Before we left on our trip to Southeast Asia, we became slightly obsessed on deciding exactly what we should budget for the trip. We read many blogs and quizzed our friends who had done similar trips. We could not afford to travel extravagantly, but are also too old and too soft to travel like true back packers; there certainly would be no hostels or shared rooms for us.
What we decided on was a budget of $100.00 (Canadian) a day. Which converted at today’s exchange rates is $80.00 (US) or 68.00 (Euro). That is for everything; flights, meals, hotels, tours, taxis, toiletries, everything for 2 people. So of course the big question is, did we stick to the budget? The answer unfortunately is no.
We knew the budget seemed ambitious, but it was a nice round number and seemed like it would be possible for us to do as long as we were mindful. We had also heard of other people using a similar number. I am not sure what they did on their trips, but they did something very different than us. Our budget it turns out, was not realistic in anyway and showed just how naive we were when we started this adventure.
Our total budget for 117 days on the road was $11,700.00 (Canadian). The reality was that we actually spent $21,739.24 ($17189.00 US) or (14,631 Euro) an increase of 85% over our original budget. All in it adds up to $185.81 ($147 US) or (125 Euro) for each day on the road. Now to be completely transparent we did not exactly skimp on our trip. After years of working and only taking short vacations we really wanted to have some fun and do things that we always dreamed of doing. So we did. We learned to scuba dive, we trekked into one of the worlds largest caves, we cruised down the Mekong river and most importantly, ate whatever we wanted. So all in all, we had a pretty good time. We also had planned to travel for a least a year, probably two, so this trip accounted for only a portion of our total budget that we have for our extended trip.
Below is how it breaks out by category.
Flights. This includes the flight to and from Bangkok (with a stop in Japan) from Toronto as well as all internal flights between countries once we were in Asia. It also includes the rather expensive flights we took between Bangkok and the Philippines which was just under $1100 for the two of us.
Total cost $4012.91
Hotels and accommodation. We stayed in a mixture of hotels, guest houses, Airbnb and camping. We never stayed in hostels or dorms. When we could we would book free nights once we accumulated enough points from sites like hotels.com or booking.com. Our cheapest room as a result was free and our most expensive was $359.75 in Japan when we stayed in an Onsen town for one night (to be fair, this did include dinner). Most were well below $50.00 an night; with the cheapest room we actually paid for being in $18.00 a night for a hut in Khanom Thailand.
Total cost $4986.41
Entertainment. This includes anything we did for fun. From renting beach chairs or going to the movies; to learning to scuba dive in Thailand, trekking in Vietnam and learning to weave in Laos; along with seeing countless temples and museums.
Total cost $3605.26
Meals. This includes anything we ate or drank (not including alcohol which I broke out separately below) in our 4 months; from a bottle of water at 7/11 to the Japanese steak house we visited in Kyoto. Mainly though we tried to eat where the locals do. We had countless Banh-mi sandwiches and Thai curries and washed them down with gallons of fruit shakes.
Total cost $3336.06
Transportation. This is any form of transportation that we took that did not involve flights or taxis (which I have broken out separately). It includes; buses, ferry’s, trains, speedboats, mini-vans and scooter rentals. This is how we traveled overland and longer distances.
Total cost $2094.26
Booze. We are not big drinkers so this number is a little shocking in how big it is; we did have a couple of rather rowdy evenings in Bangkok and Manila, but those I really don’t remember much of…..
Total cost $735.69
Shots and medication. At the time we were planning this trip we were partially covered by my employer to get our travel shots. We got them all, so now we are immune to everything apparently.
Total cost $700.00
Cruises. This was definitely a splurge. We took two cruises; the first down the Mekong River from the Thai border to Luang Prabang in Laos. The second was a 24 hour cruise on a rather nice boat in Halong Bay Vietnam.
Total cost $674.49
Taxi and public transportation. We mainly used taxis, tuk-tuks and Uber to get around when we didn’t walk or ride a bike. We also used public transportation when we could, mainly in Bangkok and Tokyo/Kyoto.
