The Cost of Long-term Travel

Budgets and Spending for Five Months of Travel

on the island of Boracay in the Phillipines

(Note: I know I have been neglecting the blog lately. Although I was hoping to write more about our experiences, since there is still so much we never shared, I think Tim and I’s life has officially moved back to boring/conventional mode. Therefore, all thoughts of beaches and exotic curries have been replaced with excel files and how to find a decent apartment to rent in Boston. We hope you’ve enjoyed the posts!)

People always want to know how much money we needed to save to quit our jobs and travel the world. It was the question we got from everyone before we left, so Tim and I decided to keep track of everything we spent. (okay I did, and I bugged Tim about everything he spent money on that day during dinner.)

scribbles to convert between Kip, Dong, and Dollars

Quitting our jobs was a far from reckless whim. We saved for years before we went and I kept spreadsheets. I researched each country and gave us daily budgets based on other backpackers’ experiences. The daily spending was only a fraction of the cost though. We had to budget for travel, pre-departure expenses, other home expenses (b/c some bills just don’t go away), emergency funds, and we needed money for when we came home unemployed.

Now, I’m opening up my budget notebook. I want everyone to know just how cheap you can travel in Asia. How much money did we need to travel for 5 months and spend 6 weeks unemployed in the States?
Roughly $32,000 (or $16000 each)

Is that a lot of money to pay for six months of unforgettable experiences? I personally don’t think so. In fact, we know we would have spent far more than that living in Boston. More importantly though, we could have done it cheaper. We could have chosen not to fly so much. We could have skipped the more expensive countries. We weren’t trying to see just how little we could live on, but we were trying to stretch our budget where we could. Here is the breakdown.

Daily Spending
Daily spending included: accommodation, local transport within a destination, all food and drinking, activities/entrance fees, necessary purchases for the trip (ie toothpaste, sunscreen, a new bathingsuit), internet fees, etc

Total Spent: $13,080
Average Daily spend: $90.21
Average Daily Spend in just southeast Asia (excludes NZ, AU, and Hawaii): $72.66

Cheapest Destination: Hanoi
Average spent over 5 days: $54.10 or ($27US each)

Most Expensive Destination:Perth, Australia
Average Spent over 5 days: $242 (with a 1:1 exchange and a beer costing $10AU we didn’t have much hope. We even cooked in the hostel a lot of the time during our stay)

Transport and other major Costs
Flights are the major expense in this category, but we traveled by all different means. We also sometimes included other “special expenses” in this category such as booked tours.
Total Spent $11,048

In case you’re interested, here’s a breakdown for our travel.
18 Flights
9 buses
5 Minivans
5 private cars
10 boat/ferries
1 train

This of course only lists the main travel method between places. Once we arrived at the airports we had to navigate subways, negotiate with Tuk-Tuks and Songthaews, and say a few prayers before jumping on the back of a motorbike even. Either way, getting from point A to point B was always an interesting affair.

If we really wanted to save money we would have spent more time overlanding through Southeast Asia. All of our flying besides one flight was during either the first six weeks or our trip and the final three weeks. While in Malaysia/Thailand/Laos/Vietnam/Cambodia we crossed the borders on tiny crowded boats.

Other Expenses:
Trip Insurance: $510 (Global Nomads)
Bills/expenses to be covered: $2,300
Exchange fees: $300 (at least!)
Gifts/Souvenirs: $530
Donations: $230
Visas: $375
6 weeks at home unemployed: roughly $4000 (high gas prices not helpful during our many trips to Boston)

Recommendations for other backpackers
After our experience, some guidance on what reasonable budgets would look like:

Thailand and Laos: $40 to $45 a day per person. We averaged less but it was only because we went out of our way to be very budget conscious. Laos may be a poor country but they hardly make anything themselves and instead import from Thailand or Vietnam, making most food and store items more expensive. Thailand is flooded with European tourists and have steadily increased prices in most popular beach destinations.

Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali and the Philippines:

It's really easy to be a multi-millionaire in Vietnam

$30 to $35 per person. Vietnam was going through hyper-inflation while we were there, meaning that it was pretty easy to get things for next to nothing as long as you negotiated in Dong and not US dollars. Both countries offer plenty of cheep accommodation and 50 cent beers. Cambodia will charge higher entrance fees for attractions than Vietnam though. In the Philippines each island seems to vary in terms of price, but even on the most expensive ones (we were on Boracay) you can get but on around $40 a day. If you plan to stay in Manila though, don’t show up without pre-booking, for a large, poor city there is hardly any clean, budget accommodation.

Malaysia and the Cook Islands: $50 per person. Malaysia can’t figure out if its a first world or third world country. This means food could cost $2 or $20 depending on what restaurant you choose. In Borneo they charge outrageous prices for most entrance fees or tours. Cook Islands uses the NZ dollar but you can find budget places and buy fresh fish to cook with friends and get by without spending too much on other expenses (unless you enjoy diving).

Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii: $80 to $120 per person. In these places you can get a dorm bed for $25 to $30 or a private double for $50 to 60. The two X factors are – what are planning on seeing in these places? and How much time will you spend in bars. If you’re excited to climb a glacier in New Zealand, or taking surfing lessons in Oz – you’ll blow your budget. Similarly, the second you see the inside of a bar in any of these places you probably won’t walk out until you’re $50 poorer.

The biggest lesson we learned was always set your budget higher than your estimation. Assume everyplace will have increased their prices by at least 5% more than what is written down in your notes or your guidebook (And then attempt to negotiate it back then).

Intrinsic Cost and Value
Money was hardly the biggest obstacle in planning this trip. The costs that seemed to be the greatest were the risks we opened ourselves up to in leaving our jobs to travel. I’m happy to report that it was worth it though. It was worth the money. It was worth the stress. Blog posts can only say so much, but taking the time to see the world together was the greatest decision we ever made. We learned that our lives in America are almost too good sometimes, we learned to be informed but not try to control the situation (because you don’t control a trip – you just let it happen), and we learned that there is no greater feeling in life than sharing great moments with people you love.

We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again – to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.
– Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel”


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jean Wethmar
    Jun 20, 2011 @ 23:55:59

    Well done, what an amazing trip you had.. sure this has enriched your lives TOTALLY?. my blog is – website is – I am a French Colonial romantic.. I’d love to be in touch.. Ps.. I’m an ex South African now living in Au Brisbane.. – happy settling back ‘home’..


  2. Lize-Mare'
    Mar 21, 2012 @ 13:54:48

    Western Australia is awesome but beer is so expensive in pubs GET jugs instead! Ive been living here for 3 years! got stuck on route to the rest of the world due to it being AWESOME
    Love your blog


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