How Much Money Is Enough?

When do you know that you have enough to go?

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“I’d really love to, but I can’t afford it.”

That statement is one of the biggest reasons people give for not being able to travel long-term.

It’s also one of the biggest misconceptions of why a person can’t travel.  Sure, travel can be expensive.  Go to Manhattan, London, Rome or any other major city throughout the developed world, and costs will be high.  But for every Los Angeles and Paris, there’s also a Bangkok and Buenos Aires.

If you clicked on this article to find out that RTW travel costs X dollars per day, you won’t find it here.  Everyone is going to have a different budget because everyone travels differently.  Some can do it on $15/day, while some have trouble doing it on $100/day.

But I can’t help but laugh at the thought of travel being too expensive.  I’m not judging here.  Hell, I thought the same thing at one time, which is why I initially scoffed at my wife’s suggestion of taking a RTW trip.

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I’m extremely happy I didn’t stick to my very first response of, “We aren’t rich; we could never do that.”  If I did, who knows where we’d be today?  Whether you’re planning on hitting the road for an undetermined amount of time or just wanting to get out of town for a week, there are several ways to keep those costs down and realize that even if you’re just a normal person, you too can afford to travel the world.

You don’t need to be rich to travel the world

MOney

At this time back in early 2007, I had never heard of the term Round The World (RTW) trip.  After initially dismissing what I thought was my wife’s ridiculous proposal, I decided to do a little digging.  My better half was smart, certainly smarter than I, so maybe she wasn’t so crazy after all.

Even though I was very skeptical, I was also very intrigued.  So I used the old google and started doing some research.  I came across a few travel blogs immediately, many of which were devoted to long term, RTW travel.  I read the bios of the authors – people who didn’t seem much different than I – and a bit about their experiences.  None mentioned lottery winnings or trust funds.

Then I came across different forums and message boards like the ones here at BootsnAll.  Again, no mention of riches and pots of gold accompanying these world travelers on their trips.

“But how?” I thought to myself.  “How in the world (pun intended) did these people afford to quit their jobs and travel, some for a year, some for more?”

By this point I was more than intrigued.  My tune of not being able to travel because we weren’t rich had changed.  I still didn’t quite understand how these people did it, but I knew that they did in fact do it.

I knew I loved to travel but our international travel experience had been limited to a 3 week trip to Europe.  It was expensive, despite the fact that we stayed in hostels most of the time.  So I was still confused.  If we were to travel in the same manner as we did on that trip to Europe, we wouldn’t last but a month before funds ran out.

>> Discover five countries to visit for under $500

How to figure out costs of travel

Budgeting

One of the biggest challenges of deciding whether or not this whole RTW trip thing was possible was trying to attach a cost to it.  We knew how much previous trips cost, but most of our trips were of the week long vacation variety.  The Europe trip was longest at nearly three weeks, but we did a whirlwind tour and flew quite a few times, which jacked up the costs.

By traveling slowly and not trying to do too much, you’ll not only prevent the dreaded travel burnout, but your money will last much, much longer.

Unfortunately there is no website around that provides costs for every single travel destination in the world (though some try).  Even if there was, travel is different for everyone, so it would all be subjective anyway.  The best thing to do is use a combination of different resources.  Guidebooks typically have costs associated for travel within different regions.  Keep in mind that most are at least a year out of date, if not older, so aim high.  You never want to underestimate your costs.

Be sure to check out your favorite blogs.  Chances are you’re going to read several blogs written by people who have the same travel style as you.  If they don’t have budget information on their site, simply send a message and ask.  I have found that travel bloggers are very forthright with information, so come right out and ask.

Message boards are also chock full of information.  BootsnAll has a RTW forum with a myriad of different threads about budgets.  There are tons of travelers who peruse those boards and are more than willing to let you know how much they spent.

After that, it’s just a matter of being honest with yourself.  If you know you aren’t going to stay in dorms, don’t budget for them.  If you hate cooking and never do it, then don’t budget with the intention of cooking a few meals a day.  If you know that you’re going to want to splurge on a nice hotel once a week, plan for that.

There’s no one right or wrong way to travel, and only you know what you like, so be honest with yourself when setting your budget.

