Budget Long-Term Travel: Explore Longer For Less

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The following is a guest post from Matt from NomadicMatt, who as you might guess has a passion for travel and doesn’t like to stay in one place for too long. He wrote this while running around Spain! If you like what you see, I encourage you to check out his site for his travel blog and other travel tips.

One thing that always irks me about my fellow countrymen is the huge perception that travel is expensive. With only two weeks away a year, I can see why a lot of people would want to splash out on an expensive holiday. There’s nothing wrong with that. But a lot of people spend more money and get less value. They spend money on things the travel industry tells them they need but could find much cheaper. I’ve been traveling around the world for three years and whenever, I have friends come visit me in places, they are amazed at how little they spend compared to what they thought they would. I don’t penny pinch but I don’t spend money stupidly.

Take for example my trip to Thailand with a co-worker. Flights to Thailand can run anywhere between 800 and 1200 dollars for an economy class ticket. You can only hope to get on the lower end and sites like Momondo and Mobissimo are good at that. Additionally, you can check out my page on how to find cheap flights. My friend asked me how it would cost her for the two and half weeks we were going to be there. Should she bring 1,000 dollars? 1,500? Thinking about what I had planned for us, I told her $700 should be enough, unless she wanted to shop – then she should bring a few hundred more. She didn’t believe me but I was right. Here’s the break down:

  • Accommodation – Typical double bed room with shower, fan, or a/c. Nothing fancy but not super dirt, “I see a cockroach” cheap either. It cost us 20 dollars a night, which was split by two people.
  • Transportation – We took the local buses and trains around the country. They are very cheap with a train costing only a few hundred baht. (It’s 35 baht to one dollar). Overall, we spent $50 dollars on transport.
  • Food – Having lived in Thailand, I know the best food there is on the streets, which is also the cheapest food. A meal is about 30 baht. We also ate a lot of seafood on the islands which is about 300 baht a meal. Throw in a few sushi and Italian dinners at about 800 baht each and in total for 2 1/2 weeks we spent about 3,500 baht on food, which is $100 dollars.
  • Alcohol – We like to party so this was a bit of a budget buster. We easily spent $100 USD on going to clubs and beach parties.
  • Tours – We took one tour through the national park that cost us 1,500 baht for two days. The guides spoke perfect English and new things about the area that amazing. When we went to the beach, we did a snorkel tour for 500 baht.
  • Other sights – We spent about $10 dollars on the palace and temples in Bangkok.

So for 18 days we spent about $560 dollars per person, or about $31 a day, without skimping on anything, eating the local food, taking a few tours, and doing nothing really cheap. For 18 days, that is not a lot of money.

Thailand is a cheap country so I’m always amazed when people walk away spending lots of money. A typical two week tour to Thailand runs about $1,000 dollars from Gap Adventures, which actually specializes in inexpensive tours. We spent less in longer. (Editor’s note: Or you could stay an entire month for the same price of $1,000.)

Moreover, when most people travel to Thailand they stay at the big international hotels like the Marriott or the Sheraton, fly everywhere, and stay at luxury beach bungalows for 2,000 baht a night. When they eat, they eat out at fancy places. Relative to their home country, whether the U.S. or Europe, this may seem like a bargain (Wow! I just got a beach bungalow for 70 dollars a night!) but compared to how living locally is a third of the price, you aren’t getting good value for your money.

If luxury is what you want, go for it but if you want more value for your money, live more like a local, take the local transportation, and stay in middle of the road places. You’ll save a lot of money but also get to know the pulse of the location more. There’s nothing wrong with spending money but I find not getting the most out of the money you spend a waste.

(Photo credit: NomadicMatt)

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  1. Wow, and here I was told by my friend from Thailand to NEVER eat from street vendors, especially if you have to use bowls and chopsticks/utensils that are not disposable as they are notorious for not washing them. They just give them a quick wipe.

    In fact, it was the only warning I was given.

  2. Question from the no longer quite as adventurous who has never traveled to the far east: For a stay of around a month in Thailand, would it work out to book the first few nights in one of the “international hotels” and then chose the cheaper/more unique local lodging while there after being able to judge location and see the rooms? I guess what I’m asking is am I risking full hotels or paying higher prices on the spot by doing this rather than booking ahead?

