Siem Reap Studios, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Price Check: What Things Cost Around the World

Aimed at helping travellers staying in holiday rentals and settling into a place for a while, Price Check is a series of posts in which we reported every two weeks on the prices of groceries (no, not only beer) at each destination we stayed on our yearlong grand tour.

This post is a comparison of our Price Check posts, with some explanation on why we did things the way we did, reflections on the exercise itself, the conclusions – which were the most expensive and cheapest destinations of the places we visited on our round-the-world adventure – and, in our follow-up post, advice on how to save money on your own self-catering trips. To see the individual Price Check posts for every destination we visited click here or on Shopping List in the right column.

OUR METHODOLOGY
We used the same shopping list for each destination that included the kind of products we’d typically buy at the start of each two-week stay, including ingredients for breakfast, snacks, a meal or two, and drinks in the evening. See a sample Shopping List here.

We bought similar quality products in each place, so price comparisons could easily be made between destinations. Some readers pointed out that we could have saved money by buying cheaper tea or coffee for example, rather than name brands, but buying brands found all over the world provided a good yardstick. And let’s face it, some people don’t want to sacrifice favourite products when they travel and prefer to pay extra for quality.

We always bought free-range eggs and organic products when available. This was a personal decision based on a sense of ethical responsibility as much as a desire to simply buy the best quality products. We love our food!

We always shopped locally, in the neighbourhoods where we stayed, and we shopped around, visiting several supermarkets, markets and specialty shops in the vicinity, to ensure we were getting the best combination of price and quality.

The prices in each Price Check table are the prices on the labels at the time we visited. To find out when that was check the date of the post. We use UK£, $US and €, or where the currency of the destination isn’t the €, we use the local currency. We used the currency exchange rates of that date sourced from www.xe.com, so if planning a trip to one of the destinations we visited, don’t expect that the prices we paid will be the prices you pay.

Our comparison does not include places we visited for less than our average two-week stay, such as Essaouira and Zakopane, which were three-day getaways; Alberobello in Puglia and Teulada in Sardinia, where we spent one week each; Dubai and London where we stayed just a short time to launch the project; and San Miguel de Allende, where, while we spent two weeks there, found prices to be the same as Mexico City.

THE RESULTS – SOME SURPRISING!

World’s Most Expensive Destinations
Perhaps not surprisingly at all, Tokyo was the most expensive destination of our grand tour, followed by Manuel Antonio (Costa Rica), New York City, Austin, Texas, USA), and Istanbul.

World’s Cheapest Destinations
Krakow (Poland) was the cheapest destination, followed by Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Marrakech, and Jerez (Spain).

Europe’s Most Expensive Destinations
The ski destination of Zell am See (Austria), was the most expensive of the European cities we stayed, where our groceries totalled UK£50/US$80, followed by Ceret (France), Venice, Barcelona, Paris, and Vienna at UK£40/US$65. Prices in Venice, Barcelona and Paris were very comparable.

Europe’s Cheapest Destinations
Krakow was easily the cheapest place we stayed, where our shopping cart of groceries cost just UK£24/US$39, followed by Jerez, Budapest, Kotor, Edinburgh, and Berlin, where our bill came to UK£39/US$63.

How American Destinations Placed
In the Americas, Manuel Antonio was the most expensive place for groceries, where our docket came to a whopping UK£58/$92, followed by New York City, Austin, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Mexico City, where the same shopping list came to less than half that of Manuel Antonio.

World’s Most Surprisingly Priced Destinations
Costa Rica – we didn’t expect Costa Rica to be as expensive as it was, and thought it was going to be slightly pricier than say Buenos Aires or Mexico City. As hard as we tried, it was difficult to reduce that bill.
Istanbul – we’ve been regular visitors to Istanbul and Turkey for years and have watched the prices slowly creep up, but we were astounded at how expensive Istanbul has become.
Diani Beach – this was Kenya! Africa! What was going on? We were astonished that our shopping cart cost just a little less to fill than some of Western Europe’s big cities.
Venice, Paris & Barcelona – these popular European cities have a reputation as being some of the world’s most expensive destinations to visit (Venice and Paris in particular), yet they fell about midway between the most the most expensive and the cheapest destination.
Krakow – we’d been to Krakow once before and rented an apartment there for a while, so we knew it was terrific value, but we never expected it would turn out to be the cheapest destination of our trip.

