With the new year here, I’ve been tying up all of my loose ends from 2017. Me being the total nerd that I am, part of this process has been reviewing my finances from over seven months of travel that took me through nine countries. I had a loose idea of how much money I spent on my trip, but this is the first time I took a hard look at my travel budget.
Plus, people in my family and circle of friends like to ask the standard questions, “How do you afford to travel?” “Did your parents pay for your trip?”
Guys, I’m almost 28. Is it really so hard to believe that I’m capable of financially supporting myself?
To let you in on my travel money goals, my holy grail is $30 a day and $1000 a month. I give myself an extra $100 monthly cushion for whatever may come up. While I certainly went over those goals on this trip, having something to strive for kept me accountable with my money while traveling and prevented me from overspending.
Settle in, this is going to be a long one. I’m going to let you in on what I spent and how I saved enough money to extensively travel through Asia and Eastern Europe.
Where I Traveled
Nepal: 4 and a half months
Thailand: 2 months
United Arab Emirates: 20-hour layover
Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia (just for a bus ride through), Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia: 5 weeks
Travel Budget for 7 Months
Grand Total including flights: $9719
Total without flights: $8355
Flights only: $1364
I rode on a lot of airplanes this year. In hindsight, $1364 does not seem like much for how many times I actually went to the airport.
This included a flight from Los Angeles to Kathmandu, Nepal; Kathmandu to Bangkok, Thailand; a domestic flight from Krabi, Thailand to Chiang Mai, Thailand; Bangkok to Bucharest, Romania; and finally Zagreb, Croatia back to good old Columbus, Ohio.
All of these flights were booked a couple months in advance with the exception of Nepal to Thailand and my domestic flight within Thailand. Those two flights were booked within a week of departure.
Nepal Travel Budget
Total Money Spent in Nepal: $4897
Monthly Average in Nepal: $1088
For those of you who are new here, I went to Nepal this year with my friend Buckey to hike 800 miles across the Himalaya Mountains. It sounds crazy, and it is. You can read all about it in my Nepal section of the blog.
I made it pretty close to my travel holy grail of $1000 a month while in Nepal. For the most part, my daily expenses were well under $30 a day. In Eastern Nepal, costs were so low that I had a two-week period where I only spent $100.
So how did I end up over budget in Nepal?
First of all, I had to replace a few pieces of gear. Between a new rain jacket and a new inflatable sleeping pad, I spent about $250. Then I spent $70 on a mountaineering tool that I didn’t end up needing.
The Manaslu region was restricted and a guide was mandatory. Additionally, I needed a trekking agency to handle all of my permits for me. I used the same agency for both services (Adventure Mountain Club, I recommend them) and split the cost with my hiking partner. The total for all of this came out to $300 on my end.
There were multiple times during our hike when we had to return to the city to resupply and take rest days. The Himalaya are brutal, so we always maximized our rest days and stuck around the city for a week at a time.
While it’s certainly possible and reasonable to get by in Kathmandu or Pokhara for $30 a day, we did not do this. We splurged and went to Western restaurants for every meal, drank alcohol and fancy cappuccinos whenever we felt like it, and basically indulged every whim. I would say my daily expenses in the city were closer to $40-45 a day, which adds up quickly.
I could have probably shaved $1000 off my Nepal portion of the trip had I brought more reliable gear from home, skipped the section of trail that required a guide, and stayed on a budget in the city. However, I’m pretty happy with my experience in Nepal, so I would likely repeat the same choices again.
Bottom line, $4900 for a four and a half month travel budget is a good deal.
Thailand Travel Budget
Total Money Spent in Thailand: $2241
Monthly Average in Thailand: $1120.5
Thailand is one of those places where you can really spend as much or as little as you want. For some periods of time, I got my costs as low as $15 a day. This usually happened when I had been in a town or city for a while, knew the cheap and delicious places to eat, didn’t drink alcohol, and occupied myself with groups of cool friends instead of pricey activities.
On the flip side of things if you like drinking, going to Western restaurants, and/or regularly indulging in tours and organized activities, you could easily spend $50 or more a day in Thailand.
I spent a lot of my time in Thailand rock climbing. This involved an initial investment of $150 to get a harness, shoes, chalk bag, and belay device. When I climbed outdoors, it was free. During my time in Chiang Mai I paid the fee to use the climbing gym. Before going to Europe, I was able to resell my climbing gear to one of my travel buddies. This was an activity I loved doing, so it was worth it for me to spend the money on it.
Honestly, I think $1120 a month is a good travel budget to plan on spending in Thailand. With this amount, I was able do about two organized activities a month (like the Elephant Sanctuary and the White Temple day tour), go out drinking with friends once a week, occasionally eat at a Western restaurant, stay in nicer hostels, buy bus tickets when I needed to, and do a small amount of shopping.
Eastern Europe Travel Budget
Total Money Spent in Eastern Europe: $1017
Monthly Average in Eastern Europe: $814
Let me start by saying that I’m shocked my budget was so low in Eastern Europe. This was the very end of my trip and I was trying hard not to overspend. I could have easily blown my $30 a day budget here. Meals in sit down restaurants were out of the question. I did a bit of hitch-hiking to avoid high bus ticket prices in Montenegro and Croatia. I avoided most organized tours.
