That’s the big number. What it cost for us to put our jobs on hold, sell our home and car, say goodbye to friends and family and travel around the world for a year (326 days to be exact). That’s under our predicted budget of $50,000 – and no I didn’t cook the numbers to make it look good! You can look at the raw numbers here.
It seems like a big number doesn’t it? But what would it have cost to stay home for the year? Let’s say a modest mortgage payment of $2000/month – that’s $24,000. Then our regular weekly spending budget of about $400 – that’s $20,800 and we’re at almost $45,000 already not including any vacations, insurance, utilities, car payments etc. Sure, we weren’t making money while we were away, but it certainly didn’t cost us a whole lot either and I got to travel around the world for a year! Seriously, why doesn’t everyone do this!
The number does not include any pre trip costs such as clothing or equipment that we bought especially for the trip, vaccinations which we also paid for pretrip, or the Spanish lessons we took to prepare ourselves for three months in South America. These costs came out of our pocket as we were planning and preparing. During this time we didn’t buy ourselves new clothes, stopped eating out as much and sacrificed more than one mountain biking trip so that we could better afford to spend the money on trip focused items. There is a ‘PreTrip Costs’ tab on the spreadsheet that shows that these items totaled just over $6500. A good chunk of change but money we would have likely spent during this time anyway.
It does include every penny we spent after we left Canada. We carried a small notebook with us everywhere and wrote down every single item we paid for every day. It was not as onerous as it sounds and, when the only way money is flowing is ‘out’, there is incentive to track it all! We used a page per day but I have seen other travelers budget books and have marveled at the teeny tiny print they used in order to squeeze a week or more onto one page! Some even have complicated coding systems to categorize expenditures on the go.
The numbers really don’t mean anything though if there is no idea how we spent the money. It’s fine to say that we averaged $21/night for accommodation in Thailand but were we sleeping in a bug-infested hut or ensconced in a 4 star hotel? I’ll try to shed some light.
Accommodation varied greatly. We always had our own room (no dorm rooms) with a private bath (most of the time). We stayed in hotels, hostels, guesthouses, huts, cave rooms, boat cabins and desert camps. Sometimes it seemed like we were paying a fortune for a sh*t room (San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, or the ‘prison cell’ as we call it in Rio de Janeiro) and other times it seemed like we were getting the deal of a century (‘the beach’ room in Thailand, or the 5 star hotel in India which wasn’t cheap but compared to what we would pay for that in Canada was a steal!). I would say that we stayed in average ‘Flashpacker’ accommodation and, on average over the whole year, paid about $30 a night for a room.
Food & Drink
Some variety here from country to country although our eating habits stayed pretty much the same. Breakfast was often included in the room charge, or we would eat a small breakfast out. Then we would typically have one large meal in a restaurant of some sort and a smaller snack maybe from a street vendor or with a beer somewhere. We always ate local food and tried to shy away from ‘tourist’ restaurants. We would certainly have a drink with every meal (okay, not breakfast…often) and probably one or two more besides – it would be interesting to see food and drink broken out separately but, because they are so intrinsically linked for us, it became impossible to keep track. It looks like, generally, we spent more on food and drink per day than we spent on a room to sleep in. That makes sense to me because we like to eat and drink and use it as a form of entertainment.
We did not take that many flights during our year – only 12 actually. We did, however, take a lot of buses, a few trains, a couple of boats and occasionally a car.
Taking public transit, buses and trains cuts down on costs dramatically. We spent a lot (and I mean a lot) of time on buses and I find them great value for money. I love travel days and we had the time to spend so they were a great option for us. We took trains in Germany and, although they were famously reliable, they were also expensive. We never did rent a car as it always seemed expensive although we did share long distance taxis in Jordan and hired a car and driver as part of a package in India.
Trying to see what we wanted to see, do what we wanted to do and being able to afford it all was a constant struggle.
Included in this category were any entrance fees to sites or museums, any tours we took (whether short city tours or multiday region tours), cooking courses, and bike rentals etc. Some of the longer tours were a set price including transport, room, site fees and food but we tracked the cost in just this one category.
