Tag Archives: money

Budgeting Tahiti

Be prepared: paradise costs a small fortune. Luckily, I was somewhat prepared for the pain. Over ten years ago some friends of mine were on a round the world ticket when they flew into Tahiti to surf, realised the cost of accommodation and living, and nearly hotfooted it straight out of the place. Beach sleeps led to police warnings but kind local bailouts meant that they ended up staying a while: surfing, fishing, catching wild pigs; all the idylls of island life.

But for most of us, accessing this reality of island life is a little more tough, and a more modern climate means accepting that everything here is a little on the pricy side.

Frustratingly, many of the trails and activities around the island have also been made into paid experiences that require a guide or a group excursion, and even a couple of the free ones require permits (see the tourist information centre for lots of information on island hikes and other activities).

In short, people have moved into Tahiti and the surrounding Society Islands and atolls and have commercialised the experience of paradise (in some places to a point that it pretty much stops being paradise, to me in any case). You can’t blame them for capitalising in on an exotic experience; it is after all, what our current world tells us to do.

Walk down the main streets of Papeete and you’ll pass by many designer shops and jewellers. Who comes here to go shopping? All the people moored up in fancy yachts, maybe, or the people who’ve jetted in on business class, or honeymooners on a romantic escape. Or regular, middle class folk who have scrimped and saved for a once in a lifetime taste of paradise. (Whether it’s actually paradise or not is a different matter). Or me and my crew. Hmmm… less likely.

I was lucky to be able to stay on board the boat for a few days because when I checked with the tourism agency about budget accommodation options, they came back to me with a guest house costing 7,200 CFP. That’s £49.07, or US$78.87. Not really budget, in my opinion, but maybe budget for the people who are more likely to frequent the Society Islands. I did some online searches, having paid a minimum of 3euros per hour for internet (no free WiFi available at all, and charged in Euros because of links with France), and I did eventually find a few backpacker friendly paces.

One little food fact that helped to keep costs down (alongside The Trucks experience) was the discovery that there is a policy on keeping the price of baguettes below 85 CFP (£0.58 / US$0.93)  so that every member of the society there has the opportunity to buy bread. Stock up on the carbs, then, and free, fallen coconuts. Maybe not the healthiest, but it’s a diet that will keep you alive. For a little while, in any case. Or go catch a fish (just be careful with those coral fish).

Here’s an idea of some costs:

Cour   de Franc Pacifique British Pound US Dollar
Cheapest hostel bed 2,000 CFP pppn £13.63 $21.90
Budget hotel bed 8,000p CFP ppn £54.52 $87.62
Taxi 1,000 CFP per km £6.82 $10.95
Sandwich 450 CFP £3.07 $4.93
Cheap roadside meal 1,200 CFP £8.18 $13.14
Water (1.5 litres) 104 CFP £0.71 $1.14
Coca-cola can 200 CFP £1.36 $2.19
Beer (50Cl) from supermarket 300 CFP £2.04 $3.29
Icecream in a cone 300 CFP £2.04 $3.29
Loaf of bread 450 CFP £3.07 $4.93
Chocolate bar 350 CFP £2.39 $3.83

Realistically, though, Tahiti and the surrounding French Polynesian islands are not the smartest place to visit if you’re travelling tight, and budget backpackers may well want to avoid the place.

Money matters momentarily put aside, solo travellers – and especially single travellers – may also want to avoid this honeymoon area. Even if you can afford it, having constant reminders of stereotyped romance mixed in with pitying looks will ultimately grate on even the most established solo adventurer and happy singleton.

Or you can just enjoy it for what it is, accept that everything is expensive and that you’ll blow your budget, and indulge in being surrounded by snippets of paradise and luxury and love.

It’s really pretty damn special.

But it’s time for me to leave. I’m all spent.

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Filed under activity & sport, beaches, costs/money, food & drink, hikes, moorea, pacific, places to stay, solo travel, tahiti

Why didn’t I think this through? Reality kicks in

www.travelola.org

Something to get excited about, or at least be grateful for

What would you do if you rocked up to this tropical slice of Galapagos paradise with enough cash for a hotel room, a drink and absolutely nothing else? Panic? Or trust life?

I bought my ticket for the boat that would ferry me from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz to Isla Isabela at 13:55PM, ran to the marina and made it with a minute to spare. We should have left at 14:00PM, but time ticked by and my breathing returned to normal as we sat bobbing around watching boats load up for inter-island trips.

At this point I should have gone to the cashpoint. I didn’t. But not to worry. There was an ATM on the island of Isabela, supposedly. All good. I could get some out when I got there.

This is where fancy free travel, last minute decisions and lack of research come undone. Of course there wasn’t an ATM.

