How much does it cost to travel in SE Asia?

Before our trip, I did a lot of research to understand daily costs in each country we would be visiting. Thankfully, there are lots of travel bloggers who post there detailed expenses. This helps, but the numbers vary so much depending on how much of a backpacker or flashpacker you are and also how much volunteering is done along the way. For instance, for SE Asia alone, I was finding daily run rates from $20/day to $50/day. Whoa. That is a big swing and made my own financial planning difficult.

Finally, I came to my best hypothesis of $35/person/day average while traveling in SE Asia. I knew we wanted to be fairly scrappy and would be volunteering along the way. How did we do? Let’s take a look at our expenses over the last 3 months of traveling:

Total spent/person for the past 82 days (at time of writing) out of the country: $2425.67, which comes out to $31.19/day or $967/month.

That total includes all food, accommodation, visas, excursions, travel insurance*, phones charges and transportation within SE Asia**, including a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Ko Lanta.

This is amazing! It really starts to put things in perspective about the amount of money you need while traveling. For sure, I am not including the cost of inter-continental flights which definitely adds up, but there is a whole other world called “travel hacking” to rack up airline miles and take advantage of crazy airline routes for stopovers and open jaw tickets as well as finding bugs in airline computer programs that can get you cheap fairs (Let’s just say I will most likely be flying back to anywhere in the USA from Turkey for free. If you email me, I can tell you more about it.)

For sure, we volunteered along the way which helped to keep our average rate lower but building houses out of mud in Thailand, helping run a bamboo guesthouse in Malaysia or teaching English in Cambodia (coming soon) are unforgettable experiences that only made our traveling that much more rewarding.

With all that said, there are many other variable costs that go into traveling. Pre-trip expenses can be quite costly depending on existing gear you have and how much you want to spend to get new stuff. I chose the more expensive route to get some fancy “tech clothes” for our travels and it has been well worth it. For instance, I paid $60 to get an expensive quick dry shirt as opposed to just bringing an old t-shirt. This Smartwool shirt has been the most amazing shirt. I can sweat in that shirt for 2 weeks straight without washing and it barely smells…and I get pretty smelly when I sweat. For me, it was worth the purchases of having fewer shirts and less weight in my pack. Other backpackers may scoff at paying that much for a shirt before a trip. To each there own! Also, vaccinations can add up depending on your insurance. Amber’s insurance covered most of her travel vaccines (+1 point US government), but mine didn’t and I paid about $1000 out of pocket just for a few shots. Ouch. I guess it is worth it to not get a terrible disease…

For those who dream of traveling but don’t think they have the money, think about how much you spend monthly at home. How much is your rent/mortgage? Here are some rough tips for budgeting long-term travel:

• Budgeting $2000 for pre trip expenses (if you plan to go anywhere exotic where you’ll need vaccines or tech gear)
• Budget $35/day (in south east asia) or $50/day for general traveling around the world, says Nomadic Matt, a popular travel blogger
• Before your trip, rack up airline miles so you don’t pay cash for intercontinental flight.

Of course, for many with fulltime employment in the Western world, the hardest thing is not the money, – it is taking the time to take a break from it all, but with a will there is a way and definitely a topic of a future blog post 🙂

* I recommend travel insurance to anybody who travels for any duration of time. After our research, we went with World Nomads. We pay $100/month as a couple and it covers our entire medical + lost/theft of our stuff and a slew of other items. We have already claimed about $1000 in reimbursable expenses for trips to the doctor, canceled bus tickets as well as lost headphones and stolen sandals, making the insurance well worth it!

**does not include flight from USA to SE Asia. We were able to swing $400 tickets from Tallahassee to Singapore with travel vouchers and deals. There are plenty of ways to get cheap inter-continental flights with travel miles. It also doesn’t include a flight back to the USA.


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