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A Little RTW Budget … How Much Does it Cost to Travel 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. 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.

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.

 

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’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.

Round the World Travel Planning Budget

I tracked my RTW budget in this mini-calendar!

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

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 RTW Budgets  and Resources You Should Check Out

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  • ZeroCapital

    Im 17 years old and I want to travel too.So I need some advise.I m going to become a game designer and if not then a programmer.When I’ll become one I will be 23 years old.I will need to save up for my journey wich will take me 2-4 years depending my salary.Howerver
    when I’ll be done with my travel budget I will be 25-27 years old and after I depart for my journey I will be unable to work so I will have to quit my job.The journy will take 2-4 years and when I’ll return I will be 27-31 and unemployed.This kind of plan seems realy risky to me because I may end up an unsuccesfull person without anything left since I abandoned my whole normal and comfortable life in order to make my foolish dreams come true.So to conclude can someone give me some advise about a better plan or how to make one?

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

      That seems like a lot of things you are holding as firm truths where there is actually flexibility and unknown in all of that. It may seem certain that this is your path — and it might be! — but you dictate what your future will look like, not some unknown path that says that it will take you this amount of time and that when you come back you will be “behind” others or in a risky place. Those are assumptions, not truths.

      The world and the future are great unknowns. There is every reason to think that you could travel, find synergies and work for some of the largest Asian-based gaming firms in the world just as a matter of making connections on your trip. That is just as likely to happen as the scenario you laid out. Neither is a more a truth than the other, they are both open possibilities for your future. You are choosing to see one as an obstacle or the only way it could shake down if you travel.

      The savings part is negotiable as well — I bartended throughout college and managed to save up enough for what would have been a 3-6 month trip through Southeast Asia, just in a single summer living at home with my parents (I instead chose to spend it on 2 months in Europe, but the savings was the same and could have fostered either trip). Every person’s situation is different, has different levels of support and opportunities, but I come from a low scoio-economic bracket and made it work. All you have to do is believe it’s possible and is something you want — open your mind to the possibilities that this trip is 1) something you can make happen and 2) something that doesn’t necessarily predicate career failure, but rather could open new doors you can’t even imagine right now.

      Best of luck, here if you ever need help planning that long-term trip. :)

      • ZeroCapital

        Someone said that the only thing that gets between yourself and your goal is the obstacles that you put there by yourself.Thank you for reminding me that.

        • Matías R

          Hi there,
          Sorry to jump into the discussion! ZeroCapital, if your plan is to be a sofware/videogame developer, you shouldn’t worry too much. Today it’s rather easy to work remotely, every day more and more companies allow their employees to do that.
          You can of course create your own video games or be a consultant, which you can do from anywhere in the world.
          So don’t worry too much, your skill will be in high demand in the future!

  • cameraandcarryon

    I love how you break down the cost of travel, because ultimately that’s what people are looking for when considering a crazy idea like traveling for 6 months (but are just too afraid to ask). We did a full budget, too, before leaving our cushy jobs in NYC — planned, saved, leaving room for a little ‘extra’ for emergencies — and managed to stick to it and came in $100 under budget after our 6 month adventure. Imagine that ;) We hope you check out our video recap of our journey and share this with your followers (we’re pretty proud of it!). In some small way, we hope to help inspire others to get out there and live out their dreams and explore all this awesome world has to offer. http://www.cameraandcarryon.com/2014/07/video-traveling-and-living-dreams/

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

      Thanks for sharing the video of your journey, I will have a look now. Underbudget is a great place to be on the flip side of your trip and it’s likely a testament to the careful research it sounds like you did before you left! Safe travels :)

      • cameraandcarryon

        Thanks, Shannon! (I’m a Shannon, too… hehe)

        I want to say we were lucky to come in under budget, but I think careful purchases and recording our expenses along the way was key to sticking to the ‘plan’. Careful consideration of how much money you’re comfortable spending, while being realistic about expectations of the experience you’ll have, is one of the most important factors in successful extended travel IMO.

