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Have Questions About Costs of Long-Term Travel?

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We’ve asked our community time and time again what the biggest thing holding them back from traveling the world was. The most common answer, every time we ask it, is money!

Having trouble coming up with your travel budget?
Having trouble coming up with your travel budget?

You have questions? We have answers! While traveling long-term isn’t free, it’s also not as much as people think. There are people out there right now spending upwards of $10,000 on a one-week trip to the Caribbean. We know people who have traveled for a year on that much.

Is There An Easy Answer To How Much It Will Cost?

Money, money, money

No, there isn’t, and it’s a shame because this, or some variation of it, is certainly the most frequently asked question of all. If your objective was merely to go around the world as cheaply as possible, you could buy a round the world plane ticket that included two or three short stops, and you’d be done with it for $2,000 or so. But unless you are just trying to win some Jules Verne-inspired bet by doing it, there isn’t much point in that, is there?

What Questions Should I Be Asking Myself?

We all know everyone travels differently, so it’s vitally important to be honest with yourself when asking the following questions.

  • Are you OK with hostel dorms?
  • Are you going to want private rooms most of the time?
  • Or would you rather stay in hotels?
  • Or rent an apartment or house for a month at a time in each location?
  • Do you plan on cooking?
  • How do you feel about street food?
  • How many continents do you want to visit (the more you go to, the more expensive it will be)?
  • How fast do you want to go (faster = more money; slower = lower costs)
  • Are you fine with taking buses and trains most of the time, sometimes on 24-hour-long journeys?
  • What types of adventures or activities will you be interested in including in your itinerary?

Where Should I Begin?

Airfare is going to be the biggest expense, so it makes sense to start there. There are a lot of considerations to make when it comes to airfare.  There are round the world plane tickets available from a number of companies and airline alliances.  Most have their own rules and regulations.

BootsnAll has Indie, a multi-stop international trip planner where you can search, price, and buy tickets for trips with up to 25 stops on them.  With the click of a button, you can get live pricing, then purchase that ticket.  Indie is the only tool of its kind to offer these amenities.

Download our free Around the World Airfare Report to learn more about all your options.

The really spontaneous might not want to commit to a round the world ticket. Your other option is to buy one-way tickets as you go.  This is said to give you more flexibility by not being tied down to a set itinerary, but you are taking a risk by doing it this way.  According to what we learned in the report, airfare is typically cheaper the further out you book your ticket, so if you’re hoping to fly by the seat of your pants and go anywhere on a whim, it may end up costing you more.  And if you’re on a tight budget, keep in mind that you’ll have to spend a significant amount of your travel time searching for airfare.  The pros and cons of buying a multi-stop, round the world ticket vs. buying one-ways is covered here.

I Want To Purchase A RTW Ticket. Now What?

It’s pretty easy to roughly calculate your major transportation costs. Start by plugging your itinerary into Indie.  This is the only trip planner on the web where you can get live pricing with the click of a button, so by playing around with your itinerary and dates, however rough of an itinerary it is, you can get exact an exact price of how much it will cost. Even if you don’t know your exact itinerary or don’t want to book with Indie, you can start getting at least a rough idea of what airfare will cost. Once you have this figure, you’ve got your starting point.

We realize that everyone has different needs, so if you do decide to go with the RTW plane ticket option, be sure to read the reviews we wrote after shopping for RTW plane tickets with eight different companies, and download the aforementioned report, analyzing the pros and cons of RTW tickets vs. buying tickets as you go (it’ll save you loads of research time).

I Want To Buy My Tickets As I Go. Now What?

This will be a little tougher to figure out. If you are choosing this option, chances are you want your trip to be flexible, which means you won’t know where exactly you’ll be going, which makes figuring out a price challenging. Generally speaking (all itineraries are different), if you buy as you go, you’ll have more flexibility, but you’ll probably pay more than if you purchase a RTW ticket.

If you decide to buy as you go, read our review of buying point to point plane tickets.

What’s The Best Way Of Figuring Out Costs For Buying Plane Tickets As I Go?

Since you won’t know exactly where you’re going, it’s impossible to figure out an exact cost. Aiming high is always better than lowballing it. You could start checking out flight costs on a site like Kayak that cover your rough itinerary and add a bit to each leg since airfares are so fluid. You could use Indie and add extra on as well, since costs are typically higher. While you won’t get an exact number, you can at least get a ballpark figure.

Is There A Resource That Shows Me Per Day Costs?

12 Reasons why SE Asia is the best place for backpackers

Yes and no. Guidebooks and sites like Lonely Planet have per day costs in most of their country guides, but they’re quickly outdated. Blogs are great resources for more up to date costs, but not all blogs cover that, and finding ones that do it well can be challenging (and again, these things are out of date quickly). If you’re going to use the per day costs from guidebooks, the best suggestion is to add 25%-30% for inflation to be safe. You really don’t want to underestimate and find yourself stuck later on.

We have travel guides for regions, countries, and cities all over the world, and they have a price index at the top, which is crowd-sourced. Check those out to get a rough idea as well.

I Want To Try To Break My Costs Down. Is That Possible?

Yes, it is, but it will take more homework. You can try figuring out average costs of all your expenses separately, from hostels to food to entertainment to activities.

If you sign up for our free RTW trip planning e-course, we’ll walk you through creating a travel budget. We created a special spreadsheet just for this as well that will keep you nice and organized.

