A Little RTW Budget … Costs to Travel Around the World for a Year

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 have spent upwards of $40K to travel a bit more luxuriously. I feel in between (but really closer to the $10K).

And I tracked every single dollar I spent on the road.

Which I will share here. 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 but instead I budgeted for the trip, sold my possessions, worked on freelance SEO from the road, and I came to the same conclusions as those backpackers who have adventurously gone before me: RTW travel is cheaper than you think!

I’m quite meticulous and I 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 three 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.

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?!

Round the World Travel Planning Budget

I tracked my RTW budget in this mini-calendar!

Yes. 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, 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 this 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.

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. Developing 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!

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 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

My Average Daily Budget for Each Country on my RTW Trip

Total Costs of Each Country and Number of Travel Days

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.

Resources Mentioned in the Post:

Other Longterm RTW Budgets You Should Check Out

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  • http://www.thiskentuckygirl.com/ Liz

    This is so helpful. I now (as I’m sure many do) take advantage of iphone budgeting apps – CashTrails is my favorite for traveling, but I’m trying to estimate how much to plan on needing as I get ready to hit the road in a few months. Thanks so much! Maybe I’ll see you in a random country this year!

    • ShannonOD

      I haven’t used the CashTrails app, but I do love my iPhone, so I’ll check it out. Also, for budgeting, Jodi at Legal Nomads collected all of the various budgeting posts from travel bloggers and has the budget links broken down by region/county — could prove useful for planning! 

      • http://www.thiskentuckygirl.com/ Liz

         WOW! What a wealth of information she packed into that page!!! So grateful you shared :) Thank you so very much!

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  • Sophia

    That’s some great information you have shared with us. Travel needs funds and your information is really very helpful for us. I’m looking forward to more updates. Keep them coming!

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  • Renata

    Hi Shannon. Thanks for all of the information you shared on your blog. It’s probably the most detailed blog out there on RTW travel. I would like to know approximately what percentage of your budget you had saved a head of time, and how much of that was covered by your work while on the road. I’m thinking of taking off in about 2-3 years (yes I know it’s a long time)

    • ShannonOD

      It is really heartening to hear you say that Renata, thank you! I had about 45 percent of my budget saved ahead of time. But I also had a guaranteed client for the rest of the money (I still work for the company even), so in that way I left very sure of my work and travel. Two-three years out should hopefully be a good long time so you can save up and have a nice cushion if you also plan to work as you travel. Good luck planning and keep in touch! :)

  • http://www.fermainvalley.com/ elvina09

    concept is very interesting, you have added in this concept travel budget. Thanks
    to given to this info.

  • Matthew Hutchins

    Wow you sure did spend a lot while in the Czech

    • ShannonOD

      I was getting burned out by the time I got to Czech, so I found a nice place to stay and hunkered down for a bit. Then, I booked my flights on the wrong day out of Prague and extended my stay by another couple days on accident! Always something! It’s a pretty country though, and good beer :)

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  • http://twitter.com/MatthewGBailey Matthew G. Bailey

    It’s so true. We just got back from SE Asia and including thousands of dollars for scuba diving, 20 flights, the return flight from canada to bangkok, and 10 months of travel, was $15K. Bam!

    • ShannonOD

      15K is great for 10 months, particularly if you did a lot of diving! Nicely done, I really wish I had done more diving on my trip (I only managed it in Australia) but I’m impressed that you stayed at the 15K mark for all that time on the road! Location is everything, and it’s one of the reasons I love SEA :)

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  • gagan deol

    this is really the most helpful budget article across internet for RTW trips. I am leaving in January next year and this article will be helping me prepare for my trip. I want to know where will I lead my career. I mean to ask that can I make money through adventures and travels after I return back home. please do reply.

    • http://alittleadrift.com/ Shannon O’Donnell

      I am so glad you found it helpful! The amounts are a bit out of date, but it is an accurate assessment of the rough costs at least. And if you didn’t see it, Jodi from Legal Nomads has a great compilation of other budget posts here http://www.legalnomads.com/wds if there is a region I didn;t cover that you plan to visit.

      For working on the road, I have a big section of the site that has ideas for that very conundrum! http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel/#money

      Safe travels and let me know if I can help in any way. :)

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  • krishna

    its a good thing, i wish i had a habit of doing that

  • Dana

    WOW. I am in the beginning stages of thinking about ATW, and this information will be extremely helpful. Thank you!

    • http://alittleadrift.com/ Shannon O’Donnell

      So glad you found it handy Dana! I have a huge resource page as well (http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel/) if you haven’t seen it. And if there is ever anything I can do to help you plan, just shoot me an email. :)

  • Nikki K

    Wow. I’d just like to say, you are my hero! My best friend and I are planning a RTW trip, and this helps so much. You give so much good advice and show that it really is possible. Thank you for the inspiration <3

    • http://alittleadrift.com/ Shannon O’Donnell

      So glad you found the information useful! And please don’t hesitate to shoot me an email when you are planning if there is something I can help you with :)

  • mhendry

    how come so much free accom. in scotland

    • http://alittleadrift.com/ Shannon O’Donnell

      I stayed with friends that I had met earlier in the trip, there were a bunch of Scots on the road so it made that country heaps cheaper, and heaps more fun too!! :)

  • ra

    wow thank you!

  • James

    Thanks, really good info

  • Fahad

    It’s been my life long dream to tour the world, and I’m sure my college fees would cost more that a life-changing trip. Definitely saving up!

    • http://alittleadrift.com/ Shannon O’Donnell

      Good luck saving up, I did find it worth the year’s expenses. Let me know if I can ever help with advice! :)

  • Ultan Breslin

    Why was Cambodia so expensive? Did you go to Vietnam and malaysia? any clue of the per day costs of those 2 places.

    • http://alittleadrift.com/ Shannon O’Donnell

      I volunteered there for a bit, and that could have added some. Plus Angkor Wat is not cheap to buy the three day pass. It’s worth it, but some of the activities in Cambodia made the cost jump up a bit. I have traveled through Malaysia and I have friends living in Vietnam — these costs will be similar to what I experienced and somewhere between the Laos and Cambodian expenses. Malaysia a bit more expensive, and Vietnam about the same. Safe travels!

  • Jay

    Not to be negative, but how can you say you traveled the world and you didn’t hit every continent. No Africa, no pyramids, no wildlife preserves, no Maldives nor Madascagar?

    I’ll give it TP you for doing on the cheap, but how comfortable, and furthermore, how safe where you as an American female travelling abroad.

    I have been to over 30 countries and couldn’t imagine doing the globe that cheap.

    • http://alittleadrift.com/ Shannon O’Donnell

      Hitting every continent is a pretty specific definition of traveling the world I went around the world for a year, this budget back in 2008-2009, and five years later I am still traveling and haven’t seen it all (if you follow me, you know I just made it to Africa for four months overland and yes, solo). I tend to go overland and slowly, and I travel in more developing regions so it’s cost effective. So this was actually a doable budget for most anyone willing to stay in budget accommodation and go slowly, plane flights are the priciest part of travel.
      The hangups on a woman traveling solo isn’t something I have, I wrote about it here if you’d like to know more about the realities of that side of traveling. http://alittleadrift.com/2013/06/solo-female-travel-safety/

      Cheers and thanks for commenting — have a look around the site and perhaps you’ll understand how and why I travel like I do! :)

  • ShannonOD

    You're most welcome! Thanks for popping in :-) I look forward to reading some of your more “fights” :-)

  • ShannonOD

    All hostels in the developed countries and guest houses in Asia – never the “absolute cheapest” though! I like a little clean at least! :-)