Frugal Travel Report for July 2010

This is the fifth in a series of reports detailing my travel expenses during a six-month trip through India, Vietnam, and Nepal, as outlined in The Plan: 6 Months, 3 Countries, and $3,000.

Frugal Travel Reports
March 2010 (includes Pre-Travel expenses)
April 2010
May 2010
June 2010
July 2010
August 2010


By the time you read this, I will likely be on my way into the Himalayan mountains visiting a small village where an NGO is helping build and fund schools to improve education.

In my previous post, I asked for help coming up with questions for the tour and your timely feedback was much appreciated. The generosity, wisdom, and helpfulness of this community never ceases to amaze me; thank you.


Now it's time for yet another embarrassing report of my expenses for the past four weeks. This is where I literally put my money where my mouth is and expose to the world just how "frugal" I have really been.

I say embarrassing because while you're reading this, I will be visiting a village where my expenses for this month could have paid a school teacher full-time for six months.

That's right, it costs $1700 to fund a school teacher in a small village in Nepal for an entire year.

But let's look forward instead of backward. My expenses for this month in Kathmandu were higher than usual for several reasons, namely because I was spending 12 - 14 hours a day for three weeks working from cafes and restaurants putting together the Small Ways to Make a Big Difference ebook. I needed fuel.

While I could have eaten at much cheaper places (and I did, on several occasions), the only places with reliable and free WiFi were not exactly the cheapest places in Kathmandu. Plus, I was staying in probably the most expensive area of Kathmandu: the backpacker district of Thamel.


Lodging Expenses

As I wrote in last months' report, I anticipated having free lodging for my entire stay in Kathmandu, but plans changed. My friends' parents, who were letting me stay in their house while they were away visiting the United States, decided to stay in the States longer than expected.

They asked my friend to get the house rented before he left, so after only a week of free lodging I had to find my own place. The house was beautiful and I feel lucky for the opportunity I was given to stay there. It was a welcome break from the tiny room I left in Vietnam.

After some research on and, I settled on the famous Kathmandu Guest House in the heart of the backpacker district of Thamel.

I managed to negotiate a decent room from $13/night down to $7/night. The room came with shared bathrooms and showers but it did have an in-room sink, so I was at least able to brush my teeth in privacy.

This was my first experience with common showers/bathrooms and it wasn't nearly as inconvenient as I thought it would be. However, this is the low-season for tourism so I can only imagine what the lines for the showers must look like during high-season.


Food Expenses

And here's the embarrassing part. My food expenses for this month are excessively high, especially for Nepal!

As I mentioned in the introduction, I spent 12 - 14 hours a day working on my laptop from cafes and restaurants and the only places with reliable WiFi were a bit on the expensive side.

The cafe where I spent most of my time (Himalayan Java) had lattes that ran $1 - $2 a piece. Down the street, the Roadhouse Cafe served an excellent hummus dip plate for $4 and across the street from Roadhouse was an organic cafe that served delicious salads and fruit juices for $3 - $4 each.

During my second week in Thamel, a new friend introduced me to a cheap Nepali restaurant where I was able to get an entire traditional vegetarian lunch (Dhal Bhat) for $1.25. I started making it a habit to eat breakfast and lunch there.

I tried my best to buy granola and nuts from the convenience store to fill up in between meals, but it didn't appear to help much with the food expenses.

Every day the newspapers talked about how toxic the water was, so I've also been buying bottled drinking water (a horrible choice since plastic is such a problem here).


Transportation Expenses

All my transportation expenses are from my first week in Nepal when I was commuting between my friends' house and Thamel. The house was about 4 miles from Thamel and while I could have taken cheap micro-buses, I ended up taking taxis instead.

My reasons (read: excuses) for this vary, but it was a combination of leaving Thamel late at night when it would be difficult (for me) to find the micro-busses, and leaving when it was pouring rain; jumping in a taxi was a lot more convenient than walking and waiting in the rain.

A four-mile ride in a taxi, after heavy negotiation, would run about $2.70 (the same trip in a crowded and slow micro-bus would've been 30 cents).

