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 actual 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 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 did I save for around the world travel?
I have answered incarnations of this question dozens of times. The real question is this: “Traveling the world is expensive, how could you have possibly afforded it?”
It’s not as expensive as you assume, and most anyone reading this post has the ability to save for travel if it’s a true priority. As regular A Little Adrift readers have surmised, I don’t live off of a trust fund. My family is quite poor and I made it through college on merit-based scholarships. 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 used that same online income to travel the world, and I dug into my small savings to pay for the long-haul flights. I wasn’t sure how much my trip would cost when I left to travel, and there just wasn’t the information out there like there is now. Now you can play with your route and your travel style and come up with a tally in just a few hours. In fact, I believe so much that your dream trip is affordable that I wrote the budget guide and spreadsheet to help you price out your dream trip — it’s priced low so that there is no reason not to see how much you need to save.
Cost of My One Year Round the World Trip
Now, onto my travel budget!
I documented every single expense from my initial year-long RTW trip with meticulous care. My 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.
Total: USD $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 around the world. If you’re considering a slow trip, I documented how I lived in places like Thailand for less than $600 per month, and Mexico for under $800.
What else contributes to a RTW trip budget?
- Your route and speed around the world. This is the single biggest indicator of how much you will spend. Minimize the number of flights you need to take by traveling overland and slowly and to fewer places. Seriously, we all have a dream list, but if you’re on a limited trip (as opposed to open-ticket, no planned return RTW travels) then you’ve likely over-packed your route. The best advice I received on my RTW was to cut out 5 of the 17 planned countries–reflecting back on it, I can’t even imagine where they would have fit?!
- Which countries you visit. If you add in developed countries like Europe, the United States, and Australia you will see your daily budget more than double (instead of $30/day in SEA and India, you’re looking at $75-$100/day in the UK, and Western Europe). Weight your trip heavily in favor of developing regions of the world – there’s a lot you’re already going to miss as you travel through, and I guarantee you won’t be bored spending a few extra months going more slowly. 100 % guarantee.
- The food you eat and style of travel. How you eat on your travels impacts the bottom line; eat locally and at the street food stalls when you find them (rampant throughout Southeast Asia, India, Central America, etc)—they’re perfectly safe as long as you find the food stalls the locals are using too! Western food is more expensive and rarely actually tastes good anyhow. Local food is a window into the culture, so dig deep and eat like the locals, asking the vendors questions and learning more about each country’s food peculiarities. Also, when traveling in Western countries, shop for groceries and cook at the hostel at least two meals per day to limit costs! For more food travel tips, check out the Food Traveler’s Handbook one my my good travel friends wrote about safe, cheap street eats.
Let’s dive into the good stuff. The following tables and charts further outline my RTW budget including the country-by-country expenses. And because I just had to go that extra mile, I share a complete-down-to-the penny budget too. This budget spreadsheet includes every single expense itemized out in an absolutely gorgeous Google spreadsheet if I can toot my own horn for a moment!
RTW Travel Budget Breakdown
Total Costs to Travel the World for a Year
|Travel Expense||Cost (USD$)|
|Activities + Entertainment||$3,613.18|
|Misc (internet, gifts, extra gear, etc)||$1,753.67|
|Pre-Trip Travel Gear||$484.50|
* Lodging: Includes all accommodation; I couchsurfed in a few countries and stayed with friends a couple of times.
* Food: Includes everything from three meals a day, to snacks, and funding my chocolate obsession.
* Entertainment: Going out on the town, sharing beers with friends — this will be much higher if you drink often. My budget was for drinking on average once a week.
* Activities: Includes my volunteer program and all tours, trips, and group adventures. Everything from diving to ziplining to visiting temples and museums.
* Transportation: This total excludes flights, but covers all intra-country transportation like buses, trains, taxis and tuk-tuks.
* Misc: A large portion is the internet, it was pricey to make sure I had a strong connection for my work. Also includes shipping things home, gifts, and toiletries along the way.
* Flights: Includes many puddle-jumper little flights between countries in the same region. I did not use a RTW ticket, but instead 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.
How to Much Will YOUR Dream Trip Cost?
Traveling the world is a mental obstacle as much as a financial one. Every situation is different, but I truly believe that if you are ready to truly prioritize travel, then it’s possible to plan and execute a round the world trip. The problem is, there’s crappy information out there about how to make it happen. Many bloggers have shared posts with a handful of tips about how much they saved for their dream trip, but they don’t break down how they arrived at that final figure. You may read this information and see my budget, but it leaves you wondering if your own travels would cost the same.
For that reason, I wrote two entire guides to address your current hurdle. One is about creating a realistic anticipated budget for your trip. The other is about saving for world travel.
How much will your dream trip cost? This guide shares comprehensive and thoroughly practical advice about understanding trip budgets and understanding your own style of travel. The guide is a full treatise on how to estimate what your dream trip will cost and it includes case studies from other long-term travelers who tracked their trip budgets.
