It’s a Sunday…everything is closed…and I have some extra time on a machine so it’s time to write on something I’ve been itching to explore.
When I told friends of my plans to backpack for several months across Europe, one of the most common questions was how can you afford it ? It must cost a fortune? The truth is, I couldn’t without the help and support of my parents, extended family and friends. That said, as I look toward the future and start preparing for trips, I’ve taken a close look at comparable costs. This post is geared towards those of you who are about to graduate college and are toying with the idea of a backpacking trip, but are afraid of the cost or… going for it.
I’ve been incredibly lucky as both of my parents have always placed a heavy emphasis on travel as an educational tool. I know those of you who have traveled a bit agree. When you travel and immerse yourself in the cultures, it is every bit as educational as the college experience. In fact, dollar-for-dollar, hour-for-hour, I feel I’ve been changed more as a person and learned more in my 3 months traveling than I ever did in a college semester.
To set the stage – I pulled up ASU’s website and looked at their cost of attendance calculator. After making several basic selections for an in-state, undergraduate, living off campus, the cost (COA) estimated by the site is $17,211 for the year. Broken down… $13,331 of that was listed as “direct costs” (room, tuition books, etc.) and $3,380 of that was “in-direct costs” (personal and transportation). Taking the $17,211 and dividing it by 9 to determine the cost/per scholastic month leaves one with $1,912 in monthly expenses. Looking at the breakdown, I would say this is a low estimate, as many college students spend significantly more…especially those who drink or smoke (two major expenses not included in the estimate). The estimate notes $71 a week for board based on an average meal price of somewhere between $6.50-7.50 at on-campus establishments, this also seems a bit low. I imagine most people spend more than $10 a day on food –breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cell phone bills are also worth noting as a major expense. Computer maintenance, fees and software are often high.
The key to making travel affordable is length of time on the road. Sound odd? The reason is living expenses. Most Americans, especially students, travel/backpack for 2-4 weeks. Americans also typically hit major destinations known to Americans. In the hostels, I noticed that I would either be surrounded by Americans (in places like Rome, Florence, Berlin), or would be the only American in the hostel when I was off the typical American traveler’s path. I’ve noticed that Canadians typically travel 3 weeks to 2 months and Australians typically start at 3 months and can travel for years pausing to work as they go. Perhaps short trips to high cost locales is why we view travel as such an extreme expense. If you leave for two weeks you are forced to double your expenses. You have to maintain your apartment, park your car, leave your cellphone on, and pay the utilities. If you plan for, and schedule a longer trip, removing those expenses becomes a viable option. In turn, those expenses can be re-distributed toward travel costs.
Exploring my daily travel costs. (Keep in mind that the dollar is currently in horrible shape and as I write this every Euro I spend costs me about $1.50.)
Daily Hostel Cost – $19.50 (13 Euro) – $34.50 (23 Euro) – Average nightly cost: $30 (20 Euro) X 30 = $900/month.
Daily Food Expense – $22.5 (15 Euro) X 30 = $675/month.
Travel (average costs) – Predicting $75 (50 Euro) every 3 days. Cost: $25/day. (Train, bus, air – Easyjet.com and Ryanair. etc for long distances. Train costs vary by country. Bus is always cheaper. In Italy, Croatia and Greece the average cost was 20 Euro max for a long day’s travel. Most of the Croatian and Greek trips cost between 5-10 Euro by bus.
Museums/Entertainment/Attractions – $10.50/day (7 Euro). Churches are typically free, museums cost between 2-12 Euro (student card makes a HUGE difference), natural parks typically cost 15 Euro max. Most people will only do one or two museums a week.
Beverages (don’t drink the tap water) – $10.50/day (7 Euro) – 2 bottles of good wine or 7 66ml beers purchased at the supermarket. Of course, the alcohol expense is optional and often not elected on a daily basis.
Changing money by using an ATM may cost as much as 6% of the amount plus a $3 “not our ATM, fee”. Credit cards are more economical, but many businesses do not take them.
Initial transport cost to Europe – $470+$860* (*poorly timed return) = $1330 (If I had planned my return better and booked round-trip this could have been as low as $600 total.
Internet – For booking hostels (www.hostelworld.com/www.hostelbookers.com etc.) – $1.50-$4.00/hr. (Many hostels offer free internet)
So, $1575 for food and housing, $750 for travel (high estimate), $315 for fluids, $150 for museums, $20 for heavy internet usage. Total monthly cost = $2,810 (I can’t check my personal figures but depending on region this is a high estimate).
Total cost for 3 months on the road: $2,810 X 3 + $750 (initial airfare) = $9,180 total. 3 Months at ASU (using ASU’s cost break down) $5,736. With a more realistic cost being around $8,000. So the planning question is, do you spend more than $100 a day now when you include all of your background expenses?
These figures may be a bit deceiving because of differences in regional expense – e.g. cost of travel in the Czech Republic (non-Euro, $3.50 for an entire meal) vs. England (British pound = $2 and daily costs soar by nearly 100%). As a snapshot, my expenses for yesterday in Crete, Greece show the benefits of traveling off the main path. I bought a 4 Euro bus ticket from Kissamos to Chania. 30 Euro for a hotel room with kitchen split between two people – 15 Euro personal cost. 2 Euro for a bottle of wine. 2.50 Euro per gyro X 3 gyros for lunch, dinner, second dinner -7.50 Euro total. 1 Euro for the Chania archeological museum (student discount). Total cost: $44.25 for the day.
A few important things to keep in mind:
- The expenses listed are for my September 12 through December 12th trip and take advantage of off-season travel.
- All of my travel has been in Europe.
- Travel expenses increased because of my spur of the moment travel style which meant no advance rail passes (Eurail type), and 1-2 day’s notice for booking rail and air tickets which results in premium prices.
- I have had an incredible nightlife. I pub-crawled or went out almost every night with fellow hostelers and partied hard despite keeping my cover and alcohol expenses to a minimum.
- I eat limited amounts of pasta and I avoid dairy for health reasons.
I hope this helps shed light on the nature of budget travel especially in comparison to the average 2 week power trip and encourages you to consider giving it a try. The experience is awesome.