“How much does it cost to travel for two years?”
“How can you afford to go away for so long?”
“Did you win the lottery or something?”
These were the most commonly asked questions while I was travelling. My simple response to these questions is that I just planned, saved, saved and saved. As soon as I paid off my university debts, the monthly amount used to finance the debt was diverted into a travel fund to get me started. Soon after that and including changes in lifestyle choices, saving became pretty easy. I always knew that I would go away for a lengthy trip, so it made sense to set a plan and stick to it.
Before I went away, talking about money was something that I didn’t feel comfortable talking about. However, as soon as there was no income stream, I became quite obsessive over tracking the finances, so it became a little project of mine and something that I did for each country that I visited and enjoyed sharing, to help others budget.
There are a few surprises in there, and I would highly recommend that anybody who goes traveling; whether it be for 2 weeks or two years, track their expenditure as it will allow them to become better travelers and also at budgeting in general.
Before I continue, I should note the following:
- The total figures represent the cost of travel within countries and on to the next. Some purchases have been excluded that may not be relevant such as a new camera, but do include other costs that may be incurred while on the road i.e camera memory card and portable hard drives.
- Certain items have been merged into different categories over time. An example would be alcohol and food, where I started itemising each transaction. However, after a few rum and piñas by the beach, nobody has time to split it out. Also, in places like Vietnam, when you’re drinking, it’s equally about the food as well, so I’d end up grouping the costs together.
- There are some countries where I only spent a week or less in, which may skew the costs significantly. An example would be in Bolivia, where I spent eight days and half of that time was spent on the salt flats tour. As a result, most of the spend would be skewed towards tourism which wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of the cost of travel there.
- My phone died on me in Vietnam, so all spend data between December 2014 until March 2015 are all estimates based on bank balances and estimates using existing average daily data for that country.
The Overall Snapshot
- Alcohol – Self explanatory
- Car/Bike Rental – self driven transport
- Education – Spanish classes and other online courses that I purchased.
- Electronics – replacement chords, chargers, memory cards etc
- Food – snacks, drinks, restaurant food including alcohol purchased in restaurants or with meals
- Accommodation – hotels, hostels, AirBnB
- Household – additional items bought for longer term accommodation such as towels, pillows, blankets. Food and other items purchased from a supermarket will have been listed under this category as well
- Books – Travel guides
- Personal – Medical, clothes, toiletries
- Tourism – Museums, guided tours, tourist Visas
- Transport – getting from A to B. include flights within countries and also intra-country flights. Doesn’t t include long haul flights.
- Utilities – Sim cards
It’s not surprising that the accumulation of food and alcohol cost the most. Discovering food was in integral part of travel for me, so I didn’t hold back here. I didn’t splurge too much on single meals, as I’d always make sure that I was eating a wide breadth of the local cuisine.
I’d also make it a point to splurge (20% more or so) on a nice meal every now and then, if it seemed worth it. On most occasions, this would generally be a birthday, as it’s an easy way to meet new people. I could have saved significant amounts by living off spaghetti with canned sauce like I saw from quite a lot of travelers – but why would you?
I included this chart to provide a holistic view on the affordability of each region. It’s not surprising that the largest cost is my own country of Australia, where I spent 6 weeks visiting over Christmas and New Years. Even without having to pay rent, the cost is high, caused by a tonne of socializing, seeing that it was over the Christmas and New Years period. Financially, I got away with spending like a party animal by contracting for three weeks with my old work, which covered the expenses.
In second place is Europe which saw my bank balance go into rapid depletion. The main reason was that I traveled throughout the summer peak period, when accommodation and transport costs are at its highest. I even managed to score five weeks of accommodation for free, and my daily cost was still high.
The other main causes for expensive travel in Europe was the transport. Anytime I wanted to jump onto the train and travel more than a few hours, it would cost close to €100. I also rented a car in Scotland and a scooter (€50 per day!) in Italy which jacked up my expenditure, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
It’s no surprise that SE Asia is the cheapest region to travel in. With great weather, food and affordable transport, it’s a popular region for those wanting an affordable getaway. Of all the regions that I traveled, I met up with most of my friends from Australia here as well, so it was quite fun both living and traveling there.
