Tag Archives: Budget

Cuba Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Cuba?

Trinidad Plaza MayorCuba’s architecture was a highlight for us and the colonial Plaza Mayor in Trinidad was a great example

How much does it cost to travel in Cuba?

Excluding our return flights from the UK, we spent £3,165 during our 45 days in Cuba – a daily average of £70.35 for two people (remarkably close to our two year trip budget!). The Cuban convertible peso (CUC) is pegged to the US dollar and the average exchange rate that we got in April/May 2016 was CUC$1 = £0.73.

We took the majority of our money in cash – either GBP or Euros are exchanged everywhere, US dollars have a 10% exchange surcharge so I wouldn’t recommend carrying those. Some money exchanges rejected notes which had writing on or were torn, but in the end we had them all accepted – the offices in more touristy cities (Havana, Trinidad) seemed to be less fussy. At the end of the trip we had to withdraw some cash on our credit card and discovered that Cuban ATMs don’t accept Mastercard (I think Visa is fine) and so we had to get an over the counter cash advance which was charged to our card in US dollars and hence was subject to the 10% surcharge.

Cuba expenses pie chart

Cuba budget info

  • We stayed in casa particulars (guesthouses) for every night of our stay, except one night spent in the shelter on Pico Turquino. The rate was a pretty consistent CUC$25 per night (room only) across the country except in Havana and Varadero where we paid CUC$30).
  • It’s not really possible to exist solely on street food in Cuba and so, in addition to taking breakfast in our casa particular (CUC$5 each) we often had dinner there as well which cost CUC$8-10 each. Restaurant meals were comparably priced though Havana was often much more expensive and we found that high prices rarely translated into high quality.
  • We found both the Viazul and Cubanacan intercity bus services to be a comfortable and reasonably priced way to get around the country.
  • Within cities we tended to walk everywhere so the relatively high spend for local transportation is taxis to and from bus stations which we found to be quite expensive (possibly because the scarcity of cars pushes up the price but no doubt we were charged tourist prices as well). This category also contains a few day trips that we took by taxi as there was no public transport option available.
  • Visas – we paid CUC$25 each to extend our 30 day tourist card (included in the cost of our flight) for another month.

Summarise Cuba in three words.

  • Dilapidated – from the buildings to the classic cars, it seems like a lot of Cuba has been barely maintained since the Revolution in 1959
  • Rum – made from the sugar cane which generated early wealth for Cuba, the national drink is everywhere and the base of many a cocktail!
  • Music – upbeat and very danceable, Cuba’s musical heritage is rich

You really know you’re in Cuba when…

.. your taxi is a 30 year old Russian model that needs a jump start!

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Cuba?

Plenty of patience for all the queues you’ll have to wait in – to exchange money, in shops, at the bus station…

Two Years of Travel in Numbers: Stats Round Up

Everyone likes to know the numbers behind something (or is that just me?). Here’s the breakdown of our two year trip, starting with our route generated from the GPS tags in Andrew’s photos.

Two year trip route

Length of time on the road 774 days
2 years 1 month 14 days
Number of countries visited 25
Distance travelled 72,284 km
44,915 miles
Number of beds slept in 199
Number of blog posts written (before this one) 253
Total spend (for two people) £54,394.90
Average daily spend (for two people) £70.28

It’s a shame that our last month pushed us just over our target daily average of £70 per day. This was largely due to the cost of apartment rental in Amsterdam, we spent more on accommodation in April 2015 than any other month of the trip.

Total expense breakdown

Number of train journeys 120
Number of hours spent on trains 591.5 hours
Longest single train journey (Severobaikalsk to Irkutsk) 37.75 hours
Number of flights 12
Number of hours spent in the air 37 hours
Pairs of replacement shoes bought 4

As well as writing about our travels on this blog, we’ve taken a lot of photos to remind us of our two years of travelling, and our method for storing them worked very well.

