Well, to be perfectly honest, we have not been doing great on our budget in Thailand. Our original daily budget for two people for Thailand was $80/day (our average SE Asia daily budget is $85/day, but Thailand was supposed to be one of the more budget friendly countries compared to the likes of Malaysia and Singapore so we have different daily amounts per country) plus an extra $650 for expensive activities and flights per month. After 27 days in Thailand, we are at a whopping $140/day or $118/day if you exclude the $650 cushion. So where did we go wrong?!
First, let me back up and explain how we are tracking our expenses. We have these split into the following categories: Accommodations, Food, Alcohol, Transportation, Activities, Telecom (cell phones / internet) and Other (souvenirs, laundry, toiletries, etc.). We track every penny we spend on a detailed Excel spreadsheet (EY would be proud – it has fun formatting, linked tabs, all kinds of functions, data validations, etc. 🙂 ) that summarizes the info in these categories as we go by country. This itself is a task – Samir inputs everything we spend into his phone and then we try record it every night. Fun. So if we look at it as an average by day, here is where we are at:
Accommodation – This is one area that we may be able to do $3-4 / day better, but our minimum standards are higher than the normal backpackers (which I knew and thought I had already accounted for!). We generally look for places that have AC (if needed), free wifi, a private bathroom and hot showers. The AC does really jack up the price and we learned that the first few places we stayed up North we could have done without it so we started getting fan rooms. But on the islands down South, by the time we got there, it was HOT! Even though two of the places we stayed were fan rooms only, I would have definitely preferred AC. We do also lose some by booking online ahead of time instead of just showing up and finding a place. Lesson learned – we’re going to just try call ahead or book a place for one night and extend it directly with the place to save the booking fee or inflated online rate (or find a new place altogether for subsequent nights) instead of booking multiple nights online.
Food – While it is entirely possible to eat $5/per person/day, this requires eating Thai street food ALL the time. That’s just not going to happen for us. We definitely are watching this more now though – I now hesitate to get a soda with a meal (this can be $1-$2) or Samir and I will share one. Juices and waters also add up so we are starting to cut down on that stuff as well unless we find it at a cheap stall or the local 7/11. Ideally, we would have liked to bought stuff at markets and make our own meal at least once a day – but without a kitchen or a fridge, that’s difficult to do! But, we should definitely be better about eating at farang (foreigner) places as an average meal there has been about $8-$12 for the two of us where its $3 if we eat local Thai food. Lesson learned – by our sodas / waters from the 7/11 instead of out and find a better balance between local meals and non-Thai meals.
Alcohol – we don’t drink often, but when we do, we end up spending some dough – and unfortunately I only drink liquor which is definitely a premium (though I have taken a liking to Thai whiskey!). Yet another thing to watch!
Transportation – I think this was the item we were least prepared for – how much it costs to get around the South part of Thailand. Granted half of this cost includes our flight from India and a flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket to travel with our friends, but the cost of island hopping has been quite a bit – definitely not as cheap as the train/bus travel up North! For the most part, we’ve been taking minibuses, ferries and trains. We try to minimize private taxis where we can in favor of public transport but have gotten stuck a couple times. We don’t plan to be moving around between cities so much in other places, so hopefully this will go down naturally.
Activities – we have spent a lot on activities, all of which I would do again. But we’ve done a lot! Played with tigers, hill-tribe trek, ziplining, Thai cooking classes, elephant park, scuba certification ($660 total!), renting motorbikes, massages, temples etc. The scuba course was a HUGE splurge but I’d rather blow our budget on fun activities and come back a couple weeks early if we have to then cut down on things we do – so no lesson learned there!
Telecom and Other – eh – nothing major there. I guess we could go back to doing our own laundry – that may save like $1 / day – nah.
Overall, travelling on a budget really does suck. I hate that I literally think about and question every almost dollar that we spend (do I REALLY want to spend $2 on a Diet Coke?). I also hate having to bargain and negotiate over a few dollars (though that’s usually on principle) or saying no to another drink when I’m having a good time. It’s also completely different than how I’m used to travelling with friends, family or for work. I’d easily spend a grand on a weekend trip to a different US city – now that’s supposed to last both of us for 12 days?! But at the end of the day, I can’t complain. I’m sitting in a spacious air-conditioned room, with my love sleeping next to me on a king-sized bed, recovering from a full day of sightseeing in Bangkok… a couple of sacrifices along the way are easy to make!
P.S. If I use what Samir likes to call fuzzy math, if I take the $650 cushion from India we didn’t use, back out my overly conservative exchange rate (my Excel file uses 29.5 TB to 1 USD where we’ve been getting anywhere from 29.6 to 30.1) and my overly conservative country budgets (hard to explain), I get myself to be right on track with our overall budget! So as long as we keep learning our lessons on how to travel on a budget, we should be ok!
A snapshot of our cost tracking sheet: