Some of you have been curious how I budgeted for my several months on the road. Others, want to know how much to sock away for India and Southeast Asia. I’ll apologize in advance for any errors, because I rushed to get this post out. I don’t know if I’ll split this up into two parts yet. But for the moment, let’s start with the general topic of budgeting and hobo-ing.
Here’s how I worked it:
When I started out on my trip, the idea that I’d be traveling long-term didn’t occur to me. I thought I’d be on the road for a much shorter period. So, I got a crash course in budgeting when I was on the road…
…and I freaked out.
Originally, I socked away $9,000 for traveling. I thought I’d just do things the cheapest way I can. Bad idea. I was a short-term traveler, striking out on long-term trip for the first time. The budget mentality between the two are drastically different.
Fortunately, I didn’t bleed my bank dry. I actually came back with a good savings (vs. debt). But still, budgeting a long-term trip felt like a stressful ordeal.
Budgetting for travel: Going from a 2-week holiday to a long-term road trip?
Splurge on a little souvenir necklace, shell out a few extra dinero on a big meal you didn’t want and pick up some shampoo and baby wipes… Before you know it, you’ve spent a good $10-30 on crap! Add in your hotel cost and your day’s transportation and you’ve easily doubled your daily expenses. Everything counts and the teenie-tiny extras add up in a sneaky way. This is ‘vacation mentality‘.
The biggest difference I’ve noticed between vacation travelers and long-term roadies ? The way they think about money. Short-term travelers, even with tight budgets, have unconscious “vacation mentality“. Throwing off a few dollars won’t drain them. They’ll earn it back the moment they return to work.
Long-termers and RTW trippers must be more strategic and vigilant with their money– shop for cheap ways to cross into countries, fish for late deals and tourist discounts and exercise ways to stretch your budget. There is no “replenishing the stock”, so to speak. Extra dollars spent, could mean an extra day or a splurge, where it really counts!
How to budget for long-term travel
I used an Excel sheet to track my daily expenses from ‘incidentals’ to ‘necessities’. I wanted to know how much I spent from a day to a week and where I was doing the most spending.
For India and Southeast Asia, it’s easy to get by on $10-25/day. On the average, my expenses totaled roughly $1,000/month (give or take a few $100′s).
Money guzzling costs:
1. Flights & Transportation *$200-$650/month
2. Accommodations *$250-450/month,
3. Miscellaneous expenditures: toiletries, sightseeing activities, souvenirs.
Flights, transportation, accommodations,… You can’t really cut big corners on these, too much. They’re necessities of travel. Food and miscellaneous stuff however, is “expendable”. But the latter is also where I unconsciously racked up my extra charges– things like treks, yoga classes, certifications ( yoga ttc, reiki and diving) and sightseeing tours.
What travel experience do you want?
Some people don’t mind ‘roughing it’; others want to feel ‘pampered’. Some like ‘exploring’; others want ‘guaranteed safety and convenience’. Everyone’s ‘travel style’ is different.
Personally, I try to straddle the lines. I don’t deny myself of fun (…or else why travel?), but I don’t go overboard with splurging.
I want to explore local ways of doing things, but I allow myself to be pampered in places, where I feel I really need it. …And believe me, there are times when you’re on the road so long, you’ll need it!
Can you spend less on a long-term trip than I did?
When one person spends $10 on something, another gets it for $3. It’s all about resourcefulness, travel style and street smarts.
I met a professional travel hobo, who was living on the road for years. In Gokarna, he was living off of 100 rupees a day! That’s cheap! He was doing everything the local way, including going to the local watering hole for his water. He impressed me with his resourcefulness and the fact that he’d found a more authentic way to live as a local, whereever he traveled.
Now, I’m not a 100 rupee/day person. I don’t need a hotel, but I won’t stretch my comfort zone to risk some conveniences, nor do I want to deprive myself of tourist fun. Sometimes, my ass doesn’t want to burn a 14 hour non-stop uncomfortable bus ride through India, when I’m on the first day of my period (which I actually did!) Not when I can take a train ride or even a 2-hour flight!
However some of those penny-pinching lessons, had to be learned the hard and messy way!
Hobo-ing: Where to cut corners
I’ve always had an underlining fear of being homeless, a ragamuffin, a transient living in a cardboard box… But after this trip, that fear has considerably lessened. I bonded with my ‘inner hobo’ and I found that where there’s a will, there’s a way and we’re all resourceful if we try.
1. Budget accommodations
Use Hostels, unique stays and guesthouses:
While the general rule is you get what you pay for, you’d be surprised how some hostels are pretty hip and some guesthouses are reminiscent of resorts and hotels. You might even find more creative and unique places to stay, which add to the adventure, …like on a bus station bench or in a hammock (which I did in India, although this was actually my last choice in both cases).
Some travelers claim success with Couchsurfing. Truthfully, I found the process cliquish, annoying and time-consuming. When I’m on the road, I don’t have time for email introductions and “friendship dating”, which is what I gathered from my experience with it. Bottom line: I need a crash pad.
Instead, you might be like my friend, Regina, who has a talent for meeting locals, who invite her to stay in their homes. I don’t know how she does it, but it’s saved her a sizable chunk on her RTW trip!
A long-term stay in one place
Rent an apartment or try bargaining with your guesthouse to give you a special rate. Some places will happily accommodate you.
