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How much does it really cost to travel in Asia for six months?

· Travel Guide,Money

“But I (we) don’t’ have enough money to travel for half a year!”

This is maybe the biggest objection people have against traveling. If that sounds like you, then this is a must-read.

Nicole tracked every single Euro she has spent on the road and we have decided to give you our exact and real numbers on:

  • How much did we spent traveling six months from Tehran to Bangkok
  • What exactly did we spend this money on by category
  • How much money did we spent in each country
  • What kind of luxury can you afford with this kind of budget
  • And where the biggest potentials are to save a buck or two 

The absolute number for one person

7006,52 Euro.

Well, that’s it? Yes, that is the exact amount Nicole has spent in six months traveling through Asia (Kevin’s number is basically the same though there might be a couple of extra beers ;-)).

Obviously, simply having a number doesn’t necessarily help. After all, there are very different styles to travel. We have met some people who were mainly hitchhiking and spent less than 500 Euros a month.

So, what does 7006,52 Euro buy you?

Travel budget breakdown by category

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Accommodation: 1072.31 Euro

Or, less than two months rent for one person in Munich.

How did we do that? Camping? While we did camp every now and then when we were hiking in the mountains, that was really just a small fraction of all the nights we spent.

Generally, we were staying in hostels. In Central Asia, where hostel infrastructure is (yet) quite underdeveloped, we were also using homestays and guesthouses. If you have a calculator, you would have found out that we spent around six Euros per night, which buys you a dorm in South East Asia or a double room in Central Asia and China (split by two).

Image showing very affordable airBnB with pool in Bali, Indonesia

Food: 1005.21 Euro

All in all, we mostly ate out in restaurants or grabbed some street food (extremely good value for money in China and most of South East Asia). When we enjoyed the luxury of having a kitchen we also cooked though in lots of places it isn’t necessarily cheaper than getting street food. The 350 Euros we spent on buying food in (super-)markets also includes our gigantic appetite for chocolate and Snickers :)

Image showing self-made plov, the national food of Uzbekistan

Flights: 1039.05 Euro

Even if you are a frugal traveler, flights can really mess up your budget. Generally, they are the most expensive (and probably most environmentally unfriendly) way to get you from A to B in Asia. So we tried to stay off them, which was not entirely possible. We flew

  • From Frankfurt to Tehran (to start our trip)
  • From Beijing to Hong Kong (for a visa run)
  • From Chengdu to Denpasar, Bali (otherwise it’s really hard to get from China to Indo)
  • From Denpasar, Bali to Bangkok
  • And from Bangkok back to Munich (to end our trip)

We booked most of our flights on Skyscanner, but we avoided AirAsia because of their horrible records of incidents ;-).

Image showing the wings of an airplane with the sun rising in the background.

Other modes of transport: 1305.28 Euro

This includes trains, long-distance buses, other buses, taxis and UBER, a couple of crazy boat trips and scooter and bike rentals.

Image showing a ship in the Caspian Sea.

Although this may seem like a low price tag for 180 days on the road we almost never chose the cheapest option available. For instance, in Iran, we always took VIP buses, in China, we traveled mostly by sleeper trains and in South East Asia, we regularly opted for the minivan instead of the larger (slower) buses.

However, we avoided private transport (such as hiring a driver for getting around) as much as possible and when we were in bigger cities, we also opted for public transport most of the time.

Visa: 467.15 Euro

Health Insurance: 203.81

Entrance fees: 210.08 Euro

Organized trips and tours: 640.06

We traveled mostly independently, but now and then, we booked an organized tour. Among others, this includes horse-trekking in Kyrgyzstan, a road trip through the Pamir mountains in Tajikistan and a guided trekking tour through hidden villages in Laos.

Sports and Fitness: 557.64 Euros

This amount is probably one you might not necessarily spend while travelling. But as our goal for spending a month on Bali was to improve our surf skills, we took a lot of surf classes. In addition to that we joined a couple of Yoga classes and rented climbing equipment for some days in China and Laos.