I’ve spent eight years on the road, and nearly that long talking with with other travelers about how they budget for travel. Using the aggregate of their knowledge and experience, I’ve outlined a road-map to taking a long-term trip. I wrote this guide to empower travelers and travel dreamers anywhere in the world with the tools to plan their trip. The guide breaks down average traveling costs for the world’s most traveled destinations, which you can use with the fully customizable Trip Budget Worksheet to create an accurate anticipated budget for your dream trip.
True wealth is having the freedom to do what you want with your life. Many travel dreamers get waylaid by the financial side of life. If you’re new to personal finance, or lost about how to start saving for a big goal, this book distills hard-learned information into easily actionable steps specifically targeted at giving travel dreamers tools to become financially literate.
This book provides a thorough deep-dive into the principles of saving money, common obstacles, overcoming debt, and the tenets of strong personal finance. It offers a streamlined process to create substantial changes in your financial life. If money is your primary obstacle to leaving on a long-term trip, this guide breaks down exactly the shifts you can make to change your financial situation. Many travelers look at my adventures and experiences these past eight years that I’ve traveled and they dream of also traveling through the cultures, stories, and conversations. This guide gives you the tools to move the needle from dreaming to doing.
Together, let’s take stock of your financial situation and plot a timeline for you to travel the world. How to Save for World Travel is available on Amazon Kindle.
9 Easy Next Steps to Make World Travel a Reality
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. And if you want a second look at those spreadsheets, visit my full RTW budget as a Google Document that will open in your browser. Or head to the blank spreadsheet to track your own expenses as you travel around the world. You can save an editable copy of these to your own Google Drive, or download for your own use.
- Research the cost of RTW Trips. Look to other RTW trip budgets for inspiration first. Lauren travels with her boyfriend, so her 2015 year-end totals reflect a mid-range budget of shared expenses — like mine, her budget comes in just under $20K per person. Rob and Nat meticulously detailed their joint trip around the world; they spent $36,532 jointly, which is an even $50 a day! Jimmy is a solo male traveler and he detailed his two years on the road with every expense logged and tracked; he also shows it’s possible to take a RTW for about $20K per year. And for even more granular budgets, Jodi collected an impressive list of travel budget breakdowns by region of the world.
- Figure out the exact cost of your dream trip. How Much Will My RTW Trip Cost? is the guide I wrote to help travelers determine an exact figure they should save before setting out on a trip. It’s all the information in one spot, with travel budget case studies, detailed worksheets, and specific averages for the daily budget in dozens of countries around the world (updated early 2017 and also available as a PDF).
- Learn how to effectively save for travel. How to Save for World Travel; this is a low-cost guide that outlines the common hurdles people face when saving for big goals, and then sets a roadmap to financial fitness. This guide teaches you how to save, and it will give you a myriad of new ideas to top up your travel fund. Nearly $20k is a huge sum for most people, but it’s a doable sum too. It really is. Mental and psychological hurdles often play a factor in saving and learning how to budget, so this guide provides a streamlined approach, as well as further resources to maintain the strong savings habits that will allow you to travel the world.
- Plan the nitty-gritties of your trip. Head to the World Travel Resources for a full treatise on all the answers you need to plan and execute the planning of a RTW trip. It’s everything that you might find overwhelming, plus a few things you forgot to worry about. Includes what to pack, how to purging your belongings, picking travel insurance, handling your period on the road, and more.
- Stick to your budget on the road. My friend Matt wrote How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, published by Penguin and now in its second edition. It’s an guide for travelers new to budgeting on the road and weighs heavily toward backpacker-style travel with tips and hacks to saving money on the road through travel cards, points, etc.
- Plan amazing activities on the road. Use the ALA Travel Guides for comprehensive information on what to know before you go in each place. The guides and stories share my favorite experiences on the road, as well as plenty of tips for traveling responsibly. And Grassroots Volunteering is ALA’s sister site, offering a database of responsible travel companies and volunteer experiences all over the world.
- Record your journey. Many travelers find value in starting a travel blog to record the highs and lows of their once in a lifetime trip. I wrote a no-nonsense page detailing How to Start a Travel Blog. It focuses on five quick and simple steps, and offers a realistic perspective on you can expect from your blog without the hype you find on some tutorials. While I don’t suggest professional travel blogging for most travelers, running a travel site for friends and family is a fun way to share your big journey — it’s an electronic scrapbook of memories and moments and stories.
- Slow down somewhere and live somewhere fascinating. Use these posts on the Cost of Living Around the World to discover that it’s likely far more affordable to live elsewhere than you’ve ever considered. You can sometimes stretch your trip by months or years by stopping in places for a few months and digging into the local culture and way of life. I’ve done this everywhere from Mexico to Thailand and it’s allowed me to stay on the road and see these places in a new light.
- Top up your travel funds. Since money is a huge factor for many travelers, I have a resource page dedicated to Finding Freelance Work & Working from the Road. I’ve worked from my laptop for more than a decade and there are many jobs that also allow you to work from anywhere in the world.
I truly believe that world travel is possible for most people. When and how is unique to each person, but by prioritizing and planning travel, you can make a round the world trip possible. If you’re on the fence about making the huge decision to travel, read this. And if it’s months or years before you leave, why not read a few of my favorite classic travel books.