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A Brutally Honest Look at My Budgeting and Travel Costs

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original photo by Moyan Brenn

“How much does it cost?”

It’s probably the question I hear most.

As someone who prefers to spend months rather than weeks on the road, cost is one of my main concerns and an obvious topic of interest. But travelling for months also requires months of saving for these adventures. But I’m not complaining. They are totally worth it.

But I also want them to be worth it. Like every other travel addict out there I’ve read countless articles on how to travel on $20, or $30 or $50 American dollars a day. I’ve also read an innumerable number of posts and Facebook statuses about bed bugs, theft, and terrifying couch surfing situations. There’s something to be said for adventure, but there’s also something to be said for safety. After spending four years getting a degree in criminology and two years working in a national victims organization, you can bet that safety is pretty important to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I tried to be the ultra-cheap backpacker. But I failed epically. After my first ever adventures in Ireland I came home with $7 in my bank account and a nearly maxed out credit card. I thought I would come home with money leftover. Silly Hannah. Granted, I was also ‘the travel virgin’ and thought paying nearly $350CDN for a return trip from Galway to Edinburgh was a steal (in fairness, that was the same price as a 50 minute flight from Ottawa to Toronto). Yes, I was that naive so really, my miserable bank account at the end should not have been a surprise.

Excited to be in Scotland...but not excited about paying so much to get there

Excited to be in Scotland…but not excited about paying so much to get there

Fast forward a year and a half later and I was on another extended trip; two months in Europe. Once more I thought I would come home with a bit of cash but instead came home with only a couple of dollars. Bust again.

So for my last trip, four months through Europe and SE Asia, I knew I needed to smarten up. I had learned that, as much as I wanted to be frugal with my spending, $20US a day just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t want to stay in bed-bug infested dorms. I didn’t want to share a room with 40 other people, or stay in a complete stranger’s house with no accountability. I wanted to eat real pasta in Italy, not make my own in the hostel, and I wanted to see places and things that I couldn’t get to on my own.

Why would anyone cook noodles from a bag when you are in the land of fresh, homemade pasta?

Why would anyone cook noodles from a bag when you are in the land of fresh, homemade pasta?

So what did this mean? It meant there was no way in hell I was going to manage Europe on $20 or $30 dollars a day. And in some of the places like London and Rome? Fifty dollars a day probably wasn’t going to be too likely either. At the rate the Canadian dollar was falling, I honestly had no idea what to even ballpark my costs at.

I spent 1.5 years saving for the trip. I made sure I had as much money as possible. I wanted to make sure I didn’t come home with a loaded credit card and empty savings account but I was refusing to limit myself. I didn’t want to say no to an amazing experience because it would be over my daily budget. But I did want to know how much I was spending, and the things I was spending it on. So while I promised myself not to worry about the costs (at least too much) I also made a conscious effort to keep tabs on every penny, euro, and baht I spent while travelling solo (I chose not to include the 10 days with my mom because it was a completely different travel style).

As is my solo travel preference, I stayed mostly in budget dorms that met my standards. I did spend a few nights in hotels when I needed a break and again when I got sick (thanks Bangkok). On a couple occasions I chose to value my time over my wallet and paid extra for flights rather than spend days bussing. I valued my safety and paid even more by taking the flights that landed during the day, not the middle of the night. I took the tours to hear the history I was interested in and get to the elusive waterfalls where I could swim. I partied a lot; at beach clubs and rooftop bars. And all three nights I was in Rome I ate real, Italian pasta. From 10 baht bottles of water to 30 Singaporean dollar cocktails I kept track of everything I spent.

Yes, this tiny drink cost me $30

Yes, this tiny drink cost me $30- all for the sake of trying to find a way into the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool (didn’t happen)

Over 100 days and 11 countries later I was home with a massive list of numbers to tally up.

So just how much did I spend on average each day? Just under $100 CDN dollars (98.63 to be exact). Which, during my travels, equaled about $70-75USD daily. That’s about one and a half times what most backpackers say they can live on a day. But you know what? I have zero regrets. There wasn’t a single thing I feel like I missed out on, and by not limiting myself I got to do so much more.

Could I have cut back? Absolutely. One of my biggest costs was scuba diving. Not only did I do my open water certification, but I also went for my advanced and a few fun dives. That racked up just under $1000, which would have equalled about $10 per day. But it was worth it, and despite missing the whale shark, I loved every second.

