Monday, October 25, 2010

Is this thing still on!?

October 17th, 2010, by Jason

Alright, time for one final post, although possibly a bit late (OK, really late.) As an engineer I love numbers (and I’m safe in saying that Swiss enjoys having data and numbers too.) Knowing that we both want to help other people take a similar journey if they’re so inclined the first thing I decided to investigate were our total costs for the year and breakdown our average daily costs. We both finished the trip having spent less than our budgeted maximum and below I have our three most expensive and least expensive countries (on a daily average basis.)

Average Daily Cost (USD)
1. Jordan $110.22
2. Australia $85.97
3. Japan $78.06
17. India $26.80
18. Vietnam $26.33
19. Laos $26.28

While some of these top entries were not surprising (we knew that Japan and Australia were going to be relatively expensive countries) Jordan was a bit unexpected, and significantly more than neighboring Egypt (which came in at $32.49/day.) While a last minute flight purchase does artificially inflate the price (Jordan was never in our original plans) removing the flight purchase brings the average daily cost down to ~$50/day, still significantly more than Egypt. Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing though and I’m so happy we were able to visit Petra and Amman!

On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t think there are any surprises there with India, Vietnam and Laos being known around the world as inexpensive (and beautiful) destinations for backpackers and other travelers alike. In total we visited 19 countries and 11 of them had daily average costs below $40/day (actually 12 countries if I remove my Spanish course from the numbers for Bolivia.) Proof again that with a little planning and thriftiness (and a good airline deal) inexpensive long term travel is an achievable goal! If you'd like, take a look at our complete list of daily costs in each country.

Of course after transportation, lodging is one of the next highest costs for a journey like this. We did everything we could to stay in inexpensive places in most locations (our main requirements were the generally safety of the lodging and some level or standard of cleanliness of the accommodation.) Truth be told there are a lot of quality options out there in the budget range and a lot of honest people trying to provide safe, clean and inexpensive lodging to budget travelers around the world, something we took advantage of and really did appreciate! In the end we stayed at 93 unique places over the course of the year, the breakdown below:

Guest Houses 41
Hostels 33
Hotels 15
Campervans 2
Private Apartments 1
Guest Suites 1

The private apartment we can attribute to arriving in Jordan at 9pm without a reservation and also arriving on a national holiday in a very busy domestic holiday destination. Oh well, sleeping on a roof that night probably would’ve looked better on the chart above :) And of course we’ll never forget our amazing stay in the guest suite at the Nath residence in Delhi, another huge thank you to the Nath family for their amazing hospitality.

In general the guest house was a mainstay of Southeast Asia and parts of South America, while the hostel is a standard style of budget lodging in Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and also South America. Either way is a great resource for online booking in many of the countries that we visited, although unless it’s high season you don’t have to book ahead across most parts of Southeast Asia where plenty of options are available almost everywhere.

Alright, here is what turned out to be one of the biggest hidden costs for the trip (especially so for Americans traveling on US passports! Well, most of us...) So running through the countries, New Zealand is a free visa on arrival, Australia was our first Visa in advance but it can be done entirely online and only costs 20 USD. Indonesia is a 15USD entry visa on arrival (don't forget to have cash - $15-ish - for the exit fee too!) Singapore and Malaysia are both free visa on arrival, 90 days for each. Thailand was an interesting one, visitors receive a 30 day visa on arrival at the airport but only a 15 day visa when arriving over land, so prepare appropriately (although free at least.)  Tip:  If coming over land from Malaysia, consider getting a free 60 day Thai visa in Penang ahead of time.  Laos and Cambodia were also Visa on arrival but with a slow and complex application process, so plan on an hour or two to get across the border, and be prepared with $25-40 USD (and believe me, they like US Dollars.) After that was Vietnam, our first country were a Visa on Arrival was not possible (at least for US citizens) so we stopped by the Vietnamese Embassy in Bangkok and left our passports behind for a few days while they issued our visas (62 USD)

Next up was Hong Kong, which is a 90 day free visa on arrival for US citizens (remember that Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region, SAR, with separate immigration laws from mainland China.) On the other hand China does not issue visas on arrival and so we picked up a Chinese Visa at the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City for the low low price of $130 USD. Of course we cannot complain as that visa fee is a reciprocal charge in line with what the US government charges Chinese citizens. Also, our visa was single entry and 30 days only (they're very strict on the 30 day rule) so plan to go to Hong Kong at the start or end of your visit to China, but don't plan on crossing over into Hong Kong and then back into China. Up next was Japan, another free 90 day visa on arrival for US citizens. Followed next by India, a $110 6 month multi-entry visa that we picked up at the Indian Consulate in Shanghai. I think we covered that one well enough, but remember that they've outsourced the process and so plan plenty of time to acquire that visa.

