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?
As a general guideline, 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 vaccine. 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!)[/box]
What Contributes to a World Travel 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, Japan, and Australia, you will see your daily budget more than double (instead of $30/day in SEA and India, you’re looking at $75-$100/day in the UK, and Western Europe). Weight your trip heavily in favor of developing regions of the world—there’s a lot you’re already going to miss as you travel through, and I guarantee you won’t be bored spending a few extra months going more slowly. 100 % guarantee.
- The food you eat and style of travel. How you eat on your travels impacts the bottom line. Eat locally and at the street food stalls when you find them (rampant throughout Southeast Asia, India, Central America, etc)—they’re perfectly safe as long as you find the food stalls the locals are using too! Western food is more expensive and rarely actually tastes good anyhow. Local food is a window into the culture, so dig deep and eat like the locals, asking the vendors questions and learning more about each country’s food peculiarities. Also, when traveling in Western countries, shop for groceries and cook at the hostel at least two meals per day to limit costs! For more food travel tips, check out the Food Traveler’s Handbook one my my good travel friends wrote about safe, cheap street eats.
Let’s dive into the good stuff. The following tables and charts further outline my RTW budget including the country-by-country expenses. And because I just had to go that extra mile, I share a complete-down-to-the penny budget, too. This budget spreadsheet includes every single expense itemized out in an absolutely gorgeous Google spreadsheet if I can toot my own horn for a moment!
A World Travel Budget Breakdown
Total Costs to Travel the World for a Year
|Travel Expense||Cost (USD$)|
|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.
Resources & Further Research for World Travelers
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.
World Travel Budgets
- 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 travel as a couple and they meticulously detailed their joint trip around the world; they spent $36,532, 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.
Plan Your Own Trip
- How Much Will My RTW Trip Cost? (Available on Kindle or as a PDF): I wrote this guide to help travelers determine an exact figure they should save before leaving for long-term travel. It’s all of the budgeting and cost-planning 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.
- How to Save for World Travel (Available on Kindle): This guide 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. I also have a blog post sharing how to save for world travel drilled down to the essential advice.
- Free World Travel Resources: This is a 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 purge your belongings, picking travel insurance, handling your period on the road, and more.
On-the-Road Travel Resources
- How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. Published by Penguin and now in its second edition, Matt Kepnes’ book 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 tips and hacks to save money by using 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. 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 sharing how you can use travel as a force for good no matter where in the world you travel.
- 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.
Working on the Road
- How to Start a Travel Blog: 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 the process. 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.
- Finding Freelance Work for Digital Nomads. Since money is a huge factor for many travelers, I have a resource page dedicated to working online. 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.