Number of photos taken (total) 88,486
Average photos taken per day (total) 114
Number of photos taken (Julie) 42,485
Number of photos taken (Andrew) 46,001
GB of data in photos taken (total) 384.5 GB

We knew that we’d be visiting some more exotic locations and vaccinations before the trip started were necessary. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve been pretty healthy while we’ve been away and on the few occasions that we’ve needed something from the pharmacy, either the pharmacist spoke English or some creative miming was sufficient to communicate what we needed!

Visits to doctor 0
Purchases from pharmacy 6
Eye tests 1
Fleas captured 1
Ticks removed 1
Mosquito bites Hundreds!

We were pleasantly surprised by how ubiquitous WiFi is around the world, though obviously internet connections aren’t possible or are so slow as to be unusable in the remoter areas of developing countries such as Mongolia, Bangladesh and Uzbekistan. That said, the nicer accommodation options in their capitals and larger cities were pretty good, if a little flaky at times. We used the Ookla Speedtest app to check internet speeds in the places we stayed.

Fastest internet connection (Tokyo, Japan) down arrow36.35 Mbps up arrow38.79 Mbps
Slowest internet connection (Nukus, Uzbekistan) down arrow0.02 Mbps up arrow0.03 Mbps

24 Month Summary

Here’s our summary of the last three months…

Q8 summary collageClockwise from top left: Pompeii; Fiat 500 tour near Florence; sledging at Grindelwald in Switzerland; good food and wine in France

Countries visited in the last three months (1st January to 31st March)

Italy, Vatican City, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands (total visited to date on this trip = 24)

Have you managed to stay within your budget (£70 per day)? And what has been the expense breakdown?

Yes, although the spend across the three months was uneven with the average for January and February being around £60 as we didn’t move location often in relatively inexpensive Italy, shooting up to £90 per day with shorter stays in the more expensive Switzerland, France, Luxembourg and Netherlands. Our average daily spend over the three months has been £69.61. Our daily spend to date since we left home has been £69.83.

24 month summary expense breakdown

  • Accommodation is as usual highest at 38.0% – even though we were fortunate to enjoy the hospitality of friends (thanks all!) for 13 nights, Europe is getting more expensive the further north we go.
  • Intercity transportation was relatively low at 11.8% – no flights this quarter helped. Three-quarters of this amount is our train tickets during March travelling all the way from Rome to Amsterdam.
  • Entertainment and entry fees were high at 8.4% of the total – entry fees for big name sights like Pompeii, the Colosseum, Vatican Museums and the Leaning Tower of Pisa have bumped up the total and almost one fifth is accounted for by Museum Cards for the Netherlands allowing free entry to many museums across the country for a full year – we will get most of the benefit from this during April.
  • Guides and Tours was 2.8% – two-thirds of this is the Fiat 500 driving tour that we did in Florence

What has surprised you most in the last three months of travel?

JulieHow much overlap there is between English and the Romance languages. I know a little Spanish and was surprised by how much Italian, especially written Italian, I could understand, and when we were with our friends in France it became a bit of a joke that any word (especially longer words) that they didn’t know how to translate they could just say with an English accent and 90% of the time it would be the same word!

AndrewWe’re always trying to seek out the local specialties and what has surprised me most is how rich Europe is in diversity. In Italy the shops have aisles dedicated to different pasta, in France the bakeries are similarly stocked with amazing varieties of fresh bread, and in Switzerland (and France) we sampled many lovely cheeses. We had no idea there are two languages spoken in Toulouse, or that ‘pain au chocolates’ are known as ‘chocolatines’ in the south west of France (which is derived from said language), and with help we tried our best to educate our palates with fine wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Apart from family and friends, what are you missing most about life in the UK?

Not much to be honest, we’re kind of in the travelling groove now and Europe has all the creature comforts we need. One thing that I hadn’t realised that I missed are lighter evenings in the summer. For most of our time in Asia we were much closer to the equator and it would get dark around 5-6pm but as we move further north and get closer to spring it is light until at least 7pm and soon much later. I like it.

What’s the most memorable sight that you’ve seen in the last three months?

JulieI’m going to say the day that we spent touring the food hotspots of Testaccio in Rome. The food all over Italy was even better than I had expected, made (and consumed) with such passion that it would be impossible not to catch the excitement. The added bonuses of the keyhole with an amazing view and the Protestant Cemetery were just the icing on the cake.

