How much does all of this actually cost?
There is nothing I love more than travelling. I loved it before I’d even really been able to do it. Of course there are tons of great reasons to do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an expensive hobby.
And despite all the inspirational memes and talks of how to do it cheap – it’s just not possible for everyone.
This is something I often try to remind myself when writing and talking about traveling.
Stuff like this. Well intentioned? Probably. Oblivious to the realities of many? 4sure.
When I was in University all I wanted more than anything was to be able to study abroad. I would follow the pictures and stories of my friends who had done it online and just burn up with longing to do the same. So, I applied for a summer in France, to bring my French fluency up to snuff.
That didn’t end up happening.
I was approved but the costs were astronomical, even for just 2 months it was in the $10,000 range.
I applied for scholarships but even had I gotten them (I didn’t) they wouldn’t have covered it.
I’d have programs say things like the program cost is only $2,000, totally doable right? Only barely, but that doesn’t include food, housing, airline tickets, visas, and money to keep travelling once abroad. It was misleading.
I don’t harbor regrets though. I was able to go to France for a week visit the following summer, which my parents helped me do and which was far more affordable.
The reason I share this story is because it was my inspiration. It was when I realized if I wanted to do this ex-pat thing and live abroad, I’d have to do it another way- a more affordable way.
I’m sure there are many out there in the same boat as me and so I wanted to share what so many programs and people won’t tell you because it’s awkward – and that’s the price tag.
I knew I wanted to come to China for a whole host of reasons but for the sake of brevity I’ll just say for adventure, service and to try something new.
I chose to go with WorldTeach because it was a service organization and I was heavily involved in a service organization at my University. I knew there were other options out there that could have placed me in Shanghai or Beijing, but I didn’t want to be earning more in a big city that’s loaded with western comforts – nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t my preference.
I was okay earning less and I really wanted to be living in a small town where I could really feel immersed in Chinese culture and the language. I ended up in Changsha, for orientation, which is a huge city, but was then placed in the burbs at Qingzhuhu, which was the perfect place for me. I loved it so much.
WorldTeach’s program fee was $500. Crazy cheap! I paid for this using scholarship money I received at the beginning of my senior year at UF.
A lot of WT’s other programs have heftier program fees, which is because they are not subsidized by the government, the China program is.
Of course there was more to it than just the fee. If you didn’t have a passport you’d need to get one for about $60.
WorldTeach handled getting my Chinese work visa so I didn’t have to pay for that.
I paid for my medical check-ups stateside and for inoculations that we’re suggested not required. I just figured $100 to not get Hep A sounds aight.
As for the flight I looked for deals but ended up landing on an $850 ticket one way to Changsha from Tampa. My parents paid for this. I realize that not everyone’s can, so this could be an obstacle to making this happen. However, WorldTeach does offer a scholarship and has a page on their website focused on fundraising ideas and other scholarships for teaching abroad.
Other than that though, that’s really all I spent getting over here. And of course I brought $200 with me in RMB to live off of during orientation, only ½ of which I used. China is pretty cheap.
My monthly stipend (it is a volunteer program after all) was 3,000 RMB, which is 500 USD. I was very lucky that my school gave me a great Hong Bao (money present) for Spring Festival of 2,000 RMB, not every school can afford this. I also tutored throughout the year to earn side money to eat and have fun with so that I could let my stipend collect in my bank account.
I barely touched my stipend the whole first term, cutting corners by eating in the cafeteria, which was free for lunch and not making any big purchases.
I got ready to leave for Spring Festival with 10,000 RMB in my bank account, which is about 1,500 USD. This was the money I used to buy my plane ticket to Bangkok, Thailand, which roundtrip cost around 250 USD.
I chose South East Asia because I thought it would be a beautiful, fun place to go, but also because it is far less expensive than China.
I stayed in Thailand for almost 3 weeks – 4 of those days were spent in Cambodia (even cheaper than Thailand.) I wasn’t miserly while staying there, I went out, visited sights, ate excellent food and by the time I was flying back to China I still had about 1,500 RMB in my account. I then went to Beijing for a few days and Harbin as well. I took multiple flights, trains, and buses, went to the Great wall and the ice festival and spent almost all the rest of my money.
