Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Everest Base Camp Trek - How to Cut Costs Under $1000US per Person

October 23rd - November 7th 2015.

We managed to do the 13-day trek to Everest base camp for $1100 per person including all the necessary gear, and it's easy to do it for even less.

To read part 1 of our trekking journal, from Lukla to Phakding to Namche Bazaar, go here.
For part 2 of this journal, go here. It covers days 4 to 6, from Namche to Tengboche to Dingboche.
For part 3 of this journal, go here. It covers days 7 to 9, from Dingboche to Lobuche to Gorak Shep to Everest Base Camp.
For part 4 of this journal, wait a while.

Step 1 : find your guide or porter
We chose to hire a porter-guide. They are cheaper than a guide (which can be $40-$60US per day), and they can carry up to 15kg. We tried to contact a few porter-guides by email, but they were either busy or didn’t respond. Some porter-guides can be hired for as little as $25US per day including tips. Since we wanted to leave as quickly as possible, we went through an agency : Happy Himalayan, run by Dilli and his wife Susann. They found a porter guide already in Lukla for us, saving us the cost of his plane ticket (around $90US each way). We had to pay him $30US per day plus tip.
COST OF PORTER-GUIDE FOR 13 DAYS : $390US + $48US tip. (40,500Rs + 5000Rs)
While we enjoyed our experience with Happy Himalayan, you can cut costs by finding your own porter-guide, or by hiring only a porter. Other trekkers we met along the way hired a porter who still helped them book tea houses. Porters average $15US per day, so you can save $195US ! We hired our porter-guide for 13 days but only needed 12 days for the trek. Someone in better shape than us office potatoes could cut another day by going straight to Namche from Lukla. It would be a long day, but it can be done.
I don’t suggest you do the trek by yourself. The 2015 high seasons were not busy at all, but in busy seasons, people have a hard time finding a room. Getting someone who can book ahead for you is a good investment. It also helps the local economy more, and Nepal needs all the help it can get after two disastrous years.

Step 2 : pack light & hunt for deals
Some people on the trek could be seen drinking San Pellegrino their porters were bringing up for them. If you want to cut costs and rough it, you may consider cutting out all luxuries. Our two bags weighed less than 15kg combined, so our porter-guide only had to carry 10kg. Cut down on the luxuries, and you cut down on the costs. We spent 42,000Rs for 2 people on equipment, including boots, poles, hats, gloves, windbreakers, a local wool jacket, socks, thermal undershirts and long underwear, poles, water purification tablets, Nalgene water bottles, a small backpack, snacks, a headlamp and pharmacy items. If I had to do it again, I’d buy a fourth pair of socks. Three pairs for 12-days really pushed the limits. At 150Rs a pair, go ahead and splurge. See the complete list of items we bought and their individual prices at the end of the article. We rented 2 heavy down jackets, and 2 three-season sleeping bags (-10C), with silk liners. We only used the down jackets once, but we were really happy to have them that one time, and really happy not to need them any other time. You don’t want to be caught in freezing conditions without one. The sleeping bags were lifesavers. Never did we regret having packed so lightly, and never did we pine for anything.
Under 15kg.
COST OF EQUIPMENT FOR 2: $403US (42,000Rs).
Cut costs by making sure you have everything you need before leaving Kathmandu. We had to spend 1400Rs on contact lense liquid, and 800Rs on extra toilet paper in Namche because I was having stomach problems (thanks Diamox !). We bought real Nalgene water bottles in case we wanted to fill them with hot water and warm our sleeping bags. We never needed to, and tea houses do rent hot water bags for that purpose if ever you’re in a pinch(300-400Rs). At 1300Rs a piece, we feel we should have gone for the fake kind which can leak but are only 350Rs. However the best way to spend less than we did is to hunt for deals. We didn’t have time, but cheaper stuff is available.

Step 3 : discuss the price of tea houses with your guide and check your bill
Getting overcharged on the bill happened too regularly. When it was only a few dozen rupees I could let it slide, but one bill came in 700Rs overpriced, and another was 1000Rs over the real cost. Check your bill each time, record what you eat and what it costs.
Also advise your guide of the limits of your budget each day. Prices go up with the altitude, but some tea houses are more expensive than others and the price can be lower than advertised if there are few trekkers on the trail.
COST OF BED AND BOARD : We spent $471US (49,000Rs) for 2 over 12 days, including 1,000Rs for entrance to a festival in Tengboche and breakfast in Lukla on day 13.
Cut costs by… I’m not sure. We went during a high season that was not busy at all. Some other trekkers disregarded their guides’ bookings and found cheaper rooms by themselves on the spot. I don’t think this is possible during regular high-seasons. We avoided paying a lot more by ordering very few drinks, and relying on (cold) water instead. Avoid alcohol obviously. Tea is nice, but it’s a diuretic and the altitude sickness medicine is a powerful diuretic too. Nights are cold, so getting up every two hours because of tea and Diamox is no fun. Hot water is cheap and, well, hot. Muesli with hot milk is filling and cheap, even at higher altitudes. We also didn’t always need a big meal because we’d brought lots of nuts. Snacks from Kathmandu helped us cut down on food costs.
Day 2 was a little tiring.

Step 4 : get your banking in order
Somehow, two of our bank cards failed us and weren’t usable in ATMs. A third bank blocked our account because they didn’t know we were travelling in Nepal and worried about fraud. We ended up having to borrow money from my credit card, and that cost a bundle. Make sure your cards are in good working order, and advise all your banks (even the one you think you won’t be using) of your plans. Few things are more infuriating than having to pay banks way too much money to use ATMs.
COST OF BANKING : Around $125US. Do not do this to yourself.
Cut costs by getting everything in order. If you can, withdraw all the money you need at home. You’ll save on ATM costs, and the exchange rates in Kathmandu and even Namche Bazar are good. Everyone accepts US dollars, but you can save 3-4% by changing your currency into Rupees. The exchange rate in October 2015 was 104Rs/$1US, but tea houses only ask for 100Rs/$1US. Make sure you don’t need to withdraw money in Lukla or Namche. They fly the money in by helicopter, so the ATM fee is about 7%, plus your own bank’s fees.

Step 5 : band together ?
Porters can carry 30kg relatively easily, so you could conceivably hire only one porter for up to 6 people if you keep your packs to 10kg as we did. This would allow you to share the cost of the porter and his tip over 6 people instead of two, cutting down the cost per person.

* Save even more by cutting the trip to 11 days (don't cut acclimatization days) and travelling in a group of up to 5 or 6.
** This does not include the price of insurance or altitude sickness medicine.


boots 2 pairs
Kolon Sports thermal pants x2
socks 4 pairs
Kolon Sports thermal shirts x2
socks 2 pairs (wool)
Gore-Tex windbreaker jackets x2
yak wool jacket x1
wind & waterproof pants x2
gloves 2 pairs
poles in Lukla 2 pairs
neckwarmers x2
water purification pills x100
tuque x 1
painkillers, cold medicine, cough drops, anti-diarrhea, vaseline, wet wipes, dry wash
headlamp x1
peanut butter, chocolate, trail mix bars, almonds, cashews
backpack x1
rented sleeping bags with liners x2
Nalgene waterbottles
rented heavy down jackets x2

contact lens liquid & toilet paper, Namche
2-PERSON TOTAL : 41,760Rs

quickdry T-shirts x2
nylon pants x1
60L rucksack
altitude sickness medicine (Diamox)
sunscreen SPF50
book x1
tuque x1
cameras x2
scarf x1
pen & paper
chargers x3
smartphone x1
NO computer (Oh the humanity !)

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