Thursday, May 13, 2010

Geekery: Budgeting for South East Asia

Remember when I said that we'd be doing our tour of South East Asia at a cost of $70/day (for 2 people!)? Remember when you thought, "That's insanely cheap, there is simply no way that is possible."? Remember when I proved you wrong? No? Well get ready because the data is right here!

Picture it: the waves lapping at the shore, the sun sinking into the South China Sea, a brightly colored drink in a pretty glass adorned with an orchid, half naked children running like mutant 2 legged crabs through the surf, a stray dog shoving his head into your crotch...the tip tap tip tap of fingers on keyboard, a beautiful color-coaded spread sheet. You can take the manager out of the project but you can't take the project manager out of the girl.

Much to Geoff's constant annoyance I spent some small amount of each day in paradise entering our expenditures into a Google spreadsheet so that I could hopefully come home to the wonderful fun of proving myself right. I also spent a similar amount of time each day raising my eyebrows and quietly fuming when Geoff ordered a second gin and tonic because how will we ever stay on budget if you insist on $6 in cocktails every day? (Of course, I have to acknowledge that it was either $6 in cocktail costs or considerably more in hospital fees from when he eventually broke down and strangled my OCD, penny-pinching ass -- so really gin was the more budget friendly option).

Before we get into the exciting data, a few caveats. There are for sure errors in my data and I have this fear that some crazy internet person is going to comb through it and email me copious notes about all of my mistakes. This is obviously a paranoid fantasy because while there are FOR SURE tons of crazy people on the internet who would do this, I am almost positive that I have yet to attract enough internet stalkers to have to worry about the crazies coming after me just yet. I only wish I was popular enough to have to worry about someone (or even multiple someones) OCD-ing it up on my lunch costs. But just in case, let me state that there are errors in this data. This is because I often didn't have access to wifi and thus was unmotivated to touch the computer (You mean I won't be able to read about funny cats? I'm out.). This is also because even though I sometimes like to pretend that I have a super-human memory, I still forget things. This is also because sometimes I cheated. Here is a list of ways that I totally cheated on the budget:

  • I did not include flight costs. It is totally possible to recreate our trip using only buses and thus spending WAY less money but sometimes when you're on an overnight bus ride listening to the horn that the driver leans on once a minute as if to scream, "Wake up whitey, you're about to die!" You remember that you can totally afford a $50 plane ticket and that while, yes, this will totally screw the budget it might make up for that sin with a night of sleep and not being dead on the side of a highway in Vietnam.
  • I did not include souvenir or gift costs so my firends and family may never know exactly how cheap knock off tshirts are in Bangkok.
  • I did not include the cost of our scuba diving course because even though scuba diving in Thailand is shockingly cheap (we paid $278.43 each for the four day certification course with 4 dives) it cannot be done for $35/day/person and we had pre-approved that particular out of budget splurge. The budget and I thoroughly enjoyed the 4 days of free hotel room that came with the course.
  • For the last 13 days of our trip I threw the budget out the window. These days were by far the most expensive on our trip. We lived it up in hotels built for very discerning Japanese business men and/or families of Germans. We drank singapore slings made with top shelf gin. We took taxis because we were too lazy (and fancy) for public transit. Sometimes we got into a tuktuk without even arguing about the price which means we paid 5 times more then we needed to and we didn't even care. We were the Mr. Howel and Lovey of Thailand and it was grand. Geoff wanted to continue recording the budget during these days of excess just for the hilarious comparison factor but I had to insist that we not do this because when the budget is in play I simply cannot stop thinking about how much more awesome the data would look if I just had one less mai tai, one less foot massage, one less bag of cookies from the mini bar -- and really, who wants to live like that?

Ok, enough blathering on to the data!

Days In Budget: 71

Hotel: $1,165.38
Food + Drink: $2,229.07
Travel: $604.71
Visas: $225.00
Tourism: $640.54
Local Transport: $361.03

Total Spent: $5,302.14
Daily Average: $74.68

Ok, so obviously we went over budget. It is difficult (nay, impossible) for me to type that sentence without following it up with a list of excuses which is exactly what I will do in just a moment here but first I will own it. We went over budget. That's ok.

