The myth that travel is inherently expensive is finally nearing extinction. Travel is within your reach. Many people have no idea how much money they are spending on rent, gas, and groceries just living their normal life. There are plenty of fantastic resources out there these days to help anyone budget for long-term travel (some links at the end of the post). With that being said, it’s always great to see the numbers. I remember when I was planning, I always wondered what people like me actually spent. People travel differently and therefore total costs vary tremendously, even among backpackers.
Below you’ll find all of the numbers behind my 105 day Round-the-World (RTW) trip. Posting a 110 row Excel spreadsheet in a viewer-friendly format is difficult, but if anyone wants the full file to reference, I’d be more than happy to send it to you (just leave a comment). For now, I’ll just post a screenshot below so you can see how I tracked my spending.
My trip took me through thirteen countries over the course of 105 days. In total, I spent $11,533. That averages out to $61.59 per day, not including airfare. My flights were a huge expense as I wanted to visit many different regions in just 3.5 months, therefore my ~15 flights came out to almost 5,000 dollars. As you can see, my five categories of spending (lodging, transportation, food, partying, and activities) all came out to be nearly equal. So, would your numbers be anything like mine? Maybe. My style was to travel relatively quickly (taking the absolute cheapest transportation options), do lots of activities, stay in budget accommodation, eat cheap local food, and party a good bit as well. My budget was clearly optimistic as my entire trip was about 1,500 dollars over budget. Many people, like Nomadic Matt, argue that you could average about 50 dollars a day. I agree. However, to accomplish that you would have to visit fewer destinations per trip (travel slower), cut out the scuba diving and bungee jumping, only party in a handful of destinations, and avoid expensive destinations. Sometimes you have to pull your head out of the clouds. I budgeted 60 dollars per day for Carnaval in Rio, but my hostel alone was 50 dollars a night (a good deal for that time of year). Likewise, if you want to scuba dive in Thailand, there is no way you’ll hit 30 dollars a day. Again, if you travel over a long period of time in each destination, your costs go down. This is because instead of doing every activity in two days, you spread your costs over four or five days. Also, any day you buy a train or bus ticket to the next city, you’ll probably be over budget as well (if you travel slower, you have less of these days).
Below I included some of my averages for specific destinations. Take it with a huge grain of salt. New Zealand is an extremely expensive place to go, so why was Dunedin one of my cheapest destinations? I stayed with a friend for free, ate food at his house or McDonald’s, did only free activities (surfing, etc.), and only partied one or two nights. Conversely, Thailand is a very cheap place to go, but I did a LOT. I went diving three days, I went to a Full Moon Party, I rented kayaks and mopeds, etc. If you just go to Thailand to sit on a beach and relax for a few days, you could get by on 25 dollars a day, no problem. Another example–I think Budapest is significantly cheaper than Prague, but I did a lot more activities and partying in Budapest so I spent a lot of money there. Don’t take these averages at face value!
Where I Could Have Saved:
- Couchsurfing. It’s a great way to meet locals and save money. I only used it twice.
- Cooking my own food in Europe. This doesn’t make sense in SE Asia (street food is too cheap) but I could have cooked instead of eating döner kebaps at 3 Euros each.
- Taking the ferry/bus from Koh Phi Phi to Bangkok. The plane really didn’t save that much time, and then I had to pay for a cab from the airport.
- Not missing buses or changing plans with non-refundable deposits
- Bringing in duty free liquor into Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore (their alcohol is absurdly expensive)
- Taking more overnight trains (one less night of accommodation costs)
- Booking further in advance (trains, hostels, short flights)
Where I Did Well:
- I stayed for free 55 of 105 days (friends, family, couchsurfing, etc.)
- Most buses I booked were dirt cheap. Much cheaper than trains.
- Diving in Thailand instead of Australia
- Eating Asian food instead of western food in Asia
- Choosing Eastern/Central Europe instead of Western Europe
- Buying a RTW plane ticket instead of purchasing individual flights
- Not buying souvenirs
Budgeting for a RTW trip is a daunting task that involves lots of time and research. Hopefully this post is useful to anyone who is considering taking the plunge or has already begun to plan. If you have any questions about my specific numbers, I would be more than happy to answer them in the comments. If you would like some resources to help you start budgeting, I highly recommend these three below. Happy planning!
www.nomadicmatt.com (general budget travel advice)
Backpacker Index 2014 (estimated cost per day of over 100 cities around the world)
www.matadornetwork.com (a great travel publication with tons of budget-minded posts)