        We love your writing, tips, and information. Thanks for being a great resource and voice!!!

  • dannyrock1981 .

    First of all I just want to say how much I love this website, so thank you! And secondly I have been looking all over the web for an actual breakdown of costs for a RTW trip like this. I have travelled a lot in the past but I am currently saving and planning for a long trip starting late next year, North America for a few weeks then Central and South America will be my main focus after that and possibly back over to Europe and Asia. I’m just at the budgeting and route planning stage. I will keep reading through your blogs for any other advice and once again, thank you.
    Danny

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

    Thanks for sharing your iPhone app link Matias! Tracking your budget on the road is an important part of the travel process, I’ll definitely check out your app! :)

  • Rosa Sophie Renn

    Most interesting european countries for travelling are missing: France, Germany, Spain and Sweden. Replaced by visiting poor countries most europeans don’t want to travel: Bosnia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Croatia… So sad i loved france and the others so much.

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

      I agree those are great countries and I have loved visiting each one of them. On a round the world though, there is compromise between the very expensive countries and the less expensive ones. And, as an American I have to factor in that I only have three months in the Schengen zone — on my trip I chose to spend it in the Netherlands, UK, Scotland and Ireland. You could definitely switch those out on yours. Safe travels.

    • Jennifer Smith-Parker

      Most Europeans don’t want to travel to Bosnia, Slovenia, etc etc? Wow then the Europeans I met in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia must have been MAKE-BELIEVE. You obviously have no idea what you are talking about.

  • Rubab

    We are a family of 3, my Husband, my 6 month old daughter and I. We’re planning on a RTW trip in 2015 most probably in the summers. Started thinking of getting a house and living our lives like we’re suppose to as a family with security but both me and my husband feel we need to see so much before we put our foot down and live in one place forever (or for atleast a few years). We’ve travelled a lot as a solo traveler and couple but with a daughter this young, do you feel the RTW is doable. What places seemed comfortable enough for a kid to tag along to? I am sure we need a lot of planning. But we’re thinking if we should use our savings for buying a house or travel the world. Because you know wise people say YOLO! haha

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

      Hi Rubab — so glad you found the budget and are planning some round the world travels. You can DEFINITELY make a go of your trip with a baby in tow, I have met other travelers with younguns and though they often had a different style of travel (slower, nicer places than the budget ones I was often in) they were on an adventure and had few regrets about acting on their desire to do a RTW with each other and their children. Almost Fearless traveled with an infant through Asia, and then she had another and continued: http://almostfearless.com. And the folks from Going Anyway had a very young baby and several kids and I met them in Thailand and they were all on the adventure of a lifetime: http://www.goinganyway.net. There are definitely resources out there to give you an idea of other families on the road with small children, you aren’t alone. Your child can be as portable as you see fit, so places like Southeast Asia, South America, Europe, all of these are options — they have good tourism networks, some are very budget, and you can see some amazing things along the way. :) Safe travels and best of luck in planning!

  • sachin97

    Hi my name is sachin and I m from India my dream is to travel whole wor ld meet new people and I m 17 year old I want to go to boania and serbia for 1 month I need you help how much will it cost me ? Please help me to see this beautiful world

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

      I’m not sure of the current costs in that region, but I know that there is a great hostel and train network that should help you keep down costs. They also have some good and easy lunches (bureks in Bosnia) that are cheap and easy as well. All these things add up to making it a lot more affordable than most of Europe. In this budgeting post you can look at my spreadsheet and see what my daily costs were in Bosnia. Then, I suggest you do some research on the price of hostels (http://www.hostelworld.com/) in the places you want to go and use that as a base for what your daily cost will be. You can also use sites like Couchsurfing to keep accommodation costs down. Best of luck!

