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A Little RTW Budget … How Much Does it Cost to Travel the World for a Year?

rtw-travel-budgetThe single most frequently asked question I get about my travels concerns the cost of budgeting for a solo round the world trip. While understanding how I pay for it all tops the list of questions, the actually cost of traveling for a year around the world is the big unknown. I had no idea how much my RTW trip would cost when I left — some people reported around $10,000 (which seemed absurdly low) while others spent upwards of $40K to travel a bit more luxuriously. So I thought of it as a grand adventure. How much will it cost, and how long can I keep going with my freelance income.

Over that year, I tracked every single dollar I spent on the road.

My full tally is complete and I traveled around the world for for 328 days (11 months) through 15 countries and tracked what I spent, what each and every country cost, and where I could have done better.

Just want the cold hard figures? Navigate the Google spreadsheet by the countries listed at the bottom of my full RTW Travel Budget.

How can I afford to travel around the world?

Jumping at the Taj Mahal

While admission to the Taj was pricey, everything else in India was crazy cheap. I spent less for seven weeks in India than I did for one week in Italy. And guys… it’s the Taj! It ranks up there as one of the cooler travel experiences out there.

I have answered incarnations of this question dozens of times and what people are really saying is: “Traveling the world is super expensive, how could you have possibly afforded it.”

Well, as any regular A Little Adrift readers have surmised, I do not live off of a trust fund. In fact, my family is quite poor and I made it through college solely on merit-based scholarships. So, instead of counting on help from family, I budgeted for the trip. I sold my couch, my clothes, my cups. I sold my car too, and I saved ruthlessly in the countdown months. I took on side-work to sock away money, and then, I worked on freelance SEO from the road for the entire year. And through all that, I came to the same conclusions as those backpackers who have adventurously gone before me: RTW travel is cheaper than you think! 

I am not saying it’s dirt cheap, but compared to my life in LA with $1200+ going to rent and bills each month, I could use that same online income to travel through developing regions of the world, only digging into my savings for the long-haul flights.

I meticulously documented every single expense from my initial year-long RTW trip. My obsession with accurately tracking my expenses is epic but in the five years since I originally posted this breakdown, other backpackers have loved the precise and exact breakdown of just how much I spent throughout a year of active world travel. And five years later, even with rising global food costs, they are still traveling strong on similar budgets.

The total cost of my RTW trip: $17,985

You’re shocked right now, I know, I sprang it on you out of nowhere! Close the gaping jaw.

That’s it?!

lakes-district england

This is how excited I was at the tail-end of my round the world trip when I was in England and I realized I had pulled it off. I had just one month left on the road at that point.

Travel was my bootcamp for life. This trip was the single best investment in both my personal growth and my career. Throughout life we are presented with a series of choices — each has the ability to help us create the life we want to have lived. I am forever glad I chose to travel this big beautiful world.

That figure. A mere $17,985 is fully and completely inclusive of everything from getting jabbed in the arm for my Yellow Fever vaccine to buying all of my pre-travel gear, my travel insurance,  all of my plane flights, bus rides, camel safaris, surfing lessons, zip-lining adventures in the Laos jungle, and straight through to my first delicious sub back on home soil when I passed through Philly on my final layover of the trip.

What does that number not include? Personal choices that upped the price bit: an external hard drive for photo storage, new camera (old one was waterlogged in Australia), and I rented a car alone in Ireland (most backpacker budgets wouldn’t allow for this so I included my car’s petrol to approximate the cost of public transportation for three weeks). My personal total, inclusive of all of that, was just under $19,000… so it’s still a bargain considering I was on the road for nearly an entire year. And again, I stress, this is thousands less than my annual expenses living in Los Angeles, California.

But lest you think it’s an anomaly, know that I have tracked cost of living expenses in places too. If you’re considering a much slower trip, I documented how I lived in places like Thailand for less than $600 per month, and Mexico for under $800.

How Did I Keep my RTW Budget in Check?

