Prior to getting sick, my goal was to stay about a month to six weeks in India. With a 24 hour flight, there isn’t much point in trying to go only for a few days. You’ll simply be too jetlagged to enjoy it. Besides, the traffic horns start at 4:30 a.m.! So I knew that it would be costly if I wasn’t careful and I knew I had to plan for certain expenses. Here’s the major expenses (or where I saved on them) and how I put the money back.
Airfare: Far and away the biggest expense I had. The bulk of my trip was airfare. I cost myself $600 by not booking when I should have and another $1200 when I had to fly home unexpectedly. In retrospect, I would’ve paid the extra money for a disclaimer on the ticket to change the return time.
Housing: Covered by my gracious hosts within the country. I really recommend trying to find someone to stay with. It’s not only cost effective and allows you to be generous to them with your gifts and what not, but it’s a much more realistic look at the country itself. If you don’t have a friend in that country, why not make one? Check out servas.org which matches people with host families for travel within different countries. Much better vetted than something like couchsurfers in my opinion.
Food: covered largely by my hosts as well, although I had some food outside of the home. Food outside the home actually proved to be my undoing, as that is what sickened me later in the trip. Food in India was CHEAP. Even the really, really good stuff was cheap. I would say that most of my food spending came from buying airport food, honestly. Most of the time I ate at their home, and the food was wonderful.
Transportation within the country: Also cheap. Indians rent cars for the day or take taxis or the bicycle or motorized rickshaws. Indian traffic scared me to the brink of death, but I loved riding in the rickshaws. That cost was very cheap as well, prices depending upon where you want to go. And again, staying with a family, I spent next to nothing on transportation.
Gifts: I took about $500 US dollars with me just to buy Christmas presents. I counted this as separate money from the trip funds. Staying with my friend meant that she was able to steer me clear of the overpriced merchandise and help me find great bargains on the things I wanted to give my friends and family. They were thrilled!
Pre-trip Necessities: Like the Visa to get into the country ($75) and the shots and meds to take with me (nearly $200). You can skip on the meds, but that’s a big risk to take. When I got dizzy from having so much traveler’s diarrhea, I was grateful to pop my Z-Pack. Next time around, I’m taking Pepto-Bismal pills with me and popping them once a day, like some seasoned travelers recommended later. Cheap and effective.
How I Paid For It:
Christmas money: I put all my discretionary money (food, gas, clothing, gifts, entertainment) into different jars each week. When there is no more money in the jars, there is no robbing from any bank accounts for the money. I just don’t spend anymore until I refill the jars for the next week. What I found was that I often actually had money left over at the end of the week. So instead of spending the money, I shoved it all into two envelopes: a Christmas fund envelope and an India envelope.
Trip money: In addition to the leftover jar money I’d save each week, I also planned to use my tax return to pay for the air ticket. Well, to pay the credit card after I made sure the flight was as scheduled. My original India budget was about $2500. Airfare made up most of that. Putting the leftover cash, which was anywhere from $5 – 60 per week, into the envelope regularly made it easier to come up with the money to fund pre-trip expenses. When I had to send for my visa, I paid the $75 out of the envelope money. When I had to have almost $200 worth of shots, I paid for it in cash.
Additionally, I wrote articles periodically for the local newspaper — sort of community freelance journalism. I got paid $25 per article, and I was scheduled for about five of them. Because a few other people sometimes missed their deadlines, I probably ended up submitting and getting paid for about seven articles overall. That doesn’t seem like much, but $175 pays for the visa and most of the shots! Even if it’s just a few bucks here and there, it pays to take advantage of it.
All in all, I used $175 in freelance article checks, about $500 in money I’d put back from the jars, and the rest I used the income tax return to cover. Very tight, but it worked!
Right now, I need to clear out some credit card debt, build up the money I have to live on for the summer when I’m not being paid, and put back an emergency fund. After those three things are in place, I would love to see a part of Central America. Not sure how quickly I can pull all of that off, but I definitely want an extended vacation next summer. I’ll be making plans and putting the jar money aside just as I did before! If I ever get into a long term travel scenario, I’ve considered teaching English abroad as well. In some countries you don’t even have to know the mother tongue, they provide food and housing and a small stipend. How glamorous!