The single most frequently asked question I get about my travels concerns the cost of budgeting for a round the world trip. While understanding how I pay for it all tops the list of questions, the actual cost of traveling the world for a year is the big unknown.
I had no idea how much my around the trip would cost when I left—some people reported around $10,000 a year (which seemed absurdly low) while others spent upwards of $40K to travel a bit more luxuriously.
Knowing where my own travels would fall in that spectrum was a great unknown, 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 while traveling.
My full tally is complete. 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. For a round the world trip in 2008 to 2009, I spent USD $17,985. Then I decided to keep traveling and have been on the road for a decade, still traveling as of 2019. After more than 10 years on the road, read on for my tips on how to budget and save for just about any style of trip you can dream up.
Just want the cold hard figures? Navigate my Google spreadsheet by the countries listed at the bottom of my full World Travel Budget.
My Personal Round the World Trip
How Did I Save for World Travel?
I’ve answered incarnations of this savings question dozens of times. And the implied question actually comes, usually, with a bit of editorial: “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 put myself through college with 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. I purged everything I owned and saved ruthlessly in the countdown months. When calculating if I could afford my trip, I even accounted for my student-loan repayments that I would have during my year on the road (because yes, I was actually in a fair bit of debt). I took on side-hustles to sock away money. And then I worked on freelance SEO remotely for the entire year. And through all that, I came to the same conclusions as those backpackers who have adventurously gone before me: Around the world travel is cheaper than you think!
I am not saying it’s dirt cheap, but compared to my life in LA, where $1,200+ went toward rent and bills each month, I used that same online income to travel the world—I only dug into my small savings to pay for the my travel gear and long-haul flights. I wasn’t sure how much my trip would cost when I left to travel, and the information just wasn’t out there like it is now. Now you can play with your travel route and your travel style and come up with a tally in just a few hours for what your dream trip will cost. In fact, I believe so much that world travel is affordable that I wrote a budget guide and spreadsheet to help you price out your dream trip and have all the possible resources you need at your fingertips.
How Much Did it Cost to Travel the World for a Year?
Let’s talk cold, hard facts. I documented every single expense from my yearlong round the world trip with meticulous care. In the 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 ten years later, even with rising global food costs, people still travel on similar budgets (more on how that’s possible later).
My 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 our beautiful world.
That figure, a mere $17,985, completely includes 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.
But lest you think it’s an anomaly, know that I have tracked the 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.
In a Nutshell: How much does world travel cost?
Travelers should consider $20,000 the baseline cost for a yearlong trip around the world for one person. This estimation falls in line with popular recommendations that budget travelers can travel for $50 a day, and allows additional budget for flights and vaccines. Couples will not automatically face double the costs (since lodging and transport are often shared expenses), and midrange world travelers can adjust the budget upward to account for additional expenses on accommodation, transport, or food (where ever you choose to splurge!)
Let’s dive into the good stuff. The following tables and charts further outline my RTW budget including the country-by-country expenses. And because I just had to go that extra mile, I share a complete-down-to-the penny budget, too. This budget spreadsheetincludes every single expense itemized out in an absolutely gorgeous Google spreadsheet if I can toot my own horn for a moment!
A World Travel Budget Breakdown
Total Costs to Travel the World for a Year
|Travel Expense||Cost (USD$)|
|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.
Budget of Daily & 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? I wrote this guide to specifically answer the most common question I was emailed by readers: how much will a specific route/itinerary costs. In it, I share 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. Available on Kindle, ePub, and PDF.
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. Available on Amazon Kindle or as a PDF bundle with the budget book.
What Contributes to a World Travel Budget?
Creating an accurate anticipated budget for your round the world trip is an important step—you certainly don’t want to plan for a year but run out of funds in month eight! Each person has different goals, a unique route, and differing travel styles. These factors can create significant differences in the total cost of a round the world trip.
