Category Archives: Travel Budget

Indonesia Budget & Other Numbers

My wallet was looking forward to getting to Asia, as everyone had told me it was even cheaper than Latin America. And, I didn’t do too badly – food & drink were the cheapest since Bolivia, and accommodation was the cheapest yet. Or rather I should say, I didn’t do too badly as long as I stayed on the ground. Because my (inevitable) overspend was down to two things: one was flying between islands, and the other was the nine dives I did. One was pretty essential (ferry timetables aren’t always that helpful) and the other I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

The other big expense was that I treated myself to a brand new pair of (real, not fake) boardshorts to replaces the ones I bought in Miami and which are already a bit frayed from daily wear. They were particularly nice, if I do say myself. So nice in fact, that after just three hours of wear I hung them out to dry, from where they were promptly nicked while I popped out for a drink. At over $20 an hour of use, it was one more big expense I could have done without.

It’s looking more and more likely now that I’m going to overshoot on budget for the year – although it’s still only marginally. Here’s how the daily averages looked:
Transport: $10.66
Accommodation: $5.56
Activities: $14.88
Misc & purchases: $5.39
Food & drink: $18.44
Total: $54.94

In the seven months of travelling before Indonesia, I’d met a grand total of one Swede. That all change in Indonesia – the place is FULL of them. In fact, the 23 Swedes I met is the biggest concentration of people from one country since the 21 Americans I met in Guatemala. Bizarre. The total is enough to shoot them straight up into joint eighth place in the list of where people I’ve met are from, alongside the Dutch, who were nearly as ubiquitous in the country. The only new country added to this list in Indonesia was Hungary.

UK: 20
Netherlands: 15
Australians: 14
Indonesia: 13
Germany: 8
USA: 8
Canada: 5
Finland: 4
France: 4
Switzerland: 4
Belgium: 3
Spain: 3
Saudi Arabia: 1
Brazil: 1
Hungary: 1
Portugal: 1
Austria: 1
Mexico: 1

And finally onto those other numbers. Being in the world’s largest archipelago was enough to see my island total shoot up. There’s also a new entry on the modes of transport front – after only being on a moped once in my entire life, they became quite a regular feature in Indonesia.
Beds: 21 (including one on a boat and one in a tent)
Cash withdrawals: 16
Phone calls: 10
Postcards: 2
Laundry: 5
Islands: 16
Dives: 11
Beaches: 8
Volcanoes: 3
Museums: 1
Buses: 16
Taxis: 14
Boats: 14
Mopeds: 15
Flights: 3
Kayaks: 1
Jeeps: 1
Cars: 2
Tuk Tuks / Bejaks: 4

East Timor budget and other numbers

You’d think that Asia’s poorest country would be a cheap place to travel. Unfortunately, the presence of huge numbers of expats on fat UN salaries means you’d be wrong. It turned out to be one of the pricier countries so far, although as usual some of that was due to my own profligacy.

The two big problems were food, drink and accommodation, which worked out more expensive than anywhere I’ve been except for the three rich countries (USA, Australia & New Zealand) that I’ve been to. To be honest, I could have saved a bit of cash on the food and drink by eating in more of the Indonesian-style warungs and not going srinking so much with the expats, but to be honest I was having too much fun (and enjoying a bit of a break from Indonesian food, which is pretty much all I’d eaten since mid-November).

One other little quirk of East Timor is that it doesn’t have its own currency – instead, it uses the US Dollar, although with its own locally minted centavo coins in use instead of US Cents. My favourite is the 10 centavo, which has a cockerel on the back. Cool.

So here’s how the daily averages worked out:
Transport: $6.60
Accommodation: $12.00
Internet, visa, laundry & postcards: $5.61
Food & drink: $30.90
Total: $55.10

Thanks to my time spent with the expats, Brits again topped the table of people I propped up the bar with. A new entry this time for Jordan, thanks to a UN Policeman I met from there.
UK: 10
East Timor: 5
US: 3
Irish: 3
Australia: 2
Germany: 2
Sweden: 1
Turkey: 1
Jordan: 1
NL 1
PT 1
NZ 1

And finally the other numbers. Nowt too exciting this time, but I’ve kept the count up this far so I’ve got to pop this in for completeness sake:
Taxis: 9
Mopeds: 8
Beaches: 4
Buses: 4
Postcards: 2
Cash: 1
Laundry: 1
Local brands of beer drunk: 0 (Yep. East Timor is the first country I’ve been to that doesn’t have it’s own beer. How sad is that?)

