One of the many questions people ask long duration travelers is how they afford to travel like that. Travel is expensive they say. After all the average vacation cost for a one week vacation is almost $1200 dollars! So how does someone travel for months on end without going broke?
There are a few truths all long distance travelers know.
- Flying is the most expensive part of travelling
- The longer the stay the cheaper the cost per night
- The best authentic meals are the cheap local eateries
Flying is the most expensive part of travelling
On average, airline tickets account for 50% or more of the budget on a week long vacation. On my seven month South East Asia tour, airline tickets only accounted for 13% of my total travel costs. I actually flew for free thanks to some credit card point bonus tricks.
A week long stay in South East Asia would have made flights account for 73% of my travel costs!
The flight is the same cost whether I stay for a week or a year.
The longer the stay the cheaper the cost per night
On a shorter trip to Greece I paid $1300 for a week long stay in a three bedroom villa. The villa had an ocean view from the top of a mountain. It had modern amenities and the owner surprised us with complimentary airport pickup. The villa owner went out of his way to make this trip very memorable. The one thing I remember most was his last words to me before I left.
“If you want to come back again soon, I’ll give you a good price. $1500 for one month.”
My stay cost my $1300 for the week and he was offering me three extra weeks for only $67 a week!?
Over the years I have learned this is the way of the travel industry. Most tourism businesses are faced with low utilization for many of their products. They have to charge big fees to travelers to account for all the time they aren’t making money.
All that down time can be purchased for pennies on the dollar.
In Bali, a one day motorbike rental goes for $15 dollars a day, but a month long rental averages only $2.50 a day.
Not only do long duration travelers get the best rates, they build the closest relationships with tourism businesses. Most people renting from the motorbike shop in Bali were just the next tourist coming by to rent a scooter for a day. I checked in a few times with the company I rented my scooter from and got to know the owner. I learned about his family. I shared my stories with him. He even upgraded my scooter rental twice during my stay.
The best authentic meals are the cheap local eateries
Bangkok has arguably the biggest food scene in the world. From anywhere I stood in the city I could spot at least three places to eat. Bangkok has everything from $2000 sushi plates to $1 noodle bowls.
Don’t get me wrong, having a $2000 plate of sushi flown in from Tokyo and served by a master chef is amazing. But there are Michelin Star meals to be had in this country for just one dollar.
These restaurants aren’t getting stars for their white table cloth presentations and 5-star service. They’re getting stars because the bowl of noodles they serves was perfected over generations by the family that operates it.
Both the $2000 plate and the $1 plate are meals I’d remember for life. The only real difference is how much money I’d want to spend. $2000 for a memory is a hefty price when if could cost you two months worth of other equally special memories.
A modest review of my travel expenses in Asia
- USA to Bangkok $650 each way
- Several small flights within the region $70
- I mostly stayed in hostels for $7-$14/night although Singapore was $35/night
- Hotels cost me $15-$25. $25-$40 gets you luxury hotels in many places
- I once got a waterfront penthouse for $5 in Vietnam!
- My average meal cost was $3
- A decent sit down meal only ran over $15 once or twice
- There were endless meal options for less than $1.50
- I bought and sold a motorbike for $200 (I spent another $200-$300 in gas and maintenance for 3 months)
- Activities vary a lot but can usually be found for sub $70 for a whole day guided activity
- Surfboard rentals were $5 per session
Souvenirs + Extras:
- $100 resulted in more souvenirs than I could fit in my bags.
- I spent another $100-$150 for seven months of toiletries and stuff
Monthly Average Cost By Country:
- Vietnam: $750
- Laos: $800
- Malaysia: $1000
- Thailand: $1200
- Indonesia (Bali): $1400
- Singapore: $3000
Warning: Your mileage could vary a lot compared to mine based on your tastes, and who you travel with. I have met people who travel for a year on $1200 and I have met people who spend $1200+ a day even in a Vietnam.