Image showing Nicole surfing in Serangan, Bali, Indonesia.

Clothes: 204.63 Euros

We almost never went shopping or bought anything (our backpacks were anyway full and didn’t allow for shopping). Still, while “settling” for some weeks on Bali, we didn’t entirely manage to avoid the many small, fancy shops :). Also, both of us bought board shorts and shirts for surfing.

Medicine & Cosmetics: 65.84 Euro

The Rest (a.k.a, bars, massages, souvenirs and miscellaneous): 205.45 Euro

What’s not included?

The above number doesn’t include travel gear that we bought before the trip (we will do an extra blog post on this one) and necessary vaccination and other medial check-ups (cause they are free in Germany, duh, but we know that depending on the country, this may be quite some extra money). Also, not included are subscriptions that just ran along during the trip like Spotify, Netflix and ExpressVPN.

Travel budget breakdown by country

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What you do is only part of the equation for every travel budget. The even more important question might be: Where do you do it?

Common sense tells us that different countries can have tremendously different prices. So, which countries have been the biggest money burner? Easy calculation tells us that one person spent about 38.29 Euros per day on average (excluding the travel insurance). So the following list gives you an idea about which countries are relatively cheaper or more expensive. The numbers are averages per day, per person.

Iran: 35.20 Euros

This budget includes the initial flight to Iran and the hefty visa on arrival cost. If you exclude those, we are at 21,73 Euros per day, so pretty affordable. One last hint: Hostels in Iran have been among the most expensive during our trip. However, we made up for it by regularly using Couchsurfing.

Image showing a familiy that hosted us in Iran.

Azerbaijan: 44.45 Euros

We only spent five days in Azerbaijan, so the amount is heavily inflated by the boat trip we had to pay to get over the Caspian Sea. We feel like that Azerbaijan is about comparable to Iran.

Kazakhstan: 25.87 Euros

Again, not really representative since we only spent four days in Kazakhstan. Generally, organized tours seem to be pretty expensive: We were quoted USD 60 per person per day for hiring a driver to get us into the desert (which we didn’t do).

Uzbekistan: 17.86 Euros

Heavily underrated and cheap country! This budget includes the Uzbek visa, some pretty expensive tours, double room accommodation and several taxi transport between cities!

Tajikistan: 45.01 Euros

What, isn’t Tajikistan supposed to be rather cheap? Yes, overall, it should not be more expensive than Uzbekistan. However, the majority of the cost comes from hiring a car and driver for several days to roadtrip the Pamir as well as the visa.

Image showing our jeep we used to travel the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan.

Kyrgyzstan: 26.23 Euros

Another really affordable country. This budget includes a three-days horse trekking tour as well as crossing the Torugart pass into China. We don’t know why we did it, but that was USD 200 for each of us (at least the views of the pass were amazing and it saved us some time and extra train rides in China…). If you exclude the Torugart pass, you would arrive at a whopping 19,74 Euros per day!

China: 29.41 Euros

In China, a lot depends on how you travel, what you eat etc. Since we traveled all the way from Xinjiang, the very West of China, to Beijing, then flew to Hongkong just to travel back up north, we spent an average of 11,74 Euros per day for staying on the road, which is really expensive. On the other hand, we saved some money because we stayed at Kevin’s family for about 10 nights in Beijing and Yichang. Otherwise, hostel accommodation is about 50 RMB (or 6 Euros) per person per night, street food is about 15 RMB (or 2 Euros) per meal, so rather average. Entrances are on the expensive side compared to Iran or Uzbekistan.

Image showing street food in China.

Indonesia: 42.99 Euros

Our most expensive country! Even excluding the flights to get there and away, we spent 34,59 Euros per day per person. The big difference here is our rich leisure program, which included a lot of (!) surf and yoga classes and the more than average shopping we did on Bali. We also spent more money on food in Bali because psychologically, we weren’t ready to survive on Nasi Goreng only. So we ate lots of organic, hipster bowls.

