Tag Archives: budget

Backpacking India: Travel Expenses Breakdown

India is a very cheap country to travel through. Our biggest expense was flying in and out. Surprisingly, even after over 4 months travelling, we paid more for our flights than accommodation or food.

So, how much does it cost to backpack through India? Less than $1000 per person per month. Our average daily expenses were $63 per day, and that includes everything – hotels, food, trains, a cellphone with a data plan, haircuts, toiletries, and all of our souvenirs. To put that in perspective, our rent alone in Vancouver costs about the same.

Two round trip flights in and out of India cost us only $1,236 each – we got lucky there. Pre-trip expenses like visas, vaccines, and a guide book cost another $342.20.

Our hotels averaged 1100 rupees or $22 per night. The beach hut in Gokarna was the cheapest place we stayed, costing only $5. We splurged to stay in a boutique resort for our anniversary in Darjeeling, our most expensive night but still only $55. The hotel in Mumbai was almost as much and not nearly as nice.

Trains were the cheapest and most atmospheric way to get across India. We travelled in the unreserved carriages a few times – which are unbelievably cheap but often very crowded. It cost us only $1 each to travel the 250 km between Jodhpur and Ajmer in unreserved second-class. Even our most expensive day train, the high speed train from Amritsar to Delhi, was only $16 a ticket. Our best value was probably the overnight train from Goa to Mumbai, when we paid $11 per bunk bed in a non-AC car. The average overnight train ride in air-conditioned carriages cost $20 each.

Our trip slowly got more expensive as we moved north. Our first 50 days through South India were the cheapest – mostly because there weren’t any expensive sights to see and we weren’t buying any souvenirs. Then we hit Mumbai, the most expensive city in India; Agra, with the Taj Mahal and other tourist traps; and Jaipur, where we paid too much money for an elephant experience. The most expensive part of our trip was the 4 days treeking through the Himalayas with porters and cooks, but it was worth it. Unsurprisingly, the bulk of our souvenir shopping happened in the last week of our trip.

Welfare Food Challenge – Surviving but not Thriving

Sushi and BSG
We’re halfway done the Welfare Food Challenge and it is no longer smooth sailing. Our fresh produce is going bad but we can’t afford to replace it; I’m bored of rice and beans and oatmeal; and both Emily and I are feeling tired and sluggish, so there’s likely a nutritional deficiency in our diet.

The hardest part of the challenge has been socializing with friends and not being able to eat the food they offer. Last night I had to resist snacks and sushi while battling cylons. It was a good conversation starter about welfare rates in BC, but it was difficult feeling content with carrots and bread when everyone else was snacking on strawberries and olives.

Mouldy Tomatoes Fresh Salsa Homemade Tomato Sauce
Our tomatoes have started to go mouldy. We turned the good ones into fresh salsa (the 8 cent jalapeno was my best purchase!). I chopped off the mouldy bits of the others and turned them into tomato sauce. That should buy us some time. Our kale is also starting to go bad, so we’ll have to eat it soon or freeze it.

When we did our initial grocery shopping, I was confident we had enough nutritious food to last us the week. However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that something is lacking. Could it be low iron or not enough protein? I created a spreadsheet of all the food I’ve eaten in the first 3 days and the nutritional content of everything.

Ideal Average (Day 1-3)
Calories 2300 2074
Fat (g) 70 21
Carbohydrates (g) 330 408
Protein (g) 80 84
Vitamin A 100% 1521%
Vitamin C 100% 173%
Calcium 100% 51%
Iron 100% 157%

Most of the numbers are good – lots of protein, carbohydrates, Vitamin C, and Iron, and we’re getting a ridiculous amount of Vitamin A (thank you carrots). Our calorie consumption is a bit low, but we have leftovers after almost every meal. It’s possible the boringness of the meals is causing us to eat less.

