After “What was your favorite place?”, the next most popular question we get asked is “How much did it cost to travel for so long?” We’re happy to satisfy curious minds out there and show that it is indeed possible to comfortably travel long-term and spend less than you think. Here we put together all the costs of our year-long endeavour.
The official number? We spent a total of $33,870.43 (for both of us) over the course of our 386-day trip in Asia. This averages to $43.90 per day per person – our original budget was $50 per day per person. So we were under budget!
To begin discussing our results, I would like to clarify that we made ZERO money with our blog (if anything it cost us to keep it up and running) or from working on the road. We also didn’t use the blog to get any discounts or sponsorships, which is very common with bloggers out there. We did use some frequent flyer miles – 49,000 in total, which is a realistic amount that a normal person could easily get (some credit card companies award you more than that upon sign up). The entire trip was funded by our savings over the last year.
We broke the costs down into general and in-country expenses.
General expenses totalled $7,409.21 and most of it was spent before we even left home – we acquired all the gear we needed before-hand, we got insured from day one and almost 25% of the airfare costs were from our flight into Asia (even using miles to get one of the tickets). It was quite scary to see that we had spent so much before even leaving the comfort of our homes… However, we knew that these costs would be spread out throughout the entire trip, and in the end, everything worked out well.
- Airfare – We spent a total of $4,225.49 for 28 flight legs – including our long haul flights in and out of Asia, as well as several within Asia. We did use 49,000 miles, which helped to reduce the total costs a bit.
- Insurance – Followed by airfare, the next big expense was insurance. We used WorldNomads to insure us during our trip, a very popular choice amongst long-term travelers. We can’t personally tell if this insurance company is good or not, because thankfully we didn’t have to file a single claim! Even though you might not use insurance during the trip, do yourself a favor and get one before you start your travels, you never know what will happen.
- Gear – We included all the equipment we bought specifically for this trip such as our backpacks, hiking shoes, waterproof jackets and pants, etc. General gear that was bought along the way ($237.04) was also included here.
- Postage – The postage category includes all the expenses we incurred when shipping boxes of things we accumulated during the trip back home.
We spent a total of $26,461.22 in in-country expenses, an average of $34.37 per day per person in accommodation, food, transportation, entertainment and miscellaneous expenses.
- Accommodation – For accommodation, since we are a couple and wanted some more privacy, we exclusively opted for private double rooms with ensuite bathrooms in mid-range guesthouses, hotels or B&Bs. The costs in this category could have been much lower, had we decided to stay in cheaper hotels or take dorm beds in hostels. Another important note is that we paid for every single night throughout the trip (except for a few days in the Philippines), meaning we did not couchsurf or stay for free anywhere else.
- Food & Drinks – Food in Asia was cheap! We spent an average of $9.07 a day per person on food and drinks, eating pretty much every meal in restaurants or street stalls. This is quite a high average for Asia, but we both eat a lot more than your average person – ask anybody who knows us! We often saw ourselves eating 2-3 times the portions locals had.
- Entertainment – This category includes all sorts of entrance fees, sightseeing and tours we took, as well as partying and alcohol expenses! We almost always did things ourselves, instead of joining highly priced tours. We also often bought alcohol in local markets instead of overpaying at bars.
- Transportation – Buses, vans, trains, ferries, songthaews, tuk-tuks, tricycles, taxis, you name it. Over the course of our 62,000+ km journey in Asia, we rode them all. Countless times! Private transportation was also the most stressful part of the trip – trying to overcome all the dishonest drivers that tried to overcharge us all the time was no easy task! Fighting for every dollar paid off – had we overpaid each ride by only $1, we would have spent a total of $418 more in transportation!
- Miscellaneous – From courses we took, to visas to toiletries and gifts, this category includes everything else that wasn’t listed before. Here are the subcategories:
Daily average by country
Finally, here is the daily average in each country we visited. Please note that the values indicated here differ from our individual country budget summaries, as we only included in-country expenses here (we had included airfare costs in our previous budget summaries).
- Macau was the “most expensive” country we visited. The lack of cheap accommodation options left us no choice but to stay at a $100 a night hotel. Since we were there for only 1 full day, this expense alone put Macau on the top of the list.
- Thailand’s average was relatively high. The average would be much lower if we disconsider the diving and massage courses ($4.79 daily average per person), putting it at $30.73 / day, right after Malaysia.
- Singapore’s average is also skewed, considering we spent the nights in Malaysia and made daily trips into the country. Accommodation in Singapore is expensive!
- Even though we bought all the trekking gear to trek the Annapurna Circuit (selling all of it in the end), Nepal was still the cheapest country to travel in!
It might sound like quite a lot of money, but we want to put things into perspective. We spent less money this year traveling than last year living in New York! Not only did we spend less travelling, we did so much more than we did in our regular lives…
If you had told me that for less than $18,000 per person, I would go on a journey sailing Ha Long Bay, exploring the ancient temples of Angkor, training elephants in Laos, learning scuba diving and Thai massage in Thailand, trekking the Himalayas, spending the night in the Thar desert and seeing blue flames in the crater of an active volcano in Indonesia, I would have signed up without even blinking.
During this trip we exceeded everything except our budget!
BONUS – General Money Saving Tips for Asia
- Avoid booking hotels or hostels online. In most Asian countries (exceptions are Malaysia and Indonesia), walk in rates were lower and you could negotiate the prices down even further, saving up 30% – 50% of the prices listed online, with the advantage of seeing the room you are getting.
- Eat local street food. It’s not only cheaper, but more authentic and better than the Western food served at restaurants catered to tourists. You also get to see what’s happening to the food versus wondering what they are doing behind the curtains in a restaurant.
- Use public transportation and budget airlines. Public buses, trains, etc. are usually the cheapest way to get from point A to B – use them as much as you can! When distance is too long to be covered overland, budget airlines are your best friend. AirAsia is huge in Asia and offers airfares that are a steal. Be flexible with your dates and enjoy the savings!
- Avoid tours and do it yourself as much as you can. Avoid booking tours online, as they are total ripoffs and can be often be easily booked onsite for 50% less! In Asia, paying more doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting more; it just means you were scammed! Websites like wikitravel.org or even Lonely Planet guides offer a great deal of information on this, as well as scam alerts. In some cases though, tours are the only way of going somewhere or are even a better deal – do your homework!
- Avoid ATM fees. Getting money abroad is as simple as it is back home. Most VISA or MasterCard debit cards will work on ATMs abroad (check for the plus sign on the back of your card), and they generally give you the best exchange rates! Some countries or even banks impose an ATM fee for out of the network or foreign withdrawals. To avoid those, we used the High Yield Investor Checking Account with Charles Schwab bank, which saved us a total of $332.51 in ATM fees.