Monkey Abroad

Showing YOU what it's like to travel all over Asia with 20 dollars a day

traveling for 20 dollars a day

Traveling for 20 Dollars a Day: Behind the Scenes

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Eighteen episodes, hundreds of street food dishes, dozens of new friends, a few romances, a couple of bouts with food poisoning, and countless beers. After nearly five months of full-time traveling and filming, I’m taking a break from Traveling for 20 Dollars a Day. It’s been the best time of my life filming this series, but my batteries need a recharge.

The Full Story of Traveling for 20 Dollars a Day

I first want to say that my good friend Curtis helped me film eight of the 18 episodes. His help gave me the momentum I needed to film the other ten episodes by myself, so I owe him a huge thank-you.

traveling for 20 dollars a day

Curtis on our first day of filming in Shanghai

Filming by myself, it takes twice as long to complete all the shots I want. Plus, have you ever set up a camera in a public place and talked really passionately into it while nearby people watch you? It’s awkward.

I don’t usually write these sorts of blog posts because I don’t enjoy reading them. “I did this, I did that, blah blah blah.” Who cares? If you don’t wanna read this entire story, I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t read it if I were you. Just skim through and glance at the photos. I won’t be mad.

traveling for 20 dollars a day

Squatting on the bund in Shanghai


Back in April 2016, I had this idea that I wanted to use the money I’d saved to film an original YouTube series about traveling in different cities all over Asia, and the best idea I could come up with was Traveling for 20 Dollars a Day. Since I was living in Shanghai at the time, I figured it would be easy to film the first episode of the series in Shanghai, making it as touristy as possible despite my two years of having already lived there.

Shanghai: Traveling for 20 Dollars a Day

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Within a week, the video went viral on Chinese social media. Online news publications even wrote stories about the video going viral. The publications include Nextshark, The Jakarta Post, China Daily, and dozens of other Chinese news outlets.

The foreigner-friendly publication, Shanghaiist, published a story about my video going viral, and a small wave of haters came crashing down as a result. People belittled me for making this video as if I’m the cause for world hunger or something. I learned that expats living in China are some of the most jaded folks in existence, as the Shanghaiist comments section made very clear:

traveling for 20 dollars a day

traveling for 20 dollars a day

traveling for 20 dollars a day

As a content creator, I’m firm in believing that haters are a good thing. If you have an original idea, and you don’t have haters, you’re doing something wrong. Embrace the haters and turn their negative energy into positive output.


In May, the second episode of the series, Hangzhou, gained a ton of attention on Chinese social media. By that time, I had real hope that this series would gain some traction, especially with the help of Youzimu, a media company that re-uploads my videos with Chinese subtitles on various Chinese social media.

In the Hangzhou video, I showed my friend’s 杭州人 chest tattoo on camera, which means Hangzhou native. But then the comments section blew up. I learned that the characters behind 杭州人 are apparently inappropriate.

Hangzhou, China: Traveling for 20 Dollars a Day

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In June, for episode three, I collaborated with Trevor James, AKA The Food Ranger, in Chengdu. We had already met each other about a year prior so this meet-up was like a reunion. It was a blast filming with Trevor, and because he was already well established on YouTube, working with him gave my channel a huge boost in subscribers. I learned that eating rabbit head is a cheap and enjoyable way to experience real Sichuan cuisine.

monkey abroad

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After filming episode three, my employment contract at Shanghai High School International Division was finished. In July I began traveling and filming full-time.

traveling for 20 dollars a day

Riding the sleeper train to Beijing.


Curtis and I hopped on a sleeper train to Beijing. The Beijing episode had to be filmed over three days due to various reasons, which meant that I wore the same sweaty shirt and shorts for three days in the sweltering heat.

monkey abroad

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That week, we partied in the Santilun bar area and had a blast making friends and staying up until wee hours of the night. I learned that foreigners drink for free in Beijing clubs, which resulted in nearly every Beijing morning starting with a hangover.