Have you stayed in holiday rentals and shopped locally in any of these destinations? Have you found more expensive or more affordable places than these to live like locals? We’d love to hear about your experiences.

Price Check shopping list comparisons below. To see individual shopping lists for each destination, click here.

Destination £ US$ Local currency
1. Tokyo, Japan £64 $94 ¥8665
2. Manual Antonio, Costa Rica £58 $92 ¢46547
3. New York City, USA £58 $88 US$88
4. Austin, USA £55 $83 US$83
5. Istanbul, Turkey £54 $85 TRY124
6. Zell am See, Austria £50 $80 €58
7. Cape Town, South Africa £45 $72 ZAR504
8. Ceret, France £43 $66 €49
9. Venice, Italy £43 $64 €50
10. Bali, Indonesia £42 $64 R575,760
11. Barcelona, Spain £42 $63 €47
12. Paris, France £41 $64 €47
13. Vienna, Austria £40 $65 €48
14. Berlin, Germany £39 $63 €46
15. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil £39 $62 R$107
16. Edinburgh, Scotland £38 $61 €45
17. Diani Beach, Kenya £38 $61 KES4895
18. Kotor, Montenegro £36 $54 €42
19. Budapest, Hungary £34 $54 HUF10845
20. Jerez, Spain £32 $50 €36
21. Marrakech, Morocco £32 $50 MAD411
22. Buenos Aires, Argentina £30 $48 ARS$193
23. Mexico City, Mexico £27 $42 Mex$550
24. Krakow, Poland £24 $39 zł112

In our next post we’ll provide some tips on how you can save money when self-catering, based on our experiences over the last year, from local shopping tips to advice on shopping markets and supermarkets.




There are 30 comments

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  1. Nicole

    I’ve really enjoyed this series. I’m surprised too to see Manuel Antonio between Tokyo & NYC!

  2. Jeanette Vieira

    Good post… I’m also very surprised at Costa Rica being high on that list. We were there in 2005, we ate and drank like kings for little to nothing. What 6 years will do and a whole lot of American tourism, I guess? Cheers.

  3. Terri

    Fascinating chart! For a variety of reasons we are now going to go to Turkey (We were scheduled to go to Egypt), and I had always heard that Istanbul was not that expensive. While mostly more affordable than other countries in the region, I was pretty shocked at how high some of the prices were. At least I know that I am not alone in my assessment!

  4. Lara Dunston

    Believe me, we were too. While we loved the properties we stayed in – one on the beach and one overlooking jungle – and we had some terrific experiences, from birdwatching to wildlife spotting, it wasn’t much fun watching the money slip through our fingers each time we went to the supermarket :(

  5. Risamay

    Very interesting. Glad to hear Kotor is still quite affordable – I was there in 2006. A bit out of the way (though perhaps that’s a plus), but wouldn’t that be a lovely place to live!

  6. Lara Dunston

    I think it’s a combo of tourism and influx of affluent expats. While the cheap ‘local’ restos – simple buffet places – were reasonably priced, the good restaurants, which weren’t all that good, were outrageously priced.

    Our Costa Rica experience was limited to 16 days in Manuel Antonio, so I’d love to hear from people who recently stayed elsewhere and how they found costs there.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  7. Lara Dunston

    I think we were so astonished because we’ve been going there for so long and we remember when Istanbul was dirt cheap and we’ve just watched prices slowly creep upwards over the years.

