$14,027: The Total Cost of 10 Countries in 9 Months
Woop, there it is! Without further ado, this blog post covers:
- How I Saved My Money
- How Much The Trip Cost Me
- What I Spent My Money On
- The Total Cost per Country
- The Average Spent per Country
- A Breakdown of Costs per Country
- The Finance Spreadsheet I Used
- How I Kept My Costs So Low
- How You Can Do It For Even Less
- How You Can Start Saving For Your Trip!
How I Saved Money
I share exactly how I saved my money in this blog post: How I Saved $10K for Travel in 5 Months. The quick run down: I changed my lifestyle, sold all my stuff, moved out of my apartment, paid down all my credit card debt, and enrolled in grad school part-time to put my student loans in deferment.
I left for Australia with $8,073USD. Then I received $2,263 back in tax refunds and I earned $4,083USD from working for two months at a restaurant in Australia. All of that money went right back into my travel fund, rounding out to $14,419USD total to spend.
I knew that if I stuck to my goal of $50/day, $14,419 would keep me on the road for 288 days.
So, I stayed on the road for 283 days.
Or 9 months and 7 days (if anyone's counting). I covered 10 countries, starting in Australia and ending in Canada.
So, How Much Did It Cost Me?
I tracked every single penny that I spent, from the pre-trip gear I bought for this trip to the Starbucks muffin I ate when my plane touched down in the US of A.
The final total?
$14,027 for 10 countries in 9 months!
or... $49.57 per day!
Right?! Even I was surprised when I saw that final total.
I know someone's knee jerk reaction might be, But wait... That's a lot of money! But it depends on your perspective. I was spending $3,000 a month in Indy while also taking on credit card debt. My rent alone was $1,500/month. With that math, 9 months of living in Indy with my typical lifestyle would have cost me $27,000.
Instead, I took nearly half that amount and lived out my dream of backpacking Australia and Asia, trekking through rice terraces, playing with rescued elephants, living on a catamaran, and meeting incredible people along the way. And I was able to do it for less than $50, everyday.
Some people may be shocked that I was even willing to spend $14,000 on travel. I will definitely acknowledge that hard work, luck, and privilege made this trip feasible. But it's important to know that I considered this trip a financial investment... in myself. I don't blink when it comes to spending money on travel experiences; it's how I'm wired. As long as I am spending money according to my budget and using it for experiences that are meaningful to me, the final cost means very little to me. The personal benefits are far greater.
But I did save money in extraordinary ways, which made a big difference in how I was able to make this trip happen. More details on that in a sec.
What Did I Spend It On?
costs for staying in hostels
Food: everything from three meals a day to snacks to street food
Local Transportation: local flights (ie Manila to Cebu), buses, ferries, taxis, Ubers
Activities: anything that was a fun-filled excursion, so the elephant sanctuary, bungee jumping, sailing the Whitsunday Islands, canyoning in Vietnam
Pre-Trip Gear: items I bought specifically for the trip, like packing cubes, flip-flops, and travel insurance for 9 months ($950)
Scuba Diving: any fees associated with scuba diving, including the liveaboard I did in Australia
International Flights: flights across international borders (ie Sydney to Manila)
Misc: souvenirs, toiletries, selfie stick, random stuff
Extra Costs: blog re-design and hosting fees, a new hard drive, Kindle
SIM cards: I bought a SIM card in every country because I didn't like relying on wifi for data
Entertainment: this category is solely alcohol, so whatever I bought out at bars
Visas: includes my $323 visa for Australia, then also Vietnam and Myanmar
The Overall Stats
The Breakdown By Country
Look, Aus is expensive. Love the country, but be willing to work for accommodation to keep costs down. Otherwise your daily average will be $60-75/day. I went grocery shopping and made my own meals, I never bought coffee, I drank the cheapest alcohol available, and I lived for two months in a small town instead of in Sydney or Melbourne.