Four deceptively simple travel tips:

  • Consider staying in a hostel to keep your budget in check.  They’re a great place to meet new people (and private rooms mean they work for couples and families too). I love the self catering facilities offered at most, and pretty much always dig a free breakfast. I used HI or Hostelworld hostels throughout Europe and Australia and found the guesthouses in Asia were incredibly budget-friendly (both then and since I tend to love the privacy of guesthouses and the local planning help you can get from the guesthouse owners!).
  • Keep a budget spreadsheet for all of your expenses! Seriously, while I think you should splurge and enjoy throughout your RTW, if you are truly budgeting then know where your money goes. Download the RTW budget spreadsheet I designed for other travelers; it’s formatted, blank, and editable.
  • Limit time in the Western world. Developed, Western countries cost significantly more for travelers, so structure your time so you don’t wipe out your savings by staying too long in Europe, Australia, or the US.
  • Travel slowly and overland. Avoid purchasing too many plane tickets and take local transportation—better stories and a better insight into local cultures is the upside! When I am slowing down, I usually opt for an AirBnB or the like so I have an apartment in a local area or town for a few weeks or months. This ups the experience and saves costs. And A Little Adrift readers get a $20 credit for AirBnB — I love it enough to recommend it wholly :)
  • Buy travel insurance. It’s sad to see travelers go home in a hurry, months before scheduled because they got sick and needed medical care, or they got robbed and had no recourse. Though many regions have affordable healthcare, it’s surprisingly cheap to just buy a long-term policy from World Nomads and cover yourself if things go south.
  • Now, the following tables and charts will further outline my RTW budget including some of the country-by-country expenses. And because I just had to go that extra mile, my complete-down-to-the penny budget is available for viewing; the budget spreadsheet includes every single expense itemized out in an absolutely gorgeous Google spreadsheet if I can toot my own horn for a moment!

    Also, don’t forget to check out the well-loved RTW FAQ and Travel Planning Guide as well as our blank, formatted spreadsheet as a downloadable excel file to log your own RTW travel budget (you can also access it as a Google Doc and save to your own Drive)!

    RTW Travel Budget Breakdown

    Total Costs for Each Category of Expenses

    RTW Budget by Listed by Category of Expense and Amount Spent

    * Lodging: All accommodation with some couchsurfing and a few contacts along the way.
    *  Food: Snacks, meals, and my chocolate obsession.
    *  Entertainment: Going out on the town — this will be much higher if you drink often. (I drink 1x per week)
    * Activities: Includes my volunteer program and all tour, trips, and group adventures.
    * Transportation: Excluding flights and all intra-country transportation.
    * Misc: Shipping things home, gifts, and toiletries along the way.
    * Interent: I work from the road and paid a lot for internet at times — lower if you’re not taking a laptop!
    * Flights: Includes many puddle-jumper little flights. Did not use a RTW ticket, booked along the way.

    RTW Budget Daily Costs & Total Costs Per Country

    My Average Daily Budget for Each Country on my RTW Trip

    RTW Expenses, Listed by Country and Number of Days

    **These totals do not include flights, travel gear, and other misc pre-trip expenditures, only my actual on-the-road costs.

    You’re Inspired to Travel. So, What Should You Do Now?A one-year budget breakdown of costs to travel the world

    It’s easy to see the numbers, be inspired for a bit and then never take action. If you’re actively planning your RTW — fantastic! There are a few more essential resources below that will help you plan your trip. If you’re currently working, studying, or just dreaming of traveling, I have resources for you as well.

    Helpful A Little Adrift Resources:

    How to Plan Your RTW Trip

    • How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: My friend Matt wrote this book, now in its second edition, which has a breakdown by country on what you can expect. I own a copy of it and it’s great to see all the data and tips in one spot. He also shares hacks and tips for saving money on the road with travel cards, points, etc.
    • One-Year RTW Trip Budget: Lauren travels with her boyfriend, so her 2015 year-end totals reflect a mid-range budget of shared expenses — it comes in just under 20K too!
    • Solo Male Traveler 2015 Budget: Jimmy detailed his two years on the road with every expense logged and tracked. He shows it’s possible and he came in at about 20K per year.
  • Budget for Visiting Every Country in the World: Chris spent a decade visiting 193 countries, here he shares about how much it cost, as well as how he budgeted those years of travel into his life.
  • Budget breakdowns by region (Updated 2016): A thorough list of budgeting links travelers have shared for each region of the world.
  • RTW Couple budgets: This is a couple’s budget traveling like backpackers. This is a mid-range budget from a couple who stayed at hotels and had more food and luxury.
  • How to Find Freelance Work & Work from the Road: I work from my laptop and there are a lot of jobs that will let you work from anywhere in the world. This list will get you started.
  • Should you buy a RTW ticket?: Flights can make or break a budget, make the choice that’s right for your trip.
  • Essential Tips on Packing for a RTW Trip: My RTW packing list, as well as tips gleaned from another 6+ years on the road.
  • Navigating travel sickness, solo female travel safety, & loneliness.
  • Keep the Dream Alive and Save for Your Travels