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After filming in Beijing, Curtis had to head back to Shanghai to deal with some visa issues for his next job. That left him out of commission for nearly three weeks, and left me all alone to travel and film in Taiwan and Chiang Mai.

monkey abroad

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I flew to Taipei and met with my buddy and former football teammate, Pei. It’s safe to say that, without him, this video probably wouldn’t have been possible. As the most politically charged video yet, this episode drew the ire of the mainland when folks found that it contained opinions which don’t correlate with those of the mainland. For the first time ever, my video was censored. I learned that Chinese mainlanders don’t like being told that Taiwan has preserved its culture better than China, and that the Falun Gong are supposedly an evil cult.

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Censored screenshot from my video of a Falun Gong member meditating on the sidewalk in front of Taipei 101 tower in Taipei.


After a leisurely trip to Hualien, a beachside city in Taiwan, where I filmed an episode of STREET FOOD SHOWDOWN, I headed to Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was here that I met the friendly staff of the ThailandWOW2 Hostel. Kate, the girl who was in this video with me, really made this project a lot more exciting than it would have been if I were filming alone. Big shout out to Kate for making my stay in Chiang Mai an amazing one. I learned that budget hostels always have the friendliest staff.

monkey abroad

Click to watch

After filming in Chiang Mai, Kate and her friends invited me to join them in the mountains north of Chiang Mai for a beautiful getaway from the city, where we stayed in bamboo huts and ate local cuisine. I learned that playing card games for hours actually is a fun way to pass time.

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From Chiang Mai, I took a bus down to Bangkok. By this time, Curtis was finished with his visa situation and now was free to help me film a few more episodes. When the Bangkok video was published on Facebook, it immediately went viral and had more than a million views within a couple of days. To this day, it’s the most-viewed video I’ve ever made.

Curtis and I out in Bangkok making fools of ourselves

With this viral sensation came a wave of love from the interwebz. Within a week I had received hundreds of personal messages from folks in Thailand who saw the video. I’m not gonna lie, it was a lot of fun chatting up some of the fine ladies who expressed their love of the series. I learned that uploading videos to the internet is a great to way meet girls.

monkey abroad

Click to watch


With our egos boosted and our seventh video done, Curtis and I bused down to Phuket. Some old friends from Shanghai met up with us and we enjoyed the wildness of Phuket’s insane party street, Bangla Road.

Partying on Bangla Road

Partying on Bangla Road. W is for Warriors, our American Football team in China

It was here that I got sick for the first time and I was out of commission for a full week. I couldn’t go more than 100 meters from my hostel bathroom without fear of emergency bowel evacuation. My immune system was weakened from street food, sleepless nights, and liters of booze. I learned that my iron stomach isn’t invincible.


Once my body was back in action, three of my friends and I boated down to Koh Lanta, a small island near Krabi, where we filmed episode eight. It felt good to be healthy again, so I was feeling recharged and ready to continue with the series.

monkey abroad

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The whole crew joined us in Koh Lanta, so of course we were having a blast, off camera. I learned that the best time and place to enjoy magic mushroom milkshakes is by the beach after midnight.

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The day before we left Koh Lanta, red flags were posted everywhere along the beach because the waves were MASSIVE. Being the daredevils we are, that didn’t deter us from swimming. Curtis seriously injured his knee and had to use a wheelchair to traverse the airport. It all worked out in my favor, because I got to skip to the front of boarding and taxi lines with my newly handicapped friend.

A blessing in disguise, my newly handicapped friend helped me cut lines everywhere.

Having a handicapped friend allowed me to cut lines everywhere. I call it being handicapped by association.


With Koh Lanta in the books, Curtis and I traveled to Phnom Penh to film the first of the Cambodia videos. While it wasn’t included in the video, I did visit the Killing Fields and S-21 prison to learn about Cambodia’s dark history and the Khmer Rouge.

Skulls of the unlucky souls who were killed during the Khmer Rouge.

Skulls of the unlucky souls who were killed during the Khmer Rouge.

Similar to Angkor Wat, these popualr tourist destinations weren’t included in the series because they’re a little too expensive, but I visited them for my own travel experience. On a brighter note, I learned that almost every tuk-tuk driver in Phnom Penh is a drug dealer.

monkey abroad

Click to watch


With the help of camboticket.com, Curtis and I bused up to Siem Reap, gateway to the famous Angkok Wat, and home of an amazing pub street. Here, Curtis and I ate grilled mouse and boiled snake, which to this day are the strangest things I’ve ever stomached (though the mouse meat actually wasn’t bad).

