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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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Couple Mid-Range Budget: Akila and Patrick traveled together staying at hotels and mid-range options the whole way, with a bit more food and luxury than super-budget travel and share their breakdown.
  • A Couple Budget-Style RTW Budget: Erin and Simon travel on a moderate budget and broke down what that cost them.
  • 11 Travelers Budget Comparison: BootsnAll did a great job sharing/comparing the costs of 10 different RTW trips.
  • Budget breakdowns by region: Jodi rounded up budgeting links travelers have shared for each region of the world.

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  • One Year 75 Times

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

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

      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?

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

      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. :)

  • http://www.persuasivepress.org Traveller

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

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

      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!

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

      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!

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

          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

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

      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.

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

      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 :)

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

      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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  • 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! :-)