I’m not really one to budget or plan my spending, however, I do watch my money because I know how easy it is to watch it vanish before your eyes on seemingly nothing!
If the purchases are snap spends then it’s usually on one-off treats that I wouldn’t be getting constantly on all trips; things like a massage, buying a bottle of wine, a souvenir or a sculpture or piece of art that will take pride of place on my wall back home.
For this trip I made a real effort to track every penny that left my hands, of course for you all to see that Penang and Langkawi could be done cheaply (without having to go really cheap) but more surprisingly it ended up being to prove to myself that if I consciously tried, I could do it. I could keep my spending to £500 or just over.
At the end of each week, I sat down and gathered my daily expenses, which by the way, was just done using the notes app on my phone; you don’t need anything fancy!
Below I’ve laid it out week by week, giving you my totals grouped into 4 categories: Food, Transport, Accommodation and Gifts/ Leisure. We don’t need a breakdown of every item of food and drink, or all of the bus tickets I bought, its TMI! Nonetheless, I did make a short round-up each week that reflected on my progress and gave a little more insight into my spending.
I’ve also stated where I was sleeping each week to give you a better picture of why my accommodation expenses were so low. To see how you can do this too, read about using the volunteering network as one of the main ways of minimising your costs to keep you travelling for longer.
*Please note that I began tracking my spending as soon as I got to the airport in the UK, up to taking my flight home. All internal flights ARE INCLUDED in this budget.
*My main Airfare from the UK to Penang is NOT INCLUDED in this budget. I have stated the cost for these at the end of the post where I give you my final spend for the entire holiday.
So let's get into it!
Week 1: Couchsurfing July 13th – 19th
Food - £41.60 or RM233.50
Transport - £20.32 or RM114
Accommodation - £24 or RM134.70
Gifts/ Leisure - £6.19 or RM34.74
TOTAL = £92.11 or RM517.11
Average Daily Spend = £13 or RM72.98
My first week was a slightly higher spend than I had anticipated, mainly due to my stubbornness in believing I didn’t need a local sim or being in denial about using Grab over catching a bus, or cheap taxi to my Couchsurfing gig. Ha! Bless me, lesson learned when the Grab costs RM6 (£1.07) and I paid the airport taxi company RM27 (£4.81). I live in hope of one day finding a reasonably priced taxi in all of the countries I go to.
My food costs were low due to being apartment ridden for the first three or four days of arriving. I had one of the worst flights I’ve ever had coming into Malaysia (I don’t fly very well, to say the least) and ended up being sick. Couple this with an ongoing illness that I was suffering a flare up from on those flights, and the days after, I just didn’t eat. I spent most of the week trying to feel better, but my appetite was shot, only picking at all of the delicious food I was making with my CS hosts.
My sole leisure expenditure was on me submitting to defeat and buying a local sim card, so I could install the Grab app, paving the way for a frenzy of using it next week.
Week 2: My friend visits and hostel stay July 20th – 26th
Food - £41.52 or RM233
Transport - £23 or RM129.10
Accomodation - £36.84 or RM206.80
Gifts/ Leisure - £55.30 or RM310.42
TOTAL = £156.66 or RM879.50
Average Daily Spend = £22 or RM123.51
This week was always going to be the “expensive” week, as my friend was flying in from Borneo to visit me. We’d agreed to rent a bike for a few days and split the cost, my share being £10.70/ RM60. We stayed at my favourite hostel in Batu Ferringhi and got lucky with a half price online deal.
My shopping habit came out to play when I visited the night market and I resisted buying too much. Instead, I made myself feel better by justifying my weekly spend as half for me, half for souvenirs for friends and family.
Our food spending was fairly high as we found a popular beach restaurant of mid-range price, and ended up eating there each night until we left.
My leisure spend went mainly on a bunch of overpriced museum entry fees, and an emergency outfit after I ripped open my trousers in said overpriced museum (I know, I hear you laughing). My “new” flip-flops broke after a handful of uses too; it only strengthened my resolve to never buy flip-flops in a non-flip-flop wearing country. I also spontaneously treated myself to a new tempered phone screen for RM15 (£2.67) as I was tired of seeing the cracked one I’d had for about a year. Without these last few I could’ve saved about £15.
