Posted by: Tom Lancaster | January 5, 2010

Gap year budget

Even more difficult than trying to work out what to take and where to go, was trying to ascertain how much cash the whole thing was going to cost.

We found the internet had hardly any useful information, and the only budget calculator we found online turned out to be woefully out of date.

Being in our early 30s, we have lots of friends who did some travelling post-university, but again, their budgeting experiences were hugely out of date.

The weak pound was our worst enemy though, and countries which had previously been good value, were suddenly 30%, 50% or even 100% more expensive than they had been a few years previously. The latest edition guide books were usually 20% out.

We had saved for several years and our initial budget for during the trip was 30,000 USD for the 11 months. This has proved to be inadequate and our revised budget is now 39,000 USD. As you will see from the notes below this has allowed us to:

1. Stay in private rooms rather than dorms, but with shared facilities in the more expensive countries;
2. Do some but not all of the main tourist attractions along the way, and go on some, but not many, organised tours;
3. Eat out frequently in cheap countries and rarely in others;
4. Take occasional flights when the distances are too huge for the bus; and
5. Drink at least a couple of beers every day but getting hammered is a thing of the past!!

Our RTW tickets were 4000 USD each, which included most of our major flights – you can see the ones which were included on our itinerary.

Other pre-departure costs were mainly linked to buying new back packs, clothes, travel insurance & random bits of kit we thought we’d need. We probably spent 700 USD between us on this, but a lot of the more expensive new things were Christmas presents.

For consistency we have given prices in US dollars and at the time of writing, 1 US dollar bought 0.65 GBP.


Posing on Ipanema beach is free to all

Total spend = $4386
29 days at $150 per day

Way over budget here mainly because:

1. We acted like we were on a regular holiday and not an 11 month gap year i.e meals out every night in nice restaurants;
2. The cost of living is higher in Brazil than any other South American country we visited;
3. The cost of tourist attractions in Rio is high and we wanted to see them all i.e cable car to Sugar Loaf is approx. 26 USD each;
4. We stayed in pousadas rather than hostels, none of which had kitchens, so we couldn’t have self-catered if we’d wanted to; and
5. We travelled huge distances which meant we took two internal flights. In hindsight our route wasn’t necessary for what we saw.


An Argentinian $8 mixed grill which fed two for two meals

Total spend = $3747
25 days at $150 per day

After the shock of Brazil, we tried to curtail our spending by making sure that every hostel we stayed in had a kitchen. Food costs are very low (comparative to the UK) in Argentina, so we were spending approx 5 USD on dinner for two each night – steak and veggies rather than cup noodles though, so you could self-cater for a lot less.

We also opted for shared bathrooms when we could, which was generally fine. We still over spent but mainly because of the number of long sleeper bus journeys we made.

In hindsight, we night have been able to take cheaper internal flights and the LAN airpass (which you have to buy outside of the country) might have made sense.


Cheap rooms sometimes have obvious downsides

Total spend = $731
7 days at $104 per day

We stayed in two cheap hostels, cooked every meal and stayed in at night so not much money spent. We took the catamaran from Buenos Aires, which is pretty expensive, but there is a sleeper bus which gets you as far as Montevideo.


Money well spent

Total spend for Ecuador including Galapagos = $4203
22 days at $191 per day
Total spend for Ecuador excluding Galapagos = $1703
14 days at $121 per day

The Galapagos aside, Ecuador was cheap in comparison with Brazil & Argentina. We ate out much more and sometimes had en-suite rooms.

The Galapagos is horribly expensive, even when you find the cheapest boat going, as we did. Our 8 day cruise plus flights and park tax cost 2500 USD  for the two of us.


Expensive in Peruvian terms, but cheap at twice the price

Total spend = $1243
14 days at $88 per day

If you visited Peru without going to Cusco/Machu Picchu then you can spend very little. However, we had only really gone to Peru to go there, so we just had to suck it in.

Everything about visiting Machu Picchu is expensive: the train to get there; the bus from Aguas Calientes to the gates; the entrance ticket; and even the food and drink prices in Aguas Calientes are much higher than in Cusco.

In western terms, the prices are fair, and for one of the world’s iconic sites, the price is worth paying, but what you pay to visit would sustain you in other parts of Peru for a couple of weeks at least.


Museums: both excellent value and an unexpected source of humour

Total spend = $997
9 days at $110 per day

Continued with our cheapo hostels with shared facilities mostly, although occasional en-suite where the price difference was small. Self-catered, although eating out was reasonable.

