Budget breakdowns & travel options 18 months into pandemic

Ellen stands on a tidal sand bar on Boracay Island in the Philippines.

Last Updated on May 23, 2023 by Ellen

Readers contacted me recently to ask about our monthly budgets in different parts of the world. It seems travel is back on for adventurous wanderers.

These recent requests got me thinking about money. And travel. And time. And life. Because, you know, Life is Now – not later.

When our slow travel ‘pause’ is over, I anticipate higher expenses in addition to added uncertainty in the ‘new normal’. COVID tests, higher airfare and food prices are part of the ‘new normal’.

Can a couple still travel the world comfortably on a monthly budget of $2,000? When are we going to give it a try?

Budget breakdowns

Our “budget breakdowns” showed readers that for $2,000 a month, a couple could enjoy a comfortable slow travel lifestyle outside the USA.

Before the pandemic, in our last month as slow travelers in the Philippines, we spent $1,250, which left an $750 surplus. When we stopped traveling, our living expenses decreased, but our outflow increased.

As Theo wrote more than one year ago:

“… the ‘donations’ category dwarfs the other expenses this month. In fact, we can safely say, we’ve never ‘given away’ so much money before. But as we all know, there’s never been a global situation like this before, either.

Thus, we are doing what we can to help those around us in a variety of ways: paying bills, supplementing food stocks, providing job opportunities, assisting with sustainability projects.”

Theo, Earth Vagabonds expense report for June 2020

That hasn’t changed.

We are happy to help, and we are blessed to be in a situation to do so. While most of our readers know of our projects to help the Ati – a marginalized indigenous tribe – we also help many Filipino families in many ways.

We have not broken down our expenses for nearly a year because we’ve been “slow living” and donating, instead of “slow traveling” and splurging.

We last shared our budget breakdown in October 2020.

Today, our living expenses are about the same.

The biggest change since then:

  • Our housing costs increased
    • we pay a third more in rent
    • we pay the entire electric bill

As Theo wrote, “…a couple could live here comfortably, long term, for approximately $1,000 per month.”

So the rest of our budget – and then some – has been shared with people struggling to survive.

We still help our Ati friends. But these days, Filipinos are increasingly desperate. We do what we can, though sometimes it feels like a molecule in a drop in the ocean.

Related: Fishing, farming, feeding families

Virtually everyone in this area has had practically zero income for nearly 1.5 years, since foreign tourists were banned from entering the country.

The new normal is a dreadful reality for so many people:

  • Filipinos have had their electric and water services turned off
  • More people live in huts on the beach, or live with extended family because they can’t afford rent
  • Increased suicides are still part of the sad reality here
  • Boracay business owners say they might not survive beyond 2021 (and also on the mainland)
  • Controversial casinos are planned for Boracay because of a desperate need for money

Boracay is deserted. You can have beautiful White Beach all to yourself.

You only have to share that beauty with the no-see-ums (sand flies). It’s that time of year again when the bites from the tiny beasts are more dreadful than Komodo dragons.

The big question is when will the Philippines let in foreign tourists? Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and other regional countries are set to open up, despite surges. Europe is open. Central and South American countries are open. It seems there is a new trend to treat the pandemic as endemic.

That might even be happening in the Philippines, which has had one of the longest and strongest lockdown measures on the planet. (Though the officials never call it a ‘lockdown’.)

Hope is fading for Christmas 2021 tourism here in the Philippines, but it’s still strong for early 2022.

And like last year, the hotel industry is about to launch another ‘SOS’ sale for domestic tourists, because some travelers on White Beach are better than no travelers at all.

Travel options

As of this writing, we’ve been here at the Hangout Beach Resort in Malay, Aklan, Philippines for nearly 18 months. Mind blowing to me.

Even as a kid, I traveled. Summers in Florida. Trips to North Carolina and Virginia. As a young adult, I always went somewhere outside the region where I lived. Every single year. When I met Theo, we took international trips at least twice a year.

So this is the longest stretch of time I’ve remained in one single spot on the planet in my entire 50 years on Earth 18 months – 1.5 years in one place. Also mind blowing to me.

Before the pandemic, I had planned a trip ‘home’ for a few months. Theo and I were to later meet in India for a year of slow travel. I’ve always wanted to experience India.

We could pick up that plan and rework it a bit.

  • I could return ‘home’ and meet up with Theo somewhere in the world that makes sense for our slow travel budget lifestyle in an endemic pandemic reality.
    • He could stay here while I’m ‘home’, or go to Thailand, or…?
  • I could delay a trip home and we could leave the Philippines together before Christmas, or after Christmas, or…?
  • If global travel options tank, we could wait longer and stay the three years allowed by our tourist visas (we came to the Philippines in November 2019, so we have until November 2022).

I have not made a decision yet, but that last option is not likely for me.

Honestly, I am ready to leave Southeast Asia. The tropical weather and the bugs really get to me. A day of brown tap water after torrential rain and newly hatched, incessant mosquitoes don’t bother Theo. As I write this, I have three new mosquito bites despite makeshift netting and fans. And let’s not even talk about the ants that bite my feet when I step out of bed or when I’m hand washing laundry. I also don’t want to get into the worm story.

Our Facebook group has many members out traveling again. It’s not the same. It’s a changed world, to be sure. But they’re out there doing it. I’m envious. I’m restless. And yet: I’m also OK with where we are. I’ve adapted, adjusted, and I overcome. Every day.

I keep talking about fixing book #1 and writing book #2. Staying here months longer would help me achieve the book dream. I need to apply myself to the effort – no matter where I end up.

Nothing is set yet for our travel plans, but we are in active discussions about what might come next as we watch what happens in the Philippines and elsewhere.

In the meantime, I’ll make the most of my time here, however long that will be. And I’ll still do what I can to help people. I hope we are all doing that in this crazy new normal.

As always, be grateful and generous, happy trails and more serenity!

Life is Now. Not later.

4 thoughts on “Budget breakdowns & travel options 18 months into pandemic”

    1. Awesome! Two great Mexican cities with amenities, yet still areas that are not overtouristed (if that’s not a real word, it’s still a thing). I hope you’re having a great time.
      We do look at Mexico, especially me. But ultimately we are still hangin’ onto hope we can see things on this side of the world before we head back to that side. We will wait a little longer before decision time…….

  1. We have been traveling through Mexico and can tell you that it has not changed much since the pandemic started and they didn’t close their borders. We’ve been all through Baja California down to Merida and Chetumal. We are now exploring the Central Highlands again as flights on Volaris have been so cheap. (Just booked Tijuana to Puebla for $130 USD for both of us), for early next year as well. So I can set your mind at ease in that Mexico
    is still a bargain and one can live like a King on 2000 US. One other positive is that the mask mandate both inside and outdoors are very much enforced. We feel more safe here than in the states. Happy planning!

    1. Thanks, Dina! We just talked about Mexico last night. We want to see if we can wait it out a little longer on this side of the planet… and we will return to Mexico one day because I love it! Enjoy your wanderings!

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