Backpacking budget Central Asia

Posted: 19/06/20 | June 19th, 2020

Last modified on: June 23rd, 2020 at 11:31

Backpacking budget Central Asia. How expensive is Central Asia? How much do I need to budget? What is a normal daily budget for Central Asia? Do I need to bring cash? Does my credit card work? We will try to answer all of these questions below! 

How much does a trip to Central Asia cost?

Central Asia is one of the cheaper regions to travel in. Partially since mass tourism has not reached Central Asia. You can do everything like a local and don’t get ripped off for being a tourist. Unfortunately, some of this is due to the low income in some of the regions. Some areas in Central Asia are extremely poor, making it very easy to travel cheaply. But keep this in mind while haggling over a few cents and try to be conscious of what you’re spending your money on.

During our 3 month trip (80 days) to Central Asia in 2019 we spent:

Total Backpacking budget for Central Asia: € 4650,22

Daily backpacking budget for Central Asia: € 29,06 (for 1 person).

Note this includes all costs made in Central Asia: Transport, accommodation, food, drinks, activities, and visa costs. We entered and left Central Asia by land, therefore we didn’t spend any money on flights in/out. 

Central Asia budget categories:

We have divided all of our costs into 7 different categories, giving you a better overview of the costs we made.

  • Transport: All transport both to/from and within the countries.
  • Visa: In our case, for Tajikistan & Turkmenistan.
  • Accommodation: Guesthouses, hostels, and camping.
  • Food: Everything that went into our mouths!
  • Drinks: Beers, wine, party nights.
  • Activities: Museums, tours, Pamir Highway 4×4 car rental
  • Gear: Souvenirs, sim cards, clothes, hair cuts, medicine, 2 new sleeping bags.
Backpacking budget Central Asia
Backpacking budget Central Asia

As you can see we spent the most on activities. This is mainly because of our 2-week 4×4 adventure in the Pamirs. The car rental was quite expensive.

Daily backpacking budget Central Asia.

Overview of daily budget per country per person.

Kyrgyzstan was by far the cheapest country for us. Although we only spent 10 days there, everything is extremely inexpensive. Tajikistan was the most expensive due to the Pamir Highway adventure. This trip was a big chunk of our complete Central Asia budget. But it was something we had planned on doing long before coming to Central Asia. It is one of the best things to do in Central Asia. Also one of the best reasons the visit Central Asia. 

Beautiful golden room at the Registan, Samarkand.
Beautiful golden room at the Registan, Samarkand.

How do we travel? Shoestring, budget, or luxury?

Everyone travels in their own way, making budgets a personal thing. So to understand our budget a bit better, we have to explain our way of traveling. Since some people will spend maybe twice as much as we do by doing more on organized tours or visiting museums.

So what did we do during those three months? Climbed mountains, hitchhiked, ate a lot, drank lots of beers, went for a spa, visited museums, went to the Aral Sea, camped next to the Darvaza gas crater, and much more!

1. Transport

Always do as the locals do, using local buses, shared taxis or trains. There is no need to book anything in advance or through a travel agency. We always just showed up at the bus station or taxi stand and got tickets to where we wanted to go. Usually going for the most low budget option: shared taxi! From time to time we resorted to hitchhiking, which is a very common way of traveling in Central Asia, a great way to save money and meet locals. Just make sure that you discuss the price before you get in the car, people often expect some payment!

Note: Use Yandex, a local version of Uber. Which is extremely cheap and convenient since most people don’t speak English. It saves you a lot of hassle.  

Some examples:

  • Subway in Tashkent – Uzbekistan: € 0, 54
  • Bus ticket from Tashkent to Samarkand, Uzbekistan: € 5,82
  • Marshrutka Barskoon to Bishkek – Kyrgyzstan: € 4,50

2. Visa

Visa fees are just one of these expenses you have to deal with. Not much saving there. We only needed an E-visa for Tajikistan which you can apply for yourself online. The most expensive visa is probably the 5-day transit visa for Turkmenistan. Just make sure you do it all properly to avoid any dubious fees at the borders.

Some examples:

  • E-visa + GBAO permit – Tajikistan: € 66,-
  • 5-day transit VISA – Turkmenistan: € 49,-

3. Accommodation

80% of the time we slept in hostel dorm rooms, but in some cases, a double room was cheaper or priced the same as 2 beds in a dorm. Oh yeah, we also used Couchsurfing for a few nights in Kazakhstan. In case you want to save more, use Couchsurfing for a few nights. It’s also a great way to experience local hospitality in Central Asia and make some new friends.

Some examples:

  • Hostel dorm, Tashkent – Uzbekistan: € 5,82
  • Hostel dorm, Bishkek – Kyrgyzstan: €6,10
  • Private room at Hostel, Almaty – Kazakhstan: €10,50

Backpacking budget Central Asia

4. Food

One thing we didn’t save money on was food. We love to eat, and for us, such a big part of traveling is going into random restaurants/street vendors and see what they offer. Occasionally we cooked at a hostel when we didn’t feel like going out. Almost all of our stays had breakfast included, saving both money and time. Oh yeah, we love coffee and cake. So our budget does include quite a lot of coffee and cakes!

Traveling on a tight budget? Go to the local bazaar and buy fresh food to cook. Also, look for small restaurants tucked away there, lunch at the bazaar is cheap, really good and fresh.

