What Do 13 Epic Life Experiences Actually Cost?

Words by Sonia Taylor

By Sonia Taylor, 20/2/2017

Whether you’re reading Dostoevsky and Joseph Campbell, or just having a chat with your Nan, we’re all convinced that life isn’t simply about surviving or accumulating financial wealth, but about accruing experience: chasing that blissful feeling of being alive.

The sense of fulfilment we get from creating memories is now backed up by science. Research has found that experiences make us happy – not things – meaning stuff like travel, learning and activities are an excellent way to spend your money if you want to feel like you’ve lived a good life.

If you were to go all out with a mix of traditional, wild and some essential experiences – like jumping out of a plane, getting a tertiary education, heading on an African safari, or flying into space – how much would your life highlight reel actually cost? We did the math to see if living like a baller is, in fact, an achievable dream.

Note: these are all approximate costs in AUD, the costs of travel in particular can fluctuate so check with your provider.


#1 Live it up at Burning Man

This notorious week-long music, arts, cultural and community festival pops up late August at a temporary site named Black Rock City in the Nevada desert.

You need to know this: after your ticket in, there is no money exchanged (other than being able to buy coffee and ice at designated areas). Burning Man’s white-hot playa (the area over which the event takes place) operates on a gift economy. It is a leave-no-trace event, forcing you to be self-sustainable, aware and responsible for every tiny speck of waste you generate as a human. It operates on the principle of radical self-reliance.

Whether you plan for it to be or not, the week will be one of total self-discovery while somehow simultaneously bolstering connection to community. The sense of empowerment and belonging that gives Burners is priceless. Sold? Here’s what it’ll set you back.

Ticket price: $655 (more information here).

Transport + accommodation: An RV will set you back $1570 (plus $25 petrol) per person if you’re splitting it with four friends. Remember to ask for a bike rack.

Camp fees: The most common way people organise themselves on the playa is by being part of a theme camp or village. This means camp fees are determined by what you’re being offered as a group, and what you’re offering as a group to the community. Average price: $280.

Food, water and other stuff: Remember you’re bringing in everything you need to exist for a week. Expect to pay about $350 per person.

Accessories: Approximately $500 for costumes and essentials like dust masks, goggles and LED lighting (so you’re not side-swiped by a bike at night).

A playa bike: Around $160, including a patch kit and bike lock.

Hotel accommodation: The night after Burning Man hundreds of people stay at hotels in Reno to decompress, shower and party by the pool. Average price: $80.

Flights and an ESTA Visa Waiver: At the time of publication a return flight from Sydney to San Francisco is $1500 direct. Add in $20 for your ESTA visa waiver in order to enter the States.

Incidentals: $300, because you always forget something, right?

What’s the damage?

Approximately $5500 for eight nights, and an experience you’ll never forget.


#2 Marvel at the Northern Lights

There’s nothing like a glowing green sky to capture the imagination. The Northern Lights (or Aurora Borealis) are a phenomenon appearing at high latitudes during darkness from September through March across the Artic Circle. It’s not always guaranteed you’ll see the otherworldly light show, but it’s so breathtaking that thousands of people still try their luck each year.

You can see the lights in parts of Scandinavia, Canada, Alaska, Russia and even Scotland. The darker it is, the more intense the lights, so a good choice is somewhere with little light pollution in an area called the Aurora Zone. For this reason, northern Norway and Sweden are popular picks. No matter where you choose you’ll want to stay at least four nights to increase your chances of witnessing the spectacle.

Flights: Around $1800.

Transport: A bus from Kiruna to Abisko is $50 return. The shmick night train from Kiruna to Stockholm Central is about $120.

Accommodation: Four nights at the Abisko Guesthouse costs around $300 per person twin share. Realistically, you’ll want to add on a stay somewhere like Stockholm to round out your holiday (about $65 per night at a hostel).

Photo tour: This one is #1 on TripAdvisor and great for people who don’t have snazzy camera gear – they provide it all, just BYO SD card. $180.

Food and other expenses: Add on around $500.

Incidentals, food and transport: $400.

What’s the damage?

About $3610 for nine nights.


#3 Go on an African safari

People fly from all over the world to come face-to-face with the ‘Big Five’: the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard. Considering safaris are usually very high on everyone’s bucket lists, game reserves easily reach $1000 to $2000 per person, per night (!) sharing. You’ll get the luxury glamping experience, sure, but there’s still a way to live it up and see the wildlife wonders of the region.