    Nearly $20k is a huge sum for most people, but it’s a doable sum too. It really is. I came from a poor family and managed to save some and work online for the rest. I made it on my initial RTW trip because of help from friends and family coupled with a desire to pour all of my extra cash into my travel fund. Here’s some links and resources that will get you on your way.

  • Read this blog post, then if you need more ideas and inspiration consider either highly rated The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (it’s a little wacky for some) or Getting Rid of It. All of these resources will help you pair down your possessions and add to your travel fund. They’re also invaluable once you are packing up your stuff for storage and nearly ready to leave!
  • If you’re keen on more travel inspiration, why not read a few of my favorite travel books.
  • Vagabonding: A classic from a veteran of long-term traveler, Rolf Potts.
  • Or pick a book to read based a country you’ve dreamed of traveling.
  • And if you’re keen to read more of my own travel stories, check out my “best of” page!

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    • One Year 75 Times

      I could hug you for posting this! Thanks SO MUCH!!!

      • Aw thanks! Hugs right back atcha. And if you’re planning a trip and I can help in any way, just shoot me an email. :)

        • One Year 75 Times

          I can’t believe you spent so little! It’s really possible!!! LOVE IT!

    • David Gardner

      Hello Shannon, Great blog I have been referencing it a lot in my research to take my own trip. My wife has a chronic disease and is required to take medicine daily so we would need to keep health insurance in the US as we travel. Do you know anyone who has done this or perhaps yourself? If so I was curious if this was considered in your travel budget?

      • Hi David. That’s a good question, and one that has changed over the years. In this budget, my one-year RTW, I did not have U.S. health insurance, just my travel insurance (which would have ended once I landed on U.S. soil if they ever medically evacuated me to the U.S.). Now though, I pay for U.S. health insurance on a basic plan (I got ObamaCare last year and it was pretty cheap), and then I buy my travel insurance on top of that. Keeping U.S. health insurance will definitely up your budget some, but it sounds like it may be a wise idea. And if you are gone for a year though, you could likely get away with catastrophic U.S. coverage, or a higher deductible. Really it would be your backup plan and only needed if your issue is so severe that your travel insurance sends you home rather than paying for an healing you in the country you’re visiting. I hope that makes sense? It’s going to be highly personal to your situation for sure, and this budget you read only included travel insurance. I wish you so much luck planning your own trip! Keep me posted and let me know if I can help with anything. :)

    • Just came across this article. Incredibly helpful for a first time planner of the RTW trip. Thank you :)

      • So glad it was helpful! Good luck planning your trip and let me know if I can help with anything. :)

    • Helena Marie

      This is an amazing article! What is your input on traveling alone and staying in hostels alone? I hear safety is a major concern (especially in Asia) so I wanted your input on that. Thanks!

      • So glad it was helpful Helena! I traveled solo for nearly seven years now, and much of that was solo at hostels, so I think that you can absolutely do it safe. And Asia is pretty regional with it’s concerns — you will be totally fine in Southeast Asia. India is the big worry for solo females, just making sure that you are generally safe, for accommodation there, I stayed in family compounds and it seemed very safe to me the ones I chose. Though there are some concerns like scams in tourist areas of Bangkok, sketchy transportation standards, and things like that, I haven’t really heard anything bad about the hostels and guesthouses in Asia. I loved them and the community of backpackers passing through them. Safe and happy travels :)

        • Helena Marie

          Phew! Super relieved to hear that! I’ll definitely be popping back in to badger you with more questions :) thanks so much for the helpful and quick response!

