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MY TRAVEL BUDGET. This is everything I spent during the first months on the road. PLUS: Some tricks to help you save money

Story published on

 July 7, 2019

This is not a tutorial on how to squeeze a few extra cents from a lady selling giant coconuts on the side of the railway tracks in Sri Lanka. Nor is it about how to bargain your way through the fake markets in China. Instead, what you will find below is the answer to one basic question that many of you (many of us, actually) are asking: how much does it cost to travel the world? Is it doable without winning the lottery or reenacting the plot of Casa de Papel? What I will show you is MY travel budget. For you, it’s A travel budget, which means that my travel style and yours might not translate into the same amount of money. That being said, I have a very detailed spreadsheet of every single thing I spent money on during my three months in Asia and can thus give you both an overview and a breakdown of my costs, in case that helps you in your future plans to see the world.

Disclaimer: I’m not going to dwell into the common sense aspects of the answer to this question, namely that the costs vary on your style of travel, on your destinations, on the amount of time you can invest in your research etc. You know all this.

Travel budget of €50/day: Portrait of a nomadic life

TOTAL €/pers./78 days

Here’s my grand total: €3.893. That’s less than €50 per day, which means I managed to hit (albeit in euros and not dollars), that much quoted benchmark of $50/day/person for a budget traveller who wants to see the world. I should note here that Asia is the cheapest continent for long-term travel. It cost me €3.893 to travel for close to three months – 78 days, to be precise – and see Sri Lanka, Cambodia, The Philippines, Singapore, Japan and China. 

This figure includes absolutely everything: flights, acommodation, travel insurance, transportation within countries, food, shopping, trips, entrance fees and other activities. We even kept track of every coconut or banana bread bought from the locals.

€/pers. TRANSPORTATION

€/pers. ACCOMMODATION

€/pers. FOOD

€/pers. ACTIVITIES

The figure is based on the expenses of travelling as a couple, which does tend to save up some money, especially on housing.

We were very cost-conscious and tried to optimize everything, but, with a couple of nights as an exception, we stayed in good to great places, did all sorts of interesting things and always ate an average of 2 meals per day.

Also, we rarely ate in touristy restaurants and we lived in homestays and not hotels for a big chunk of our time on the road. Becaus we weren’t pressed for time, we travelled as the locals did. Also, we refrained from shopping for souvenirs and presents until the very end of our months in Asia.

This is, in a nutshell, the kind of lifestyle that you can get on the road in Asia, for an average of €50/person/day, all included. Simple, but comfortable. As it should be.

 

How far you can get with €3.893. Zoom in & out on the map below to see where I’ve been: 

What everything cost

€/pers. - Flights and Japan Train

Transportation (flights, trains, busses, tuk-tuks, taxis, subways, boats, ferries and such) made up half of all the expenses, followed by the about 20% of the costs for accommodation. The rest was almost equally spent on food and activities such as day trips and entrance fees to different places. Mind you, the €1.749 for transportation include lots of flights and the very expensive Japan Rail Pass (€236 for 7 days).

Mix and match is key to the travel budget

€/pers. - Visas & travel insurance

You can only do such long-tem, budget-oriented travel if you combine cheaper and more expensive countries. On a country-by-country basis, Japan was the most expensive place I’ve travelled to in Asia – yes, more expensive than even Singapore. It was, though, the best spent money of my life.  On the opposite end of the daily expenses for this part of my mini-retirement, The Philippines and Sri Lanka were the cheapest. 

 

€/pers/day in Sri Lanka

*without the flights

€/pers/day in Cambodia

*without the flights

€/pers/day in Singapore

*without the flights

€/pers/day in The Philippines

*without the flights

€/pers/day in Japan

*without the flights

€/pers/day in China

*without the flights

Something about the numbers above. You will perhaps notice that Cambodia is not as inexpensive as you might have imagined, but there’s a nuance in our numbers. We spent less than a week there (we were there only to see Angkor and to understand the genocide under the Khmer Rouge). Since a one-day Angkor Pass is $37/pers., that immediately drove up the daily costs. As a rule of thumb, the longer you stay in one place, the lower your daily expenses. Had we stayed more in Cambodia, I think the daily average would have been lower than or closer to €30/person.

