I had generally expected the question of how I was financing my travels to come up. I mean, I’ve been a professional student for years, making roughly a living wage. What I wasn’t expecting was who would do the asking and how quickly my hard-core savings would be called “luck”! Let’s get this straight, while luck plays a role in my ability to travel (as I was born into a wealthy and stable country, have a wonderful family, and had no major health problems or catastrophic accidents), the fact that I saved up a significant chunk of money was due to my choices and determination to travel long-term post graduation.
We touched on the money aspect ever so slightly when we spoke about selling everything and moving our remaining possessions into my parents basement. But building our savings started long before that. In fact, I entirely attribute my ability to travel to my habit of tracking my spending. And no, I don’t mean with mint or some other app, I mean personally writing down every cent that I spent every day. When I first started writing down every purchase, I was shocked at how many monetary transactions I made every day! But doing this can quickly show where you’re spending your money and can highlight areas where you can limit your spending to increase your savings. However, my ranting on the financial benefits of tracking your spending and budgeting is not the purpose of this post!
As I mentioned, I have a habit of tracking my spending. Furthermore, I should probably call this “habit” what it is; an addiction. When we first started our trip, I had planned to abandon this habit for the first time and failed. Prior to our trip, I had only tracked my own spending, but as we started the trip our finances became too intertwined and I quickly (i.e. immediately) started tracking everything. As a result, my love of spreadsheets can highlight just how affordable travel can be, especially if you choose your countries wisely! Here is the breakdown from our Southeast Asia trip:
Note that flights are not included. This was done purposely because flights are a whole different type of expense. With patience and flexibility flights can generally be found cheaply but with them, so much depends on where you are coming from! In the following are a few notes specific to each country, as well as a favorite picture from each!
As Thailand was the first country we visited, we were in vacation mode when we first arrived. What I mean by that is that we frequently had delicious and fruity cocktails with dinner, because we could. We also rarely ate street food, opting for restaurants (with curry!) as we slowly adjusted to life on the road. However, as any long term traveler knows, this is not sustainable behavior. I do think this is part of the reason that the food column is substantially higher in Thailand than in any other country (except Singapore, which is in its own expensive category)!
We also did several activities such as scuba diving, white water rafting and rock climbing with a guide. So much fun!
To be fair, we didn’t give Malaysia much of a chance. We high-tailed it out of there to Singapore where we stayed while M prepared for his interview. Our per day transportation cost was rather high considering that transportation here was relatively cheap. We were just moving almost every day. However, I did find my favorite curry of the whole trip on Tioman Island. My curry addiction most certainly fueled some of the food costs in both Thailand and Malaysia. You can easily get cheaper street foods… just none of them are as delicious as CURRY!
We expected Singapore to be expensive. We just didn’t expect to spend as much time there as we did. On the other hand, it was a good base as M finished his interview prep. However, even the hostels were expensive, and while we did eat at some wonderful and cheap restaurants we also treated ourselves to drinks with views such as the one below.
Cambodia was definitely one of the cheaper countries. It probably would be near the same cost per day as Vietnam if it weren’t for our short stay as well as the entrance fees to Angor Wat being relatively high. But Angor Wat is simply stunning!
We spoke a little bit about our surprise at the costs in Myanmar at the time given that they were significantly higher than the guidebook and websites had led us to believe. However, this had to do primarily with hotels and fees to the various regions we were visiting. Since most of the attractions are to simply see the country, the (lack of) activity fees kept the overall price fairly consistent with the other countries we visited.
We seemed to have unintentionally saved the cheapest country for last. If you have ever spent money without making money for months and watched your savings balance drop, you know how much of a relief it is to see that balance dropping more slowly. We did a lot of tours in Vietnam, but we were still able to stick to a reasonable budget. By this time we were eating significantly more street food. M may have become completely addicted to the Vietnamese sandwiches (and will still immediately start drooling if you mention a particular sandwich lady from Hoi An).
All in all, our costs for traveling through Southeast Asia were cheaper than what we would have spent to live in either the US or Germany! While I know many people who spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a two-week vacation, it’s all about the choices you make, from the location of the vacation, to where you stay, and what you do that dictate how much money you will end up spending. These are choices, not luck! We just happen to make pretty good choices, if I do say so myself! 😉