I came back to China with maybe 300 RMB, which is about 60 dollars. Luckily though, my February stipend came in right as I made it back to my site.
So, I can proudly say that I was able to travel for a full month using only my stipend and no money from my parents. So, if you’re family isn’t a Rockefeller either it is possible to do!
Of course you’d have to work for months in a foreign place first and miss out on the holidays, but them be the breaks kids.
For the 2nd half of the year I did the same routine saying up my entire stipend, living on tutoring money.
Again I had a little over 10,000 RMB at the close of the year. I wanted to travel with my sister before heading back to America to see my family. She’d never been out of the country. We decided to go to Europe. I’d been before but briefly and was eager to see more of the world.
I bought my flight to Prague from China for $650 USD. Ouch. Sorry credit card. Once there, we stayed exclusively in hostels and ate grocery store lunches and fun dinners, sometimes those were reversed.
Europe is expensive.
There’s no way around that. We were lucky though too that for part of the trip we stayed with family in Germany as well as with an old friend in Scotland, which cut down on costs big time.
London was the real kicker, pricey as hell but we were only there a few days. Again I only used my China stipend to pay for things as well as the 300 USD my parents generously threw my way while travelling. Seriously, I’m so grateful to them.
I also had bought my own ticket home from Scotland, which was again about $800. My credit card was real sad.
But then I was home! . . . with only about $200. I literally blew it all over the summer. Irresponsible? Perhaps, but I knew I had my 2nd year in China lined up and that I was going to be employed again soon.
Because I had spent almost all my savings my parents kindly offered to help me buy my flight back to China – similar cost to the 1st year $850. I am really lucky to have had them helping me make these traveling dreams a reality. They like I, know how rare these chances are.
Once back in China I needed to seriously scrimp and save before I got my 1st paycheck in September. Once that came in, it was smooth sailing.
My job this year is independently contracted with the school so I am making double what I made last year aka about 1,000 USD a month.
I’ve been able to save a lot more, and like last year I still tutor on the side, partly because I love the kids I tutor and also to live off the money, though staying in the city is way more expensive.
This year I will have saved 20,000 RMB before the school year is out.
Which means I could travel places a lil’ pricier. I am going to Shanghai for a week, Japan for two weeks and Vietnam for close to two weeks as well.
I’ve already bought all my flights and my visas needed.
There were some great deals because school let’s out before spring festival so no one is really travelling yet.
I often use Skyscanner.com to look for flights, which I recommend as on the whole I’ve been able to get them relatively cheap.
My flight to Shanghai was $90.
My flight to Tokyo was $150.
My flight to Ho Chi Minh from Osaka was the most expensive at $180 (I am taking Air Asia that’s why it’s not even more) and then from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Thrang was $90.
My Vietnamese visa was $20.
I will absolutely be able to stay, eat and travel comfortably on the salary I’ve saved. However, I plan on coming back pretty skint.
Why not do it big right? When will I have these opportunities again?
All in all the point of this post was to drop some hard cold numbers so that any bright eyed youngster out there who wants to travel but isn’t sure how to do it affordably may see this post and realize it’s possible.
I of course understand that these prices are still too hefty for some and that sucks and I’m sorry it’s so.
Nothing used to bug me more than when someone would talk about their travels and then says something along the lines of “Oh everyone should travel it’s so amazing, and transformative. All you need is to be brave, plan carefully and make it work! Don’t worry about money, it’s worth it.”
Seriously, it’s so annoying and oblivious.
Which is why I suggest working abroad, which does make it a lot easier and affordable. Though again I realize this isn’t an option for everyone, with monetary troubles or family obligations.
If you do want to try your hand at working abroad in China consider WorldTeach. I can’t talk it up enough. I saw people struggle here without any sort of support from their program and come over completely alone. So, be careful with what you choose.
If you’re looking for a different region check the website GoOverseas.com they have lots of opportunities there as well.
And if you ever want tips or advice don’t hesitate to contact me here. I’d love to help make travel possible for others as well!