That’s it for my little 10 day stop in East Timor – back to Indonesia now.

Australia & New Zealand Round-up and Budget

I have some mixed feelings on the 28 days I spent in Australia & New Zealand.

Obligatory Sydney Harbour shot

I might as well start with the positives. First off, it was really nice to catch up with quite a few friends I hadn’t seen since they left the UK – Chris in Auckland, Matt in Melbourne, Gen in Perth, and Chris, John & Ollie in Sydney, especially as it could be ages before I get to see them again. Getting to do the Tongariro Alpine crossing was a real highlight too, as it certainly lived up to its billing as one of the world’s best day hikes. I’m so glad too that my round the world ticket gave me the chance to see Uluru & the red centre, something I may not have bothered with otherwise, and was one of the real highlights of the trip so far. My stomach was also very pleased to get to catch up on so many of the English foods I’d been missing since I’ve been away (amazing as some of the foods I’ve had while away, I still can’t stop myself getting homesick for certain foods. Decent bacon, especially). Possibly best of all was getting to spend nearly two weeks with Matt in Melbourne, not doing all that much by the way of touristy stuff, instead just settling back into city life (and Melbourne is definitely one the best cities in the world) and recharging my batteries after doing so much over the past seven months.

Newtown, my favourite part of Sydney

But despite all the plus points, it did feel like a bit of a letdown after having such an incredible time in Latin America. The biggest factor in that was the fact that the two countries really are way too much like home in many respects. While that was comforting in some ways, one of the things I’ve loved most about my travels is experiencing a range of very different cultures, and to be honest, the antipodean culture was nowhere near as exciting. Another surprise was the other backpackers I met. In Latin America, I met so many amazing people, many of whom I hope to stay in contact with and see again when I get home. Whereas, especially, I really didn’t get on with any of the travellers I met in Oz. Maybe I was just unlucky, but I did find there to be something quite different about the type of people who have chosen to spend a year in a country like Australia (rather than Asia or Latin America) – they didn’t seem to be as adventurous, or open-minded, or interesting to talk to. Like I said, maybe I was unlucky and didn’t meet the right people, but it made me realise how much the company of great people makes to my enjoyment of a place. The final downside was one that I always knew was going to happen – the cost. As developed countries, they were always going to be expensive. With the pound being as week as it, it was even more so, and worse so than I’d feared. In just 1 month I managed a far bigger overspend than I’d managed in seven months in the Americas. Whoops. Oh well – let’s just hope I manage to claw some of that back in (much cheaper) Asia.

Here are those scary average daily spend numbers anyway – accommodation & food & drink costs are easily the highest yet (even moreso than my three days in the USA), and the others are all at the top end of what I’ve been spending so far.
Accommodation: $25.52
Transport: $13.18
Tours: $15.05
Miscellaneous purchases, internet & phone calls: $11.62
Food & drink: $41.54
Total: $106.92

And on to the usual round up of some other numbers. We have a new form of transport thanks to Melbourne’s trams (why on earth do all cities not have these? Trams rock)
Buses: 19
Trains: 18
Trams: 20
Flights: 5
Cars: 7
Beds: 10
Laundry: 5
Phone calls: 4
Postcards: 4
Beaches: 6
Monoliths: 1
Canyons: 1
Volcanoes: 1
Deserts: 1
Mudpools: several
Pies & bacon sarnies: I lost count quite early on with this one, to be honest

And finally the people I shared overpriced (and undersized) beers with. All the Aussies were great. Most of the hostel brits – not so much. I also got to meet my first people from Malaysia & Hong Kong too.
Australia: 23
UK: 20
Germany: 3
New Zealand: 3
Hong Kong: 3
US: 3
Malaysia: 1

And so the third leg of my trip ends, and my next stop, South East Asia, is the final one, which is rather a scary thought. How did that happen so quickly?

You can see all my photos of Australia here and all the ones from New Zealand here.

