Sorry for not writing more often. I’ve been in a bit of a bubble and didn’t want to come out. I figured I’d write a bit more of an objective post that might help others gauge the costs of travel in Asia and Oceania.
One of the goals for our trip has been not to exceed the cost of living back home. We typically spent around $55k a year for two people back home. That meant we had a target spending of about $41,250 for the entire nine-month trip (or $4,600 per month). We are currently projecting an overall spend of $40.5k — just under our target. This should be about right since we only have a few weeks left of travel. [November 30 edit – our total spend was only $39.2k, due to lower costs at the end of our time in China]
We’ve done a pretty good job keeping track of expenses from place to place and categorizing them as well. My wife has been instrumental in tracking cash expenses, a task that I don’t do well. That has paid off in cash-reliant countries like China where I otherwise would only be able to tell how much money we spent overall, but not where that money went.
The numbers below have been normalized in several respects to allow direct comparisons between regions. First, they are stated as 30-day equivalents. Second, they do not include repositioning flights as people will travel from different places. But they do include intra-region transportation as someone who visits might also decide to fly between cities instead of take a bus or train. Third, costs of expensive tours or cruises are also excluded to avoid skewing numbers. Finally, golf expenses are excluded as not everyone plays golf and I did not opt to play in all regions.
Here are the regions we visited and their associated costs from most to least expensive.
Japan – $5,171 a month
No surprise here. Japan is expensive and we spent a true month here, spending most of our time in Tokyo and Hokkaido. We flew from Tokyo to Sapporo on points so the cost index might be even higher. We rented a car for three weeks which cost over $1,000 for the rental alone. We were pretty frugal about food, often eating breakfast and/or lunch at 7-Eleven. We spent almost $70 per night on accommodations. We either stayed in hotel rooms or in private apartments on Airbnb.
Singapore – $4,903 a month
We only spent five days here, so the index here is very sensitive to the decisions we made. It was a shock coming from low-cost Malaysia. We stayed in a shared apartment from Airbnb. It was a nice penthouse unit with a big rooftop space, but only cost us $65 a night. Everything from food to transportation is pricey here. We had a free lunch at the Shangri-la on Sentosa and I played a free round of golf at Sentosa Golf Club, which would have cost over $350. The free lunch might warrant an increase in the index, but golf expenses are excluded.
Australia – $4,826 a month
We spent an entire month here, splitting our time between Sydney, Melbourne, NSW and Queensland. We rented a car for two weeks. This was at the beginning of our trip so we stayed at many shared apartments from Airbnb. After this segment, we tried to book private apartments where possible so the equivalent index for Australia perhaps should be a bit higher. Our average nightly rate was $52. We redeemed three free nights on the Gold Coast, which would also increase the index. We were moderately frugal with food, but still ate out a lot. We did two expensive tours of the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island, which together cost $700, but are not included in the index.
Hong Kong – $4,664 a month
HK was another shock as we were coming from Taiwan. We spent a week here. We stayed in a tiny Airbnb in Causeway Bay, which cost $54 per night. Food costs could be kept reasonable by eating in local establishments.
Vietnam – $4,370 a month
We stayed in Vietnam for just over two weeks. Vietnam had the potential to be one of the cheapest places we visited, but we blew it because we had friends there who had a knack for going out. We’d get lunch, followed by a beer, followed by dessert, followed by dinner, then a rooftop bar, then another bar, etc. We had a few six and seven combo events. Individually, these things are pretty cheap, but taken together, they’re budget destroying. Still it was fun, but that is the reason why Vietnam is neck and neck with HK and NZ on this list. Our accommodations cost $40 a night on average. We mostly stayed at hotels.
New Zealand – $4,345 a month
We spent an entire month in NZ with a rental car the entire time. We stayed mostly in shared apartments on Airbnb with a few holiday cabins here and there. We spent on average $64 a night. It’s beautiful and cheap golf is plentiful, but still expensive overall.
South Korea – $4,274 a month
We were in Korea for three weeks. We stayed mostly in private apartments on Airbnb, spending an average of $53 a night. We ate pretty well and traveled around the island on planes and trains.
Cambodia – $3,502 a month
We visited Siem Reap and Phnom Penh for a total of ten days. Everything here is transacted in U.S. dollars, except small change. Like Bangkok, ATMs here charge an exorbitant fee so make sure you have a Charles Schwab checking account, which does not charge exchange fees and rebates all ATM fees. We took buses to get around because flights are unusually expensive due to the airline monopoly.
Bangkok – $3,501 a month
We spent a week here. We stayed in a private apartment from Airbnb, spending an average of $40 per night. Everything is pretty cheap, except the ATM fees. Also cabbies are constantly trying to rip you off.
projected $3,654 $3,196 a month
We have a total of seven weeks in China. We stayed in a combination of private apartments on Airbnb and hotels, spending an average of $39 per night. Food and transportation here are really cheap. For example, bus fares cost $0.15 per ride. Since it is a big country, we are flying and taking trains a lot between cities, neither of which is cheap. Tours are also expensive and we are going on a cruise down the Yangtze River which will cost $850. These costs, however, are excluded from the index. [November 30 edit – our expenses went down a lot since the original post, hence the $450/month drop in the index. I suppose we got more comfortable eating from local places.]
Taiwan – $3,140 a month
We spent two weeks here. We spent $56 a night on average, staying at our usual combination of private apartments and hotels. Food was awesome and cheap and the high-speed rail is really convenient.
Malaysia – $3,015 a month
We spent a month on peninsular Malaysia. Very inexpensive overall. We took several flights as well as long distance buses to get around the country. These are not excluded from the index. Food is cheap and amazing, especially in Penang and Malacca. We stayed in private apartments and hotels, spending an average of $46 per night.
Indonesia – $2,484 a month
Ah, Indonesia. We spent just over a month here — enough to get charged a $90 penalty for overstaying our visa. Whoops. We only visited Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands. We stayed mostly in hotels, spending an average of $38 per night. We ate very well during our time here to counteract our feelings of malaise.