I’m only slightly worried about our calcium levels – half of what they should be – but I don’t think it’s causing short term health problems. We’re missing many of our best sources of calcium like almonds (25% of daily calcium in 100 g), broccoli, and oranges. We get some calcium from the beans, but the best source we bought this week is kale and we’ve been saving it.

The really worrying number is fat – 30% of ideal level – this is likely the cause of our malaise. The biggest things missing from our diet this week are nuts and fresh vegetables. A cup of cashews or almonds would have 45 g of fat. A single avocado would have 30 g. The only significant fat source we bought this week is the canola oil. We have $6 left in our food budget, so I’m going to find a cheap source of healthy fat to supplement our diet for the remaining 4 days.

Pictures of some of our meals on Day 2 and Day 3:
Welfare Food Challenge - Day 2 Lunch Welfare Food Challenge - Day 3 Lunch Welfare Food Challenge - Day 3 Dinner Lots of Rice

Welfare Food Challenge – Day 1

We survived Day 1 of the Welfare Food Challenge. There are lots of interesting people blogging and tweeting about their experiences. I’ve been surprised to see a number of people buying cans of beans. Obviously more convenient, but a lot more expensive than dried beans.

After Day 1, I feel well fed but gassy. I guess eating a lot of beans will do that.

Welfare Food Challenge - Breakfast 1
Breakfast was a simple but filling meal of oatmeal, half a banana, and a spoonful of sugar.

Lentil Lunch
Lunch was rice, lentils, tomatoes, and a few carrots. We made way too much and now have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Bean, Potato, and Carrot Soup
For dinner I made a simple soup with potatoes, carrots, white beans, garlic, and broth. Nothing fancy, but satisfying.

I also made bread (one loaf tonight and one ready to bake tomorrow). Here is the recipe I followed. It took a few hours (most of it waiting for it to rise), so it wasn’t ready in time for dinner. It just came out of the oven and is the ugliest looking loaf of bread I’ve ever seen (kind of slug like), but it smells delicious and tastes pretty good. Although I wish I had honey or jam to spread on it.
Baking Bread Fresh Bread Homemade Bread

Welfare Food Challenge – Shopping Trip

Welfare Food Challenge
Tonight we did a big shopping trip in preparation for the Welfare Food Challenge. Amazingly we managed to buy what we think is a week’s worth of groceries for only $36.60, well within our $42 budget. There isn’t a lot of fresh vegetables, but what we bought is reasonably nutritious. We scouted out our neighbourhood grocery stores on Saturday and found the cheapest prices at Buy-Low and Kia.

Kia Discount Fruit and VegetablesThe bulk of our diet for the next week will be beans ($10), rice ($4), flour ($3.50), and oatmeal ($2.17). Our best find was a 10 lb bag of carrots for $4 at Kia. We got lucky with lots of items on sale at Buy-Low and discounted vegetables at Kia.

Here’s what we managed to buy with a rough calorie count. If we ate everything, we’d have almost 3000 calories each per day, more than the daily requirement. Although that doesn’t take into account vitamins and other nutrients, and a large portion of those calories come from the flour and oil.

Item Weight (g) Price Calories
Green Lentils 450 $1.50 1475
Red Lentils 450 $1.50 1475
Pinto Beans 450 $1.50 1475
White Beans 450 $1.50 1522
Black Beans 408 $1.64 1384
Chickpeas 617 $2.48 2245
Rice, Long Grain Brown 1814 $4.00 6853
Macaroni 454 $1.25 1602
Flour, Whole Wheat 2500 $3.49 9167
Canola Oil 473 ml $2.19 3784
Yeast, Active Baking 23 $0.36 160
Soup Stock, powder 50 $0.39 117
Oats, Quick 1000 $2.17 3750
Sugar, White 240 $0.96 930
Potatoes, White (5 lb bag) 2268 $1.99 1841
Carrots (10 lb bag) 4536 $3.99 2041
Tomatoes (9, discount) 828 $1.00 99
Kale (discount) 400 $1.00 402
Apples, Granny Smith (3) 700 $1.53 364
Bananas (3) 560 $0.84 364
Onion, Yellow (1) 155 $0.24 348
Garlic (40 cloves) 120 $1.00 160
Jalapeno Pepper (1) 15 $0.08 4
Total 18.963 kg $36.60 41,470