Chile Round-up & Budget

Poor, underrated Chile. I didn’t meet a single backpacker in Latin America who reckoned Chile was their favourite country. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia…yes, frequently. Chile? Never.

They always start with a couple of obvious negatives that I must admit I have trouble disagreeing too much with – first off, it’s expensive. Compared to the rest of South America, that’s certainly true – however it’s still cheap compared to home, and anyway, it wasn’t all that hard for me to save money by eating out less, especially considering negative number two: the food. I’d been forewarned, but boy do the locals love their fast food. KFCs & McDonald’s everywhere, and a lot of rather greasy Chilean options too. Luckily there are plenty of decent foreign options (especially Peruvian), and the supermarkets are great, so I still ate pretty well despite the lack of great local cuisine.

The third negative I kept hearing is, I think, rather unfair. Santiago seems to get a bit of a bad time from traveller. I can kind of see why – it’s not the most amazing sights or museums, but despite that, I loved it. It’s got a stunning location, with the peaks of the highest point of the Andes towering behind the city. It’s a lovely city to wander around in, with loads of cafes and great shops to spend time in, and it’s clean, modern and safe too. The nightlife around the Bellavista area is some of the best I’ve come across as well, with dozens of bars and restauraunts spilling out onto the pavements. It even has it’s own uniquely Chilean form of seediness – the famous Cafes con Piernas (Cafes with legs) – a bizarre combo of strip joint and Starbucks, where besuited businessmen go to have coffee served by women in extremely skimpy bikinis, something I got to see after being dragged there by two Peruvians who couldn’t believe such a thing existed.

I’d even go so far as to say it’s the first place apart from Mexico City on this trip that I can actually imagine living in – helped in part by the fact that it’s one of the few places in the world where you have ski resorts 90 minutes drive one way, and a beach 90 minutes in the other direction.

Aside from Santiago, I’ve already noted that Valparaiso is one of the best cities I’ve been, and the landscapes of the Atacama desert were starkly beautiful. Best of all was the friendliness of the people, something I’ve found time and again in every country I’ve been to so far, but I have to say I think I found the Chileans the friendliest of all.

It’s yet another country I really want to go back to – in particular to explore further south, including the Lake District and Patagonia, especially the Torres del Paine national park, home to the region’s best hiking.

Anyway, that’s it for the round-up, onto more serious matters – the budget. Considering Chile is supposed to be the most expensive country in Latin America, and that I visited the most expensive places in the country (San Pedro, Santiago & Rapa Nui), I didn’t do anywhere near as badly as I thought. In fact, if it hadn’t been for buying a replacement camera, Chile would actually have worked out cheaper than several of the countries I’ve visited, mainly aided by my lowest activities cost yet, and all that hoime cooking kept the food spend down too. Sadly, the expense of the camera negated all my hard work at saving, and it meant the country did indeed turn out to be the costliest since my brief stop in the USA.
Accommodation: $12.13
Transport: $9.01
Activities: $3.15
Misc (including that Camera): $19.07
Food & drink: $20.40
Total: $63.77

And of course on to all those other numbers:
Funiculars ridden: 6
Buses: 3
Flights: 3
Taxis: 2
Cars: 1
Jeeps: 1
Cash withdrawals: 3
Phone calls: 2
Postcards sent: 2
Volcanoes climbed: 2
Beaches visited: 2
Laundry: 1
Beds slept in: 6
Canyons: 1
Deserts: 1
Moai seen: dozens
Cameras broken: 1
Cameras unable to be fixed: 1
Cameras bought: 1

And onto the people I met. Interestingly, this was the second country in a row I spent more time with locals than with foreigners. Chile was also the first country so far where I spent more time with Latin Americans than I did with gringos – more than half the people I spent time with were Spanish speakers, and it was a fitting end to my stay in the continent that my last few nights out were conducted almost entirely in Spanish (although I have to admit that was mostly chatting to the Peruvians, as I can barely understand a word Chileans say when they speak Spanish to me, which would be a bit of an obstacle if I were to decide to live there). On the gringo score, yet again Brits dominated the list, but surprisingly Chile was the first country where I didn’t meet a single USian.
Chile: 14
UK: 10
Brazil: 3
Germany: 2
Peru: 2
Australia: 2
Argentina: 2
New Zealand: 1
France: 1
Uruguay: 1
Venezuela: 1
Israel: 1

That’s it now for stuff on the individual Latin American countries – just a few general South American round up posts to come, and then on to New Zealand.

