24 Countries; 13 months; RM50,000: How I trekked half the globe on a budget

Armed with a backpack and all the money he had left to his name, 30 year old Jason David trekked through the wilds of Mongolia to the cities of Europe, fulfilling a lifetime dream.

If I had to describe my trip, I’d break it into three parts: the warm up, the hardcore and the ‘I-don’t-want-to-see-my-backpack-anymore’! Jason laughs over Skype.

Jason David, 30 is calling from Dublin, Ireland after a whirlwind 13 months of travelling. He’s now found ‘base’ in Dublin where he plans to recuperate and build his finances before heading to South America.

In these 13 months, the former Malaysian Team Leader from the American Express customer service centre has seen 49 cities in 24 countries. It was hard tabulating. I’ve only listed the places that I actually spent some time in as opposed to just passing through. He said. Which means the number is much larger.

On a trip of a lifetime

Like most youths; Jason dreamt of seeing the world but he never had the funds. I could never save. I’d spend all my money every month. The only responsible financial decision I made was to buy a house at 23.

Jason worked for eight years at American Express and just before he left, was earning approximately RM6000, but he felt unfulfilled. I told my parents: I have the rest of my life to work but I’ll never be young enough again to go through vigorous travelling. They thought I was mad. They wanted me to do what ‘normal’ people did: get a job; buy a house; get promoted; then marry and give them grandchildren. He chortled.

But Jason was sure he didn’t want to be ordinary.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. My mum gave me the silent treatment for a week but soon realised that I wasn’t going to back down. I sold my house; quit my job and left. I didn’t plan exactly where I was going: I was willing to go anywhere and experience anything."

The warm up

The first leg of Jason’s trek was in India and Nepal. He took domestic flights between different states in the two countries. The flights were cheap but the planes were not the best. 

I had heard that two planes crash every year. I dreaded each flight but that’s the price you pay when you want cheaper travel. He joked.

In Nepal, Jason stayed at the Backyard Hotel: a budget hotel with rates of approximately RM65++ per night. The owner and his wife would invite me to their home for meals. It was a bed & breakfast for a fraction of the cost.

In India, Jason saved more by falling back on his ethnic Indian heritage. I didn’t have to pay tourist prices at tourist spots because they assumed I was an Indian National. I paid only INR20 (RM1.08) compared to the tourist price of INR750 (RM40.50) at the Taj Mahal! Jason also decided to ‘couchsurf’ to save on accommodation. It would be the first of his couchsurfing days: a practice that saved him thousands of ringgit.

The hardcore

From India, Jason headed to China for his iconic train ride. There isn’t another word I can think of to describe my journey aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway. Hardcore has to be it. He says.

The Trans-Siberian Railway links East to West: from Beijing to Moscow, it is the longest railway line in the world. Writer Paulo Coelho’s book Aleph was written about one of his adventures aboard this railway line.

Buying the full trip from an English speaking Russian travel agent from Beijing to St Petersburg would typically cost you EU€1500. Jason did it within RM1500 by foregoing the travel agent and buying tickets station to station; standing in line with the mass of Eastern European tradesmen.

Aboard the train you could choose 1st class, 2nd class or 3rd class ‘seats’. The first class is usually taken up by rich tourists and comprises of two bunk beds per compartment. 

We never took first class!” Jason roared with laughter at the obviousness of the statement regarding his ‘budget’ travels. Second class comprised of four bunk beds per compartment and the third class was 54 beds in a giant compartment with no separators! “I took one leg on second class and another on third. I don’t remember the exact price I paid but I remember that the difference between second and third class was only RM300. But I don’t regret it. In the compartment of 54 people, I made many friends who shared food and drink with us. Food isn’t cheaply (there’s a cafeteria of sorts but he was on a budget!) available on the train so you will have to stock up at every stop. We lived on bread, canned pἂtἑs and biscuits. Oh, and the Russian vodka that everyone offered us!

For 8 days, Jason stayed on the train. In Mongolia, he stayed in a traditional GER house; a cabin without any modern electrical items or electronics. They didn’t have a freezer for their meat; I was surrounded by goat parts but I slept well!

From Mongolia to Moscow there was not a single person who spoke English so if I were you: learn some Cyrillic!

In Russia, Jason encountered the famed Lake Baikal: “We stayed in a Cabin in Listvyanka which overlooked the lake. It reminded me that the world was indeed a beautiful place.” After leaving Russia, Jason took the train to Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria before heading on to Turkey, Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany.

