Whilst we were planning this epic adventure (and after we’d booked our original flights), we decided over the course of a single late night conversation to double the length of the trip from six months to a year. As a result we’ve had to REALLY stretch our budget. Our travel agent at STA recommended £1,000 per person per month to cover in-country transport, accommodation, food and fun activities. We’ve been aiming for that much for both of us(!), roughly £33 per day.
We were in India for ten weeks and in that time spent 230,254 rupees, equivalent to £2533, working out at £35 per day.
We spent A LOT on transport, since we pretty much circumnavigated the 3 million km² country! A big chunk of our transport spending was on flights to and from Leh. We had originally intended to take the bus through the mountains to get to this city in the Himalayas, which would have been far cheaper (though more time consuming and terrifying), however the road was still blocked by snow when we visited in May/June. Jay had altitude sickness so we had to leave quickly and couldn’t wait for the road to reopen.
We mostly ate out, partly because it was so cheap to do so, but also because hostels don’t necessarily have cooking facilities (and those that do aren’t always clean enough to want to use!) Although it’s a small part of the overall total, we spent more on drinks in cafes than we ever would at home, which was often just a way to access an air conditioned space for a while. We also bought a lot of bottled water which we wouldn’t do at home, although it was very cheap, around 10-20p per litre.
Accommodation was cheap, on average we spent £10.50 per night on accommodation, mostly in hostels and guest houses. To our surprise, we only paid for 44 nights out of our 73 total days in India; the rest of the time was on a Workaway placement, with Servas hosts, on night trains or buses, and staying with friends.
Total spend 2457 Chinese Yuen, equivalent to £1892. Excluding the time spent in Vietnam and Hong Kong, we were in China for 46 days, so we spent £41 per day.
Accommodation average price £12.90 for 32 nights of paid accommodation. We had two weeks of other accommodation: night trains, the night bus of doom, and a week kitten-sitting in Shenzen.
In China we also spent a lot on travel, opting to travel around 4000km overland so that we could experience as much of the varied landscape as possible. Food was a real challenge, and we didn’t eat out as much as we did in India because of the difficulty in getting vegan food in restaurants. Unfortunately a lot of the “groceries” were just instant noodles!
15 days (the maximum allowed without a visa). Total spend of 2,931,000 dong. Equivalent to £677 or £45 per day. All nights of accommodation paid for, average £8.10 per night.
The spending profile for Vietnam is quite different as we opted to treat the two weeks as more of a “holiday” compared with the previous months of travelling. We chose to mostly stay in one place, the island of Cát Bà, with a few days in Hanoi at either end. We mostly ate out, either at restaurants or at the hostels/homestays we were staying in. There isn’t much of a culture of cooking your own food in hostels in Vietnam, so we were somewhat forced into this, but eating out was generally quite cheap. We did get very bored of eating noodles and veg though! We also spent much more on alcohol than anywhere else we’ve been, just over 16% of our total!
Our “fun” spending was mostly splashing out on a boat tour. It’s interesting how our concept of money and worth has changed based on the relative costs of things in different countries. We agonised over the cost of this all-day tour including lunch and kayaking, which looking back now seems ridiculous: it was £20 each!
I didn’t include the massive expenditure of buying a new Samsung tablet, as it would have completely skewed the data for Vietnam and isn’t strictly part of our travel spending, since we will take it home and continue to use it. But I will include it in our overall total at the end.
Total spend 5,282 Hong Kong Dollars or £518 over 10 days, £52 per day. Accommodation average £23.42 per night, 3 nights of free accommodation in campsites.
Hong Kong was a big shock after the relative cheapness of India, Vietnam and even mainland China. We spent ages trying to find cheap accommodation in dorm rooms or on Airbnb, but there was nothing in the city for less than £25, so we opted to spend a little more to stay in the amazing YHA at Mei Ho House.
We didn’t spend any money on anything that I categorised as “fun” or tourist activities (entrance fees, excursions etc.), but thankfully we really enjoy free activities like hiking, which are very well supported in Hong Kong. We did have to splash out 332 HKD on a tent, roll mats and maps, so that could be considered part of our accommodation costs.
Total spend 50,559 Japanese Yen (£2123) over 28 days, equivalent to £76 per day. Accommodation average £23.20 per night for 15 nights.
