Category Archives: Budget

ESL Life: Can you save money in Thailand?

2018-06-06 11.50.40

I once heard a story while teaching in Korea about a teacher whose only prior teaching experience was in Thailand. His school in Korea paid him less because of it. Like, less than if he had never taught before. In the immortal words of Fred Willard, “Wha?” What were Thai schools like, I wondered?

I only have one school to base it on, and indeed the kids are naughtier and the classes are bigger. There’s also more paperwork and teaching kindy is added to the list of weekly grief, but it’s pretty much the same job.

The perks here in Lopburi aren’t much. There’s the ubiquitous school lunch, but no severance and flights aren’t paid for. Thailand indeed has a low cost of living, but it’s not any less than Myanmar and Vietnam and those countries pay close to double what Thailand does. Myanmar and Vietnam also feature pretty much everything that Thailand does–street food, night markets, beaches, historic ruins, etc.

So the question is why would anyone teach in Thailand?

I’m not sure. But that’s not really what the question is. If you choose Thailand over other Asian countries, the question is: can you save money? Secondly, assuming yes, how much can you save?



This varies. You can make more in Bangkok but obviously expenses are higher and there is more to spend your money on.

English & I

  • 32000 first two months
  • 37,500 after that.
  • around +4000 more/month for Afterschool Classes

So after two months, assuming you’re teaching two after school classes a week, it’s total of 1260 USD per month, teaching 6 or 7 classes a day. It’s half of what you’d make in Korea or Japan, but they have higher costs of living. It’s also half of what you’d make in Myanmar or Vietnam, which have similar low prices and similar perks.

Is it enough to save? Well here’s a look at my expenses.

Some Random Daily Expenses

  • Water (refill station) 1 baht per liter
  • Water (7-11) 13 baht for 1.5 liters
  • Americano 45 baht
  • Bag of Fruit 30 baht
  • Songthaw Ride 8 baht
  • Grilled Bananas 20 baht
  • Laundry 30 baht
  • Bag of snap peas 20 baht

Monthly Expenses

  • Rent     5000 baht / 150 USD
  • Bills     2500 (ish) baht / 75 USD
  • Phone 500 baht / 15 USD
  • Commute 320 baht / 10 USD
  • Food/Entertainment/etc 8000 baht / 240 USD


16,320 baht / 495 USD

Now I could spend less. There are cheaper places to live. I could use my aircon less. I could also buy less food and if I wasn’t vegan I could eat school lunch rather than making mine the night before. But I don’t drink, don’t have a scooter, and don’t go out to eat very often.

At the end of the year I can save at least 5000 USD. It’s not nearly what it would be in Eastern Asia or even other South East asian countries but it’s still enough to live in Thailand for an additional 10 months! Or enough to spend a year in India. Or, say 3-4 days in Norway.

So yeah you can save some cash. Even in Thailand.


Budget Yeti: Veggie Shopping in Korea

That old myth about going out in Korea being cheaper than cooking at home keeps cropping up and it always bothers me. Granted, many food items here are expensive, and costs keep going up. But it’s still cheaper almost every time to cook at home.

In Seoul, it pays to shop seasonally here. Unlike North America (and probably other places) there is a seasonal shift to produce prices here. Apples are super cheap in September, for instance, and now is Hallabong season. I think this is a good thing, environmentally of course but also habitually. Now some of these seasonal surpluses are strange to my eyes (why oh why is strawberry season in January?) but overall it’s a good system.

The area I live is kind of adjumma central–there aren’t really any bars or even noraebongs. In their place are lots of little markets though, and many good places to stock up on fruit and veg.

And stock up I do. The below list was all purchased at a biggish mart, which isn’t the very cheapest place around but it has good selection. Here’s a look at a week’s worth of veggies for two people. The total price is a little high because it’s a big bag of garlic but even still you can see how cheap it is.

Now this isn’t a complete meal, of course. You’d probably want to get a carb like rice (around $5 for a kilogram, or maybe $7 for 800 grams of brown rice) or udong (about 50 cents a package) or pasta (about 2.50 for 450 grams) or if you venture into Itaewon you can even get something exotic like basmati rice or couscous, though those start to get more expensive.


A Typical Vegtastic Meal

The shiitake give you a little less protein than your standard mushroom, but not to worry. A big block of fresh tofu is about 2 dollars or the smaller, packaged ones are usually around 1 dollar.