How Do I Figure Out Accommodation Costs?

This is simple really. Just head to your favorite hostel booking site and start researching average costs. Decide where you want to go and research the nightly average cost of the accommodation of your choice. If you plan on being in a specific city for a holiday, during high season, or for a major event, search accommodation for those dates as costs can fluctuate wildly.

What About Food Costs? They Vary So Much.

This is true, and your best bet might be to go with the guidebook suggestions. They usually break down average costs of eating on the cheap, eating mid-range, and living it up. Again, you may want to add a bit to safe. Remember that if you are staying in hostels, most have kitchens, which can dramatically cut back on costs if you use them to cook some of your meals. If you’re traveling in a region like Southeast Asia, you can go the street food route and save yourself loads of money (while eating some of the best food in the world).

Should I Factor In Costs of Entertainment And Activities?

Of course. You should factor in everything you can. Remember that many of the activities you take part in during a long trip are simply going to be wandering new cities – markets, neighborhoods, parks, etc. – which is totally free. Your schedule is wide open, so visiting museums on free days is much easier than when on a tight schedule. Remember to factor in any big expenses you may want to do, like visiting the Galapagos, climbing a volcano in Chile, skydiving in New Zealand, or hiking the Inca Trail.

Is It Possible To Find Out Overland Travel Expenses?

It is, but it may be a bit challenging. There are some countries (like Argentina, Thailand, and India) that have great online resources for checking costs and schedules of buses and trains. But in others (like Bolivia and Laos), you’d be hard-pressed to find any information until you get there. While overland travel can cost a lot, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that important to get a set amount that this will cost you (unless you are moving every other day, in which case your budget will soar and you’ll suffer burnout quickly). Overland travel is dirt cheap in many developing countries, and if you take overnight buses and trains, you also save on accommodation costs for the night.

Are There Any Other Expenses I Should Allow For?

Hopefully you’ve already worked a “miscellaneous” category into your budget because you are going to need it. When you first start figuring out average daily expenses while traveling, it’s easy to remember the big things but not realize how many small things you’ll be spending money on that can really add up. Virtually all of these are directly proportional to all the other costs in the country, so you can usually just add a percentage.

But just to cut down on some future surprises, here are some things that can really start to add up:

  • Airport transportation – Some airports are close to the city center and/or are on the metro system, but most aren’t. Often you can get into town on local buses, but other times pricier shuttles are a far better option, and some places are almost impossible to do without a taxi. This information is pretty easy to find in advance, so don’t forget to check into this. And many of the budget airlines land at far-flung airports so the long journey into the city can be pricey even on a bus.
  • Local transportation – Many cities are small enough to be completely walkable, but most large cities are not. Often you can save money by staying on the outskirts, but then you’ll need to pay for public transport to get in and out. An all-day pass is often a good option. This is another expense that is easy to calculate if you consider it in advance.
  • Laundry – You’ll be doing your laundry or paying to have it done every week. It’s rarely very expensive, but it’s also rarely free. You can do it in your sink, particularly to buy yourself a couple more days before you can send it out or do it in a machine, but don’t plan on doing this every time.
  • Internet usage – Fortunately, more and more hostels and even hotels have free internet terminals for guest use, but often they’ll be occupied or have a short time limit. Sometimes you’ll want to spend more pressure-free time on the internet, and in some cities and countries internet use can be rather expensive (hello New Zealand!).
  • Bottled water – In many places you won’t want to drink the tap water, so you’ll (unfortunately) be going through a lot of bottles. Good bottled water is literally everywhere, and it’s usually fairly cheap, but on hot days it can add up. One alternative is to get a SteriPen before you leave home and bring your own reusable bottle. The SteriPen will cost you more up front, but it’ll mean you can clean the water anywhere to make it drinkable for just the cost of the batteries.
  • Visas – This one is easy to miss if you haven’t done your homework. Some entry visas cost over $100 for US residents so depending on your route you might end up spending several hundred dollars on these stickers.
  • Vaccinations - Vaccinations are another important cost that many people forget. They can be obscenely expensive, so make sure you check which ones are absolutely necessary and shop around. Costs vary quite a bit within each city. If you currently have a job with good medical insurance, this is another thing to investigate before you give your notice, too, in case the insurance will cover any or all of your pre-trip medical needs.
  • Travel Gear – Do you already have a good backpack? How about clothing? Shoes? A camera and laptop? All are things you may want to upgrade before leaving, and if you do, the bill can be quite high. Examine what you need and set aside a certain amount for it.
  • Foreign transaction fees – If you plan on leaving most of your money in the bank and withdrawing it from an ATM when you need it, you will inevitably be charged some foreign transaction fees. These can be as high as 3%, so be sure to shop around for the bank that offers the best rate, and figure these extra fees into your overall budget.

Now that you have a general idea of what your trip may cost, you may start to freak out a bit. You may be crunching the numbers and realizing that it’s going to take multiple years to save up enough. But hey, that’s okay!

Taking a trip like this is an investment, much like buying a house or going to college, both of which cost FAR more than traveling around the world!

The next step deals with strategies and resources for saving money .

For more information on the costs of a RTW trip, including a checklist, be sure to check out this article.

Next RTW FAQ-Saving Money For Your Trip »

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