Whenever someone talks about going on a trip / vacation / holiday / escape / getaway / journey / pilgrimage – whatever it is labeled as, the BURNING question in the back of everyone’s mind… HOW do they afford it?! How much did it cost!?!
If you’ve been reading along on my blog, I tend to talk about anything but money. It’s a cliche thing for a Canadian or a Chinese descendent or in the general global society to be up front about financial matters.
Well today, I feel like sharing and talking numbers – as one of my intention for this blog is to motivate more people to travel – solo or not. So I do not want people to use $$ as an excuse or reason for them to deter from traveling and exploring this beautiful world of ours.
Thanks in part to my pack rat ways and slightly neurotic, yet sporadic journaling – I have a pretty good idea of what I spent on transport, accommodations, meals, activities and miscellaneous items. I kept receipts, scribbled down itemized daily spendings and ticket stubs. Again, I admit I am a pack rat… haha
First let’s review my 2013 Epic itinerary: 3 continents involving 14 countries – Antarctica, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau, USA (San Francisco). This journey began on December 24 2012 and I returned to Toronto, Canada on July 22 2013.
Of the 3 continents, visiting Antarctica, Falkland islands and South Georgia islands cost me the most. This part of my overall trip cost about 1/2 of my whole trip!! For the 18-day tour with Quark expedition, it cost me approx. $14500 – YES drop jaw moment! This is because I missed an awesome sale and I could not participate in another promotion as I did not have a travel partner. I just got some minor discounts like free alcoholic drinks package that’s worth $500.
TRAVEL TRICK / TIP #1:
Last minute discounts!!! When I am ready to return to Antarctica, this is my plan and I am sharing my little scheme with you. This will involve a bit of leg work – online.
When you’re ready to explore South America, expecially the Patagonia region and want to see the 7th continent. Set aside 2 to 3 weeks, as most trips are 9 to 13 days. Research the time frame that a large number of ships will be at port in Ushuaia – say within a week’s time span between November and March. Get on a bus or a cheap flight to Ushuaia, Argentina and visit the local travel agents – every morning! I have seen 11-day trip to the Antarctic peninsula for $5500 per person for a twin occupancy. Some ships offer triple or quad occupancies, so those trips will be even cheaper!
Else subscribe to newsletters or the Facebook pages of specialized travel agents like Antartica Travels. As long as you are flexible and able to be spontaneous to departure dates, you will find an awesome deal!
Yes I know you are thinking – the quad and triple occupancies typically sells out first. How is it possible?? Well I can speak from personal experience that I paid for triple occupancy with a porthole view on my 18-day trip. When I boarded the ship, I found out I was upgraded to a gorgeous twin room with a window!! So the tour companies bum up all or most of the advance bookings and “re-open” the triple and quad rooms for last-minute travelers. It is simply a way to fill the ship as much as possible. To me this is a WIN – WIN situation.
Yes this is a LOT of money for less than 2 weeks of “Play”. However, it is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime journey that I promise you will never, ever forget!!
For my 3 months in South America, with about 1 month per country; Argentina, Chile and Brazil – I spent about $7500 in total.
3 months of Asian living cost me about $6000. $1440 of that amount paid for a 20-day tour of Vietnam with Intrepid.
4 days of San Francisco totalled less than $400.
** All expenses are calculated in Canadian dollars. Adjust accordingly to your home currency 🙂
My choice of accommodations ranged widely within these few months… I rarely slept at the cheapest of cheap hostels. On the South American portion of my journey, as a sampling, I had slept in family run Bed & Breakfasts in Ushuaia, 4-bed hostel room in El Calafate, 6-bed hostel room in Rio de Janeiro, 8-bed hostel room in Valdivia and Pucon and a crazy 12-bed hostel room in Santiago. Then in Buenos Aires, I stayed in my own studio apartment, booked through AirBnB. In Asia, I got a proper hotel room in Bangkok and Siem Reap, shared a private villa in Seminyak, private hostel room in Melaka and Penang, and stayed with friends and family in Singapore and Hong Kong.
For $10 to $20, I was able to stay in 2-star or 3-star hotel rooms or private rooms in hostels in Malaysia, Laos, Chile, and Ubud. Multi-bed hostel rooms would be much cheaper, depending on location and number of beds per room.
I enjoy mixing it up… creates more depth for the travel experience. Hostel stays creates a different atmosphere, the common areas are great to meet fellow travelers (solo or not), share experiences / stories and perhaps travel together in the future. Hotels and private rooms in hostels are great to recharge, go inward, reflect and appreciate privacy once again…
TRAVEL TRICK / TIP #2:
Couchsurfing (CS) is a great option to extremely save money. Reach out to multiple hosts per city in advance. Develop a repoire with the host. I met a CS host while we were on the Rocinha favela tour in Rio. He’s an avid traveler and relies heavily on CS to save money and meet local while traveling. He reciprocates this pay-it-forward idea when he’s at home and experience activities together while hosting.
