I spent the last 2 ½ months soaking up the relaxed tropical bliss of Bali. Don’t misunderstand though — just because I spent time sipping coconuts, swapping life stories, and gazing at the lightning of distant thunderstorms, doesn’t mean that I left behind everything from home.
One deep-seated passion that came through each day with me? Spreadsheets.
This is my first run at living on about 35% of the income that I was previously used to, so it was important to keep daily awareness of my spending patterns, while my expenditures-regulation system learns to downshift. Fortunately, in South-East Asia, the downshift didn’t mean any ill-effect on standard of living.
As the first in an intended series on the actual finances of my nomadic lifestyle, I had planned to call this post “Cost of living in Bali”…That title seemed more likely to be found by someone looking for this info.. Better SEO, and all. But two things stopped me.
- This blog is a passion project and not a business (at least for now), and I don’t give a crap about SEO
- “Cost of Living” to me implies making a place a new normal (eg: renting an apartment, and such… daily life). That would generally be much cheaper than the short-term “Cost of visiting as a tourist”. My lifestyle is something between the two. I’m not aiming for “setting up normal daily life”… I’m aiming to always stay a visitor in a place, but a longer-term, money-conscious and culture-conscious visitor. That’s my flavor of nomadism. So that’s the middle-path you’ll see reflected in these posts.
Okay, who wants to get into some numbers?
I logged each expenses in a Google Drive spreadsheet (I love my chromebook!), which automatically kept a weekly and monthly running tally. This was important to me, to make sure I stayed within the $1100 /month I’d set as my absolute upper spend limit. I aimed to stay under $250 each week. I am quite pleased to announce that I enjoyed myself thoroughly, and managed to keep my spend at an average of $950 /month.
Interesting administrative tidbit: I set up my spreadsheet so that I entered all values in local currency, and the value in USD would automatically show up next to it. This worked perfectly for me – encouraging my brain to function in IDR (Indonesian Rupiah), while being able to have a bunch of data points for quick mental conversion on the go, and track my aggregate spend in USD. I simply had to update the exchange rate, whenever I noticed it shifted. (It fluctuated between IDR:USD 13,000 and 13,600 while I was there).
Instead of making you sort through pages of transaction data, I took some time on the flight to LA (time is in no short supply on transpacific flights), to categorize, add, and average up the picture of a typical month, for you. You’re welcome!
Overall, I slept “modest-flashpacker” style this trip. (A step up from all-hostel backpacking style). I had private spaces, like my gorgeous ocean view pavilion of the first week, and friendly dorms, where I got to know many wonderful travelers in rooms shared with 3-7 others. In the end, I spent most of my time in a small private room that was part of a fabulous co-living community, to get the best of both worlds, for about $12 /night (note that you can almost always negotiate discounted rates, like I did, if you’ll be staying for a while in one place).
My food spending tends is probably slightly to the conservative side of the normal spectrum for visiting westerners. I love street food, and did have many $1-$2 meals. However, I was also living in the raw-vegan-hippie-health food mecca of Ubud for most of this stay, and would often spend $5-$8 on amazing “high vibe” fare (the type that would be a $25 meal in LA). I’d generally save money and prep my own fruit and oatmeal for breakfast, but did often splurge on enjoying fresh blended fruit juices (it keeps the fiber that way!) (generally $2ish), and delicious snacks (a local pastry might cost $.08 – $1.50), along the way.
Many locals easily feed their whole families on $5 or less per day. Most tourists spend way way more, largely on alcohol (which, conveniently, I’m not really so into).
This is just part of being alive for me. In Bali, I was training with several different yoga teachers, studying the Mayan calendar, and did a 10-day meditation intensive course.
Rides to places. Includes motorbike, fuel, and bicycle rental, where each occurred. Most people rent motor scooters in Ubud, and you can do so for around $45/month. I chose to spend most of my time with a bicycle in the interest of slow-travel, for $28 /month. Taxis and private ride hires are sometimes necessary, (and often quite lovely and friendly!), but would add up fast if used often.
Unique Experiences: $76
Sightseeing, ceremonies, etc.
This is both medical care when trouble arises (like the crazy tropical rash), and ongoing self-care (there are loads of $10 massages available all over Bali).
Postcards, souvenirs, and postage for anything mailed back
Shopping for myself: $34
This is pretty much entirely cute clothes and musical instruments.
This includes governmental fees like Visa extension, bank fees charged for using my backup ATM card ($9 for one withdrawal!!!), until I received the replacement of my trusty Charles Schwab no-fee card, and the occasional local-village “toll road” (a dude standing there demanding money if you want to pass – generally $.10-$.30).
This included replacing my iPhone charging cable (when I still had the phone), and new software subscriptions to help me edit audio and video more easily on my Chromebook.
Bug spray, toothpaste, bottled water where it wasn’t freely available, laundry detergent, etc. (I really like to do my own hand-washing when I travel – it grounds me. Most people use laundry services.)
Total spend abroad: $950 /month
A few hundred less than my former rent alone in Los Angeles.
It is worth noting that this doesn’t include:
*Recurring life payments (eg: Student loans and medical insurance)
*Non-travel-related costs of running my business
*Pre-trip travel expenses (Initial Visa, flight expense, etc. – I redeemed frequent flier miles, so my flight was less than $100 :-)… another article on that, soon!)
Those were all allocated for separately, and subtracted before calculating my max allowable living budget. They aren’t included here, since those factors will vary widely based on your individual situation.
I hope this “cost of living” series helps anyone longing to lifecation see that it is totally possible, and probably not as difficult as you think.
Where have you found a great cost-to-quality of life ratio that you’d recommend I visit?