The Cost of Extended Family Travel In Southeast Asia

This is our article commemorating our 5 month mark, we've been able to stay on budget and wanted to share how we do it!

How can we, as a family of five, afford to live in hotels, eat at restaurants all the time, and move from one stunning location to the next? This is the burning question many of our readers ask us. Since most people believe it would be impossible for them to do, we feel it's important to break down our expenses to prove that it really doesn't cost that much.

Living a travel lifestyle is less expensive than you might think
First, a couple of disclaimers upfront.  Southeast Asia is an inexpensive place to attempt this lifestyle and it's unlikely we could afford to do this in too many other places in the world besides here and, perhaps, Central America, Central Asia, or Eastern Europe.  For other locations we'd probably have to find longer-term rentals and cook our own food far more often than we currently do.

Second, we sold everything we own before our adventure began.  In other words, we simplified big-time. We don't maintain a car, house payments, or bills of any kind.  We only own what we carry with us.  Most will consider this too big a sacrifice, yet for us the simplification process has been very rewarding and has allowed us the ability to afford this lifestyle.

We began this journey with the goal of keeping to a monthly budget of around $3000 for essentials.  In America, or any part of the developed world, this is not a lot of money especially for a family of five.  Yet, after five months into our Southeast Asia adventure, it's proven to be enough to enjoy relative comfort.  This budget also makes for an easy-to-manage sum of $100 per day.

We only really have to manage three primary expenses while traveling: lodging, food, and transportation.

Lodging: Housing alone is a huge expense when living a stationary lifestyle as it's not just the cost for rent or a mortgage but also bills for electricity, cable TV, Internet, water, maintenance, etc, etc. When traveling and staying at hotels, you just have to pay "rent".  All of those other bills are included in the price and you don't have to worry about how much you're running the air conditioner.  As an added bonus, a hotel also typically includes toilet paper, shampoo, and soap.  In Southeast Asia we can usually find perfectly suitable accommodations for less than $40/night ($1200/mth).

The view we enjoyed for $25 a night
Food: Food for 5 people is another massive expense whether you live a stationary life or not.  Even figuring as low as $3 per meal for 5 people equals $45 a day (3 meals).  Then there are snacks, treats, and drinks (you can't drink the tap water in SE Asia, but bottled water is far less expensive than in the US).  So budgeting food no matter where you live has become a challenge.   Luckily, eating out is relatively cheap in Southeast Asia and many quality food stands offer meals for around $1.  However, add a beer or soft drinks and the cost quickly rises. We try to stay to a general budget of $50/day ($1500/mth) but, admittedly, this is the expense that's most difficult to maintain.

Travel: After lodging and food, we're left with $300/mth for travel.  This includes everything from moving to new areas or countries by train or bus, entry visas, taxis once we land, and motor bike rentals on occasion.  This is not very much money for 5 train tickets accompanied by 5 visas.  Yet, we've managed to make it work and travel when we need to or have the desire.  But trying to keep to a budget for actual travel requires in depth planning by making the most of our visas and sometimes hanging around in town a bit longer than perhaps we'd prefer.

Train travel is our favorite and quite inexpensive
Admttedly, we have a cushion on this budget, so we're not completely trapped by it.  Furthermore, sometimes we find a great deal on lodging for less than $40/night which allows flexibility in the other areas. And if we end up spending more than $40, it's typically because we spring for a suite with a kitchenette which allows us to make inexpensive meals like salad and pasta.

When it comes to food, some hotels offer free breakfast which cuts back one meal expense, and there are also plenty of days where we lounge around and just eat from our rations like sandwiches, apples, carrots, crackers, etc which also saves on the overall food budget.

Finally, when we commit to staying in the same area for longer than a month, not only do we find discounts on lodging, but also our only travel expense is the occasional taxi.  Therefore, we bank the bulk of that month's travel expense for jumping to the next exotic location.

Entertainment: After these essentials are covered, we like to have a little fun too.  However, many of the attractions are free of charge such as visiting temples, going to parks or playgrounds, snorkeling in the reefs, hiking through nature, window shop at street markets, etc.  We also like to go to movies and do some of the unique "touristy" attractions like zoos, tiger petting and elephant riding, caving, and others.  These usually come with a minimal expense.  So we'd be lying if we said this didn't budget around $150-$200/month.  But, usually, we can fit that into our $3000 monthly budget as well.

In conclusion, we've found that traveling in Southeast Asia on $3000/month for a family of five is very realistic.  Even though keeping to this budget is challenging at times, we rarely feel that we give up too much luxury.  What's more, we have never been accused of being frugal people -- although we strive to be.  So we're convinced that many could do this adventure on much less than we spend.

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  1. Great post--I think it's very important/useful to show other's that it extended travel CAN be done without breaking the bank. We too recently did a post that broke down all our costs for our family of 4 to travel in SEA for 12 months--mind you, our kids are younger than yours so they eat less and therefore cost less to maintain :) also, no soft drinks and beer only if it's cheap enough helps keep the budget down even further ;) but like you said, our quality of life/standard of living was much higher than at home--no cooking or house work for us for an entire year!!

  2. Great read. This is a very timely article for us. We leave for 5 months in SEA in 57 days (but who is counting lol).
    We are also a family of 5 and sometimes 6. We are finding that most hotels etc want to sell us 2 rooms saying the max per room is 4. Did you find this the case ? How do you get around it , if possible ? Our kids are 4,3,and 1 so more than happy to share beds with them. Lodging budget will blow out if we need 2 rooms all the time.
    Any advice or recommendations thru SEA very welcomed.
    P.S Love your blog - very inspiring

  3. Thank you! We actually do not run into that problem. Our kids are older too but we simply tell them 4 people, because that is all we need beds for. It is a bit harder when you book online but even on there I just say 4. Especially if breakfast is NOT included then they have never cared about it at all. Some times though we get 2 rooms because it's more comfortable. We use a lot and find rooms for $15 each so even with 2 that is only $30. Feel free to email me any specific questions or your itinerary so maybe we can meet up.

  4. That's good advice. I have been contacting the hotels direct and being too truthful hehehe.
    Would absolutely love to meet up. Will email you some details shortly.
    Thank you

  5. Wow you guys are doing so amazing on $3000 a month. Cant wait to catch you and drill you.... Thats a real achievement!

  6. Awesome, keep living life to its fullest!

  7. Really appreciate this wonderful post that you have provided for us.Great site and a great topic as well i really get amazed to read this.

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