Backpacking Is An Attitude, Not a Budget

by Dave on February 17, 2011 · 17 comments

Cost of travel

Snapshot of my travel costs. (Click image to see full size spreadsheet.)

About two years ago, I published the Cost of a Trip Around the World based on my experience traveling for 15 months through over 20 countries.

I kept meticulous records of my expenses not because I was trying to stick to a budget, but out of a curiosity for what I was actually spending.  I was also intent on sharing the results with readers as I traveled, so they could have an idea of how much money to save if they were planning to visit similar places.

This summary of my expenses continues to be Go Backpacking’s most popular post in terms of raw traffic month to month, so I know plenty of people are looking at it.  And I still receive the occasional comments, which have echoed a common theme — that my spending was surprisingly high.

@adventurerob said “I’m surprised you clocked up such a cost in Thailand though, I found it a lot cheaper then $55 a day.”

Friedel of Travelingtwo.com wrote “this strikes me as so expensive”

Mic asked “u think u could spare some extra money. because i think for ex. 45 € for india per day is a loooot. dont u think?”

Magda wondered “I would love to know what Dave did do go through $51 a day in India”

Roeyurboat commented “Between $35,000 and $40,000 for 15 months of travel is hardly even close to a “backpacker’s budget” $54/day in Nepal? $51/day in India and similar rates for Thailand and Indonesia. Dave must have been enjoying some very high end accomodations to average those rates in those countries.”

Txrizzle recently shared “My opinion is that the spending listed above is much to excessive. One could take that same $30,000 and spend 3 years traveling the world. $50+ in Thailand? That’s intense.”

And last week Andyl added “I agree with many here, I don’t know how you managed to spend $63 a day in cambodia but that’s nowhere near “between backpacker/flashpacker” That’s living 30 times costlier than the average citizen…”

Instead of continuing to respond on a comment by comment basis, I’d prefer to address this line of questioning as a whole.

First, this post was a summary of my daily averages per country, and if they seem extravagant for places such as Thailand or India, I believe it’s due to my accounting method, not my actual standard of living.

Approaching Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

Approaching Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

The most I spent on a night’s accommodation?  $40 for a private room at a boutique hotel in the capital of Laos, and that was after 8 months of staying in hostel droms, cheap guest houses, and bungalows.  In fact, for anyone who took the time to look at my detailed spreadsheet which I link to at the bottom of the post, they’d see I spent an average of $9 per night in accommodation over 253 days in Asia.

My average daily spending numbers are inflated because of the “miscellaneous” category which was a catchall for stuff like souvenirs, cost to ship souvenirs home, new clothes, guidebooks, and internet cafes (which I used for 2+ hours per day uploading photos and managing this blog).  Those costs are too subjective, too different for every backpacker, and thus skewed the non-negotiable categories that matter most — visas, food, shelter, and sightseeing.

When I share my expenses for the recent Japan trip next month, I’ll aim to present a more accurate cost of daily travel.

Backpacking is an attitude toward travel, not about one’s age or spending habits.  If you travel with a backpack, you’re a backpacker.  I don’t care if you drop your head at night on a fluffly down pillow and fresh linens at a 5-star forest lodge in Rwanda, eat at a restaurant frequented by heads of state in Delhi, or try and swallow undercooked intestines in a Colombian pueblo.

A backpack symbolizes two things to me, wanderlust and independence.  Sure, you can have both with the wheeled-suitcases, but try jumping off a Thai longboat on a beach carrying one of those suckers.  Or gliding between the aisles of gift shops as you do a little last minute shopping on your way out of a country.  The ability to do both remains the reason I continue to travel with a backpack.

In Japan earlier this month, food quickly became my primary focus given the cold Winter temperatures and lack of flowers in the gardens.  What I saved on accommodations, I spent on food (and then some).

My approach toward travel continues to evolve with age.  At 34, I can still sleep stacked like a sardine in a 10-bed Kyoto dorm, however I also want to know what it’s like to eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant.

And as long as I’m carrying that backpack, I’m going to share my experiences on this blog.

Your turn. What does being a backpacker mean to you?

About the Author:

is the author of 1732 posts on Go Backpacking.

Dave is Editor and Founder of Go Backpacking and Medellin Living, and the Co-founder of Travel Blog Success. Follow him on Twitter @rtwdave or Google+

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Categories: Budgeting & Finances, Features
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