Tuesday, April 2, 2013

How much does backpacking in South America cost for a couple?


Whenever the topic of long term travel comes up, a lot of people are curious about how much it costs. Long term travel has the reputation of being really expensive, versus say, living at one place for the same duration of time. However, we found out that compared to living at one place, paying rent and utilities and eating out, its not that much more expensive. It could even cost the same or less, depending on your lifestyle! The big difference, however, is the fact that you are earning a steady income while at home and unless you are a really talented writer or one of those people with really flexible remote consulting jobs, your income on the road takes a hit.

I thought I'd dispel some myths about how long term travel is not so far reaching after all, by sharing some real numbers about how much our four-month-south-america trip actually cost. Here is a high level overview:

From the time we started our trip at the airport in the USA, including the airfare and travel insurance, we spent a total of $13952 over a period of 133 days. I have dissected the cost in a couple of different ways below and all figures are for two people and in USD in the year 2011-2012.

Cost By Category
Airfares (both to and fro and within South America) - 2,947
Food (includes groceries) - 2,143
Trip insurance (the best money we ever spent)  - 756
Post-Loss - replacement passports, replacement American visas, new airfares as we had to reschedule old flights - 1,575
Miscellaneous - 437
Shopping - 347
Sightseeing - (also includes the cost for 14 nights of stay due to various trips and treks) - 1,637
Stay - (Does not include stays incorporated as a part of multi day trips with stay-included fares) - 1,974
Transportation (non-plane and includes several overnight buses and one overnight train) - 1,747
Visas - 390
Grand Total - 13,952

If we hadn't lost our backpack in Calama, Chile, we would have saved at least $1575. We also lot a lost more in sheer value of goods lost. This cost is only for TRIP INTERRUPTION, which is the extra amount we spent only for identification documents and rescheduled air fares. I am not even counting the money spent in food and shelter or transportation to two different embassies.

Cost By Country (ONLY includes categories: food, miscellaneous, shopping, sightseeing, stay and transportation)

Bolivia - 693 in 24 days @ $29/day
Chile - 2,703 in 30 days @ $90/day
Colombia - 1,630 in 26 days @ $63/day
Ecuador - 1,183 in 22 days @ $54/day
Peru - 1,886 in 31days @ $61/day
Total for basic travel expenses - 8095 in 133 days @ $61/day

Lowest Hotel rate per night - $4 for a very clean lake view basic room on the shores of Isla Del Sol, Bolivia
Highest hotel rate per night - $81 at La Casa De Mireya in San Pedro De Atacama, Chile
Average hotel rate per night - $21
Average hotel rate per night if we didn't stay in Chile - $17

Number of ATM withdrawals - 49
Amount in ATM fees - $78 (all refunded back to us thanks to an excellent debit card)

Since we lost our stuff our morale was a bit on the lower side and we were really busy collecting documentation for replacing our belongings, we were less diligent about tracking our expenses in Bolivia. Even if I padded my expenses in Bolivia by a generous 10%, the cost per day will still only go up to ~ $33/day and thats for two people.

How did we travel?

These numbers dont mean a lot unless they impart some sense of how we travel. For lodging, we usually chose hostels or small family run guesthouses. In expensive cities, we went with bunk beds and while mostly we had private rooms. In Bolivia and Peru, we almost always had a private room with a private/shared bathroom.

We cooked a lot at hostels, got groceries such as bread, fruit, vegetables, rice and pasta. However, whenever we spotted a vegetarian restaurant, we had at least one meal there. We heavily favored Hare Krishna restaurants in the cities for their reasonably priced, vegan friendly, set lunches. In Bolivia, we ate a lot at markets as you could coffee, bread, juice and api (corn meal porridge) at really low prices.

Transportation - almost always public buses/metros and collectivos. We took taxis when we had to go to bus stand or airport to go to a different city. Long distance buses were mostly semi cama or sometimes cama (fully reclined seats).

Sightseeing - apart from the jungle trips and treks, we mostly organized our own tours. We took public buses to places of attraction and did our own 'sightseeing'. However, sometimes we'd book a tour from the hostel if its convenient and includes transport and fees.