Biggest expenses: $267 for my Greyhound east coast bus pass, $215 for Whitsundays sailing trip, $559 for 2 day scuba diving liveaboard, $323 for my work holiday visa fee
Click here for all my blog posts about the land down under.
This country is a hidden gem and it belongs on any backpacker's bucket list. But the Philippines was not without its money struggles - I had to pay a rebooking fee when I showed up for the wrong flight, I wasted money on shipwreck dives I didn't enjoy, and I paid $60 for an Uber ride. I saved money by staying with my aunt and uncle for two weeks.
Biggest expenses: $280 for local flights from Manila to the islands, $155 for scuba dives with thresher sharks in Malapascua
Click here for all my blog posts about the Philippines.
I have so much love for Singapore, but many people skip it because it is so expensive. I was grateful to stay with friends the whole time, which was the main reason I was able to do this country on the cheap. My biggest expenses here were good food and beer. But I also made the mistake of buying a SIM card when I could have gotten wifi in any shack on a street corner.
Click here for all my blog posts about Singapore.
I found Malaysia to be very affordable; I wish I had spent more time there and also had time to explore Borneo. The country was really easy to get around, the street food was great, and I fell in love with Penang. Peninsular Malaysia is not activity heavy, which saves on costs. I did buy quite a few souvenirs in Penang though, which falls under the Misc category.
Click here for all my blog posts about Malaysia.
Thailand will forever be one of my favorite countries. And it can be done for far cheaper than what I spent. I met a lot of amazing people in Thailand and wanted to take advantage of every activity I could and eat a ton of delicious meals. So I did!
Biggest expenses: $58 for the Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary, $27 for Chiang Mai cooking class, $70 for bungee jumping, $140 for scuba diving in Koh Phi Phi and Koh Tao, and staying in slightly more expensive hostels
Click here for all my blog posts about Thailand.
Myanmar is a more expensive country to travel to in SEA because transportation and accommodation costs aren't as numerous yet, so costs have not been driven down by competition. $38/day is pretty average for backpacking Myanmar, with lodging and food costing the most. Many backpackers also do the trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, which I didn't do because of time limitations. However, my costs still evened out because the cost for the trek was around $45, which I ended up spending on two handmade skirts (Misc category).
Biggest expenses: $50 visa fee, $45 on handmade skirts, $20/night for a hostel in Bagan (it was the only hostel there - ridiculous!), $28 for mandatory entry fees for Inle and Bagan
Click here for all my blog posts about Myanmar.
Vietnam is the cheapest country to travel to in SEA. Amazing hostels are usually only $5/night! I spent a lot on food because I was really missing Western food after 8 months of backpacking, so I went to a lot of Western restaurants and splurged on big meals. Although I didn't do Halong Bay like many other backpackers, my costs still evened out because I spent $100 on hand-tailored clothes instead.
Click here for all my blog posts about Vietnam.
Indonesia was the point when I was like, "Alright, I know how much money I'm gonna have left so might as well just go big or go home." Indo had some of the best scuba diving, so I didn't want to miss out on any of that. And I ate out for most meals and went out with friends, so that upped the overall cost. Transportation did get pricey with so many Ubers, taxis, and boat transfers.
Biggest expenses: $355 for scuba dives in Amed, Nusa Lembongan, and Gili Air; $56 for the Mount Batur trek, $48 for a boat transfer from Gili Air to Bali, $40 for a night out at a bar in Uluwatu
Click here for all my blog posts about Indonesia.
Ohhh, Hong Kong. Everyone told me it was super expensive, and guess what? It is. I felt frustrated in this country because I kept looking for free wifi, but that's apparently not a thing. You have to buy an expensive pastry at an expensive cafe to even get 30 minutes of wifi. So I spent a lot of money on stupid pastries and big American breakfasts cause I was a bit homesick.
Click here for all my blog posts about Hong Kong.
