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I first visited Thailand over 20 years ago and back then it was dirt cheap. I think I spent a total of $1000 for a 2 week backpacking trip from Bangkok to Singapore, including my airfare from the US! Now I have returned as a family of 4 and it doesn’t always feel like it’s the greatest deal around anymore.
When researching to move our family from Spain to Southeast Asia, I would scour the web for costs. Some people share their costs, but not usually to the detail I am looking for. I did find several solo A Little Adrift and couple bloggers TielandtoThailand, in the Chiang Mai area sharing their costs. I would make up some fake calculation to try to estimate what things would cost our family of 4 and go from there.
Now that we have arrived in Chiang Mai and found our short-term rental apartment, we are starting to settle in. I am finally having a free moment to check all of the finances and see what the heck we have done for the past few months. We did expect to spend about the same during our Europe portion of our travels as we did last summer for our 6 week European road trip and we did.
Our summer months of travel in Amsterdam, Belgium, France and Sweden came in at about $5200 a month. Not bad when you consider it was high season and we were moving fast and furious around Europe in a little bit of luxury too.
We didn’t hold back with the activities and really enjoyed ourselves. All of this was fine with the thought that we would be able to spend a bit less while living in Southeast Asia and it would all balance out.
First of all let me be clear, living costs in Thailand can cover any budget range. It all depends on your comfort levels and choices. When I was visiting back in the 90’s, I was a true budget backpacker. To be honest, as a family of 4, that just isn’t our style.
Thailand Inexpensive? Let’s see…
During our first month in Thailand, we spent a week in Bangkok, a week on the island of Koh Chang, a week at a guest house in Chiang Mai and a week in our 3-month apartment rental in Chiang Mai. So as you can see, we weren’t really “settled”. A big change I noticed from my visit 20+ years ago, is that there are many western comforts now (fast food, restaurants, clothing, toilets, hotels). These just didn’t exist back then or they were extremely rare.
After 2 years of living in small town Spain, our family went into an “I miss American food frenzy”. It was great to have access to foods we hadn’t had in quite some time. This is all well and good, but does come at a much higher price. We even splurged a bit on our accommodations.
A little nicer hotel or guesthouse, not to mention a bigger apartment, spending 23,000 baht a month ($719). Which would allow the kids to each have their own bedroom and we could also live in a nice neighborhood. Yes, there was cheaper, much cheaper, but it just wasn’t our style.
Street food is yummy and we have had a ball trying new things. It just isn’t realistic for us to eat out 100% of the time. As we travel, I am sure the time will come where that is our only option.
We were all tired of eating out, so we stocked up our kitchen at the apartment, we had no trouble filling up those shopping carts with the $5 small jar of JiF peanut butter (missed from US) or the $10 jar of Nutella (missed from Spain). No, we went ahead and allowed the splurge on several items. Why not? Comfort food helps us all adapt to the change, healthy or unhealthy, that’s what we do.
We all missed home cooked meals, so we started cooking some favorites (Red soup, curry casserole, chicken tacos, pancakes etc). Again, seems harmless enough, but the ingredients for some things do come at a cost. Maple syrup (13 oz) $5, flour tortillas $7 (pack of 10), hard corn tortillas $5 (pack of 8 broken shells). We have since done some searching and found each of these for about $3.
We found public transportation in Thailand inexpensive too. For about $0.65 you can hop in a songthaew and go anywhere in the city. Once you multiply that times 4 people, it is about $2.60 for each journey, one-way. So if we just went once a day, round trip that would be $5.20 a day and $156 a month! It can really add up when you are a family of 4.
All of this to say, we have been splurging and compromising a bit more than anticipated. But then something happened and I went into a real funk.
Time for Heidi to hit Funky Town
After living in our apartment for 2 weeks, we received an electricity bill. In fact we received 2 electricity bills.
Our apartment is actually a 2 bedroom and a studio connected to make a 3 bedroom. The electric meter in the building still counts them as 2 apartments. So we received a bill for our master bedroom and bath and then another bill for the main living area (2 bedrooms, bath, living room and kitchen). The bills are calculated on the 25th of each month, so each of our bills was for 10 days. The grand total for both bills was 1900 baht! ($60)
Isn’t Thailand Inexpensive?
In Spain we didn’t have AC and our utilities were included in our rent, so we haven’t paid and electric bill in over 2 years.
That is when I spiraled into a crazy funk. I quickly did the math and realized that we would be spending $180 a month on electricity, if we kept living the way we were living. You see, we had been running the AC, just as we did in all of the hotels. We have an AC unit in each bedroom and in the main living area. We let them run all day and especially, when we are sleeping at night.
