I’ve been asked to share my budget for Asia, and now that I’ve been here for three months, I feel like I have a handle on costs here. So far, my experiences are limited to Indonesia and Malaysia.
I think my budget is pretty middle-of-the-road. I could get by a lot cheaper if I wanted, and I could certainly spend more. Generally, life here is incredibly affordable.
My total budget is $1400/month for a reasonably comfortable life on the road, plus at-home expenses like gifts & property taxes. Your mileage may vary. For me, an epic life of world travel is cheaper than staying home.
If you don’t have an Airbnb account yet , use my link to join! You’ll get $20 off your first booking, plus I’ll get a little kickback for sending you.
Rent + Utilities (including wifi): $600 budgeted
Actual expenditures: $330-600/month
It’s very difficult to find places online for $20 a night, but monthly rates easily get into this range outside of major tourist cities. In the village outside Solo, for instance, my rent was $330 a month for a beautiful two-bedroom house and included twice-weekly maid service. My current place in Penang is about $400. Those prices won’t put you in a convenient tourist area. If I want to go to a sit-down restaurant, shop in a western-style supermarket, or visit a tourist attraction, I’m walking at least 45 minutes, taking a bus, or shelling out $10 round trip for a taxi. People who want to do lots of sightseeing or aren’t prepared to adapt to a local way of life would have to spend more for location.
In major tourist cities like Yogyakarta and Kuala Lumpur, I couldn’t afford my own apartment at these rates. In Yogya, I had a private room at the Venezia Garden for about $15 a night, which included breakfast and was in a great location. I later rented a room in Ayu’s home, where I paid $20 a night, breakfast included, and was right on a backpacker street full of restaurants, cafes, and tourist bureaus. Ayu is friendly and delightful and even drove me around on her motorcycle. When I stayed in Petaling Jaya outside Kuala Lumpur, the monthly rate was $375 for a room with my own ensuite bathroom in the apartment of a young digital nomad couple. I had access to the kitchen, rooftop pool, and fitness room, and was within easy walking distance of hundreds of restaurants and shops. I also stayed in a hotel in KL where I paid about $40 a night for a room with a deep soaking tub – a well-earned splurge because I’ve been under budget so far in Asia!
You can get much cheaper places if you’re willing to wait until you arrive, hang out a hostel, and search locally, but I like the security of knowing where I’m going to live, and I depend on reviews heavily, so Airbnb suits me to a T.
Food: $400 budgeted
ACTUAL EXPENDITURES: $388.25/month average
I can’t give you a very specific breakdown of my food expenses because I use the same ATM withdrawals to pay for groceries and restaurants. I’m sure I spent the most in Petaling Jaya, where I was surrounded by nice cafés and irrestable sit-down restaurants. I’ve spent the least here in Penang, because I’ve been forced to get comfortable with street food. Now I can easily eat dinner for $2. In Solo, I spent more than I needed to because I wasn’t completely comfortable with the village shopping options and liked to visit the big Carrefour supermarket in the city.
Food is the easiest expense to control. My apartments have all included filtered water; if I drank only that and ate only street food and fruit from the market, I could easily get by on less than $200 a month. But food is very important to me. I like to experiment as a cook and enjoy nice meals in restaurants on occasion, so I spend more. If you’re budgeting for Asia, don’t underestimate the cost of alcohol. The beer I have with my dinner usually costs more than the dinner, and although I’m finding wine here for as little as $10 a bottle, compared to local food costs that’s insane. I drink about 2 glasses of wine or bottles of beer a night, a few nights a week, and alcohol probably accounts for nearly half my food budget. If you drink more, or if you aren’t ready to embrace street food, budget a lot more for food.
Travel: $100 budgeted
ACTUAL EXPENDITURES: $201/MONTH AVERAGE
Yowzer. It may be counterintuitive, but I typically don’t spend a lot on travel. I only move once a month, and I like to take trains or buses. A big part of this expenditure had to do with my visa troubles in Indonesia; I was forced to buy four plane tickets I shouldn’t have needed. Visas have also been an expense I didn’t anticipate, with entry into each country costing me $25-75, which is more than my total travel budget in some cases. Also, because of islands and mountains, buses and trains aren’t a very good option here. Flights can be as cheap as $17, but they can also cost hundreds of dollars. Hopefully now that the Visa issue is resolved, I’ll get back in line with my budget.
Entertainment: $200 budgeted
ACTUAL EXPENDITURES: $233/MONTH AVERAGE
I often book through Viator because I know I’ll get a reliable English-speaking guide and I know the company will work with me if I need to cancel or reschedule. I also know I’m paying about 20% more, but I figure it’s worth it.
Part of this budget goes toward book & movie downloads, too.
Other Expenses: $100 Budgeted
ACTUAL EXPENDITURES: $100/MONTH AVERAGE
My health insurance through World Nomads costs $335 every six months, or $55/month. I wouldn’t leave home without it. (If you want, you can read what I wrote about World Nomads for my travel site over at IndieTravel.guru)
I also pay $15 for a mail service. US Global Mail receives all my mail at their address in Texas. When mail arrives, they scan the envelope and show it to me. I can then have them open and scan the mail, throw it away, or forward it to someone. It’s worth $15 a month not to have to dump this responsiblity on friends or family. I love this service.
I spend $6 a month on a Skype phone number, mainly so I can talk to elderly relatives back home who aren’t on the internet, and for business communication. I pick up a SIM card for my iPad mini (most people would use an unlocked cel phone, but I prefer the iPad because I use it mostly for reading) which cost $10-25 a month. 1GB of data is plenty for me, I use it mostly for navigation and always have wifi in my ‘home.’
I also spend about $3 a month on a VPN for internet security.
I haven’t included my US expenses in this budget because they’re not at all universal. I spend mostly on gifts for my kids (I try to bring them each to see me once a year, so this is a huge expense) and expenses related to my business and my house back in the States (which I’m renting out).
I also pay self-employment taxes annually, though less than you’d think since my income is so low. If you spend fewer than 30 days in the US, you are exempt from the health insurance requirement, and I’m sure if you had to return to the US for health reasons you’d qualify for an enrollment period exemption. But I was forced to spend more than 30 days in the US this year, so I’m paying $30 a month for US health insurance, too.
If you’re considering long-term travel, don’t forget any expenses back home that you can’t escape, like memberships, gifts, taxes, insurance, storage units, professional expenses, etc.