The hostel where we stayed in Siem Reap was home to a rather friendly cat that, for whatever reason, took a liking to us. It slept in our room almost every night. We tried to get it to split the cost of the room, but it refused to pay! I learned that cats are stingy creatures.

The cat that wouldn't leave us alone.

We filmed the tenth episode of the series in Siem Reap and stayed for an extra couple of days to party on the famous Pub Street. While we were out, a few people recognized Curtis and me from the Phnom Penh video. It was so cool meeting and chatting with folks who’d seen the videos and enjoyed them. I learned that Cambodians are an amazing fanbase.

monkey abroad

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I’m gonna take a second to say thank-you to the Cambodian community; you all have been the coolest, most supportive group when it came to this series. Cambodians were so stoked when I made a video about their cities, and I received so many personal messages from dozens of Cambodians who told me that I could come stay at their crib if I needed to. Thank you, Cambodia! You rock!

A fan who recognized us in Siem Reap.

A fan who recognized us in Siem Reap.


After episode ten, Curtis went back to China to start his new job, which left me by myself to travel and film the rest of these videos alone. It was a sad time for me, so I shaved my beard to commemorate his departure.

Looking like a scrub with my clean-shaven face in Sihanoukville.

So I headed down to Sihanoukville alone, feeling sorry for myself and wishing I hadn’t ever tried ‘ice.’ One of the fans of Monkey Abroad owns a bar on the beach in Sihanoukville, so I met up with him and partied at his bar after filming this episode with some other cool cats. I got my flow back, and I learned that solo traveling doesn’t mean you’re alone.

monkey abroad

Click to watch


When the Sihanoukville video was finished, I caught a night bus to Saigon. I’m just gonna throw this out there: Vietnam is the best country in Southeast Asia for backpackers. Period. It’s fun, it’s cheap, and the food is outstanding. And if you disagree with me, what the PHO are you gonna do about it?

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It was raining the entire time during my stay in Saigon, but I still had a blast. Plus, everywhere I went, girls were asking to take photos with me. You won’t see me complaining about that.

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I also got to meet up with one of the best video bloggers in Vietnam, Kyle Le. We collaborated and made a couple of videos together, which was a blast. We also vented about our experiences with YouTube and found a lot of common ground. I learned that pho in the south is supposedly way better than pho in the north.

Kyle and I having pho in Saigon


Then came Hanoi. The Chien Hostel expressed an interest in working with me on this series, so I stayed there for a bit and filmed the video with the help of the Chien Hostel staff. Hanoi is so incredibly cheap that it didn’t even cost 15 dollars to film this episode. I learned that pho in the south is indeed better than the pho in the north.

hanoi

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As a side job, the owner of Chien Hostel invited me to take a couple of tours with a company that he also owns, Ocean Tours. For the first time ever, I traveled on a sponsored trip. Actually, two sponsored trips. The first was to beautiful Halong Bay, and the second was to the remote mountainous region of Sapa. I learned that working with sponsors is the best way to travel.

Halong Bay cocktail cruise

Kayaking in Halong Bay

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Hmong women hiking down a scenic mountain path in Sapa


After returning to Hanoi on a night bus from Sapa, I barely caught my flight to the Philippines, landing first in Manila then heading straight to Boracay. I hadn’t slept in two days, and in my sleep-deprived state I witnessed the most serene sunset I’d ever seen. I learned that sleep is for suckers.

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Sleep-deprived, but loving life.

That week, despite it raining every day, I filmed the Boracay video. It took about four days to film because the weather just wouldn’t cooperate. And then, once I had finished filming and editing the video, on my last day in Boracay, the weather miraculously cleared up and the water looked amazing. So I strapped up and took the camera out again to reshoot a few more shots, including the introduction shot.

boracay

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If you watch the video closely, you can tell that it was shot on different days because the weather varies throughout. I learned that people are way more likely to click on YouTube video thumbnails if it shows a girl in a bikini.


