How Much Does it Cost to Travel? 3 Weeks Backpacking Southeast Asia

Welcome to a new series we’re running on Why Wait, called How Much Does it Cost to Travel?

We know that financial considerations are probably the biggest factor you grapple with when planning a trip. Hard numbers can be difficult to come by, especially when everyone has their own unique travel style and considerations.

The goal of this series is to provide you with real budgets people have used for trips they have actually taken. This could be anything from a long weekend in Miami to 6 months backpacking around South East Asia. It’s our hope that by shining a spotlight on what people are actually spending- and the value they get for it, you will have a better idea of what it really costs to travel.

All of the travel budgets will live on this dedicated page.

If you’re interested in contributing to this series please send me an email using the contact form on the site.

Today’s budget comes from past guest poster  Lauren Marinigh, who blogs at Twirl the Globe. It covers a popular budget trip option: backpacking Southeast Asia.

Where did you go?

Backpacking Southeast Asia - How Much Does It Cost?Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam for just over three weeks.

Briefly, what was your itinerary?

I spent seven nights in Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand before heading to Luang Prabang, Laos where we spent three nights. Next, we headed to Hanoi, Vietnam where we spent three nights and visited Halong Bay while we were there. Then we jetted off to Siem Reap, Cambodia for three nights, and back to Thailand to the islands (Krabi and Koh Phi Phi) for eight nights.

You can find my full backpacking Southeast Asia itinerary here.

How much money did you spend overall?

$3,427.22 USD for one person

You can find my full backpacking Southeast Asia budget breakdown here.

How much did you spend on transportation?

$1,760.91, but I flew between almost all of my destinations with the exception of the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai:

$1,131.00 was the cost of the roundtrip flight from Toronto, Canada to Bangkok and back again.

$610.91 were all of our internal flights.

$19.00 was for the second class ticket for the sleeper train in Thailand.

What kind of accommodation did you stay in?

I stayed in hostels for the entire trip. Since Southeast Asia is relatively inexpensive, you can get private hostel rooms for a pretty low cost. Total I spent $229.86 on accommodations.

What sort of activities did you do?

Exploring Elephant Park in Chang Mai - Backpacking Southeast Asia

I did an overnight trip to the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai which is highly recommended even though the cost is just under $200. I also did an adventure tour in Chiang Mai that included rafting and ziplining which cost $62. In Luang Prabang my sister and I booked a day trip with Banana Boat Tours which cost $50 each, in Vietnam we did an overnight trip to Halong Bay which cost $109 and in Koh Phi Phi, Thailand we did an island hopping tour for $30 each and an overnight tour to Maya Bay (highly recommended) which was $92. Those were the most expensive activities we did, everything else we mainly did on our own like touring around cities, visiting museums/sites like Angkor Wat, etc.

What did you splurge on? Was it worth it?

All the tours I listed above would’ve been considered “splurging” for this part of the world where you can live off almost $5-$10 a day. However, I don’t regret it at all. The Elephant Nature Park to date has been one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had and the Maya Bay overnight tour allowed us to see Maya Bay and hang out on it when it didn’t have thousands of tourists all over it. These are experiences that make travel so incredible and I wouldn’t take it back!

What did you scrimp on? Are you happy with that decision?

Backpacking Southeast Asia - What Did You Scrimp On?

I didn’t stay in fancy accommodations. Southeast Asia is cheap and you can stay in resorts for a pretty low cost in comparison to the western side of the world, however you hardly spend any time in your hotel room and at the hotel (at least I don’t) so all I cared about was having somewhere to rest my head at night. Even though we had cheap accommodations though, we did our research to make sure we got private rooms when we could and also stayed at hostels that weren’t “party hostels” so we could still sleep!

Did you purchase any special souvenirs?

I bought a lot of random stuff while in Southeast Asia but nothing that was that expensive. In total, I spent $915.45 in spending money which consisted of attractions other than the tours listed about, transportation in taxis, ferries, food and I did my Christmas shopping when I was there. For a budget traveler, it would be simple to lower this cost though. My favorite souvenirs were probably my elephant pants (everyone needs a pair of these) and some art I brought back for my apartment at home!

Did you do anything special to save up for this trip?

I always put aside $120 CDN from each of my paychecks for travel. It automatically goes into a “travel account” and I don’t even notice it’s not there. I did this leading up to my trip and when I could, put more money in my travel account. Also, booking flights and hotels in advance leading up to the trip helped since it spread out when and how much I was spending.

Do you have any regrets regarding how you budgeted this trip? Would you do things differently next time?

Exploring the Culture While Backpacking Southeast Asia

I think if I was to go back I would probably end up spending more since when I did this trip a few years ago I was a bit younger and since then I have a higher paying job and don’t mind splurging a bit to stay in nicer places or go on more experiences.

Anything else to add?

Aside from the flight over from where you’re coming from, Southeast Asia is a very inexpensive place to travel. It’s a common misconception since it takes so long to get there that it must make for an expensive trip but I’ve spent more money traveling within North America or to Europe. The cost of living is low which makes it perfect for those on a budget backpacking Southeast Asia!


Are you looking for a backpack for backpacking Southeast Asia? Check out this post for our favorite recommendations for the best travel backpack!

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3 Weeks Backpacking Southeast Asia


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6 thoughts on “How Much Does it Cost to Travel? 3 Weeks Backpacking Southeast Asia”

  1. This is awesome – thanks so much for sharing! I’m planning a Southeast Asia trip with my BFF next year and we’re trying to figure out all the logistics, and how much money we should have saved up and I love this look into your spending. So helpful!

  2. Travelling as a couple we spent around 5000 GBP in 2015 4 1/2 months in SE Asia. We probably could have saved a ton on accommodation but – being a couple – we opted for hotels over hostels for the extra privacy. We also had an overnight stay in Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. It’s still one of our greatest experiences. Would absolutely recommend this to anyone looking for an ethical elephant experience!

  3. Oh wow! That isn’t too bad for that length of a trip, especially since you splurged on stuff. I need to get to SE Asia sometime because it just looks incredible! Thanks for sharing

  4. Great post! I loved the cheap accommodation when travelling South East Asia, we went from paying $25 – $30 a night for a hostel dorm in Australia / New Zealand to less than $10 in Cambodia and Vietnam! xx

  5. You packed a lot in to those three weeks and still managed to do it on a reasonably solid budget.
    I did a similar, longer trip in 2011, taking it a bit slower without the flights, about twice the length. If I remember right, my brother and I spent close to $5000 in 7 weeks.
    I returned to Thailand in 2013, starting with two crazy expensive weeks in Phuket and Phi Phi, which made short work of the same figure (5000) thanks to splurging on fancy double-rooms, rented motorbikes and eating out three times a day at great restaurants….not to mention a ridiculous amount of alcohol! (It was Christmas!)
    South East Asia can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be, all depending on your style of travel and the size of your wallet. Cheap and cheerful, or soul-crushingly extravagant, either way it is one of the most fun places on the planet and the memories are worth more than the cost!

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