The Real Cost of Travel Abroad

Visas, vaccinations, and Verizon, oh my!


This girl makes much less money than you, and even SHE'S going

I have just a few weeks to prepare to leave the country indefinitely and am starting to figure out the real cost of travel abroad.

The idea that travel is astronomically expensive is a bunch of hooey – like so many things, it’s all in how you do it. I’m going to Nepal, where I can stay in a guest house for less than $5 USD/night and easily eat for under $10/day.

The real cost of traveling abroad, at least from what I can tell right now, is getting there. And it’s not just booking the flight. As I’ve started to figure out what the hell I need to do, and get, and buy, and get rid of, a ton of hidden costs have popped up.

The flight – $1,045.10

I’m going to Nepal, followed by Thailand, India, Cambodia, and who-knows-where-else. A lot flights from the U.S. to Asia originate in Los Angeles, and luckily that’s the gritty fairytaleland I already call home.

If I had just booked a true one-way flight (LA to Kathmandu), the ticket would’ve cost even less. But I booked a flight from LAX to Kathmandu, and then another flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok.

That’s two flights around the world for about a grand – not too shabby.

However, I’m flying coach (ugh!) and the flight to Kathmandu is going to be a bitch – three flights in total with multiple layovers, one of which is 14 hours.

Without the added flight to Thailand, which was around $400, I could’ve gotten to Kathmandu for between $700-800 one-way.

I booked with Priceline and will be flying China Eastern airlines. There was probably an even cheaper way to fly, but I’m no travel hacker. At least not yet.

Vaccinations – around $300

I went to WellnessMart, M.D. in Santa Monica to get vaccinated before leaving the country. There are a bunch of recommendations for what you should get depending on where you’re going in the world and what you plan on doing once you get there. (Hanging out in a big, modern city? That’s one set of shots. Hanging out in a remote village with no indoor plumbing? That’s another.)

The diseases you might get in Nepal are somewhat different than what you need to watch out for in the countries I’ll be going to in SE Asia.

I’m kind of a cheapskate, so I wanted to spend the least amount of money possible without, um, dying.

They recommended I get vaccinations for Typhoid Fever and Hepatitis A for Nepal, and the same for SE Asia but add Malaria into the mix. There isn’t a vaccination for Malaria but they’ll give you prescription meds for prevention.

These seemed to be the 3 biggies, and the most dangerous, but it was also recommended that I get vaccinated against Rabies ($895?! Fuck that!), Hepatitis B (in case I want to sleep with prostitutes or do drugs that require a needle), and Japanese Encephalitis.

I chose not to get vaccinated for any of those. I hope I don’t regret it.

(Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m so-obviously-not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice and you should consult your own doctor, make your own decisions, blah-blah-disclaimer-don’t-sue-me, etc).

I also got antibiotics for “traveler’s diarrhea,” and some super-scary anti-mosquito lotion (mosquitoes carry malaria).

The only thing more scary than getting malaria is the idea of using this lotion.

I’m still not sure if it’s supposed to go directly on my skin. Apparently the ingredients in it were outlawed for use as pesticides within the U.S…..but damn if it don’t kill dem sqeeters!

cost of travelIt was also recommended that I get a probiotic, a flu shot, a tetanus shot, and maybe rethink my trip in general (kidding, they were very nice.)

When all was said and done and I was thoroughly terrified of the places I’d be going, I walked out of the office with a very swollen left arm and a wallet that was $300 lighter.

Visas – $40, for now

Nepal lets Americans get a “visa on arrival,” which means you can deal with it at the airport when you get there. This was a huge relief to me because anything having to do with a visa tends to stress me the F-out.

Thailand also allows for a visa on arrival, as does Cambodia, so I’ll cross those bridges when I come to them (I might mean that literally since I’ll be entering Cambodia over land instead of flying.)

Travel Insurance – $187 for three months

I hate spending money on things like vaccinations and insurance – preventative things in case something happens. It always feels like such a waste of money.

But then my mom told me this story about a friend who’d gotten food poisoning in Germany (Germany!) and ended up with a $20,000 hospital bill. Ok, ok, I’ll get traveler’s insurance.

Luckily it’s not that expensive and it’s covers a lot – if I have to go to the doctor or the hospital I can, and if the country I’m in (Nepal…?) has shitty healthcare or can’t perform some surgery, they will airlift me (in a helicopter! Wheee!) to the nearest city or country that can. This is called “medical evacuation insurance” and apparently it’s super important to have.

Stupid Passport Photos – $26

Don’t go to CVS and spend $13 for two stupid passport photos! I read that I was going to need a zillion passport photos for all these visas I’d be getting, and ended up getting 4 pics at CVS in the photo department. I wanted more, but they were so friggin’ pricey!

Listen, there is nothing special about passport photos. If you have a printer and photo paper just print them yourself and cut them to 2 in x 2 in. Also, after spending $26 I learned that most airports have photo booths right at customs for this very purpose. CVS, what a crock.

Storage – $0

Thanks to a life of vagabondry, I don’t have a lot of stuff. There are a few pieces of furniture and 2 boxes stored in a basement in Milwaukee (I hope my former landlord forgets they’re there and I can just store my stuff for free indefinitely,) and one suitcase that’s going to end up tucked away in my sweetie’s closet.

