How much does it cost to travel Asia for an extended period of time?
Below is a summary of all our expenses for the period from May 2010 till September 2011. We are still traveling, so at some stage we'll update the numbers. This is the status quo.
First, the summary: in a year and a half of traveling Asia we spent about 19000 EUR (27000 USD). This total consists of:
- basic travel expenses (11.7K EUR/16.7K USD), which include accomodation (3.0K EUR/4.3K USD), food (4.3K EUR/6.2K USD) and local transport (4.4K EUR/ 6.3K USD);
- other travel expenses (7.3K EUR/10.5K USD), which include visas (0.5K EUR/0.8K USD), inbound transport (mostly flights) (2.4K EUR/3.4K USD), entry tickets (0.9K EUR/1.3K USD) and unclassified expenses (3.5K EUR/5.2K USD).
For most people the above information should do. On the other hand, those planning to travel Asia for an extended period of time or those who simply love numbers can "zoom in" - below is an explanation of (1) what's behind the numbers and, of course, (2) the tables.
Explanation of the philosophy behind the numbers:
- All the numbers are for a couple traveling Asia for about a year and a half, with a budget travel approach. A solo traveler would probably spend 50% on all the below expense categories (like food, train/bus tickets, visas, flights, entry tickets), except accomodation and city transport, both of which would probably be around 60-70% of what it costs for a couple, the former - due to the fact that many times hotels give the same rooms to single travelers as to couples only at a slightly lower rate, and the latter - due to occasionally indispensible rickshaws and taxies which are also cheaper when shared :-).
- The numbers are our personal statistics (not an anthropological study) and they probably stem from our travel philisophy: we are long-term travelers, not vacation makers. Money-wise this slogan translates into a shaky equilibrium between spending a minimum on basic necessities but at the same time really traveling the countries and doing treks and other activities we don't want to miss. Here are some explanations:
- Traveling: Planning a route for a country we try to include as many places we'd like to see as is possible to fit within the 1-month visa limitation. This means that our intercity transport expenses might be quite high compared to people who prefer a quieter pace. On the other hand, a few times along this trip we did have some "settled" weeks - in those weeks our expenses were of course lower than when we were actually traveling the country. (The numbers below reflect this difference).
- Accomodation: on arriving at a new place we walk for a while the backpacker area checking the prices and conditions of the cheapest hotels, and we pick the one which offers us best value for money (which is usually one of the cheapest hotels in the budget range anyway).
- Food: we eat only local food and only in local eateries, which means no western food and no restaurants (except a semi-annual pizza or burger treat for Jordi :-) We do eat a lot of fruit though, and it's both delicious and cheap here in Asia!
- City transport: from bus/train stations and airports we walk the distances below 3 km and above 3 km we first try to find a way to take a local bus. If that's not possible we bargain with rickshaw drivers. We almost never take a taxi, unless we are in a country where taxies are better value for money than any other mode of city transport.
- Intercity transport: in each country it's usually quite clear from the very beginning whether it's better to travel by bus or by train (and again it's about the overall value rather than just money). So once we know that, we usually stick to either trains or buses, but if it's buses then it's usually the local ones against the VIP breed targeted specifically at tourists. And if it's trains, then we will sometimes go for seats and not berths for an overnight connection if the difference between the two is very high. And in case of both buses and trains, we always choose an overnight connection over traveling during the day, as this saves us the hotel fare.
- Transport between the countries: we compare AirAsia rates with those of buses/trains. But usually the value you get with AirAsia is much higher (money for the whole chain up till the city centre is comparable but you get to your destination much faster). We almost never get a direct flight as this is usually more expensive than flying via the main AirAsia hub (KL). This means sometimes our trips can be as long as 2-3 days. (Our "Terminal II" post is a story about one of those connections). As to purchasing flight tickets, in times when we know our plan very well we buy them in advance (a month or so) and therefore get promo rates, but when the plan is vague we prefer to wait till we confirm the plan, in which case we pay the full rate (from our perspective it's justified to pay more for eliminating the risk of losing the full amount). Also, in case of promo flights, they are usually discounted due to inconvenient arrival times, which means that many times we simply sleep in the airport till we can get some local transport to the city, which also saves us the hotel fare.
- Unclassified: But all this said, we don't travel to survive - we travel to experience new places, which means that at the end of the day once we are done with all the stinginess regarding the basic expenses, we do spend on other things that matter: treks, courses, learning materials, shipping home things that will remind us of the countries we've visited etc. All these expenses end up in the so called "unclassified" column, and you can see that the total in it is as high as any other category (like accomodation, food or city transport).
- Presents: During this trip we give each other only zero-money, zero-weight presents, which means more creativity but by no means less fun :-)
- The first table is a list of the Asian countries we traveled, from most to least expensive. We compared them based only on the main expenses (accomodation, food and transport). This list is built comparing the numbers in euro (it's around 1.4 more in dollar). In our personal opinion, the numbers do correspond to how we perceived the countries as we were traveling, in the sense that we knew for sure that Cambodia, Nepal, Myanmar, Laos and India would be the cheapest ones, and Brunei and Hong Kong - the most expensive. One other note regarding this list: according to the total numbers, Tibet and Philippines are in the more expensive range, but in both cases this is only due to local transport - to travel Tibet you have to buy a tour in China (and that's also where half the money stays), and in Philippines you have to fly between the islands. As to food and accomodation in these countries, they were really cheap so on a daily basis you actually perceive both of them as "definitely not expensive".