Week 3: Couchsurfing July 27th – August 2nd
Food - £24.42 or RM137
Transport - £1.12 or RM6.28
Accommodation – N/A
Gifts/ Leisure – N/A
Internal Flight PEN – LGW - £27.93 or RM156.73
TOTAL = £53.47 or RM300
Average Daily Spend = £3.50 or RM20 (Not inclusive of internal flight)
Once my friend flew home I was originally without a plan. But, as often happens with travel, your plans change and you are open to many opportunities, so thankfully I never had to worry about making a plan because my CS hosts invited me back to stay for the remainder of my time in Penang.
My food spend was incredibly low as we cooked each night, and they wouldn’t let me pay for anything (mainly because I’d do the washing up and tidy the flat so they banned me from doing that!). I spent the week lazing around the apartment complex and ventured into Georgetown only twice, hence my pitiful excuse for a transport budget.
Two nights running I went to a bar with my host who kindly insisted on paying my tab, saving my purse from multiple Sangrias, a couple of meals and the rides home. This added up to around RM235 (£42) with the drinks being RM196 (£35). Despite this, if it had been included in my weekly spend, I would’ve still been in line with the past two weeks and on budget.
Week 4: Last week Couchsurfing August 3rd – 9th
Food - £24.39 or RM136
Transport - £40.31 or RM225
Accommodation – N/A
Gifts/ Leisure – N/A
TOTAL = £64.70 or RM361
Average Daily Spend = £9 or RM51
This week I made the most of my last few days in Penang and went into Georgetown numerous times on the bus, which despite taking over an hour to get home on in the evenings, I willingly got onto the buses and enjoyed gazing out the windows watching the rush hour as we sat in traffic. I spent a few afternoons in one of my favourite restaurants; Gala House on the end of Muntri Street. The prices are mid-range but the food inventive and the drinks varied.
My transport was bumped up with two long Grab fares I took halfway around the island to meet with someone about a volunteering opportunity in the future. I also spent just under RM30 on all of my bus fares, which turned out to be a better deal than getting the Rapid Passport that I was initially going to buy (unlimited travel on Rapid Penang for one week).
Week 5: First week in Langkawi August 10th – 16th
Food – £12.86 or RM72
Transport – £5.33 or RM30
Accommodation – N/A
Gifts/ Leisure – £4.28 or RM24
TOTAL = £22.47 or RM125.41
Average Daily Spend = £3 or RM16.70
This was my cheapest week of the entire trip for multiple reasons, the first being that I began my volunteering job when I arrived and saved on the taxi fare from the airport as my host picked me up. As it was our first proper experience using Workaway, my host kindly paid for a food shop which saved me approximately £50. I also had free use of their small shop in exchange for volunteering, which was good for snacks.
Secondly, I saved on my transport and leisure because I just didn’t leave the hotel for my first week there! The first few days I was too tired to go out and explore after getting used to my role, and later this just turned into laziness once I’d discovered the hammock by the pool. I was also waiting for my CS host from Penang to visit on the weekend, and once they had to cancel I decided to just avoid going outside of the hotel despite feeling the boredom creep in.
Week 6: Volunteering and exploring August 17th – 25th
Food - £45.54 or RM253.88
Transport - £10.70 or RM59.65
Accommodation – N/A
Gifts/ Leisure - £44.62 or RM248.80
TOTAL = £100.86 or RM562.39
Average Daily Spend = £10 or RM56 (Not inclusive of tour price - approx £30)
This week I finally found my courage to explore Langkawi on my own, plus I was beginning to drive myself mad by not venturing out. With my first ever use of Uber, I made an instant friend with the driver, who throughout the week I ended up hanging out with and being shown around the island with, which again, helped the purse strings at approximately RM210 (£37).
Around mid-week, I needed to do a food shop and had a naughty Pizza Hut takeaway which bumped up my spend. Around £40 is the standard amount to spend on a big food shop with lots of fresh ingredients and tinned, dried foods in the supermarkets on Langkawi, that could last you one to two weeks, with 75% of meals being cooked from scratch.
