Having now finished my 6-month trip of South East Asia I am able to share my experience on how much travelling in the region costs. It’s no secret that this part of the world is certainly more affordable than most, and I would definitely agree with that statement. If you plan your money wisely and are prepared to eat locally and stay in modest accommodation you can easily live off £1000 a month. For the duration of my 6-month trip (178 days), I spent £7500. Now that is clearly more than £1000 a month but I did spend $1500 on scuba diving, completing 4 different scuba courses and a total of 33 dives. So, if you subtract this amount as not everyone will dive then that is quite clearly £1000 a month. Working out at roughly £34 a day. This £34 a day covers everything! Accommodation, food, drink, transport, activities (besides scuba diving) even my laundry. In the whole 6 months, I never once cooked for myself or done my own laundry. Once again giving you an indication of how cheap this region can be. Obviously, some days I would spend far more than £34 a day, for example, if I was catching a flight or doing some kind of tour. Other days though I would spend far less, if hungover and laid in bed. Therefore, combining these two facts together I averaged living off the £34 a day. Some countries and regions in South East Asia are a little pricier then others, for example, Singapore and the touristy Thai Islands, but this can be balanced out with cheaper places such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Below I’ve given some extra information regarding how much you should expect to pay for certain aspects of your trip and how to save yourself some money.
Quite clearly when trying to live off £34 a day if you stayed in hotels all the time you would quickly eat up all your budget. I therefore stayed in hostels and shared dormitory accommodation. On average a bed in an 8-bed dormitory would cost around £5 a night give or take a little. I did, however, spend as little as £1 a night on some accommodation (which weren’t as bad as you may be thinking) and up to £8 a night for other dormitories in popular hostels and locations. Every now and then it was also nice to treat myself and book the odd private hotel room or private dorm room in a hostel. These are most likely going to set you back at least £10 a night depending on how much you want to splash the cash. In some places though a night in a hotel room to yourself can be the same price as staying in a mixed dormitory. The trick is to shop around and know what you are after that night and how much you’re willing to spend. The best places to look for accommodation is Hostelworld, Agoda and Booking.com make sure you check each site as places may be cheaper on one or the other. Also, if a hostel has its own website and booking page it is often cheaper to book using this as opposed to a booking site which takes a fee. Most of the time though you will need to book through one of these websites. I didn’t try couch surfing or any such similar websites but it does provide a way to reduce your accommodation bill even further if you wish.
After the £5 a day on accommodation, a further £5-10 would go towards food for the day. Sometimes if you are lucky, or select wisely, your hostel may even provide breakfast included with your night’s stay. Don’t expect a Michelin star meal though, it’s going to be very basic and will barely tidy you over until lunch. Still, free food isn’t to be missed! If your hostel doesn’t provide you with free breakfast it probably won’t set you back more than a few quid. Your selection is likely to be limited to eggs in a variety of ways or pancakes, plus some more local dishes. For lunch and dinner on average, you are likely to spend around £2-4. But this obviously depends on where and what you eat. If you go where the locals go and opt for their food, you can easily spend as little as £1 a meal and it will almost always be very tasty. Be prepared to eat a lot of rice and noodle though in this part of the world. If you decide to stick to home comfort food be prepared to spend upward of £5 a meal. Sometimes though it’s nice to treat yourself. As I said though eating out in this part of the world is very affordable and often cheaper and more convenient than trying to cook for yourself. In the whole 6 months, I ate out for every meal, indicating it is very affordable to do so and very delicious too.