Egypt was a visa on arrival, about 15 USD.  Jordan is also a visa on arrival, about 15 USD. Next up was the expensive portion of the trip for US citizens, South America. Apparently we charge a lot for their folks to come up here, so they charge us the same to travel down there. Brazil turned out to be 160 USD (get well in advance, NOT issued on arrival...but 5 year multi-entry!) Argentina is 135 USD if you fly into the country, although land borders are not yet setup to charge US citizens, entering Argentina over land is still free (as of June 2010) for US citizens. Bolivia was 135 USD for a visa, issued on arrival (and valid for 5 years) while Peru is a hold out and the most tourist friendly, granting a free visa on arrival (although there is a 31 USD departure tax.)

Moral of the story, if you can get your hands (legally) on something other than a US passport, you can save a significant amount of money. In total I spent about $725 on entry visas during the trip, a real hidden cost that we were not anticipating to be that high, and in the case of Vietnam, China, India and Brazil be sure to plan ahead as you'll need to visit a consulate or visa to get one before arrival. Swiss was luckily able to save about $295 by using his Swiss passport in South America.  Ergo, if you have dual citizenship, do your homework and see which passport makes the most sense for each of the countries you're visiting. [Disclaimer: This information is valid as of June 2010 and is always subject to change at a moments notice, always check with the nearest destination country consulate or embassy, along with the US State Dept. website for the latest travel and entry/exit requirements.]

Visa Issue Cost Visa Period (Days)
New Zealand On Arrival $0 90 days
Australia Advance $20 90 days
Singapore On Arrival $0 90 days
Indonesia On Arrival $15 10 days
Malaysia On Arrival $0 90 days
Thailand On Arrival $0 15 (land) / 30 (airport) / 60 (Penang, Malaysia)
Laos On Arrival $35 30 days
Cambodia On Arrival $25 30 days
Vietnam Advance $62 30 days
Hong Kong On Arrival $0 90 days
China Advance $130 30 days
Japan On Arrival $0 90 days
India Advance $110 180 days
Egypt On Arrival $15 30 days
Jordan On Arrival $15 30 days
Brazil Advance $160 5 years, multi-entry
Argentina On Arrival $135 (airport) / $0 (over land) 90 days (10 years multi-entry if you pay the fee)
Bolivia On Arrival $135 5 years
Peru On Arrival $0 90 days
Total $722

The last category to look at involves our most expensive single cost, transportation. Airfare turned out to be our single largest expense for the trip, somewhere around roughly $7000 over the course of the year. First, let me show you the numbers:

How many segments? Distance (miles)
Bus 43 10,603
Campervan 7 1,676
Car 4 833
Ferry 12 500
Minivan 7 354
Plane 29 45,213
Train 14 4,272
Grand Total 116 63,451

To put that into perspective, the distance between New York and Los Angeles (as the bird flies) is 2,468 miles and the circumference of the Earth (at the equator) is 24,901 miles…so I guess we technically went around the world about 2.5 times?!

Looking back at things about 3 months after our return home it was one hell of an amazing experience. We had a number of memorable encounters with beautiful and friendly people all around the planet, some people that we’ll never see again and some that I stay in contact with to this day.

While culture, tradition, national borders and religion may seem on the surface to separate us, in the end we found that people everywhere, no matter their background, just want to run their business or do their job, provide a better life for their family and children and try to find some happiness and joy in their daily existence. While we all have different ways of going about it, all in all I’d say it’s not much different from life here in the US.


Selah said...

Thanks for the breakdown-- it's pretty amazing that you took such great notes.
And I love your nice deep ending paragraph.

Christina Kim said...

This is really interesting, and you're such a detailed person too!~
Thanks for the sharing, and I do agree with some of the countries that I have already visited; that the costs are really high =P

André said...

Jason, are these daily costs per person or for both of you? If its per person, I'm assuming that you may have shared a room on ocasion, correct?

Jason said...

Andre - these costs are per person. We certainly did share rooms between the two of us and also stayed in some dorm style rooms throughout the journey also to keep costs down.

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