I was at my most adventurous this week and decided to take an organised tour to the mangroves on the North-Eastern side of the island, and ended up with a tour of caves, islands and fish farms! Nonetheless, it was a good tour I most likely wouldn’t have taken had I known I wasn’t going to see just the mangroves (price in gifts/ leisure).
Week 7: Final week August 24th – 30th
Food - £41.57 or RM231
Transport - £23.44 or RM130.22
Accommodation - £26.85 or RM149
Gifts/ Leisure – £32.57 or RM181
Internal flight LGW – KL - £42.12 or RM234
TOTAL = £166.55 or RM925.30
Average Daily Spend = £18 or RM100 (not inclusive of internal flight)
For my last week, I made the most of going out into the towns and may have gone a bit crazy when I found a pharmacy with too good a selection of Shampoo, shower gel, and face masks. I spent RM100 and vowed to return to buy in bulk like a crazy woman. I did another big food shop as my CouchSurfing host came to visit, and we cooked each night as well as making a thank you dinner for my Volunteer hosts.
My transport expenditure was higher this week due to the obvious flight back to the capital, as well as a few airport taxis. It was a week of mismatched plans trying to hang out with my friend before he left for KL, so I ended up taking lots of Ubers.
During the last few days my CouchSurfing host kindly paid my tab whenever we went out to my newest favourite place to drink; Malli Malli on Cenang beach. This again saved on a few meals, the rides home, and many Baileys. I never totalled this one but I think it would have been around £50 (RM278).
I ended my stay with a luxuriously long massage treatment, which was paid as a birthday gift from my mum. This saved me £25 (RM140).
Adding It All Together…
Here is what you have come for, the grand total, so without further ado, £1,229.16
OK…How did it suddenly jump from about half of that?
The main Internation airfare is the tipping factor. I deliberated over the search engines for days trying to get the best deal, and because of the time of year (UK Summertime + School break = travelling high season), I watched three flights fly out of my hands. Yes, three! The first I had just deposited money into the bank, and within returning home the deal had gone. The other two I was literally on the payment page before the prices were altering mid booking. Had I flown outside of the English high season, which is basically any time that avoids the school half terms and holidays, I know I would have saved between £100 - £150 on my flight. This is based on my previous experiences of flying to Malaysia.
UK – KL Return flight (indirect) - £494.27
UK – PEN flight – £23.96
PEN – LGW flight – £27.93
LGW – KL flight – 42.12
Total Flight Spend = £588.28
I don’t normally purchase travel insurance because I often never know the duration of my trips (and plan prices can run into the hundreds) but this time, I knew I was returning and got talked into it by my mum.
Travel Insurance - £54.11
For my ‘spending money’, which was everything outside of the above items, And that which I was trying to keep at the easy figure of £500, pleasantly surprised me by coming out at £586.77.
Way back when planning this trip, and making the choice to get around using CouchSurfing and Workaway, I aimed to spend £1000 for the entire trip. I wanted a dedicated budget of £500 for my flights, which given the peak season didn’t cover all of them but this was ultimately, unavoidable. The remainder was for spending to live off of and, after sitting down and making this final breakdown, I realise just how well I have done with all aspects considered.
I did splurge on a few things that yes, I didn’t need (like new clothes). I did have a few unexpected buys (like flip-flops, and paying late check out fees on my last night in KL to avoid being in the airport for about 8 hours). To counter that, I did have quite a lot of things paid for me by my friends and hosts.
BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? This is all part of travel. Even though I was a solo traveller, I met people and shared their homes. Sometimes they paid for me, sometimes I paid for them. Kindness is not dead guys! And life isn’t all about money. Sometimes the money will dry up, others it will be staying in your bank for some time; it’s all about give and take.
You CAN travel for longer if you are smart with how you do it. Utilise the abundance of options you have at your disposal.
Never before have we been so privileged to move around the world with such flexibility in costs. If you like the idea of cheap holidays without doing the work then you will suffer on quality. But if you are serious about putting a multitude of hacks into practice, you can and will have rich travel experiences that don’t scrimp on time, comfy beds, good food and private space.