The 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 have 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.
Many people have asked me, “How can you afford to travel around the world?!”
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 almost OCD 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 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.
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 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!
- Buy some 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
**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 higher if you drink often.
**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 (and still happy I did it that way!)
Average Daily Costs per Country for my RTW Budget
Total Costs of Each Country and Number of Travel 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?
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.
Resources mentioned in the post:
- My full RTW budget and expenses as a Google Document that will open in your browser.
- A clean spreadsheet to track your own expenses as you travel around the world.
- Travel planning resources for longterm travelers
If you’re planning 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.
- Budget breakdowns by region (Updated 2015): A thorough list of budgeting links travelers have shared for each region of the world.
- 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.
- 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.
- 11 Travelers Budget Comparison: BootsnAll did a great job sharing/comparing the costs of 10 different RTW trips.
- Should you buy a RTW ticket?: Flights can make or break a budget, make the choice that’s right for your trip.
If you’re dreaming and saving:
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.
- Money is a huge factor for a lot of people, so read more about finding remote-based work or making extra income from side-hustles.
- Dream, Save, Do: Long-term travelers share how to create a solid and working action plan for reaching your dream — be it saving for a RTW trip or planning some other big quest.
- Getting Rid of It: From the same traveling couple who wrote the previous book, this will help you pair down your possessions and add to your travel fund. Also invaluable one you are packing up your stuff for storage and nearly ready to leave!
- How to save for long-term travel: A list of resource and ideas for creating and building a travel fund
- 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!