          • Sure thing, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email with questions if I can help. I did a solo female safety post here as well: alittleadrift.com/2013/06/solo-female-travel-safety/

    • Jess

      Hello! I’m 17 and i was thinking of saving up for a year (or longer) and going around the world. The problem is is that my parents (particularly my father) thinks it’s too dangerous and too expensive for me to do this alone especially, as my dad puts it, because i’m female and i guess he’s scared i’ll be taken???? It kinda heart me since i’ve been dreaming about doing this yet he refuses to even support. He would rather me go to college when i really don’t want to waste money if i don’t know what i want to do instead of do something i want to do. and i found this blog and got really excited knowing that you were able to do this and seeing things like this keeps my motivation going. so thank you

      • Hi Jess, so good to hear from you and it sounds like you have an amazing plan in place! Traveling the world can be safe and can be a great education, but on the flip side, your dad has some legitimate fears and a formal education should be considered too. I went the traditional route of college, and then did a study abroad one semester and it was incredible, I am so glad I did it and also glad that I got my degree so that I could then work and travel for the past nearly seven years. It was a path in life that worked for me. Only you and your family know the one that is best suited to your dreams, passions, and needs. If I were in your position, I would come up with a clear plan of how long you plan to travel, when you’ll return for college, where you’ll go, and present it to your dad calmly and ask for his feedback, as him his concerns and to ask him to have a frank and open discussion about why he doesn’t support the trip. Opening those lines of communication in a controlled environment (on a good night when everyone is rested, eaten, and no looming time constraints) could help you both better understand where each other are coming from. Best of luck Jess! Let me know if I can ever help with anything. ~Shannon

    • brit cameron

      You are pretty much the most amazing person ever. My fiance and i just traveled europe for 7 months straight and I wish I would have found your blog sooner you are seriously like my long lost twin. I wrote down every single expense to the penny and what exactly i spent it on. i have not put it in to categories yet it’s just divided by what place I was in and each day. I have never met another world traveler let alone one who would make a spread sheet with every detail. Good for you. Your amazing.

      • I love that you tracked your European trip too! There is a deep satisfaction in being able to look at it after and see where and when you spent your money. I just find it fascinating in how it all breaks down. Good luck segmenting it out in the future if you choose to! :)

    • Kara

      How about the Philippines? You totally should visit Palawan! The islands there are marvelous! El Nido and Sabang are my favorites :)

      • I would love to make it there soon! The photos I have seen of the Philippines just look incredible. Thanks for putting Sabang on my radar, I hadn’t really considered it before!

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    • Rick

      Hey Shannon, great blog, absolutely love it. I am planning a long trip abound the world with my partner :P what we are finding really hard is to save up for it. My graphic design job pays only 7500$/yr where am at. So it might take nearly 2 years not spending a penny to save up for a year of travel :( I try doing stuff on the side too, but still its a lot to save. Anyways I have faith that l figure it out…

      • That is tricky to save with a low salary, but I encourage you to look at the forums and sites that talk about “side hustles” — they are amazingly active with people sharing ways that they have made money on the side ( http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/who-has-a-side-gigjob-that-brings-in-extra-cash-share-with-us!/ — this thread is years long and still active). It is a slow, gradual process, but any extra gigs can help speed it up, or add to a bonus fund for fun things on the road. Best of luck and let me know if I can help when you’re planning it! :)

        • Rick

          Thanks for the tips, Ill definitely check it out…and yeah ill probably need a few more when planning :) cheers

    • Great blog!

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    • JiggityJackson

      You were pretty anal about it ?

    • Bere cm

      Hi! I absolutely loved this article! I am from Mexico and I want to go to Europe alone an this helped me so much with the amount of money I need to save, but there’s just one thing I don’t understand? The costs that you put are on dollars or in euros or in the currency of the country? Please can you tell me? I am 17 now and next year I want to travel solo but I need to see the amount of money I need to save and work for it! Thanks!