We were also cooking in the kitchen! That is not too common in Thailand. Ha!
Everything is electric, even the water heater.
Oh, I was a mess. My initial thought “This was really going to blow our budget!”.
Heidi the Nagging Budget B**** (family friendly blog, family friendly blog)
For 2 days, I was in a not so nice panic. I was constantly nagging at the family to turn off the AC or adjust the temp.
NO! Don’t cook french fries in the toaster oven.
I was going crazy (but the family doesn’t realize I still held back some) and well it didn’t take too long for the family to sound off. They made it very clear, we couldn’t live like this and I couldn’t live like that either. It was not all paradise, in the Wagoners Abroad Chiang Mai camp.
I felt unappreciated for all of the planning and trying to keep the family on a budget. How come everyone else doesn’t just naturally understand, this all costs money?
I had become my own family’s worst nightmare. I felt like I worked so hard to get us here and planned everything, but I didn’t plan for all of the American food and western comforts for a lengthy time. I didn’t plan for crazy electric bills (which are in our complete control). The family didn’t like having to watch their every move. UG!
What kind of pickle do I have us in?
My mind was racing and it drifted all over the place.
“Oh, we are going to go through our money so fast, we will have to return to the US much sooner than we wanted.”
“We are going to need to find jobs and earn some money.”
“Maybe we should just go back to the States and give everyone the comforts they miss?”
“It would be so great to see family and friends regularly.”
“Then, everyone will miss travel, adventure and experiences!”
“We would be bored out of our minds and long for culture and people we have met.”
You see, the best part about our lifestyle is that we get to explore and experience new things everyday. We meet wonderful people, taste new foods, embrace the culture and traditions. No matter where we are or what we do, we get attached. We get attached to people, food, locations, traditions and then we move on. We move on and miss those things and people.
It doesn’t matter if it is the USA, Spain, Budapest, London, Morocco, Thailand or any other place we’ve been. We “miss” something from everyplace we have been. So you see, it isn’t really that we miss the USA, it is the people and the things. We also miss the people and the things from Spain, just as much.
That is the curse of long-term travel. You open your heart, your minds and your mouth and allow the new in. You fall in love with the new and when it is no longer there, you miss it. It doesn’t matter where we live, it happens. There will always be something missed.
Back to Butterflies and Waterfalls
I think the entire family is learning, growing and embracing all that is presented. It will last as long as it was meant to be. I needed to remember, we are a family of 4 and we aren’t the extreme budget family who will sleep all in one bed to save money. We all need certain comforts to keep peace in the family and to make this adventure comfortable enough for us all to enjoy the experience.
Back to the Electric Bill
We had the apartment manager monitor our electricity usage for 24 hours, so we could see where we needed to make adjustments. To be honest, we made the request thinking they overcharged us and didn’t zero out the meter/log when we moved in. After the assessment, it turns out it was all ours!
We owned that electric bill and used every bit of energy it said we did!
We are at home most of the day, so not the typical family that leaves for 8-10 hours. We are using 4 laptops for work and homeschool, which all adds to the electric bill. We now use the AC occasionally (hot time of day and at night) and monitor our cooking to some extent. We will see if we have a handle on things next month. If not, well then we have a high electric bill.
I know, I know, you are just dying to send us $200 a month so we can have AC right? (wink wink) Not to worry, just hit that “Donate” button on the sidebar of our home page and it can be so.
Breathe, Stay Calm – It will all come out in the wash
Which reminds me, I need to write about our laundry situation. Oh and be on the look out for a post on other things that we’ve been having fun washing.
In the grand scheme of things, it should all average out with some other costs.
– In Spain we were paying about $200 a month for communications. This included 2 mobile phone contracts and internet in our apartment.
– In Thailand our internet is about $30 a month. We have paid a grand total of $20 for 2 SIM cards with phone minutes and 1 GB of data.
Travel: This should be much lower than it was in Spain, as we don’t own a car and plan to do most of our exploring around town, for the next couple of months.
So I have finally calmed down a bit. If we all make small changes it should be just fine and we should remain on track for our $3000 / month budget. Again, a family could live on much less than that here in Chiang Mai or in Thailand, but we are going with the keep the family happy route. I will share our costs and spending with you as time goes on, so we will see how we do.
Wagoners Abroad continues with the journey to prove a family can find Thailand inexpensive.
Just a reminder, we don’t mind sharing the details. If it can help you, we share! Go ahead and check out how much it cost to live in Spain for a year too.