Backpacking Southeast Asia: Planning and Budgeting

Before, during, and after the trip, I got a lot of questions that went along the lines of how I planned everything. The easier-said-than-done answer: research and an attempt at foresight. So much of the two that there were times when I wanted to call everything off because it was too exhausting.

It started as nothing more but a mad idea that emerged during my internship. Traveling from Cebu to Lapu-Lapu (and vice versa) every day gave me a lot of idle time on my hands, and it was in one of my many v-hire rides that I came across AirAsia’s ASEAN Pass. Ever the wanderluster, I went into extensive research about traveling around Southeast Asia, its plausibility, affordability, and where the Pass would come in handy. After a couple of days, I decided the Pass wasn’t something I wanted to use. International borders could be crossed by land, and the Pass had limits that would drive me crazy.

Budget plan drafts

There were nights when the traffic in Mandaue would get so heavy that the v-hire wouldn’t move so much as a meter every few minutes. Armed with my iPad and a reliable internet connection, I used those moments to make time-tables, book hotels, and come up with a budget plan. I needed a comprehensive one if I was to get the permission of my mother.

There was a real danger of my plans remaining plans, but when a few friends and one of my professors got wind of it and decided to join, there was little left to do but push through.

Bugis, Singapore

Another question people often ask is “How much did you spend?”. Having just finished the trip, I am reluctant to calculate the exact amount I ended up spending. There were a lot of minor expenses I did not include in the budget plan (e.g., laundry, local transportation, tours, entrance fees, shopping, and our constant need for wet wipes, tissues, rubbing alcohol, snacks, and WATER), but the next tables show what I did account for.

Inter-/Intra-country Transportation


The fares above are the ones we paid for during the trip. My original budget plan wasn’t too far off, though. To get an approximate amount of the bus and train fares, I used seat61sawadeeeasybook, and good ol’ Google Search. For the plane tickets, we periodically checked AirAsia’s and CebuPacific’s websites for promos and seat sales.



All our hotels/hostels were booked without a pre-stay deposit using Since there were a lot of properties, I got too lazy to check Agoda’s and TripAdvisor’s reviews before booking our stay. That lapse is one of my biggest regrets.


Some of our hotels/hostels served breakfast for free, so my budget for food was at an average of 300/day for 37 days.

Toast, kaya (pandan) jelly, butter, and strawberry jam

Excluding shopping and sightseeing, my total budget for major transportation costs, accommodation, and meals in Philippine Peso was 42,160. Not that bad for 5 weeks in 6 countries and 14 cities if I do say so myself!

Disclaimer: This post contains photographs taken by Maly Larrazabal. Thanks Mal 🙂


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