Add it all together and a big, healthy meal with local produce is only a couple of dollars. There’s just not any restaurant that can compete with that. The cheapest comparable is a bowl of kalgooksu, which at a cheap place is around 4 dollars for a big bowl. For less than 4 dollars, this equals 4 bowls so it’s quite a bit cheaper.


By contrast, this meal from Osegye Hyang, which had mandu, soup, and a gluten/rice dish (plus banchan) costs about 22 bucks.

Now I understand most people want a little more variety in their lives than daily iterations of the same meal. And not everyone is willing to make the effort to cook every night, even when they’re tired. Those are different reasons, though, from the tired old falsism that it’s much cheaper to eat out than cook at home. (And not very good reasons, either, in my opinion, although that’s neither here nor there.)

Yes, things are considerably more expensive now than they were 5 years ago but it’s still possible to cook for yourself and still not break the bank. That’s all for this installment of my rant. Thanks for listening!

How to be a Traveler – 15 tips for Long Term Nomadry

I’d like to begin with a word about budgeting. There is some dispute amongst travelers, with some camps accusing others of spending way too indiscriminately.  The other side argues it’s not a contest and who are they to get judged for how they want to spend their money? This ultimately begs questions of why you are traveling, and for how long but the way I see is that all other factors being more or less the same,  if you love something, you generally want to do more of it. I love reading and I read every day. This doesn’t make me better than someone who reads one book every couple months, but it does mean I have a different relationship with reading, even though technically we are both “readers.”

In other words, if you are spending less money to travel for longer, you have a closer relationship to travel/backpacking/nomadry. And, almost invariably, spending less money will create a closer connection to the people and world around you. (Money often serves as a buffer from reality).

(One other disclaimer–most of what I’m talking about is for people spending months or years on the road, not weeks.)

Nepal - Goat

The Goat Welcomes You

Here are fifteen somewhat scattered thoughts I think can help new travelers. Some are practical and some are philosophical and all are admittedly skew toward my style of travel. Your mileage may of course vary.

1. Pre-booking defeats the point.

If you’re flying into Melbourne at midnight during the Australian Open, or hitting Edinburgh in the middle of Festival, booking ahead is essential. Otherwise, there really isn’t any reason to pre-order your rooms. There aren’t many advantages: You could end up in a less than central location, the cheapest places often aren’t online, and even those that are give discounts in person that cannot be attained over the interweb. Most importantly, aren’t you traveling to learn how to let go of type-A, over-controlling tendencies? Why eliminate your flexibility before you even arrive?

Danish street art

2. Follow other tourists.

Like Dirk Gently and his holistic detective methods, you can have fun following other tourists around. Don’t get all creepy, mind you, but you don’t need a map or a phone if you simply observe where other tourists are heading. This can lead you into some unexpected fun places and being free from expectations, you definition of “rewarding” will be pleasantly lowered.


3. Traveler’s insurance is for Fools and Mendicants.

This ties into my discussion about budgeting. Insurance isn’t cheap and wouldn’t you rather spend that money on adding a month to your trip? And again, aren’t you traveling to break free of the culture of fear and over-protection of the developed world? Take a risk, even if it’s one as banal as traveling with an uninsured digital camera.

So tough! So cute!

 4.  Slow down, speedy.

There is a tendency to “do” a country, meaning a quick 7-10 days zooming between 5 or so major sights. This county can now be ticked off and now has been done. There is something to be said for occasional short trips like this, but as a habit it is kind of superficial. Even the smallest places are worth a few days’ exploration. 3 to 5 days is a good rule-of-thumb minimum stay. This gives you long enough to either explore the town, visit a few restaurants, time to get to know the staff at that one place. You can wander around the town/city/village and also find the nearby places just outside of town that locals know but guidebooks do not mention.

It's in your head now, isn't it?

It’s in your head now, isn’t it?

5. Be an Ambassador.

Like it or not, fair or not, your actions represent more than just you. When trying to stave off aggressive touts, don’t say “maybe later.”  This means no, something they’re very well aware of, and you’re just too polite to say it.  But that kind of politeness is only needed when dealing with people of your own culture.  Just saying “no, not interested,” is a better of dealing with touts.

Those of us who grew up in West believe the human body isn’t disgraceful or disgusting. Many religions have strict dress codes, and it’s mind boggling to imagine gods who created humans (including shoulders) but feel disrespected by someone showing their shoulders at a temple. None of that matters. You are in their country, you play by their rules.

Maybe the difference between tourists and travelers is how they get to big locations?

