After spending 2 of the last 3 years traveling all over the world, I get a lot of people asking me how much it costs. My fiancé’s family in Mexico think I’m rich. The funny thing is that, as of now, I’m one of the poorest people in all of Canada (read: I’m a startup and make far less than the average Canadian). I’m a bootstrapping entrepreneur and traveller.
But that’s the thing. Travel is very cheap.
The most special and mind-altering travel is cheaper than living a boring life in a developed country.
The cost of an SUV can send you on a non-stop adventure course for 3 years. The cost of a house can send you travelling non-stop for the rest of your life. Crazy right?
I’m not exaggerating either. If your idea of travel is still stuck in a dusty box of 5-star hotels, spas, and pure comfort, then you actually haven’t learned what travel really is. That’s not travel. That’s more of a vacation. Something only needed by those who work their tired souls away 50-weeks of the year. I did an all-inclusive once. I was bored to tears after 3 days. It’s like leaving the city just to see another city. Spending the time with other western people doing the exact same packaged thing. Not even seeing the world. It’s like going to a developing country with a bag on your head.
This is not the travel I talk about nor enjoy. I’m talking about real travel. The kind of adventure you read about it and go, WOW!
The kind of travel that creates memories for a lifetime and endless stories to tell. The kind that isn’t always comfortable but is always an experience. The kind that teaches you in a few months what it would take to learn in a lifetime at home.
The kind that only costs $15,000 a year.
My fiancé and I just got back from nearly a full year of travel to Mexico, China, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philipinnes, Laos, Singapore, Indonesia, Borneo, Thailand, and Burma.
Our total price was $30,000. or $15,000 each.
This INCLUDES $2000 each for the return ticket from Canada, the cost of 20 flights between said countries, and about $3000 in scuba diving.
It can be cheaper than this and it can be more expensive.
But we ate all our meals on the street or at amazing restaurants, always stayed in guesthouses or hostels, and always spent a lot on adventure and experience. I would say the most expensive part of the trip were things like scuba diving and transportation.
We moved from city to city (or town to town or village to village) every 3 days. We did A LOT of moving. If you want to keep it cheaper, just pick a few places. When we went to a country, we really visited as much of the country as possible.
If we were to just stay in one or two places in Thailand (a beach or one of the cities), our monthly living cost would only be around $750. This is for a nice comfortable guesthouse or apartment and 3 meals everyday at restaurants or from street vendors. Either way, the food is delicious!
Laos was the cheapest place for accommodation (about $6 on average). Thailand had the best food. Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia have amazing beaches. The Philippines have amazing english. All the countries are friendly but Myanmar (Burma) wins #1. Laos was mostly villages and a very unique way of experiencing tribal life and tiny communities. Cambodia has amazing ruins and the cheapest beer. Myanmar was like going back in time a hundred years. I went to university in Malaysia for 3 months and the food is also incredible and so cheap. Thailand has incredible local shopping. Borneo has amazing wildlife despite shocking deforestation. Indonesia has remarkable volcanoes and landscapes. China is crazy. Mexico City is one of the coolest places on earth.
Surprisingly, I didn’t use points for any of this trip (except the flight to Mexico) so this is the ACTUAL cost. Most flights within SE Asia are quite cheap.
SE Asia is quite possibly the safest place on earth to travel. It’s very easy and very straightforward. I can’t think of a better place to get started on independent travel. Hell, ask me any questions you might have. I’d love to help.
Let’s see. Most seem to start with Thailand, so here it goes….
Return flight from Canada: $1200
Average cost of a nice room at a guesthouse: $10 ($15 in cities). Staying longer? Rent an apartment.
Average cost of a very good street meal: $1
Average cost of a very good restaurant meal: $3
Cost of a 16-hour train ride with bed: $25
Cost of 1-hour taxi ride (airport) in Bangkok: $10
Cost of very basic beach hut accommodation near Raileh beach (Krabi): $1. Prices literally go from $1-$300. It’s crazy.
