My Budget for My First Week in Thailand
Let's talk money, because that's what stops the majority of people from traveling. Actually, I think fear and doubt stops most people, but money is a big one. Whenever I follow other travel blogs, I always wonder what the blogger actually spent in country so-and-so. Sometimes they do break it down, usually by the average amount spent per day, but I really like seeing hard numbers. And I'm all about honesty. So I'm going to share my own budget, according to my first week in Thailand.
I left for Thailand with $1069 in my Charles Schawb checking account (this is the debit card I use solely for travel & the account functions as my "travel savings account"). This money was saved over 7 months, while I continued paying all my bills and cutting back on expenses in the last few months. I knew back in October 2014 that I wanted to take another backpacking trip abroad, so I started taking the steps to make it happen.
Here's some helpful things to know when looking at my finances.
Exchange Rate: 1 USD = 33 Thai Baht. Essentially, your money goes verrryyyy far. So if something costs 100B, simply divide by 33 to get the cost in USD: $3. 600B (the cost of my private room here in Koh Tao) is $18. I use my iPhone calculator to figure out exchange rates. The website xe.com is the most reliable source for updated exchange rates across the world.
Thailand is cheap. How cheap? Here are some typical prices I've discovered over the past week:
- 1 hour Thai massage: $9
- Fresh fruit smoothie: $1.50
- 3-star hotel/bungalow right on the beach: $30
- Pad Thai: $2
- Renting a motorbike: $4
- 10 minute cab ride: $1.70
- French fries & burger: $4.50
- Hostel dorm room: $8-11
- Large bottle of water: $.60
- Open Water Certification: $257 ($650 in Australia, $600 in Florida...)
So, if you exchange $200USD (6600B), and you stay in hostels and eat $7-8 worth of food and throw in another $10 for misc daily expenses, that's $27/a day for 7 days. If that.
Choosing your priorities. You should know what you are willing to spend money on. Good food? A beach bungalow? Activities and excursions? Most of my money goes to excursions. Scuba diving took a chunk out of my budget, but it is still significantly cheaper had I chosen to get certified anywhere else in the world. Once you know where you are willing to spend your money, you can spend less in other areas to make up the difference.
Start up costs. I spend money before I even leave for my trip. I consider these "start up costs." This trip was already way cheaper than when I was getting ready for Nicaragua last summer, as I had to purchase my backpack ($208), the full cost of the flight ($500), and misc items from Wal-Mart that carried over to this trip (rain poncho, padlocks, travel containers). Despite paying only $38 for my flight this time around, what upped the costs was the fact that I purchased travel insurance for the first time and put down the deposit for the scuba diving.
I am not necessarily pinching pennies on this trip. I'm definitely being aware of what I'm spending, but I also saved enough money so that I could spend money. My travel philosophy is that I didn't get my butt to Thailand or Nicaragua or the Philippines or Portugal to not do things. Doing things costs money. Experiences costs money. DO THINGS WHILE YOU TRAVEL, even if it takes you a little longer to save money.
I'm also traveling for only 3 weeks - traveling for 1 month, 3 months, or a year significantly changes how you save and spend money. I have backpacked before where I counted every penny and tried to stretch my dollar as far as possible (Switzerland and Italy). It's totally doable. There are so many ways I could make this trip cheaper and still just as enjoyable:
- Stay in hostels >$10 a night (I stayed in a private room for $20/night for 3 nights). The rest of my trip will be in hostels.
- Cut back on eating Western food in sit down restaurants ($6-14/day) & eat street food instead ($2-3/day). I could also stop drinking so many smoothies...
- Cut out the diving certification. Instead, I could have just done 2 "try dives" for $110. I have spent $316 related to diving: the certification ($257), the trip to Sail Rock ($30), and my own mask and snorkel ($59). Buying the mask was unexpected, but I was still nervous about water getting in my mask, so I decided to purchase my own instead of using a rental mask. The $316 is totally worth it to me, so I'm not stressing over it. I will probably spend more money on diving before leaving Koh Tao.
- Cut out alcohol. I almost never spend money on alcohol abroad because I just don't typically drink, but you will see your money start to go quickly with each night you go out. For some backpackers, they don't mind spending money on alcohol because having a really good, wild time is a priority for them, and that's totally fine.
- Be aware of spending $ on souveniers. I used to spend a lot of money on souveniers. I was also buying really shitty souveniers - like coffee mugs with a generic photo on them. I am really picky about buying souveniers now; I only buy items I know were locally handmade and I go into little shops off the beaten path instead of to a huge, tourist marketplace. I hate buying crap that was made in China that just ends up taking up space in my backpack. These are some of the best souveniers I've picked up: a beautiful, handmade leather purse from Nicaragua; handmade wooden camels from Morocco; handmade acrylic paintings from Guatemala; a personalized Swiss Army knife from Switzerland (which I lost in my college's dining hall); and a pearl ring from London.
Every backpacker I know tracks their finances in some way. I track mine on an offline Google sheet. I don't keep receipts - I just tally up what I've spent at the end of every night and round up. I track what I've withdrawn from my travel account and what I've exchanged. With wifi wherever I go, it's easy to check all of my checking accounts. My spending categories are pretty self-explanatory. Misc means anything that doesn't fit into the other categories - in this case, a scarf (when I thought I needed a hijab in Qatar... seriously), laundry, and sunscreen (which was ridiculously expensive when I inexplicably lost mine).
Here's the kicker: even with all the money I have spent on diving, my daily spending average is only $53/day over 10 days! That's just a little over the $50/day I had planned for. That's crazy! And awesome! $50/day is considered the budget traveling range. I can get the $53 even lower over the next few days as I cut back on expenses. Had I not done the certification and only done a try dive for $110, that would drop me down to $33/day. Not diving at all would drop me down to $22/day. I've only spent $85 on food and $110 on accommodation over 10 days.
Here is my actual finances tracking spreadsheet: Thailand Budget (view only).
You can travel for cheap. I'll end up traveling Thailand - scuba diving, eating pad thai, sitting on its gorgeous beaches, going out in Bangkok, and traveling to Chiang Mai - for less than $1000 for three weeks. If done on a slightly different budget, it could have been done (easily) for less than $600. This does not include start up costs.
I'm still planning a blog post on how to save money to travel - I know that's one of the tricky parts, but it doesn't have to be. But right now, it's smoothie breakfast time here in Koh Tao! With 10 days left of my trip, I also need to figure out if I am going to spend the remainder of my time in Koh Tao or if I am going to travel to the Northern region of Thailand to Chiang Mai...