I’m a firm believer that if you want something badly enough, you’ll make it happen. If you can’t see a way, create one. This is how I was able to travel overseas for three weeks a few years ago, as a single Mother of two with my main income at the time being a 50% pension. A long and boring story as to why, but that’s how it was.
My children and I were surviving on under AU$400 a week. My mortgage and a not-so-great investment chewed up $411 a week, leaving us at AU-$18 a week for food, fuel, clothing, electricity, phone.. you get the picture. Things were a bit average but I was determined not to let life pass me by. I had been collecting old broken furniture from roadside collection and fixing it up, giving it a trendy distressed paint job (thanks Pinterest!) and selling it for a small profit to make ends meet. Some weeks were tough and although we ate a lot of vegemite sandwiches over those 2 1/2 years, I somehow always paid my mortgages and had food on the table for my Children.
I had a dream to travel overseas and decided that if I was going to make it happen, I needed a plan. I began researching the cheapest destination from where I lived, Australia, I finally settled on Nepal. It ticked all the boxes! Cheap air tickets, very cheap food, cheap/free accommodation, very cheap public transport, relatively safe being a Hindu/Buddhist country, cheap entry visa and endless free spectacular nature to immerse myself in.
At the time I had no idea about travel hacking so I did an Expedia search and chose the cheapest time of year to travel. I discovered that China Southern regularly had tickets for AU$800 return via Gunzhou Province in China. Even factoring in inflation, with some simple travel-hacking knowledge you could expect to pay around AU$400-500 return from Sydney to Nepal today with a much nicer airline. Sites like Momondo, Kayak and Google Flights all have price trackers. Once you have decided on a destination you can enter an amount that you are willing to pay, and when that price comes up you will receive an alert. Alternatively you can visit ITA Matrix and compare prices and airlines by the month. For more detailed information on where to begin with flight hacking, read my article (coming soon) on How to Book the Cheapest Flight Possible. If you are even remotely interested in saving money on flights, beware. This is a rabbit hole. You have been warned!
I had found cheap flights and further research revealed that I could stay for free at some Tibetan monasteries in Nepal in return for teaching orphaned Children English for 2-3 hours a day. This included three FREE meals per day and a private room with ensuite!
I estimated the other two weeks in Nepal to average out at around AU$25 per day. This was broken down into three main categories of accommodation, food and transport.
FOOD- A filling meal of vegetarian momo’s (yum!) costs around AU$2 or dhal bhat (curried lentils served with rice) about AU$1.60 at a local ‘kitchen’, a cheap kind of restaurant, often adjoining -or even inside- someone’s home. I generally had two kitchen meals per day and the third meal was either cereal, a bread roll (with Vegemite that I bought from home. Straya!!) or fruit, bought from the supermarket for a few cents.
ACCOMMODATION- There are some very cheap accommodation options, but not necessarily places you would want to stay.
Before leaving for Nepal I pre-booked a ‘resort’ online for AU$8 per night which looked basic but clean in the pictures. I did this because I was travelling internationally for the first time as a solo woman, who’s flight arrived at 11.30pm into Kathmandu and I had organised for the ‘resort’ staff to pick me up from the airport. After an interesting arrival into Kathmandu, exhausted, jetlagged, frightened and -WORST ROOKIE MISTAKE EVER- out of drinking water, I finally got to my room. It was tiny and absolutely filthy, with thin stained sheets crawling with bugs, putrid carpet and a window which looked directly out onto the rubbled remains of a collapsed building. (I later discovered that this was a new building going up.) The bathroom was not my own as advertised, but a shared bathroom and the only source of water I could see. I was desperate for a shower but to my horror upon inspection, I decided to stay travel-grimy. The vile shower only dribbled when I turned the handle on the greasy tap. There was a bucket full of yellow ‘water’ complete with vomit-looking-floaties which was used to flush the squalid toilet, and the hand basin was blocked and half full of the same nasty looking water. I was dehydrated but too frightened to leave my room at 2am in search of drinking water in this city which thus far hadn’t made a good impression on me. I decided to take my life in my hands, literally. I searched my bag and unwrapped the LifeStraw I had bought with me, said a silent prayer, cupped my hands and drank from the water trickling from the hand basin tap. I’m still here to tell the story and I can’t speak highly enough of LifeStraw. I’ll never travel without one.
Back to accommodation. For a mere AU$12 a night, you can get something clean with your own functional bathroom and lovely owners. Most of these places have their own ‘kitchens’ also.
TRANSPORT- I didn’t want to make concrete plans but thought I might spend roughly a week in three different places. Taxis are very cheap and always negotiable, and you would expect to pay AU$2-5 for a journey up to around 30-40km roundtrip. I used taxis about 4 times while I was there. Busses are the go for longer journeys. I highly recommend spending a bit more to travel on a ‘tourist’ coach rather than a local bus, which tend to go over the cliff and end up in a cataclysmic fireball at the bottom of the valley at a much greater rate than the tourist coaches. The two big trips I made cost AU$21 and AU$60 respectively. The coaches were nothing spectacular and leaked badly in the monsoonal rain, but I was happy not to be on foot.
After a lot of research I had a rough idea of how much my three weeks in Nepal would cost. As one week would be almost totally free while staying in a monastery teaching English to Buddhist Orphans, I calculated everything else based on two weeks there. Below is a breakdown of my estimates:
Food/Accom/transport per day- $25 x 14 $350
I divided this estimate by 52 weeks and rounded it up to $23 a week. I would put this amount away every single week no matter what, along with any extra I could afford or was gifted during that time. I gave myself a full year to save up but through hard work and some luck I was able to afford it in 8 months. I found a $50 note in a park one day and was so excited I almost burst!
I went in low (monsoon) season when the view of -and conditions for trekking- the Himalayas were not at their best. Everybody is competing for the tourist dollar and locals would rather take a reduced rate than miss out. Bear in mind that this is a desperately poor country so if you are able to tip a dollar here and there, it goes a long way to helping families feed their children.
I was fascinated learning about the Monks’ way of life, and jumped at the chance to stay at the monastery. During this week when I wasn’t teaching the Children English, I explored the local area on foot and walked the 7km into the city of Pokhara and back 4 times. It was great because I was able to experience the real Nepal and the day to day lives of the men, women & children of the area.
I had taken a bunch of individual vegemite sachets with me to gift the children. The poor darlings may have had a nasty surprise though, as I think they thought it was chocolate :/ I tried to explain that it wasn’t sweets, but that it goes on roti. They continued to walk with me each subsequent day though, so it can’t have been that bad! The only money I spent for the week was a $4 return taxi ride one morning to a breathtaking lookout, as the clouds had parted revealing the Himalayas and I absolutely needed to see them in all their glory. It was without a doubt the best $4 I have EVER spent.
All in all I stuck pretty well to my budget and had a fantastic, life changing adventure that I will never forget. The people and experiences, some utterly crazy, some astoundingly beautiful have forever changed the core of who I am.
I hope this post inspires you to make a plan and stick with it until you reach your goal, whatever it may be. There is no reason that you cannot do anything you desire with a little determination, guts and hard work. The world is yours to explore. If I can do it then so can you, so GO MAKE IT HAPPEN!
Until next time,