Round the World Family Budget Planning

Dreaming is easy. Planning is harder. Budgeting gets downright scary.

How much will your RTW trip with your family cost?

Great question!

There isn’t one answer to that. (Wouldn’t it be nice if there was just a formula?)

How do you plan for something that you haven’t done before? How do you figure out how to pay for something that has wildly differing and open ended costs?

Also great questions.

Of course you can’t plan for everything, but you can certainly make a reasonable budget by doing some research and answering a few questions that will help you determine and estimate costs.

What sort of travelers are you?

Family hostel room

Are you budget travelers, happy with hostels and shared dorm rooms? Will that be an adventure with your kids, or your worst nightmare?

Do you prefer hotels, with room service and a daily maid?

Are you planning to rent holiday homes everywhere you go?

Do you need three star hotels, or five star?

Can you squeeze everyone into one room happily, or will you need two?

Be honest about this. The biggest budget buster is found in people overestimating their capacity for budget travel. When everyone is miserable, you’ll overspend if you haven’t planned wisely.

In our experience, planning for comfort is key, where children are concerned. Of course the definition of “comfort” is negotiable, but have very realistic discussions with your partner about what each member of the family needs and what sort of travelers you are.

Outside of airfare, lodging will be your biggest budget line item. It will vary wildly depending on whether you’re doing hotels every night in Southeast Asia ($30 a night for our family of six, so $900 USD a month, or renting a three bedroom house $600-800 a month in Thailand for something comfortable but local, or doing a house sit in Australia – $0) If you plan to take your mortgage payment and apply it to your travel lodging budget, you should be close.

What will you eat?

Street food 2

Will you eat out every meal?

Are you happy to picnic for breakfast and lunch and eat only dinners out?

How many mouths are you feeding?

How OLD are those mouths? Our food budget has more than doubled over the seven years we were on the road as we went from four little kids to two adults and two teens.

Are their food allergies that are going to make eating difficult or more expensive?

How flexible are your eaters?

Are you willing to eat street food (far cheaper than restaurant food)?

Plan to take your food budget at home with you on the road. There will be places that you’ll spend far less, but there will also be places that you’ll spend more. In Guatemala we spent about $300 a month on food. In Thailand, $450. In New Zealand, $1500. In the USA, about $1000. That’s for six people. In Guatemala and Thailand, we were eating out a lot. In New Zealand and the USA, we almost never eat out.

How will you travel?

Playing cards

Traveling quickly is expensive – there’s no way around it. So if you’re in the midst of planning both your itinerary and budget, know that the faster you move, the more places you visit, the higher your budget.

On the flip side, the slower you travel, the less it will cost you. Flights are bank busters. Buses are cheaper than trains. Tuk-tuks are cheaper than taxis. Walking, cycling and hitching are free. It’s important to weigh out how you will travel and what you can realistically expect of your kids. Two-year-olds are not going to walk for miles and love it. Teenagers will think traveling in the back of a pickup truck is fantastic. Everyone loves train travel.

If you have the time to move slowly overland, you’ll save a bundle and every dollar you save means more money in the bank to extend your trip.

If you are pre-purchasing your flights then this becomes a pre-trip cost that can be budgeted for ahead of time (while you still have a job!) So that might be a plus. The downside is that it locks you into a set itinerary, and the best things about your trip won’t be discovered until you’re in the moment.

If you have the time to move slowly overland, you’ll save a bundle and every dollar you save means more money in the bank to extend your trip.

We spent almost $20,000 over three months of fast travel through Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia to New Zealand. That included eight flights, staying mostly in hotels, and several car rentals of multiple weeks duration. Of course this is weighed out over the long term by living ultra cheap in Southeast Asia before that, and in a camper van as inexpensively as possible afterwards, and it’s divided between six people, but that’s still a lot of money!!

By contrast we cycled for an entire year through Europe and North Africa (in 2008) with four kids who were not yet eating like teenagers, for $35,000 including flights, every single activity and entertainment, ferry crossings, every dime spent, for a year.  We camped. We cooked for ourselves. We did it “cheap.” But we did it.

By contrast, how much do you think your family spent living at home over the past year?

So what is it going to cost?

