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Gap Year Budget Update – 5 Months

Another month come and gone, never to return!  We’re now over 40% through our year-long sabbatical in South America.  We quit our jobs, pulled the kids out of schools, rented out our house, and headed south in June. We initially planned a $40,000 all-in gap year budget, which includes our initial move south of the border, living in our Bolivian village for 12 months, travel, plus long-term storage of our stuff back in California.  Here’s our budget update for October, five months into our adventure.

 

What Happened In October

In October, we spent about three weeks in our Bolivian village, Villa Abecia, and we traveled for one week to the Salar de Uyuni and the Bolivian Altiplano Lakes region.  It is easily the most popular tourist circuit in Bolivia, and for good reason.

 

Our kids loved the jeep tour, even though there are so few kids that do it.  My daughter even got to ride a llama for the first time (I’ve been promising it for some time, figured it’s time to deliver):

My daughter riding her llama. salar de uyuni

My daughter riding her llama at the Salar de Uyuni

In case you’re wondering, no, people don’t really ride llamas.

 

Other than our trip, we again mostly just enjoyed quality family time in our village.  The kids are constantly running around our little town, and my wife and I are mostly just enjoying a normal, stress-free life.  Here’s what a typical day in our pueblo is like.

 

So, here’s what we spent overall in October:

ExpenseOct. BudgetOct. ExpenseOct
Variance
Under / (Over)
Total$2,333$2,090$244
Living In Our Pueblo$833$824$10
Travels Around Bolivia / South America$1,250$1,158$92
Medical Expenses$0$0$0
Long Term Storage in California$250$108$142

Hey-ho, what d’ya know? We spent only $2,090 out of a budget of $2,333.  That leaves us $244 under budget for October, despite taking a week long trip.

 

Our Travels

The trip we took to Bolivia’s southwest was rather cheap, mostly because it was all in Bolivia.  We traveled by taxi from our village to a tourist town called Tupiza, where we hung out for a couple of days before embarking on a four-day, three-night jeep tour into the into the far southwest corner of Bolivia.  We only spent $1,158 on our eight day trip – not bad for a family of four!  Here was our route:

You can read all about our trip in four posts: Part I: Tupiza, Red Rock Country, Part II: A Bolivian Jeep Tour, Part III: Bolivian Alitplano Lakes Region, and Part IV: the Salar de Uyuni.

 

The biggest expense, by far, of the trip was the four-day all-inclusive jeep tour.  For $775, we got a private car with a driver and a cook, food, three nights in very basic accommodations, and some rented sleeping bags to help keep us warm.  That came out to $48 per person per day, which, considering it includes hundreds of miles of traveling on remote roads with a personal driver and a cook, is DAMN cheap!

Llamas in a corral

Real llamas in a corral

 

Here’s a breakdown of our travel expenses for our week-long trip:

Total$1,158
4-Day Jeep Tour$775
Hotel Tupiza (2 nights)$132
Food (excluding Jeep tour)$56
Transportation (excluding jeep tour)$149
Other$46

There were no tricks, points, or promotions involved with our trip.  We ate out at restaurants every meal (or we ate food prepared for us on the tour), and we paid for our transportation and our accommodations each night – except the first two nights, when we stayed with my wife’s family in Tarija.

 

Living In Our Pueblo

I’m still chasing the unicorn that is living in our rural Bolivian town for under $500 per month.  I thought we were going to do it this month, but it seems like every month there’s something that knocks us over by a couple hundred dollars.  I guess I don’t want it bad enough.  That’s still dirt cheap though for a family of four.

 

This time the damage was done by a few splurges.   We paid for a fancy white cloth steak dinner for 12 people with my wife’s family – about $75.  (Hard to imagine, right? a top-flight steak dinner for 12 people for $75!  And it was melt-in-your-mouth grass-fed Argentine beef! That’s wealth thru FX magic for sure!).

 

We also threw a Halloween party for about fifty of our kids’ classmates that also cost us about $75.  Halloween is not normally celebrated in Bolivia, so it was our chance to teach some of the locals a bit about our own culture.  We had some great DIY costumes:

It took only about 45 minutes for my son’s toilet paper mummy costume to completely fall apart. DIY is the only way to go down here in Bolivia!

And there were a few other miscellaneous things: I built a bamboo fence along our property for a whopping $39 – that’s the cost of tools and materials – and we bought a new shelf for the living room for $36.

