Updated: March 2016
Southeast Asia, and especially Thailand, has become a hotspot for backpackers looking for adventure on a budget.
It's become a popular destination due to its level of accessibility, with Bangkok being a major international hub and with the low cost of living in places like Chiang Mai.
I spent one month traveling through Thailand and kept track of every expense. Every bottle of water, bus ride or temple entry fee was recorded just so I could put this report together! Arduous? Yes. Worth it? I hope so.
How Accurate are These Numbers? (Updated for 2017)
I spent time in more expensive cities like Bangkok but also bummed around on cheaper beaches like Tonsai. Given that prices can vary depending on location, these numbers would accurately represent a monthly approximation. You can't expect to spend the same amount in every city, however, so a law of averages would apply.
My Spending Habits in Thailand
As a general rule, I would call my spending pattern relatively frugal. Travel in Thailand is cheap enough that I could afford to splurge occasionally, so I didn't have to be overly tight with my spending. That being said, I wasn't frivolous by any means and I did keep an eye on my daily budget. It's easy to spend thousands of dollars in a month, and I've seen plenty of people do it, but it's also easy to stick well within a daily budget of $30 per day!
Thai Currency & Conversions
The Thai Baht (THB) is the official currency of Thailand. The conversion rate as of January 2016 is USD$1 = THB36 (or just round up to 40 for easier math). Inversely, THB100 is about USD$2.75, so just think USD$3 for the sake of ease. For updated and more accurate currency conversions, xe.com provides the best representations.
Note: All future dollar representations are USD unless otherwise stated.
Thailand Backpacking Budget: Total Expenditures
In 31 days I spent a total of THB29,967, or $826! I created a loose budget of $30 per day for my entire trip in Southeast Asia and, without trying too hard, I nailed that number almost exactly. When this article was first published in January 2014, my monthly total was $942. Now, in 2016, due to conversion rates, that number is even less! My monthly total, divided by the 31 days I spent in Thailand, works out to less than $30 per day.
Not too shabby! Many people spend that much (or more!) on a single month's rent.
Which brings me to my next point: it's a common belief that travel is incredibly expensive, and can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Of course, this depends on location and travel style, but as you can see, traveling in Asia on $1,000 per month is a very real possibility.
The numbers I have gathered serve to accurately prove that travel is attainable and, in fact, affordable. If you can learn how to start a travel blog or find or create a job that can be done independently of location, it can oftentimes be cheaper to travel than it would be to stay at home.
Sure, you'll have to cut some corners and you might not live a glamorous lifestyle, but it's all a part of the experience.
The Price of Accommodation in Thailand
Guesthouses: The price of accommodation in Thailand is very reasonable. Whereas dorm rooms in many hostels around the world can cost between $20 and $30, a private room in a guesthouse in Thailand will only cost you about $8. It's a flat rate, no matter how many people are staying in the room, and since most private rooms have two beds, you can split with a friend for just $4 each.
Shared Dorms: If you don't worry too much about privacy or having your own room, and you're happy to stay in shared dorm rooms, you can expect to pay somewhere between $3 and $6 per night, anywhere in Thailand. That being said, I've seen rooms for as little as a dollar per night, but I wouldn't recommend that anybody stay there!
Airbnb: If you're in search of something a little more comfortable, there are a wide range of accommodation options on Airbnb at various prices. It's the best website for local home rentals in Thailand, and you get $35 free credit when you sign up using this link. In Thailand, that's easily two nights for free!
I stayed mostly in guesthouses, often sharing rooms with travel buddies. I usually opted for more comfortable options rather than cheap dorm rooms. When it comes down to a difference of a dollar or two, I don't mind spending that little bit extra. In 31 days I spent THB5,150 or $142 in an entire month. This works out to about $35 per week or $5 per day. How's that for rent!?
The Cost of Food and Drink in Thailand
In one full month in Thailand, I spent THB7,392 on food, or about $204. This works out to a daily average of $6.50, or $2.20 per meal! Many people in western countries will spend $50 on food per day from eating out; on average, I spent $46 per week! This number does not reflect the price of alcohol, except for the occasional beer with dinner. Should you choose to drink regularly, which many travelers do, expect your number to be significantly higher.
Most meals consisted of local street food like noodles and curries. Of course, sometimes I splurged on $10 meals, which usually come in the form of western food, but that didn't happen often. As a rule, a beer and a bowl of noodles (or plate of rice) will cost you two or three bucks. This is fairly standard pricing in Asia.