Total cost $524.78
Emergency purchases. This is inevitable but oddly something we didn’t anticipate. We needed to buy an electric shaver in Thailand to replace the one that melted, a pair of sunglasses to replace the ones we lost and a long sleeve shirt to that I could wear snorkeling so I would not burn my back again like I did in Ko Lipe. Let me give you a piece of advice if you don’t know this already; do not snorkel without a shirt unless you have a fetish for the pain that comes with a severe sunburn.
Total cost $358.00
Visas. This will change depending which country you are from and where you end up getting your visa (some consulates are more expensive than others we discovered). We needed visas for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam and got them all as we went rather than buying them in advance.
Total cost $319.49
The little things. This includes everything from buying sunscreen (we ran out several times) to postage for a post card back home. It all adds up.
Total cost $304.97
Phone. It turns out that phone plans are really cheap in Southeast Asia. We got SIM cards and plans for 2 phones (make sure your phone is unlocked) in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines to keep in contact and use google for a fraction of what it costs in Canada.
Total cost $86.92
Here is how it breaks down by country:
Thailand. We used Bangkok as our hub; spending 3 separate occasions in the city. In total we spent 33 days in Thailand and spent $5438.00 or $164.79 a day. We took several flights in the country, the first to Koh Samui so we could take a ferry to Koh Tao and the second to Chiang Mai from Krabi. We also learned to scuba dive, which along with the masks we bought cost us just over $1000. On average we spent $36.81 a day on hotels and $26.08 a day on food.
Laos. This was where we spent the least, not because it is the cheapest (Vietnam is actually cheaper) but because we didn’t do too many expensive activities; spending $194.00 taking a weaving and dyeing course. In total we spent $1754.12 over the course of 13 days or $134.93 a day. On average we spent $31.61 a day on hotels and $23.95 a day on food.
Vietnam. There is a lot you can do in Vietnam and we took advantage of that, so our expenses reflect that. We flew into Hanoi from Luang Prabang, took a cruise on Halong Bay and did a 2 day trek into the 3rd largest cave in the world. We also traveled the length of the country, from Hanoi to Saigon. In total we spent 23 days in Vietnam and spent a total of $3110.72 or $135.25 a day. On average we spent $25.92 a day on hotels and $20.82 a day on food.
Cambodia. We spent 8 days in Cambodia, but didn’t do much more than sit on a gorgeous beach (we didn’t go to Angkor Wat……I know, I know). Our beach hut was a little pricey at $57.00 a day, but was worth it and food at the resort was pricier than average. In total we spent $1093.52 or $136.69 a day. On average we spent $29.37 a day on hotels and $34.44 a day on food.
Philippines. This was my favorite destination we visited and was the place we spent the longest after Thailand. It was a little pricier than the other countries we visited, but still affordable by western standards. We didn’t do many activities beyond one day of scuba diving; but we stayed in some slightly more expensive hotels. Overall, we spent 30 days there and spent $4264.51 or $142.51 a day. On average we spent $57.55 a day on hotels and $24.80 a day on food. (In the Philippines we stayed in a couple of places where at least some meals, if not all, were included in the cost to the room. This accounts for the higher daily room cost and lower daily meal cost compared to other countries).
Japan. We knew it was going to be expensive and in that respect it certainly didn’t disappoint. After being in more affordable countries for almost 4 months seeing the prices in Japan made us want to weep. We tried to keep costs down, but it is a very expensive country no mater what. We bought a 7 day rail pass and rode bikes and walked a lot, but food and accommodation are pricey. We spent 8 days in Japan and spent $2756.83 or $344.60 a day! Ouch. On average we spent $135.10 a day on hotels and $91.37 a day on food.
So what did we learn? Food and accommodation are still cheap in most of the countries we visited. In the 4 months we moved around a lot, if we had stayed put in some places longer, we would have saved a lot of money. Every time you move it costs you money so you have to decide if you are a traveler or a tourist. Tourists hop from one location to the next packing in as many sights as they can before they have to return home to their jobs and regular lives. Travelers move much slower and have many days where they don’t do much at all beyond eating and walking around experiencing daily life around them. If you are interested in long term travel and making it a lifestyle you need to move slow; you can’t be at an airport every second day. Also, you need to space out the expensive tours or adventures you want to have; you just can’t climb Machu Picchu everyday. Take your time, enjoy the little things and pace yourself. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did.