Budget Tips: Unexpected Travel Costs While Backpacking

Unexpected Travel Costs

While most budget travelers are already conscious of great deals and do not make frivolous decisions, sometimes that isn’t enough to keep expenses down. Sometimes there are unexpected costs that occur while backpacking that are difficult, if not impossible, to anticipate.

Types of Unexpected Travel Expenses

From healthcare to flights, there are many costs that can explode when things don’t go your way on a trip. Instead of covering a vast list of hypothetical expenses that could arise on any trip, I am going to run through my personal list of unexpected costs that popped up throughout my trip in Southeast Asia. All of these things happened in a short four month span and came to a total of $926. Here is the chronological list:

1. Got ripped off in a Vietnamese taxi in Ho Chi Minh City ($22)

This one is pretty common in any country, but it was especially hurtful because I was with a friend who lived in Vietnam AND we both fully understood what was happening. So why didn’t we simply walk out and ignore the absurd price? Easier said than done. Once we saw the meter fluctuating rapidly we told him it must be broken. He proceeded to yell at us and make what sounded like threats in Vietnamese. It was my first week in Asia, so I thought $11 each was worth the escape. By the end of the trip, I would have just been screaming back in his face.

2. Hospital visit in Luang Prabang, Laos for lung infection ($66)

There isn’t much you can do when you get sick except be glad you bought traveler’s health insurance. This was my first hospital visit out of many. The blood test, chest x-ray, and medicine were only $66 total, but the facilities at Luang Prabang Provincial Hospital were pretty dirty and in the end I got antibiotics that weren’t strong enough to kill my infection. Any healthcare visit will be paid for at the time of service, so it is important to have a little extra cash available if you need it.

3. Mailed package home from Laos with gifts/souvenirs ($65)

After a few months of aggregating souvenirs, gifts, and new clothing, you start to realize that you can’t carry all of these new items in your backpack. In Laos, I decided I had collected enough items to send a package home and lighten my load. Unfortunately, I had just less than the necessary weight to ship the package by sea ($40), so I had to ship it by air, which was more expected. Make sure you know the different pricing segments before you commit to mail something internationally.

4. Emergency Room Visit in Thakhek, Laos ($18)

Not only did my lung infection get worse while we were on a motorbike loop in Thakhek, I also got stung by a couple of hornets in the forest and went to the emergency room (two days later). The hospital was able to treat my stings, but once again I was given the wrong antibiotics for my lung infection.

5. Hospital visits in Phnom Penh, Cambodia ($364)

In Phnom Penh I finally got the antibiotics I needed and my lung infection went away within a few days. After the bad experiences in the rural hospitals, I went to the most modern and highest reviewed hospital, which was also the most expensive.

6. Motorbike traffic violation ticket in Chiang Mai, Thailand ($16)

In Thailand, the law states that every tourist needs to get a Thai permit to drive a motorbike or car. The permit only costs $5, but the issue is that it takes a full day to go through the lessons. So, when we rented motorbikes, we knew we didn’t want to get pulled over. The first time we were on the bikes we were pulled over by a police officer within minutes. He said we had gone the wrong way down a one way alley while leaving Chiang Mai (complete bullshit). Instead of getting dragged down to the station, we gave him 1,000 Baht for the two of us and then he actually led us where we wanted to go.

7. Hospital visits in Chiang Mai, Thailand ($289)

Even once my lung infection had cleared up, I had developed temporary asthma from the infection, a hereditary trait I have. For the fourth time I had to go the hospital and get steroid inhalers and other medicine to help heal my lungs.

8. Motorbike damage from crash in Thai mountains ($58)

Deep in the mountains of Northern Thailand on the Mae Hong Song motorbike loop, the roads were slick with gasoline and my entire group slid out on our bikes. We had been smart and wore jeans, long sleeve shirts, helmets, etc., but our bikes took a thrashing. My damage was limited to $58, but my friend had to pay closer to $150. After three motorbike loops and a lot of driving, this was not a cost I was expecting to have.

9. Hotel room damage in Bangkok, Thailand ($29)

If there was one city I could have guessed I would pay for hotel damage, I would like to think I would have said Bangkok. Like the drunken tourist I was, I somehow scraped my knee one night out and got blood all over the sheets and blankets on my bed. Because I am such an honest and upstanding guy, but mostly because we had a few more nights in the room, I went to the front desk and told them about the blood. In the end, they charged me about $30 for all of the damaged items.

10. Prepaid for hotel but had to leave Koh Tao, Thailand early ($10)

Last but not least, I lost $10 when I prepaid for a hotel room only to find out that my visa expired and I needed to get going to Malaysia. Luckily, this wasn’t a big deal because I was in a cheap guesthouse.

Preparing for Unexpected Costs

There are a lot of things that can go wrong when your traveling. Some people get robbed, some people break a leg, and some people get arrested. The only thing you can do is prepare the best you can and try to make smart decisions while on the road.

One thing I did to prepare for the unexpected was purchased travel insurance from World Nomads. I was able to get reimbursed for nearly all of my medical bills. The only things I couldn’t get paid back for were medicines I bought on the street with on receipt and one hospital test I didn’t get a receipt for. Always ask for a receipt!

It’s important to note that I had an especially prolonged infection and hereditary reaction to it that caused me to spend at least 50% more on hospital visits. While this won’t happen to the average person, buying travel insurance is still something to consider. Don’t get caught abroad in a situation where you don’t have the money to pay for something you absolutely need.

Do you have some crazy or funny stories about unexpected costs for your adventures? Please share in the comments section below!


  1. Fibri April 17, 2017
    • pvrouvas April 17, 2017

Add Comment