I should also point out that I drink coffee on a pretty regular basis, and those costs have been included in these numbers.
It's important to seek out the local food, both for the sake of your tastebuds and your wallet. Popular restaurants which cater to travelers and foreigners will be less authentic (read: less tasty) and will likely cost a lot more. Should you be traveling in Thailand, I implore you to get off the beaten trail, avoid Khao San Road, and find the dingy little street food stalls down that back alley.
Believe it or not, these types of places actually have the best food!
The Cost of Transportation in Thailand
Transportation is, by far, the most costly expense when traveling in Thailand. During my month of travels, I was transported by boat, taxi, truck, tuk-tuk, scooter, van, and bus! Many of these buses are overnight buses, which means the price of accommodation goes down, while the price of transportation stays the same. Win!
Of course, transportation doesn't only include getting from one city to the next, but also getting around within your destination city. Sometimes taxis and public buses are the best bet, but oftentimes, the cheapest (and most fun!) way to explore a city is by moped/scooter, which will only cost $4 or $5 per day. You'll have to pay gas, but that won't cost you more than another dollar or two. Everything considered I think my average cost was pretty reasonable.
I spent THB8,920 in 31 days, or $245. This is $61.25 per week or $8 per day!
This number could easily be reduced by choosing to arrange inter-city transportation on your own. Many guesthouses and transportation agencies charge an inflated amount and then simply transport you to the public bus. If you arrange your own transportation directly at the bus (or train) station, expect to spend less.
Just remember, this isn't always easy if you're in a foreign country where everyone speaks a different language!
Budget for Activities & Entertainment
Throughout the month I also recorded my expenditures for activities and entertainment in Thailand. This included everything from temple entry fees to rock climbing to boat cruises. I visited hot springs, went trekking in the jungle, wandered through temples, drank beer on boats and got plenty of Thai massages!
Considering how much I accomplished, a final tally of THB5120, or $141, is pretty remarkable! As it turns out, I spent the same amount on accommodation as I did on activities and entertainment: a whopping $35 per week or $5 per day!
Budget for the Essentials
There are also plenty of things that we need as people to maintain personal well-being and hygiene. SIM cards, sunblock, laundry, band-aids, WiFi, toothpaste, and replacements for broken things are all on this list. I spent THB3,385, or $93, in total, which works out to about $23 per week or $3.30 per day.
On another note, especially if you're traveling in Asia, travel insurance is something you really shouldn't skimp on. Medical care in Thailand isn't very sophisticated, so if something serious happens, you want to make sure you're covered. I've had more than $12,000 in medical bills paid for over the past few years. Frankly, you never know what could happen, and one or two hundred dollars is nothing when you compare it to a five- or six-figure medical bill. I always recommend World Nomads for complete travel and health coverage.
Other Expenses in Thailand
I did, of course, spend money on other things while I was in Thailand. For the sake of this report, though, I've excluded those items from the list. If one came fully prepared (which can be difficult to do if you've never been to a particular country before!), the acquisition of clothes, for example, wouldn't be necessary. I however, needed to buy singlets (tank tops), shorts, swimming trunks, and sandals. To be honest, it was a lot hotter than I was expecting!
Diving is also a very common attraction in Thailand. The island of Koh Tao, in particular, is well-known for cheap scuba diving courses that are remarkably easy to complete. If you intend to get certified (check out Epic Gap Year for diving courses on Koh Tao), a course costs $250-$300. I'm an avid diver and have been diving for 15 years, so a fun dive for those already certified costs between $25 and $30.
It's also important to remember our friends and family members! I knew I would be returning home in time for the holidays, so I made sure to pick up lots of cool gifts for mom from my travels.
Large amounts of money get spent on nights out drinking, too. While beers are pretty cheap at the convenience stores, they're regular, Western prices in the bars. And considering how much drinking happens among the backpackers who travel through Thailand, it could be easy to spend a considerable amount.
How to Save Money in Thailand
Two words: Don't drink.
Final Cost Analysis
For those of you who've been following my math extremely closely, you'll notice that there's a slight discrepancy between my final number and the sum of the amounts from each category. That could be due to differences in conversion rates as well as the simple exclusion of one or two items. Frankly, I'm not going to throw a fit over a few bucks, and I hope you won't either.
That being said, the general goal of many backpackers is to keep the cost of travel in Thailand down to $1,000 per month and, as you can see, this is a very attainable goal. Just keep your drinking to a minimum and your wallet in mind and you'll be fine!