After years of 1-2 week vacations in a single destination it took a 7 month trip across Southeast Asia for me to become a true flashpacker. In 2019, my girlfriend and I set out for a year of full time travel and gradually made the transition from budget backpackers to full fledged flashpackers. This trip was life changing and ultimately became one of the catalysts for launching the flashpacker blog.
Backpacking Southeast Asia
After selecting this chunk of the world to explore, we built a budget to determine how long we could afford to travel for. We researched average travel costs across the region and eventually settled on a $1750 average monthly budget for two people. This budget was all in - flights, transportation, accommodations, meals, and entertainment. But the plan was to make this an average monthly cost, so it was OK if some months were over. For example, if one month had expensive flights that pushed us over we would make up the difference the following month by volunteering to reduce accommodation costs. With this budget we could afford at least a full year of travel, but likely closer to 13 or 14 months.
After touching down in Bangkok we kicked off our Southeast Asia adventure. It was easy enough to stick to our budget once we got settled in the region and the initial excitement had worn off. We certainly weren’t counting pennies but we did make conscious decisions every day to save cash. Little things like taking a bus from the airport instead of a taxi might only save $10 but we knew all of the $10 savings throughout a month would add up.
Tracking Our Budget
Tracking our spending was pretty easy and we did not stress about how much we were spending throughout the month. Instead, at the beginning of every month we simply added the credit card balance from the prior month with all of the ATM withdrawal receipts to get a relatively accurate idea of how much we spent. This dictated if we had to cut back for the next month or if we had budget to spare.
Sticking to Our Budget
We stuck with classic budget travel guidelines to keep our spending low. Things like choosing travel days based on cheaper flight prices, exploring on foot and doing free activities, and eating low cost street food all helped keep costs low. We often stayed at hostels when guesthouses or Airbnbs were more expensive and opted for cheaper (but slower) transportation whenever possible. We also tried volunteering a few times where you typically get room & board in exchange for working. It wasn’t unreasonably difficult to stick to our budget but after a couple of months we started to notice a change in our attitudes.
Becoming a Flashpacker
After a couple of months budget backpacking Southeast Asia, the excitement of a new city wears off. In fact, they all start to look kind of the same. Days become somewhat monotonous, filling time between meals, so we started doing more day trips, tours, and paid activities. River kayak trips, guided hikes, cooking classes, and other similar activities became our highlights.
We gradually started staying in nicer accommodations, actively avoiding hostels in favor of hotels and guesthouses that were more comfortable and provided more amenities. We realized how much we valued comfort, convenience, and excitement in our travels and made the decision to adjust our plan.
We doubled our monthly budget to $3000 knowing that it would reduce the total number of months that we could stay on our trip, but accepting the fact we would experience more and sacrifice less in this reduced time period.
Out were buses and in were planes or trains. We rarely stayed in a hostel, unless it was a one night stop over, in which case we got a private room. We opted for hotels and guesthouses, with full breakfast spreads and beautiful pools. We made no conscious effort to eat cheaply, instead going for whatever we were in the mood for.
The most important and impactful change on our trip overall was investing regularly in more activities, which typically came with some costs, either direct (paying for a tour) or indirect (renting a mountain bike). These ended up being the experiences that gave us the most joy and allowed us to best experience the region we were in.
Other travelers started telling us we were flashpackers and first introduced us to this new term. We initially saw ourselves simply as higher budget backpackers but came around to the fact that we fit the flashpacker definition perfectly; one who travels with the intrepid ethos of a backpacker, maintaining a sense of exploration and adventure while sacrificing few of the comforts associated with vacationing by utilizing an increased budget and technology. Our goal was no longer to travel as long as possible, it was to get the most out of the travel time we had.
This really hit home during our time in Thailand where we did activities like our Scuba certification course and a weeklong muay thai training camp while staying at a furnished apartment. Day trips, particularly those that were physical activities, like bike trips and guided kayak tours were much more fulfilling than simply walking around a city center. We still continued to get the ‘local’ experience, particularly when it came to eating. We never hesitated to check out a nice restaurant but night markets and street food remained our favorite.
With this change in mindset our enjoyment went through the roof. We would end days exhausted and satisfied. We also found that our travels had more purpose. We were getting more interactions with locals, uncovering new passions & hobbies, seeing more of a country, and ultimately better experiencing the cultures of these new places.
We knew that we were officially flashpackers, unlikely to ever dip back into the budget backpacker style.
After more than half a year in Southeast Asia the real test started when we landed in the Netherlands for a few months in Europe. $3000 a month in Asia goes pretty far, even when you’re splurging, but Europe is obviously much less affordable. We decided to stick to what we were loving - emphasizing comfort and excitement, even if that meant shortening the trip.
We continued to stay in hotels and Airbnbs, ate at great restaurants, and only took trains or planes to get around. We loved this travel style and knew that it was providing the best possible experience and memories for the trip.
Our remaining cash didn’t buy quite as many months in Europe but after 10 months on the road and what felt like a lifetime of experiences we were ready to head home. We left Europe more confident than ever that we made the right decision to transition our travel style to flashpackers - regardless where in the world we were.
Our travels have continued to evolve. In order to keep traveling long and far while maintaining our flashpacker style we committed to developing a true digital nomad lifestyle once we resumed working. This allows us to travel virtually anywhere without relying on a set trip budget. We get the best of both worlds; long term immersive travel without sacrificing any of the comforts or experiences we’ve come to love.
Are You The Next Flashpacker?
As flashpackers we realized how much more enjoyment we got from our travels when we prioritized comfort and experiences, rather than just the cheapest options. Saving time with more expensive transportation, staying in nicer accommodations, and splurging on activities became our norm.
The same applies to having the right travel gear in order to experience the most of a trip. That’s why we’re building the best collection of the top travel gear from all the brands we love. We’re constantly adding new brands that offer high quality, thoughtfully designed travel gear that makes traveling easier or more fun. Check out the Flashpacker Co travel gear shop today so that you can experience more by sacrificing less!
About the Author
|Jason Kraemer is the co-founder of Flashpacker Co. When he’s not testing the coolest travel gear you can find him searching for the best beaches, the tastiest tacos, or the most exciting dive sites. Read about his adventures in our travel blog.|