Canada - a country I absolutely fell in love with - clocked in as the most expensive country on my list. Hostels were booked up in Vancouver, so I had to book an Airbnb. And street food wasn't a thing, so I was eating out at restaurants or places like Subway. But I was lucky to stay with a friend in Victoria!
Biggest expenses: $100 for a whale-watching excursion
Click here for all my blog posts about Canada.
The Final Spreadsheet
Want to dive into the numbers yourself? Here's the Google finance spreadsheet that I used during my trip. I go into detail on how I tracked my finances here. Credit for the spreadsheet goes to Shannon, the owner of the blog A Little Adrift.
How Did I Keep My Costs So Low?
Considering the fact that my $14,000 number includes nearly $1,000 spent on travel insurance and another $1,200 spent on scuba diving, I backpacked a lot of countries for relatively little money. So I want to be honest about some sacrifices and circumstances that affected that final number.
Working for Accommodation
- I worked in a hostel for two months in Australia by cleaning one hour a day, which saved me $20USD/night on accommodation.
- I volunteered on a boat for 3 weeks through Workaway.net, which saved me food and accommodation costs.
- I stayed with family in Manila for 17 nights, with friends in Singapore for 4 nights, with my cousin in Vietnam for 5 nights, and with a friend in Canada for 3 nights.
So, out of 283 days on the road, I paid for accommodation for only 183 nights. I didn't Couchsurf, but I did stay with friends and family whenever possible and I was willing to work for free accommodation in Australia.
Using Points to Buy Flights
- I used points to pay for my $800 one-way ticket from Chicago to Sydney, so I paid $0.
- I used points to pay for my $613 one-way ticket from Hong Kong to Vancouver, so I paid $0.
- My dad paid for my one-way flight from Sydney to Manila, which was $300.
I had 140,000 points between my Chase Sapphire and my Barclaycard Mastercard, which was enough to cover my two long-haul flights around the world. I accumulated those points while living in Indy and if I had major expenses while traveling, I put it on my credit card then paid it off.
Getting a Job
- I worked 32/hours a week for two months making pizzas in a restaurant in Australia.
- I wrote two freelance pieces for $200 total.
The whole point of going to Australia was so that I could make money on the visa! So even though I spent over $4,000 in Australia, I made all that money back by working for two months.
Cutting Out Alcohol
I didn't like drinking when I was with people I didn't know very well, so I spent very little on alcohol in 9 months. For other backpackers, alcohol can be their biggest expense.
Enrolling in Grad School
I was in a unique situation because I enrolled in grad school part-time in 2015, which put my student loans in deferment. On one hand, I didn't have to make monthly loan payments. On the other hand, this meant I had to take two online grad classes January-May while I was in Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand. I finished my degree abroad, but I was stressed out trying to finish final papers and dealing with time differences.
Understanding Exchange Rates
This is out of anyone's control, but it's worth looking at exchange rates wherever you are going. When I was traveling, the US dollar was enjoying a particularly strong streak, so my money was going a lot further. For example, if an item cost $10AUD in Australia, the current exchange rate meant that I was only paying $7USD for it. By contrast, the Canadian dollar was weak at the time and nearly at a 1:1 exchange rate to the Australian dollar. So if an item cost $10AUD, a Canadian was paying $9.77CAD for that same item, but I was still only paying $7USD.
Choosing Cheap Countries
Besides Australia, I chose to backpack Southeast Asia for two reasons: 1) I absolutely love the region and 2) It is cheap AF. Choosing to backpack Asia instead of Europe and having to make tougher decisions (like cutting out New Zealand because it was too expensive) meant I could travel longer for cheaper.
Choosing to Backpack
Ultimately, the most sustainable way I kept costs low was because of the way I chose to travel: backpacking. I stayed in hostels for about $10/night, took overnight buses (the cheapest form of transportation), paid only for activities that I was really interested in, ate a lot of street food > restaurants, and rarely bought new clothes.