While I was staying at my friends' house, I only went into Thamel when I was able to hitch a ride with him on his motorbike. My friend also showed me around Kathmandu and Patan (the town south of Kathmandu), both on his motorbike and in a bicycle rickshaw.

Other than that, I haven't moved from the one block radius around my hotel for the past three weeks. I walked around Thamel quite a bit during the first week, but once I started working on the ebook there was no time to explore.

Total Distance Traveled: ~50 miles


Other Expenses

This is a big list, but the total expenses aren't that bad. My visits to Durbar Square and other touristy places in Patan were free (having my Nepali friend with me probably helped somewhat) and the visit to the Swayambhu stupa set me back $2.70.

The mobile phone refill, soap, toothpaste, and AA batteries for my wireless mouse should be self-explanatory. The hotel provided a laundry service, which I used a few times (you probably don't want to know how few times).

The WiFi Internet at the hotel was unexpectedly expensive. Charging $1/hr for a service that's not costing them anything extra to maintain just seems wrong. So, after paying one time for a 5-hour pass, I used my computer skills to get around the system for the rest of my stay. It wasn't a great hack and the connection was unreliable and slow, but it got me free access.

The multitool definitely wasn't a necessary expense, but the idea of going trekking without some type of knife didn't sit well with me. Five bucks for something that could save my life seemed like a justifiable expense.


Expenses Summary

So there you have it: more than seven hundred dollars in expenses for the month of July -- almost three times my monthly $250 budget. I'm now more than $1200 over the six-month budget of $3000 that I set for myself back in March.

The lesson here is that food can be very expensive, but that if you need a nice place to sit in Thamel, a delicious caffeinated beverage, and fast, free, and reliable WiFi, then you can plan on spending a little money.

If I had eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the cheap Nepali place, I could've easily kept my food expenses under $130 (but again, no WiFi there) and dropped this months' expenses to under $400. There are also lots of cheaper places than the Kathmandu Guest House to stay in Thamel, but the convenience and my priorities for this month meant I was prepared to spend a little extra.


For next month, I will be doing a lot of traveling around the Pokhara area of Nepal. A local friend who works as a trekking guide during the tourist season is taking me on several hikes in the Himalayas.

The Annapurna Circuit and Everest Base Camp treks were the two at the top of my list, but he recommended against both of them this early in the season; the monsoon rains make those treks dangerous. He's the expert, so I'm going with his recommendation.

All my expenses for next month should be much lower, as I'll be staying in cheap places and eating local food. However, I'll also likely be offline a lot more than I was this month. I promise to get to all your comments and emails, it might just take me a little while.

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  1. Raam, I love these reports. Very eye-opening for me. I’m wondering how you get your cash there? Is it as simple as using an ATM, or do you have to take out large sums from a bank every few weeks? Or do most places accept credit cards?

    Keep doing what you do.

    • Hey Niall,

      ATMs are everywhere and that’s what I’ve been using. I’ve been withdrawing 2000 NRS at a time (about $27 USD). Some ATMs have a 1000 NRS minimum withdrawal but others do 500 NRS. I imagine even 100 NRS is possible outside the touristy areas.

      Credit cards are usuall accepted in the more upscale places and at hotels, but none of the small shops would take’em.

      In Thamel, most people will even take USD and Euros directly, because there’s a million places to get it exchanged. Same goes for Indian Rupees (I paid a cab driver with Indian rupees once because that’s all I had on me).

      I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying these reports. I think they’re an excellent way for me to watch my expenses, since I always write everything down at the end of the day. I’m thinking I will make these a regular monthly thing… Maybe change the name to “Frugal Travel Expense Report”.

      I see lots of bloggers reporting their monthly earnings online, but not many reporting their expenses. I think expenses are more interesting — and humbling — to look at. 🙂

  2. Thanks for the insiders view on budgeting. I’m currently trying to figure out mine and this is very helpful.

    $250 a months seems impossible to me, of course that’s coming from an inexperienced perspective. If I could manage a budget 3 times that I would be psyched.