AndrewOh man, that’s especially tough to answer this time around because we’ve seen so many of the famous, iconic sights known the world over: The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pompeii, St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, Michelangelo’s David, The Colosseum and Forum of Rome, The Atlas control room for the LHC at CERN, The Veiled Christ in Naples.. I remember them all, but as you’re forcing me to choose just one, I’d pick the Sistine Chapel as much for the story behind it as well as its awesome artistic accomplishment.

Tell us a funny story from the last three months of travel.

On a windy day in Naples, near Castel Nuovo, we were approached by a woman who asked “Do you speak Russian?” (in Russian) and as if by reflex Andrew replied “Izvinichi, ya nee gavaryu pa Ruskii” – “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Russian” – in Russian, which halted her in her tracks and put an intense expression of confusion on her face. Fortunately she then spoke enough English that we were able to help her with some directions!

Who is the person you’ve met that you remember the most from the last three months?

Fernando, our Fiat 500! What do you mean he’s not a person? He certainly has a lot of character, and if you don’t speak to him nicely he definitely won’t make it up the hills.

Fernando, our Fiat 500

Finally, what have you found to be the greatest challenge?

Striking a balance between enjoying the travelling while it lasts and thinking about what to do after we get home… To be honest, we’ve probably spent more time in the former mindset but it does weigh on us occasionally that we’ll be hitting a different kind of lifestyle in a few months/weeks time.

21 Month Summary

Here’s our summary of the last three months.

21 month summaryClockwise from top left: In front of the Haghia Sophia in Istanbul; We were thrilled to be joined by Tom, Steph and Olly in Istanbul; Getting out into the countryside was one of our highlights of Malta; Climbing Mt Etna near Catania in Sicily

Countries visited in the last three months (1st October to 31st December)

Turkey, Malta, Italy (total visited to date on this trip = 19)

Have you managed to stay within your budget (£70 per day)? And what has been the expense breakdown?

Yes, and we’ve managed to make back the over spend from Q6 (mostly attributable to flights and visas). Our average daily spend over the three months has been £65.18. Our daily spend to date since we left home has been £69.86. We’re really pleased to be back on track.

Q7 pie chart

  • Accommodation is higher than any of the previous quarters (as a percentage) at 41.0% – we knew accommodation would take up a high proportion of our budget in Europe. We’ve found renting apartments to be the same price or cheaper than hostels and guesthouses with the advantages of more space, privacy and access to a kitchen and, usually, a washing machine.
  • Intercity transportation was 15.9% – one long haul flight (Tashkent to Istanbul) accounts for over half of this. Otherwise, staying in one place (Istanbul for five weeks and Malta for a month) has minimised long distance travel costs.
  • Entertainment and entry fees were 6.3% of the total – we’ve definitely noticed that entry fees to tourist attractions are much higher in general in Europe and are being more picky in the sights that we pay to see. We have enjoyed taking walks in both Istanbul and Malta and find it a good way to get a feel for a place for free.
  • Living expenses was 4.5% – as well as the usual toiletries, haircuts and replacement clothing we had to replace a hard disk in the box in the UK where we store our photos. Fortunately it is set up so that if one disk fails we don’t lose any data.
  • Visa spend for the quarter was just 0.5% – just a nominal amount for entry to Turkey. As we expect to be travelling through Europe for the rest of the trip this should be its last appearance.

What has surprised you most in the last three months of travel?

Perhaps it’s more of a realisation, but we were surprised by how many places of worship there are in Istanbul, and that we didn’t think there were so many at home in England. But when we thought about it, we remembered that almost every town and village has a chapel or church of some kind, so there as many if not more!

Apart from family and friends, what are you missing most about life in the UK?

JulieNow that we’re in Europe and predominantly in cities I’m starting to feel a lack of smarter clothes. Not that I was ever much of a follower of fashion, but when we went to a nice restaurant for Christmas lunch, or if we go out for dinner or a drink on an evening I feel that I would like to be smarter than jeans, T-shirt and scruffy walking shoes. On the other hand I don’t much fancy carrying/giving over rucksack space to clothes, and especially shoes, that will be rarely worn.