You can read all my posts about Chile here and see all my Chilean photos here.

Argentina (steak) Round-up & Budget

Five days in Argentina is nowhere near enough. But it certainly was wnough to stuff myself with steak, drown myself in red wine, and clog my arteries with dulce de leche.

For if my little jaunt through Argentina on my way from Bolivia to Santiago was about one thing, it was food and drink. Boy do the Argentinians know to how to live. I managed to eat steak in some form or another every day I was there – and they were some of the finest steaks of my entire life. On the first night in Salta, I went out with Jade & D’Arcy, who I´d met on the Salar de Uyuni trip, and we treated ourselves to a Parillada, the classic Argentinian mixed grill, which consisted of two different cuts of steak, two types of chorizo, chicken, pork, kidneys, black pudding and some other unidentifiable (but still delicious) offal. The next day’s lunch saw the best steak sandwich of my life, and the following night’s bus a more than passable steak dinner (which was far better than any airline meat I’ve ever had). My first night in Mendoza I had the best steak of my life – a chateaubriand that was practically the size of my head, perfectly tender, perfectly cooked, nice and brown on the outside and perfectly pink and just bloody enough on the inside. And all for less than $10. My final night, in the marvellous hostel Lao, we had the best hostel dinner I´ve had, with the whole hostel sat round a huge table working our way through a fantastic barbecue and (unusually enough for Argentina) an equally terific salad…

…which gets me onto something I wondered the whole time I was there. How on erath are all Argentinians not fat, or dead of heart disease by the age of thirty? When you order a steak in a restaurant there, that´s what you get. A steak. On its own. Side orders are available, but most people seem to content themselves with chips at best. And then polish it all off with lots of red wine, and probably some dulce de leche (the classically Argentinian gooey caramel) for dessert. Lovely for a few days, but I’m sure if I had the diet I did for much more than five days I´d be dead pretty damn soon. Maybe vegetables are a dirty little secret that people only consume in the privacy of their own home? Answers on a postcard please (or the comments box if you can’t be bothered).

The wines were all pretty fantastic too. I’m not a huge wine drinker back home, but being in the home of Argentina’s finest reds, I couldn’t not try them – and they were all great. I think I must have somehow picked up a certain European snobbery about the Malbec grape (the most common in Argentina) because I’ve never really drunk much before, but I’m a convert now. Sorry to any family reading this – I had planned to ship a case home for you all for Christmas, until I saw it came to $150 just for the shipping. Ouch.

Those five days were wonderful (other than a few struggles to understand the Argentinian accent) and the country is now even more firmly on my list of places to visit after this trip – I have heard so many good things about Buenos Aires while travelling, and Patagonia is up the top of my future hiking plans.

In terms of costs, two things conspired to wreck my daily budget – all that good steak and fine wine meant my food & drink spend was near the highest so far, and that 19 hour luxury bus trip (in all fairness, it was my longest bus ride to date, so I figured it was worth treating myself) meant transport costs were easily my highest yet – nearly double the next highest country.
Transport: $20.40
Accommodation: $7.50
Activities: $3.75
Misc: $0.75
Steak & Wine: $21.10
Total: $53.50

A briefer than usual round-ip of the other numbers:
Buses: 2
Car s: 1
Bikes: 1
Taxi: 4
Postcards: 2
Cash withdrawals: 3
Wineries: 5
Cows eaten: several

..and finally the people I wined & dined with. This is the first country since Mexico where the natives have made up the largest group of people I met, and also the first since Mexico where Brits or Americans weren’t number one, thanks to the large and very friendly Irish contingent I met in Mendoza.
Argentinians: 7
Irish: 4
Dutch: 2
UK: 2
US: 1

Next, and final stop in Latin America, a return to Chile.

Bolivia Round-up & Budget

I could have sworn when I was planning my trip that I’d left myself enough time for a month in Bolivia. But somehow I screwed up and that month turned into two weeks, which really isn’t enough time to get to know a place properly.