Family on camels

That depends on how many people are in your family, how old they are, how you travel, what you eat, and how you like to have fun! Budget in big ticket items up front. Budget in the splurges you can anticipate (there was no way we were visiting Rome without going to the Colosseum!) Give everything else your best guess, and then up the resulting figure by 50%.

Does that seem extreme? It’s not. We did this for seven years, full on, and I can tell you from experience that having too much money is never a problem, but not having enough is a source of stress and discomfort for everyone. That’s not fun. Especially with kids!

You always want to be surprised that something cost less than you figured rather than the other way around.

Are you interested in seeing how budgets play out for a range of traveling families? A few of our traveling friends have agreed to let you have a peek at their general budgets. All of these are folks who are traveling for months to years, and these numbers are their tested, “on the road” numbers, not conjectures.

Nancy Vogel of Family On Bikes
Family Profile: Dad, Mom & two boys, ages 10-13
Time on the road: Years. 3 years cycling Alaska-Argentina

“I would say that staying in ‘decent’ hotels and trying to keep costs down, you could do it fairly comfortably for $1500 – $2000/month for a family of four. That wouldn’t cover a lot of flights, so if you plan to fly a lot you’ll have to add that to your budget.”

Darcy Tucker of Puffer And The Baby Fish
Family Profile: Mom, Mama & twin boys, age 3
Time on the road: before kids, several trips of several months, with kids, leaving soon

“We have budgeted $25-30K/year for a family of four in SEA. I’m sure I could do it for less, but the wife tends to prefer luxury when traveling. We are fine with basic accommodation, but it needs to be clean. I’ve been known to go out and buy my own cleaning supplies if the place (and price) was great but not as clean as I preferred.”

Erin Bender of Travel With Bender
Family profile: Mom, Dad and two kids under 5 years old
Time on the road: One year: Southeast Asia, North America, Central America

“We travelled on the more luxury side at places with playgrounds and gyms and pools and ate in restaurants, as well as cooked, and street food. We also do lots of cost entertainment like waterparks, etc. & flew around a lot… with 2 kids (2&3) $3000 – $4000 a month.

Mary Hickcox of Bohemian Travelers
Family Profile: Dad, Mom & 3 boys, ages 5, 10 & 14
Time on the road: Over two years in Central America & Southeast Asia, currently Hawaii

Mary has a great post about their budget. Their basic budget is $3000 a month for a family of five!

Talon Windwalker of 1 Dad, 1 Kid
Family Profile: As advertised: one dad, one kid (age 10)
Time on the road: almost 2 years in Central America, Africa, Europe, and now SEA.

“We are a father/son nomadic duo. The first 2 years of our full-time travel, our budget was $1000 per month total, which included transportation, lodging, food, etc. We generally aim for around $30 per day for everything. In Morocco, we did a 2-month housesit which lowered our budget to no more than $400 per month total. We spent just over 2 weeks in France, and while that time period exceeded our monthly budget, the savings from Morocco covered that easily. In France, we spent about $100 per day, but we also weren’t shooting for low-budget items, and that amount also included airfare from Morocco and visa fees for Thailand (purchased at the embassy in Paris). France and long flights are the only times we’ve really gone over budget, and we have always been able to recoup that overage quickly.”

Kate Rehkof… no blog
Family Profile: Dad, Mom, 2 kids (under teen)
Time on the road: One Year

“We’ve never kept detailed budgets but we averaged $5500 a month for the year we spent across Mexico, the US, Canada and through the Pacific, Australia, and the first bit of time here in New Zealand. We are not particularly careful with our budget and like to splurge. We also mix in a bit of camping and couch-surfing so we don’t have to worry too much. Mexico was a lot less than everywhere else, but over the year it averaged out to what is here. That budget includes the cost of the trans-Pacific cruise and airfare as well.”

To read more about budgeting for a RTW trip, check out the following articles:


Jenn Miller spent seven years on the road with her husband and four children and is well versed in all aspects of long-term travel. Each week Jenn will bring a unique insight into extended travel, touching on topics ranging from inspirational articles to practical trip planning to family travel to education on the road to interviews with interesting people she’s met along the way.

Manifesto - replace broad expectations with nuanced realities


Photo credits: Barnacles Hostel, The Candid Street, joelogon, mexikids