>> Check out our favorite travel blogs

Where you go greatly affects your budget

Beach

There is a reason why Southeast Asia has been on the backpacker circuit for as long as it has.  Because it’s beautiful, the tourist trail is well trodden, and it’s dirt cheap.  Some regions of the world just lend themselves better to long term travel.  Southeast Asia, South America and Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Eastern Europe are all pretty cheap destinations which see a lot of long term travelers.

Does this mean you can’t go to Western Europe, New Zealand, Australia, or the US and Canada?  Of course not, but if you’re on a limited budget, think twice about it or consider spending a short amount of time there.  If you’re young, you may want to get to those harder to travel regions now.  It’s a lot easier to endure a 20+ hour bus ride through the mountains of Bolivia at 25 instead of 55.

Read The Stopover Secret to find out how to add a destination to your flight for free!

Traveling inexpensively internationally is not much different than traveling at home

My wife and I had been together since college, so we had traveled on the cheap before.  I knew that when we did it at home in the States, it was typically outdoor camping adventures where we didn’t have to pay for hotels or expensive restaurants.  We would also minimize flying and try to drive as much as we could, even if it meant driving cross country.

The same principles apply when you’re planning a long term international adventure.  The great thing about most other regions in the world that aren’t named the United States is that public transport is much better, much more extensive, and much cheaper.  If you plan on traveling for a while, from a few months up to a year, time is on your side.  No need for flights when you can just take a bus for a fraction of the cost.

>> Find out how to decide where to go on your RTW trip

Transportation costs

Flights

If you’re taking a long-term trip, your biggest expense will be your flights.  You have a lot of flight options out there when it comes to taking a round the world trip, so make sure you check them all out.  BootsnAll has Indie, which allows you to search, price, and book trips of up to 25 legs with the few clicks of your mouse – the only website in the world that is able to do this.  Even if you decide not to use Indie to book your flights, it’s a great resource for estimating your flight costs and envisioning your route with the handy map.

Overland travel

Overland travel

You’d be shocked at some of the low costs and high comfort of some public transportation around the world.  For example, a 24 hour bus ride in Argentina, known for their ridiculously comfortable and posh bus system, can cost as little as $50US/person.  That will get you clear across the country in most cases, and includes meals, good ones at that (some companies even serve wine with dinner—for free!).

Overnight travel will also save you accommodation costs for a night, and many buses and trains are more comfortable than you would assume (I was blown away by the comfort of overnight trains in both India and Thailand).

If traveling in other countries like Bolivia or Laos, the buses may not be very comfortable, but what you lose in comfort you make up for in cost.  We spent as little as $6US/person to take an 18 hour bus ride in Bolivia.  The same flight would have cost $75US/person.   It’s not uncommon to spend the equivalent of a $1US/hour on bus rides throughout developing destinations like SE Asia and India.

>> Read about how to travel long distance by bus and check out what to expect when traveling overland.

>> If you’re trying to decide between buying a RTW plane ticket or point to point tickets, download the free Around the World Airfare Report to learn about your options.

Accommodation costs

Hostel

For accommodations, look into hostels.  No matter how old you are or what your situation is (single, married, family), there are usually hostels or guesthouses that will fit your needs.  When hearing the word hostel, people who haven’t traveled extensively think of a frat party with large, barracks-like rooms to sleep in.  While many do have that atmosphere, there are just as many that are couple and family friendly with private rooms and bathrooms.  Most come with breakfast included in the cost, and in a lot of areas of the world there is a communal kitchen, saving tons of money on food costs.

As part of slow travel and to save more on the budget, look into staying put somewhere for a month or so.  Renting an apartment is a cheap way to settle down and really experience the culture of a place.

We averaged about $25US/night total for accommodations during our year long RTW trip.  We had private rooms with our own bathroom over 95% of the time, and while we have a few stories of horrific places, those were few and far between.  One of the best things about long term travel is that time is on your side.  It’s perfectly acceptable and rather easy to arrive in a new destination without accommodations.  Chances are that you will spend less by wandering around and checking out different places.  This also allows you to assess where you’ll be staying before committing.  Place looks like a hellhole?  Move along to the next one.

While you may want to book in advance some of the time (like when arriving really late at night), just remember to only book for one night, so you can find a new place if the one you book sucks.

>> Read Hosteling with Kids or find out 8 Things that Separate Average Hostels from Great Hostels

Food costs

Street food

Food costs are going to vary around the world, but no matter where you are, there are always ways to save money and still eat well.  Food is a very important part of the travel experience for us.  We often plan trips around the cuisine, so this is not something we take lightly.  That being said, it’s not necessary to eat in 5 star restaurants to eat well.

