As promised here is my full breakdown of the backpacking cost for a couple in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately I neglected to keep a record of expenditure during the first few weeks. We were volunteering for most of this time so all meals and accommodation were free. Had I included this period in the budget calculation, no doubt the average daily spend would have been significantly lower.
As is, the £34.03 daily average is an excellent guide to the true cost of backpacking in Sri Lanka as a married couple. Anyone wishing to come here for a long term backpacking trip should find this amount sufficient.
High Season and Low Season
Sri Lanka experiences seasonal monsoons on both sides of the island at different times of year. Therefore when its high season on the east, its low season on the west and vice versa.
As with all destinations, December is the most expensive time when prices can triple in some places. Prices for accommodation do drop in low season however by up to 50%. We experienced both extremes during our trip.
We are cheap asses. We did splurge on rooms occasionally, sometimes paying as much as £40 per night. On the whole, we took care to choose places at the bottom end of the budget scale. All of the rooms were doubles. When we chose AC we were paying on average about 30% more than for a fan only room. Our cheapest room was in Sigiriya, £7 per night.
This category includes all restaurant meals and snacks. We ate mainly cheap local dishes with the occasional western meal thrown in. It does not include fruit, canned or dried goods purchased in the supermarket. These are under the Household category.
We took local buses wherever possible. We left early in the mornings and tried to arrive at our destination before 11am to avoid the hottest time of day. Buses are ridiculously cheap. You can travel hundreds of miles for a £1.
We used Tuc-Tucs to get around town. These cost about 25p per kilometre if you get an honest driver. We did get ripped off once in Colombo and ended up paying almost £10 for 2km journey.
The entertainment budget includes tours, day trips, local guides, entrance fees to attractions and alcohol. If we went Whale watching for example and hired a Tuc-Tuc to drop us at the harbour, the fare was included in this category rather than in transport.
A cold beer at the end of the day is how you relax when backpacking. All alcoholic drinks are included in this category as well as purchases like ice and lemonade mixers. We never drank in bars preferring to get cheap beers from a shop and enjoy them back at the guesthouse.
Water started off in its own category but I quickly realised it was a pain in the arse. We always ordered water with every meal and rarely got a receipt. Accurately separating out the water cost proved too difficult. We also purchased large gallon drums of the stuff from the supermarket for next to nothing. Once more, separating out the items on the supermarket bill proved annoying so we created a category called Household and lumped it in there.
Think of this category as the weekly shop. It includes all types of things you might buy from the supermarket. Toiletries, coffee, mosquito repellent, headache pills, water, nuts, fruit, and so on.
A little shopping at the supermarket can really help keep your costs down.
We were good tippers back in England but on the road it feels like you’re throwing away money. Constant big tipping also has a destabilising effect on the local economy and forces up prices for any backpackers that follow. We were politely asked not to tip in several establishments and advised against it by some of our Sri Lankan friends.
We refrained from automatic tipping preferring to make personal connections with people by being polite and conversational. Sometimes we gave small gifts such as biscuits or fruit. On a few occasions after frequenting the same place for a while we tipped on our last visit as a kind of goodbye thank you. We tipped in situations where we felt the person might lose face had we not done so. We also tipped or gave to beggars where it was obvious the person was extremely poor.
Solo Backpacking vs Backpacking as a Couple
Naturally as a couple we are able to take advantage of some small economies of scale. It’s around 30% cheaper for example to book a double room than it is to book 2 single rooms. Also many meals and often transport costs are effectively shared when you are man and wife.
If you are a solo backpacker, I would suggest a budget of around £25 per day will get you by in Sri Lanka.
If you can buddy up with some other travellers and share some costs you should be able to bring it down to around £20 per day. Naturally a small emergency fund is highly recommended if you are travelling on such a small budget. You should have at least enough for a few days in hospital and a flight home.
Flights and One-Off Purchases
Everyone knows flights are expensive. It didn’t make sense to me to warp the daily budget amounts with flight and airport costs. For the same reason, one-off large expenses are also not included.
We flew in and we flew out and paid about £100 per person per ticket, £400 in total. Whilst it’s true that this is the only sensible way in and out of Sri Lanka the same cannot be said for many countries around the world where land border crossings are commonplace and free.
Thus, to get a real sense of how expensive a country is and to afford accurate comparisons from one to the next, these big expenses had to be left out.
You simply have to have insurance. Navi and I use True Traveller. We paid £700 for an 18 month family policy which covers us both for all but the most extreme activities.
Once more, this was a cost I chose not to include in the daily budget.
Establishing a Daily Budget
Our daily budget is determined by our income. Regular readers will know that Navi and I own a property in the UK and we also invest in the stock market. Our combined income from all sources is around £50 per day.
We selected accommodation and purchases accordingly being careful not to overspend.
Backpacking Cost for a Couple in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka was cheap. Not as cheap as India but it still ranks among the very cheapest destinations worldwide. I’d highly recommend Sri Lanka to anyone wishing to travel long term on a budget.
In the 40 days since records began we spent a total of £107.36 on alcohol. £94.22 was spent on Lion beer.
We spent £51.60 on breakfast and £161.65 on dinner.
We spent just £17.84 on buses but £36.48 on Tuc-Tucs.
We stayed in AC rooms for 31 days and spent a total of £651.75.
We slummed it with fan rooms for a total of 9 days spending just £110.76.