Eating, Praying, Loving, SPENDING: The Breakdown of Budget Travel

Traveling is like Fashion: You can spend a lot of money and wear trendy designers, expensive fabrics and red-soled shoes; or you can shop at Zara and wear almost the exact same styles without going broke.

You can travel the world, do cool stuff and eat superb local cuisine at every price. You may not sleep in high thread count sheets—you may not have sheets at all—but, you can afford a lot more than you think. Budget tip #1: Sacrifice. On the road, this can mean everything from 12 person hostel dorms, cold water showers and 24 hour train rides. If long-term travel is your dream, these are discomforts, not deterrents.

But let’s start at the beginning with your plane ticket, often the most costly of travel expenses. First, pick the continent where you want to travel. Second, narrow your destination to a big city. Budget tip #2: The least expensive tickets are for flights on commonly traveled routes (i.e. London » Mumbai, NYC » Hong Kong). You CAN fly from JFK to Asia for less than $400, (I have!) just play around with dates and destinations.

Getting there is the priciest part. Once you land in a developing city, let’s use Bangkok as an example, you have tons of inexpensive options for getting around. Koh Phagnan’s infamous full moon party is a 12 hour train + 3 hour ferry south (total cost = approximately $27). Up north, via 10 hour bus, is an elephant rehabilitation volunteer center in Chiang Mai (total cost of travel = approximately $14). Budget tip #3: Travel only by train/bus/boat/rickshaw—you’ll see more and spend less. 

You can also take a 17 hour bus ride to Laos, where I arrived twelve days ago. Cost of the bus? $18.  Budget tip #4: When booking long journeys, always opt for an overnight time slot to save on the cost of accommodation.

I’ve been in Laos for the last two weeks and thought it might be helpful (or at the very least voyeuristically interesting) to breakdown my daily budget*:

*Note: I am currently traveling with my boyfriend (only on and off for the last six weeks) which is helpful. Budget tip #5: Travel with someone else, even (especially) someone you meet along the way, to split meal, taxi and accommodation costs.

A Day in My Life, Luang Prabang, Laos

Accommodation: A guesthouse room with a comfy queen size bed and a strong hot shower = 100,000 kip ($6 per person)/night

Breakfast: Fruit salad, scrambled eggs, bacon, baguette & butter, tea = 26,000 kip ($3.25)

Morning activity: Teach a 2 hour English class to kids and adults at the local library = Free

Lunch:  Fried noodles with vegetables at the local market = 15,000 kip ($1.86)

Afternoon: Some sort of active fun i.e. hiking local Mount Phousi to explore the mountaintop temples (and a random Russian antiaircraft gun); bike-riding to check out the village outskirts. Bike rental = 15,000 kip ($1.86)

Early Evening: Tutoring session at Big Brother Mouse, a local volunteer program = Free

Dinner: My favorite roadside grill has a small fire pit built in to every table; they serve up a platter of raw chicken, beef, pork, tofu and veggies with a metal pot for Korean style barbecuing = 50,000 kip for two ($3.13 a person)

Some days I spend less for breakfast and more at dinner or vice versa, but for the most part—after averaging in a few bottles of water or fresh coconuts (about 30 cents each) and the occasional M&Ms or beer—I spend about $20 every single day/$600 a month for basic living.

It’s important to also factor in unforeseen costs like visa fees, transportation, buying the occasional clothing item. Plus there’s the money involved with activities—elephant treks, scuba diving and entry fees for monuments. There’s also indulgences like massages ($4 for one hour here in Laos). Prices are usually reasonable and this brings up Budget tip #6: If you spend as little as possible on food, accommodations and transport, then it’s easy to find room in your budget for splurges here and there.

So let’s just add $50 in for miscellaneous costs—or even $100, yes? That still brings the total to an average of just $700 a month for everything.

Now, I knoww this isn’t going to say a lot about me or my old lifestyle, but there were times I spent $20 on a Chop’t salad for lunch. Granted, I’m the person who adds expensive extras like avocado, artichokes and hearts of palm, but STILL. My apartment alone cost me another $60 a day, and there were days on end when I barely slept in it. Add breakfast, dinner, yoga classes and the occasional Starbucks iced chai tea latte and we’re at well over $100 for one day.

I cut out a lot of frivolous expenses when I was saving up for my trip. If you know what a week’s worth of $3 lattes can actually buy in Laos, it makes it easier to do without. And while it may take some time to save enough money (it took me over a year!), the first step in making it a reality is knowing that “traveling the world” only sounds prohibitively expensive.

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