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A brief inventory: What I got for my money

COSTS RECAP
  • TOTAL: € 3.892/pers.
  • TRANSPORTATION total: € 1.749/pers.
  • FLIGHTS:  €1.168 – 8 flights each, 1 checked bag for 2 ppl.
  • JAPAN RAIL PASS for 7 days: €236/pers.
  • ACCOMMODATION: €850/pers. for 78 days
  • FOOD: €698/pers.
  • ACTIVITIES: 595/pers.

MOST EXPENSIVE

The two most expensive single items:

  • the plane ticket from China to Bucharest: €335/pers.
  • the 7-day train pass in Japan: approx. €236/pers.
VAGABONDING

If you’re interested in the hip literature about how to travel the world, here are three books I’ve read that are considered a beginner’s Bible:

  • “How to Travel the World on $50 a Day”, by Matthew Kepnes (whom the Internet knows as Nomadic Matt)
  • “Vagabonding. An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term Travel”, by Rolf Potts
  • “The 4-Hour Workweek”, by Tim Ferriss

 

We’re an experience-seeking generation, so let me put all these numbers in a different context: for less than €4.000, I got to:

  • discover 6 new countries 
  • see two of the greatest wonders of the new world: the lost city of Angkor and the Great Wall of China
  • hike amazing mountains and tea plantations in Sri Lanka
  • watch the greatest sunrise (Pidurangula Rock in Sri Lanka) and best sunsets (Siquijor Island, The Philippines) of my life
  • have the best yoga of my life (at a retreat deep in the mountains of Sri Lanka, with Buddhist chants reaching us from the valley during our sessions)
  • drink the best coffee of my life, right on a coffee plantation, atop a Filipino island
  • see Japan during the cherry-blossom season
  • see Japan in general
  • walk through a bamboo forest (again, Japan)
  • swim with huge turtles in the Philippines
  • see tens of elephants in the wild 
  • live on picture-perfect paradise beaches
  • marvel at the amazing experiment that is Singapore

But, above everything, I got to:

  • meet so many inspiring, interesting people
  • understand the history and consequences of some of the most important tragedies over the past century (the Sri Lankan war, the Cambodian genocide, Mao’s Great Famine, the Naning Rape, the atomic bomb at Hiroshima)
  • get out of my comfort zone and have a totally different lifestyle
  • rediscover a big chunck of the world

That doesn’t seem like such a bad bargain, does it?

Some tricks for your travel budget. And get a €2 Transatlantic plane ticket

When it comes to keeping costs low while wandering the world, the thing that helps the most is being flexible and having the time to invest in research. Think about it: you usually have a pretty rigid window of time when you plan you holidays. When that goes away and you have the luxury of browsing though airfares over the span of weeks and do some mix and matching, things get way cheaper. 

You don’t need a checked bag per person. That gets things much more expensive, since most carriers tend to charge for the air you breath now.

ALWAYS try to use the multicity option in search engines – be it on platforms such as Skyscanner or Momondo or on airlines’ websites. That’s how we basically bought two tickets from Rio de Janeiro to Bucharest for €2/pers.! But that’s a story for another day 🙂 

If you stay more than two nights in one place, book the first night off a booking website and then, once you get there, either go to other listings you’ve already seen on the Internet or just go door-to-door and ask to see their rooms. Not only did we find better places to stay in this way, but we also got great discounts! The rule here is that you’ll always negotiate better when you’re there.

Travel with local trains and busses as much as possible. I know, getting your own driver to take you around is comfortable, but it will get expensive and, to be honest, you’ll miss out on a lot of cultural interaction. 

Finally, as sick as you get from the sight of rice, try to eat local food whenever possible.

 

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