Because, you see, we didn't have to. We could have quite easily stayed on budget. There are scores of days (46 to be exact) in my little spreadsheet that are happily under budget. There is even one day (February 17th) where we spent $25.15 -- thanks in part to that free hotel room that we got from our scuba class but mostly to the fact that sitting on the beach don't cost a thing. The problem was that when we went over budget we partied like Scrooge McDuck (if Mr. McDuck had been partying in Asia and if, instead of a pool full of gold coins, he had a really awesome tour of the Vietnam countryside followed by 3 cocktails OR a fancy sleeping car for his 12 hour train ride OR some sweet Laos visas). What I'm saying is that when we figured that we were going over budget anyway we seemed to say "well the diet is screwed for today, might as well eat an entire cheesecake." (This is an attitude that I have also employed in a less metaphorical way with actual cheesecakes and actual diets). Our most expensive day in Asia (3/8/2010) was a major blow out -- $198.50 -- we went on a tour of Angkor Wat which not only meant playing for a tour guide ($27) but also going to breakfast and dinner at the pricey establishments that our tour guide is getting kick backs to drop us off at, but more important than all that (which alone would have resulted in a $85.50 day) we bought our Vietnam Visas which (including delivery fees) cost a whopping $113.

In addition to the pain of Visa costs which made us consider looking into boarder crossing coyote services we spent a lot on getting from one place to another. For a while I even considered pulling all travel costs out of the budget since they were painfully expensive and since after a few
Biere La Rues it was easy to convince yourself that travel wasn't part of a daily budget! And of course, there was the cheating. If we're not going to count flights why count pricey train rides or even cheap bus tickets?

I would also like to not count all of Cambodia. You'd think hotel rooms with bathroom walls that don't extend to the ceiling and towns covered with a thin layer of garbage would, if nothing else, be easy on the wallet but NOT SO! Since the country is much poorer then Thailand or Vietnam (Source) we kind of expected to live like kings -- but this was not to be. Part of the problem is that we spent a lot of time in Siem Reap visiting Angkor Wat and the surrounding ruins which are swarming with westerners and thus very expensive (ok, comparatively expensive... our average per day cost in Siem Reap was $81.92 which wouldn't even come close to covering our estimated cost of a night in our very own Brooklyn apartment (~$91)). The other part of the problem is that Cambodia is just hard and Geoff and I are comforted by the fancy. After a day of mourning the deaths of the past and turning away the legions of poor children we felt like we deserved some AC and our own bathroom. (Better people would probably feel like they too could do without but we are not better people).

Conversely we had been warned by many a traveler that Vietnam would be pricey but somehow it was by far our cheapest destination (possibly because we both would happily live off of $.50 Ban Mis made by an old lady on a scummy street corner). We scored in the north by visiting Hanoi and Halong Bay during the low season (downside: too cold to swim, upside: $6 rooms, uncrowded waters and not getting eaten by giant jellyfish). As far as I can tell the rest of the country is just always cheap. Our average hotel cost in Vietnam was $15.16 (compared to a trip-wide average of $17.66) and the hotels were markedly nicer than those in other countries -- we had AC, hot showers, complete bathroom walls, balconies AND CNN international! Over 22 days we had 24 meals that cost under $5. One day in Hue we had lunch for $.78 -- granted it was pho and coffee eaten while seated on a dirty curb but STILL! If you wanna live like a king Vietnam is highly recommended.

Ok, enough. I could continue to entertain you with the minutia of cost of traveling in South East Asia but I suspect that there are no readers left down here at the bottom of the page. If you're planning a trip of your own or if you're one of those elusive Random Access Babble super fans I'll happily (if a little wearily) send you a copy of the grand spreadsheet, just drop me and email.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

South East Asia by the Numbers