You don’t take cards?’ I ask Fabricio at Tropical Adventures when I went to book a US$60 tour to visit some volcanic tunnels and craters, ‘Oh, okay… where is the cashpoint’. He looked at me and smiled. ‘No ATMs. There is no a way to get out money in the town. Well, maybe it’s possible’.

Together with an older couple I took to the streets of Puerto Villamil, the main habitation on Isla Isabela. They needed money too, and they needed me. Their Spanish was terrible. I should have charged for my time, been entrepreneurial. I needed the money.

Our first stop at a minimarket proved fruitless, only accepting cards from Banco de Guayaquil or American Express. They sent us on to Hotel Albermarle. Why? Who knows. Maybe because the woman there spoke English.

There is no ATM on Isabela, no way to get cash out ‘, she said, ‘but you could try MoneyGram or Western Union’. Both instant money transfers carried hefty fees but to regain my independence and address my complete helplessness it was going to have to happen.

I tried to do a money transfer but it was declined, possibly because I tried to send money to myself. Maybe, however, it was because a few days earlier the fraud squad at my bank picked up that my card may have been copied in Bolivia and had since placed restrictions on my account. Oh travelling, oh South America. Either way, it wasn’t happening.

I stopped for a moment and thought about my options. I didn’t even have enough cash to leave the island the following day, let alone stay another night, take tours and see the place. How totally silly.

I did what I never wanted to do. I emailed my dad to bail me out. Oh, the shame.

Next I went to cancel my place on the tour before joining a Swede and a French guy for dinner. ‘What would you like?’ asked the waiter. I’d studied the menu and my mind. ‘Just a small beer’, I told him. It was cheaper than a juice and would leave me with 20 cents. Let the alcohol numb my frustration. I watched the other guys tuck into seafood feasts.

Back in my hotel room I was so glad I’d brought along yesterday’s leftover pasta. With no cutlery I squeeze-ate it out of its plastic storage bag. The height of glamour. Dessert was a packet of Oreos that had been squished in my bag for a week or so, but let’s keep things in perspective, at least I had dessert. A little bit of luxury.

I spent a restless night wondering how I was going to get out of this mess, whether the transfer would work, and the next morning I Skyped with my family. After an extended process including phone calls to India and the US, £300 with a £25 fee was transferred to Ecuador. But I still didn’t physically have the money and I wasn’t confident that I’d get my hands on it.

MoneyGram in Puerto Villamil was situated in a convenience store where, typically, the cashier was out on business when I showed up. I’d have to return in an hour or come back later in the day.

But wait a minute! Fabricio at Tropical Adventures had done me a huge favour when I’d tried to scrub my name off the tour list the previous night. ‘Don’t cancel’, he said, ‘I’ll see you at 08:30AM, okay?

I had a few minutes to make up my mind. In a predicament where I wasn’t confident that I could get the money but where there was definite potential for a withdrawal later in the day, would I gamble and go on the trip?

Hell yeah! Trust life, trust it will work out.

It did.

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Filed under activity & sport, costs/money, ecuador, nature, random, sailing, south america, tours, travel

Budgeting Bolivia

Despite Bolivia having the poorest economy in South America it is starting to chase tourist money and prices are slowly creeping up for visitors. As with many countries in South America, there are tourist prices and local prices, and these are often not transparent. Very little is actually labelled up. Vendors make prices up on the spot and often seem loathe to bargain.

I always find the issue of bargaining a delicate subject. Prices may have been inflated for a tourist market but it does feel awkward to see travellers fighting hard to get a 5Bs. reduction for a quality piece of handiwork, something somebody has spent considerable time slaving over. 5Bs.? That’s US$0.72.

Imported products are more expensive, although you’re never fully sure whether you’re getting the legitimate brand or a counterfeit (shoes, for example, in the style of Converse with All Stan marked on the side are pretty obviously not the real deal, but there are plenty of close calls).

However, in a country where accommodation typically costs between Bs.30 and 50Bs., where a meal out will set you back 20Bs, where bus travel costs approximately 8Bs. per hour, Bolivia still is a place where cash-strapped travellers can go far. The cost of backpacking in Bolivia is cheap. No wonder some people keep extending their visa, postponing their travel on to Argentina or Chile or Brazil where life is a whole lot more expensive.