      • Hi Bere, that’s a good question! The prices in this article are in USD and for my trip back in 2009, so you will want to think about that. A few places have gotten more expensive since then, but some have also gotten cheaper (the Euro to USD rate is better now). So, there is a good chance you could plan a similar budget RTW trip for a similar budget. Within the spreadsheet if you click through to the Google Doc, those prices are in the local currency and then also calculated into the price in USD at that time.

        And if you are looking for budgets of a specific place I did not go, Jodi from Legalnomads did a wonderful round-up of budgets here: http://www.legalnomads.com/wds#budget

    • Roopa W

      Shannon
      Thanks for detailed blogging.

      I am from India and I am also looking to cover the world. Basically Europe with parents and lil more challenging like Antarctica in Cruise solo.
      That’s how I am sketching my future travel all the time, easier ones take parents and tougher ones just alone or with some another solo buddy.
      Currently I am also looking for such travel documentary types of jobs so that I can go to such places as a job :) :) . I am v optimistic here :P :P
      You have any suggestion in mind. I am checking trip together website too. But first would be Europe trip with family,
      Saving money somehow gives me an indication that it would take long to fulfill these dream. Any suggestion or such job suggestions in mind?
      Nevertheless, I loved your money managing skills along with your blog.
      Keep travelling

      Thanks
      Roopz

    • Tanya

      Hi Shannon,

      Great article thanks :) I am hoping to go and travel with my boyfriend and ideally a RWT would be what we are looking to do. We are flying from Europe and planning on starting in South America down in the South and then moving up North. It sounds so inspiring when you say that you managed to do your trip in under 20k usd………but when I look at the costs involved for our trip everything seems so expensive and I feel like I honestly do not know where to start. Financially, things to pre-book and plan, how much luggage to take, how much time to allocate to each area. I would love to also be able to stop in countries and work as I go…to be able to stretch our travels out, so that we are not chomping away at our savings :( How much time do you think is needed to preorganise and plan a long term trip for like 10 month to a year? And do you have any tips on South America?

      • Hi Tanya! I know it can seem so, so overwhelming when you are first diving into the traveling, but I promise that you will start to dig through all of the noise to the pieces of budgets that best work for you. One key thing about my RTW is that I had a really solid mix of developed and developing world travel, and I also limited my trip to three continents. Flights and rapid transport are some of the biggest budget killers, so if you can land in one or two spots and then go overland, that helps a lot! I haven’t actually been to South America yet, but I hear that it’s in the mid-range to expensive in areas. Chile and Argentina are going to set you back, as are some of the high end things like the Galapagos and Machu Picchu. Comparatively, you could plan to start south but limit your time there and spend more time in Central America. Same goes for Africa versus Asia. I found Africa to be more expensive than you would expect when you added in the activities and such, and it was generally more than I had anticipated. South and Southeast Asia, however, are VERY budget, so if you plan the bulk of your time there, you again start to offset the cost of more expensive places.

        Jodi has a great list of budget posts so you can dig in and get a good idea for it. And one last thought is to look into WWOOFing ( http://wwoofinternational.org it sounds exactly like what you will want to do to stretch the budget and also really get to know an area well. Hope that helps! Keep me posted if I can help with anything, or check out my planning page for all the tips I wish I had known as I was planning too! ( http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel).

    • Dumbao

      how were you able to pay your visa at such a low price in all those countries?

      • Well, I travel on an American passport, which means there are certain countries where entry is free (all of Europe, Thailand). The other countries weren’t too expensive, usually around $30 to enter, and since I stay in places for a month or two, it helped spread out those costs. There are regions of the world that are much more expensive and tricky to get visas (Central Asia is tough on an American passport). There are sites you can use to check out costs and requirements ahead of time: http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel/#visas

    • King Manikya

      HI Shannon thank you very much for the information provided by you about Travelling.i would like to ask you provide me little information,i am from INDIA,next year i.e 2016 FEB i am planning to travel Singapore and i would like to stay at hostel. but Is there any age restriction to stay at hostel reason for asking i am 28 years old.

      • Hi King, usually the only age restrictions at a hostel are for teenagers or older people. At 28, it’s highly unlikely that your hostel has any restrictions, usually I would say 18-45 is a safe age range to assume most places. You can also email them if you are concerned, but they would have it written on the site if they had that type of policy. Have a wonderful trip!