Forgetting the Kalahari, Kruger and the Okavango Delta means you don’t spend a fortune to have an unforgettable week and support lesser-known reserves that offer affordable prices without skimping on the important stuff. Less than a three-hour drive from Johannesburg sits the wilderness of Pilanesberg National Park. You can stay in mid-range lodges and not spend more than $260 per person per night sharing – no mean feat in the highly competitive South African safari market.

Flights: A multi-city flight from Sydney to Johannesburg, then Cape Town, and back to Sydney costs about $1400 return in early September for 10 days.

Accommodation: A three-night stay in low season at Shepherd’s Tree Game Lodge is $765 per person, twin share. A four-night stay in a double room at the Anchor Bay Guest House in Cape Town’s trendy Greenpoint is about $140 per person, twin share.

Additional expenses: Add on $600 for food, transport/transfers and more.

What’s the damage?

About $2905 for a 10-day stay in South Africa when sharing with a mate.

#4 Get a tertiary education

Australia is fortunate to have a system where the government regulates university fees, although this year the Federal Government proposed a shake-up of the tertiary education system as part of its annual budget, hoping to deregulate fees. This would drive prices of degrees up and the idea left many young adults worried about their ability to access tertiary education. The bill hasn’t passed, so our calculations are based off the current, regulated system.

University: According to data from the Grattan Institute, Undergraduate or Bachelor Degrees can range from $18,000 (Arts, Nursing or Architecture) to $59,000 (Medicine).

TAFE: Certificates and Diplomas vary anywhere from $1500 for a few months to $48,000 for a few years.

Transport and course material: $3200 for a four-year degree ($400 per semester).

What’s the damage?

Around $36,200 for an Engineering Degree, including course work and transport.


#5 Hike to Mount Everest Base Camp

Even hiking Everest’s trails has been likened to a spiritual or meditative experience. The best time to trek to Base Camp is usually spring or autumn (April and May, or October and November). This trek is not to be taken lightly: there are deaths every season (and last year’s devastating earthquake). Despite this, the pull of the mountain sees climbers return every year. There’s breathtaking scenery and unique Sherpa culture to experience, plus an unrivalled personal sense of achievement.

Flights: Sydney to Kathmandu return is about $880 in April (high season).

Visa: A visa for Nepal is required for Aussie citizens. Fees are $60 for a 30-day multiple entry visa.

Trekking tour: A 14-day trekking tour to Everest Base Camp can cost around $1800. Check the full list of inclusions here.

Meals in Kathmandu: $40.

Water: A filter plus extra bottled water and other beverages on the trek – $200.

Gear: Here is an exhaustive list of what to pack. You’re looking at about $1000 all up.

Incidentals: $300.

What’s the damage?

$4280 for an unforgettable 14-day experience.

Paraglider above Remarkables range, Queenstown, Otago, New Zealand

#6 Skydive in Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown is a stunning area of southern New Zealand famed for its adventure activities, earning it the title of ‘Adventure Capital of the World’. It is the birthplace of tandem skydiving in NZ, and the NZONE Skydive drop zone is located at the base of the famous Remarkables mountain range, surrounded by a working sheep farm. In other words, a pretty epic place for a cheeky skydive.

The jump: The highest altitude jump (15,000 feet) costs $420 with NZONE.

A GoPro photo package: $180

Flights: Sydney to Queenstown in May/June sits around $400 return including baggage.

Accommodation: A five-night stay at the Nomads Backpackers in Queenstown will cost around $200-230 for a bed in a four-bed dorm with a bathroom.

Incidentals, transport and food: $500.

What’s the damage?

$1715 for a five-night skydiving holiday.


#7 Set foot on Antarctica

There’s no real way around it: if you want to place your foot down on the most inhospitable continent on Earth, you’re going to have to pay for it. You’ll need to be part of a tour.

You also have to get yourself to the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia. But from there, pretty much everything is included in your tour, like nine nights cruising and a one-night hotel stay, some meals, return transfers in Ushuaia, Zodiac excursions with an expert expedition team and educational programs. Easy as.

Cruise + accommodation: Adventure World has a classic 10-night cruise expedition starting from $6799 per person.

Flights: A return flight from Sydney to Ushuaia will cost around $2900.

Incidentals and extras: $300

What’s the damage?

This trip of a lifetime will cost a hefty $10,000 for 10 nights. Ouch.


#8 Learn an instrument or a second language

Piano, guitar, drum and singing lessons have an average cost of $50 per hour. One music lesson a week for 36 weeks means you’re looking at $1800. To learn a language in a small group for an average of 18 hours, the hourly rate works out around $19.50, making 36 weeks of language learning approximately $1431 across a year.

What’s the damage?

The average across music and language sits at $1600 for 36 weeks of tuition over a year.