If Hong Kong was a shock to the system, it was only softening us up for Japan. Everything there is REALLY expensive! As you can see from the graph, we spent half our daily total on transport, almost all of which was on the famous Japan Rail Passes. Because we hadn’t bought them ahead of time (believing they were too expensive and thus we couldn’t justify the cost) they actually cost MORE than if we’d bought them before we left home, an eye-watering 132,400 Yen, or £923 for both of us for three weeks. If you are planning to go to Japan and even travel between Tokyo and Hiroshima, it is definitely worth getting a rail pass. Once we’d spent the money, we took full advantage and travelled all over the beautiful country on the sexy bullet trains and the wonderfully comfortable local trains.
Only 16% of our spending in Japan was on accommodation, but we only paid for just over half of the days we were there. Thanks to generous Servas hosts (and one night camping out on Rabbit Island!), we had 12 nights of free accommodation. Servas was a real life-saver in Japan, as we weren’t even really allowed to volunteer through Workaway, due to strict visa rules. Amazingly, we spent more per night on hostel dorm beds than we did on private rooms in hostels or hotels; a reflection on how much the price of accommodation varied between the wildly expensive cities and the cheaper towns.
We didn’t spend much on “fun” in Japan, since it was so expensive, but we did treat ourselves to a public onsen, a few temples and museums. We were also able to do some hiking, though this was limited due to the threat of bears!
Total spend 1318 Fijian Dollars, £461 or £33 per day across 14 days. Accommodation average cost £20 per night for 12 nights. One night spent at the airport.
In Fiji we finally managed to stay within our budget for the first time since leaving India! Mostly this was because we did very little with our time. We didn’t travel far from the capital of Nadi, opting to cancel our all-inclusive stay on a remote island after the expense of Japan. Instead, we stayed at homestays close to the stunning coastline (6 nights, average 45 FJD or £16 per night), in dorms at a hostel with a pool (4 nights, £14 per night), and treated ourselves to two nights at a hotel with beachfront bure (£45 per night). We spent our days lounging by the pool or at the beach, reading, catching up on the blog and had a few highly-cherished local beers. We also went to the cinema to see the new Terminator film, which was really fun.
We’re now in New Zealand, where once again our Pound Sterling doesn’t stretch very far. We have been incredibly lucky to have kind friends here who have put us up for the majority of our stay, while we recover our finances (though what we’re not spending on accommodation we’ve made up for in wine!).
We have definitely found that the more expensive places to visit have good infrastructure for tourists to be able to enjoy their time without having to spend lots of money (a reflection on the infrastructure available to residents, we suppose). Hong Kong had amazing hiking trails, with free campsites and drinking water, and excellent public transport to reach them. In Japan there were also good hiking trails and public transport, and we found it easy to obtain hot or cold water in cafes for free. Specifically for tourists, there are more visitor centres and TIs where we could ask what there was to do cheaply in the local area (and hence ended up sampling free saké in Hokkaido). We found that in countries that are less economically prosperous, we did need to pay (though not much!) for many services that we would expect to get for free at home.
Overall, we have had to think about our finances much more carefully whilst travelling than we usually do at home, as two people working full time with no dependents. We have aimed to do things as cheaply as possible most of the time, and have had to resist the temptation to treat our time as though we were on holiday, splashing out on all the touristy things. But having said that, some of our best memories are when we did treat ourselves to an experience, so we have had to be careful not to be too miserly! We are also lucky to have a reasonable contingency fund, so that we were able to make unexpected purchases like the flight back from Leh1, and a new Samsung tablet. We have had to rein in our plans to cover vast distances in each country, as this has eaten into a lot of our budget, and is also exhausting! It would technically be possible to travel to the places we have and spend less money by only sleeping in dorms and eating student food, but we have had to make some allowances for ourselves as we are not 20 year olds! We have also probably spent more on food due to being vegan, as we haven’t had as much street food (though our digestive systems may be grateful), and we have had to think about where we are getting important nutrients from, which we don’t usually give too much thought to at home.
Despite our best efforts, we haven’t been able to stick to our budget most of the time. We were very naive in India and China, thinking that we were doing well, but not considering how much more expensive the next few countries would be. But having a strict budget has stopped us from being frivolous, so that when we have splashed out on something we really appreciate it. And we’ve also gained budgeting skills that will serve us well when we get home! Beyond that, we have learned a lot about what basic things are important to us in terms of living comfortably: a decent mattress, proper coffee, and cooking facilities for tasty vegan food. As such, we’re confident that we can live in our van for a while when we get home to help replenish our savings again!
1. shout out to all the stunners at Railtown Local Rollers who basically paid for this flight↩