Colourful balloons in Sucre

Colourful balloons in Sucre

But, having said that, the two weeks I had were great fun. As usual for Latin America, the people everywhere were incredibly friendly. La Paz is a wonderful place to visit, one of the nicest big cities I’ve visited so far – I was expecting the capital city of one of the poorest countries in the Americas to be big, dirty and dangerous – but it turned out to be none of those. It’s relatively small size means the centre is all easily manageable on foot; it was clean and with well-preserved colonial buildings, and it had a really nice selection of shops, restaurants, museums and bars, all of which were pretty safe to wander around to. On top of that, it’s blessed with one of the finest locations of any city I’ve been to yet – La Paz is crammed into a canyon that cuts through the Bolivian Antiplano, meaning on all sides you can see colourful houses filling the slopes, and in the distance sit the snowcapped mountains of the nearby Cordilleras. Quite spectacular.

La Paz panorama

La Paz panorama

Sucre too was another fine colonial city, and one that I particularly enjoyed fot its fascinating cemetary (and its rather cool Dino-phone, presumably a reference to the nearby largest collection dinosaur footprints in the world).

Sucre cemetary

Sucre cemetary

The dinophone

The dinophone

Cholita’s wrestling, the Death Road, visiting the mines of Potosi and the Salar de Uyuni were all real trip highlights (for very different reasons), but it’s all just left me wanting more. Unlike Mexico, Colombia & Peru, where my six weeks left me enough time to feel I’d begun to get to know the country and its people, two weeks in Bolivia leaves me feeling I’ve barely scratched the surface, and all those experiences were so different I feel like I have no sense of the country as a whole. There’s still so much I want to see in the country – the jungle, the pampas, the Cordilleras, and the Jesuit Missions of the south east in particular – that I’m pretty certain I’ll be back the the near future.

So, onto money then. Bolivia is supposedly the cheapest country in South America, and yes, it did indeed beat Guatemala to become my cheapest country so far. But, as is probably becoming familiar to any regular readers, not as cheap as I’d hoped. I pretty much fell down across the board – staying in hostels that were probably a bit too nice meant I spent way more than I had in Guatemala and Honduras; I continued to splash out on nicer meals (although my food costs were still the lowest so far), and all those activities added up in cost. But overall, not a bad result, and at least it brings the overall average back down (but not as much as I’d hoped).

Transport: $2.96
Accommodation: $7.29
Activities: $12.50
Laundry & miscellaneous stuff: $2.43
Food & Drink: $16.21
Total: $41.39

And onto the other numbers…
Buses: 5
Taxis: 2
Bikes: 1
Beds: 7
Jeeps: 1
Boats: 3
Hot Springs: 1
Laundry: 2
Postcards: 2
Cash withdrawals: 5
Islands: 1
Volcanoes: 1
Geysers: several
Salt Flats: 1
Wrestling Bouts: 5

…and the people I met. New nationalities to add to the total this time were an Austrian and the Bolivians. Surprise showing by the French & Dutch this time, with usual suspects the Americans, Germans & Israelis falling way behind. Most of all were the Brits, who have finally taken the lead in my overall tally from the Americans.
UK: 18
French: 5
Dutch: 5
US: 4
Australians: 3
Bolivians: 3
Swiss: 3
Belgians: 2
Czechs : 2
Spanish: 2
Irish: 2
Austrian: 1
Canadian: 1
German: 1
Kiwis: 1

That’s it for Bolivia now – next up, a brief stop in Chile and then straight on to Argentina. You can see all my Bolivian photos here, and read all my posts about the country here. And remember, if you want to be notified of all future updates, you can click on one of the links top right to get updates via RSS or email.

Peru: Budget & Other Numbers

I spent nearly six weeks in Peru, and right up to the day I arrived in Cusco, nearly five weeks in, it was on course to be my cheapest country yet. So what went wrong? Well, firstly, Cusco is quite expensive compared to other Peruvian cities, thanks to its popularity. Secondly, I was travelli ng with a friend on holiday from home, which always pushes costs up, as we had quite a different idea of what constitutes ‘cheap’. Finally, was the fact that I’d completely forgotten I hadn’t paid yet for a big chunk of the cost of the Inca Trail (turns out before I left I’d just paid a deposit. Whoops).

