I know this post has been a long time coming, but once again I have to say that this is partly because there were a lot of numbers to crunch, and partly because I’m less and less inclined to settle in for hours of blog writing when I’ve got a new job to find and a new life to design. The end is nigh, people.
On to the numbers, but first a word on where all they all came from. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised to learn that I was keeping careful records for the whole trip. I tried to write down everything I bought so I knew where my money was going. (This is not a new habit for me, it’s one I’ve cultivated for a few years now and also one I highly recommend.) Those numbers went into a spreadsheet for each currency or region. I tended to start a new file whenever the previous got so large and unwieldy that opening, saving and otherwise manipulating it caused my tiny computer to grind to a halt and caused me to contemplate tossing it, and all its spreadsheets, from the nearest balcony.
What I’ve been doing for the last week is going through all these spreadsheets, making sure that they included everything they should, making them all look the same, and making sure they all added up approximately correctly. I also spent a lot of time categorizing things so I could tell how much I’d spent on food, travel, accommodations, etc… Here are my categories:
- Go: Airfares, visas and visa service fees, rail passes, inter-city buses, taxis, local buses, metro tickets, rickshaws, boda-bodas, cycle rickshaws and any other thing related to getting from Point A to Point B that separated me from a small or large bit of my money. I assigned the cost of airfare to the destination to which the plane delivered me, except for the two trans-oceanic flights, which I put under “Whole Trip” costs. This category also includes the costs of the Intrepid, Dragoman and Imaginative Traveller tours I did in Russia, Africa, the Middle East, India/Nepal and China.
- See: Admission fees (for museums, galleries, temples, churches, cathedrals, etc…) walking tours, audioguides, trusty LP guide books, shows, movies, and activities like hot air ballooning, Tea Ceremony, lion walking, etc.
- Run: Food and drink supplies bought for long runs leading up to the marathon in Athens, and Hash Cash – the fee paid to run with each different hash group (mostly to cover the cost of beer). These fees ranged from free-for-visitors to £1.00 in London up to a high of about $12.00 CDN in Singapore.
- Eat: Food of all kinds: Steve’s Weird, Pam’s Normal and everything in between. Bought in restaurants, from street vendors, in grocery stores and in markets.
- Drink: Beer, mostly. Also cheap wine in boxes. And that disastrous affair with vodka in Russia
- Sleep: Hostels, hotels, hostals, pensiones, guesthouses etc…
- Talk: Cell phone SIM cards, cell phone air time, the cell phone internet USB thingy in the UK, internet cafés and wifi internet charges
- Live: A large category – toothpaste, shampoo, and other toiletries, pay-for-use public toilets, laundry, new clothes, postage, books, newspapers, haircuts, small bits of gear, blah blah blah
- Give: Souvenirs and gifts sent home to others, or bought for myself. Also: baksheesh, tips and bribes of all kinds.
I separated out some expenses that I thought really applied to the trip as a whole. That’s where those ocean-crossing airfares went, along with the cost of the new computer, new camera and iPhone, and the big chunk of cash I lost along with my wallet in Barcelona.
Also, a word about currency exchange rates, and that word is: “Ugh”. They fluctuate all the time, so I just picked one rate for each currency that was something close to what the real rate was when I arrived and left it at that. There’s a huge margin of error here, but too bad.
So how does it all shake down? Well, it seems that travelling the world for 351 days cost me about $64,000, or $182.00 per day. I suspect that’s pretty high, and that many hardier backpacker types could do it for much less. To them I say: “Go ahead. Be my guest. And have fun with your dehydrated cup-o-noodles and your twelve-bed dorm rooms and your dodgey, smelly, glacially slow intercity buses. If you’re looking for me I’ll be over at the bar having a drink and waiting for them to call my flight.”
Here’s a look at my big tally-up spreadsheet:
The red numbers are the three highest in each column, the green are the lowest. Ooohhh… conditional formatting! (Sorry these numbers are so tiny and fuzzy, but that’s what happens when you try to cram 424 numbers into 600 pixels. Click here to see the Google spreadsheet, which is still a Work In Progress.)
And what do we learn from these numbers? Surprisingly, Russia turned out to be the most expensive place overall. This is partly because of the cost of getting there, and partly because I was on an Intrepid Tour, which adds substantially to the cost of visiting. Also, I was only there for a short time so that expensive airfare was only averaged over ten days. Denmark clocks in as second most expensive, again partly because the airfare from St Petersburg was not cheap, and I didn’t stay long. Also, as I mentioned when I blogged from there, Denmark is freakin’ expensive. And it turns out that Japan was expensive, just like everyone says. It’s number three on the overall list, and number one for both food and accommodations.