I-don’t-want-to-see-my-backpack-anymore

After Germany, Jason headed to Dublin where for three months where he stayed with a host family and recuperated. I needed a break from my break.

Jason continues to stay in Dublin but travels around Europe from there. I’ve seen Wales, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, Morocco, France and Norway. I am planning to stay put in Dublin for a bit; I have a student visa so I plan to do a short course and work part time to rebuild my savings. Once I do; it’s on to the Americas!

It was possible

After going through this, I know for a fact how easy travelling has become compared to what it may have been like for our parents. You need to take a leap of faith. I am glad I did see most of the world before too late. Money plays a huge role, yes, but with budget airlines, buses and trains: interconnectivity is at a high. Couch surfing is also a great way to save and meet some fantastic people.

Jason attributes most of his trip’s budget success to couchsurfing and land travel. I couchsurfed 90% of the time. I used sites like CouchSurfing, Hospitality Club and BeWelcome. When my friend paid RM320 per night in Tromso, Norway so we could see the Northern Lights; I paid nothing by couchsurfing. Where I could, I would walk or take cheaper rail trains. The Northern Lights Tour cost RM400. I decided to save that and WALK. I nearly lost a few toes to frostbite but it worked out in the end! I walked a LOT. In Pammukale, Turkey there was an entrance fee of RM33. My friend and I decided to take the ‘scenic’ route around the mountains to avoid the fee! It’s time consuming but you’ll see so much more. I’ll admit; this isn’t the kind of trip I could have made if I had commitments and a paper pile-up waiting for me back home.

I did a lot of crazy things to save money. None of which I’d recommend a person to do if they can help it! It was an adventure to me but these are some genuine tips for travelling on a budget.

Jason’s top frugal travel tips

1. Couchsurf! Accommodation makes up the bulk of your travelling costs. If you are a single woman traveller concerned about safety; make sure you read all the do’s and don’ts posted on the couchsurfing community pages on how to select the right host. The first time you try it; make sure you have a friend staying nearby or a known hostel as back up if anything should go wrong. Alternatively, you could consider budget accommodation.

2. Try land travel. Instead of flying; opt for multiple use rail and bus passes. The information may be a little harder to dig up but most continents are so well connected; the savings will be worth the effort.

3. Forego the travel agent/booking agent. Many people allow an agent to book their connecting flights and plan their itinerary. It’s definitely no-fuss but as is seen in the case of the Trans-Siberian Railway; it can mean paying four times the price.

4. When in Rome… do what the locals do; go where they go and eat what they eat. The best part about couchsurfing is it comes with a free host who knows the where’s, what’s and how’s about the country.

5. Get ready to rough it! You’re going to be tired. You’re not always going to be warm or comfortable and sometimes; sanitation may elude you but roughing doesn’t just save you money – it offers a whole new experience that the 5 star hotel in a main town may not.

6. Pack easy-to-eat, preserved food. When roughing it; you never know when the next convenience store may pop up. Keep water and bread in your backpack.

0 comments

Agree or disagree with this post? Questions? You also have your word!

  • Simon David

    Great achievement. Very proud of you. Take care.

    Reply
    • Torsten

      Love your story :-) *PROUD OF YOU*

      Reply
      • -roza-

        wow!!!amazing journey....!

        Reply
        • Muhafiz Roslan

          One of a very inspirational story I've ever read. I am hoping so much to meet Jason as I would love to know more about his beautiful adventures around the world. As a student studying in London, I gladly and openly my hospitality for Jason. Thank you.

          Reply
          • jOesTaRz

            I Love To Travel. Till to dated, had been to 16 countries around the world. Now in process to update my blog. About My Travel, About My Biz, About My Life. Happy Surfing. payzol.blogspot.com

            Reply
            • Tania

              admiring your guts to just up and do it! may you find whatever it is you are looking for :)

              Reply
              • Sam Insanity

                One of my life's dream, if not for work.

                Reply
                • wow!

                  Reply
                  • Siva

                    great .....

                    Reply
                    • Sophia siah

                      Jason!! I'm so proud of u my fren. Can't wait for u to b home :)

                      Reply
                      • Suresh

                        Great courage bro, tamilan valga

                        Reply
                        • Magen

                          Great job bro. Thiz is the life time achievment. After tiz u wiLl carry a big value and stories for a generation. Bro you just created an amazing history for your generation. Proud of you.

                          Reply
                          • rara

                            Inspiring!