So in the end, I finished up over budget yet again. Not by loads, but still enough to be slightly annoying. Oh well, it was such good fun I can hardly complain.

So where did the overspend come from? Well, on the plus side, my spend on miscellaneous stuff (internet, laundry, stamps, purchases and so on) was the lowest yet. Transport and Food & drink were the second lowest (after Guatemala), and accommodation costs were significantly lower than in Mexico & Colombia. However those figures are slightly misleading, as 17 of my 40 days in Peru were spent on multiday hikes, where there we no food or accommodation costs. Take that into account, and my real daily accomodation cost would nearly double (although would still be cheaper than Mexico), and my food and drink costs would shoot up to being easily the most expensive I’ve had in Latin America. Need to watch those nice restaurants going forward.

Biggest single item by far was the cost of activities – because in Peru I did way more organised trips than before – 4 big hikes, a boat trip to the Islas Ballestas, sandboarding, flying over the Nazca lines, and visiting the floating islands. At over $24 a day, that’s nearly half my daily budget on its own. But I’m not going to compain – it was all worth it, and I suspect that I’ll be unlikley to do anywhere near as much of that sort of thing in any other country.

So on to the numbers themselves:
Transport: $4.49
Accommodation: $4.98
Activities: $24.12
Miscellaneous: $0.82
Food & Drink: $19.92
Total: $54.32

And of course, here’s how the rest of Peru shaped up in numbers terms:
Days: 40
Days hiking: 20
Days over 4000m: 12
Days over 5000m: 2
Nights in tents: 14
Nights on buses: 4
Nights in beds: 22
Buses: 16
Taxis: 18
Flights: 1
Boats: 3
Dune buggies: 1
Sandboards: 1
Sand dunes boarded down: 7
Churches: 6
Canyons: 1
Condors seen: Dozens
Hot Springs: 2
Laundry: 5
Postcards: 2
Phone calls: 5
Cash withdrawals: 16
Islands: 5
Museums: 2
Alpacas eaten: several
Guinea pigs eaten: none

and finally, the usual round up of people I hiked and had Pisco Sours with. Only new entry this time is for the Ukraine. Other than that, it’s the usual suspects at the top.
UK: 20
USA: 16
Germany: 13
Israel: 11
Peru: 8
Australia: 7
Ireland: 5
Switzerland: 4
Canada: 3
France: 3
Spain: 2
Ukraine: 1
Netherlands: 1
Brazil: 1
New Zealand: 1
Italy: 1
In terms of how that affects the overall ranking, the Brits are getting ever closer to overhauling the Americans at the top of the list, and since I’ve been in South America, the Germans, Israelis & Australians have gone up a fair bit, at the expense of Swiss & Canadians.

Colombia round up & budget

Colombia was a last-minute addition to my itinerary based on the rave reports I’d read from other travel bloggers, and as I travelled through Central America, I heard more and more people gushing about how it was their favourite country in South America. So how did it turn out?

After a very disappointing start in Bogota, I ended up loving the country. For a country with such a dangerous reputation, I actually felt safer in Colombia than any other country so far. You’d never know either that mass tourism is relatively new here either – it’s a very easy country to get around andI stayed in some of the nicest hostels to date.

Freshly picked coffee beans

Freshly picked coffee beans

There were plenty of highlights – Villa de Leyva is one of the finest little colonial towns I’ve seen so far; Tayrona gave me the best beaches I’ve ever seen; climbing Nevado del Ruiz took me above 5,000m for the first time; Medellin is one of the most fun cities I’ve ever visited; visiting Hacienda Guayabal to see how coffee is grown and made was both beautiful and fascinating; San Gil gave me the opportunity to try paragliding, and the Lost City trek is the best hike I’ve ever done.

Colourful Guatepe

Colourful Guatepe

I even grew to love Bogota in the end. It’s funny how much of a difference the weather can make to my enjoyment of a place – after a cold, wet and grey first experience, on my second visit I arrived to glorious sunshine, blue skies, and warm weather. And suddenly the city looked beautiful (and not like Croydon so much). I ended up in a much nicer hostel (the fantastic DN) in a slightly safer-feeling area, discovered some beautiful little side streets and some of the nicest and friendliest little bars and restaurants I’ve seen on my trip so far.