As for the cheap spots? My numbers are skewed; Singapore and the U.S.A top the list, entirely because I stayed with friends who gave me a free bed and fed me (Uganda, which also falls into the “generous friends” category, was fourth cheapest). Third on the list is the perennial favourite of cheapskate travelers the world over: Thailand. It really is cheap. I remember thinking that when I was there – that even when I tried to indulge myself, I still couldn’t manage to spend more than about $10 on a meal, and the hotel room (once I moved out of the fancy place) was ridiculously cheap.
A caution to anyone who might be tempted to use these numbers to budget their own trip: Your mileage will certainly vary because every choice I made every day had an impact on the bottom line, and everyone makes different choices. The fact that Hong Kong was relatively cheap for mean doesn’t mean it would be for everyone. And I spent more money in Greece than many people might, but I was being more self-indulgent there than in other places. Oh, and speaking of self-indulgent – look at all that red in the VACATION row! Top three for Eat, Drink, Sleep, Live and Give. What can I say? I was a good vacation. And I’m still not going to tell you where I went.
Other random thoughts and caveats:
- It’s really not possible to feed yourself as a tourist in Malawi on 63 cents a day, although I suspect many Malawians might. That number is so low because I was eating all my meals with the big orange Dragoman truck, which was part of the cost of the tour. That 63 cents per day was the average cost of me buying cold drinks and snacks outside the food provided by the tour.
- Similarly, do not plan to travel to Thailand for a mere 55 cents per day. I was already in the region and took a cheap (but comfortable and air-conditioned) minibus across the border from Laos, so the “GO” part of Thailand was misleadingly cheap.
- Seeing things in Zambia was expensive, but included some really cool big ticket items: walking with lions, riding in a helicopter over Victoria Falls, the gorge swing and other adrenalin activities and, of course, the swim and breakfast at Livingstone Island at the edge of the falls. All expensive, but mostly worth it. (Similarly, Turkey included the hot air ballooning, and Belgium included a guided tour of WWI battlefields.)
- Macau is unfairly tarred as the most expensive place to eat, but that’s because I was only there for a day and I went for a really nice dinner. Please don’t skip Macau because you think it’s over-priced.
And that’s what it all cost. Go ahead and ask me specific questions in the comments, but I’m not going to get into any blow-by-blow stuff. I deliberately decided not to give you the country-by-country, day-by-day costs because:
- That’s a bit personal, thank you very much, even for someone whose life has been on public display for a year.
- It is a LOT of numbers. No really. A LOT. Did I mention there were eleven spreadsheets?
- No one would get any further than about Day 6 because it’s so boring to go through that their eyes would start bleeding within minutes.
And now, a few fun numbers that don’t have dollar signs attached:
- 351 days on the road
- 33 countries visited
- 158 different beds slept in
- 72 city maps fruitlessly consulted and roundly cursed
- 29 different hash trails run with 27 different hashes in 21 countries
- 24 flights composed of 37 flight segments on 17 different carriers
- 23 languages misunderstood
- 17 guide books consulted, abbreviated, mangled and discarded (15 LP, 1 Rough Guide, and 1 other)
- 29 currencies gushing in an endless stream from 1 paper wallet that’s seen better days
- 17 metro systems navigated
- 21 overnight journeys by train, bus, plane and ferry
- 38 Weird Foods sampled
- 12,861 photos taken, which is an average of 37 per day
- 1 trip of a lifetime
Oh, and also for the record, I swam in the Atlantic off the southwest English and Northern Irish coasts, and in “the Med, the Red and the Dead”, the Indian Ocean, Lake Malawi, the Zambezi River (Victoria Falls!), and the Nile.
And how am I doing these days? Pretty well, thanks for asking. I had a nice visit with my sister and family in Calgary, I’m on version 973 of my resumé, and I’m slowly devising a plan for the next few months that I’m both excited and nervous about, so I think that must mean I’m on the right track. My sum-it-all-up blog post is not even a vague spark in the back of my mind yet, but some day I’m sure my random impressions will coalesce into the grand finale we’re all hoping for. Yup. Any day now. Yessiree.