As many of you know Shelley and I very recently spent two and a half months traveling to various parts of Southeast Asia and South Asia. And as is always the case for us, we had a really great time and lots of amazing experiences along the way while spending less per day than we would have if we had merely stayed home living our day-to-day lives.
And this is what blows so many people away. Every time I get back from one of my longer trips I always get asked by people – ‘So, how much did THAT trip cost you?’. And of course, unless they already know me well enough to know better, the amount of money that I spent is always so much lower than what they could have imagined.
With this in mind, I am going to give a quick little synopsis on how I traveled on a budget to the gorgeous island of Ko Lanta, Thailand. Like practically any place in the world, you can easily spend as much as or even more than you want. But if you approach it the right way you can spend a heckuva lot less than the vast majority of other people would and still have a really great time. I know I did!
First of all, let’s cover how I got there. After spending some time in Phuket with Shelley, I bought a ferry ticket to Ko Lanta for like $25 that included an optional stopover in Koh Phi Phi where everyone had to transfer to another ferry anyways. Each leg took about 1-2 hours, and both were completely comfortable and relaxing. Koh Phi Phi is beautiful, but it’s a little too busy of an island for my liking. So after just a few days I took the second leg of my ferry ride to get to Ko Lanta.
Taking the good advice that I found on this useful blog about Ko Lanta I chatted with a few of the touts on the ferry who were trying to sign up guests for the various guest houses and bungalows that they were associated with. And just like that blog said, I was able to get better prices that way than by pre-booking something online. And from what I read beforehand and from what I saw after I arrived, Ko Lanta has an abundance of accommodation of all levels in price and quality, so there is no need to worry about being able to find a place to stay, even in high season. And another benefit of doing it this way is that you don’t pay for a minimum number of nights up front. So if for any reason you don’t like a place once you get there, then you can easily find another place on the same beach or on another one of the many beautiful beaches on the island without losing any of the money you already paid.
The place I signed up with on the ferry was called Andaman Bay Bungalows, and like almost all the other accommodations on the island I was able to get a ride with them from the ferry landing to the their location. My traditional style bungalow was simple, clean, well shaded by trees, run by a nice, local family, and only like 30 yards from a great beach – all for the grand price of $10 per night. I liked the place so much that I ended up staying there all eight nights that I spent on the island.
For my meals I ate about half of them at various restaurants located on the numerous beaches on the island, and the other half I ate at the wide selection of places located along the main road of the island that was easy walking distance from my bungalow. A typical meal on the beach with those gorgeous views was anywhere between $4-8, and the meals off the beach were like $2-6. I can honestly say I didn’t have a bad meal anywhere, and a few of them were truly excellent. But when you eat at one of the many locally-owned places you definitely need to warn them to not make it too spicy, unless you can enjoy eating fire like so many Thais seem to!
For getting around to places that weren’t easily within walking distance I could have easily used the many available tuk tuks which cruise the main road looking for passengers for a $1-3 fee depending on distance and bargaining skills or even these trucks that loosely serve as public transportation like buses in the US which were even less expensive. But I decided to rent a motorbike for those few days where I really wanted to explore the island a bit. Ko Lanta is about 20 miles long, and all along the west coast there are lots of great beaches and coves to check out. And that fun and simple form of transportation freedom only cost me like $6 per day.
For entertainment I did loads and loads of beach combing, sometimes on beaches that I literally had all to myself! But I also met and hung out with some other travelers while there, and we sometimes met up at a few of the various bars and restaurants on the beaches as well as on the main road. The prices for drinks were pretty reasonable ($2-3), and you could also buy ice-cold beers for like $1 at the local shops along the main road.
So for all this transportation, accommodation, food and drinks and occasional internet service that I used when I didn’t have access to wi-fi with my laptop I only spent like $30 per day. No, that’s not free, but for what I got and for what I experienced I think that’s pretty damn near it! And I could have done it for even less money by doing things like eating at more markets and at more street vendors, not going to bars as often, paying for rides on those trucks instead of renting a motorbike, and making my own coffee and teas using a water warmer bought at a local store like I saw a particular couple do at the bungalows I stayed in. I don’t think there are many other places in the world that you can have such a great vacation with access to world-class beaches for such a small amount of money.
Now, I have to admit that I DID treat myself to the nicest splurge of my entire 2 ½ month trip while on Ko Lanta by going diving for a couple of days with a top-notch dive shop called Flip Flop Divers. Of course I could have gone snorkeling instead which would have been significantly less expensive, but because I really love scuba diving that’s one of those things that I personally feel alright about not going the least expensive route while traveling. And whenever the diving is as good as what I experienced there, it is always worth every penny to me. I ended up seeing lots of manta rays with Flip Flop, and it was truly amazing!
And this is something really important to think about. All travelers need to figure out what is important to them and what isn’t, and then and only then can they make intelligent decisions as to where and how they want to spend their money. And when you go through this prioritization process make extra sure that it’s YOUR values that are being served, not merely the values of perhaps friends and family or marketers in the travel industry. This is the only way you will get the absolute best bang for your hard earned and well-deserved travel bucks.