Now, this is where you can seriously burn a hole in your pocket. Don’t get me wrong I had my fair share of beers (and much more) while in Southeast Asia but I also moderated myself as I knew this is where you could easily blow a lot of your money. On average a beer in the region will set you back around £1-2. Shots and mixers are of a similar price often a little more £2-4. Now drinking while on the road is certainly cheaper than back home but as every day is realistically a Friday its easy to get carried away and if you do start to drink lots and lots you will soon have no money to enjoy all the other things that travelling offers. By all means, go an enjoy yourself I had some amazing nights out and the hostel bar is where you shall meet the most people, but I also had a week here and there not going out or having a beer. Just keep an eye on how much you’re spending on alcohol! Asides from the cost of alcohol, how much is water going to cost you when you need to fend off the dreaded hangover the following day. Unfortunately, in this part of the world, the water sanitation isn’t too great so be prepared to buy bottled water. A 1.5 L of water from a 7 eleven or other such convenience stores will be around 50p to £1. Obviously, though I tried to limit my purchasing of plastic bottles as much as I could and many hostel and restaurants, for example, have large reserves of drinking water which you can use to fill up your empty bottle. This is also cheaper than buying a new bottle from a shop and sometimes free. Saving the planet and your wallet at the same time. Additionally, you could buy a fancy filter bottle further adding to your saving of money and the planet by allowing yourself to drink tap water.
Along with accommodation and food transportation is also another key expense that needs to be considered. Most likely you won’t be moving every day so the cost of travelling around can be spread over a few days technically when working with your £34 a day average. Flights are likely to be your biggest expense but even here there are deals to be had. My 13-hour flight from Gatwick to Singapore cost £200 which isn’t bad considering the distance and was with Norwegian airlines which I would recommend for cheaper long-haul flights. Air Asia is your go-to when you arrive on the continent. Its basically the Ryan Air of Asia and you can get some very cheap flights, most of the ones we took in Asia cost between £20-40 and could often be booked pretty close to the departure date at this price so you didn’t have to have your itinerary too rigid. Another great tool for looking for cheap flights is Skyscanner and is my go-to when search to book an upcoming flight. After flights, trains and buses are going to be your next best mode of transport, these will often set you back around £10 or so for even pretty lengthy journeys. Ferries are also likely to cost around £5-10 depending on the distance and the speed of the ferry. Once you arrive at your chosen destination how do you go from the airport or bus station to your hostel? Your best choice is to download Grab, which is the Asian equivalent of Uber. This works best if travelling in a group as you can split the costs but even solo it can be cheap, especially if using the Grab motorbike service. You can often travel around the city for as little as 50p – £2 a ride on the grab bike service, which is often the fastest way to travel as well. After Grab you have all the local transport like Tuk Tuks and tricycles which are once again cheap, but check a price on grab so you know what your up against and can haggle better. A final transport option is hiring your own moped, which is once again a very affordable way to get around. You can usually hire one for as little as a few quid a day and filling up the tank won’t set you back any more than £1.
After taking care of the essentials it’s now time for one of the things that actually make travelling worthwhile. All the cool stuff you can do and see. Now to put monetary values on such a broad aspect of travelling is pretty hard to do as there is so much choice and variety in so many different countries. But the same principle applies as with the transport cost. You’re not going to be doing an expensive activity every day (unless you’re loaded) so the costs can be split over the course of a few days again. As I’ve already touched on I did a lot of scuba diving which added to my expenses but on average I was paying £30 for a fun dive which is very cheap considering how much you pay in other parts of the world. Most tours are probably going to be in the region of around £20 for your typical day boat trip tours and similar such day tours. With more specialist things the price is likely to go up towards £50 but you’ll just have to make a judgement on how much you are willing to spend on activities and how much your budget allows. If travelling in a group or even alone be sure to haggle the tour operator on price as I guarantee you almost 100% of the time you will be able to get a discount. Also, shop around and search for reviews on Google and TripAdvisor to ensure when you do part with your hard-earned cash you are embarking on a tour which is worthwhile and good value for money.
For a UK passport holder, most countries in Southeast Asia are 30 – 90-day free tourist visa on arrival. Some countries aren’t like this however so be sure to check on the official government websites what is required. When you do have to pay visa fees they often worked out around $30 a visa roughly £23 (Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam) so aren’t too expensive but just be aware and carry some dollars to pay for them too.
There you have it a quick generic breakdown of your various expenses while travelling in the region. Like I said I think it’s a very realistic target to travel here on a budget of £1000 per person per month. You could certainly go cheaper than this if you needed and obviously spend more. I felt however this was the right balance between watching how much I was spending but also remembering to enjoy myself. After all, you can always earn more money, you can’t always spend it doing amazing things making life long memories.