    But we were pleased to discover that if you get off-the-beaten-track and out of the centre, prices are significantly cheaper. Our problem is that we just love the centre so much, especially Beyoglu and Cihangir.

    I wouldn’t *not* go back to Istanbul just because it’s becoming more expensive though. We love the culture, the street life, and the live music scene, especially the jazz. In some ways, it’s a city where it can often be cheaper to eat out than cook at home, as crazy as that sounds.

  8. Lara Dunston

    I’m not sure I could live there, but Kotor certainly has charm and is in a stunning spot. I’d love to return one day and explore more of the country – such dramatic landscapes, don’t you think?

  9. Linda bb

    I think it is a very good article for the tourists who travel and want feel at home. The best tip to eat cheap is eat like the locals and buy where the average local would. Even if you might pay more than the locals specially in poorer country when everything is bought on a market without indicating price of the items and where bargain is the rule.
    I have 5 different cultural backgrounds which make easier to know how to cook or eat the most exotics food and it is an advantage in term of saving while travelling around the world. Another alternative is too be a bit curious and adventurious and try out new things : -)

  10. joshywashington

    Sweet breakdown! i was surprised how cheap Buenos Aires is, as you pointed out. For a major city the food, lodgings and nightlife was incredibly cheap. Especially compared to the Southern cities and towns of Argentina that got more and more expense the further you got from BsAs.

  11. Lara Dunston

    We still find BA to be great value, although it was even cheaper when we were there a few years ago. Friends who live there now tell us they’ve noticed the prices creeping up, but we didn’t think it was that bad. I do remember the rural areas of Argentina, and also Uruguay and Paraguay being significantly more expensive, though that was a long time ago. Guess, it’s like anywhere, the further products have to travel, the more they’re going to cost. Thanks for dropping by!

  12. Heidi

    That is very surprising to me about Krakow. I’d never really thought about going to Poland, but I’m reconsidering it for sure. Thanks for the price bread-down.

  13. Sandy O'Sullivan

    I love these price-check updates. It’s really interesting. I’m gonna guess that some of the same costs for Edinburgh were ones you experienced in London too? Cos the prices seemed pretty similar for me, and I really noticed how much (relatively) cheaper (even INSIDE the currency) it is than ever before throughout the UK.
    I think the one that really surprised me for cost was Austin. But then I think the real issue is that there is such a disparity between good and poor quality items in the US, that it’s hard to shop the low quality stuff and not feel like you’re eating corn by-products.

  14. Lara Dunston

    Hi Sandy – nice to see you here. Long time. Where are you at the moment?

    Thanks re the price check posts. Yeah, we didn’t get to do a lot of grocery shopping in London – only cooked a couple of meals, as we were doing a lot of running around, but I expect you’re probably right. Yep, you’re right re Austin – and New York. What astounded us most in New York was the price of the liquor – I remember seeing a bottle of the Australian Yellow Tail chardonnay (“the USA’s most popular imported wine” we read at the time!) going for $39 in one bottle shop – it’s about $10 in Australia. I have to say, though, what’s shocking us most is the price check post that will come in a month or so – the one on Bendigo, Australia. We’re back now writing up the book on Bangkok and finding it to be extraordinarily expensive – everything! but especially groceries. I reckon it might be up the top of the list even. Will be interesting to see.

  15. Sandy O'Sullivan

    Yeah I am THE worst correspondent. I think you have to think of me as the anti-you and Terry! I’m heading back to London and the UK for three months, with the research again, in about four weeks, then back here. Gawd, I hope I can catch up. I still have to really thank you guys for the headsup on the homeaway.co.uk site, it’s been a dream for not just me but for my work colleagues. I’m spreading the word because it’s just so consistent and you know how that goes, it’s hard to find that consistency.