One of the best things about traveling in developing areas like SE Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and India is that street food is king in these regions.  Eating like the locals allows you to soak up the culture more, eat amazing and unique food, and do it for a fraction of the cost.  Some of our best memories involve sitting on tiny, plastic chairs in alleyways throughout Vietnam while slurping $1 bowls of pho.  Or heading to our favorite roadside restaurant in Goa for a breakfast of masala dosas, uttapa, and chai for a few bucks.  Street and market food is amazing, so don’t miss out on a cultural and culinary experience that is also budget friendly.

If you’re worried about getting sick from eating from street carts, look for the most crowded places.  Large crowds means high turnover which means food is being cooked quickly and there is a smaller chance of spoiling.  The vast majority of the time it’s perfectly safe to eat street and market food.

>> Read 11 Delicious Street Foods From Around the World

Trying to put an exact price on a long term, RTW trip is a difficult thing to do, but there are plenty of resources out there to help you plan.  Some of the most hardcore backpackers and thrifty travelers can get by on as little as $10-15/day in certain areas of the world.  Dorms, street food, limited movement, and watching your every penny would be the norm for this type of travel.

Those looking for private rooms without having to share bathrooms and showers, along with actually being able to go out for meals and have some beers here and there, it’s not unrealistic to spend about $35-45/day.  If you’re looking for more, maybe taking a flight every once in a while instead of always having to rely on overland travel, while not having to bypass any activities and spoiling yourself with a hotel stay once a week, you’re probably looking at closer to $60-70/day.

It all depends on how you want to do it.  But one thing’s for sure, if travel is top priority in your life, you can make it happen.

“I can’t afford it” is not a valid excuse.  It all depends on how much you want to make it happen.

Read more about round the world travel:

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Leave a Comment

  • Eric Schuyler said at 2013-11-05T17:20:35+0000: You don't have to be rich! Just be disciplined and save, save, save. After 3 years of saving my wife and I are leaving on our 2 year RTW journey on Jan 26, 2014!! First stop Mexico!!
  • Jack Norell said at 2013-11-06T09:17:25+0000: Awesome article, best roundup of thoughts on travel cost I've seen.
  • PartTime Vagabond said at 2013-11-08T13:25:31+0000: Fantastic roundup of tips! A lot of people are scared by what they don't know, and so don't travel. I admit, I get nervous in new situations too, but there's always a way to see what you want to see, and not spend a ton of money. So, even though it will always cost money to travel, you CAN do it relatively inexpensively.On Part Time Vagabond, I had someone essentially tell me that when I have kids, it'll be nearly impossible to travel. I don't believe them.
  • Domski D Twist said at 2012-11-13T02:00:20+0000: Been to Tokyo and it's.
  • Olivia Vodanovich said at 2012-09-10T09:08:54+0000: interesting
  • Ravinder Kumar said at 2012-09-02T04:51:53+0000: great I liked.
  • Sue Batten said at 2012-05-09T18:01:21+0000: 1st step to our dream!
  • Shivya Nath said at 2011-09-15T11:53:08+0000: Great post! I linked it to my blog to share travel inspiration :) http://theshootingstar.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/travel-inspiration/.

Older comments on How Much Money Is Enough?

Inka Piegsa-quischotte
27 April 2011

I’m a great fan of Adam and although I’m not a budget traveler much less a backpacker or couch surfer I like the concise style in which he explains matters to those who are.

Berniemack Arelláno
27 April 2011

Travel requirements–especially visa requirements, are one of the reasons why international travelling may be expensive.

Adam Seper
28 April 2011

Thanks Inka! Appreciate the kind words.
Berniemack, visa requirements can get expensive, but there are lots of countries around the world where it’s free or costs very little to enter the country. On our RTW, we only had to pay for a visa for 3 of the 11 countries we visited.

The Runaway Guide
30 April 2011

This is a great comprehensive article. When I travel, I usually do it for free! I feel like people can get used to anything. So, no matter your budget, you can adapt. Besides, traveling gets more exciting as you get poorer.

Gastro Traveling
13 May 2011

My biggest hangup w/ traveling for super extended blocks of time is the money not made while away. Not only are you spending on the trip but you aren’t earning any income during this time. I really admire your fortitude!