Asia 2013 By The Numbers (and the Dollars)

Full disclosure: I was a major math nerd back in the day. I aced all my honors math classes, won all the math awards, was captain of the math team, even entered Cornell as a math major. Clearly I’ve always been this cool… *cough*

Math has since taken a backseat to other interests since I entered my 20’s, but the nerdery does resurface on occasion. I still really love numbers. I love that I get to flex my mental math skills when I travel, whether I’m converting between currencies or evaluating the impact of a purchase on my budget. I love making pretty spreadsheets for my trips and keeping track of what I spend. Go on, just say it – Lindsay, you cray!

After 70+ posts full of words recapping my 5 months in Asia, it’s time to nerd out with some numbers. Specifically, I’m going to reveal how much this backpacking trip actually cost me – but I’ll be nice and pad it with some pretty photos :)

independent travel 

How Many?

Flights – 13
Intercity bus trips – 22
Train trips – 10 (8 in India, 2 in Thailand)
Sleeper trains – 5 (3 in India, 2 in Thailand)
Visas – 5
Passport stamps – 15
Borders crossed overland – 4
Islands visited – 6
Photos taken – ~9300
Books read – 15
Days in Asia – 141 (39% of the year)

independent adventure travel 

solo travel 

Money Matters

Expenditure by Country

It’s difficult to accurately break down cost per country and compare as if they’re all apples. Nope, it’s definitely an apples and oranges situation we’ve got here. Maybe even throw in some lemons, too (*ahem* India). A few notes here:

  • Nepal might have been the cheapest country I visited, but it ended up being the most costly for me because of the money I spent on trekking and the necessary gear. I estimate the 3-week Everest Base Camp trek (including porter-guide, food, lodging, internal flights, and gear) to have cost me about $2000.
  • I ended up spending way more than I should have in India because of the $500 all-inclusive 2-week train pass I bought. It was either that or risk safety/sanity on the non-AC trains and, given the rough time I was having outside of transportation matters, I wasn’t up for it. India can be done for far less.
  • The remaining countries of Southeast Asia are easier to compare, price-wise. By my own record keeping, I seem to have spent $30/day on average in Northern Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam; $40/day in Northern Laos; and $50/day in the Thai Islands. I’m confident my average daily spending in Laos would have been closer to $30 had I spent more time in the country to balance out the cost of getting around there. Note: Average daily spending does not include the cost of getting to/from the country, the visa, or any gear needed.

everest base camp trek 

Total Expenditure

I have record of all credit card transactions and ATM withdrawals I made in each country, so I have a good idea of total expenditure for this trip. I spent ~$9200 on 5 months in Asia. Major chunks of this can be broken down as follows:

  • $1000 – gear, travel insurance, vaccinations, other pre-departure items
  • $0 – roundtrip flight to Asia (thanks to credit card points)
  • $1000 – internal flights and fees
  • $2000 – Everest Base Camp trek
  • $500 – India train pass (included 15 days of train travel and accommodation)

Though I did spend far more money in Nepal and India than I would have had I not been trekking or coerced into buying a train pass, this extra spending about balances out with the money I saved with my free flight to Asia.

budget travel 

How affordable is this?

$9200 got me 5 months of extensive travel through Asia. That’s about $1840 per month, which is slightly more than what I pay per month just for basic living expenses in New York City. When you add in all the non-essentials like eating out, drinking, gym memberships, shopping, and other activities, your monthly expenditure in NYC will effortlessly inflate.

If you live in New York City (or a city with a similar cost of living), you will more than likely be saving money by backpacking through Asia. Fellow New Yorkers, take a second to let that sink in.

Now, let me repeat that:

IT IS CHEAPER TO BACKPACK THROUGH ASIA THAN LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY.

What’s more: you’d be spending less than $1840 per month in Asia if you stayed there longer than 5 months, as your costs for flights and pre-departure items are fixed. In fact, if you exclude these things, it is feasible to get by on less than $1000/month in many Asian countries, which is in line with my $30/day spent in Northern Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

So, in short – it is very affordable to backpack through Asia. So now that money’s clearly not the issue – what’s stopping you?

Lindsay Buckley is the photographer and travel blogger behind Frugal Frolicker. She's a New Yorker currently based in Sydney, Australia, documenting outdoor travel experiences Down Under and beyond. Follow along with Lindsay's travel photography on Facebook and Instagram, and be sure to sign up for the monthly Frugal Frolicker newsletter!

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