This is how I kept my expenses LOW while visiting San Francisco, USA! All I had to do in exchange for 4 nights of accommodation was to walk my host’s pet dog – I had my own room and a good night sleep on his air mattress – all FREE!!
TRAVEL TRICK / TIP #3:
Advertise your travel plans – fellow travelers will often connect you with their friends and family of your planned destinations. Free accommodation, local tour guide, new friendship are ALL possible!!! Re-connect with friends from your past. I have been fortunate and many of my childhood friends have relocated around the world. That was how I avoided a hefty hotel bill when I traveled to Dubai! Also my friends from past travels have opened their home to me when I arrived in their country; Singapore, New York City and Malaysia to name a few.
After all, travel is and can be a very social thing!
All the transportation within the continent of South America and Asia was arranged either on the day of travel or no more than 1 or 2 weeks in advance. The overnight buses in South America are luxurious!!
For less than $150, I traveled in luxury on my 14-hour overnight bus ride from Mendoza to Buenos Aires with Andesmar. I am talking about leather bound, full-recline, lay flat seats worthy of First Class flights, full service bus attendant, 3-course meal with unlimited red/white wine service, unlimited champagne or whiskey, 22 movie selection and a privacy curtain.
Similarly in Asia, deals can be had on overnight buses or flights with Low-cost carriers. I noticed especially in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Bali and Malaysia, it is much easier to walk into a local travel agent for transportation bookings and booking local day excursions or tours. Not everyone is on the interweb yet…
As for local transportation, most are affordable if not “dirt cheap”. Public buses are great way to see the city and move around the city. Subway, if available, are fast and convenient. Tuk tuks are like an open-air taxi that is a lot more affordable as experienced in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. Walking and cycling are excellent forms of exercise and mode of transportation!!
TRAVEL TRICK / TIP #4:
When traveling on the national bus system within Chile, discounts can be found on same-day bookings!! This is simply a method they employ to sell out all the seats of each bus. All bus terminals service multiple bus companies with similar if not identical competitive pricing. If one departure time is sold out with one bus company, take a few steps and ask the another company in the next window. No worries.
Plataforma 10 is an excellent website for booking or researching bus travel within multiple countries in South America.
TRAVEL TRICK / TIP #5:
To save a LOT of money on international flights, start collecting frequent flyer miles with a credit card that earns points for every dollar you spend! This is how I saved at least $1000 per intercontinental flight on this trip. It may take a few years but it is well worth the effort! I use my credit card every chance I can instead of paying with cash – this way I can track my spending and have my money work for me! To learn more about frequent flyer miles, read this post – Travel on the Cheap that I wrote a while back.
Meal wise, anything goes in my books. Typically I do not consume much alcohol and mostly focused on basic water. My food consumption ranged from amazing authentic local street food to high end restaurants in Brazil. Though the majority of my meals leaned on the frugal side. The times I splurged were well worth it!
I paid $1 for a delicious authentic bowl of pho on the sidewalk of Hanoi and also enjoyed an $83 dinner in the famous Porcão Rio (Ipanema).
Activity wise, each city or town I visited had something fun and exciting to offer with varying costs. Midnight bowling and beer added up to less than $5 in Luang Prabang, Laos. $27 was the entrance charge to take the gondola up to the top of the Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. Entrance to the Museum of Literature in Hanoi was $1 while entrance to Niterói Contemporary Art Museum (MAC) is only $1.5 with valid student ID card. One of the most expensive activities while traveling on this trip was my ticket to a Boca Juniors game in Buenos Aires on my birthday – $150 but it was soooo much fun!
You might still be wondering – HOW did I pull this off?!
I saved! Just like how I saved my receipts and ticket stubs, I saved the money I made while working in the structural engineering field.
I do not smoke. I do not visit coffee shops every day. I cook 70% of my meals at home. I do not own a car, though I take public transportation and rent a car or take a taxi, if necessary. I only buy what is necessary and not all the things I want.
I still enjoy a fun, normal lifestyle with my friends. Oh and the fact that I do not have any dependents is helpful.
On this trip, I also sublet out my apartment to cover my costs at home while on the road.
What I say is that depending on the country you visit, and depending on your current lifestyle at home – you can budget for about 25% savings (very conservative estimation) from your monthly budget if not much more.
Some countries like Brazil, Singapore and Hong Kong, despite their well-known expensive aspects, they still have deals to offer. Vice versa, there are many activities and places for you to splurge in affordable places like Chile, Thailand and Vietnam.
Everywhere you go, there is a place you.
Hands down – Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador are the most affordable countries I have visited in South America!!
Do NOT forget to practice haggling whenever possible!
One dollar saved is one dollar more to spend!!