It seems discussions about the cost of travel are all the rage at the moment, so here's the first part of a series of stories on what it costs to travel around Southeast Asia. In this piece, we'll discuss all the costs you face before you even get out of your home country. Later stories will cover each country individually.
One of the biggest mistakes people make when planning and budgeting for their first trip overseas is to forget to take into account all the expenses they'll face before heading overseas. There's nothing worse than saving $3,000 for a three month trip in Asia, only to realise you could well be spending a quarter of that before you leave home. Some costs, like a flight ticket and travel insurance, are pretty close to essential and largely fixed, while others, like a backpack and vaccinations are less so. Here's our breakdown on costs and a few ways to save some money. Note all dollars are Australian dollars unless otherwise noted.
Fly to a hub
Unless you're already in Asia, you're going to need to get on a plane to fly here -- and aren't budget airlines just the best thing since sliced bread? Southeast Asia is especially well served by budget carriers offering cheap flights -- AirAsia, Jetstar, NokAir and Tiger Airways are the big ones. These carriers criss-cross all over Southeast Asia at bargain basement rates, often with fares for international flights costing as little as $50 (after taxes and surcharges). What this means is even if you're actually planning a trip to Vietnam, it may be cheaper to fly in with a long haul carrier to a regional hub -- Singapore (Tiger and Jetstar), Kuala Lumpur (AirAsia) and Bangkok (Nok Air and Thai AirAsia) are the best choices, and then fly onto Vietnam with one of the low cost carriers. Adioso is a good price comparison website for low cost carriers.
It never ceases to amaze us how many travellers we meet who haven't bothered with travel insurance. Theft and loss are, in the scheme of things, minor -- what you really need travel insurance for is medical coverage. Yes, medical care in Southeast Asia is far more affordable than in many more developed countries, but, well, it's not always so developed! Fees for serious accidents can still be very high. A friend of ours racked up over $15,000 worth of medical fees in under two weeks of treatment at a Bangkok hospital after a motorcycle accident. A month-long policy through World Nomads (which is who we use when travelling), would set you back a little over $100 -- a bargain.
Estimated fees* through World Nomads
One month: $100 (around $3/day)
Two months: $150 (around $2.50/day)
Three months: $180 (around $2/day)
Six months: $250 (around $1.50/day)
See -- it makes sense to travel for longer!
* Exact prices vary depending on your country of residence and assume no travel within North America and Japan.
Like travel insurance, checking that your vaccinations are up to date is a no brainer when it comes to travel in Southeast Asia. At a minimum, we'd suggest you check you're inoculated against the following:
If you're after more comprehensive coverage, then consider:
Regarding malaria, it depends very much on exactly where you are going. Read our related Malaria in Southeast Asia story for more information. Overall we do not recommend taking malaria pills unless you'll be travelling extensively in seriously affected areas.
The costs of these vaccinations vary tremendously from country to country and are also dependent on what pre-existing medical insurance you already have. Sample prices we found online are below:
Another investment on the medical side of things is a small medical kit. These vary in price from around $20 to $50 depending on how much stuff you want. Sure you could just pilfer your parent's medicine cupboard and toss it all in a plastic bag, but these professionally produced packs are well worth the money -- they're well organised, compact and light -- just what you need in a probably already overloaded pack.
Get a pack that suits your needs
You're off travelling in Southeast Asia -- not hiking the Himalayas -- so get an appropriate pack. Backpacks are measured in litres and anything over about a 70 litre pack is too big -- a 70 litre pack is really heavy when it's packed full of wet socks, bongo drums and snorkelling gear. The main decision is whether to go for a top loader or a back loader. The former tend to be tall and narrow -- rest assured that every time you need something, it will be at the bottom of the pack. The latter are squat, wider packs, often with daypacks that zip off the back. Rear-loading packs are the more popular overall among travellers in Southeast Asia. Relatively inexpensive packs can be bought online for under $100 and we'd say, for the casual visitor, there's little reason to spend more. See our buying a backpack page for more advice.
Boots or sandals?
Do not go and spend hundreds of dollars on a flash set of hiking boots -- all you'll do is buy some flip flops once you're in Asia and carry the boots in your pack. Unless you're planning on extensive trekking, expensive boots are a waste of money and you're better off buying a pair of comfortable, sturdy sandals -- Teva (http://www.teva.com/) is a good brand.
Passport and visas
No passport? You'll be needing one of those! Sample costs include Australia A$208, Canada C$87, UK £72 and USA US$100. Remember to allow enough time for the application process.
Regarding visas, the most important point is that in most cases it is far cheaper to get your visas in Southeast Asia than in your home country. If you're travelling to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam for example, but are starting in Thailand, get your visas for the other three countries in Bangkok. It will save you money. If you must get a visa beforehand, sample visa costs for Laos, Thailand and Vietnam at selected overseas embassies are below.
Add it all up
So if you're travelling to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam for two months you should have the following in your "before I even leave home" portion of your budget:
Return airfares to the region: $500-$1500
Travel insurance: $150
Vaccinations: $200-$300 (varies tremendously)
A couple of visas: $100
Yup -- over $500 in expenses and you've not even picked up an air-ticket yet!
By Stuart McDonald
Last updated on 14th October, 2008.
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