Ecuador may seem expensive, but I did pay $2,000+ for an eight day tour of the Galapagos Islands which was one of my highlights in South America. My opinion of Ecuador is that it’s also the most underrated country in terms of beauty and affordability as well.
Strategies for reducing costs when travelling?
Keep track of your expenses
I use iExpensit to track my spending. It’s incredibly handy to track where you actually spend vs where you think you spend. After compiling these numbers and realizing the power of Excel Pivot Tables, what I would do differently is be more specific in categorizing my spends, so that I can I can get more granular in my future analysis.
Hostels and using friend networks more
Without staying in hostels, it would be impossible to travel without blowing out my costs. Central and South America and Asia were the best places to find cheap and accessible accommodation ranging from $3 to $20 per night – even hotels in Asia were affordable at around $10-$15 per bed in a shared dorm. Europe isn’t as budget friendly for hostels, with most of them costing around $30-$50 per night and required booking in advance. In europe, I also found that AirBnB was almost as competitive as hostels, so I used the platform quite a lot, especially in Italy.
In Asia, Agoda have a wide range of accommodation options from 1 star to 5 star hotels and guesthouses. At times, they will even throw in a last minute discount at the checkout as well.
You should never discount the value of friends that you’ve met along the way while traveling. These new friends are the low hanging fruit and can be the easiest sources of accommodation such as a couch to crash on. I slept on couches and air mattresses for most of the first 6 weeks that I spent in Europe, and saved a lot of money.
Couch Surfing is very popular in Europe and is widely used by both young and older travelers. As the name suggests, people offer their couches for travelers who may be passing through. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement with a strong community vibe, where the guests get to learn more about the areas that they are staying in, and the hosts find out more about where the travelers are from. I only used the Couch Surfing in France, but would not hesitate using it again.
I would only use it as a supplementary source of accommodation, rather than my only means as it can be time consuming, and at times, unreliable as hosts can cancel last minute.
Cook your own meals
Cooking facilities vary according to region as well as to the style of accommodation. With most AirBnb places, it’s possible to use the host’s kitchen facilities and because they are located areas convenient for locals, more often than not, there are grocery stores nearby. I found that finding great produce is easy in Europe, so took advantage of this to cook as much as I could. Hostels in South America are well suited for catering and some can cater for large groups. You shouldn’t let traveling solo from putting you off from cooking, as I found that cooking for others is a great way of making new friends. There were many times in Argentina, where a home cooked bolognese and a bottle of wine would cost $5 in ingredients.
Getting to know the locals or expats
There’s nothing better than getting local tips, as ill informed decisions do prove to be costly when it comes to food, accommodation and transport. Nowadays, there is usually helpful expat or digital nomad communities on Facebook that you can connect with in each city. I used this quite extensively in Vietnam to find information on anything from the best and cheapest food, to where to find a reliable medical center.
Slow travel and find other income streams
Not only does slow travel allow you to make those unique discoveries that aren’t listed in travel guides, it also allows one to find time to find work. When I settled down in Vietnam, I found other income sources by using my travel and blogging experience to secure freelance writing jobs, run food tours, promote my photography services and even help plan other people’s travel itineraries.
The timing and what level of income that you want to make is up to you, but slow travel makes this much more attainable, without having to stress too much about making deadlines whilst being on the road.
Other useful travel and budgeting resources
- Nomadic Matt is the the most visited travel blog on the interwebs and is also the author of How to Travel the World on $50 per Day.
- Shannon from A Little Adrift has a detailed budget on her cost of traveling on a year long RTW trip, as well as what I would consider the most extensive post on how to plan your long term travels.
- My friend Jodi from Legal Nomads has collated the cost of travel for various long terms travelers from various regions. She’s also the author of The Food Traveler’s Handbook, which is a great resource for those who want to create a closer connection with local culture through food, as well as how to source cheap local food.
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