As promised in my previous post, The Plan: 6 Months, 3 Countries, and $3,000, I will begin doing monthly travel reports that detail how I spend my budget each month as I travel through Asia. This monthly report may become a regular long-term thing, but for now I'm committing to doing them for at least the next six months.
My initial six-month journey has a very tight budget: $250 USD per month. I already outlined some of my first-month expenses in a previous post, but this report is a more formalized overview and explains how I actually lived on such a budget.
Frugal travel involves more than simply setting a budget and then looking for the cheapest places to stay. It also means traveling more slowly, always accepting invitations and offers to stay with friends, and choosing to have a more authentic experience by living like the locals.
Without the generosity of friends in India, I'm not sure I would have made the first month's budget. However, I don't have friends everywhere (at least not yet!), so once I move on from my current location in Ujire, meeting this budget will become a lot more challenging.
This first month was an opportunity to see just how realistic my $250/mo budget was and I'm happy to report that it's absolutely realistic!
Before I get to the report, I want to mention several expenses that I incurred prior to the trip. I thought explaining what they were would be helpful to other soon-to-be nomads.
These expenses were a lot higher than I originally anticipated, namely the vaccines and malaria pills. I was home-schooled my entire life and never received many of the standard vaccine shots, so I figured it was better to be safe than sorry (plus it made my already-worried-sick mom a little happier).
Protip: Visit a nearby travel clinic at least six months prior to your expected departure date! Many vaccines require boosters 3 and 6 months after the initial shot. I'll most likely have to dish out more money when I return to the States to become fully vaccinated.
The malaria pills were another huge expense that I decided was worth it. I knew there was a good chance that I would be traveling to other countries in Southeast Asia and that I would most likely be trekking -- or otherwise going into the forest -- where I would likely find mosquitos.
I decided not to include the pre-travel expenses in my $3,000 budget because most of the expenses are a one-shot deal. I didn't have a valid US passport before my trip, so I needed to apply for one. The vaccines are also a one-time shot and the malaria pills are only necessary if you're traveling to a risky part of the world. Lastly, the Visa application fees vary greatly from country to country.
This month will have the highest transportation expense due to the round-trip plane ticket from Boston (BOS) to Bangalore (BLR).
When I arrived in Bangalore, a friend had his driver pick me up from the airport and bring me to his house. For the next week, I tagged along with my friend to his office and basically had free transportation.
When his Aunt left for Mangalore by bus (~250 miles), I tagged along with her and she paid for my bus ticket (around $10). After arriving in Mangalore, I paid for a bus to the tiny town of Ujire where another friend was waiting for me.
In Ujire, my friend showed me around and helped me buy some vegetables and rice before driving me to a farm he owns about 10 miles from town. After that, I learned to take the bus or local jeeps between Kukavu (the main road about 2 miles from the farm) and the center of town. The bus and jeeps charge the same and the trip costs 22 cents one-way.
One week I took a bus from Ujire back to Bangalore to attend a wedding. My friend once again provided transportation around Bangalore, so there was no travel expense once I was there.
Transportation is the wildcard in the budget. Whatever money I have left over after other expenses gets to go towards transportation. If I can manage to have $35 left over every month for transportation, that would be ideal. That would buy me three 200-mile bus rides per month in the best class (which means A/C) and would give me plenty of flexibility.
Like transportation, I've been extremely fortunate to have had practically no lodging expense for my first month in India. When I arrived in Bangalore, I stayed at my friend's house for the first week and from there he put me in touch with his friend in Ujire.
After arriving in Ujire, I stayed at my new friend's farm, a cozy place nestled in the foothills of the beautiful Western Ghats. I was also given access to his office where I have free WiFi and power. (It's about a 25-minute walk from town to the office and I often opt for enduring the heat and sweat instead of looking for a bus or jeep.)
Finding a place to stay in town makes getting to the office and eating at restaurants a lot more convenient. The journey between the farmhouse and the town of Ujire involves a 40-minute jeep or bus ride followed by a 40-minute hike to the farm.
If I want to work late with a decent Internet connection (either the office WiFi or using my broadband card at the hotel), I need find a place to stay in town. Also, the broadband card I purchased doesn't have reception at the farm, so if I need to make a Skype call, it has to be done from town.
I spent two nights in a hotel mainly to get a feel for the quality and cost. From what I've been told, cheap hotels for around 200 Rupees, or $4/night, can often be found in India. At that rate, I can stay in a hotel for 31 days at a cost of $124, which is definitely within my $250 monthly budget.
During the first three weeks in Ujire, my only real expenses were food and transportation, both of which are very inexpensive. However, I've been spending a lot more time in hotels since then, and the April report will reflect that.
During my first week in Bangalore, my friend's parents cooked me breakfast and dinner every day and the guys from the office took me out to lunch. I basically paid nothing for food during my first week in India.
For the first two weeks in Ujire, I mostly cooked meals at the farm using veggies and grains that I purchased in town. At the same time, my roommate (another American from New York who was also given permission to stay on the farm) was also cooking meals, so we would often share whatever we cooked.
At lunchtime in town, I would tag along with my new friends from the office to one of a handful of local restaurants. Meals were never more than 65 cents; generally closer to 45 cents. The most expensive restaurant in town runs about $1.25/meal.
Since I had no food costs during my first week in Bangalore and most of my meals were cooked on the farm in Ujire, food costs are also unusually low for the month of March. However, I've been eating a lot more at the restaurants (and having desserts!), so April's food expense will definitely be a lot higher.
If I stick to a daily budget of 60 rupees (about $1.50), I can keep my monthly food cost to under $50 a month, well within my $250 monthly budget.
My goal is to keep these "other" expenses to an absolute minimum, however, the initial investment for a broadband card and local phone seemed worthwhile.
With a local phone I can easily call any of my friends in India in case there's an emergency. My friend in Bangalore used his name and address to get me a local pre-paid SIM card. I had hoped the SIM card would work with my unlocked iPhone but it didn't, so I had to purchase a cheap Nokia phone to get it working.
Since I run a web hosting business and this blog, checking email and having access to the Internet are vital. In the bigger cities one can usually find free WiFi spots (or so I hear anyway), however in small remote towns like Ujire, that's highly unlikely.
The prepaid Reliance NetConnect broadband card (again, my awesome friend used his address to purchase it for me) gives me six months of service and 3GB/mo of transfer for $100. Six months of go-(almost)-anywhere Internet service for $100! The data card has proven extremely useful (in fact, I'm using it right now to post this from a hotel room).
I purchased a t-shirt from town to have something halfway decent to wear to the wedding (my outfit came complete with hiking boots, trekking pants, and a fancy orange t-shirt). The sandals I purchased were mainly for use around the farm. The ground there is covered with thorny plants, so walking around barefoot is almost impossible!
Thanks to the kind generosity of my friends here in India, my first month of expenses was very low.
I have a little over $1,500 of my $3,000 budget remaining entering the month of April. If you subtract the plane ticket, I've only spent $164.90 of my $250 budget for March.
Over the next few months I anticipate my biggest expenses will be lodging and transportation (mainly to Vietnam and Nepal). Keep in mind that my return flight to the USA is already paid for, so I don't have to worry about buying that ticket.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the format and layout of this travel report.
Was it too long and detailed or was the detail helpful?
I'm always hesitant to write really long posts like this, so please let me know if you think it could be improved so that I can apply your suggestions to the next report.