- Your Route and Speed Around the World: This is the single biggest indicator of how much you will spend. To lower costs you will need to travel slowly overland and minimize the number of flights that you take. Also, consider visiting fewer places. Every travel dreamer over-packs their round the world route. That’s the dream list, but unless you have unlimited funds, then you should scale back the number of regions/countries that you will visit. When I first planned my trip, a long-term traveler advised me to cut five countries from my itinerary. Looking back now, I can’t even imagine where they would have fit! It’s my route and speed that allowed me to travel for under $20K.
Which Countries You Visit: If you add in developed countries like Europe, Japan, Australia, and the United States, your daily budget will double. Instead of spending $25 per day in SEA and India, you will average $75 to $100 per day in most developed countries. For that reason, weight your trip in favor of developing regions of the world. Save Europe or the U.S. for a shorter trip later in life, and add a few off-beat locations to your planned route—these are most often the sleeper-favorites by the end of your RTW trip.
Eat Local Food, Street Foods, and Shop in Markets: How you eat on your travels impacts your bottom line. Eat locally from mom and pop restaurants, and sample eats from street food stalls. Contrary to many assumptions from first glance, these locations are perfectly safe so long as you adhere to a few standard food safety practices. (Read How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick, and buy the Food Traveler’s Handbook to learn even more about safely enjoying street eats). 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 prepare your own breakfast at the very least.
Note that budgets and guides give clear examples of how travelers can truly spend on average $50 per day on average to travel the world. And using the tips above, you can lower these figures even more, if needed. You could likely travel with as little as US $12,000 per year if you stick to one region—overland for a year from Mexico to Argentina; or overland through China, Southeast Asia and India. The price of a budget trip jumps to US $25,000 to visit many regions rapidly. If you prefer mid-range accommodations, that might increase your expenses by $10,000; same goes if you’re prone to splurging on expensive extras like helicopter rides, diving, and adventure activities. The bottom line: You have to understand your route, travel style, and goals before you can develop an accurate anticipated budget for travel.
Recommended Next Steps
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! My site and those of my friends contain every essential resource you need to plan world travel. 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.
Eight Steps of Planning a Trip
- Save for Travel & Eliminate Debt
- Build a Realistic Trip Budget
- Plan Your Around the World Trip Itinerary
- Pick the Right Travel Insurance
- Pack for Long-Term World Travel
- Work Remotely While You Travel
- How to Stay Healthy on the Road
- Free Destination Guides
Resources & Further Research
World Travel Budgets
- A mid-range couples budget of shared expenses for a year came in just under $20K per person.
- A meticulously detailed couples backpackers budget came in at $36,532 (an even $50 a day).
- A solo male traveler for two years on the road averaged about $20K per year.
- A list of travel budgets by region of the world.
Books to Read First
- How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. Published by Penguin and now in its second edition, it shows you how to stick to a budget while you’re traveling. It’s an guide for travelers new to budgeting on the road and weighs heavily toward backpacker-style travel with basic tips and hacks to save money by using travel cards, points, etc.
- A few of my favorite travel books include: The Geography of Bliss ,Wild, A Thousand Splendid Suns, The Great Railway Bazaar, Behind the Beautiful Forevers.
- My two low-cost guides designed for world travelers include How to Save for Travel and How Much Will Your Dream RTW Trip Cost?
On-the-Road Travel Resources
- ALA Travel Guides share comprehensive information on what to know before you go in each new destination.
- Grassroots Volunteering is ALA’s sister site, offering a database of responsible travel companies and volunteer experiences all over the world, as well as Responsible Travel Guides about how to use travel as a force for good.
- Cost of Living Guides show you how affordable it is might be to live outside your home country. You can sometimes elongate world travels by months or years by stopping in these affordable locations.
Working on the Road
- How to Start a Travel Blog: Record the highs and lows of your once in a lifetime trip. This no-nonsense page details the process and won’t upsell you on any courses you likely don’t need. Just basic facts of how to start your first blog, and maybe even make some money along the way.
- Finding Freelance Work for Digital Nomads. Since money is a huge factor for many travelers, this resource page thoroughly covers remote work—something I’ve been doing since 2005.
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.