#9 Voyage into space (yes, actual space)

The hottest ticket on Earth is to leave it. “Ready to become an astronaut?” asks the Virgin Galactic site. If Antarctica is the true untouched wild, then space is the final frontier.

Humans have been obsessed with the stars for as long as we have existed. Now, there’s an opportunity to float among them, peering back down at our blue-green planetary home. You’ll need to submit a ‘Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut Application Form’, which will be reviewed on whether you share the group aims of opening space to all, and your ability to “add to the diversity and value of the group overall”. Read: no plebs allowed.

What’s the damage?

A cool $348,000 through Virgin Atlantic– and you’re not actually guaranteed to be accepted onto the flight. But hey, for space we’ll take the chance.


#10 Spend a month at an Ashram in India

Yoga originated in India 5000 or more years ago, a physical practice to release the mind, body and spirit. And where better to experience yoga than the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’?

Rishikesh in northern India sits on the banks of the holy river Ganges in the lap of the majestic Himalayas. It’s considered a spiritual centre – garnering the title ‘City of the Divine’ – where sages, rishis, saints and pilgrims have flocked for thousands of years. Just outside the hustle and bustle of the main town is Parmarth Niketan yoga ashram, the largest ashram in Rishikesh.

The ashram has 1000 rooms on its eight-acre campus, and runs an extensive program of beginner yoga, Vedic heritage and spirituality, and teacher training courses. The ashram also performs a raved about Ganga aarti every evening (a devotional ritual using fire as an offering). Sign us up.

Accommodation, meals and yoga: Your stay is on a donation basis, with the suggested minimum donation for the 10-day yoga beginner course at $440, which includes accommodation, three meals a day and yoga. Before and after the yoga course you’ll pay a donation of about $14 per day.

Flights: New Delhi from Sydney return in April averages out at $1000.

Visa: $80 for six months.

Transport: Train from Delhi to Haridwar in a 2AC class sleeper is $28 return. Taxi from Haridwar station to ashram is approx. $80 return.

Incidentals: Add $400 for extra donations for activities and trips over the month.

What’s the damage?

A reasonable $2300 for 30 divine days.


#11 Head on an outback camping trip to Uluru

Sacred to the local Pitjantjatjara tribe that live there, Uluru was formed during the Dreamtime by ancestral beings, according to Aboriginal culture. It is a world heritage site in our own backyard, and your chance to experience the real Aussie Outback.

Flying into Alice Springs and joining a camping tour is one of the easier ways to have an authentic adventure without spending a fortune at overpriced resorts. You also can’t miss the ancient rock formations of Kata Tjuta and the impressive Kings Canyon. Check out this travel guide for more information.

Entry to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta national park: $25.

Flights: Alice Springs from Sydney return including baggage is an average of $550.

Tour: An authentic two-night, three-day outback camping tourfrom Alice Springs will cost you $390, including meals and hotel transfers.

Accommodation: Three nights (one before the tour and two after) at the quirky Alice’s Secret Travellers Inn in a Queen Room is $112.50 per person twin share.

Incidentals: Water, transport and meals in Alice Springs – $250.

What’s the damage?

Your trip to the red centre is about $1328 for five nights, a bargain by Uluru standards.


#12 Run a marathon

Training for and running a marathon is often touted as one of the most challenging and rewarding events we can experience. The 42.195km distance pushes you mentally and physically beyond your comfort zone, where many runners have noted they confront the limitations of their minds and bodies.

Sports nutrition: Like drinks and powders – $150

Gear: Two pairs of running shoes, a hat/visor, sunglasses, GPS-enable watch, headphones, running clothes and underwear, fuel belt – $1500

Transport: To the event in your city – $10.

Post-race care: Massage or physio, foam roller and compression socks – $90

Entry fee: $150

What’s the damage?

Your marathon could cost you about $1900 and give you a genuine reason to feel like a champion.


#13 Forgive someone completely

This is totally and utterly free, yet something very few of us have truly ever accomplished. The reason it makes this list is because really letting go of a hurt actually allows you to free yourself.

Holding onto a grudge means holding onto the toxic emotions that are associated with it, and the only person feeling those? You. Not needing to rely on anyone else giving you the ‘closure’ or ‘freedom’ that comes from an apology or acknowledgement is an extraordinarily advanced way of being.

If you’re not sure where you’d even start with finding this kind of inner peace, I hear there’s a pretty great ashram in India that can help.

What’s the damage?

No damage. It’s FREE (and empowering).


Ready to start saving for your best life right this instant? You’ll need a good bank account for that. Check out the Westpac range here; they’ve got multiple accounts that can see you on safari in no time.

Sonia was the Founding Editor of The Cusp. You can find her on Instagram @sonnietothetee