While I was in Boracay I met some really cool folks, including Paul, a Cebu native. Paul and I kept in touch, and when I flew to Cebu to film that episode, I reached out to him. Little did I know that Paul would become the best guide in the history of this series.

Paul and I having a drink after a full day of shooting video in Cebu.

Paul, AKA the ultimate Cebu guide.

Looking back on every episode of this series, I had the most fun filming with Paul in Cebu. Not only was he a really cool guy who knew a lot about the city, but he has a background in video production, so he understood how to use a camera and what a good shot looks like.

A "jeepney" is a form of public transport very popular with Cebu locals.

A “jeepney” is a form of public transport very popular with Cebu locals.

Where most bloggers only show the beaches near Cebu, I hoped to show the local aspects of Cebu City. I learned that Cebu is way more than just a city of transit for tourists looking to find the nearest beach.

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With Cebu in the books, I caught a cheap flight to Palawan, then enjoyed a five-hour van ride up north to El Nido. Here, I met a tough looking fellow named Dong who told me he’s involved with cock-fighting. Rather than film the beach of El Nido like every other travel blogger in history, I went off the beaten path and showed a side of Filipino culture that I knew would draw the ire of animal lovers, my own mother included.

A prized gamecock ready for battle.

Even though I didn’t bet and I tried to be as impartial as possible, I was still accused of supporting animal cruelty. Here, I learned that some people get angry about anything.

The El Nido crew in full force.

The El Nido crew, beachside.

Aside from the cock fighting and beachside chilling, I also met some cool folks. Shout out to the El Nido crew that made me feel at home here!

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After the El Nido video was done, I contacted my friend and manager at the Mad Monkey Hostel in Boracay. We had met each other a couple weeks prior when he recognized me as Monkey Abroad, and asked if I had any interest in working with them to make a video.

With a week remaining until my flight out of the Philippines, I returned to Boracay to film a couple of promotional videos, including a booze cruise video that tested my ability to stay focused on a task while drunk. I learned that I can film while drunk, but it’s much more difficult.

Mad Monkey Boracay

Booze cruise madness with the Mad Monkey Hostel.

Because I’m an idiot, on my last night in Boracay, I stayed up the whole night until the next morning to catch an early morning flight to Manila en route to Hong Kong. I learned that a full day in-transit while still drunk from the night before must be what the 7th circle of hell is like.

Pulling an all-nighter on the last night in Boracay.

Pulling a KTV all-nighter on my last night in Boracay.


When I arrived in Hong Kong, I met my friend Jackie. She was gracious enough to let me crash at her place for a few days while I recovered from sleep deprivation, then we filmed the Hong Kong episode.

Quick message to the haters: it’s impossible to travel in Hong Kong for 20 dollars a day unless you couch-surf, so quit moaning that I’m a ‘cheater’ for sleeping on her couch.

The Hong Kong crew on Victoria Peak.

The Hong Kong crew on Victoria Peak.

I learned that some folks don’t understand I MAKE THE RULES, AND COUCH-SURFING AIN’T CHEATING.

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With Hong Kong filmed, I hopped on a flight to Delhi, India. Believe me when I say that I was more excited about the street food here than any other city I’d ever visited. During my first few days here, I toured the city and tried every dish that looked appetizing. I couldn’t spend my money quickly enough because everything was so outrageously cheap.

Delhi's largest mosque.

Delhi’s largest mosque.

Celebrating Diwali (India's biggest holiday) in Delhi with the folks at Joey's Hostel.

Celebrating Diwali (India’s biggest holiday) in Delhi with the folks at Joey’s Hostel.

I’d never been in a city that was so inexpensive, so that’s why I decided to make the Delhi episode different. Instead of asking what’s possible with 20 bucks, I asked if it’s even possible to spend 20 dollars eating only street food.

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The challenge: eat 1,000 rupees worth of street food in a single day. I called it the Delhi Belly Challenge, and even though I tried my best, I was barely able to eat 600 rupees worth of food.

delhi belly

Can you eat 1,000 rupees worth of Delhi street food in a single day?

The evening after I filmed the Delhi episode, I felt a storm coming. No, not a storm. A hurricane. A gastrointestinal tornado of epic proportions. I learned that I must have a death wish.