Health & Vaccines
You should absolutely get travel insurance. I paid $950 out-of-pocket for 9 months of World Nomads travel insurance, which covered me for risky activities like bungee jumping and scuba diving. In the end, I didn't need my travel insurance, but I felt a lot safer knowing I had it.
I also had an appointment with a travel physician before I left. I got a booster shot, Typhoid vaccine, and rabies vaccinations. The costs totaled over $800, but I didn't pay anything because my employer at the time contributed to a Health Savings Account. I emptied that account to pay for the consultation and vaccines. (PS: The bulk of these costs were because the three rabies shots cost a whopping $700 and they were not covered by insurance. If I hadn't had an HSA, I wouldn't have gotten them.)
How You Can Do It For Even Less
Are you really desperate to do a big trip on the cheap? If you take a look at my final expenses, there are quick ways to spot how I could have done it for even less. But that depends on your personality, travel style, and what's important to you.
- I could have not scuba dived. If you're not a diver or if you have your own equipment, this expense will be irrelevant to you. (+$1233)
- I could have not bought SIM cards for every country, and instead could have relied on wifi. Most backpackers rely solely on wifi. (+$322)
- I could have spent less on souvenirs, like artwork and clothing. (+$300)
- I could have always eaten street food or cooked my own food instead of eating out. ($+300)
- I could have designed my own blog or used a free hosting website instead of Squarespace. (+$300)
I always stayed in hostels or worked for accommodation and I always took the cheapest mode of transportation. Non-negotiable for me? Travel insurance, fun activities, and clean and safe hostels.
But doing the above would have saved me an additional $2,455, which could have kept me traveling for another two months. So figure out what's important to you and build your budget off of those priorities. For me, scuba diving makes me happy, so why not dive the best dive sites in Bali or Thailand?
Here's How You Can Get Started, Too!
The first thing you have to get past? Thinking that it's simply not possible. I remember reading similar posts and thinking, "Well, I don't even know how those travel credit cards work so why would I use one?" and "I don't know anyone living abroad so I can't save money by crashing with them" and "Why would I go when no one is able to come with me?"
But here's the thing: You can open a travel credit card and it does, in fact, earn you free flights. You will meet people while traveling who will offer up their couches once they return home. And you are far more capable than you give yourself credit for when it comes to navigating new cities and sticky situations. All of these methods are fool-proof when it comes to making travel a reality. You just have to give it a shot.
If you are patient and persistent and really want to travel and are willing to make sacrifices along the way, then here's how to get started.
- Choose a cheap region. This includes Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, parts of South America, and Central America. You will get more bang for your buck by traveling to these areas. Consider traveling during shoulder or low season to save even more money.
- Consider backpacking. If you want to stay in luxury hotels and eat in fancy restaurants, I got nothin. But if you're willing to meet a ton of cool people in hostels, split costs with a travel buddy, skimp on transportation costs, and shove all your belongings in a 60L backpack, you will find that backpacking is totally worth it.
- Create a budget for your trip. I recommend $50/day for everything. So if you're looking at 14 days in Nicaragua as a backpacker, aim to save $700. Yes. $700. That's all.
- Open a separate account for your travel fund. I recommend Charles Schwab's high yield online checking account. Don't touch the money in this account unless it is related in any way to your upcoming trip.
- Figure out your monthly expenses and determine where you can cut back. Organize your expenses into categories. Determine which categories are absolutely essential and which categories you can cut back on. Once you've determined your essential monthly expenses, add an additional $150 as a cushion, and subtract the difference from your paycheck.
- When your paycheck comes in, deposit the difference into your travel fund. Don't hesitate or try to move the numbers around. Stick to the budget you created!
- Open a travel credit card to earn points for miles. I recommend the Chase Sapphire or Barclaycard Mastercard. Start putting major or even daily expenses on a travel credit card to accumulate points that you can use for your long-haul flight.
- Book the flight and never look back. See ya!
You can absolutely do this. You got this!
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