I could tell the wealthy-looking French family was alarmed, but I suppose I would be too if a total stranger started following me at uncomfortably close range. The mother shot me a worried look as I edged even closer, breathing down her neck. I was trying to assimilate into their family. They were the perfect targets….
Through the corner of my eye I saw my Canadian friends, Dennis and Natalie, standing by a parked horse cart, laughing in disbelief as I rode my French family to the ticket gate of Bagaya Kyaung, with its massive teak pagoda looming overhead.
Like most travelers, Dennis and Natalie wouldn’t be seeing the Bagaya Kyaung this trip—or almost any other attraction in Mandalay—because they didn’t want to splurge for the exorbitantly expensive ‘Mandalay Combo Ticket.’
And while I neither possessed such a ticket, nor the funds to buy one, I had just hiked two fucking hours through rural villages and humid rice paddies, and I wasn’t about to turn around empty handed.
“I’m gonna sneak in,” I declared, to amused nods of approval.
So now, as my French family and I approached the front staircase, and the mother finally turned to say something to me, the moment I was waiting for arrived….
“Tickets please!” shouted a female official from the concrete booth to our right, waving my family toward her window. I acted like one of the gang as we crowded over her, and while mom and dad started fumbling for our Combo Tickets, I slowly drifted to the side of the window, just out of the ticket-lady’s view… then casually made a beeline into the pagoda.
Despite my dicey efforts, the infamous combo ticket is relatively cheap by Western standards. In fact, the entirety of Burma is cheap—but you’ll still hear backpackers lamenting how expensive everything is. You’ll see them struggling to survive on their previous budgets from India and Thailand, weeping into their bowl of rice and street-side chicken cooked over an old tire cap, and then weeping even harder when their bowels explode like a pipe-bomb.
So, let our second weekly sermon in Backpackology serve as a big, fat reality-check:
Let’s say you’ve got $1,000 saved up and are eager to hit the road. Before you go hopping on the next flight to Rome, take a moment to reconsider your Eat, Pray, Love fantasy, and evaluate how long you want that money to last. Which country you decide to travel in determines how long you’ll travel, and at what level of comfort. If you plan on backpacking for a month in Europe, sure you can survive with $1,000, but you’ll be eating garbage and sleeping in alleyways strewn with broken bottles and used condoms. Alternatively, if you spend a month in India with the same budget, you’ll probably be carried through the streets on a golden palanquin, and have each meal hand-fed to you by a harem of topless Mughal concubines, while you recline in a bathtub filled with precious stones.
So take out the list that you probably didn’t actually make in last week’s tutorial (How to Step out The Door) (it’s a top-ten list of places you want to go), and cross check your top destinations with the Budgetometer below. It displays twenty-five of the most popular destinations, and how long you can prolong your escapism with a budget of $1,000. The numbers are merely approximations (daily budgets are compliments of World Nomad®), and it’s assumed that you’re traveling on a bare-bones budget.
If you need to put your dream trip to Europe or Japan on the back burner, that’s okay. There are a million travel gems that can be enjoyed on the smallest of budgets. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Be intrepid. Go drink rice wine on a white sand beach in Thailand. Go climb the soaring Himalaya of Nepal. Ride camels through ochre sand dunes in the shadow of the Pyramids. Just get out there. There’s a whole world waiting to be explored.
So without any further delay, I give you: The Budgetometer. (click to enlarge)
For more information on surviving on pennies and living out of a backpack, click on the “Backpackology 101” tab at the top of this page.
For inspiration and lists of creative vacation ideas, check out the “Weekend Destinations,” posted each Saturday.