Scandinavia - Street Art

6. Talk to Strangers.

Even if you’re shyer than the mayor of Shysylvania, there’s no better way to get around than asking the people who, you know, live there. Other travelers are great for information too if you’re not exactly sure where that last turn led you. You will meet people you never expected and for those collecting “authentic” points, a trove awaits here. This also will often keep you safer, as being human makes you less of a target than being an exotic other.

Ubud - Vanilla Discovery

7. Embrace the Unknown

If you’re fully embracing nomadry, you will constantly run into situations where you just don’t know what’s going on. The bus can be 24 hours late. The airplane may unexpectedly kick you off your flight. The UK doesn’t allow you to enter. These all happened to me–you will accrue similar ones of your own. This will frequently be frustrating but it is a good chance to practice living in the moment. Try your best to treat it all as a game, and don’t let the bastards get you down.

Wild Camping in Norway

8. Research all your options.

There might be flyers everywhere for a bus/train/ferry at a set price, but odds are the locals will have a cheaper, more interesting way to get there. For instance, in Malaysia it cost 20 dollars for a ferry from Georgetown to Langkawi. Every hotel and restaurant in Georgetown advertise this. But some googling showed that by adding a couple hours and going back via the mainland, you can save 8 dollars. And it’s a more interesting journey. This advice is mostly relevant in developed countries; some places there is one bus, and if you want to go, you’d better be on it. But it’s a good habit to research as much as you are able. You’ve never had more information at your fingertips–take advantage of it!

Lombok statue

 9. Take photos of more than just the Sights.

While a great picture of a castle, temple or mountain can win you some serious flickr fame or instagram cred, you might enjoy looking back more on a picture of your favorite kebab stand or that tasty popsicle you bought every day. Especially if you only visited the “sight” for an hour or two.

Bali Sea View

10. Trust everyone.

Why travel if you don’t believe in the innate goodness of your fellow man? People all over the world want to help you; give you directions or offer you a ride. And don’t insult them by carrying a money belt or bum bag. If someone wants to take your money, they will find a way. If you wouldn’t wear a money belt at home, wearing one abroad is, at best, highly prejudiced. Tourist countries have developed too many ways to steal your money legitimately via tours, touts and old-fashioned price gouging to need to emphasize pickpocketing.

Random Oslo creature

11. Don’t trust everyone.

Okay, this isn’t quite the same as the above note. Its true that you should in general trust people, and there are far fewer psychos than the local news would have you believe. However, there are still plenty of scam artists who would quite happily part you from your money or possessions. Developing a bit of judgment will help your trip immensely. This varies from country to country–in general people in Laos or Myanmar are less likely to lie than people in Indian or Vietnam. You will develop your own instincts about trustworthiness.

Copenhagen Street Art

12.  Tiresome tours.

There’s this idea that the more semi-official tours you do, the better your trip is. It’s pretty easy to land somewhere, sign up for a trip to the local whatever and move on. But instead of dropping too much money on a tour or boat ride, try walking around some non-touristy areas. Talk to whomever you meet—they’ll likely be much more interested than if you had stayed in the backpacker areas. And this can be a far more rewarding way to spend your day. Nearly all the pictures in this post were taken on random wanders.

Kebabistan - Copenhagen

13.  When in doubt, find a tout.

Touts can be annoying, but they are not evil agents of chaos trying to take all your money. They’re often very poor people trying to make enough to get by from people who are far richer than they. Most guidebooks advise not talking to them, but you can find some really good room deals by chatting with touts and looking at the rooms they offer. If someone has a hokey fortune telling bit, play along and give them a dollar or two. Traveling very cheaply is great, if that’s what you want, but improving other people’s lives, even incrementally, is much better.

Troll Tongue


It’s usually fairly easy to get by speaking English, but if you are headed to a country for 3 or 4 weeks you can learn some basic words—yes, no, please, thank you, 1-10–before hand or in impromptu language exchanges. with the children who will swarm you on trains, in cafes, on the street, or at monuments. They’ll be delighted to hang out and teach you some of their native language, and you’ll pick up a smattering of useful words. Win-win.

Chiang Mai - New Fruit

15. Sly Money Trick

When you’re new to a country and don’t know how much things are, try paying with a low denomination note. (You can ask, but there’s no guarantee you’ll get the right price quoted to you.) Either they will ask you for a little more, or assume you know what you’re doing and give you back the correct change. You can use this to get a baseline for prices of all your staples.

In the interest of not writing too much, I think I’ll end it here. But I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Agree? Disagree? Completely apathetic?  Let me know!