Hostel bed (rural/city) Bs.20   / Bs.50 £1.83-4.58 / US$2.87-7.18
Private room in hostel/hotel Bs.70-Bs.100 £6.41-9.17 / US$10.06-14.37
Cheap lunch out (al meurzo) Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Bottle of water Bs.6 £0.55 / US$.86
Fresh fruit juice at market Bs.4 £0.37 / US$0.57
Beer (large bottle) Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Yoghurt (1ltr) Bs.12 £1.10 / US$1.72
Branded toothpaste Bs.15 £1.37 / US$2.16
Woolly hat Bs.20-Bs.30 £1.83-2.75 / US$2.87-4.31
Woolly dress Bs.80-Bs.120 £7.33-11.00 / US$11.49-17.24
Travel guitar Bs.350-Bs.700 £32.08-64.16 / US$50.29-100.58
Cigarettes (20 pack)* Bs.8-Bs.10 £0.73-0.91 / US$1.15-1.44
Cocaine (per gram) * Bs.100-Bs.200 £9.17-18.33 / US$14.37-28.74
San Pedro powder (1 hit/trip)* Bs.10 £0.91 / US$1.15

*DISCLAIMER: By including these items, I am in no way advocating their use. I am simply detailing what is available and providing associated costs in order to give a fuller impression of the country and its marketplace.

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Filed under bolivia, costs/money, south america

Budgeting New Zealand and Australia

$5 Australian note

Australia and New Zealand are not what I would call travellers’ places. They are, quite simply, expensive.

If you come directly from Europe or the US then maybe it won’t feel quite so harsh. I arrived from South America where US$5 got you a full meal and public transport was cheap. I really felt the difference and struggled to understand how many of the backpackers I met in Auckland and Sydney were out drinking and partying every night, eating expensive takeaways, buying pricey clothing. What was going on?

When I work out what I spent in New Zealand each day, it comes in at NZ$43.69 (£21.84).

During my month and a bit stint in New Zealand, I spent one week in a hostel, used a lot of buses, and stayed with friends and acquaintances along the way. I also CouchSurfed and slept in Auckland Airport. If I had needed to pay for accommodation the whole way, my budget could have increased by an additional NZ$30 (£15.71) per day. I did often pay for beers and food when staying with others, which cost more than if I was just fending for myself, so in some respects things levelled out a bit.

Whilst in New Zealand I also had to replace my camera, annoying, but I wouldn’t want to travel without a camera.

In Australia my daily expenditure was AU$34.21 (£23.41). And that was me being pretty damn careful. I’d found New Zealand expensive. Australia shifted things up a gear. Oh dear.

Initially I was pretty stressed about how costly everything was. ‘Don’t compare back to the UK’, said a Londoner I met at a party. It made sense. Once I started earning a bit in the local currency, it was all relative. Salaries are good, costs are high. Minimum wage is $15.51 per hour; many jobs pay more. A basic chocolate bar, like a Mars bar, costs $1.80 (£1.22), a loaf of bread anything upwards of $3.00 (£2.04). I personally also had to factor in internet costs, replacing a bike lock and helmet, and contributing towards surfboard repair.

My Australia daily average includes one night in a hostel in Sydney and return flights from Sydney up to Ballina-Byron as well as other public transport around and about Sydney.

To save money I slept a night in Sydney Airport and I was really fortunate to be able to spend over a month staying with good friends. I didn’t pay rent but bought in groceries and helped around the place to pay my way. If I had wanted to rent a place for the duration of my stay, rooms in share houses were advertised at around $200 (£136) per week, houses double that.

I hitched or cycled into work rather than take the bus. I didn’t go out and party excessively, but there were also moments when I gave in and paid above my usual cut-off for food or a drink when I just didn’t fancy drinking yet more water or making a sandwich. In short, I could have been more frugal, but I wanted to do things with people and that often upped the costs.

Some ideas of costs:

New Zealand Australia
Hostel bed $27 (£14.03) $30 (£20.41)
Beer (glass/schooner) $6 (£3.11) $6 (£4.08)
Bottle of wine $10 (£5.20) $10 (£6.80)
Black coffee $4 (£2.08) $4 (£2.72)
Pizza/curry/takeaway $15 (£7.79) $15 (£10.20)
Cheap meal out $15-$20 (£8-£10) $20-$30 (£13-£20)
Sandwich $5 (£2.60) $6.50 (£4.42)
Bus travel (1 hour) $10 (£5.20) $12 (£8.16)
Water Free in both New   Zealand and Australia! – water is good to drink out of the taps. All bars in Australia also need to provide   free water, whilst NZ tend to do so, although not required by law.

As a local friend pointed out to me, Sydney and Byron Bay in Australia are pricey places. This experience of Australia is therefore somewhat distorted, so I guess I’ll have to come back and check out the rest at some point soon. Anyone know where the cheapest place in Oz is? And do I really want to go there?!

It may be worth looking at Nomadic Matt’s blog where he has done more comprehensive write-ups on budgeting for New Zealand and Australia.

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Filed under australia, costs/money, new zealand