This is a interview/guest post with blog reader Ariel Hoffman, who recently spent a year traveling around Asia with his girlfriend Michal with a combined budget of only $10,000 – and managed to come back with $3,500 of it! I love to read nonfiction travel essays, so not only are there some great frugal travel tips below, it was also very exciting to read about their adventures. Thanks again for sharing, Ariel!
What was your inspiration to go on this adventure?
In Israel, it is mandatory to serve in the armed forces for at least 3 years. After that you just want to get away, and Asia is the perfect destination for someone who’s just saved up 3 years worth of the army’s 100$-a-month salary. Also, Israel’s a pretty small country, so there isn’t much domestic travel to be had like there is in the US.
The itinerary my girlfriend (Michal) and I came up with was mostly about avoiding the rainy season, and minimizing air travel. Air travel is expensive and boring, and you try to avoid it if you have a lot of time to spend.
How did you come up with your budget? Did it end up costing more or less than you thought?
We sat down and did some serious homework, mostly on websites like lonelyplanet.com and their forums. The budget they offered sounded ridiculously low, so we nearly doubled everything we read about, and came up with a rough estimate of about 10,000$ for the two of us, for the entire year.
What we realized, however, is that not only were the estimates online pretty accurate, but also that two people don’t spend exactly twice as much as one – lots of things are shared (such as meals, transportation, hotel rooms etc.) and so it’s more like budgeting for a person and a half rather than two.
We were very pleasantly surprised when we came back home to count our remaining traveler’s cheques and see we still have about 3,500$ left over for next time!
How did you fund it? Did you save up the cash upfront, borrow some money, work while on the trip, or some other combination?
In preparation for our trip, we both took on extra work and saved up every Shekel we made. It took us about 5 months. Once we reached our goal of 10,000$, we exchanged all our cash into traveler’s cheques – a great way to keep your money both liquid and safe when abroad. Luckily for us, the exchange rates were in our favor the whole time, which gave our savings an extra 2%-5% throughout the journey.
Walk us through a typical day on your Year in Asia trip.
Most days would begin with trying to find breakfast – not always an easy task. Most Asian countries do not serve what we would consider breakfast, especially my vegetarian Michal. Although chicken porridge and spicy rice is very nice, it’s not everyone’s idea of the right way to start your day. After eating some novel type of cookie in spiced tea, we would set off to whatever National Monument/UNESCO World Heritage Site/Giant Temple/Yearly Festival was in the town on that day. After a day’s tour of the attraction we would start hunting for a suitable lunch, which meant looking around for a street stall with a good crowd, or a local restaurant with a queue. Nothing says fresh like a long line of customers, and Asian vendors normally close their stalls every day when they’ve exhausted all their stock, so food is never kept overnight and doesn’t have time to spoil. Another plus is that the food is not made of pre-cut ingredients, which makes preparation slower, but at least you see exactly what you’re getting so there are no surprises.
Evening was normally a time for sitting on the beach, going to some performance or sitting in some tea-shop with friends. For a while we had a small kitchen in our room, so I would cook dinner for us while Michal practiced yoga. In China we bought a Wii, and at night we’d plug it in and invite friends over for kart racing – it’s OK to enjoy modern fun even when on the road!
We spent a lot of time on trains and buses, getting from A to B. Sometimes as long as 27 hours! Israel’s longest train ride is only 4 hours long.
What are some basic money-saving tips you might offer us readers?