In total, we spent exactly seven months (to the day) in India and Nepal. Not too bad for a honeymoon, we like to brag to each other. We’ve since met a few recently married people who spoke loftily about having taken two weeks for their honeymoon, “because the typical one week just wouldn’t do, ya’know?” We know. So how did it feel to be living out of a carry-on size backpack for such a large amount of time? Absolutely wonderful. We loved the total freedom and independence of going anywhere we wanted, whenever we wanted, with no set itinerary other than a general desire to see certain places when they had decent weather.
South Asia really is a perfect backpacker-style travel destination, and not just because of the minimal costs. We saw such a variety of scenery and cultures that looking back it’s hard to believe we only visited two countries. From the Buddhist monasteries and high alpine scenery of Ladakh, to the Himalayas of Nepal, to deserts of Rajastan, and the tropical beaches of Goa and palm-lined waterways of Kerala, and so much in between, this part of the world has so much to offer. Wonderful ancient history and art are spread throughout the subcontinent, the culture is fascinating, and you really have to work to be bored in most places. Of course not everyone would enjoy the subcontinent; you have to be able to look beyond the dirt and frequent stench, the poverty, crowds, the hassles, and you’d better have a sense of patience and humor. But if you’re able to embrace the lifestyle here and not get hung up on the more difficult aspects, you’ll find a place that is absolutely exploding in color, music, tastes, and a wonderful enthusiasm for life. We miss it.
We know many of you are curious about how a young couple, without the types of careers (and salaries!) that would preclude dropping off the US map for seven months, could afford such a trip. Well, it’s quite simple: India and Nepal are cheap. Very cheap. We found that we could enjoy ourselves just fine on an average of about $30 USD a day (as a couple, so $15/day per person). Honestly that was without really worrying about the budget that much, at least by our dirtbag standards. That’s not to say India can’t be expensive; there are plenty of luxurious options for dining and hotels where the sky is the limit for costs, and trains that cost more than flying. We just happen to be happy eating in local style restaurants and sleeping in, uh, “atmospheric” hotels. Take the dirt cheap and not too bad sleeper class trains to get around, learn not to get ripped off too egregiously by the rickshaw drivers, and you’re set. There were plenty of days when we spent less than $10, and we probably could have averaged that if we’d really scrimped, plenty of people do. I just don’t think it would be very fun. We spent about $3400 on airfare, consisting of two sets of one-way tickets purchased through Kayak.com. Visas ended up costing about $400 ($100 per person for one year in India, and $100 p/p factoring in extensions for 90 total days in Nepal), and we spent about $600 for (unused, but you really need to have it) medical and evacuation insurance from Worldnomads.com. Immunizations were a few hundred bucks, but most last a long time and we wanted them for future trips also; I’m still factoring them into the total trip cost, which is: about $11,000. We made it a priority to save travel funds and lived very frugally (we were lucky in that we had parents who let us crash with them for that time rent free) for about five months while working a couple jobs each. We were able to save enough for the trip and some money to come home to without much difficulty, and we consider travel a better investment than a new car or plusher lifestyle.
I have certainly wondered many times if we’re being irresponsible by not starting our “real life.” This year will mark yet another that I’ll be putting off going to graduate school, and a great many people would snort upon reading my previous sentence equating “travel” with “investment.” But it’s hard to put a price tag on freedom and personal growth, and the opportunity to travel and see so much while spending so much time with someone you love. We’re really not interested in home ownership at this time; a mortgage sounds like a huge and unwelcome anchor, the investment value is uncertain, and the taxes and insurance alone would pay for a decent apartment in many parts of the world that we’d like to live in. We’re not interested in most material goods, so that leaves saving for retirement, but the financial events of the last year have convinced me that security in this age is an illusion, and there really is no “safe route.” Had we invested our money in the stock market we could easily have lost half of it, and not experienced a trip of a lifetime. There is no telling what the future will hold, so we’re planning for it as best we can while living life as fully as we can at the same time. We’ve spent the last five months saving up a nice sum of money working as servers out here in New York, and we’re spending this winter living in Alta, Utah, where we’ll ski everyday in some of the best snow in the world. After that, who knows, we’ve got some extended sea kayak journeys in mind, and South America is sounding pretty good.