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Send More Money, Please

On how I've made it through €12,000 in 12 months

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Liberty Dollars

Liberty Dollars

Roaming around West Africa for a year isn’t cheap. It’s not particularly expensive either. Once my twelve months here are over, I’ll have burned just about €12.000. Sure that’s a lot of travelling, but those twelve grand are the only money I’ve spent in a whole year. And since they have started to run short, I figured I might as well write a little about how I saved them and what I’ve burned them on.

Getting your hands on travel money isn’t too difficult. Most of my stash was built by saving money through smaller jobs I had on the side of my studying and volunteering back home. Granted, with free education and a monthly scholarship from the government (it’s good to be Danish) it’s been easier for me than for most. But mind you, I manage to do this without anything near a full-time job salary.

Guinean Street Food

Guinean Street Food

I eat cheap; I try to cut down on transportation cost. I never shop stuff I don’t need – I can’t remember when I last bought new clothes that weren’t second hand. But most importantly, I haven’t made any big investments like the purchase of a house or a car that I’m struggling to pay off.

The last bit of money comes from writing for GlobeSpots.com and selling some of my best travel photos online.

Testicles for dinner

Testicles for dinner

Both of these added incomes are simply a matter of me travelling a lot. I got the GS gig by meeting the editor on a hostel in Uzbekistan, where we shared some shish kebabed goat’s testicles with another traveller (no joke). Haven taken thousands (if not tens of thousands) of travel photos during my last decade of travelling, I’ve used an endless number of hours taking editing photos. Followed a somewhat evolutionary path, I’ve gradually used more and more time getting into taking good shots. Eventually, I’ve gotten good enough to sell the very best ones.

Spending millions

Spending millions

Having thus secured this massive amount of wealth, how have I managed to blow it all?

€12.000 in 12 months neatly equals €1.000 per month – or 33€ per day, which is a pretty decent backpacker’s budget in most of the non-Western world. In places like Southeast Asia and India, it’s an absolute fortune. I won’t break it down in details, but about ten percent have been wasted on visas. Maybe even more. Sure, Senegal and Gambia was free, but Mauritania was a 120€, Liberia 150$, the two visas for Guinea were 45€ and 120€ respectively (don’t buy your Guinea visa in Liberia).

Slow going

Slow going

Other than that, there’s ‘the rule of thirds’: a third of my money goes on accommodation, a third on food and the last third is split between transportation and during fun stuff. The last third is divided because days that are heavy on transportation is usually less heavy on museums, national parks, party nights and so on. Travelling with public transportation in most of the world, getting a few hundred kilometres easily takes a whole day. Then you’re there for a few days before spending another full day going somewhere new.

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing

As for accommodation, cheap's hard to come by in West Africa. Europe and Asia have cheap dorm beds everywhere. I’ve slept in less than ten dorms after I left Morocco – they are not here. When there are no budget travellers, there are no dorms. And there are very few travellers of any kind here in West Africa. Instead, it’s single rooms, and the cheapest are rented by the hour for stuff other than sleeping. That makes accommodation expensive. Couchsurfing in large cities helps, but that will be evened out by 15€ rooms in the major provincial towns.

But isn’t food really, really cheap in Africa? Yes. It is. And to be honest food might not be a full third of my budget, but it’s not a fantastic as you might think. Cheap food has almost no variation. Anywhere. In all of West Africa. It’s usually limited to omelettes, rice with sauce spicy enough to melt concrete or fried fish. Sure, in few places it’s possible to get regional alternatives, but the dirt cheap, street food options are very much limited to this – and then to women selling fruits and vegetables.

Needed variation

Needed variation

And I’m simply not build to eat the same thing day in and day out. I need variation. At least, get me some fried chicken, some spaghetti, or some grilled fish. The problem is that to get these simple variations into my food plan, I often have to splurge on a 3-5€ meal… Sure I could probably nitpick my eating priorities. Or spend more time searching out better food places. But travelling should be fun too, so I really can’t be bothered. It’s hard enough to travel through Africa alone, and eating something other than street food once in a while have become my most cheeriest luxury.

Ten months into this, I would go insane if I had to eat more rice than I already do. I haven’t studied it carefully, but my estimate is that more than half of my lunches and dinners include rice in some form or another. A few countries have even had rice soup as the typical breakfast at the bus station before those early morning buses too. I’ve had plenty of days where rice was the main part of all my three daily meals. Sigh.

The “fun” part of the budget is somewhat limited. It’s mostly blown on expensive visits to national parks where there is little to see, but monkeys. Or for guides to climb mountains. And transportation is a rather necessary part of travelling, so I won’t bother getting into that category.

Fun Budget

Fun Budget

The last big expense is alcohol. I could probably make a separate budget post on that, but usually, I divide it between the food and the fun posts. As a rule of thumb, anything more than three beers goes on the fun part of the budget – three beers or less goes on the food part. Isn’t budgeting fun?

This is, of course, a matter of rough estimates. The point is that it’s relatively easy to blow through €12,000 in a year’s travel. Interestingly, as I’m getting closer to the end of my adventure I have less money to spend (funny how that works – spending money without making money means that I gradually have less money). But staying longer and longer on the road means that I have to use more luxury money on nice stuff like good food or alcohol as a coping mechanism in a desperate attempt to avoid going crazy.

