Budgeting for Seven Months in Asia

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So, how do you budget for seven months in Asia?

Simple: $30 a day!

I have to credit a fellow Bostonian, Lillie from Around the World L, for her excellent post: The $30 a Day Budget Secret.  While traveling through Southeast Asia, she budgeted $30 for each day: $10 for lodging, $10 for food, and $10 for everything else, from transportation to entertainment to random expenses.

That’s an awesome system, I thought.  Very easy.  I’ve since adopted it myself.  Mine varies a bit: since I eat from street stalls about 75% of the time, there’s no way I come close to $10 a day on food. But I definitely spend more on the “other” category.

So, is it possible to travel through Southeast Asia on $30 per day?  For day-to-day expenses, absolutely. Especially if you have separate funds for flights and special activities, like trekking, diving or a tour.

But know this:

Booze will take your budget and absolutely wreck it. Alcohol is definitely cheaper here, but not by the same margin that everything else is.  A large beer starts at $2; cocktails start at $3.  Have a few and they’ll add up.

And also this:

Solo female travelers get drinks bought for them all the time. God, I love being a girl.

So, after a few out-of-control spending days in Bangkok (I still can’t believe I bought a new iPhone), I’ve been sticking to it, staying under $30 most days.  Could there be any problems?

Yes.  I don’t have any extra money saved.

I had a plan.  $1,000 per month for ground expenses.  $1,200 for the flight.  A separate $1,500 for plane tickets, travel insurance, visas, and special activities.  $2,000 for reestablishment funds, untouchable until I get back.

And then I left my job a month early.  While I haven’t regretted that for one second, that month would have earned me another $2,500 toward the trip.  And then my car needed some expensive repairs.

So after buying a round-trip ticket, I ended up leaving with $7,000, plus an incoming $760 car insurance refund: enough for day-to-day expenses for the entire trip, but nothing else.


I’m taking an enormous leap of faith here because I genuinely believe that I can earn enough on the road, from freelance writing and from ads on my three sites, to cover the rest of my expenses through May 23, 2011. If not, well, I’m in trouble.  Going home early would be humiliating.

I’ve already booked two cheap flights, from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur to Krabi. (Yes, my itinerary has changed already!)  Cheap as they were, they were WAY over the $30/day budget.

But I think I can do this.

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30 thoughts on “Budgeting for Seven Months in Asia”

  1. Kate,
    Thanks for the shout-out and I’m glad the system is working for you! I am SO HAPPY and excited about your AWESOME travels, and I have full faith that you will figure out the money piece!!! Keep up the great updates and keep rockin’ it out!

  2. Why is it so bad if you have to go home a little bit early? IMO that would be far from an embarrassment. You are doing something right now that very few people will ever do and if the money runs out a month early then all that means is that you got to do something incredible for 6 months instead of 7! Obviously the longer the better but it isn’t like you are trying to permanently do this yet so coming home a little early, again IMO, wouldn’t be a failure at all. Maybe it would even be a sign of you living it up quite a bit 🙂

  3. Hey Kate, enjoying your blog and good luck with the $30 a day plan but have to pull you up on one point: “Solo female travelers get drinks bought for them all the time. God, I love being a girl.”. Sorry, but this is 2010 not 1960 – does the $30 a day plan apply to men as well or should they budget $45 a day to cover your bar tab? Safe travels Kate, but pay your way – it’s a respect thing…

    1. I completely disagree with Christian. The guys who are on a budget won’t be the ones buying you drinks! Take all the free drinks you can get 🙂 If I ever make it to a country where it is the other way around I will be milking that like there is no tomorrow.

    2. Christian, that’s just life. Guys hit on girls all over the world by buying them drinks. And if the guy in question is a friend of mine, I always get the next round.

      But if someone offers you a free drink of their own accord, why on earth would you turn it down? Because it’s sexist? That’s ridiculous.

      1. Aah, maybe I’m just showing my age Kate – I am obviously just an old-fashioned feminist and the world has moved full circle back to the 1960s!

        Don’t get into buying rounds tho’ – that’s British style drinking and your $30 budget will definitely disappear then!

        Enjoying yr N.Thai posts – hope it’s not too cold at night as will be there in a few weeks…

  4. I hope it all goes to plan! $30 a day is definitely doable… without flights. I hope you can find that extra money to stay until May!

    We’re a family of four and tend to live of $70 a day (if we try… unfortunately lately we keep forgetting!). One thing we’ve found is that actual travel days work out to be more expensive… usually $100 a day not including the flights. You never have enough time to search for the cheapest market breakfast or lunch. We always end up in a McDonalds and always have the best intentions to use public transport for every step of the trip … but of course if your arriving into a big city at 8pm at night with two tired kids a taxi ends up being the easiest option.

    And unfortunately I miss out on the free beer being married with two kids running around! Damnit!

  5. “I’m taking an enormous leap of faith here because I genuinely believe that I can earn enough on the road, from freelance writing and from ads on my three sites, to cover the rest of my expenses through May 23, 2011. If not, well, I’m in trouble. Going home early would be humiliating.”

    Kate I’m loving this bit. I have the exact same fear/concern as you but I’m loving the positivity. It’s infectious! Good luck with earning on the road, I hope it works out for you.

  6. Kate,
    I am NOT sharing this post with my husband or he’ll make me stick to your budget in Paris – couldn’t have coffee and dessert for that budget! 😉 LOL!
    I will pass this along to some people that I know who love this idea and maybe planning to do this too!
    Love it, you’re doing great!

    1. Of course Priscilla you can have desert and coffee on that budget – just skip the main course – I remember doing exactly that once so I could afford a piece of Sacher Torte in Austria

  7. In response to Christian: Kate said that “solo female travelers get drinks bought for them all the time.” Kate didn’t say, “Take advantage of the native men at bars and pressure them to buy you a drink.” Of course there’s the stereotype (and I’ve seen some in action) of the girl who initiates conversation with a guy at a bar so he will buy her a drink – and then she moves on. But what Kate is talking about is MUCH different – drinks purchased out of hospitality, kindness, as a compliment, and as a way to initiate conversation. Any drinks purchased for me or my friends in other countries has led to hilarious conversations or a learning experience about the local culture. It’s not an issue of “paying one’s way,” but more having the “street smarts” to decide whether to accept or refuse the beverage and perhaps the company that may come with it.

    Also Kate, come home early. Two words: VEGAS BABY!

  8. Haha, you have to be kidding me. This must just be obvious/logical, because I also hypothesized this exact budget myself in the last couple weeks. $30/day, and even the $10/10/10 rules for lodging, food, and entertainment. (For transportation I figured maybe another $10/day averaged out, to stay consistant of course)

  9. Hi Kate,

    I actually found your blog through @backpackingmatt on twitter.
    Excellent read on your budgeting plan! It’s very interesting to see how plans can change all of a sudden… as an example, I originally planned on staying in Bangkok for 3 months, but I met a guy on Khao San road who said Koh Samui is the place to be.. easy this, easy that, easy everything. So off I went to Koh Samui, and here I am… rented an apartment out for 3 months and spending less than $30 USD a day.
    Again, excellent blog post!


  10. Kate,

    How do you pack for 7 months abroad? Especially traveling by yourself?? Any tips are more than welcome as I start planning my next adventure!

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