                            Reply
                            • don flores batalla

                              its an inspiration bro , and thank's for the tip, but before i would do what you done , i would like to settle my own family first,and my own business, someday i will do just the way you did,

                              Reply
                              • jaqueline

                                Awesome Jason, loved you great and adventures experience, totally inspired me, love and miss you so much, tc and god bless.

                                Reply
                                • Amir

                                  Awesome experience. Seriously, you're gonna have lots of fans by now, and I will be one of them. One of my dream, seriously.

                                  Reply
                                  • nizamsculpture

                                    Greatbro! But if muslim travellers maybe abit harder on food if couchsurfing....

                                    Reply
                                    • Max

                                      Thanks for the sites man, i'm planning a long trip and i was not sure i would make it coz of expenses and accommodations. Hope restored...

                                      Reply
                                      • fakawi traveller

                                        All the best from the Fakawi traveller.com

                                        Reply
                                        • shuds

                                          how i wished i would have the guts to start taking journeys like yours. really.

                                          Reply
                                          • Khairol

                                            Awesome experience. Backpacking is superb.

                                            Reply
                                            • Khew

                                              "After going through this, I know for a fact how easy travelling has become compared to what it may have been like for our parents.".......SORRY, you're wrong Mr David! During my time, RM50K would have enabled me to travel to all those places you mentioned and done in comfort with good food! Back in 1985/6, a simple but comfortable hotel room/pension within walking distance to Place d'Etoile in Paris cost me only around RM25! A meal at a bistro in Champs Elysees - starter, main, a small carafe of wine & coffee could be had for around the same!! There wasn't the convenience of today's IT but things were so much simpler then which made travelling dignified, pleasurable, comfortable and something to be amazed at and admired. In other words, it was classy even at one or no star. Can't say the same today, can we? Most of all, people were a lot more genuine - they were either sincerely nice or indifferent but the point is, they weren't trying, they just were.

                                              Reply
                                              • Khew

                                                What happened to my comment? Does it get vetted first or what?

                                                Reply
                                                • raja nazihah

                                                  extremely solute for your enthusiasm.
                                                  good job friend

                                                  Reply
                                                  • Jegathis

                                                    wow Jason,amazing n proud of you. Really great experience u had..

                                                    Reply
                                                    • Nantha

                                                      Great achievement & a wonderful experience! Good job dude! Proud of u

                                                      Reply
                                                      • Sam Seng

                                                        how does he 'build' his finances while in Dublin?

                                                        Reply
                                                        • Kamini

                                                          such an inspiring read! brilliant jason!

                                                          Reply
                                                          • Ben

                                                            inspiring

                                                            Reply
                                                            • Shobana David

                                                              Proud of you dah! Continue your dream, Stay warm & stay safe. God Bless

                                                              Reply
                                                              • Deb

                                                                A blog or something (?) so that we could enjoy more of your adventures and definitely, pictures?

                                                                Reply
                                                                • smrdhi

                                                                  Way to go Jason!! Carpe diem! Yeah, a blog would be nice to document the journey:)

                                                                  Reply
                                                                  • Sid

                                                                    @Khew
                                                                    Please take into account that RM50,000 in 1985 would be worth RM148,601.24 today when taking into account inflation and exchange rates.

                                                                    Reply
                                                                    • Adeline

                                                                      Thank you for saying this, Sid! It's amazing how people like Mr Khew need to nitpick at things and overlook their privilege instead of just being happy for someone who has accomplished a dream. Good lah for you Mr Khew, if you can afford the Champs Elysees on your 1980s budget.

                                                                      Reply
                                                                    • Proud of you jason..come back soon to visit

                                                                      Reply
                                                                      • muro

                                                                        you're living the dream. i'm a 24 years old girl that aspire to become like you one day :)

                                                                        Reply
                                                                        • sasikumar

                                                                          respect ... Very proud of you...
                                                                          thanks alot...

                                                                          travel travel travel...

                                                                          Reply
                                                                          • Tan Joke Min

                                                                            Very tough and I respect...

                                                                            Reply
                                                                            • EVIE

                                                                              wow very strong & tough, thank you for sharing :)

                                                                              Reply
                                                                              • Rosli Ismail

                                                                                Envy you. It takes a lot of guts to do what you did. Maybe some day you will find time to write in greater detail of the experiences, thoughts etc etc for the benefit of others and at the same time rebuild your finances as well. Keep on bro

                                                                                Reply
                                                                                • Sha

                                                                                  Im proud of u jason..

                                                                                  Reply