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Kampala, Uganda; Oct 17, 2004

cost: more details

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We think of our expenses in several categories:
1) transportation (flights, trains, buses, ferries, rental car, etc.)
2) daily expenses (accomodation, food, activities)
3) splurges

The main culprit in the transportation category is air travel. For details on this, see our section on airline tickets. After we arrive somewhere, sometimes we just stay put - this is obviously quite cheap in terms of transportation. Sometimes we take buses and/or trains from place to place within a country - that still doesn't cost much. Sometimes we fly internally. That costs more. Infrequently, we also rent a car. When we do this, it's quite expensive. Sometimes it can make all the difference, however, in seeing more things easily. All told, our transportation expenses come to about $1000/month, on average.

For daily expenses, we try to keep to about $100 US/day for the two of us combined. Still, our costs fluctuate greatly, mostly depending on location. For example, daily living in Vietnam and Bangkok is much cheaper than Japan or Paris. A lot cheaper. So we spent a bit less time in Japan, and we stayed in as cheap a place as we could find. On average, we have kept below our $100 budget.

Every couple of months we splurge on something (e.g., staying in a nice hotel for a night or two, or taking a helicopter or balooning trip). This can throw off the price of a country disproportionately. In general, splurges usually cost somewhere between $300 and $500.

So all told, our actual cost is just shy of $4,000/month.

Here are a few of the ways we keep out costs to a reasonable level:

- Long-term rentals: We can usually get a cheaper price for a longer-term stay. In Cape Town, for example, we rented an apartment for the whole month. It cost us less than $1000 US, which helped subsidize our rental car.
- Accomodation location: We try to stay somewhere that has easy access to the things we want to see/do. This means that we can walk instead of taking a bus or a taxi. Sometimes, obviously, proximity can increase cost, so we try to strike a balance.
- Kitchens/eating in: As mentioned above, we often rent a small apartment instead of a room. If we do rent a room, we look for one with a shared kitchen, or at least with a shared refrigerator so we can cheaply prepare our own meals. Once in a while we stay in a hotel, but usually these cost more, not to mention having the least do-your-own-food facilities, so we're also forced to eat in restaurants (or unattractively out of a grocery bag). Note that in some places, like Vietnam and Turkey, eating out is cheap enough that we didn't worry so much about having a kitchen. (Note: if you're traveling solo, renting apartments is probably not cost effective; look for rooms with shared kitchens instead.)
- Breakfast: On a related note, we almost NEVER eat breakfast out. We figure out some way to buy our own breakfast even if we have no facilities - a yogurt and some Muesli usually does the trick (but don't forget to keep a spoon handy).
- Picnics: Even if we're not eating in, we often use the grocery store or a local market to get cheap food and set up our own picnic.
- Tourist attractions: We don't do them all everywhere we go, no matter how famous or "must-see" they are. Sometimes they're expensive, so we choose what we'd like to see carefully to avoid overspending our budget and burning out on sightseeing. (Note that in some countries attractions cost much less, so we've learned when to skimp.)
- Staying with friends/family: We're calling in favors. We're going out of our way to visit friends and family that are living somewhere interesting (of course we make every effort not to overstay our welcome). Even staying a few days helps with the finances, not to mention being fun!

We are absolutely certain that we could survive on considerably less (many people do). For comfort reasons, we have decided not to, but it wouldn't have been difficult. The big things to change, if you need to spend less, are:

- Go to cheaper places.
- Go to less places.
- Take buses and/or trains instead of flying.
- NO rental cars: They just cost too much and gas is like gold these days.
- Stay in hostels, or cheaper accomodations: This is easy. If you're willing to stay in dormitory-style accomodations or camp, you can save a fortune.
- Buy and cook your own food: Try to stay in places that have a communal kitchen so you can cook for yourself.
- Seriously limit (or eliminate) splurges. Duh.

Hopefully this is helpful to all you aspiring (but not necessarily wealthy) world travelers out there!

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© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


Great website! My question is how did you actually spend your money/exchange/etc? Did you use ATM's and if so, do you get charged fees internationally and also back here at home? Did you use credit cards at all? I've heard that most credit cards charge a 3% fee on international purchases. Thanks and enjoy the rest of your trip!

--Kris (San Francisco, California, USA); July 17, 2006

Good question, and an important one since fees can really add up. We talked to our bank beforehand and let them know what we were doing. Since we had been customers for a while they agreed to refund the foreign ATM charges. We did have to remind them to do this, but they kept their end of the bargain, so it worked out. With credit cards, each card has different rules, so just call 'em ask 'em since it's usually possible to find a card that doesn't charge much extra for foreign transactions. Beware, however, that sometimes they say they don't charge extra, but instead they just use a bad exchange rate. Still, it's hard to beat the convenience of credit cards.

--Grace; Sep 3, 2006


Hi there - I've been reading your site for months and have enjoyed it a lot. I'm looking forward to Morocco but will be sad to see it end. One question - how did you find the apartments that you stayed in? Thanks,

--Saria (Frederick, Maryland, USA); May 15, 2006

We used a variety of methods, but for apartments it was mostly accomplished via the internet. For local hotels, we would usually book a place for the first 2 nights somewhere, then wander around and find one that we liked better for the duration.

So for apartments, check out sites like, but search for others, because there are many, some of which are location specific which can either be great (because they have stuff exactly where you're looking) or not-so-great (because the site is just too small to provide enough choice).

--Grace; May 21, 2006


Your website is amazing...I am planning my own trip (hopefully Hawaii, Thailand, Australia, W. Europe) around this time next year. My biggest concern is cost... saving enough money for me to travel for at least a couple of months. Your website will be very helpful and I plan to do some serious reading soon (I've got to stop I am at work!!!)... thanks for the tips and hopefully your experiences will help me out with mine.

--Elizabeth (US Virgin Islands); Jan 13, 2006