I was debating for awhile whether to write a money post at all, but decided to for several reasons. Firstly, some variation of “How much did it all cost?” is a question we hear pretty frequently. Secondly, talking about one's finances publicly was odd to me, but by not saying anything people seemed to think we had to be millionaires to have afforded our trip. Thirdly, when we were in the planning stages of our trip, we found RTW blogs with Money/Costs/Finances sections to be the very best resource for estimating our budget. Hopefully this page will illustrate just how affordable such a trip can be and help travelers plan for their own RTW trip.
From day one of our trip, we kept track of everything we spent. Every transaction was recorded under one of six categories. Accomodation is a pretty straightforward. Food includes all our meals, the hundreds of bottled drinks we bought, every single little snack, you get the point. Transportation includes everything from rickshaw rides to flights (international airfares are not included, since they cannot be attributed to a single country, but I have tallied them in another table below). Communication includes internet, phones, postcards, magazines, newspapers, etc. Discretionary refers to any discretionary spending like tours, entry fees, gifts and souvenirs, clothes, activities, basically anything we didn't have to spend money on. Necessities, on the other hand, include everything we had to buy but doesn't fit any other category: sundries and toiletries, batteries, laundry, anything medical, and so on.
The below tables are what we spent on our trip, which may or may not be typical. The data reflects our unique travel style and spending habits. The tables also contain some apparent anomalies, which is why we've written some extra notes below. Typical or atypical, I hope that the below tables are informational and helpful.
AVERAGE DAILY EXPENSES
*Average of entire trip, not average of country averages.
The notes below should explain two things:
1. What we got for the money we spent. For instance, we had similar daily averages in Bolivia and Thailand, but we spent more freely and got much more for our money in Thailand.
2. I want to explain any anomalies, like why Europe looks cheap or Indonesia expensive.
Europe: If the table makes Europe look incredibly cheap, that is because three of our four weeks in Europe were with Matt's family, who generously paid most of our expenses. Thus, the data is actually more representative of 10 days in Europe rather than the 27 we were there for. We stayed in private rooms in budget hotels/hostels and mostly ate out at the cheapest options available or self-catered.
India: As both tables illustrate, India is incredibly cheap. We traveled mid-range (good classes of bus/train and one flight) and usually slept a few notches above budget. Other than that, we spent pretty freely; eating, drinking, and buying without reservations.
Maldives: We averaged $140 per day during our seven days in the Maldives. It was above our budget, but it was our honeymoon splurge and I think a good value. Nice room on the beach, three meals a day each, unlimited snorkeling, and a few inter-island excursions as well.
Nepal: Another super cheap country. Accommodation was definitely not super nice, but we didn't stay in the cheapest places either. In our daily averages, you may notice that Nepal ranks at or near the bottom for every category except one: food. Much of our three week trek was in remote areas where food prices were fixed at relatively high prices. Still Nepal was very, very cheap considering our totals and how free spending we were.
Thailand: Perhaps the best value of anywhere. For not too much money, you can enjoy a good quality of life/travel. Good food, clean places to sleep, fun stuff to do. We mostly ate street-food and at small places, stayed a couple rungs up from the cheapest sleeps, and traveled as cheaply as we could (although the most budget travel in Thailand is nicer than any options in most nations). Our necessities include some medical stuff (also a good value) and our discretionary includes a trek and massage class. Some of our expenses may be a little off due to the time in Thailand with Matt's parents. You can see from our accommodation spending that we did not foot the bill for places like the Oriental...thanks mom and dad! Overall, we didn't spend nearly as freely in Thailand as in South Asia, but for budget travelers its still a good value.
Laos: One of the poorest and least developed countries we visited, Laos is just plain cheap. Food, accommodation, transportation- there's not too much of anything above the most basic budget options. Spent freely- nice rooms, real restaurants, and street food cuz its delicious.
Cambodia: More developed that Laos, but just as cheap. Again, even “mid-range” restaurants and hotels we frequented were super-cheap. Biggest expenses were Angkor Wat passes and a bunch of souvenirs to send home. Didn't need to watch our spending here.
Malaysia: A relatively developed country, we really had to lower our sleeping standards to stay on budget. Like usual, we often paid a few extra bucks to upgrade from the bare bones options, but still shared a bathroom in a couple cities. Great values can be had for about double what we averaged. We ate street-food and from small restaurants. Food is cheap. Our budget for Malaysia is off-the-charts because we both took dive courses, we had three flights (trip to Borneo), and we did a ton of diving, plus had doctor and dentist visits. Malaysia was expensive for us, but if you like diving its a great place.