      • sachin97

        Where you gonna travel next ? And I don’t want to stay in hostel because I m sacred I m 17 and this is going to be my first travel experience so please give me something other tips to save money and have fun

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

          Honestly, I think you should work on overcoming the fear of hostels — these are the best places to meet other travelers your age and the hostels are often the best place to find affordable things to do. Basically, they are the heart of the budget backpacking network around the world. If you are looking to go with a higher budget, you can use hotel booking sites and things like that — lots of planning tools out there and this page on my site has heaps of resources :http://alittleadrift.com/rtw-travel/ Good luck!

      • sachin97

        And please give me ur email I cant find ur email on ur page so please give it to me thanks

  • JessRep

    Thank you so much for this. I have one question… what is a puddle jumper flight? Thanks for sharing and safe travels on your next adventure!!

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

      Glad you found it useful! Puddle jumpers just refers to smaller flights that jump small distances, sometimes from tiny regional airports and use smaller planes. Asia has a lot of discount airlines (Europe too, though not as cheap) that jump between the various cities and help you get around for a lot less than using the major airlines. Good luck planning. :)

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  • Jennifer Smith-Parker

    Honestly, 20K IS a lot. So for a couple, that’s 40K, which is a hella lot of money to travel. So in the end, traveling is expensive and I HATE when travel bloggers act like it isn’t.

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

      I see your point but I still disagree. 20K is a lot if you are planning on dropping it all out of pocket at this very moment; some people save for 6+ years and do that. I didn’t leave with anything near 20K (6K because I sold my car). I have a friend making 20K doing 30 hours a week of content writing work for an online education company. Point is, for her, she could travel with that job/income, and yet that money doesn’t get her very far living in Denver. I grew up in a trailer park, I know that 20K is a lot, but if you can make money online, or have an open mind to jobs you can take overseas, you can likely travel for what amounts to a poverty-level salary here. And that is a god’s-honest fact. Also, it’s not actually double for a couple because you are splitting all the accommodation and local transport—I’d have spent a couple thousand less if I had traveled with someone the entire time.

      • Jennifer Smith-Parker

        I can see your point to an extent, especially in Southeast Asia, where I have traveled myself a few times. But again, that was JUST me, and not my husband. And yes it IS double for many aspects like food and drink, cultural attractions, and bus/plane fare. The only way we would possibly save would be accommodation.

    • Debbie Green

      I don’t agree that it would double for a couple. Travelling is worth every cent

      • Jennifer Smith-Parker

        You don’t have to agree with facts and can choose to have your head in the sand. And to say travelling is worth every cent is just ignorant. Travelling is all I think about, every day and most hours of that day. But I also have to ya know, eat and pay rent.

  • megan

    Hi :) I’m 18 and want to go travelling for 5/6 months later this year by myself through Europe, America and South America :) Just wondering if you think it is a good idea for me to bring my laptop? To Skype home etc? Love your blogs!

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

      Congrats on the big trip coming up this year. I think a laptop is good in some situations but not for everyone. Think about what you need to do– will you update a blog, or do you just need photo storage (easy in an external hard drive). If you surf the Internet and want to be able to do that, most hostels have free wifi. Weigh out the pros and cons and then consider if a smartphone would suffice! Happy travels. :)

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

      Congrats on the big trip coming up this year. I think a laptop is good in some situations but not for everyone. Think about what you need to do– will you update a blog, or do you just need photo storage (easy in an external hard drive). If you surf the Internet and want to be able to do that, most hostels have free wifi. Weigh out the pros and cons and then consider if a smartphone would suffice! Happy travels. :)

  • Graham Johnston

    Your details are very informative, and thank you for sharing your experience. I am 46 years old, and am considering on quitting my Fashion business for a year so that I can enjoy my travel. As soon as I feel confidence with my photography (as am currently learning), I would like to travel as a Photography vacation especially in Southern Africa (from Kenya to Cape Town overland), and then to South American countries plus Cuba ………. the rest of the countries – still deciding.