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It was around the time that this storm was crashing that my mom came to visit me. She arrived and we set off to Goa, India’s Spring Break party region. I feel bad that my mom was visiting during a time when I couldn’t venture far from the toilet, but we still had a great time. We hadn’t seen each other in fifteen months, so even in my state, I was elated.

My mom came to India to see me!!!

My mom came to India to see me!

We toured Old Goa together, went to the beach, and caught up on stories. I began filming some shots for a Goa episode, including some with my mom. Then my mom left, and I was back on my own. I checked in to my new hostel, the Funky Monkey, and made some new friends there.

My mom and I touring a spice plantation in Goa, India.

My mom and I touring a spice plantation in Goa, India.

Then India was struck with a currency crisis. Oh my god, what a nightmare that was. It basically put everyone in the country in the most terrible position possible, and none of the cash I had could be spent. It was like all my money suddenly turned into useless paper.

It was around the time that this crisis was sinking in that something happened. I lost my motivation to film. All I wanted to do was relax, put the camera away, and take in each moment like every other backpacker. So that’s exactly what I did. It was in Goa, India that I decided that season one of Traveling for 20 Dollars a Day is done.

A mutant banana.

A mutant banana.


The Real Challenge of 20 Dollar Traveling

The real challenge is creating content that inspires you. One thing is for sure: I’m not the smartest or most informative blogger out there. My only hope is that you view these videos and feel that you, too, can travel anywhere safely and cheaply, all while having an unforgettable experience that will hopefully shape your character and help you to see how amazing life really is. Even on a shoestring budget.

I don’t actually live on just 20 dollars a day. Factoring in all costs of travel, I was honestly going through about $2,000 USD/month for the last five months. I could have done it for much less, but I also wanted to have fun with the money I’d earned these last few years.

As I’ve said before, the reason for this series isn’t to realistically showcase my life of traveling. Its purpose (hopefully) is to encourage and inspire you to get out and travel the worldIf you feel inspired to get out and have your own 20-dollar adventure, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

Doi Suthep mountaintop temple in Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep mountaintop temple in Chiang Mai


Hostels I want to thank:

The full list of hostels and guesthouses where I stayed is much longer, but these places are the ones that left me with the fondest memories. Book any of these places if you’re in the neighborhood; they’ve got my official Monkey Seal of Approval:

Shanghai, China – City Central Youth Hostel

Beijing, China – Feel Inn Hostel

Chiang Mai, Thailand – ThailandWOW 2 Hostel

Koh Lanta, Thailand – Paulee’s House

Sihanoukville, Cambodia – Mick & Craig’s Guesthouse

Saigon, Vietnam – Hangout Hostel

Hanoi, Vietnam – Chien Hostel

Boracay, Philippines – Second Wind Hostel (perfect chill out spot), Mad Monkey Hostel (perfect party spot)

Cebu, Philippines – Tr3ats Guesthouse

El Nido, Palawan – Amos Hostel

Delhi, India – Joey’s Hostel


So what’s next?

I’m back in Hong Kong at the moment sorting out my visa to come back to China. Shanghai feels like home after living there for two years, and I’m stoked to see all my friends and former colleagues. I’ll be filming videos in China, but will likely hold off on the 20 dollar traveling for a while, at least until I save some more money.

This isn’t the end of Traveling for 20 Dollars a Day, it’s just the end of season one. Asia has been showcased this time around, but what about South America, Europe, or Africa? Who knows how many episodes of this series might exist by the year 2020?

Thanks for following me on this adventure. If you’re one of the few folks who actually read this entire blog post, then props to you. Seriously. There’s no way I’d have the patience to read this whole thing myself.

Until next time, monkeys!

traveling for 20 dollars a day

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!

35 Comments

  1. Thanks sooooo much for your hard work and amazing videos. I have enjoyed watching you and will look forward to more of your videos. New theme maybe? New start?

    Vote Monkey for president…or do they already have one!!