Pretty much everything else. You know…all that other stuff that doesn’t fit in one of the definable categories. Bathroom fees, buying books, international phone cards, toiletries, tour guide tips, internet fees, ATM charges, laundry, new clothes, postage…a litany of miscellany that doesn’t fit anywhere else. Backpacker insurance was split; we paid for J’s full year and 1/2 a year for me from pre trip money, but I had to renew half way through so that came out of traveling money.
We purposely did not buy too many souvenirs. I did not want to worry about carting around, or mailing home, tons of trinkets and treasures. It all looks so wonderful while on vacation but I know me and it’s very likely I won’t like whatever it is once I get it home. That’s not to say that we didn’t buy anything while away – we picked up these nice things that will always remind us of where we went:
- A beautiful woven belt from Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca in Peru.
- A kilim (carpet) from Turkey that I love as much for its story as I do for its beauty.
- A Buddhist mandala print from Nepal.
- A stunning woodcarved wall hanging from Thailand – the artistry and workmanship is amazing.
- Silk wall hangings from Lao. In the end I think maybe they are knock offs from China, but that is just part of their story.
- Two very small, but interesting, paintings from Bali.
Eight of the fourteen countries we visited required visas, although only two of them required that we have one ahead of time. We had neither before we left home and so applied for, and received them, while we were on the road.
We obtained the India visa while we were in Ankara, Turkey where there is an Indian Embassy. The Brazilian one we initially tried while in Buenos Aires, Argentina but couldn’t get our sh*t together so we tried again in the border town of Iguazu Falls where the office was small and much more relaxed…they didn’t even want all of our sh*t and supplied the visa with no trouble at all…go figure.
All other visas were obtained at the border, either at the airport or the border crossing…for a fee of course. Some countries even insisted on us paying to leave…Bali charged almost as much to leave as to enter!!
Some Fun Budget Stuff
- Most expensive country. Per day costs in Brazil were the most expensive of the year. Accommodation was expensive (and crappy, except in Paraty) and food and drink were also costly.
- Cheapest country. The cheapest country per day was Vietnam and we certainly could have done it for much less even. We upped our accommodation budget to $30/night and slept in some very nice rooms but a normal room could be had for much, much less. The country is as cheap as legend says – I couldn’t believe it but it was true. One night J and I had dinner (in a restaurant not a roadside stall) and ate all the noodles and pork and springrolls we could fit in along with as much beer as we could quaff – the bill? Six dollars!! Seriously! I love Vietnam!
- Most Expensive Flight. The flight home from Bali was the most expensive. Not surprising as it was also the farthest flight.
- Least Expensive Flight. Zero dollars! That’s right…free. Our flight from Turkey to India was on Royal Jordanian Air and had a stop over in Amman, Jordan – it was free for us to stay for 10 days and continue the flight then. The flight from Singapore to Bali was also free. I don’t understand the economics of offering free flights but, yay for free!
- Most Expensive Drink. Without doubt it was the double Gin and Tonic I had to have in the New Dehli airport. Only one bar in the whole airport and it had run out of beer. I was getting on a plane!! $40…enough said.
- Totally Worth The Money.Some things are just worth the little bit of extra money (see ‘Most Expensive Drink’ above).
- Getting apartments in Santiago, Buenos Aires and Berlin was totally worth the money – we loved settling into neighborhoods, cooking meals and feeling like a local.
- Trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru was totally worth it as it stands as one of the highlights of my year.
- I loved taking city tours or short term region tours as it gave me a chance to easily learn about an area and was a great chance to meet other travelers.
Balancing a budget over a year of travel when current costs are higher than expected and future costs are unknown can be a challenge. Remember that these are our numbers and that everyone travels differently. We met people who were traveling on half of what we were and know of others who spent significantly more than this for one person. Would I have liked to have had a bigger budget? Hell yeah! But at some point you have to stop saving and planning and just step out and do it!