Many people have asked me when I had returned from Iran and Europe after travelling and backpacking for 2.5 glorious months requesting for information: how did I manage to travel on a budget all under $1,800. Was it a cheap vacation or did I blow my life savings?
My reasons were simple:
1) I did travel on a budget, but I still wasn't very calculative with my money and lived largely like a king - good food, good places and good people.
2) A simple budget tracker and cost comparison analysis coupled with a magnifying glass of the world atlas compelled me to find unimaginable, interesting routes.
First of all, what plan? I used to be a planner, but with slow travel it is almost impossible to plan. Thoughtful spontaneous events were often far more memorable than the planned visits.
I still had to decide my starting point which turned out to be Iran (Read: 10 reason why I travelled to Iran). Months before (or more like many years ago) I did notice a trend where people would often start their Europe trip by spending one month, covering 10 countries and blowing about $3,000 to 5,000 at one go.
Time spent in these countries were often a maximum of three days. I often wondered how is it possible for people to spend so little time and so much money, to sum up the great times that they may have encountered.
I just couldn't do that and looked for flight tickets to Europe from Malaysia.
Transportation / Logistics
Prices were steep for direct flights from Malaysia to Europe. AirAsia at that time had a promotion to travel to Tehran only at $135 (RM 600) for a one-way ticket. A return ticket was expensive, but it didn't matter because I knew I would exit from a different country.
So Iran it was, and I grew excited about the in-between countries seated in the Caucasus region that I could travel to via an overland journey such as Armenia and Georgia.
Tickets to Europe from Georgia were dirt cheap and because it was December, I thought it would be smart to book an advance ticket from Tbilisi, Georgia to Madrid, Spain and guess what, it was priced at 100euros (RM 450) for a 10 hour flight with Pegasus Airlines. This was great on so many levels!
Since flight tickets were sorted for the first leg of the trip, let me break it down to you what was the best way to travel from one country to another.
Metro stations comprising of five lines. A return ticket costs around 11,000 rials / $0.3 cents
VIP Long buses to travel from one city to another: 200,000 - 500,000 rials / $6 - $15
Iran to Armenia
Take a metro from Tabriz to Jolfa, on the border with Nakhichevan, an enclave of Azerbaijan between Armenia and Iran and then on to Nordoz, the border.
Visa to Armenia: 3,000 drams / $6.16
Travelling in Armenia is hard and hitchhiking 3x tougher
Rent a 4x4 car like a Nissan x-trail instead for one week: Fuel 8,200 drams / $17 per day and car rental 19,000 drams / $40 per day
Share the cost with 4 people: $100 in total per person
Armenia to Georgia
From Yerevan to Tbilisi get on a Marshrutka, a mini van: 8,000 drams / $16 for 4.5 hour journey
Travel In cities in Georgia is easy with the old rickety soviet-like metros.
Get a smart card for 2 lari / $0.8 and ticket prices are a flat fee 0.5 lari / $0.2
To go to places like Zugdidi, Batumi, Gudauri, Kakethi: travel via a marshutka or experience an overnight soviet train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi
Georgia to Spain
Flight tickets via Pegasus airlines are cheap if you book in advance
Flight to Madrid costs me 100 euros
Travel within Spain, Belgium and France
Take the metro wherever you go or the buses. There's free WiFi everywhere and it's so well-connected
Spain to Belgium
Brussels Airline: 38 euros / $40 per person
Belgium to France
Used BlaBlar car to travel from Bruges to Lille, France: 6 euros / $6.4
Used BlaBar car to travel from Lille to Paris: 12 euros / $12.7
France to Seville, Spain
Ryan Air flights: 34 euros / $36
Travel within Seville and Granada via GoEuro buses : 22 euros / $23
Granada to Madrid via GoEuro: 21 euros / $22
I started my trip in Iran with a plan to use Couchsurfing, and a combination of hostels, lodges and homestays to keep my budget intact. The rest of the trip followed the same principle and it was really quite something because these were some of the best places to travel and stay in.
Each hostel / hotel were between $10 - $15
Esfahan: Amir Kabir Hostel / Mihan Hostel
Kashan: Ehsan Guesthouse
Yazd: Nartitee Ecolodge
Each hotel / hostel costs around $8 - $10. We stayed in some homestays and I can't quite remember the name of the places but here were some of the best finds..
Kapan: Golden Kapan Hotel
Goris: Aregak B&B
Dilijan: Art Guest House
Sisian: Azoyan Holiday Resort Hotel
Yerevan: Prime Domino Hostel
Each hostel / hotel costs around $6 - $15
Couchsurfing: If it wasn't for my kindest hosts in Iran, Georgia, Belgium and France, I would have been lost. We discovered some pretty cool places and met the most kindest souls with interesting stories.
Maps.Me: Fast, detailed and "offline" maps all at one go. Seriously, I bookmarked so many places and it had everything to help you with that even while writing this piece, I had to refer back to the map to review the locations I visited.
Waylo: A hotel chat bot that saves you up to 30% compared to other websites. It is almost like Google search engine or a travel counsellor who'll help you out through a chat widget linked to FB messenger to source the best hotel deals for you. If you want your travel hassle-free and affordable, and take a peek at how technology can really help you to get what you want, check this out.
Google Translate: I lost count the numerous times that Google Translate had helped me especially in Iran and Georgia. From "I know where your address is" to "I know you're blood" in Iran and lost in translation in the mountains of Svaneti in Georgia.
Flights (Including return ticket home to Malaysia): $711 (Note: my return ticket back home costs me 400 euros because of the distance, otherwise the rest of the tickets were budget-friendly and totalled up to $300)
Buses & Metros: $130
Activities (Tours, Sightseeing, Skiing): $250
Food (Groceries & Meals): $201
Miscelleneous (Gifts and simcards): $120
Grand Total: $1,800
Some Context Here:
I love walking so that's what I did - walk or take the metro. Taxis and car pool rides only happens when I have too much luggage but I am mostly a light traveller.
Hitchhike only in places where you think it's possible and feels comfortable. I decided to do so in Iran and Georgia.
Because I was couchsurfing, and as part of the whole culture exchange, I would usually try and cook for my hosts as much as possible.
Not a fan of sightseeing and visiting museums. In Iran, I was very selective about the places that I wanted to visit and in Europe, while there are plenty of art galleries and museums, it was X'mas and New Year's time so it was hard to visit places and instead I explored the various Christmas markets.
That's pretty much it. I could not cover every single place about how to backpack Europe or the best places to travel for cheap, because I don't think we all have the patience to sit through a lengthy post. Wait for my next post on this. But I do hope you find this piece useful.
In short, travel need not be expensive if you lock down a budget, focus on the places that you'd ideally like to visit, and don't get too stressed with the cost issues, you'll be fine.
Skip the articles that tell you about the places that "you should" travel. There are no right or wrong ways; I feel you should only go to places that you truly want to go to and not fall into this romanticised notion just because X person had written great things about it.
Is there a route you think many people may not know about? Let me know in the comments below on the travel routes that you thought was interesting.
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