Every country has its downsides, and for me the only real letdown was the food. The Colombians seem to have a penchant for deep-frying everything, which was not great, and pretty much everything that wasn’t deep-fried seemed to be stuffed with cheese (even when you least expect it). It was generally quite expensive too, compared to other countries I’ve been to, and even the supermarkets were poor – I found a better selection of many things even in Guatemala, a much poorer country. There were some highlights, such as the hot chocolate with cheese, and some excellent street-food chorizos, but on the whole it was all a bit disappointing.

But my happiest memory of Colombia is nothing intrinsic to the country – it was instead the other travellers I spent time with. In the Macondo hostel in San Gil I met a fantastic selection of Brits, Irish & Americans. I did the Lost City trek with six of them, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better group of people. After that, every place I visited ended up being with a selection of the group from San Gil. Thanks for helping make Colombia such a special experience.

The unusual Bolivar statue in Manizales

The unusual Bolivar statue in Manizales

I’m now getting used to the fact that each country never turns out to be as cheap as I was hoping, and Colombia was no exception. I found food to be especially on the costly side, although as usual I did myself no favours by spending far too much partying. Still, on the brightside I spent the least since Guatemala, and only a touch more than I spent in Mexico. Here are the daily averages:
Transport: $6.69
Accommodation: $7.80
Museums, activities & excursions: $9.58
Food & drink: $24.52
Miscellaneous: $1.27

And now onto the serious business – here’s how Colombia shapes up in numerical terms (and what’s really noticeable now is how much church fatigue has set in – the number has plummeted since Mexico)
Buses 20
Taxis 21
Flights 1
Jeeps 2
Churches 3
Beaches 4
Beds 13
Hammocks slept in 5
Night buses attempted to sleep on in the face of over-enthusiastic aircon and suicidal drivers 3
National Parks 3
Hot springs 1
Laundry 6
Postcards 2
Phone calls 3
Cash withdrawals 12
Museums 2
Lost cities 1
Volcanoes 2 (1 mud, 1 normal)
Coffee farms 2
Cable Cars 2
Days spent hiking 8
Paraglides 1 (disappointing)
Water Parks 1
Ants eaten – several (which was probably several too many)

On the people I met front, the biggest disappointment is that I didn’t get to spend more time with Colombians – all the ones I met on the street and so on were incredibly friendly, but because I met such a fantastic group of travellers early on in San Gil, I ended up spending most of my time with them and didn’t make enough of an effort to go out and meet more locals. Must try harder. On a positive (geeky) note, Colombia did give me the opportunity to add a few more unusual countries to my list (French Guiana, Isle of Man, Guernsey, Egypt)
UK 21
US 15
Israel 12
Australia 9
Colombia 7
Ireland 5
Argentina 3
Canada 2
Isle of Man 1
Norway 1
Egypt 1
French Guiana 1
Poland 1
Guernsey 1
Romania 1
Uruguay 1
Germany 1
Spain 1
Belgium 1
France 1

You can catch up on any of my Colombian posts that you’ve missed here and see all my photos here.

Mexico: Budget & Other Numbers

I’m rubbish with money. Really rubbish. For years I was stupidly in debt, a situation that wasn’t helped by firmly sticking my head in the sand when it came to dealing with any financial matters – for example, I never used to even look at bank statements. When I phoned my bank and the machine insisted on reading out my balance before letting me speak to someone, I used to hold the phone away from my ear because I knew the numbers would be too depressing. I had no control over my spending, to the extent that one month I’d spent my entire salary three weeks before pay day and ended up living off scraps from the back of the cupboard. Over the years I finally managed to haul myself out of debt and save enough for this trip, but if I’m honest with myself it wasn’t really because I managed to get a firm grip on my spending, but because I worked my arse off to earn more money which was what basically made all the difference.

So when it came to planning my trip, the think that worried me most was not getting mugged, or getting ill, or dying in a bus crash caused by crazy central american bus drivers (turns out that was what I probably should have been worried about). I certainly didn’t anticipate needing to worry about getting caught up in the outbreak of a pandemic in my first country or in a potential coup in my second (more on that in a future post). No, my major worry was staying within my budget of $50 per day for the year.