AndrewWe’ve eaten the best local specialties in every place we’ve been, and as our thoughts turn towards our arrival back home in a few short months I’m missing my own local specialties.. a Gregg’s stottie cake, one of Paul’s fry ups and a proper cup of tea. Not all at the same time though!

What’s the most memorable sight that you’ve seen in the last three months?

JulieOnce again a difficult choice but of all the beautiful historic buildings we saw in Istanbul, the mosaics in the Chora Church Museum really stand out for me.

AndrewI’ve developed a fascination for world history, and the previously unknown strategic and pivotal importance of Malta in World War II to us was a highlight of our time there. The Lascaris War Rooms is my choice as it has it all; history, artefacts, photos and underground bunkers, brought to life by the amazing tour guide Tony.

Tell us a funny story from the last three months of travel.

Opposite our apartment in Malta was a small bread shop called St Joseph’s Bakery, but we rarely saw it open, indeed, at about 8:40pm one night we had a knock at the door from someone asking the time who’d heard the bakery opened at half-past 8! Anyway, one evening as we were returning from dinner we saw the lights on and the doors open so we went over to buy some fresh bread. Stood inside the doorway was the baker, a large round rough looking man in dirty whites, one hand on the rim of a giant steel mixing bowl and the other holding the end of a cigarette. I said hello and asked to buy some bread. He shook his head, said “no bread.” I took that to mean it wasn’t ready, but then I noticed a large shelf at the side of the room full of loaves and baguettes so I pointed at them.. “no fresh” he said, then spoke to the elderly woman stood with me in the doorway, who turned to me and translated that we should come back tomorrow morning. “What time?” I asked. “Between 3am and 6am.”

Who is the person you’ve met that you remember the most from the last three months?

For our first four weeks in Istanbul we rented an apartment on the Asian side of the city in Kadikoy. It was a lovely apartment and we made friends with the nearby shopkeepers – the old man in the mini market next door kept trying to give us a carrier bag even though we always brought our own, and the friendly owners of the fish shop on the other side always smiled and said “merhaba” when we passed, they even gave us some of the chips from their own lunch when we stopped in for a balik ekmek (fish sandwich)!
Friendly shopkeeper in Kadikoy, Istanbul, Turkey

Finally, what have you found to be the greatest challenge so far?

Maintaining a sense of adventure and wonder in places where the culture is much more similar to our own. It’s quite easy to fall into ruts when so much seems familiar and we sometimes need to remind ourselves to probe past the obvious and look for new experiences.

18 month summary

Here’s our summary of the last three months.

18 month summaryClockwise from top left: With ROK soldier at the DMZ in Korea; the largest Buddha in the world at Leshan; sunset in Ichon-Qala at Khiva [photo credit: Jo Harris]; Registan Square in Samarkand

Countries visited in the last three months (1st July to 30th September)

South Korea, China, Uzbekistan (total visited to date on this trip = 16)

Have you managed to stay within your budget (£70 per day)? And what has been the expense breakdown?

Not quite. Day-to-day expenses haven’t been too high, but three sets of flights, expensive visas for Uzbekistan and travel insurance renewal in September all bumped the total up. Our average daily spend over the three months has been £75.52. Our daily spend to date since we left home has been £70.63.

