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Posted by Jessica on Feb 7, 2011
Our Daily Budget in South Africa

We braced ourselves financially for our three-week trip to South Africa. From our research, we knew it'd be expensive: not quite as much as traveling in the US, but close. And it'd certainly be more expensive than any other country we've traveled to recently. (I'm looking at you, Colombia and India.)

But South Africa wasn't nearly as expensive as we worried it'd be. Even though we knew ahead of time that we were opting out of a few budget busters (more on this below), we still expected to spend about $185 per day while there. In reality, we didn't even come close to that estimate.

(Complete side note: I'm mildly curious to see how many people will Google "daily budget in South Africa," pop onto this page, skim a bit, see the $185 I mentioned above, and assume that's what we spent each day. Funny thing is, that number is probably closer to what a lot of couples spend per day in South Africa. But read on, dear Google searchers, to find out what two traveling hedgehogs actually spent!)

Now, before we get to the numbers, don't forget to take a look at our ground rules. If you're hoping to create your own budget for South Africa, it'll be helpful to understand how exactly we calculated our spending otherwise you might end up comparing apples to oranges (or, in this case, lions to elephants) and that just won't do.

South Africa by the numbers

We visited South Africa for 22 days/21 nights in October and November of 2010. Of those 21 nights, we spent four nights in Johannesburg, five nights outside of Rustenburg, one night on an overnight bus, five nights in Port St. Johns, five nights near Nqileni village, and another night on an overnight bus.

Note: Although we were in South Africa for 21 nights, we only paid for lodging (or overnight bus) for 14 nights. That means there are seven nights we didn't pay for lodging: six nights were with family and one night was at a lodge. We received one night free from the lodge because they reward guests who arrive via public transport with a free night's stay.

We spent an average of $92 per day for both of us (or around $46 each) while in South Africa. If we had paid for lodging every night we were in South Africa (instead of staying with family for six nights and nabbing that free night at the lodge), our daily average would be closer to $106 per day for both of us (or around $53 each).

Generally our shorter trips (3 days to 3 weeks) are more expensive per day than the backpacker's budget we had for our 18 month round-the-world trip. But our trip to South Africa was an exception. We self-catered more than we usually do on shorter trips (mostly because I was sick for several days) and we opted for less expensive lodging (funnily enough with some of the best views we've ever had). Therefore, even if we were on a longer RTW trip, we believe our daily budget would still be between $90-$100 per day for both of us. (Or, perhaps, even a little less because we would have been staying put longer which always helps save on costs.)

Overall view

Airfare: $1,426.30 each or $2,852.60 total for two round-trip tickets from Boston, Massachusetts to Johannesburg, South Africa (including two delightful layovers in Munich and Frankfurt where we had the chance to do whirlwind visits to each city)

Amount spent in South Africa: $2,033.75 total for 22 days/21 nights

Average daily budget: $92.44 per day for two people or $46 each per day (including seven nights free lodging). (If we had paid for lodging every night, it averages out to $108.95 for two people per day, or about $54 each per day.)

Minor outliers: Our spending in South Africa was pretty spot on for a budget backpacker/flashpacker on a longer trip. Even with the $37 spent on museum admission charges, or the $14 on movie tickets, or (*cough*) the $119 spent on alcohol, our South African numbers don't really have any minor outliers that someone else would want to factor out when determining their budget. Okay, maybe the alcohol budget. If you take that $119 out, you'd be looking at a daily budget closer to $87 per day for two people (or around $43 each).

Major outliers: Usually I'd mention major outliers that have made our budget appear much bigger. But for South Africa, I need to mention there were actually a few things that made our budget more affordable. Read on to find out more...

Some things to consider for your budget

When comparing apples to apples*, we spent less in South Africa than a lot of travelers do (but without having to camp, use dorm rooms, or self-cater all the time). And nope, that's not even because we stayed with family for some of the time.

(*By the way, I mention "apples to apples" here because I've found a lot of folks say their daily budget is X but then they say, "Oh and we also spent Y for this and Z for that." On the other hand, we calculate everything into one daily budget number. Neither way is better or worse. But again, it's important to know how a traveler came to their numbers if you're currently attempting to figure out what to budget for yourself.)

