How Much Does it Cost to Travel in South-East Asia?

Overlap stone in Koh Samui, Thailand

A Backpacker's Average Expenses Breakdown

When asking other travelers how much it costs to travel in South-East Asia (SEA), you’re likely to get some pretty different answers. That’s because everyone does it differently. Some people will be booking into nice hotels, going on expensive tours, and splashing out in high-end restaurants. In contrast, others prefer cheap hostels and living off street food. 


My experience has been closer to the latter. So, this blog will focus more on traveling as a backpacker in hostels. The amount of money you spend will of course, like anything, depend on your daily habits. So, based on your style of traveling, how much are you likely to spend?


Read on to see a full breakdown of average spending patterns on accommodation, food, transport, activities and more.



How Much Did I spend?

My trip around South-East Asia consisted of cheap hostels and street food, freeing up my funds to do a lot of activities and socialising. 


When it came to accommodation, I would usually opt for the cheaper ones on offer, differing only due to wanting to meet up with friends I’d met along the way. Accommodation cost me around £200 a month. 


I had 3 meals a day, with a lot of street food and lots of trips to local restaurants. The average meal in SEA is very cheap, so I kept my spending on food to well below £300 a month. 


White water rafting in Ubud, Bali


However, one of my largest expenses was activities. By this I mean anything from surfing, scuba diving, quad-biking, canyoneering, white-water rafting, and parasailing to guided tours. I did a LOT of this. Even though most of these are very cheap in South East Asia I racked up at least £300 a month doing them. In my opinion, however, these memorable experiences are a pretty good way to spend your money! 


Another thing that weighed on my budget was traveling around. It is cheap to travel in SEA, but when you’re doing a lot of it, it does add up. Averaging about 1 flight per month, a few long-distance train/bus journeys, and lots of taxi rides, I spent at least £150 a month on travel. 


Overall, my average monthly expenses were around £1,500.


Pre-travel Expenses

Before you set off there are some things you’ll need to spend money on. For example, a backpack, vaccinations, flight tickets, insurance, visas and other supplies. The essentials will likely cost you at least £1,000. 


In my experience, I had a lot of vaccines, and booked my flight last minute, which took my pre-travel expenses to over £1,500.


Average Monthly Expenses Breakdown

The table below shows a breakdown of estimated daily and monthly costs for:


An ‘average backpacker’


  • Staying in mostly cheap hostels with the occasional private room upgrade.
  • 3 basic meals a day with some nice drinks.
  • Traveling to a new area every 3-5 days, and a new country once a month.
  • Doing an average of one activity per day (e.g. quad-biking or visiting a hot spring).
  • Other expenses include buying clothes, souvenirs, alcohol, visas, or making common mistakes on bookings.

A ‘thrifty backpacker’


  • Staying in the cheapest hostels available, no private rooms.
  • 3 basic meals a day with water.
  • Traveling to a new area every 3-5 days, and a new country once a month.
  • Doing an activity every other day, or mostly avoiding expensive activities (e.g. scuba diving).
  • Other expenses include buying essential clothing, visas, or making common mistakes on bookings.


Thrifty Backpacker

Average Backpacker


£6/night (£180/month)

£10/night (£300/month)


£9/day (£270/month)

£12/day (£360/month)


£5/day (£150/month)

£5/day (£150/month)


£5/day (£150/month)

£10/day (£300/month)


£2/day (£60/month)

£7/day (£210/month)


£26/day (£810/month)

£44/day (£1,320/month)

Note that these are estimated averages based on my experience in 2022 and 2023. 

I would consider these to be an honest and accurate representation of what you’re likely to spend. You may be able to cut costs in certain areas or want to spend more in others.

John Suwan Viewpoint, South-East Asia

Different Costs in Different Countries

The costs in each country differ from each other a fair amount too. The (generally) cheaper countries like Laos and Vietnam offer lots of hostels for as low as £3/night, or even less. However, in popular areas of Thailand and the Philippines, you are unlikely to see much below £6/night. 


Geographical factors also play a part too. For example, you can easily move around Vietnam on sleeper buses, but in an archipelago like the Philippines you have to fly everywhere so you’ll be spending more on transportation. Of course, these prices fluctuate at different times of year.


As you probably know, when things are popular they tend to be more expensive – simple supply and demand. The same goes for these tourism-heavy economies. 


For example, the popular Filipino islands El Nido and Boracay become relatively more expensive around Christmas time, and party-heavy places like Ko Phangan (Thailand) become more expensive around student holidays. 


To get the best prices, I’d recommend choosing less popular times of year, or booking far in advance if you suspect you’re in a busy season.


I hope you can gauge a rough estimate of how much you’ll need for your trip. My estimate is around £1,320 per month, with a £1,000 pre-travel expense, for the ‘average backpacker’. This will allow you to experience everything these amazing countries have to offer, and meet some great people along the way. 


Of course, if you’re relatively new to traveling, you’re bound to make some mistakes, just like I did! So it’s always good to have some funds in excess of what you think you’re likely to spend. Also, keep in mind how much you’ll need for your return flight! 


 So, now that you know how much money you’ll need, you’ll need to know exactly where you’re going. Check out some of these articles to help you plan an unforgettable trip:


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