(Back to Part 1)
My rule of thumb for planning a travel budget is simple: add it all up, and lump on an extra 30%. Then frenetically overspend, forgetting all about the budget.
I do actually budget properly – but I tend to forget all about it once I’m on the road and come home either with full pockets or dead broke. Sad but true.
That won’t work for Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where I have to be more precise: credit cards aren’t common, cash machines (when they exist) aren’t always stocked, and, well, these are cash economies. Even in the case of smooth and efficient electronic banking, my own bank charges a hefty 2.7% on every foreign withdrawal, plus a transaction fee. Any lingering doubts about taking a hunk of cash are long gone.
I plan to waddle through customs thick with pristine, large-denomination dollar bills (stuffed into my money belt) and a few token Euros for the odd Europhile. Each bill will be crisp and clean and brand new because anything less may be rejected. My memories of being broke in Africa because my dollar bills were a year too old remains fresh two decades after the fact.
So yes, cash. But how much cash?
My travel style in each country will be different. In Kyrgyzstan I plan to use dirt cheap public transport for about a quarter of the journey, and hire a car and driver for the bits that wind through towering mountain passes on tiny dirt roads with dizzying drop-offs. In Uzbekistan, I hope to travel by train throughout – I’m a lover of train journeys and I can’t wait.
Deconstructing my Central Asia travel budget
In Kyrgyzstan, I’ll have a car and driver for a maximum of 10 days (I estimate US$ 1200 including food and lodging). The remaining four days will be rock-bottom, at no more than $30 a day. Kyrgyzstan total: $1320. Uzbekistan, without private transport, will be far cheaper: I’m budgeting $50 a day, which for 14 days will amount to $700. Add 30% ($600) for the unexpected and I should take along a grand total of $2600.
The key is to compensate: Yurt stays will be balanced out by homestays, and public transport with a car.
An accurate budget should also include everything around the trip: airfare ($500 round-trip from Geneva via Istanbul), personal locator beacon and membership ($50), guidebooks ($30) – I’m using Bradt for both countries, medication ($100), visas (close to $200), medical insurance ($200) and my stash of Snicker bars (priceless)… so say, an additional $1000.
The math is simple. I’ll have to earn $3600 just to break even on this trip, more if I want to make a profit, and even more if I want to compensate for the paid work I won’t be doing while I’m away. Or so my questionable math skills tell me.
In terms of travel style, I’ll be backpacking for a month in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan but not particularly roughing it. At 63, I need the occasional bit of privacy, a proper bed and the freedom to stop as often as I want along the way. But yes, this trip could cost half as much with stricter budgeting.
I’ll leave with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation: my last job as a journalist was two decades ago and since then, I’ve held management jobs within the United Nations system. Now I have to start over. I tell myself that I did write my way across Africa so there’s no reason I can’t do it again.
It will take a bit of time but – like riding a bicycle – I trust the old instincts will eventually kick in: identifying stories others will want to pay for, pitching them to the right publications, taking copious notes that I’ll still be able to read a few months after my return, and scribbling at speeds I’m no longer accustomed to.
If it all works out as
planned hoped, I’ll be able to reproduce this every few months. Travel, research, write and sell.
Rinse and repeat.