Big Dreams, Small Wallet: Planning and Financing the Trip of a Lifetime…On a Budget. PART IV

angkor wat


Ok, you’ve decided on your dream destination. Awesome! Now comes the hard part. Financing it.

Here are your big ticket items…


What type of accommodations are you comfortable with? Hostel? Guesthouse? Hotel? Homestay? In Cambodia, you can find a room for $4/night. But it is just a bed in a room and probably not very secure. That might be ok with you. It was  for me because I never left anything important in the room.  However, if you can afford to spend $10, you might get a much nicer room with TV, AC and a safe.

In Bangkok, where most everything is more expensive, $20 will buy you a very nice boutique hotel room with a rooftop pool. Maybe you can camp out some nights (just not in Bangkok). For me, a night camping next to the ocean in Mexico beats any hotel, any day. A popular option in Australia is to buy a camper van to tour around in. On the other end, in Europe, a hostel might average $50 per night or more depending where you are. Decide your comfort level and determine your nightly accommodation budget.

Peruse your chosen guidebook, check out Tripadvisor for pricing and reviews, and the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum. You can also check out the Couchsurfing website. There, you can hook up with people around the world that are offering up space in their homes FOR FREE!


I highly recommend trying street food, IF you can watch it being cooked and you receive it hot. In many places in Asia, you can get plate of delicious freshly cooked noodles, for around $1. In Mexico you might pay $1-2 dollars for a plate of tacos. In a restaurant you might spend $3-10 for dinner and a drink. If you are camping, or staying in a place with a kitchen, cook as much as you can. It’s fun to tour local markets,  buy fresh food and learn to cook with it!

Do your research online and with your guidebook and determine a daily food budget. Remember to factor in alcohol if you drink. Drinking can increase your budget quite a bit if you go out a lot. Beer may be cheap (ie. 50 cents in Asia), but liquor usually is not. Except moonshine, but be careful with that! Also, remember that in most places you cannot drink the water. You will be buying a lot of bottled water.

Transportation costs

Your biggest expense will be your plane ticket. Start looking early and shop around. My favorite website is Kayak because you can easily compare the cost of leaving on different dates. Google “Travel Hack” to find all sorts of tips from people that have learned how to maximize frequent flyer miles and utilize credit card offers to almost travel for free!

Other Transportation to factor in:

  • Transport to and from airport. One way to reduce the cost of transportation from the airport is to walk right outside the airport walls. In Phnom Pehn, it cost $7 US to take a tuk-tuk from inside the airport gates, but only $1 US to catch one 20 feet further outside the gate.
  • Transportation around town. Walking is the cheapest, clearly. In Asia, tuk-tuks might cost $2-4 per ride to somewhere within town. Jump on the back of a motorbike, and it’s $1. Jump in the back of a covered truck with some other people and you might only pay fifty cents. Ask around, and don’t be afraid to haggle on price. Most people expect it.
  • Boats/Trains/Buses: Use these to get across larger distances. Remember that there are different “classes”. While you might be tempted to get the cheapest ticket available, ask yourself if you are prepared to sit upright on a hard seat surrounded by people for 12 hours. It might be worth a little more to travel in comfort. Consider taking overnight trains/buses/boats as it will save you the cost of lodging for a night.
  • Motorbikes/Bicycles: Renting motorbikes and bikes will be the cheapest way for you to get around. AND the most fun. You really get a taste of the sights around you when you explore via bike. Just be sure to practice your motorbike skills on a safe street, and make sure you know which side of the road people drive on!
  • Planes – Sometime you will just get tired of sitting on a bus or train for 12, 16, 24 hours. Buying a flight to your next destination could cost you, but usually not too much. And you’ll save HOURS of travel time. In Vietnam, we paid around $50 for a within-country flight. This $50 saved us 16 hours on a bus. That was worth it to me.

Entertainment Costs

Will you be visiting museums? Check your guidebook and add up the prices of the museums you want to see. In some places, it might be free to get in on certain days. Consider going on that day.

Entry fees for tourist destinations: Most of your entertainment budget will be for getting in to see the sites. If you have less money, you might want to choose a destination that is more focused on natural beauty. However, if you want to see the sites –palaces, historical sites, zoos –factor this into your budget.

Movies : Sometimes you just want to hear English. Sometimes you just want to sit in Air Con. Either way, factor in the cost of the movies. It’s usually cheaper than in the US but still plan on $5-10 per show depending on where you are. In SE Asia, there are a lot of guesthouses that run movie nights. Grab dinner and sit down for one of these. It’s usually free!

Vaccines/Health costs

Check the state department and centers for disease control for the vaccines you need to visit certain countries.

US State Department

Centers for Disease Control

If you will be quitting your job to take your sabbatical, be sure to get as many vaccines as you can while you are still insured. They might not all be covered but some, such as Hepatitis, might be. Check with your insurance. If you have no insurance, look into your local public health department for special travel clinics or sliding scale clinics where you can obtain the necessary vaccines. Be sure to ask if you will need any preventative medication for malaria or antibiotics for travelers diarrhea. Also, be sure to get enough of all your prescriptions before you leave. You might be able to get it abroad, but do you want to risk it?

Passport and Visas

Be sure to get your passport in plenty of time of your trip. Budget for a cost of about $140-$165. Passports can take up to 6 weeks to process. Research the visa needs and costs for the countries you will be going to. It’s best to look up the website for the consulate of each country you are going to. Some countries require visas be arranged before travel.  If you are in a neighboring country, this can be arranged fairly easily through a travel agent cheaply. Otherwise you will need to plan ahead and get the visa before you depart.  Other countries, such as Thailand, let you apply for a visa while you are on the plane over there. Remember to check how long your visa is for, so you can renew or get out of the country before it expires. You can pay costly fees if you over extend your visa.

Travel Insurance

Don’t leave home without it. Seriously. It’s cheap and will save your skin if something bad should happen. Injuries. Natural Disasters. Evacuation. Trip Cancellation.  You just never know. I recommend World Nomads.

Shopping costs

Are you going to want to shop for gifts or for yourself on your sabbatical? With the downtime you will have, you will often find yourself meandering around cities and towns, going in and out of stores and walking through local markets. It’s hard to resist buying thing here and there. Everything will seem cheap. And interesting. And beautiful. Just remember to budget extra spending money for these things. Shop around for the highest quality and haggle! It’s not rude. It’s expected.

Money for return

Depending on your job situation (or lack of one) make sure to plan on having money when you get back home. We planned on two months of living expenses. But we were confident about job prospects when we got back. Plan according to your comfort level.

Bills while you are gone.

While you should try to get rid of all bills before you go (especially credit card bills and other debt), you may not be able to shake all your bills. Factor in how much money you will need to pay your bills while you are gone.


Figure out your daily expenses as outlined above:

  • Hotel/night
  • Food/day
  • In Country Travel (excluding airfare)/day
  • Shopping/day
  • Entertainment/day

Multiply the total amount by the number of days you want to travel. Add this total to the cost of the following:

  • Vaccines/prescriptions
  • Passport/Visa
  • Travel Insurance
  • Airfare
  • Bills
  • Money needed upon return.

This will be your total cost. Once you know this, you can start to save enough per month, based on when you want to go. If you have decided that your trip will cost $10,000 total, and you want to leave in 10 months, you will need to find a way to save an extra $1,000 per month.

Tomorrow’s Post…



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