  3. Eating off the streets is a crapshoot *anywhere*, but why risk your trip (and your stomach) in countries where you just know the standards are not high?

    I had the worst case of , let’s just say, “stomach problems”, after a trip to Thailand…it lasted for 2 months!

    Unless you have an iron stomach, I’d not eat off of a street cart…

  4. I’ve lived in Thailand on and off for three years…the best food in the country is from the street vendors. All the locals eat it and all the expats it eat. You are far better off eating from there than a restaurants. Tons of Thailand expats will agree.

    Can you get sick? sure. But you can get sick anywhere. You are way better off with street food in Thailand than restaurant food.

    But avoid the street food in India…avoid it like the plague!

  5. This assumes you are familiar with the country in question. It’s going to be much harder to do this sort of thing if you’ve never been there and don’t speak the language.

  6. I like this post. I plan on doing a lot of traveling starting next summer.

  7. You can blow at least several hundred dollars on the recommended travel vaccinations before going to Thailand (although most of them are effective for decades). Any recommendations for saving money on that front?

  8. Great post. I am itching to do New Years in Europe. You may have convinced me.

  9. RE street food (sorry to belabour): Why do you claim that street food is safer than restaurant food? That flies against logic, at least in the U.S., where restaurants are routinely inspected.

    Also, street food can be okay if you live in a place and take the time to learn which vendors provide good *and* safe food. But if you are visiting a country for the first time and just randomly visit a stall, it can be a risk.

    That said, when I got sick in Thailand, it was definitely from a well-known and well-respected restaurant.

  10. Sure, now you post about how to travel cheaply after I already booked my cruise to the Bahamas and already paid for the excursions. Next time, try to give us more advance notice mmmkay? I’m kidding about the notice, but now I do have some travel tips for when I do go on my cruise next week. Thanks and keep up the good work!

  11. This man knows a lot about the nuts and bolts of travel, but if you read him long enough you’ll soon find he hasn’t the soul for it.

    I do not need to qualify this statement. Go through his site. Compare it to others. He is about touting his travel credentials (While at the same time speaking out against those that do the same), making money via his blog / downloadable pdf, and preaching the benefits of travel to the masses.

    I often wonder about his motives. More power to him.

  12. There is a way to travel for free. There are many countries where the iPhone is not available at any official retail markets — and the upper-middle-class there are usually salivating over the prospect of getting their hands on one. For example, in China — you could sell a new iPhone for double the price in the USA. So it only takes 1 iPhone to cover the plane ticket, another for the hotel/food/entertainment costs, and then a few more for profit.

    The risk of course is in finding buyers. If you are a total stranger to the country, it’s probably a risk you don’t want to take. But if you have friends or relatives there, let them handle it — cut them in on some of the profit of course.

  13. re @ mossySF
    ha that reminds of the cigs i used to sell in england
    that was also nice money

    good times

  14. @cowtipper: insurance? sorry can’t help there

    @ed: there’s no health and safety in thailand. The street food is fresh everyday, the restaurant food- not so much. Just eat at the stands where everyone else is eating. If they weren’t good, they would have closed and been replaced a long time ago. The street food is a huge part of Thai culture.

    @robert: when you go on your cruise, try to book the excursions on land- you’ll save some $

    @chris- I have no real idea what you are talking about. I don’t have the soul for it? I do preach about travel and I believe we all should- but in a responsible way. Travel is a wonderful experience. I don’t speak out against those that do the same. In fact, I often highlight travelers on my site b/c they are experts and great travelers. Not really sure I understand your comment.

    @Mossy a new iphone 3gs is about 800 dollars in thailand. that can cover a few weeks aftr you subtract your initial cost! 🙂

  15. Hi…

    I guess what I’m asking is am I risking full hotels or paying higher prices on the spot by doing this rather than booking ahead?

  16. On Thai street food – there’s no running water; utensils are washed in a bucket; soi dogs run around and pee right next to the cart; high outside temperatures make the food go bad quickly/encourage bacteria growth. To those that this adds up to more sanitary conditions than a restaurant – go ahead and enjoy street food, but don’t bring Thais into the equation – their digestive systems are less sensitive than that of a Westerner, who’s used to pasteurized/ionized/ultra clean food.

  17. I was actually looking at taking a trip offered by Gap Adventures. I thought it was a coincidence you mentioned them. Have you used them? Do you like them?

