Traveling East Asia: How I Planned and Paid for a Five Week Trip

08 May 2015

What happens when you get tired of your life and want change? If you're me you quit your job, give away all your stuff, pack your life into one backpack, and travel East Asia!

Ok, that might be a little dramatic for some people but I really needed to get away from that life.

In the span of one month I concocted my entire trip and was out of Hawaii and on to my dream adventure: exploring East Asia.

Why East Asia you ask? Well, I was an East Asian Studies major in college so, yeah, obviously I like that region of the world. After studying Asia on an academic level for four years I wanted to go out and experience it for myself.

View from the bullet train | Mt Fuji

For each place on my trip I looked into some general things such as whether or not I would need a visa (something us Americans usually forget since we tend to think our passports can get us in anywhere), money conversion rate, and expected weather for that season.

I also made a point of looking into some basic transportation between points such as airports and my accommodations. I was researching not so much how to get to and from place but more of does a way to do this route I want to do even exist before I show up in this foreign country? As long as I know there is a route I can figure the rest out when I get there!

As for flights, I wont pretend to be any expert on that. All I did was type the flights I wanted into Google Flights and pick the lowest price. (Note: If you're buying from foreign airlines you'll have to call your credit card before hand to let them know you'll be making a foreign purchase.)

Hong Kong
Praying at Wong Tai Sin Temple | Hong Kong
When it came to researching what I wanted to do during my trip I used a lot of google. I made out a goal list for each city based on its highlights that were to my interests and then looked into other things like World UNESCO Heritage Sites (complete list here). After factoring in things like my bucket list items and food that was special to the region, my itinerary looked something like this for each city:

+Hong Kong
Do:Victoria peak, temple street market, Tian Tian Buddha, Man Mo Temple, Avenue of Stars
Day Trip: *Historic Center of Macau
Eat & Drink: Egg tarts

*Indicates a UNESCO World Heritage Site and + is something from my personal bucket list.

Other than that I left my schedule very open. I purposefully planned as few activities as possible to allow for time for spontaneity!

A spontaneous stop during my travels through Japan | Himeji Castle
When all else fails you can sleep in an internet cafe | Kyoto, Japan
Other than flights and food, accommodations are the only thing one really has to spend money on while traveling.

But if you're an avid couch surfer like me, you can get by without spending a dime on housing! I love couch surfing and it has led me to doing lots of interesting stuff like rock climbing in Hong Kong or checking out "boy love" manga shops in Tokyo. Some people ask if being a solo female traveler makes me worried to stay with a stranger but I've never once had a scary situation; all members on couch surfing have a profile with reviews so there's really no way a creeper could use the site.

Another way to save on accommodations is to sleep in airports. I did this several times when either my flight was very early or I had arrived very late. As I see it, there's no need to go rushing off into a city at night time anyways so I might as well just sleep in the airport and save my money! A great resource that I use is which will tell you how comfortable the airport is and what sort of amenities it offers for travelers.

That being said, I did end up spending some money on accommodations. I got a little lazy and didn't set up a couch surfing host for my last week in Japan which led to me sleeping in an internet cafe for two nights (which has actually pretty comfy) and then a hostel for four nights. As well, one night in Seoul I got a little too tipsy while clubbing and ended up booking a hotel room since the subway was already closed for the night and I couldn't get back to my host's apartment.

Selfie at the royal palace | Seoul, South Korea
Dollar beers with my host | Kyoto, Japan
Depending on where you travel through East Asia you'll find varying costs for food. In Taiwan I was spending a mere 3 USD per day and eating well. In Japan, 8 USD a day was satisfying but I would end up spending more because I was partying and drinking.

The cheapest option is always to go with street food (which is perfectly safe, I swear!) but I really wanted to treat myself during this trip which meant I went to sit down restaurants a lot. I did, however, end up saving money other times since my couch surfing hosts would often treat me to meals. In fact, while staying in Seoul, my host made dinner for me every night!

The Thousand Tori Shrine | Kyoto, Japan

Final Expenses
I initially wanted to catalog every expense during this trip to provide a thorough break down of the cost but that was much to time consuming to keep track of. Below is an approximate review of my expenses based on the best of my memory.

Flights: 2500 USD - With five flights that averages out to 500 USD per flight.
Activities: 60 USD - Being a photographer, I can usually pass my time just walking around a town and taking pictures. Any expenses I counted as "activity" were typically just entrance fees for palaces or temples. There are always plenty of free things to do though!
Accommodations: 360 USD - Like I mentioned, this could have been 0 with better planning.
Food: 200 USD - I could have been more frugal but I really wanted to live it up. This number includes several nights of drinking and binge eating!
Transportation: 350 USD - Trains, ferries, subways and all the little bits of transportation between airports. I tried my best to walk when possible to save money but some distances are just too far! This number also could have been lower if I had bought a rail pass for Japan.
Souvenirs: 30 USD - I'm not much of a souvenir person, especially when I have to carry anything I purchase on my back for the next few weeks!
Total: 3500

Therefore my average cost per day for this trip (including airfare) came out to be approximately 100 USD. Not counting flights, I was only spending about 29 USD per day which is actually less than my averaged daily expenses for living in Hawaii!

How do you plan a big trip?

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