    • Thanks for your continued support, Stevie. You’ve really helped me to stay motivated throughout with your encouragement. I’ve got some ideas for what’s next, but only time will tell. New videos from China coming soon! Cheers

  2. Good job, Kevin! You made interesting videos without an advance crew, a technical crew, and an editing bay. Kudos!

  3. Thank you so so much, Kevin. I’ve never missed an episode and would watch immidietly when there were now ones. YES, I read the entire thing and I enjoyed it tons. I am fully inspired and I can’t honestly wait for season 2.
    Until then, good luck with everything.

    From your P.P fan, Neang

  4. How could I not read every word after having watched every video! Unfortunately, I started watching your series after a trip to Thailand in March. However, I’m off to the Phillipines next week for 2 weeks and feel more prepared after watching your Phillipine series… hope you don’t mind when I drop your name at some of the places “my good friend Kevin recommended I come here”.

    Thanks for all your hard work, love your passion and genuineness… it’s what sets you apart from most of the bloggers.

  5. Kevin. Thanks for taking the time to write out the commentary! It expands the scope of what can be understood from your videos And your listing ALL of the many people and places that have helped in this endeavor…well, it just says a lot about you as a person!!

  6. We’ll miss you and look forward to your newest adventures!

  7. We enjoyed all your videos!! Since we are not travellers it gave us a chance to experience places that we would never go! Our favourite episodes were the snake and rat BBQ as well as the cockfight and the craziness of all the different food you tried. Your last episode, Delhi Belly, really cracked us up! Well done Kevin! Thanks for being brave and creative at the same time. All the best in your new adventures!

  8. Hey great read Beeg! Plus mommy was featured so ya know. Can’t wait to see what the future holds!!

  9. Amazing! I love almost all of your videos! I live in china now, I find your videos about china are quite interesting, haha! I even never experience my own country like that…maybe it’s the time for me to go to some places and try something new. Kevin,Thank you for such cool and excellent traveling episodes! 请继续加油!!

  10. Wonderful series and wished i knew about them last year as myself, wife and 10 year old son took 8 months to travel through Asia and could have benefited from your insights. great attitude and appreciate your openness to what every day might bring

  11. Good work out there meatwad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Enjoyed it bud

  12. Great Job Kevin…. enjoy every video and all the humor. Have a nice rest and see you when you are out and about….you will always have a place to visit in Northern California.

  13. Oh man, this makes me sad that India made you lose your motivation to lose filming. Man, I was eagerly waiting for the goa episode but days and weeks passed….. anyway you have done an amazing job bro, respect from India!

  14. I google this blog when i didn’t see you update in youtube. It is an awesome journey with you. My girlfriend would always request your video when we wanted to see travels, and we enjoyed your fren and your humorous way of putting things into perspective. THANK YOU SO MUCH. we know you will be back, have a great break!

  15. Please include Malaysia next time!

  16. Lol I read the whole thing^ _ ^ nice video! Such inspiring traveling alone is one of my dreams.

  17. Very good job. Good idea, good video montage, good musics, and so funny movies.
    I was waiting for next episode, now i know why he wasn’t comming.

    I did know “Traveling for 20$ a day” with Bangkok episode, that still be my favorite.

    Happy to read that you speak about a Season 2 .

    Thanks for this amazing serie, to you and to all people that helped you.

  18. I really like all the episodes that you have filmed, south america on 20 dollar a day would be awesome to see, but any other place would be interesting aswell.
    Take care.

  19. I just want to say, I am totally and utterly inspired. I want to do what you do and I am so glad that you went on this adventure. I have been in a rutt for the last two years, uninspired with life, bitterly disappointed by my job and so called friends. Not living my life fully. Trust me my story takes some dark turns and I can honestly say that I have been on the verge of giving up…on everything. After watching your journey and your enthusiasm for life, your humour and smiles all around I feel I want to push through. In case this may sound cheesy and cringey on your blog, I wont bore you with the rest of my story, but just know this, you have literally been a life saver. Thank you and I look forward to watching more. Now excuse me as I fae back into the back ground! 🙂 Thank you!!!!!!

    • Trey, I’m moved that you came here to share a little bit of your story with me. It really makes me happy to know that you felt inspired by these videos, and I want you to know that I’ll keep producing content if you keep watching it! Attitude is everything in life, man. Keep your head up; good things will come.

      -Kevin

  20. Great videos.. Look forward to seeing more!!

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