Doing your own laundry
Laundry service is cheap in a developing country. That is, 20x cheaper than in the U.S.! However, you’ve got to stretch your funds paying (let’s say …) per piece, it costs more than buying a packet of 10 cent detergent and washing your t-shirt and undies in a sink. Yes, that’s hobo-ing.
2. Finding cheap transportation
Use local transportation:
So you’re packed into a crowded country bus, sitting on a bag of grain with a goat on the roof. A cultural experience that cost you only 50 cents vs a tour package! Needless to say, I love buses. You need to carry a bit of humor about you. Sure, you may experience discomfort, uncertainty and it’ll take more effort to get bus schedule information, than have it set up for you by a travel agent. Furthermore, it’s unlikely you’ll meet fellow travelers this way.
But you’ll rub shoulders with the local folk and it’s the cheapest, most interesting route to go. It’s the real deal… an adventure! Expect the unexpected and I promise, you’ll come home with fun stories.
In India I went from taking tourist long distance VIP buses to those overcrowded buses you swear to yourself you’ll never take… the local government bus! On those buses, there were times I stood wedged into an Indian crowd with my large backpack stored up front, next to the driver, as luggage. I’ve also felt lonely and nervous being the one standout tourist in a crowd. But the only scary thing about riding in a local has been in my imagination (…and when I needed to go to the bathroom!) I’ve actually found some local buses as comfortable as the tourist buses (minus the seat padding) and it’s saved me at least $10-15, which can be a night’s accommodation!
Take overland routes (via trains, buses, vans)
The pro to taking overland transportation to country cross borders is the price difference (anywhere from $20 to $200+). The con is that it’s less convenient and you need to be aware of visa regulations, entrance fees and potential border crossing scams. Seat 61.com is an excellent resource for information on border crossings. Also, Dave of The Longest Way Home has some awesome tips on how to plan for an overland trip.
Book overnight sleeper trains and buses
Sleeper trains and sleeper buses are another thing I’m a big fan of. It’s a big 2-for-1 deal! The obvious point is to maximize your daylight hours (by using it for sightseeing) and have your night hours go for transit time with your sleeper bed substituting as your hotel.
3. Eating like a local: bring a pocket knife
Eating in Asia is cheap. You can go cheaper if you consider how locals eat.
Did you know local Indians drink locally-made sodas, their own version of Lemonica and it’s cheaper than any other beverage? But they’re not stocked in the snack shop refrigerators, along with the Pepsis, Fantas and bottled waters for tourists….
Tourist food vs. big city local vs. local-local.
Below is the budget scale starting with tourist restaurants as the most expensive.
Local restaurants (frequented by tourists and local “townies”)
Hole-in-the-wall local joints (frequented mostly by grassroot locals. Food can be decent to sketchy here)
Street food vendors & Marketplaces
I need sustenance, but I’m not running a marathon, nor am I hypo-glycemic. I certainly don’t need three full American meals a day. Instead, I prefer pick-me-up meals and snacks, like nuts and street food or I’ll shop for oranges or get a pineapple from a local market. They’re great to pack on a long bus or train ride. Also, local street foods and snacks are a great way to sample the culture. Bring a pocket knife for peeling and cutting fruits
Buying bottled water vs…
On an on-going basis, buying water is not economical. I used my water filter and electric boiling wand and found water recycling areas. Be on the lookout for water refilling stations, where you can refill your bottles cheaply. Some places offer this convenience, not only to cutback on water costs, but also as a way to pare down plastic bottle usage and littering.
Eat at a temple
Not that I want to advocate religion to a non-believer, but any food offered here is occasionally free.
Batu Caves (Malaysia): Temple food is sometimes free .
• Make friends to split costs
Why did I strive to meet fellow travelers along the way?
Friendship, fun, information and …splitting costs. It’s expensive to be a solo traveler, so you need to find friends. Backpackers are always on the lookout for ride shares, room mates and way to split the cost of tour guides, whether they’re solo or in a group. It’s ideal when you can match yourself with travelers in your budget range and a good note is to look for young backpackers with a long-term travel plan. Backpacking Europeans can also be frugal.
Short term travelers… ehh, they say recovering alcoholics shouldn’t be paired with alcoholics.
Same rule here. Usually short-term travelers are on ‘vacation mode’ (but don’t know it) so pairing up with them might either make you feel cheap or tempted to splurge. If you’re not careful, they may make your bill run higher.
With all that said- be wise about the travelers you choose to “befriend”. There’s saving money vs. being smart. Not everyone is trustworthy.
• Save the souvenir shopping for the end or ship it
As a girl, it was a challenge to hold off on buying souvenirs as I traveled through different countries. I didn’t want to use my funds up at the beginning of the trip nor did I want to accumulate extra weight in my backpack. But when you know it may be a while before you to return to that country and you really love the products there, it’s best to get those souvenirs. Don’t regret it later.
Once you buy it, how will you deal with it later?
You can either lug it around in your pack like I’ve seen other travelers do or pay the shipping costs and mail it home so you can continue your trip lightweight.
When I was in Dharamsala in my yoga program, everyone was hitting the souvenir shops hard on their last week there. I still had more traveling to do and it was hard not to pick up the vibe, knowing I love India as much as I do. I eventually did cut loose on the shopping and mailed my souvenirs home so I wouldn’t have to carry them.
Another tip for souvenir shopping: Buy small items vs large ones!
What are some of your budgeting or hobo tips?