18 month summary pie chart

  • Accommodation is a little lower than the last two quarters, but still the biggest expense at 30.5% – we found accommodation in China to be very cheap, and moderately priced in South Korea where for half of our stay we rented apartments in Seoul. In Uzbekistan accommodation is expensive compared to other on-the-ground costs, we think because supply is limited by government licensing of hotels and guesthouses, but still not too bad at around £25-30 per night for a double room.
  • Intercity transportation is next highest at 22.5% – three flights in this quarter (Osaka to Busan, Seoul to Shanghai, and Beijing to Tashkent) account for two-thirds of this amount totalling just over £1000. This cost has been the one of the major factors in our being slightly over budget and is a good reminder to us to travel overland whenever possible.
  • For the first time, healthcare has been a noticeable amount at 0.8% – fortunately this isn’t due to a decrease in our general well-being although there were a couple of trips to the pharmacy for cough medicine and rehydration sachets. Most of the spend was a pair of glasses for Andrew as he was getting headaches when using his computer for extended periods.
  • The living expenses category is a much higher percentage than usual at 7.6% – before we left home we bought an 18 month travel insurance policy so we needed to replace that when it expired in September, a new 6 month policy cost us £280. Our wardrobe was also starting to look a bit tired so we replaced our jeans and some T-shirts while we were in Seoul.
  • Visa spend for the quarter was 3.0% – we got both our Chinese and Uzbekistan visas at the embassies in Tokyo and, while the Chinese application was relatively straightforward and inexpensive, we had to pay a premium for the Uzbekistan one to be ready at the “express” timing of one week rather than two.

What has surprised you most in the last three months of travel?

That the Korean language is written not in characters representing words, but with an alphabet called Hangul. At first glance it looks like it’s made up of thousands of characters like Chinese or Japanese, but it’s actually built from just 24 basic letters arranged in blocks. We got to the point where we could recognise a good few and decode whole words with the aid of a cheat sheet!

Apart from family and friends, what are you missing most about life in the UK?

JulieA soft bed… Many have been the nights when I have wished for my own comfortable bed in the last few months as the concept of springs and mattresses doesn’t really seem to have caught on in the budget accommodations of China and Uzbekistan. The most extreme example would be the bed we had in Wuhan where it is no exaggeration to say that we may as well have been sleeping on the floor…

AndrewI’ve really missed driving. It’s not the convenience as we’ve packed pretty light and we love public transport – especially overnight trains – but the enjoyment of motoring and, as we’ve seen quite a few motorbikes and scooters, of riding too. Though I’ll see how I feel about a motorbike when I get back to the British weather..

What’s the most memorable sight that you’ve seen in the last three months?

This is usually a really hard question to answer, but this time we both immediately said the Registan in Samarkand. We were really looking forward to seeing it and had a nagging worry that it might be a let down but it was even better in real life, absolutely jaw-dropping.

Tell us a funny story from the last three months of travel.

In Samarkand we’d met the same portly taxi driver pretty much every day near the Gur-E-Amir Mausoleum offering to take us to Shakhrisabz. The evening before we planned to make the trip we went to seek him out and arrange to meet the following morning. At the mausoleum we didn’t see him in his usual place but Andrew soon spotted a large guy a little way off chatting to another taxi driver. He rushed over to shake his hand and say ‘hello’ but as the man turned we realised it was a different driver… He was so dumbstruck by a random tourist shaking his hand that we were walking off giggling before he recovered himself enough to shout ‘taxi?’ after us!

Who is the person you’ve met that you remember the most from the last three months?

The owner of the Mirzo Guesthouse in Tashkent, Murod. He’s an affable retired history professor who is always keen to have a chat although he doesn’t speak much English (he absolutely pounced on any guests who spoke Russian). When he found out that Julie’s degree is in maths he excitedly told us (mostly via his son Oybek who runs the guesthouse with him and speaks excellent English) about medieval Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi, who came from Khiva, and whose name serves as the root for the words algebra and algorithm. When words fail, Mr Mirzo is proficient at communicating through the language of music, liking nothing better than getting out his dutar on an evening and serenading any guests who happen to be about!

Mr Mirzo playing his dutar

Finally, what have you found to be the greatest challenge so far?

More so than on our first trip, we found the language barrier in southern China harder. It’s not that we encountered more Cantonese where our very limited Mandarin didn’t work, it was that our pronunciation made planning our independent travel very difficult on occasion. For example, we were trying to buy our train tickets to Zhangjiajie but the woman behind the counter didn’t have a clue where we wanted to go. It was only after showing it on a map to a student who just happened to be in the queue with us, that we learned how to say it properly! (it’s “Djang-Jar-Jay” in case you’re wondering!)