Singapore: The most expensive place in SEA. The cheapest private room (or box) we could find cost $25/night and we had to share a bathroom. We ate on the street and at food courts, both of which were pretty good. Necessities is high because of a doctor visit. Considering that Singapore recently surpassed Sweden as the nation with the highest standard of living, its a good value...but still above our price range.
Indonesia: Cost-wise a pretty typical country for our trip: approximately $10 for a room and $10 for food, although quality varies across the country. Transportation was cheaper than it looks, because (in the interest of time) we had to take one flight. The overall and average costs are skewed, because we did some diving. However, the diving is super super cheap and is among the best in the world. We didn't really watch our spending in Indo, even splurging little bit on rooms a few times and eating mostly in restaurants. What you can see/do/get for your money makes Indonesia a great value.
Vietnam: Another typical country cost-wise. You get perhaps the highest standard of accommodation for the price in the region (often a private room comes with cable tv, ac, hot-water attached bath, and fridge) for not a lot of money. In Matt's opinion, Vietnam has the best food in the world and its cheap. Needless to say we spent freely and still didn't spend much. From a strictly financial perspective, great value. But we didn't like Vietnam that much, so its off our top value list.
China: Very similar to Malaysia cost-wise. Accommodation was a little more than we were used to paying, but Chinese hotels are well-kept, clean, and generally pleasant. Good values are pretty easy to find. Food was super cheap, even the cities, so we ate well. Long distance transportation on buses and trains was nice too. Necessities are high due to a few doc visits and visas. We watched our spending a little more carefully, but got a lot for what we did spend.
Hong Kong: Not a place for budget travelers. Hence our quick departure. Its small enough to see in a couple days anyways.
USA: Stayed with family, ate out a lot with friends, flew to some weddings. Pretty cheap as long as you know people
Korea: Not cheap like other countries in Asia, but considering Korea is about as developed as the US, a good value. Just think American-level hotels, restaurants, transportation, etc. Our accommodation costs are atypical because we stayed with friends for much of our stay. All other costs should be typical of a 10-day stay.
Japan: The most expensive country we visited. However, our spending in Japan was WAY below what your average traveler would spend since we stayed with family and friends throughout our time there. The money we spent on food was mostly on groceries, snacks, and a few meals just the two of us. But mostly, our hosts cooked or treated us. We bought a rail pass and saved a ton, but the passes are still expensive. There is no budget anything in Japan, as its probably the most developed country in the world.
Argentina: As the table shows, Argentina is pretty expensive. While the far north is noticeably cheaper, Patagonia in the south is more expensive than anywhere we went besides Japan. We kept our costs down in Buenos Aires by renting an apartment. While we splurged (cost-wise, not amenities-wise) a few times on rooms, we mostly stayed in shared-bathroom private rooms and even sunk to dorms for a couple nights. Aside from bakeries in the morning and some afternoon snacks, we self-catered throughout most of the country (yay for modern supermarkets). Transportation was expensive, lodging was expensive. Our discretionary spending may be higher than average because we took Spanish classes, while a dentist office increased our necessities average. We were tightwads throughout Argentina, but we still spent a lot.
Chile: Chile was also expensive. We were pretty cheap there too, so we probably spent less than most. Again, we self-catered most of our meals. We mostly stayed in hospedajes (homestays) and hostels, usually without attached bathrooms. Although we were only in Chile for ten days, we took quite a few night buses to avoid the high price of accommodation. You can see that transportation is expensive as well. There's some great scenery and Chileans live up to their reputation, but there's not too much value at the budget end of the spectrum.
Bolivia: One of the poorest and least developed countries we visited, but still not as cheap as Asia. Accommodation and food costs were in line with our overall averages (keep in mind that for better tasting food we would have had to pay much more, if available at all), but we tried to sleep and eat as cheaply as possible while still having the comfort of our own bath in most places. Our discretionary spending was mostly comprised of the four-day jeep tour we took. Bolivia is an inexpensive country by SA standards, but quality was also lacking; not a good value.
Peru: Surprisingly cheap relative to the continent. Our discretionary is jacked up because of the Inca Trail trek and the necessities is up because of an overnight hospital stay (although still super cheap), though our spending for Lima is low because we stayed and ate with friends. We mostly ate in small restaurants and stayed in decent but simple rooms with an attached bath.
Ecuador: Use this as a spending guide to Quito, as that was the only city we visited. Everything was pretty cheap.