    • Hey Nick, thanks for the comment!

      Depending on where you’re going, $250/mo isn’t that tough. In almost any third or second world country, you can live comfortably on $500/mo. Of course traveling around and doing touristy stuff makes it more of a challenge.

      If you have any more questions, feel free to send me a message (using my contact page). I’ll be happy to help however I can. 🙂

  3. It’s always interesting to read your reports and to be fair $700 a month isn’t bad. We also got sucked into the western cafes and restaurants in Thamel and enjoyed some great meals at Roadhouse Cafe – so I understand the temptation.

    • Thanks Erin! Glad to hear i’m not the only one who got sucked in! 🙂

      I’ve been in Thamel for several weeks now and I feel like once I leave I’ll finally get to see some of the “real” Nepal. Thamel is a westernized world of its own!

  4. Raam, thank you for updating us with your travel reports.

    It’s interesting to see how much food can add up. I just got back from my stay in Toronto and noticed almost all of my expenses were going out – puts it all into perspective.

    Your comment about the teacher salary is quite shocking.

    Overall, you’re trying to get into a completely different mindset. You think of it in the major countries where expenses are through the rough but it’s a lot of excess spending.

    It makes a lot of sense why people coming to the states can do so well because their mindset is based on years of frugality (from our perspective) but when we go to places as you have, we take over our extravagant spending.

    Overtime I’m sure you’ll find it easier and easier to adapt your spending and go minimal.

    Thanks for the update Raam – best of luck on this upcoming month!

    • Hey Murlu, you’re most welcome. 🙂

      I realized the same thing about people coming to the States and being able to do well… especially when all the currencies around the world (except the Euro) have a lower exchange rate than the dollar. One US dollar in India can buy you three full meals at a restaurant!

      It definitely gets easier as time goes on too, but I find one of the biggest challenges is being unfamiliar with the area. Now that I’ve been in Nepal for more than a month, I know where I can go to get a cheap meal and what various things should cost (after subtracting the “tourist” increase). When I arrived here, I was clueless.

    • Thank you, Angela! The expenses are all relative — $600/mo in New York City would be considered impossible by many, but $600/mo in rural India or Nepal would be considered luxury.

      I think the challenge is in living frugally wherever we go and simply making it a habit to avoid unnecessary expense (and as a result, unnecessary waste).

  5. I love these reports! They really show what is actually possible. That can you live quite comfortably on much less than you could ever possibly imagine! I’m looking forward to the journey ahead in anticipation of living well without spending a lot. These on the ground reports are exciting to read! I hope more people see that this is all possible. Thank you Raam.

    • Thanks Mark! It’s great to hear you’re enjoying these reports so much. 🙂

      I’m actually having a lot more fun creating them than I expected I would. They not only help me keep track of expenses, they also help me review the month and think about everything I’ve done from an expense angle.

  6. Hi Raam,
    Interesting report. When my lady and I travelled for 13 months to places like Northern Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, Jordan … we carried our homes and our food on our packs. We camped lots (in a few unusual places like on a beach and accidently in the ruin of a church) and we bought our food dry like lentils at markets and cooked them on our own MSR stove. On occassion, we watched where the locals where eating and got meals of dahl for a dollar each.

    Our most expensive item was water when we had no access to fresh water we could filter.

    We lived off about 2000 dollars for the two of us for about five months and still managed to have enough to fly back to London from Bangkok. I guess prices where cheaper ten years ago.

    Overall, it was a good lesson as you know since I wrote the book on how to buy organic food inexpensively so now even with a family we manage to do well on a budget.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Hey David,

      Thank you for sharing your story. I think the lesson to take away is that if we want it badly enough, we’ll always find creative ways to make it happen. Most of the time, it’s just our own inability to imagine what’s possible that prevents us from achieving the seemingly “impossible”. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking single-mindedly and preventing ourselves from recognizing what can be done.


  • Angela Artemis August 13, 2010
  • Maria Rattray August 13, 2010
  • Travel News Feeds August 13, 2010
  • Nick Laborde August 13, 2010
  • Niall Doherty August 13, 2010