Now that the first country is out of the way, how did I do? Well, the good news is that I managed to stay within budget – by all of 96 cents. Considering my normal spending habits, that’s definitely something I’m pleased about. In fact, it could have been a fair bit lower. Firstly, transport costs really bumped the total up. I knew Mexico was big, but didn’t really appreciate quite how huge it is. In particular, my decision to go massively out of the way to head right to the north of the country to visit the Copper Canyon (and then all the way back nearly to where I came from) added a huge amount to my transport costs. Also, the swine flu outbreak necessitated an unplanned internal flight to avoid Mexico City. Together, these two things made up nearly $8 out of that $49. Furthermore, I also overspent a fair bit in my first few days in Mexico City & Queretaro while I acclimatised to my new spending regime and got a feel for what was cheap and what was expensive – for example the hostels I thought were cheap in my first two stops ended up being around double what I ended up paying everywhere else. I also spent a lot more on food and drink in the three weeks I was travelling with friends from home than I did when I was just hanging out with other backpackers. I also found it interesting to note that the mere act of recording my spending has helped me spend less as I have a much better feel for where all the money is going and what’s expensive and what’s not.

The bad news is that, even though I knew Mexico would be one of the more expensive countries I visit (as it’s one of the richer ones), it certainly won’t be as expensive as the 5 or so weeks in total I plan to spend in the USA, Australia & New Zealand. Easter Island will be very expensive too. So the average of all the other countries needs to work out a fair bit cheaper than $50 to account for them. Hopefully I can make that up over the rest of my time in Latin America (luckily that seems to be the case in Guatemala so far).

But ultimately I’m not going to let it worry me too much – as well as my budget I have other savings that can act as a cushion if I do overspend, and I’m not going to let money worries spoil the enjoyment of this trip of a lifetime. Plus I need to remind myself anyway that the point is not to do this as cheaply as possible, but to the budget of $50 a day, and so far I’m safely within that.

Right, preamble out of the way, the geek in me will now delight in spelling out exactly where the money went and a few other numbers as well.

Average daily spend:
Total – $49
Transport – $11
Accommodation – $11
Food & Drink – $24
Museums, courses & excursions – $2
Other (e.g. laundry, internet, postage) – $1

Most expensive transport:
Bus from Zacatecas to Chihuahua: $49
Copper Canyon train: $28
Flight to Puebla: $115

Most & least expensive accommodation:
Oaxaca hotel: $23 per person
Creel hostel: $7 (including two two-course meals – best bargain of the holiday)

Most expensive touristy thing:
Bus tour to Divisadero: $15 (but boy was it worth it)

Some other numbers:
Buses caught 40
Taxis taken 22
Flights 2
Boat trips 2
Car rides 7
Bike rides 1
Churches 19
Beaches 4
Beds slept in 19
Canyons seen 2
Thermal baths swam in 3
Laundry done 6
Postcards sent 2
Phone calls made 5
Cash withdrawals 11
Islands visited 1
Museums visited 14
Pyramids climbed 6
Runs along the beach 2
Flu pandemics survived 1
Injuries & ailments: 4 (scraping my arm tripping over a pavement on day one, gashing my back on a jagged rock after overbalancing while crouching down to take a photo of an old VW Beetle, a bout of the trots brought on by a dodgy taco – thank god for Cipro – and a big allergic reaction to Mexican soap, also on day one, which was particularly troublesome considering the official advice for avoiding swine flu involved washing your hands regularly).
Items lost 2 (shower gel & one padlock)

People I’ve shared a beer with:
Mexicans 20
Americans 12
Brits 7
Swiss 4
French 3
Italian 3
Czech 2
Kiwi 2
German 2
Canadian 1
Irish 1
Israeli 1
Spanish 1
Aussies 0 (remarkably)

So there we have it. Not a bad start financially, but must try harder. That’s it for my first country, Mexico. Thanks to everyone who has visited, subscribed and commented, it makes the effort all worthwhile and it’s nice to know people are interested enough in what I have to say to keep reading. Next stop: Guatemala (although I’m now behind enough that I’m already in Honduras before I’ve even posted anything about Guatemala. Whoops)

In case you missed any, you can find all my Mexican photos here and read all my posts from the country here.

And if you want to subscribe to catch future posts, you can click either link on the top right of this page to either do it in an RSS reader or get updates via email.