We are just days away from our flight to Hong Kong.  We’ve been shopping and visiting and spending time getting physically fit again in preparation for our trip.

walking 3 or 4 hours a day, enjoying the Vancouver sun

And of course, with all the friend and family visits, we’ve been eating out a lot!

But now with Dad and Sue in Hawaii, and the bulk of the visits complete, we are working on two of the most important parts of the pre-trip planning: 1) what to bring and 2) how much money will we need.

What should you pack when traveling for 6 months or longer?

We read somewhere that you should pack half the stuff you think you’ll need, and take twice the money.

Remember, you can buy anything you want while traveling in Asia for half the price. Still, letting go of your stuff isn’t easy.

Traveling for a year is not like packing for a business trip or a two-week vacation. Last time we did this in 2006/2007 we over-packed (to put it mildly) and ended up throwing out stuff along the way, including a lot of ‘technical’ travel clothing we bought before we left: including every single pair of pants Scott brought, along with the shirts. The best clothing Scott found in Vietnam and India. Karen brought running shoes along with some Teva hiking sandals. Running shoes take up a lot of room and these ones stayed in the bottom of her pack coming out only once while we were in India. But we never let them go. Dutifully, Karen packed those shoes in her heavy pack every time we moved on to another destination. This time we’re leaving some things behind.

Despite the fact that there is a lot written about this very topic, this is one of the harder decisions you will make before going abroad.

Here is our motto: if you pack light, then whatever you decide you want along the way (a warmer sweater, a shawl, a hat) becomes the travel souvenir that you won’t be able to fit in your bag because it’s stuffed with crap you don’t need!

On the flip side, there are things, in our opinion, that you should not omit from the packing list.  One thing we don’t skimp on is a well stocked first aid kit. No one wants to go looking for paracetamol when they have a fever and chills.  You can always restock later. Plus, we’ve learned the hard way, on our last trip, that meds in Asia are not always what they say they are – kinda scary, we know.

Talk to your travel doctor and get some prescriptions filled before you leave.  Here is our list of items we are including in our first aid kit:

  • bandaids, gauze, wound closure strips, blister pads, bandage tape, irrigation syringe
  • Polysporin, fungus cream, isopropyl alcohol… for sterilization, not cocktails ;-), thermometer
  • aloe vera gel (shockingly difficult to find last time), antiseptic wipes, eye drops
  • Gravol, Pepto Bismol, re-hydration salts, azithromycin (prescription), Diamox for altitude sickness (prescription), antihistamines, cold and flu medicine, Imodium
  • Advil, Tylenol, iron pills (for Karen’s anemic blood) and multi-vitamins.

The other thing to note is that technical clothing that works really well may be hard to find.  Anything technical that you want – for example, a waterproof, breathable shell or a  fleece – is best bought at home. In Nepal you can find good stuff at a good price, apparently, but you never know. And this kind of clothing can be difficult to find anywhere else.

How much money does a trip of six months or longer cost?

Many people are too polite to ask, but we know that you know that we know what you want to know. We’ve spent a lot of time researching this question and budgeting for a trip has a lot to do with the type of traveler you are.

We have friends who have traveled in Asia, spending only $12,000 for one year, including airfare. It was a few years ago, but still, we think that’s just nuts. For some, living as cheaply as possible, with all the joyous comfort such travel brings, is a sort of fun game. How low can you go? An exciting challenge, no?  Let’s be clear: this is NOT how we have fun. (no offense friends…you know who you are).

But if we learned anything from our last trip, it’s this: You will always spend more than you budgeted for. Why? Because everyone always underestimates the cost of things, thinking they’ll be able to get it cheaper. Unforeseen issues always come up, things are never as cheap as people who post on travel forums suggest. And sometimes an opportunity comes along that you just can’t miss. Plus, if you really want it cheap, you have to pay the consequences… discomfort, filthiness, bugs, etc. Nothing is ever really free or cheap. The cost might be in something other than cash, but in the end you always pay, one way or the other.

So where do you start?

Well, here again there are lots of websites devoted to this subject. One of the better ones is here. Find the Destination Cost Search page or select a country link on the right of the page. A fantastic starting place, the site estimates how much it should cost, per day or week depending on the item, for each country on your list.

From here you want to come up with your daily budget. Based on how much you would like to spend on your accommodation, food, and daily activities. Determine a daily rate for each country, and then do what we do… take that number and round it up.

For example – Hong Kong is expensive. It’s like New York. We have managed to find a pretty decent place to stay for a pretty good price. Our hotel will cost $110 CAD per night, and based on our experience we’ve budgeted $150 CAD per day to spend on food, transport, and entry fees.  From there, we round up to $300 CAD per day considering exchange fees and bank fees, etc ($110+$150= $260 rounded up to $300). If we come in under budget, it’s a bonus.  But there is nothing worse than to make the budget too tight and then you are left squabbling over what you can and can’t do based on your budget. Stressing about money is not a vacation and no one should go in to debt to take a trip like this. Mao was right: Proper planning is the key to success. 🙂

Here is another example:

We’ve budgeted $90 per day for China.  Our first guest house in China costs $40 per night – that includes WiFi and transport from the train station and in and out of town every day.  The remaining $50 per day is what we will spend on food and fun. This is for two people and does not include transport.  We then add a few thousand on to each country total for transport and, voila! you have a budget for each country.  Try to stick to it, making choices along the way.

Well, with that we will bring this verbose post to a close.  Hopefully you’ll find these budgeting tips helpful.  Feel free to email us or comment below if you have any more questions and we will do our best to help.


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