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

      That would be an incredible trip, I was in Africa last spring and it was incredible to do that route (in reverse, I started in Cape Town). If I can ever help with anything, just let me know. Happy planning. :)

      • Graham Johnston

        Thank you Shannon. I had planned to start in Cape Town too, but I would need to be in Kenya in mid to late August to witness the ‘Great Migration’ so it makes sense to start in Kenya. Antarctica needs to be in December or January for full lights and for the warmest weather (still cold though).

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

          Yes! That makes perfect sense and the Great Migration looks incredible, I wish I had timed my own trip to see it. And with Antarctica too, you have an incredible trip lined up! :)

  • Reid Cockburn

    This is really fantastic! I’m just starting to consider a RTW trip. It’ll be less extensive, I’m looking at 3-4 months, but your budget speadsheet is terrific reference! Thanks!

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

      So glad you found it helpful! Just let me know if there is ever anything I can do to help, happy travels! :)

  • kim

    Are the total costs for your budget in US dollars?

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

      Yes, all of the costs in the spreadsheet are logged in local currency, but then on the right column translated into USD.

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  • Anna Gomersall

    Hi! I turned 15 in December and am a sophomore in high school. I am planning on doing a program that allows me to go to high school and a community college at the same time for free. With this program I will be able to graduate a year earlier but will graduate as a 16 year old, or I could graduate when I am a senior with my associates degree. I would love to graduate early and travel around the world and am able to save enough money for a trip like this but graduating high school as a junior in college also sounds very tempting. Also, I would always be able to travel I graduate too. As someone who has travelled around the world, what would you recommend I do?

    Thanks,
    Anna

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

      That’s a tough choice Anna, but what a wonderful situation to be deciding between. Congrats on all the hard work and studying that goes into both those choices. As far as travel is concerned, there is no way I could know what is the right next step for you, but I do think that a long-term trip could be easier when you are over 18 with all the legalities of entering and exiting countries and navigating. Have you thought of a compromise —perhaps staying in school until you’re a senior but spending your nearly three months of summer traveling. You could combine the two and get some travel under your belt while still finishing school? Get creative with your options, and then really look at what you think is going to be the best fit for your goals and how you want to be living your life. Travel is never a bad idea, but that can look like whatever you want it to look like — summers, a long-term trip at 16, or any combination you can think of. Best of luck and let me know if I can ever help. :)

  • Iz Bishop

    This helped a lot, I’m going on a world trip right after I graduate high school, and needed to know about how much it would cost me. So thanks for posting this!!!

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

      Glad you found it useful and congrats on the upcoming trip! Good luck and let me know if I can help with anything else as you plan. :)

  • Yu Chi

    If I am holding s working holiday VISA for a year in New Zealand. Do I have to buy the insurance for one year? I am confused!?

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

      That’s a tough one, I’m not sure! You may very well need insurance still for your time in NZ unless it’s possible to get it through the government there? Sorry I don’t have that answer, but I believe that working-backpackers in Oz purchase travel insurance.

  • Jennifer Sinclair

    I’m just beginning to plan a RTW trip for next year, and this post is BY FAR the most helpful thing I’ve come across! Thank you!!

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

      So glad you found it useful! And congrats on the upcoming RTW — that is huge and you must be so psyched. Don’t hesitate to shoot me an email if there is anything I can do to help. :)

  • Sophie

    Oh my gosh, that is so expensive! Almost 19000 dollars…

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

      It is a lot in one lump sum, but it is the entire cost to live for about a year, which is far less than I spend for a year in the U.S., and it included some awesome adventures throughout. (Also, it could be done for a lot less if you leave out Europe and super developed countries). Happy travels. :)

  • স্মৃতিলেখা চক্রবর্ত্তী

    This insurance of “World Nomads”; does it cover Indian travelers as well?

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

      They sure do! It’s really easy to input your details on their site and see what it will cost for the length of your trip. :)

      • স্মৃতিলেখা চক্রবর্ত্তী

        Awww! Thanks. Will definitely try that…

  • 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! :-)