Some examples:

  • Kebab in Tashkent – Uzbekistan: €2,63
  • Burgers Duet Hostel, Karakol – Kyrgyzstan: €2,08
  • Dinner at Sim Sim, Dushanbe – Tajikistan: € 7,15 (lots and lots of food)

5. Drinks

Who are we to skip on a beer or a shot of Vodka? Seems like we didn’t spend too much on drinks but it’s cheap. Quite often we bought some beers or vodka in the store and had a good evening. There are not that many bars in Central Asia, and nightlife is nothing compared to Europe. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun night drinking with a few friends at the hostel!

Some examples:

  • 2 Beers Bundesbar, Dushanbe, Tajikistan: €2,50
  • 4 Beers supermarket, Almaty – Kazakhstan: €1,15
  • 2 Beers at Beer bar Bishkek – Kyrgyzstan: €2,59

6. Activities

This was our biggest expense, renting a 4×4 for 2 weeks added up quickly. Throw in a leaking gas tank in the mix and costs for fuel, it all adds up. Other than that we didn’t do any expensive touristy tours. We visited most places by ourselves or took a shared taxi with fellow travelers. Oh, and we are not museum geeks so we are very picky with places that have entry fees.

Some examples:

  • Entrance Registan, Samarkand – Uzbekistan: €0,97
  • Gondola Kok Tobe, Almaty – Kazakhstan: €4,60
  • Entrance Fairy Tail Canyon – Kyrgyzstan: €0,65
Backpacking budget Central Asia
Visiting the Registan in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

7. Gear

We spent some money on gear. Mainly on some new clothes, a set of sleeping bags, sim cards, and some souvenirs. Central Asia was part of a long term trip, therefore we needed some new clothes. Also, we didn’t bring any camping gear, which we decided to buy in Kazakhstan. Check out Sportmaster in Kazakhstan for good low budget gear.

Some examples:

  • 2 USSR posters, Dushanbe – Tajikistan: € 7,50
  • Laundry at Hostel, Dushanbe – Tajikistan: € 4,50
  • Simcard for 30 days – Uzbekistan : €9,22

That’s it, do you want to save more money?

So that’s how we travel. We always travel like the locals do, try to skip expensive tours as much as possible, sleep in dorms most of the time, and enjoy good food! There are a few ways you could save more money of course:

  • Cook at home (hostel/guesthouse).
  • Skip on drinks.
  • Drink less coffee and eat less cake (saves working out as well)
  • Stay with locals: Couchsurfing
  • Hitchhike.
  • Buy food at the Bazaar.
Budget and money tips for Central Asia
Big bills in Uzbekistan!

Backpacking budget and money tips for Central Asia

1. ATM’s

ATMs can be found everywhere except in Turkmenistan. There used to be a lot of stories about ATMs not accepting foreign cards in Uzbekistan. But during our trip (September 2019) we did not have any of these issues. What we did notice was that most ATM only accepted VISA cards. So keep that in mind.

2. Uzbekistan SOM – foreign currency law

Since 2019 there is a new law in place to protect the local currency: SOM. You cannot withdrawal big amounts and exchange them to dollars or euros. This is something a lot of backpackers used to do in case traveling on towards Turkmenistan and Iran. We luckily withdrew a lot of dollars in Kazakhstan for the rest of our trip. But one of our friends withdrew a large amount of Uzbek SOM which he then could not change into dollars!

In case you have SOM left at the end of your trip you can exchange these back to dollars but you need to receipt of the ATM. Also, there seems to be a limit on the amount.

3. Haggle – but don’t over haggle

Haggling is a part of the Bazaar culture in Central Asia. But there is a fine line between haggling and over haggling. Remember that you’re often haggling for a few cents and sometimes it’s just not worth it. Haggling is a fun thing to do and often creates a fun dialogue between you and the seller, so don’t be afraid to do it!

4. Cash dollars

Bring cash dollars. They are accepted everywhere and are the used currency in the Pamirs. Finding ATMs is not an issue in Central Asia. Most of them accept Visa/Mastercard, but as a back-up, it is always good to carry some cash.

5. Next stop; Turkmenistan or Iran?

Keep in mind that if you continue on the Silk Road towards Turkmenistan and Iran, it’s likely the ATMs there won’t accept your credit card. Therefore you will need to have all the cash on you before entering Turkmenistan.

6. Black market rate Turkmenistan

Make sure to check the black market exchange rate Euro/Dollar -> Manat. Since the black market rate is way different than the official one.

For Example:
During our visit in 2019, the official rate was: $1 to Manat 3,51. While the black market rate was $1 to 18,- Manat. Quite a big difference, ask the locals to make sure you get the right rate.

7. Try hitchhiking

Make sure to try hitchhiking, it’s a common thing in Central Asia. Lots of locals do it, it’s cheap and a fun way to interact with locals. Since so many locals do it, they usually pay for it. It’s almost like a taxi service, but then cheaper and not official. So before getting off, ask if you have to pay and how much.

The times we used hitchhiking we didn’t have to pay anything. Most people are just very curious to meet you.

How much did you spend in Central Asia?

How much did you spend in Central Asia?

Visit Central Asia recently? Let us know if you have any new updates of remarks!

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