Before I get too into Eastern Europe, I’ll talk about my layover in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Since I had a 20-hour layover, I took a bus into the city so I could do some sight-seeing and eat. I withdrew $35 to get me through my time there, and that was enough to ride local transportation and have a meal.
It was fun to wander around the cities by foot and go to walk-up food stalls. I took local buses to get to hiking trails. However, if you’re the type of person who wants to do all of the sight-seeing and travel in comfort, give yourself an extra money cushion in Eastern Europe.
There were a few affordable and memorable activities I did in Eastern Europe that didn’t blow my travel budget.
First of all, most of the major cities provide a free walking tour. The free tour in Bucharest, Romania was my favorite mostly because the guide was so charismatic. If you do the free walking tour, they will using give you discount tickets to the walking tours that cost money.
I’ve never been too interested in history, but I became fascinated by the personal stories about communism. I paid to go on the communist tour in Sofia, Bulgaria, which was certainly worthwhile.
Among my other favorite activities, I spent a few days in the Accursed Mountains in Albania. Most guest houses are priced around $22 a day, which includes staying overnight and three meals. Additionally, I got to experience staying with local families, eating typical Albanian meals, and even learning how to cook local dishes.
In Montenegro I rented a car with a fellow American I met at my hostel in Kotor. For about $100 total (cost of the rental and gas), the car was ours for four days. We also slept in it at night to help us stick to our travel budget. Even though the car was tiny, we reclined the seats back and it was pretty comfortable. We went to Durmitor National Park in northern Montenegro. It was nice being able to get around on our own time without having to take buses or taxis.
In Zagreb, Croatia I spent a few days in an AirBNB with a local family. The price was low, and I was able to use their kitchen to cook my meals. Additionally, I liked getting to know them and learning all about Croatian culture.
Even though many activities and bus tickets in Eastern Europe come with a high price tag, there’s still plenty of options for memorable experiences. The locals are so welcoming and it’s easy to make friends. My biggest recommendation for this region is to put in the extra effort to meet locals.
How I Saved Money for 7 Months of Travel
I worked in wilderness therapy for over a year, and I typically earned over $2000 a month. My expenses were minimal. I lived in my car for about nine months, during which time I paid for a storage unit and a gym membership (for showering and working out). After my car became too unreliable to live in, I moved into a house with some coworkers where rent and bills were typically $300 a month.
Utah is an inexpensive place to live. When I did want to go to restaurants or the bar, I didn’t have to spend much. Additionally, I don’t really buy new clothes or unnecessary stuff. I did have to buy new gear for my Great Himalaya Trail hike, but each purchase was well thought out. I’m definitely not an impulse spender.
During my year in Utah, I did make two international trips to Nicaragua and Peru. This certainly cut into my savings, but was also lots of fun. I made various trips around the Western United States to California, Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona. I saved money on these travels by buying my food from supermarkets and either sleeping in my car, backpacking in the wilderness, or staying with friends.
During my year in Utah, I was usually able to save anywhere from $800 to $1000 a month. The only months I was unable to do this was when I was taking time off work or making a major gear purchase.
I do have student loans I’m still paying off. From this blog, I usually earn a few hundred dollars a month. This really helps me out while I’m traveling because I can continue making my student loan payments without having to dip into my travel fund.
In short, my bills are minimal and I’m frugal with my money. While living in Utah, my only regular bills were my student loan, cell phone, and car insurance. While living in my car I had my gym membership and storage unit bills. After I moved into a house, I canceled both of those services so I had more money to cover rent and utilities.
Money Saving While Traveling
For long-term travel, staying accountable with the budget is critical. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m on a short trip I’m definitely more apt to over-spend. If I have more paychecks coming in the near future, I go to nicer restaurants and buy whatever jewelry or clothes I want. For long trips, I’m good at stretching my money.
Most days while traveling, I pay attention to every purchase. I keep the calculator app open on my phone, and whenever I pay for something I add it to my total for the day. My goal is to stay under $30 a day. I have a page in my Notes app that I dedicate to money so I can keep an eye on my overall expenses.
Say I only spend $27 one day. I add $3 to my total in my Notes app. If I overspend, I subtract it from my total. When I get too far in the negatives on my grand total, I know I need to adjust my daily spending. If I get ahead on my grand total, then I know I have extra money to splurge on an activity or shopping.
My method might seem nit-picking, and it probably is. But I got to travel for over seven months this year, so I’m going to stick with my high-intensity, money-accountability, travel budget system.
Having finally taken a hard look at my bank account, I’m happy and proud of myself that I pulled off a seven month, multi-adventure, international trip for under $10,000. It didn’t just fall into my lap. I worked hard and was careful with my money for a full year in order to earn the funds for traveling.
I was careful with my spending the entire time I was living out of my backpack. And I put a lot of effort into maintaining my blog along the way so I could continue earning income from it (and mostly because I love blogging).
Let me know in the comments if you found my travel budget breakdown useful. What other questions do you have about financing international travel?