        • King Manikya

          thank you very much for your response have a great day :)

    • Mitch

      Shannon,

      Amazing article. I am about to quit my job and travel around the world and im very analytical so your budgeting breakdown was amazing! I have never been backpacking but am excited to go.

      I saved about $35,000 So hoping to be as efficient as you.

      A couple things I am worried about. Have you had any trouble with people stealing things at hostels or getting robbed?

      Also what did you do for money? Any credit cards you recommend or an ATM card?

      • That’s a great savings to get you on the road! For safety, I haven’t ever been robbed, which is a combination of simply luck alongside some careful planning. I am meticulous about locking things up at a shared hostel, and at guest houses I am careful about leaving expensive things out. But then, there are just some things you can’t always totally prevent. I use Clements for my gear insurance, never made a claim but it makes me feel better (http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel/#insurance and http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel/#safe have more info) and for the ATM card, my hands-down rec is to get a Schwab card if you are American (http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel/#cards).

        • Mitch

          Holy crap. That link you provided to me was absolutely perfect.

          Ive read tons of blogs but yours seem on point.

          Thank you so much for all your help!

          Im looking forward to my adventure alone and I am American so thank you for that link as well!

    • Amanda

      Thank you for posting this. I have a decent job but am not really feeling it right now. I’d love the experience of taking a year off and just traveling. I figure that if I work another couple of years I can take a year off and do just that. I had budgeted around $28k but it’s wonderful to hear that it can be done more cheaply.

      • So glad that you found it useful! I think that aiming higher in the savings is always good, that way you can splurge when needed, and you may visit some more expensive countries. But in general your estimations are spot-on and you will surely have enough to set out on your travels! :)

    • Shahul Hameed

      Inspiring. I am 27 yo now, and planning to take a 1 year unpaid leave to travel. I really need to work on it seriously, It has been a day dream so far but reading your post, I know I can work on it.

      • I wish you the best of luck Shahul, it can take time to save up the funds but will be worth it when you head out on that dream trip!

    • Briettani Michael

      What is it like traveling with a kid?

      • Good question! From a cost perspective, it’s slightly less than double the costs. And it’s less than traveling as a couple. The kids get discount bus/train tickets in some areas (my niece got discounts since she was under 12, the boat in Laos was half-priced). Sticking to the cheaper regions and they don’t really add on much costs because you would already be doing many of the activities and the entrance fees can be low. I found myself doing more things like hanging out for free at the local park so she could play with other kids and less time out and drinking and such. If you want to know what the actual experience is like, I traveled with my niece for seven months in SE Asia, those posts are here: http://alittleadrift.com/category/traveling-with-ana/ And I traveled in Mexico this past summer with my two nephews: http://alittleadrift.com/2015/12/yucatan-mexico-kids/

    • Dutch

      Amsterdam is not a country it is a city from the Netherlands.

      • Very true. It was done on purpose. It’s the only country where I visited just one city instead of traveling around, however, so it felt like a lie to report that as the cost of traveling the Netherlands since Amsterdam’s costs are so different.

    • Chill Investor

      Hi shannon
      i am very inspired by your journey. I have a question did you travel europe in car?

      • I traveled by train and bus in Europe — it was really quite easy to get around this way. I rented a car for three weeks in Ireland, and that was the only spot that i did that.

    • Traveler

      Hi! Thanks for this informative article!
      The main thing I am worried about is safety as a woman traveling alone. I’d like to think I am above all the poor, fragile girl rhetoric and while I’m not THAT, the truth is women do have to take different precautions, especially when traveling and traveling abroad. Do you have any advice or and experiences that you can share?
      Thanks!
      Rachel

      • Hi Rachel, so glad you found the piece useful. Safety is a valid concern. It’d be crazy not to talk about the fact that solo females have some specific concerns on the road. I wrote a piece here that looks at my experiences on the road, and how I’ve managed to stay safe. It includes some tips and thoughts about where your actual concerns should be, versus what aspects of travel we are taught to fear (most of which don’t pan out!). http://alittleadrift.com/2013/06/solo-female-travel-safety/