Yeti Budgets: The Month of May

Gonna make a record in the month of May
In the month of May, in the month of May
Gonna make a record in the month of May
When the violent wind blows the wires away.

Lombok Beach Gili Sunset Ubud Statue

28 dollars a day.

Indonesia is, by developed country standards, still a cheap country.  You can find simple meals (especially away from Bali and over-touristed places) for around a dollar and, if you look hard, a big room for 10 dollars isn’t impossible to find.  Fruit juices are a dollar or two and street food (hard to find in Ubud) is still rather cheap.

So for Australians, Kiwis, Danes, and Canadians here for 10-20 days, it can be a country of great value.  But for those on the long-term backpacker circuit, the prices are out of whack compared to its neighbors–Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Borneo, etc.

For the month of May, I spent 869 dollars.  That was me at my budget best–long hours of searching for cheap accommodation, walking an extra 15 minutes to save 20 cents on my bottles of water, eating only two meals a day, and not really doing any “activities.” I haven’t rented a scooter (except for one day, but most people here rent them for weeks or months) or even a bike, spending most of my days walking, swimming, and writing.  I also spent 20 days in one city to save myself from expensive transportation costs. And I chose not to do things like visit the Komodo dragons or go snorkeling with manta rays, because that could have added a hundred dollars or more to my costs.

Unlike April in Nepal, where I bought a lot of “optional” things, the 869 dollars I spent in Indonesia went only to food, accommodation, and transport.  The exceptions are a 10 dollar snorkeling tour, a 2 dollar pair of swim trunks, and 5 dollars on a scooter for a day with snorkel gear included. I have had a few beers as well but on average spend will under 10 dollars a week on booze.

Still, 28 dollars a day is as much as I have spent in any country in Asia.  Don’t get me wrong: the little bits I’ve seen, two of the 17000 islands, have been great. The comparatively high prices of Indonesia, especially for solo travelers, have left me with mixed feelings.  There are a lot of things to love about it, but considering you could have a similar experience in many other countries for less frustration and less money, it will be a country I remain ambivalent about.  That said, I would like to come back with a buddy some day and with high costs split, think it would be a lot of fun to explore further.

Everest Base Camp –Budget

The hike to Everest Base Camp can be expensive if you include two flights, a porter, a guide, or other non-essential elements.  But if you bus or jeep in, hike on your own, with buddies, or find someone in Kathmandu or a place like trekkingpartners then it can be quite a bit cheaper.

Here are all of my costs.

TIMs:              20
Sagamartha Permit 30
Jeep (to)        25
Jeep (from)  20
TOTAL          90

EBC 228
R Down sleeping bag .8 cents/day 17
R down jacket .6 cents/day              15
Gloves                                                        1.5
Hat                                                              1.5
Socks x2                                                   2.5
Tshirts x2                                                6
Water pills x100                                   5
Buff                                                             1
Water Bottles x2                                   5
map                                                             2
Snacks/drink mix,Tp, toothpaste 30
sunscreen, etc
TOTAL                                                       85
kat 018
21 days food/accom/                      290
wifi/battery recharge*

*This number skews high because of too much internet in Gokyo and a stupid night in Lukla.

 TOTAL TOTAL                                  470

 That comes out to about 22 dollars a day counting everything.  Not bad when you see that companies charge thousands of dollars for much shorter hikes.

Stuff I already had:

polyprops top and bottom
trekking shorts
zipoff pants that did not survive the trek
1 pair trekking socks that did not survive the trek
janky ass shoes that did not survive the trek

April 2014 Budget: Nepal

Here’s my budget for April

As of the April 28th, the day I left, I spent 820 dollars in Nepal this month. But a lot of what I spent was of the sort of optional or extra variety. (For instance, if I hadn’t gone trekking I would have saved at least 120 dollars, not counting the disparity between food and guesthouse prices.) Anyway, here are the sort of optional expenses:

30 dollars shoes
20 dollars sleeping bag
20 dollars stolen at guest house on Trek
5 dollars stolen at former favorite restaurant Punjabi
210 dollars tattoos
40 dollars trekking permits.
11 dollars RT to trail head.
30 dollars shipping broken kindle back to Amazon
10 dollars for a pair of snazzy new pants

So if none of the above had been spent, it would have been a 450 dollar month. That includes lots of great meals (GREAT meals, I say) (too) many snack visits to the supermart, bus rides, pots of coffee, printing at the internet café, some quite nice accommodation, a round of postcards, bakery trips (noticing a theme?), and more.