In exchange for hanging on to this for me, I’ve promised to lie and say I’m “just a friend” if I return in 5 years to collect my things and he’s married to someone else and it’s awkward.

Backpack – $200

Nomadic Matt has become my go-to website for all things travel, and since Matt uses an REI backpack, I wanted an REI backpack. Listen, I’m a sucker and have never bought a backpack before, and you certainly don’t need to spend $200 on yours.

But since it’s the only piece of luggage I’m taking, I wanted to make sure it was sturdy, and waterproof, and could fit the few (very few) things I’d be able to bring with me. It’s big, it’s blue, and it came with a really pretty fake yellow flower that will help me identify it at baggage claim. I’m happy. (Go on though and get yours for cheaper.)

"This backpack was really f*^!^ expensive"

“This backpack was really f*^!^ expensive”

Unlocking my iPhone – $0

I spent HOURS trying to figure out if my iPhone was locked or not (I have an iPhone 5). You need an unlocked iPhone if you want to use your phone abroad (that means calls and texting but also data).

If your phone is locked, and your carrier is Verizon, it means you can only use Verizon’s network. But calls on Verizon’s network in a place like Nepal are 3.8 gajillion dollars per minute. It’s better to get a prepaid SIM card and use the local network of the country you’re visiting.

SIM cards for dummies: digression

I knew nothing about SIM cards before this month, and they sounded scary and very technical. They’re so not! Your SIM card is a tiny little card that lives in the side of your phone. You’ll see a skinny little slot with a tiny, tiny button. It’s so tiny that you need a paperclip or something pointy and sharp to press it in. Push the tiny button and the SIM card pops out.

Practice. You will do this when you arrive at your destination, and you will bravely pop like you’ve never popped before.

Back to this whole unlocking business.

  • I found sites that would unlock your iPhone for $150.
  • I read that some services would unlock your iPhone for $50-70.
  • Then I read that all 4G phones are unlocked, but didn’t know if my phone was a 4G phone.

(and may I just say that I dabble in web design, know my way around WordPress, and can even code some shit. But for some reason, when it comes to my phone, I’m like a 3-year old trying to open a juice box. Just. Can’t. Figure it out.)

Finally, I called Verizon, afraid they would charge me a lot of money or tell me “YOU CANNOT UNLOCK YOUR PHONE, LOWLY CUSTOMER! AND IF YOU DO, WE’LL KNOW ABOUT IT AND THE CELL PHONE POLICE WILL ARREST YOU!”

Me: “Um, I think I might need to unlock my iPhone? Because I’m traveling?”

Guy at Verizon: “Sure, no problem.”

Me: “Oh wow, you guys can do it for me? I don’t have to go online?”

Guy at Verizon: “Of course we can do it.”

Me: “Isn’t it illegal or something?”

Guy at Verizon: [laughing] “What?”

Me: “Don’t I have to pay like $150 and it’s illegal and I shouldn’t be telling you any of this?”

Guy at Verizon: “Hold please.”

Crap. Now I’ve done it.

After a one-minute hold that seems eternal:

Guy at Verizon: “Rebekah? Your phone is already unlocked. All 4G phones are.”

Me: “But is the iPhone 5 a ‘4G phone’?”

Guy at Verizon: “Yep.”

Me: “Thanks.”

Glad I didn’t spend $150! I read online that in order to test if your phone is locked or unlocked, you should swap SIM cards with someone on another network and try making a phone call. Well, I tried doing that and it didn’t work. So I still don’t know if Guy at Verizon was right.

I guess I’ll figure it out in Kathmandu. (holy shit, I’ve always wanted to write that!)

Toiletries, contact lenses and girly shit – $260

Everyone always says “don’t bring it with you, buy it there.” Well, after my nightmarish experience in a drugstore in Changhua, Taiwan, where everything was written in Chinese and I seriously couldn’t tell if I was buying conditioner or coffee creamer, I’ve learned my lesson.

I went back to the passport photo rapists at CVS and stocked up on tiny shampoos and soaps, wet wipes, sunscreen, tampons, etc etc. I’ve read that toilet paper is hard to come by in Nepal, so made sure to get a few packs of tissue as well.

I also ordered a 6 month’s supply of contact lenses and this amazing oil I use for my skin. It’s a good idea to stock up on anything medical or health-related that might be hard to come by abroad (anything you’d normally get from the eye doc, the dermatologist, your shrink, etc.

Grand Total to leave the country and never look back (at least not for a few months, that is):


Surviving once I get there? That’s going to be another story entirely (and hopefully much cheaper!)

 What was the cost of travel for your last trip?

How much do you have budgeted for your next trip?

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Quick+Dirty Takeaway

1. Travel is not expensive.
3. Vaccinations, on the other hand, are f*&! pricey.
4. Malaria-busting mosquito repellent may or may not give you blood poisoning.
5. Yes, you do absolutely positively need travel insurance.
6. Girl, don't even think about making calls with your cell phone when you're abroad. You need to get a SIM card once you're there. It's cheap and easy.
6. Unlocking your smartphone is easy and free through your service provider - do NOT pay a third party to unlock your phone!!!

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