Cost of absolutely delicious and fresh coconut, pineapple, and mango shake: $1
Cost of motorbike rental for 1 day: $5 Gas: $2
1-hour Thai Massage (better than any I have ever had in Canada): $10
I would say we spent around $15 (for 2 people) on food everyday. Were talking delicious pad thai, mango salad, and yellow curry.
We spent around $450 per month on guesthouses (for 2 people in Thailand). You’ll pay less for one person.
That’s $900 per month for 2 people living in beautiful Thailand, eating out 3 times per day. But we also spent thousands on scuba diving (Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia), and dished out $1000 for a 4-day live-aboard trip in Indonesia.
We lived incredible. We dived with whale sharks, thresher sharks, manta rays, and schools of barracuda. We took care of elephants and lived on a sailboat while we navigated Komodo National Park in Indonesia. We scaled numerous volcanoes and learned to surf in Bali. We even visited very expensive cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai.
Very easy. First, in developing countries like most of SE Asia, you don’t need to book hotels, hostels, or guesthouses online. You can if you want, especially for the first couple nights, but you’ll find better deals by asking other travellers and walking around to see the rooms.
Get used to street food. Many restaurants you’ll find cater to westerners. Here, you could pay $3-7 per meal depending where you are. Street food is amazing and after a year of eating it, we never got sick once.
Take local transport when you can. We paid $1 in the Philippines for a 4-hour bus ride complete with bad movies. Tuk-Tuks in Cambodia can take you from point A to Point B for a dollar or two. In Myanmar, we rented rickshaws for $1 and had someone peddle us around at night. Not only does this give money to such deserving people but it’s also a great and unique way to see a place and spend less at the same time.
Couch-surfing: I love couch-surfing but in SE Asia, we only used it in Singapore, where the prices are similar to North America. We stayed with a really cool russian guy. We also did this in Hong Kong, where housing is more expensive than San Francisco. When your going to be going to an expensive area, look on couch-surfing to see if you can find some cool people you can meet and crash with.
Bargain: As much as I hate it sometimes, you pretty much have to bargain at least a little. You’d be surprised what you can save off transportation, lodging, meals, and activities.
Communicate: Tell people your on a budget. Talk with other travellers who are also on a budget. Share advice. This is where the best advice comes from.
Airfare: for long-haul flights, try to use points. With Canadian Free Flyers, you should be able to earn enough points in one year without flying to go to Europe and maybe even Asia for a couple hundred bucks. Alternatively, use redtag.ca and skyscanner.com to see options for flights. Once in Asia, you can continue to use SkyScanner but make sure you always scout the deals on AirAsia as well. I once saw a flight from Penang, Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur for $1. Normally though, flight are around $100 to many places.
Be a local: Meeting locals is the best part about travel. They are so interesting and enhance the trip so much. They can also tell you were to get the best meals for cheap. They can share where to shop, how much the REAL price should be, and may even invite you to a wedding. We went to two of them while exploring Moni, Indonesia. One of our tricycle drivers in the Philippines invited us to his little home to have dinner with his family. Incredible experience.
This is really all it takes. It’s not hard. I’m amazed when people tell me they spent $12,000 on a 1-month 2-person Asian adventure. Whaaaaaaaat! Wow. I didn’t even know it was possible. I would rather travel 5 months with 2 people for the same price! But that’s my preference.
Sure, sometimes the transport is a little bumpy. Sure, sometimes the beds are a little hard. Sure, sometimes you just want a hot shower.
But in the end, none of this shit matters. In fact, without it, the stories would suck. Imagine listening to someone telling you how they simply spent their time eating western food with western people in a hotel secluded from the real world. boring. yawn. lame.
so what are you waiting for? Your rent in Canada is probably more than our whole living expenses overseas.
Go check out SkyScanner and make some plans. Or better yet, join Canadian Free Flyers and earn lots of travel points to get you there FAST!