Budget Breakdown: Ukraine for $36 a Day
It’s kind of distasteful to think of a silver lining of Russia’s appalling invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea territory, but there is something of a positive to foreigners. While the country suffers from instability and economic problems due to the unrest, the US dollar is almost two hundred percent stronger than what it was in late 2013. Even with the country’s staggering inflation (33 percent in 2015), Ukraine has never been this big of a bargain for people using the U.S. dollar.
Out of all the countries I’ve been to – including Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar – Ukraine is the cheapest to travel in. Ukraine has the 117th lowest cost of living out of 122 countries listed on Numbeo. These lows prices are the icing on the cake, as, I can’t speak highly enough of the country. It’s a beautiful place to visit and all the main tourist areas are completely safe. Lviv is my favorite old town, while the capital in Kiev was unexpectedly packed with fascinating places to see. In either of these cities, culture fans can see a top-notch ballet for less than $5. In between those cities are a number of great castles that are well worth visiting. To top it off, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is an eerie must-see for anyone interested in history.
Here’s my budget breakdown for the country.
Total Spent: $441
Average Daily Price: $36
- Lviv: 4 nights
- Chernivtsi: 2 Nights
- Kamyanets Podilsky: 2 Night (including an overnight train)
- Kiev: 3 nights
I only stayed in hostels, and each one wasn’t even the cheapest one available. The typical price was about $5-$7 a night. Most of these upper-mid range hostels were modern and comfortable, although I didn’t see many foreign tourists here. It seemed to mostly be Ukrainian students or older people.
Like Russia, the food was inexpensive so I found myself eating out all the time. Aside from a homemade breakfast of yogurt and granola, I was dining out and trying to eat as much Ukranian food as possible. I liked the canteen-style places where you pick what type of food you want and you pay by weight. I’d usually treat myself to double portions of meat. I also went to McDonald’s twice, where Big Macs were less than $2.
$162: Tour of Chernobyl
More than a third of all the money I spent went to a daylong tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone outside Kiev. I was hesitant to spend what felt like a lot of money at the time, but I’m totally glad I did. There were only two other people on our tour through Chernobyl Tour so we were able to get up close and explore all the abandoned sites. It was a fascinating and somewhat unsettling trip worth every dollar.
Public Transportation: $28
I took a combination of buses and trains to get around the country. The highlight was the overnight train from Kamyanet-Podilsky to Kiev that only cost $7. It was a totally comfortable Soviet-era train that was exactly like most of the trains I took on the Trans-Siberian Railway. I had the entire four-person cabin to myself. The buses were of mixed quality, but mostly on the uncomfortable side. Fortunately none of my bus trips were too long.
The Ukraine was an art-lover’s dream. I was there in the peak of the theatre season, so I saw two ballets with decent seats for about $7 a ticket. There were a number of operas being performed in the fall, yet the timing didn’t work out so I couldn’t see any of them. The theaters in Kiev and Lviv were incredibly beautiful and wonderfully maintained. Even if you can’t see a show, it’s worth seeing if you can get in to see the interiors. The rest of the entertainment including a $5 boxing match in Lviv and a number of museum admissions.
There was a cold front I wasn’t really ready for, so I went to a fancy shopping mall to get a sweater for $26. I also had to buy two or three earbuds because I kept losing them or breaking them and some toiletries.
Ukraine was great value, and maybe it’s because of the low prices that I enjoyed it so much. If I didn’t take the Chernobyl tour then my daily spending would have been a mere $29 (which is more than what I paid for a hostel per night in Paris or Amsterdam). I couldn’t find that type of value anywhere else I went to in Europe.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?