We're pretty darn sure that we spent less in South Africa because of three things we did a bit differently. (These three things are usually pretty standard parts of any South African trip, but they didn't fit with our trip.) Interestingly enough, we didn't do/not do these things to save money. It just happened to work out that way. So if you're trying to determine your own South Africa budget, remember to keep these things in mind while looking at our numbers:

1) We did not go to Cape Town. To be honest, I don't think this really made any impact on our budget, but I'll mention it because we've repeatedly heard it's more expensive than the rest of the country.

2) We did not go to any game parks. Game parks in South Africa are costly and will undoubtedly affect anyone's SA budget – well, except for the folks who didn't go there, so keep that in mind when creating your own budget. (Note: It can much more affordable when you "self drive" through the parks. But to self drive, one needs a car. Which leads us to...)

3) We did not rent a car in South Africa. We took public transport (and loved it, but that's a story for another post). Keep this in mind when you develop your own SA budget: car rental fees, fuel, tolls, and insurance can add up quickly (and even more so if you're like many Americans and would need to rent a more costly automatic).

Again, cost wasn't the reason we opted against any of the above. But all of the above exclusions did impact what we spent. Or, I guess I should say, how little we spent in what can be a fairly expensive country.

Breakdown by category

Lodging$622.41 total$51.87 per night
$51.87 per night is the average price we paid for lodging in South Africa. Although we were in South Africa for 21 nights, this average was reached by dividing $622.41 by 12 nights. Remember, out of the 21 nights we were in South Africa, we only paid for 12 nights of lodging in a hotel/backpackers. Six nights we stayed with family, one night a lodge gave us a free stay for arriving via public transport, and two other nights were on overnight buses. (The overnight bus expenses are included in the public transport category.) If we didn't take out the free nights, our lodging budget would be closer to $30 per night. So $51.87 is a more accurate daily budget for fellow travelers to use. Here's the lodging we did pay for:

  • Rustenburg – Three nights at $68.84 per night for a private ensuite cottage at Rainhill Farm including breakfast. This bed and breakfast is located on the farm where Tim's father grew up, his grandfather was born, and his great grandfather built. But even without the family history, or the wonderful family who now runs the farm, it is one of the most perfect places we have ever stayed.

  • Port St. John's – One night at $43.02 for a private room and shared bathroom at Amapondo Backpackers at Second Beach. Perfectly serviceable with friendly staff, but our room didn't really have any windows so we just stayed the one night.

  • Port St. John's – Four nights at $50.19 per night for a private room and shared bathroom (which we were the only ones using) at The Lodge on Second Beach. Our room had french doors that led out onto a private patio with a stunning view of the Bulolo River and the Indian Ocean.