- The second table is just an overview of all the total amounts we spent in each country. It's more like a reference table: you see the total in the local currency, the exchange rate we applied, and the total in EUR and USD, first for the basic expenses ( = food, accomodation and transport) and then for everything ( = food, accomodation, transport, visas, inbound transport, entry tickets and unclassified expenses).
- The third table shows what the above totals consist of, so all our expenses in all the countries by categories. Some highlights: entry tickets are really expensive in China (and Tibet); in India and China we spent a lot of money on local transport since we traveled each of those two countries extensively for two months; transport in Malaysia was really expensive; Nepal was very cheap but Annapurna trek doubled the total expense.
- The fourth table zooms into only the main expenses ( = accomodation, food and transport). Here is where you can see the average daily expense of traveling Asian countries. (This table is same like the first one but is not sorted and has numbers in both euro and dollar, and is also included for reference only).
Table 1. Countries sorted by daily expense from most to least expensive:
|COUNTRY||Days||Period||Total basic expenses||Daily basic expenses|
Table 2. Total expenses for a couple traveling Asia for a year and a half:
|COUNTRY||Cur||Days||Period||Total in local currency||Total/basic in USD/ EUR|
|Cntry TOTAL||Exchange Rate||BASIC (A+F&D+T)||TOTAL (evth)|
|INDIA||USD||55||05052010- 28062010||131176 INR||44.28 INR||1544.20||2962.42|
|CHINA I||USD||46||28062010- 23082010||22391 CNY||5.98 CNY||2427.09||3744.31|
|"HONG KONG"||USD||11||27072010- 06082010||15992 CNY||7.79 HKD||647.88||2052.89|
|"TIBET"||USD||7||24082010- 30082010||6902 CNY||5.98 CNY||818.90||1154.18|
|NEPAL||USD||22||30082010- 20092010||78546 NPR||65.21 NPR||499.39||1204.51|
|MYANMAR||USD||28||20092010- 17102010||1352946 MMK||920 NPR||718.01||1470.59|
|THAILAND I||USD||59||17102010- 14122010||80030 THB||29.75 THB||2329.98||2690.09|
|MALAYSIA I||USD||27||14122010- 11012011||6976 MYR||2.97 MYR||1369.02||2348.82|
|BRUNEI||USD||3||23122010- 25122010||300 BND||1.16 BND||177.59||258.62|
|SINGAPORE||USD||3||04012011- 06012011||271 SGD||1.16 SGD||118.10||233.62|
|CAMBODIA||USD||21||11012011- 31012011||2925739 KHR||4000 KHR||474.38||731.43|
|THAILAND II||USD||20*||31012011- 02032011||21021 THB||29.75 THB||601.61||706.59|
|LAOS||USD||16||03032011- 18032011||4593143 LAK||8000 LAK||434.00||574.14|
|VIETNAM||USD||10*||18032011- 14042011||10361000 VND||20800 VND||330.77||498.13|
|INDONESIA||USD||29||15042011- 13052011||11001273 IDR||8547 IDR||1001.54||1532.85|
|PHILIPPINES||USD||21||13052011- 02062011||66420 PHP||42.39 PHP||1088.39||1566.89|
|MALAYSIA II||USD||14||02062011- 15062011||2681 MYR||2.97 MYR||363.30||902.69|
|THAILAND III||USD||60||15062011- 13082011||67089 THB||29.75 THB||1422.15||2255.09|
|MALAYSIA III||USD||14*||13082011- 06092011||1280.3 MYR||2.97 MYR||354.31||431.08|
* - In tables 1 and 2 there are three cases in which the number of days shown is smaller than the period mentioned in the next column: this is because for various reasons for part of the period we didn't have a record of expenses in the usual form, therefore we included only the numbers for the days during which we were doing the "usual accounting".
Table 3. Total expenses by categories - accomodation, food, transport, visas, inbound transport, entry tickets and unclassified:
|COUNTRY||Cur||Days||Basic travel expenses||Other expenses||Country total|
Table 4. Daily basic expenses (accomodation, food and transport):
|COUNTRY||Cur||Days||Total basic travel expenses||Daily basic travel expenses|
And finally, after all this finance exercise, one neat fact: according to numbers, over the past year and a half we spent similar amounts (about 3-4 thousand euro) on accomodation, food, local transport, the expense of getting into the country ( = visas + flights) and extras (or what we call unclassified expenses). Which makes us wonder: the "pizza treat" for Jordi was semi-annual and that one was in the food line according to the accounting, so where did such a high figure on extras come from? :-)... Maybe all those Chinese lanterns, calligraphy sets and music CD's I shipped home... :-)