Thailand: 27.45 Euros

We only spent three nights in Bangkok, so not a really representative number. Our feeling is that hostels in Bangkok are quite expensive. Food is ok if you stick to the streets.

Cambodia: 36.49 Euros

Pretty average costs in general. The budget includes a very expensive tour to an elephant sanctuary as well as the expensive (but obligatory) ticket to Angkor Wat.

Image showing an elephant of the Elephant Valley Project in Sen Monorom, Cambodia.

Laos: 32.52 Euros

Cheaper than Cambodia with regard to food and transportation. The most expensive single experience was a hiking trip through hidden villages in the north of Laos which significantly drove the average cost up. Renting climbing gear for a couple of days in Thakek was cheap (compared to Germany), but still added up.

What kind of luxuries did we afford?

Double-room accommodation

The standard and cheapest accommodation for backpackers is obviously the shared dorm. Traveling as a couple however, we mostly opted for the added privacy of a double room. Added bonus, in most of Central Asia as well as China, it’s about the same or only slightly more expensive than dorms.

Sleeper trains, VIP buses and non-AirAsia flights

We definitely had above average costs on the road. We took the luxury of not using the crappiest mode of transportation ever. That means: VIP sleeper buses in Iran, minivans instead of buses in South East Asia (much faster) and sleeper trains in China. Also, to get to and from Indonesia, we decided against AirAsia because of their horrible safety record.

Image showing train in Uzbekistan en route from Aktau to Kungrad.

Pamir Highway, Torugart Pass, surf, yoga and other expensive tours

Every once in a while, we spend some ridiculous amount of money on some really expensive tours and activities. But hey, that’s the main reason we travel anyway right?

Image showing the Tash Rabat before the Torugart pass, crossing from Kyrgyzstan to China.

Top moneysaving tips!

Make use of differing exchange rates!

This didn’t seem very important to us in the beginning. But in some countries, it really matters. For instance, in Iran, the exchange rate may differ tremendously from exchange booth to exchange booth and all of these are still cheaper than the official one! Also, in Uzbekistan, the exchange rate for both USD and Euros was essentially the same. But since the one Euro is worth about 20% more than one USD, exchanging Euros would lose you a lot of money!

AirBnB and scooter on Bali:

As we have already mentioned, Indonesia was quite expensive for us, mainly because of all the surf and yoga. We tried to save money elsewhere. On AirBnB, there are often hefty discounts if you rent a place for a week or a month (sometimes up to 50%). So if you know you are going to spend some time to recover in one place, book early!

Same goes for scooter, which is already way cheaper than taxis or hiring a driver. But again, you can get serious discounts if you just rent one machine for the entire duration of your stay.

Independent trekking:

Organized tours are always really expensive no matter where you go. We were able to save a lot by going independently. Specifically for Kyrgyzstan, there is tons of information online and you can rent (sort of) decent equipment in the big mountain hubs which makes a tour mostly irrelevant. Apart from Kyrgyzstan, we also hit the road on our own in Iran and China, though it would be more difficult to rent equipment.

Image showing Kevin hiking in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan. One of the many hikes we did without guide.

Couchsurfing in Iran:

As we have mentioned, hostels in Iran are pretty expensive. And couchsurfing doesn’t only save you some money, but also gives you an authentic glimpse into the culture of local people!

So, as you can see, traveling does not have to cost a fortune. In fact, living for half a year in Germany/Europe is often much more expensive. This is the case even if you just don’t want to sleep in dorms or use crappy buses anymore. And as we have already said, you would be able to travel for a couple of months in Central and South East Asia with an even lower budget than we did! So, start saving some extra Euros each month and you would be able to start your trip quite soon!

What kind of luxuries do you afford while you travel? What are your favorite money-saving tips? Let us know in the comments!