  • Nqileni village – Four nights at $43.02 per night for a private rondoval with shared bathroom at Bulungulu Lodge. Again, we had incredibly stunning views here of the Indian Ocean. This lodge is so very much in the middle of nowhere (and they hope to encourage more people to use public transport), that our fifth night there (well, technically our first night) was free because we arrived via public transport.
Public Transport$421.92 total$19.18 per day
This includes everything from minibus taxis to overnight long-distance buses to some of the newer public transport options in Johannesburg (like the Guatrain which runs from Sandton to the airport). Major outlying numbers in this figure include $82 for round-trip Guatrain tickets, $23 for a private taxi one evening, $86 for one overnight bus, and $110 for another overnight bus.
Restaurants/Street Food$607.53 total$27.62 per day
Is this the part where we mention South African-sized portions make American-sized portions look tiny? Also: We had some of our best meals ever, in all our travels, on this trip.
Water/Fruit Juices/Fruit Shakes$64.27 total$2.92 per day
We can not resist vanilla shakes and fruity drinks from different countries!
Alcohol in Restaurants/Bars$119.61 total$5.44 per day
We loved trying all the South African (and Namibian) beers we could get our hands on. And then there was the wine too, of course.
Groceries$92.74 total$4.22 per day
Groceries include everything from sandwich makings to candy bars to water to wine and beer. (The alcohol costs mentioned above only included alcohol at restaurants.) There's also some toiletries in this one too, probably around $15 or so for things like bug repellent and mouthwash. Generally I put personal items like that into the pharmacy section, but I forgot to do that after one grocery trip in SA so it's all lumped in here still.
Souvenirs$12.91 total$.59 per day
Among other things, this included a bottle opener. Given how much beer we drank in SA, this is more than appropriate.
Donations$5.74 total$0.26 per day
The Nelson Mandela Museum in Umtatha is free, but we left a small donation in their donation box because we were so impressed with it.
Internet$19.36 total$0.88 per day
When you figure we were in South Africa for 22 days, that price per day doesn't look that bad. It almost sounds like internet is affordable! But, when you know that we paid $19.36 for a whopping total of 2.5 hours of internet, you'll know to think again. South Africa has the most expensive internet we've ever found in the world, thus far. It was usually around 30-35 rands for every 30 minutes of internet or around $7-$8 per hour. Yikes!
Phone$4.02 total$0.18 per day
Generally shorter trips won't find us on the phone too often. But this phone call was special: it was a 7 minute phone call using a solar powered phone from the middle of nowhere on the Wild Coast to my Dad on his birthday. Awww!
Pharmacy$11.62 total$0.53 per day
This includes some much-needed sunblock and also some (much-needed) deodorant
Admission Fees$51.34 total$2.33 per day
As someone who has worked in the educational museum world, I can definitely say that South Africa has some of the best museums I have ever seen. I can also make that observation as a traveler who's seen a heck of a lot of museums. For the nitty gritty note takers, the Apartheid museum costs 50 Rand per person and the Hector Pieterson museum cost 25 Rand per person. We also spent 110 Rand total on a private tour one day and another 98 Rand (about $14) on two movie tickets.
Bathroom Fees$0.29 total$0.01 per day
(For those really keeping track.) We didn't have too much trouble finding free public bathrooms in South Africa. The only time we paid for one was when we were at Park Station waiting for a bus. (After which we discovered the free bathroom just a few meters away.)
Visas$0.00 total$0.00 each
US passport holders are not required to pay for a South African visa.

We were pleasantly surprised at how much we could enjoy a wonderful day out, seeing sights, and eating great food in South Africa without spending a fortune. And although South Africa is more expensive than most countries you'd find in South America, for example, it can still be a backpackers paradise. It's rare to find a country so focused on providing inexpensive but quality lodging in such gorgeous settings. The public transportation within cities is incredibly affordable (usually only around $1-$1.25 per person) and the public transportation between cities is about as nice as any buses we've ever encountered. The servings at restaurants are enormous, the beer is cheap, the wine is affordable, and there's a great variety of inexpensive street food. About the only thing going against South Africa in terms of backpacker amenities is that pesky price of internet. But hey, that's an easy fix: Just get out of the internet cafe and start exploring!

February 8, 2011 at 9:30am
You're already #6 in google "daily budget south africa". Good job :)
February 8, 2011 at 10:06am
LOL! Well that was quick! Google must like us…or, perhaps, hopes to travel to South Africa one day. :)
February 9, 2011 at 10:58am
Awesome blog and THANK YOU so much for this post. Going to RSA myself this year and was getting rather worried about prices. VERY reassuring. Cheers!
February 9, 2011 at 1:32pm
Hey Dirk! Thanks so much for stopping by and for the kudos too. I'm glad the post was reassuring to you – I remember all too well worrying about SA prices prior to our trip. My fingers are crossed that you have an awesome time in South Africa. We really loved it there, and we hope you do too!
October 4, 2012 at 7:54am
Sure enough, I found you by Googling 'daily budget in South Africa!' Thanks so much – this post was really helpful, I'm on a tour for 14 of my 20 days in the country, so I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out a daily budget and whether I was going way, way overboard. Cheers!
October 8, 2012 at 9:54am
Hey Krista! So glad to hear the post was helpful. Yay! And enjoy the rest of your trip in SA! :)

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