THE question is: is there anywhere in the world that is really 'cheap' to live anymore? And, perhaps more importantly, would you want to live there if there is?
People often refer to Asia as very affordable and there are pockets of places where your money goes really far.
In southern India, for instance, we lived quite cheaply. Our hotel apartment (above) was roughly £5 per day and this was in an upscale resort. That's because in India you can bargain for almost everything.
But elsewhere we haven't found the costs to be equally inexpensive. And I think it's important, too, to make the distinction between travelling solo and as a family. If I were travelling by myself, living in hostels and eating out only for one and at McDonalds (which I wouldn't go near except to use the toilets) or the MSG-laden food hawkers, my daily costs would be reduced substantially. But multiply everything by four if you have a family like mine. You can't really stay in dorms when you have children.
We pay £34 a day for a one-bedroom serviced apartment with a makeshift kitchen. In the developed western world that is a great deal. But in Thailand (Chiang Mai) we were paying about £16 per night. You could find even cheaper deals in CM and if you were by yourself or a smaller family unit - a studio apartment rents for about £10 per night.
Kuala Lumpur, at least, offers an excellent transport system. Almost each day I commute by train and bus for 90 minutes (each way) to attend my Crossfit class in Petaling Jaya. My transport costs are a mere £2!
We're not convinced either whether eating in saves money when you can, for instance, go to an Indian restaurant for masala dosai and feed the family well for £2.50.
We don't really go to upscale restaurants. The most expensive it gets for us is when we search out organic restaurants, but even then, when compared to the UK, the prices are far from crazy. The most we've paid for a family meal in KL is £12.
Back in the UK, we spent on average £113 per week on food when we stayed in Brecon (for Christmas) and £139 whilst in Huddersfield, where we ate in most of the time. Compare that with the average of £114 we spent per week mostly eating out in India.
So keeping costs down really depends where you are. For us, eating in in England was only marginally more expensive than eating out in India, albeit in a fairly touristy part of India.
In Thailand the street food is cheap, but (unfortunately) laced with MSG and sugar, so we ended up eating in better restaurants and for more. We ate out most of the time, but also bought lots of fruit and coconuts. You'd be surprised how the costs add up. On average we'd spend about £120 per week on food in Thailand. But Malaysia has been off the chart.
Our shopping bill at supermarkets in KL can be hefty. As an alternative, I've tried local markets, like Pudu, where you can buy all sorts of vegetables (though the fruit selection is disappointing). I filled a shopping bag for about £8 (mostly veg) and a similar shop in England would have set me back at least £20.
But supermarkets offer organic produce, which is important to us. Most of the fruits and vegetables in the outdoor markets in KL appear to have been imported from countries like China, where they spray crops heavily.
Although I can get a kilo of fresh lychee for £2 and buy T-shirts for £2, too, a cup of camomile tea at Starbucks in a good neighbourhood will set you back £1.50. On average we have spent over £150 per week in KL.
Prices for the same product can vary also. For instance, fresh coconuts can go for anything from between 75p to £1.50. It's not outrageous, but more expensive than we paid in Thailand and Brazil (although coconuts in Thailand are far superior in taste).
A whole 1kg durian costs around £2 in KL, a 5.5litre water bottle just over £1 and taxis are good value (though be sure to flag down the red or yellow ones and not the blue taxis, which are exectutive. Tip: make sure the meter is running).
The cost of going out in KL is hit and miss. Some attractions, like the KLCC play park, are free. Others, like Aquaria, cost me £16 for Zenchai and I. In London, at the Aquarium, it's nearly double and in Florida I found attractions for kids to be really pricey.
We're heading back to Chiang Mai in Thailand next month, though, because renting an apartment there is cheaper and easier than in Kuala Lumpur. We tried really hard, but couldn't find a way to stay in KL affordably.
As I wrote in a previous blog, renting in KL is made difficult - almost impossible - for those wishing to stay less than 12 months.
We couldn't find any reasonable houses or condos, fully furnished and in a safe, clean area near a train station (otherwise you really need a car) for less than £400 per month. Realistically, we were looking at shelling out at least £500. But the majority of apartments go for £500 per month upwards and you can get two/three bedroom places for that amount. In nice areas most people are paying closer to £800-£1,000.
In Thailand we might end up spending around £300-£400 for lodging, but we'd get even more for our money - greater space and perhaps the use of a pool and gym.
But the downside in Chiang Mai is that there is no metro system - getting around town you have to rely on taxis and rickshaws or hire a moped, which isn't what I want to do with young children (a moped would cost about £300 per month). The traffic is thick and the roads not all built for walking down. We spent about £70 on transport during the month we lived in Chiang Mai. Car rentals are about £400 per month.
There are always the southern islands of Thailand to visit. But we hear from friends based there that costs are inflated also - mostly because of the rise of tourists willing to pay big bucks and the owners holding out until the off-season.
Of course, there are places to go that won't cost much - even for families, but there's a reason for that: either it's incredibly remote or there's something wrong with it, like ultra polluted or crime-infested. Not everyone wants to take their family to a place like that.
It's interesting, really, because both Jamie and I have in recent weeks reflected more on our time last year in Brazil, which on the whole is a dearer place to live than in most of Asia. But we found in Piracanga, Bahia, an eco-village by the ocean where it was impossible to be sucked in by consumerism and our outgoings were generally low, that the quality of life (sunshine, beach, river, wholefood diet, living more off the land) was much higher.
We're not saying we want to return to Brazil or, specifically Piracanga, but it's an example of how getting the balance right can be tough and it often depends on the family's needs and wants. We don't want to be somewhere too remote or basic or, for that matter, in the thick of a bustling city.
We have been travelling now for over two years and, in terms of affordability and taking into account inflation, the cheapest countries we have visited look something like this (cheapest first): 1. Ecuador; 2. India; 3. Thailand; 4. Brazil; 5. Malaysia; 6. Croatia; 7. Argentina; 8. USA; 9. Uruguay; 10. Western Europe.