On how I've made it through €12,000 in 12 months
01.01.2017 - 15.01.2017 30 °C
Roaming around West Africa for a year isn’t cheap. It’s not particularly expensive either. Once my twelve months here are over, I’ll have burned just about €12.000. Sure that’s a lot of travelling, but those twelve grand are the only money I’ve spent in a whole year. And since they have started to run short, I figured I might as well write a little about how I saved them and what I’ve burned them on.
Getting your hands on travel money isn’t too difficult. Most of my stash was built by saving money through smaller jobs I had on the side of my studying and volunteering back home. Granted, with free education and a monthly scholarship from the government (it’s good to be Danish) it’s been easier for me than for most. But mind you, I manage to do this without anything near a full-time job salary.
I eat cheap; I try to cut down on transportation cost. I never shop stuff I don’t need – I can’t remember when I last bought new clothes that weren’t second hand. But most importantly, I haven’t made any big investments like the purchase of a house or a car that I’m struggling to pay off.
The last bit of money comes from writing for GlobeSpots.com and selling some of my best travel photos online.
Both of these added incomes are simply a matter of me travelling a lot. I got the GS gig by meeting the editor on a hostel in Uzbekistan, where we shared some shish kebabed goat’s testicles with another traveller (no joke). Haven taken thousands (if not tens of thousands) of travel photos during my last decade of travelling, I’ve used an endless number of hours taking editing photos. Followed a somewhat evolutionary path, I’ve gradually used more and more time getting into taking good shots. Eventually, I’ve gotten good enough to sell the very best ones.
Having thus secured this massive amount of wealth, how have I managed to blow it all?
€12.000 in 12 months neatly equals €1.000 per month – or 33€ per day, which is a pretty decent backpacker’s budget in most of the non-Western world. In places like Southeast Asia and India, it’s an absolute fortune. I won’t break it down in details, but about ten percent have been wasted on visas. Maybe even more. Sure, Senegal and Gambia was free, but Mauritania was a 120€, Liberia 150$, the two visas for Guinea were 45€ and 120€ respectively (don’t buy your Guinea visa in Liberia).
Other than that, there’s ‘the rule of thirds’: a third of my money goes on accommodation, a third on food and the last third is split between transportation and during fun stuff. The last third is divided because days that are heavy on transportation is usually less heavy on museums, national parks, party nights and so on. Travelling with public transportation in most of the world, getting a few hundred kilometres easily takes a whole day. Then you’re there for a few days before spending another full day going somewhere new.
As for accommodation, cheap's hard to come by in West Africa. Europe and Asia have cheap dorm beds everywhere. I’ve slept in less than ten dorms after I left Morocco – they are not here. When there are no budget travellers, there are no dorms. And there are very few travellers of any kind here in West Africa. Instead, it’s single rooms, and the cheapest are rented by the hour for stuff other than sleeping. That makes accommodation expensive. Couchsurfing in large cities helps, but that will be evened out by 15€ rooms in the major provincial towns.
But isn’t food really, really cheap in Africa? Yes. It is. And to be honest food might not be a full third of my budget, but it’s not a fantastic as you might think. Cheap food has almost no variation. Anywhere. In all of West Africa. It’s usually limited to omelettes, rice with sauce spicy enough to melt concrete or fried fish. Sure, in few places it’s possible to get regional alternatives, but the dirt cheap, street food options are very much limited to this – and then to women selling fruits and vegetables.
And I’m simply not build to eat the same thing day in and day out. I need variation. At least, get me some fried chicken, some spaghetti, or some grilled fish. The problem is that to get these simple variations into my food plan, I often have to splurge on a 3-5€ meal… Sure I could probably nitpick my eating priorities. Or spend more time searching out better food places. But travelling should be fun too, so I really can’t be bothered. It’s hard enough to travel through Africa alone, and eating something other than street food once in a while have become my most cheeriest luxury.
Ten months into this, I would go insane if I had to eat more rice than I already do. I haven’t studied it carefully, but my estimate is that more than half of my lunches and dinners include rice in some form or another. A few countries have even had rice soup as the typical breakfast at the bus station before those early morning buses too. I’ve had plenty of days where rice was the main part of all my three daily meals. Sigh.
The “fun” part of the budget is somewhat limited. It’s mostly blown on expensive visits to national parks where there is little to see, but monkeys. Or for guides to climb mountains. And transportation is a rather necessary part of travelling, so I won’t bother getting into that category.
The last big expense is alcohol. I could probably make a separate budget post on that, but usually, I divide it between the food and the fun posts. As a rule of thumb, anything more than three beers goes on the fun part of the budget – three beers or less goes on the food part. Isn’t budgeting fun?
This is, of course, a matter of rough estimates. The point is that it’s relatively easy to blow through €12,000 in a year’s travel. Interestingly, as I’m getting closer to the end of my adventure I have less money to spend (funny how that works – spending money without making money means that I gradually have less money). But staying longer and longer on the road means that I have to use more luxury money on nice stuff like good food or alcohol as a coping mechanism in a desperate attempt to avoid going crazy.
On that rather sad conclusion, as a small end note to this post, I can announce that I’ve finally booked a flight home to Denmark. But don’t worry, I won’t stop writing right away. I won’t be flying until I’ve made it to Niger. More precisely, I’ll leave West Africa on March 11, landing in Copenhagen the following day.
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