If you teach in Thailand and still have family living back in Europe or America that you are on speaking terms with, then the cost of the annual trip home (or however often you make it) is something that always needs to be factored into your budget. Here's what I personally spend and allow for when I journey back to England's green and pleasant land - both alone and with my Thai partner. How much does your trip home cost you?
A creature of habit
I go back to England every year for a couple of weeks - in late September / early October. It's just a habit I've gotten into. I avoid the main summer months largely because I used to suffer from bad hay fever in my youth. I've often contemplated the idea of going back for Christmas and New Year but seriously, who wants to land and immediately start worrying about Christmas shopping? Plus the weather is too cold to go cycling, sit outside country pubs and do all the other things I enjoy doing when I'm home. Early Autumn always seems like the perfect time for a visit.
For a 15-16 day visit, without my wife and just me to take care of, I try and keep the total cost of the trip to between 100,000 and 120,000 baht (I'll keep the figures in Thai baht seeing as that's the currency we're all familiar with). This year I was delighted to do the whole trip for about 90,000.
Usually, your return flight will be the biggest expense. The days of me scratching around for the cheapest flight possible have long gone. I remember one year travelling home with Singapore Airlines. I flew the two hours from Bangkok to Singapore and then had a five-hour layover at Changi Airport. It dawned on me that seven hours into the journey, I was geographically further away from England then when I started. Singapore Airlines is a fine airline but I no longer put up with that sort of nonsense. And did I really once pay just 17,000 baht to travel with Bangladesh Biman?
This year I gave Taiwan's EVA Air and their premium economy class a try. It's not business class, nowhere near in fact, but it is very comfortable. I ended up paying around 42,000 baht for the return ticket. Yes, I know you can get a Bangkok to England flight probably a lot cheaper but comfort's the name of the game for this kiddy.
Because EVA Air doesn't fly to Birmingham, I chose to end the journey at Amsterdam and take a KLM City Hopper from there. Unfortunately this meant staying one night at an airport hotel on the outbound leg. Cost of KLM flight another 5,000 baht and the hotel was just shy of 8,000. So total travel costs came to 55,000 baht.
Accommodation costs nothing - and that's always a huge plus. Whether I'm kipping in the spare bedroom at my brother's place on the outskirts of Birmingham or bedding down on a blow-up mattress on my parent's living room floor, accommodation is a big fat zero.
I never budget for a daily spending allowance. I tend to do whatever I fancy within reason. I like to take my nieces and nephews around a toy shop (they always look forward to Uncle Phil coming home) I enjoy treating family and friends to a pub lunch and a round of drinks and I'll always try to take in a couple of football matches. I guess we're nearly all the same in that respect. No one wants the shame of being back home, poncing off relatives and living out of daddy's big pocket. We all like to pay our way and give the impression we can financially stand on our own two feet.
Two 'expenses'I don't have anymore are 'stuff for the wife' and clothes for me. There's a 10 - 15,000 baht saving right there.
I used to see being back in the UK as an opportunity to stock up on jeans and items of clothing I found difficult to purchase in Thailand. But the range of clothing has come on in leaps and bounds and I can now get everything I need here. My wife is in the same boat. She used to send me traipsing around branches of Boots and Marks and Spencer's with great long shopping lists of cosmetics and underwear - which I would present to her as gifts upon my return. Online shopping in Thailand has now become such a thriving industry that my wife can buy everything her heart desires at the click of a mouse.
This year my fifteen days in England cost me about 35,000 baht. In the region of 2,300 baht a day. However, there would be days when lunch and drinks were on me and I could easily burn through 5-6,000. Then there were other days when we would just walk around a Cotswold village and do a bit of window-shopping. My mum and dad would cook at home in the evening and I would end up spending nothing all day. Swings and roundabouts.
A double visit
Next year, 2017, will be somewhat different. I will make my usual Autumn pilgrimage but I will also take my wife over in April - our 'Songkran escape' as we like to call it. My wife loves England but she hasn't been for five years and it's been three years since she last saw my mum and dad. We're long overdue a visit together and the time feels right. What's interesting, or rather a fact of life, is that when I travel to the UK with my wife, the costs almost triple rather than double.
We have come to a simple financial agreement when it comes to our April trips. We each pay for our own flights and we split the accommodation fees right down the middle. I bear the cost of the day to day spending whilst we are there. It's a system that works for us and we both consider it fair. Do you guys split costs in roughly the same way?
I have once again gone with EVA Air's premium economy for the return flights but this time we are travelling to London Heathrow for 49,000 baht return. There is no point ending the journey in Amsterdam because it means my wife would then require both a UK visa and a Schengen visa if we fancied mooching around Amsterdam for a few hours. Applying for both visas in Bangkok gets expensive and becomes far too much hassle. None of us can avoid those dreaded visa fees and they can add a nasty 5-10,000 baht to your overall trip.
We are scheduled to arrive in London at 7.30 in the evening - far too late and much too risky to organize onward travel to Birmingham. So unfortunately, we've no choice but to stay at a hotel close to Heathrow Airport and suck up the 8,000 baht a night price for a double room.
From London up to Birmingham (well, Cheltenham to be exact) the return coach fare is 6,000 baht for the two of us. So total travel costs come to 112,000 baht - divided by two that's 56,000 baht each.
With my better half in tow, there is no such thing as a free lunch where lodging is concerned. My parents' bungalow in Stratford Upon Avon is far too small to accommodate us, so we have needed to find digs - and of course Stratford Upon Avon needs no introduction. The birthplace of William Shakespeare, it's one of the most visited places outside London - with accommodation prices to match. Hotels and guest houses go for silly money. Even the most basic bed and breakfast, where you'll end up with the last double room directly under a sloping attic roof, goes for 4,000 baht a night. Proper hotels border on unaffordable, especially at weekends.
So we have turned to the Air BnB website and booked a double room in a private house with an en-suite bathroom and just five minutes walk from Stratford town centre. We got this for 2,900 baht a night. A bargain in this town! So 12 nights comes to just shy of 35,000 baht.
So we're up to 147,000 baht and not even considered spending money.
As I'm sure those of you who have done both will agree, there's a big difference between going home alone and taking a Thai partner. The latter becomes more of a 'holiday'. It's only natural that you will want to 'show off' your neighborhood, city or town. You do fun things together. Walks in the local park are free but there are always admission fees to museums, exhibitions, stately homes, art galleries, etc.
I recall a long weekend in Barcelona where half of our spending money seemed to go on just paying admission fees. England isn't far behind either because you can haemorrhage money killing time this way. Have you seen how much they charge to go into your average National Trust property these days?
Although I never spend lavishly on meals when I'm abroad, I do think that food should be part of the experience. What's the point of travel if a tight budget doesn't allow for cream teas or a hearty pub lunch? I've read numerous travel blogs from those who take delight in pilfering sachets of tomato ketchup from McDonalds and squirting them onto a pack of dry cream crackers, because it's all they can afford. That doesn't make sense to me. How does that qualify as the joys of travel?
So spending money for two, when you're eating well, taking buses and trains around the country, and paying into tourist attractions, can easily run you 5,000 baht a day. That's a whopping 60,000 baht for a 12-day stay.
Easy to see how a trip back to England with your Thai partner can amount to 200,000 baht or more.
How much do your trips home cost? All I can say is may those trips be enjoyable and hopefully, you can keep the costs down.