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On that rather sad conclusion, as a small end note to this post, I can announce that I’ve finally booked a flight home to Denmark. But don’t worry, I won’t stop writing right away. I won’t be flying until I’ve made it to Niger. More precisely, I’ll leave West Africa on March 11, landing in Copenhagen the following day.

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Posted by askgudmundsen 14:58 Archived in Ghana Tagged travel budget travelling money cost west_africa wealth saving costs spending Comments (0)

White Man Money

Money works differently here in West Africa. A friend, who’d been here previously warned me: “There’s money between friends in West Africa.” Back then, I didn’t understand.

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White guy in Africa

White guy in Africa

As a white guy in Africa, skin colour clearly makes me stand out. So does more or less notable things, like the way I dress, walk, etc. (dressing like a local would mostly look ridiculous.) And skin colour matters down here. No matter how annoying it is, I primarily addressed as "white guy." Down here that's neither racist nor bad form as it would be in Europe.

Typically on the road, my money concerns are limited to a limited fear of being robbed or certainty of overcharged. I’m definitely being cheated on markets and by taxi drivers, but this is to be expected. I’ve never been robbed, but for a sole pickpocketing in Madagascar. Suddenly, here in West Africa, I’ve run into a new concern. That “my money” is no longer considered mine alone. Money is for many in West Africa a community asset, rather than individually owned. It shows clearly in the rural and more conservative villages, where the village chief is responsible for negotiating a fee, on behalf of the village as a whole, with visitors who wants to pass through, sleep or eat in the village. This makes sense, so far that communities and villages – rather than families – often constitutes society’s social security. Money is relatively rare and used for the village or community as a whole. For everybody’s good. If the chief is a good chief, that is, who does share the wealth.

Loaded

Loaded

The fact that I’m white makes many assume that I have money. Something I certainly don't have compared to most of my peers in the West. I’m blowing all my savings on this trip and owe an average annual Danish income in student debts. It is, however, an entirely correct assumption by West African standards – blowing €12,000 in a year travelling West Africa makes me far richer than most locals. Mainly, because I can always return to Europe and earn more money. As one guy told me, after he had casually asked if he could have my smartphone: “You come from a part of the world where there’s money. Here’s no money.” Somehow, there is an expectation that I share, simply because I have money. This notion would seem delusional back home, in our highly individualised Western society.

Kid not asking anything

Kid not asking anything

The fact that I’m here, in their country, appears to make a lot of people expect that I share my wealth. With them, that is. I’m daily asked for donations by strangers on the street. Not by beggars, homeless people or the like, but by ordinary citizens. (Here are actually very few people begging on the streets.) Children are of cause awfully often asking for money, but somehow it seems that they keep doing so when they grow up. One thing is asking for money, but many people also ask for my possessions. For my phone. My laptop. Even for the teddy bears, given to me by friends back home, hanging on the outside of my backpack. People have even asked Dan, the Jeep-overlander, if they could have his car. All with the assumption that we can easily buy new stuff when we get home.

The truth is that we easily can buy new stuff when we get back home. At least compare to how good locals' chances to buy an expensive Western phone/laptop/car are.

Me, not helping

Me, not helping

The fact is also that travelling essentially is a very selfish undertaking. I travel so I get new experience, so I get a better understanding of the world because I enjoy travelling. Constantly being reminded is frustrating – frustrating because it is not particularly pleasant to be reminded of my privileged place in this world. It is also frustration because they’re right and they shouldn’t be right. There’s enough money in the world to go around! But it’s especially frustrating because I can’t help. Even if I spend all my money giving them away, I wouldn’t have enough. Further, should I only give money to the people who ask for money? They aren’t necessarily the ones who need them most. I shouldn’t encourage begging either, nor that white people can simply fund Africa. I’m reminded by an African politician that noticed that Africa doesn’t need aid, Africa needs fair trade. Africa does also need less corrupt leaders, but that is an entirely different story.

I have a principle of donating to NGO’s in every country I visit based who I think are in the most desperate need. Mauritania lacks social security, and many homeless persons are elders, who have no family to care for them. In Senegal, it was children forced to beg by religious schools. In Sierra Leone, it was amputees from the civil war. This won’t stop people asking. The frustration isn’t personal or due to a guilty conscience for not helping (at all). It’s frustrations over the current realities of the world. But it’s part of travelling here, and I will have to deal with it.

NGO Party

NGO Party

I do often wonder if the wealthy elite of locals experiences the same. The hometowns of presidents and politicians are always more developed than other towns and villages. Sometimes to tragicomically extend, where a single village in the middle of nowhere is the only place with paved roads, electricity, etc. in an entire region. Only because the president was born there. Again, money is a mutual thing. I also wonder, what effects are due to the fact that most foreigners in the region are NGO workers, embassy staff or Pease Corps volunteers. All people who to some extent aid the countries. Remembering the African politician’s quote, it might not be exclusively good for Africa. But until the world comes around – and give Africa (and the rest of the developing world) fair trade, equal opportunities and stop exploiting their natural resources – people will die by the tens of thousands if we do not provide aid. Stopping it is simply not an option.

And by the way, when I say ‘the world,’ I am not solely talking about Western elites, local politicians and big corporations. I’m talking about all of us, mostly as consumers. You, for example, could start by buying a FairPhone instead of the new iPhone the next time you need a new phone…
(Disclaimer: I get no royalties from this last remark – which I probably should, though.)

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Posted by askgudmundsen 15:41 Archived in Liberia Tagged travel travelling money aid liberia trade west_africa begging wealth costs ngo sierra_leone Comments (0)

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