As a backpacker, you’re trying to cut costs wherever possible, which will enable you to keep travelling longer. Food and drink can be expensive, especially in big cities, and it’s easy to spend more than you’d planned if you don’t keep track.
Setting yourself a daily or weekly budget is an easy way to monitor spending. I find that keeping a set amount of cash in your wallet is the most effective way to budget, but that’s just me. It provides you with a constant, physical reminder of the remaining funds for the day. If you plan weekly, and you know you have a big party, birthday meal or other event coming up, you can offset the cost by cutting down on other days in the week.
Most forums I’ve checked say $20 a day is a realistic budget, but I’ve managed to do $10 a day, for 3 meals and drinks. It’s obviously nothing gourmet, and if you can afford more per day then by all means, budget more, but this is the absolute basic.
We do a couple of food shops a week, as hostels don’t tend to have freezers or ovens, and food can get stolen/used from fridges by other people (even when it’s labelled). Doing food shops this frequently also means the items are fresh, as you don’t want to get ill from eating something that’s not been stored properly.
Probably worth saying that we don’t include eating out at restaurants or buying booze, on this budget. These costs are extras for a special occasion, and we’ll make sure we’ve got enough left over on the budget before treating ourselves. Some takeaways are actually as cheap as the product would cost in the shops, so we’ve included a couple below. There are also public BBQ’s all over Australia which are free to use, where you can flip a few burgers or “put another shrimp on the barbie“.
Meal Prep is the key – Cooking in the hostel is the easiest way to cut down costs, and cooking in bulk, for a group or even just 2 people, for a few days meals will save significantly. We tend to shop at places like Coles, Aldi and Woolies, which often have items on offer, making them the cheapest place to get your groceries from. If you cook enough for a couple of days, it also means you can be a bit more lazy and only have to cook a few times a week, which is perfect for travelling.
– The super cheap option: 1kg of Muesli/Oatmeal ($2.20) will last you a week, which equates to $0.32 a day. Whole milk ($1.20) will last a week ($0.17/day) for a grand total of roughly $0.50 a day.
– The Average Joe’s option: If you’re not a cereal person, 1 loaf of wholewheat bread ($1.80) will give you a weeks worth of toast ($0.26/day), and you can use this for your lunches. Spreads vary in price, but you can get standard jam, marmalade or peanut butter for just over a buck. It’ll last you a few weeks so we’ll say $0.10 a day for a grand total of $0.36 a day.
– The takeaway option: There’s lots of places to grab breakfast in Sydney, which can range from $5-$15 per meal. The coffee alone is $3.50-$5 if you’re going to a cafe. I don’t have anywhere specific to recommend right now as we’ve had breakfast at the hostel since we arrived, but it’s obviously more expensive than making it yourself.
– The super cheap option: 1 pack of Noodles ($0.50) which you could add some veg to.
– The Average Joe’s option: 4 Bread rolls ($1) or bread from your loaf with 500g chicken ($4) which is enough for two lunches ($2.50 a lunch)
– The takeaway option: Subway do a $7 sub of the day, which you could wolf down in one sitting, or save half for the next day ($3.50 a lunch)
– The super cheap option: Tuna Pasta – A basic meal that’s both quick and easy to make, only requires one saucepan too so it’s less to wash up afterwards.
1kg of pasta ($1), 1 jar of pasta sauce ($2) and a tin of tuna ($1.80) and this will make 4 dinners (or 2 dinners each, as we cook together). If you’re calculating the cost of the individual meal, you’re looking at $1.20 for dinner.
The Average Joe’s option: Beef Tacos, Enchiladas, Fajitas, Quesadillas; Mexicans were great at combining meat and cheese, chucking in some sauce or spice and serving it all in a tortilla wrap/shell. They all work out as roughly the same price and items used are roughly the same quantity.
500g Beef mince or Chicken ($5), Tortilla wraps ($2), Cheddar Cheese ($3), Taco seasoning ($1.65), Iceberg Lettuce ($1.50), Tomato ($1) and Sour Cream ($1.50). This meal will easily feed two or more people. Based on two meals it’s a grand total of $7.83 a meal.
– The takeaway option: Domino’s pizza is really cheap in Australia, only $5 for value pizzas if you’re collecting. Check out the available toppings here. If you are not a big eater, you could share the pizza with someone else. Sydney has an enormous Asian community, so Chinese, Thai and Sushi are all pretty cheap if you go during happy hour. We would get 4 medium side Sushi rolls for $5 in the evening, reduced from the standard price of $9.
Nuts – Really good source of protein. I tend to buy cashews ($5.50) and will have a handful a day. A 200g will last me a week. If you want pistachios they are closer to $10, or if you are happy with peanuts then they are about $3.
Fruit – Ideally 5 of these a day, but you can get away with 2 or 3 as a backpacker. I budget about $2 which will get you 3 of your average apples, bananas, oranges etc. Another popular fruit which will really quench your thirst is Watermelon, which you can buy in quarters or as a whole. They work out about $3 a quarter which can easily be split with someone else.
Water – In Australia you drink a lot of liquid clouds due to the heat. Use a refillable bottle, and there are usually regular fill up spots around the cities.
Coffee – I bought 100g of instant coffee ($3), and it’ll last me a few weeks. Alternatively, 7-Eleven’s do a small coffee (black, latte, cappuccino, flat white) for $1 and it’s actually pretty good.
Alcohol – Beers can be quite pricey, unless you’re buying a large crate, which is then difficult to lug about between hostels. I go full backpacker and drink from the silver pillow of death, Goon. It’s cheap, sweet and gets you drunk in a heartbeat. It’s usually between $10 and $15 for a 5 litre box (6.6 bottles of wine) and will last me a week – it’s more of a social drink so you tend to buy one and share it around, I certainly don’t drink 5 litres of wine to myself in a week.
Mix and match with these basic budgets, to create one that suits you, and hopefully it will be around $10.