New Zealand

The "interesting" paint job comes as standard

Total spend = $4347
29 days at $150 per day

The weak pound continued to hurt us, and the comparatively high food costs made even self-catering seem pretty expensive.

Jane dug out all her old student specials and we we’re soon eating like kings in the camper van. Raw ingredients were of an extremely high quality so cooking was not a chore.

We also discovered Pak N Save – the Kiwi equivalent of Aldi* – home of the 5 USD bottle of wine and other lovely cheap things! And fish & chips became our regular treat when Jane didn’t want to cook.

We shunned anything organised and concentrated on spending time in the great outdoors: it being both free and fabulous. Exceptions were: a cruise around the Bay of Islands; and our visit to the thermal park outside Rotorua, but the whale watching had to be vetoed as being way too expensive.

We covered a lot of miles and saw both islands, so our petrol costs were high. We also paid for fully-comprehensive insurance, so our cheap camper van became a lot less cheap.

Camp sites were approximately 23 – 30 USD per night and, due to the cold weather, we needed a powered site so that our heater could work. The free (or cheap) DOC camp sites rarely have power so these weren’t an option.

* Aldi is a “budget” supermarket in the UK and some other parts of Europe


Sometimes a splurge is worth every penny

Total spend = $5037
32 days at $157 per day

Australia was even more expensive than New Zealand and we struggled to find a hostel for less than 60 USD per night, even with shared facilities.

The upside was discovering Cleanskin wine, which is surplus wine, sold in plain bottles to avoid having tax added to the price. These could be had for approximately 5 USD a bottle, whereas drinking in pubs was unbelievably expensive (8 USD for a pint of beer), so we didn’t.

Petrol was again a big part of our budget and the camper van and camp site costs were similar to NZ. The main benefit of our Spaceship, however, was that the power came from an auxiliary battery, so we didn’t need powered sites.

The two trips we did were also pretty expensive: we paid a (discounted) price of 500 USD each for a 3 day/2 night cruise in the Whitsundays; and the day trip to Fraser Island was 140 USD each. We also took a light aircraft flight over Fraser Island for an addition 60 USD each.

We had to forgo a cruise to the Great Barrier Reef and our planned visit to Australia Zoo.


$5 lunch Japanese style

Total spend = $1074
7 days at $153 per day

Tokyo is expensive for some things, but not for others. Our hostel was 75 USD per night and this was one of the cheapest we could find. Food in cafes and restaurants could be extremely good value though, and we paid 2 USD for a big Japanese breakfast and 5 – 10 USD for other meals. Most things are UK equivalent price i.e transport, attractions etc.


Save money: do nothing

Total spend = $2106
30 days at $70 per day

The budget took a bit of a hit here because: we stayed 3 nights in a relatively expensive hotel in Bangkok (45 USD per night); we did two days’ diving in Koh Tao whilst staying in the slightly more expensive dive resort.

Apart from this, accommodation, food and transport are all cheap, but they are slightly higher than other countries in SE Asia (and higher than we had been led to believe).


Sometimes you have to make sacrifices

Total spend = $522
10 days at $52 per day

We didn’t really do anything extravagant in Malaysia – we’d visited on a holiday a couple of years before, so had a quiet and cheap few days on the beach.


Three days does not equal three times the fun

Total spend = $1014
11 days at $92 per day

The only major expense here was the Mahout Course, which was extremely expensive by Laos standards at 140 USD each for the 3 days/2 nights. In hindsight, the one day course would have been sufficient at 50 USD each.

We also decided to fly from Luang Prabang to Hanoi so as to avoid the 28 hour bus journey (the flight was only 1 hour!!). The flight cost 130 USD each, but was well worth it.


Beef pho: nutritious & delicious

Total spend = $1777
27 days at $66 per day

It’s very easy to live cheaply in Vietnam. Our usual guesthouse had en-suite facilities, air conditioning, wifi and cable TV and was still less than $15 per night on average.

Local food is also incredibly cheap with beef/chicken pho selling for approximately 90 cents and roast pork baguettes selling for 45 cents. We ate out every meal and tried to have a super cheap lunch and then a more expensive (relatively speaking) dinner ($11).

Trips from the main tourists centres are also cheap but once you get off the beaten track a bit, prices rise substantially and it’s difficult to get to many sites independently.

Travel between towns is very good value and we spent approximately $40 each travelling the length of the country on trains and buses.