I’m optimistic now that we can survive the week. With the garlic, onion, broth, and jalapeno our food will be reasonably flavourful. The trade-off is time. We’ve spent hours planning our meals and grocery shopping. Making our meals from raw ingredients and dry beans will mean many more hours spent cooking this week than we normally do.

Data Nerd: Transportation Expenses Updated

My 2012 post analyzing my transportation expenses is making the rounds on twitter again, so I thought I’d update the charts.
Transportation Expenses by Year Chart

Although the cost of driving in Canada has steadily risen, my transportation costs are flat. I spend $1200 a year split between car rentals, car sharing, cycling, and public transit.
Transportation Expenses by Year Pie

Living Car-Free Saves Me $7000 per Year

Modo Car with a Bike Rack
When I moved to Vancouver six years ago, I made two crucial decisions that have saved me thousands of dollars – I bought a bike and joined the car co-op.

Being a data nerd, I’ve kept detailed records of all my spending for the past decade (first in a spreadsheet, then in Quicken, and now in mint.com). I went back through my records to see how much I’ve spent on transportation since moving to Vancouver. In six years, I’ve spent nearly nearly $8000 getting around by bike, public transit, taxi, car sharing, and car rentals. That’s less than what most people spend on their car in 1 year.

Note: Updated charts with 2013 data are available here

According to CAA, the annual cost of owning a car (driven for 12,000 km per year) ranges from $7,723.72 for a Civic to $10,465.12 for an Equinox. When you don’t drive much, 80% of the cost of car ownership is fixed costs (insurance, license and registration, loan payments, and depreciation). Only 20% is proportional to the distance driven (gas and maintenance). CAA doesn’t include the cost of parking, which can be quite expensive in Vancouver. In my building, it costs $100/month for a parking spot.
Transportation Expenses by Year Pie
My expenses have averaged $1257 per year since I moved to Vancouver, almost equally split between car rentals, car sharing, cycling, and public transit (including taxis).

Transportation Expenses by Year Chart
Cycling is my main form of transportation, and most years it costs less than $200 to service my bike (new parts and maintenance). I purchased a bike in 2006 and 2009, spending an extra $500 (my commuter bike isn’t that expensive).

Bike LineupNormally, I don’t use the bus that often (it’s faster to bike), but in 2008 and 2009 I was working in West Vancouver and commuted a lot by bus (2 zones), which explains the higher public transit costs those years. Otherwise, I spend less than $200 per year on bus tickets and cab rides.

Living in Vancouver, the times I need a vehicle are rare. When I’m buying furniture or playing in the North Shore mountains, I often use a car sharing vehicle from Modo. In the past year, I’ve started using car2go for short trips when public transit and biking are inconvenient. For traveling around BC, I often rent a vehicle from Enterprise. car2go VancouverThe cost of each car trip is high (a car rental for a long weekend is between $100-$200, plus gas), but I only rent a car once or twice a year. My car sharing trips with Modo average $30 (including gas). Even though I only drive a few times a year, the cost of renting a vehicles and using car sharing accounts for more than 50% of my “car-free” transportation budget. But I appreciate the flexibility I have to get a car when I need one, and it is still way cheaper than owning a dedicated vehicle.

Now, it can be argued that living close to downtown Vancouver, where a car-free lifestyle is easy, is costing me more for rent. Which is true, but it’s an easy tradeoff to make for a healthy lifestyle. I’m willing to spend my transportation savings on more expensive rent so that I can replace hours stuck in my car with minutes on a bike and pleasant walks to the grocery store any day.