I built a bamboo fence for only $39. That’s $26 for 6 large bundles of bamboo and $13 for two types of saws to cut it.

Anyway, despite our indulgences, our pueblo living expenses were still slightly under budget in October.  Here’s the detail for October:

 

October Living Expenses In Our Village

Total$824
Food & Household Supplies$490
Utilities$94
Clothing, Entertainment, & Other$109
Transportation To/From City$23
Food & Restaurants in City$108

We spent considerably more on food and household supplies living in our village than we have in the past.  On the other hand, our utilities came down considerably.  We paid $65 for monthly internet service, $18 for mobile phones, $4 for electricity, and $2 for water.  Actually, the water bill was more like $1.75, but I’m rounding up here.

 

Back in San Diego, our family was the lowest electricity consumer in the neighborhood, according to our utility reports (see 5 reasons our electricity bill was shockingly low).  In San Diego, we would spend about $75 per month for electricity – plus another $75 or so for water.  That was just fraction of what some of our neighbors spent.  Plenty of them spent hundreds per month for both water and for electricity.  It all seems like a world away when compared to our utility bills here in Bolivia.  I can’t quite believe that here in Bolivia our electricity bill can be so low as $4, and our water bill less than $2 – amazing!

 

Medical

If you follow this blog, you’ll know that we’ve had some unanticipated medical expenses during our gap year.  My wife spent three days in a Bolivian hospital with a bladder infection.  My son has had what seems like the majority of his baby teeth pulled, and my daughter now has braces.  October was the first month that we didn’t have any medical expenses at all. (Yay!)

 

But what did happen in October is that we got reimbursed on our insurance claim for my wife’s hospital bills – about $1,000 in total.  The insurance we use is from World Nomads.  It covers the whole family anywhere in the world for six months of travelling and up to $300,000 in medical bills, and it cost us only $837 for six months of coverage.  Now that we’ve been reimbursed for my wife’s hospital stay, it has more than paid for itself.

 

Year-To-Date Update – 5 Months

Now that we’re five months through with our family gap year, Here’s how the cumulative year-to-date budget is looking:

ExpenseAnnual BudgetExpected Thru
5 Months
Actual Thru
5 Months
Variance
Under /
(Over)
 
Total$40,000$18,667$12,943$5,724
Flights To/From Bolivia$10,000$5,000$528$4,472
Move-In Expenses$2,000$2,000$1,374$626
Travels Around South America & Bolivia$15,000$6,250$4,357$1,893
Living In Our Pueblo$10,000$4,167$3,752$415
Long Term Storage in California$3,000$1,250$720$530
Medical Expenses$0$0$1,281($1,281)
Visa & Other Paperwork$0$0$931($931)

Of our total $40,000 budget for the year, I had expected to spend $18,667 after five months.  But so far, our actual expenses have only been $12,943, which means we are $5,724 under budget at this point. (Woo Hoo!).

 

Most of that savings is still thanks to getting our initial flights to Bolivia for free.  We saved almost $4,500 on the flights.  Our traveling and living expenses are also under budget for the year so far ($1,893, and $415, respectively), as were our move-in expenses ($626).

 

But, we’ve had some unbudgeted expenses as well.  It cost me $931 to get my visa to live in Bolivia for a year, which I did not anticipate at all.  And we’ve had $1,281 of unplanned medical expenses.  This was mostly the cost of our World Nomads travel insurance ($837), which we didn’t budget, plus a few hundred dollars for some major dental work we decided to do on the cheap while in Bolivia.

 

We were originally planning to go on our gap year with no health insurance at all, because I couldn’t find any acceptable insurance plans that would cover us where we were going, until I discovered World Nomads at the last minute.  That has turned out to be a pretty good deal for peace of mind, given that U.S. health insurance plans rarely provide international coverage (and they cost several arms and legs to boot).

 

It’s still looking like we might end up being far under budget for the year.  But we’re going to start catching up a bit now.  The holiday season is coming, which means lots of festivals and other events to spend money on in our pueblo.  In November, we are also planning another major trip.  We are leaving Bolivia for the first time in over five months, going to neighboring Argentina and Uruguay.  Flights, hotels, and higher costs generally in those countries will make this one of our more expensive trips.

 

Cheers,

Jojo Bobo

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2 Responses
  • Ann
    November 6, 2017

    When do you plan to leave for Argentina and Uruguay?

    • JoJoBoBo
      November 6, 2017

      Second half of November

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