Phnom Penh Royal Palace - randomly expensive at $6 each

Total spend = $781
11 days at $55 per day

Prices in Cambodia are very similar to Vietnam (except randomly, Coke, Sprite etc are twice the price at between $1 and $1.50 per can!)


A plate of porky deliciousness for $3

Total spend = $2400
31 days at $77 per day

Accommodation in Indonesia is generally of quite a low standard compared with Vietnam, Cambodia etc. Our average room price was $20 per night and usually this gave us a fan and hot water (but we did have two cold water rooms for this price).

Things which we’d taken for granted in other South-East Asian countries, like wi-fi and air-con, were very rare indeed. You can find very cheap rooms (less than $10 per night) but these will be very tatty with shared facilities.

Bali is more expensive than Java, and South Bali is the most expensive. Friends of ours went to the Gili Islands and found them too expensive to stay for more than a couple of days.

Food can be very cheap though. Local warungs will do nasi goreng or similar for $1.50/$2.00 and even touristy restaurants will have loads of choice around the $4 mark. Alcohol is often more expensive than the meal!! Large bottles of Bintang are around $2.50 and the cheapest happy hour we found had them at $2.

Public transport on Java was very cheap (but not much fun) whereas Bali has a network of tourist shuttle buses which take you to all the main towns for not much more.

South Africa


Self-drive safari gold dust

Total spend = $4500
31 days at $145

On this budget we: hired a small car for 27 days; camped 3 out of 4 nights; and self-catered mostly. We also did a self-drive safari in Kruger (definitely the way to go).

We did however spend $450 on camping equipment (knowing we will use this back in the UK) but even with this expense, camping still saved us money over the 4 weeks. Another big expense is the Wild Card ($328 for a couple) which you may or may not need to buy depending on how many National Parks you plan to visit and how long you’re planning to stay in them. For us, the 6 nights we spent in the Kruger made it more economical to buy the card, rather than pay the daily conservation fee.

South Africa is expensive (relatively) for some things but cheap for others. Backpacker accommodation was particularly expensive ($15 for a dorm room,  $37 – 45 for a double room with shared facilities)  as were the activities offered by hostels. Food prices are comparable to the UK, although wine is very good value starting from $3 a bottle.


We’ll be adding to this budget as we move on around the world. If you have any feedback, please comment below. Please take a look at my other posts to find out more about where we’ve been and what we’ve done.

Any comments or questions are very welcome. However, bear in mind that we’re travelling around the world for 11 months, with varying standards of internet access, so won’t always be able to respond quickly!


  1. SALIVATING at that mixed grill. OMG.

    We are in Indonesia right now, hence the Pavlovian response.

    • Thanks for the comment MummyT – the mixed grill was very good! We’re off to Cambodia next and then Indonesia, so I’ll read your blog with interest!

  2. Hi – this is a great resource for someone planning a similar adventure, I’m sure many people are very grateful – myself included!

    I do have one query, and I should think that others reading will have has similar questions:

    Early on in the article, you mention that there are two of you, and that you will be staying in private rooms and eating out where it is not too expensive (coupled with a cheeky half here and there)…

    … I, and I guess others, will be travelling alone and prepared to accept a degridation in accommodation, food and drink (say for 6 days of the week), in order to save a few quid and postpone the flight home.

    Under these conditions, by how much (in % terms) do you think you could have cut your expenditure by, as a guestimate?

    Great blog, hope the trip is meeting your expectaions 🙂

    • Hi fiftybid – thanks for the comment and I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog. You ask an extremely difficult question – even more difficult than why Asian men have long pinky finger nails!

      I would say that if you:

      1. stay in dorm rooms
      2. eat the cheapest local food possible (a lot of beans/rice/noodles)
      3. don’t do any expensive excursions or activities (although some are very cheap, especially in Asia)
      4. are travelling alone
      5. don’t travel such long distances that you need to fly or take expensive trains/buses

      you could probably knock 2/3rds off what we’ve spent as a couple. This is, of course, a massive guesstimate. Do any other readers have any further info on how our budget stacks up for someone travelling alone and on a tighter budget?

      I don’t think it would be possible to save much on what we spent in NZ and Australia TBH, barring the excursions we did in Australia. Hope this helps!

  3. Magic, thanks very much 🙂

    Of course it is a near-impossible question to answer, but a ballpark figure is alot better than no figure at all.

    Hope you enjoy the rest of your trip, and again really enjoy the blog!

    Bon Voyage!

  4. Hello, I log on to your new stuff regularly.

    Your writing style is witty, keep it up!

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