Not everyone is interested in taking long trips away, I understand that. For some, a few weeks of the year on some tropical island is enough to satisfy their wanderlust. That’s not the case for me. In 2010 I embarked on a two week adventure to Europe (from New Zealand) where I visited Hong Kong on the way, as well as Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Four countries in two weeks, including transit. It was madness and my only real taste of travel. While I loved seeing new countries, I didn’t even brush the surface of any of them and it was expensive when you consider the daily costs.
When I finally built up the courage a few months later, quit my job and pack up everything, to explore the world. I had no idea how long my money would actually last. In fact, I was convinced that travel was SO expensive, that I thought my substantial savings would only be enough for a month or so in Thailand. I ended up traveling throughout South East Asia and on to India for 3.5 months. That trip would have gone on even longer if I hadn’t flown home for a family emergency. I was pleasantly surprised by how cheap travel in South East Asia can be, especially when you’re traveling on one-way flights.
It’s true: Long term travel is cheap and this guide will help you see why.
Maintaining life at home while you’re traveling is expensive. On my brief trip to Europe, I was still paying rent on my apartment and utilities when I wasn’t even in the country! Fortunately I was receiving holiday pay at the same time, but if you decide to take unpaid leave and have to maintain property at home it pushes the prices up a lot. Especially if you factor in additional things such as contents insurance and car insurance. You could be spending more per week on maintaining bills at home, than on your adventures!
Traveling a lot is expensive. This seems to be a contradiction, but it’s not; I’m referring to the movement you make while traveling. Most often when you’re on holiday, the transit costs can be the biggest part of the overall cost. Of course the main flights to your destination will usually be pricey, but I’m talking about the flights or transport costs within your trip. Even in Thailand, for example, a relatively cheap country to travel, an overnight VIP bus can set you back 1100 baht (USD$ 36). While this doesn’t seem expensive, if you’re taking four a week it adds up fast. You could spend two weeks in Thailand and take eight overnight buses and see lots of places… for a whole day or two each. Or, you could add a little more money to your budget (to cover accommodation, food, entertainment) and move much more slowly.
Leveraging your home currency makes all the difference. Would you judge me if I told you that I spent more in a week in Sydney than a month in Cambodia? I was staying at backpackers in both cases, but I was living a lot more comfortably in Cambodia (eating out, shopping etc). For me, traveling on New Zealand dollars, Australia was very expensive. So by traveling around South East Asia I was leveraging my currency. My flight to Asia was around 5 times the price of my flight to Sydney, so that is a cost to factor in. But the amount you pay extra in flights is quickly negated by the extra value you get for your dollar.
Having or making friends saves you money. Some parts of the world just aren’t set up for backpackers. In really cheap countries I found that, particularly in rural areas, that there aren’t really backpacker accommodation. This means you’re forced to take your own room and I usually choose an affordable guesthouse. I prefer staying at backpackers for numerous reasons and almost always will opt for a dorm instead of a private room when I’m traveling solo. Numerous times I’ve met people I’ve really liked and we’ve traveled together and split a room. This is awesome because it means your accommodation costs are instantly halved (and you have a friend, yay). You can also look into www.CouchSurfing.com to get your accommodation costs down. It’s more of a cultural/friendship exchange than using someone’s couch to save you cash. I’d suggest that you don’t Couchsurf with anyone you aren’t genuinely interested in, as that’s going against the whole purpose of Couchsurfing! I hosted a few people when I lived in New Zealand and it was awesome.
You binge less when you’re traveling long term. Well, I’m sure there are lots of exceptions to the rule, but for the most part it’s true. If you’re on holiday for a week, you’re going to want to eat out every meal you can – that’s the whole point of being on holiday, right? Whereas if you’ve been on the road for a month or two, you might find yourself feeling sick of not being able to prepare your own food. Or you might just lose the ‘value’ in eating out all the time. The same applies with drinking: it’s fun going out on a Tuesday night and getting absolutely hammered, because you’re on holiday. But eventually you tire of it and save it for more special occasions. In both cases, you wind up spending a bit less. Perhaps you grab a baguette with some spread for breakfast instead of sitting down for a $5 euro breakfast. Or maybe you’ll chill in your hostel instead of going out on a Monday night and blowing two days budget on beer.
The longer you travel, the more your priorities will shift. When you’re traveling with a finite amount of money, small changes like these can add extra days or weeks onto your trip. Try to record everything you spend in a little notebook, it keeps your spending in line. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive as you think it is, in fact long term travel is cheap – much cheaper than living at home for me.