling every other week to a very expensive neighbour country but I was living in a house so I had means of heating food or cook but long 12 hour days made me prepare food at home the week before.

    So to cut down on weight for air travel I bought a vacuum sealer to transport the food in my suitcase and this worked like a charm.

    When I later started living in a hotel without a microwave oven this turned out to work very nicely as well, all I needed except for the minibar fridge was a pot and vacuumed single portions and I was good to heat my food with the water kettle for coffee or tea.


Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname
(not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!


welcome new readers

Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.

For more casual sampling, have a look at this complete list of all posts since the beginning of time or download the mobile app. Go ahead and click on any titles that intrigue you, and I hope to see you around here more often.

Love, Mr. Money Mustache

latest tweets