  18. Trug: Actually, the city provided water for the street vendors. Their are faucets which they attach hoses too. You can see them. Most westerners might face an adjustment but that is true no matter where you eat in the world when you aren’t used to the food. You can go to a 5 star place in brazil and still get sick. Have you ever seen the conditions of a Thai restaurant? rats galore!

    Christine: I have used them in the past! I love them. If there was any one good tour company it would be them. They offer much better value for your money than other companies, they promote the environment, and make sure most of your money stays in the local community.

  19. One reason why people do package tours is so they don’t get hustled, mugged, or kidnapped/raped in these 3rd world countries. Women travelling alone or with another female would be advised to take a package tour.

    In my younger days I went to Egypt alone (I’m female), and had MANY close calls with men and street hustlers because I was not familiar with local customs. Travel with a group! Your guide will hopefully warn you of places to avoid, and you won’t get sick from bad food. All the food I ate in Egypt was good & clean at the hotel & beach resorts.

  20. I’ve been to Thailand many times in the past few years, and can attest that eating off the carts is fine. Most of the food is steamed or boiled. (India on the other hand….) Would just like to add that the first axiom of budget travel is to sleep “hard” and eat “soft.” In other words, save money on your accommodations but not on your dining.

  21. knowing my luck, i would get kidnapped, and the ransom plus hospital time due to the diseases i got from picking the wrong food would far outweigh the money saved on accommodations…

    honestly, there is plenty here in the US that i still have not seen. Not even sure how to fit all of that in, much less the rest of the planet.

  22. I’m very disappointed seeing this posted at My Money Blog.

    There are far better sites to learn about budget foreign travel. One is the Lonely Planet Thorntree forum, read the FAQs for the countries that you are interested in. Another is Rick Steves.

    Matt’s site is just there to make money from Adsense clicks and advertisers links. Cmon, you click down to a site like this:

    This really devalues My Money blog.


  24. Netanderthal says

    Come on guys, its one thing if youre a local or an expat whose stomach is used to local flora, its another thing if youre there for couple weeks and are pretty much guaranteed montezumas revenge if you go for the tastiest stuff.
    I paid dearly for those mango shakes I got at Ko Phi Phi beaches 😉

  25. Regarding eating at street vendors, I think it all can also depend on the type of food you’re eating. If it’s grilled or made in boiling water, I think that’s different than something with raw vegetables. Drink juices out of can, but not with ice cubes (from questionable water), that sort of thing.

    Some of my friends seem to have stomachs of steels, while others carry cases of Cipro with them. 😉

    Ingrid – I am pretty sure that the site you linked to bought a ad link on Matt’s site. Matt did not create that site, nor does he necessarily endorse it. I don’t an ad necessarily devalues his information. The ratio of advertising and content is an issue all website owners have to wrangle with, from Google and CNN.com on down to us little guys.

  26. Ingrid: There’s actually very very very little advertising on my website. An while I might have sold some ad links in the past, can you really blame a person for trying to make some extra money on a website? Jonathan has adsense here but do you blame him for wanting ad clicks? I doubt it.

  27. Ariel Hoffman says

    Hi everyone!

    Haven’t posted in a while, because I just spent the last YEAR with my girlfriend, in Asia. It was amazing.
    FYI, our total budget (incl. flights!) was under 4000$ per person. That’s for 11 months and 20 days. Traveling on a longer term makes you much more savvy, and you learn how to bargain. 9-15$ a day is great for most of Asia (India, China or Indonesia for example) while other countries (like Hong Kong or Macau) are a bit pricier.
    As for the big debate on street food – we always ate outside. The kitchen in a restaurant is just the same as the street vendor, except on the street you can easily see what the quality of the food is, and what the turnover’s like. We did get sick once, in a restaurant in India, but never after eating from a street vendor. Another plus is the wonderful variety of street food, and of course the price tag – it’s always in cents.
    My advice: don’t use organized tours if you’re traveling for more than a week, and always look to airasia.com for flights.

  28. Momondo is soon launching its new site, but it definitely helps to save money.

  29. Save Money Hound says

    Great value travel. If you do as the locals do, you can always save money on your travels. It’s more fun too.

  30. Great money tips, the longer you can travel the better.

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