    You’re so right on the groceries back here in Aus. And, again, it’s not just the exchange rate. Well, I guess we saw it reflected in the interest rates. I was joking – except not really – the other day that the best thing about travelling to London from Queensland is that I’ll be able to afford to buy bananas in London. I’m actually really looking forward to them – tragic. They’re still $14 a kilo here. I am actually going to try to keep a blog for this next bit of the trip, so will send on the addy. The big problem with blog has been the confidentiality issue with the research, but I can find a work around with it! Meanwhile the research has been going well!

    I’m giving myself a treat tomorrow by spending some time on your site, so you might be getting a few more comments from me. Thank heavens for you guys! xx

  16. Ellie

    I found this post really interesting. In particular that Krakow was still cheap even with Poland now part of the EU. I had heard that the Czech Republic for example is dramatically more expensive now than pre-accession.

  17. Kevin

    My Father works in Japan, and he told me that everything there is seriously Expensive!! Thanks for this post, really informative.

  18. Andy

    It is interesting to me that you guys list Istanbul as one of the more expensive cities. I don’t remember it being that bad, except the occasional tea shop for tourists. I think that it really comes down to what a person eats and how they shop. One person could spend a small fortune while another lives for pennies.

  19. Lara Dunston

    The results were interesting, weren’t they?

    I remember when we first went to Turkey in ’99 it was dirt cheap so we’ve noticed the prices increasing over the years and each time we visit Istanbul we’re a little shocked at how much they’ve gone up. We were also surprised how Istanbul compared to the other places we price-checked in 2010 because two years before that we spent a few months in rental houses in Kas and Antalya and prices down there were very reasonable.

    Good points, too, but let me clarify a few things:

    * the prices were for groceries bought at supermarkets that locals thought were very reasonably priced, not expensive Waitrose or Whole Foods type supermarkets.

    * in our first Price Check post, back in January 2010, we explain our methodology and what we’ll be pricing throughout the year, but essentially it was reasonable quality local products – so we would like at the prices of tin tomatoes and buy the mid-range can, not the cheapest or most expensive.

    * there were a couple of exceptions, such as Lipton tea and Nescafe coffee (not our personal preference), because we’ve learnt that many people when they travel stick to the brands they know when it comes to things like tea and coffee.

    * the tallies above reflect how grocery prices compared throughout 2010 and we all know how currencies fluctuate so if we were to do the experiment in 2014 it would probably be very different.

    But, yes, budget travellers would have a completely different result to luxury travellers due to the choices they make. With this exercise, we always aim for mid-range prices, although we also buy ethical products as we normally would, such as free-range eggs, which in many countries can be more expensive.

  20. Lara Dunston

    Hi Lina – I’m so sorry I overlooked this comment. If you’re subscribed to these comments: the comparison above was a result of shopping in different places every two weeks during our 12-month grand tour of the world in 2010. We recently did a Price Check for Siem Reap and we have one coming soon for Singapore. If you’re still interested in Asia, then we’ll make a conscious effort to do some over coming months as we bounce around the region, and post a table like the one above at the end of the year.

  21. Lara Dunston

    Your father is right! Groceries were super expensive. We actually found it cheaper to eat out. A bowl of ramen or udon or set lunches in workers cafes were very reasonable. Thanks for your comments!

  22. Lara Dunston

    Yes, we were also surprised to find prices in Krakow hadn’t gone up much at all between our first trip and last. Yet we noticed a big difference in Turkey for instance – they really jumped after the country became an associate EU member. I also noticed the different in Prague too. It would be interesting to find out why.

  23. Lukasz Basisty

    I do agree with your view that Tokyo is the most expensive tourist destination in the World. Everything from food to accommodation is very expensive in the Japanese capital. I too found the East European tourist destinations to be the most economical cities in the Europe, the only place cheaper than them can be the Indian or African tourist destination, but there you won’t find the kind of experience and architecture you find in Europe.

  24. Lara Dunston

    Hi Lukasz – agree with you, however, these are just guides for people planning to settle in for a while – we don’t advocate they avoid the more expensive destinations. Tokyo shouldn’t be missed. Nor should Europe. Thanks for dropping by!


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