How much does traveling for a year cost and can we afford it? These were big questions for us when we started thinking about this trip. Especially because when we originally started planning, one of us was still in graduate school.
You can find plenty of blogs, books, and magazines on how different people financed their long-term travel. You’ll find some that gravitate to low-buget options (sleeping in cars at the beach to take advantage of public showers and cooking all your own food). You’ll find others on the opposite end of the spectrum, extravagent in a way that is not realistic for most people (showing off villas you can stay in for only $1,200 a night or having sponsors that will pay for helicopter rides over beautiful canyons).
A separate category of people who could fall into either of the previous groups, also spend all or parts of their trip working remotely or getting a short-term job in the countries they visit to offset the cost of travel.
We knew we wanted something that would include a little more room for comforts but would still be affordable. We had one distinct advantage because we spent 5 years thinking about and planning our trip; we also had 5 years to save for it.
The first budget estimate we pulled together in 2013 was that a 10-month trip would cost $62,176 (taking into account inflation) in 2016. Today, we’ve refined our cost estimates and ended up at $62,000 for 2 people for almost 1 year of travel.
There are a few reasons that we ended up at $31,000 per person instead of something closer to $10,000, which I’ve seen some people report for their year of travel.
We are not staying in hostels. Almost all of our stays will be in private Airbnbs, some will be shared space Airbnbs, there will be a few hotel rooms, and some staying with friends and family along the way. There will not be any 12-person, dorm style rooms with rows of bunk beds and a shared bathroom down the hall. Hostels were amazing when I was in highschool and college. Some people will always love that experience and the chance to meet interesting people while saving a lot of money but it’s not what we’re looking for. If you’re traveling alone, staying in private Airbnbs is likely not afforadble, but splitting the cost between 2 people makes it more comparable to getting a private room in a hostel and we were willing to pay extra for the privacy.
We have budgeted for some big ticket items. Our trip includes 2 days of diving on the Great Barrier Reef, a train ride across South Africa, hiking Machu Picchu, and a full 90 days in the Schengen Zone. If you focus your time in countries where your money goes farther, think southeast Asia, instead of visiting high-cost countries in Europe you’ll be able to cut your costs significantly. For example, our time in Europe makes up for over a quarter of our budget (about $17,000 out of $62,000) and we are trying to be quite frugal while there.
We still plan to cook. Even though we are going to pay a bit more for our accomodations, we still plan to be frugal when it comes to food. That means cooking most meals, picking up snacks at local grocerys/markets, and keeping our alcohol consumption to a minimum, especially when eating at restaurants.
We are not planning to work. Some people get jobs bartending or teaching English while they travel, others are able to work remotely because their profession doesn’t depend on a physcial office space. At least at this point, we are not planning to pick up work along the way to offset our costs.
With the big picture considerations about our travel style out of the way, we can get into the nitty-gritty details of how we put together our budget and then you can use our Google spreadsheet to figure out how much you’d need for a big adventure of your own. You might find that the crazy trip you’d love to take isn’t as expensive as you thought.
To get costs for each country, we made estimates about the cost of non-RTW-flight transporation, visas, accomodations, entertainment, food, and special treats. We had an entry for each of these categories for each stop on our trip. Then we added the cost of our RTW flights, travelers’ insurance, and phone bills.
Our $62,000 estimate does not include the cost of any clothes or equipment we got for this trip. A lot of what we are taking we already had and we were able to get many of the other items as gifts over the last several years. For more on packing and the cost of equipment see our packing list posts for women and for men.
It also doesn’t include the money we were able to make selling furniture, electronics, and appliances we did not want to keep/store while we were away. In the end we sold about $2,500 worth of stuff before we left.
Entries in the budget for non-RTW transportation includes trains, flights, buses, and boats to take day trips and to visit other cities that we couldn’t fit into our 14 RTW flights. This includes the train across South Africa, the flights in South East Asia, and all the trains and ferries we’ll take in Europe.
To get the cost for accomodations, we researched the range of costs for AirBnBs in areas where that was a good option, and private hostel rooms or low cost hotels in places where it wasn’t.
For food, I used a lot of advice from Nomadic Matt and some research on average cost of groceries for different countries. Doing this let us budget $8 a day for food in Thailand per person and $15 in London. Spending just $15 a day in London may seem crazy but we’ll buy most of our food at the grocery store because we’re only staying in places where there is at least a basic kitchen or a hotplate. When you think about having $150 for 5 days worth of food, it seems much more doable.
For us this category included an overnight sailboat trip out to snorkel/dive the Great Barrier Reef, spending two days in Petra, visiting Machu Picchu, and doing some wine tasting trips in South Africa and Chile. This part can really increase costs quickly but is also the most fun part to plan. If you want to take a hot air balloon over the Serengeti or want to visit a Michelin 3-star restaurant, you’re going to have to budget for it.
We spent a lot of time putting together a spreadsheet to figure out our budget and route. Open a copy of our spreadsheet where you can design the budget that works for you. Let the daydreaming begin!