Scuba diving was one of the best parts of my trip. It cost a lot, but it was worth it.

Scuba diving was one of the best parts of my trip. It cost a lot, but it was worth it.

I also could have been smarter with my flights; I left for Europe in high season (summer) and came home for Christmas (again, high season) which meant I probably paid about $500 more than I would have if I travelled in shoulder or off season. While I planned my Europe leg in advance I left Asia to the wind. Everyone talks about the ridiculously cheap Air Asia flights and while yes, they do exist, they need to be booked weeks if not months in advance. I, on the other hand, booked days in advance. My return flights to Myanmar alone cost over $400 dollars since I left it so late waiting to see the outcome of the election. But again, since Myanmar is officially one of my favourite places, it was totally worth it. Another major place I could have cut back was food. I NEVER cook in hostels, I hate cooking for one and grocery shopping in a foreign store where I can’t read labels makes me want to throttle someone. So while I do tend to stick with street food or simple things like sandwiches, I’m definitely an eat out kind of traveller.

It would be a crime not to eat gelato on a daily basis while travelling in Italy

It would be a crime not to eat gelato on a daily basis while travelling in Italy

So what’s my point? My point is that it’s ok to spend more when you travel. It’s ok to live on more than $20, $30, or $50 per day. There’s no competition; travelling cheaper doesn’t make you better and spending more doesn’t make you worse.

Travel isn’t just about balancing your budget, it’s also about balancing your sanity, your priorities, and your wants. Sure it’s great that you made it to Italy, or Thailand, or Costa Rica; but if you cant really afford to do anything while you are there- is there really a point? If you are miserable because you have no time to yourself- is it worth it?

I encourage everyone to travel. I encourage everyone to find ways to save to make it happen. But travel isn’t one size fits all. So before you book the trip of your dreams make sure you will be able to make it live up to those expectations. It might mean saving a little longer, or cutting the trip a little shorter but it will be worth it.

As for me? Well for my next adventures in Asia I’m hoping to stay far away from those $30 cocktails. I’ll need the money for more scuba diving 😉

14 thoughts on “A Brutally Honest Look at My Budgeting and Travel Costs

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Exactly 🙂 I’ve met way too many travellers who constantly have to turn things down because they can’t afford it. What’s the fun in being the only one left behind?

  1. Stephanie Mayo

    Honestly, thank you for this! It’s so true, travel costs are not one size fits all. We are different travellers with different ways of travel. I also keep close tabs on my spending so I’m aware not only how much I spend but general costs for things from accommodation to food. And to be honest I spent roughly the same for my Europe & UK 3 month trip last year, lots of flying and cool tours!

    My hostel days are over and I now enjoy the privacy and safety of budget hotel room. I am able to save in other areas like free walking tours, walking everywhere and saving on food. But we travel for the experiences and memories and some of those cost money – of which I never regret! Well said!

  2. JoJo Becker

    I love everything about this. Thanks so much for sharing, because I’m sure it takes a lot of effort keeping track of everything and crunching the numbers when you’re tired after your big trip. Personally, I would prefer to cut back extra on accommodation and possibly flights so that I can spend more on stuff like scuba diving. Food budget totally depends on the location (a big nod to the gelato in Italy) but I could forfeit some of that for a bit of extra cash to use on some great outdoor activities. Hiking, wildlife, and water sports are definitely my style. But you are so right that everyone has their own needs, wants, and budgets. Travel is personalized.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Absolutely. And 99% of the time I do stay in hostel dorms to save because, like you, I prefer to spend the money on more exciting things. However a bad bout of Bangkok Belly I definitely needed some downtime to myself so I was so glad I was able to fit a private room for a few nights into my budget.

  3. Tamara (Globe Guide)

    Great read. I totally agree with spending s bit more, as what’s the point of travelling if you don’t spend money on any memorable experiences. I still think your $100 per day was pretty impressive!

  4. Leasha Waddingham

    Love this! I’m exactly the same, I try and keep tabs on spending but if there’s something I want to do I will do it. Same with food, food is one of the main reasons I travel so no cut backs there!

  5. Sherianne

    Great topic! I don’t even try to be thrifty when I travel. I’m not rich. In fact I’m single income in SoCal. But I’m thrifty at home so I can do every single thing I can while I’m out adventuring. Maybe that isn’t 100% true, I do pack granola bars for breakfast and some snacks in my suitcase to cut costs. And as I use them up I have built in space for souvenirs 🙂

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