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.
How can I 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.
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.
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.
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 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
**These totals do not include flights, travel gear, and other misc pre-trip expenditures, only my actual on-the-road costs.
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.
- Detailed travel planning resources for longterm travelers
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- If you’re stuck on how you make that big decision to pack up life and travel, read this post on how you know it’s the right time to travel.
- 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.
- How to save for long-term travel: A list of resource and ideas for creating and building a travel fund.
And if you’re keen to read more of my own travel stories, check out my “best of” page!