Didn’t include:

Soda: I’ve given it up almost entirely, and my budget thanks me!
Booze: I spent maybe 10 dollars on alcohol the whole month.
Fun but too-brief things like paragliding, boating, etc

I’m already missing the cheap prices of Nepal!

Yeti Budgets: 9 months, 9 places, 9 budgets

We left Korea just over a year ago with a fair chunk of casholah in the bank and the intention to make it last as long as we could, without depriving ourselves of life essentials, like coke, beer, and the occasional air-conditioned room.

We spent the first few months (and our first few thousand dollars) in New Zealand, where we all but ignored boring things like budgets. Since then, we’ve spent nine months in Asia, and have kept a pretty close eye on our spending.

Our aim was a daily budget of $25 each (not including international flights or visas) and so far we’ve been pretty on point. Well, mostly (stupid Myanmar, ruining it for everybody). From most to least expensive, here’s what we ended up spending in the nine countries we’ve visited so far:

Myanmar: $52.95 altogether/$26.50 each

Hanging with our gracious host on the Kalaw - Inle Lake

Hanging with our gracious host on the Kalaw – Inle Lake

Our most expensive place, but to be honest we expected it to be much worse. Everything except accommodation was actually wicked cheap, but the $20 – $40 rooms kicked up the budget pretty solidly. Read more here.

Borneo (including Brunei): $49.43 altogether/$24.72 each

Our orangutan buddy at Semenggoh Nature Reserve, Kuching.

Our orangutan buddy at Semenggoh Nature Reserve, Kuching.

Borneo earned the dubious honour of second place on this list mostly thanks to a mad grocery shopping spree in Brunei (oatmeal! soy milk! peanut butter!) and a few flights. Apart from that, it was very much like Mainland Malaysia — cheap food, slightly expensive (in the context of South and South-East Asia, that is) accommodation. Read more here.

Mainland Malaysia: $45.40 altogether/$22.70 each

Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang.

Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang.

Cheap food, stupidly expensive beer, in-between accommodation and transport. Read more here.

Thailand: $44.45 together/$22.23 each

Haad Tien, Koh Phang An.

Haad Tien, Koh Phang An.

This portion of our trip only included Southern Thailand (Koh Samui, Koh Phang An, Ao Ton Sai, and Ao Nang) which we’ve heard (and hope) is a little pricier than the North. We splurged on buckets of booze and a resort with a pool, but saved on entrance fees and activities, by basically playing board games and lying on the beach all day long. It’s a hard life… Read more here.

Nepal: $40.91 altogether/$20.45 each

Phewa Tal, Pokhara

Phewa Tal, Pokhara

I think Nepal actually had the potential to be one of the cheapest countries we visited. You don’t have to look hard at all to find a $1.50 plate of dal baht or a $5 room. In this case, our pre-hike preparations and post-hike celebrations probably upped the spending a little (and I wouldn’t have it any other way). Read more here.

Cambodia: $20.12/day

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh.

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh.

I traveled solo in Cambodia, and spent a wee bit more on accommodation than  I would have if I had shared. That said, I also stayed in some $2- $3 dorms and ate a fair few street food meals. Read more here.

India:  $35.22 altogether/$17.61 each

I actually have no idea where we took this one! Some rad dudes, somewhere in India.

I actually have no idea where we took this one! Some rad dudes, somewhere in India.

Travel and food in India were so cheap. 12 hour train rides for $6, three samosas for 40c, 5c chapati… Accommodation was a little more than Nepal and Laos, though, and we paid a museum/palace/temple entrance fee almost daily. Read more here.

Laos: $35.06 altogether/$17.53 each

The view from our bungalow in Nong Khiaw.

The view from our bungalow in Nong Khiaw.

Good job, Laos! Second best! The accommodation in Laos was great value, the beer was cheap, and the baguettes were enormous. An easy place to be a budget traveller, for sure.  Read more here.

Goa: $15.30/day

Monsoon in Goa: green as green can be.

Monsoon in Goa: green as green can be.

I feel like including Goa in the list is a wee bit of a cheat. Living alone in an apartment, cooking every meal at home, and only catching the occasional local bus is bound to be a bit cheaper than backpacking your way around an entire country. That said, it’s always nice to know that you can live in a rad apartment, and eat all the oatmeal and chickpeas you want for around $500 a month.    Read more here.

Overall Daily Average: $41.58 altogether/$20.79 each
Monthly Average: $1270 altogether/$635 each

Bear in mind that our daily spending does not include international flights or visas. Adding these in probably adds $100 – 200 each/month. Still, $850/month for all of the above? Not too shabby.