Besides “What’s your favorite country/place?” and “How does it feel to be back?”, queries about our travel budget and spending top the list of questions people ask about our trip. Lindsay already covered reasons and methods behind our $100/day budget. Now that the trip has concluded and we closed the accounting of our year on the road, it’s time to recap our world trip budget—and actual expenditures.

Most importantly, we kept things simple. Keeping things simple allowed us to stick to our budget and to not spend too much time on money issues at the expense of enjoying the trip.

World trip budget budget vs. actual expenditures

The $100/day, or $36,000 per year, budget Lindsay had created included accommodations, food, ground transport (we tracked flights separately), activities, and any other trip-related expenditures.

World trip budget

The jin chan money toad we got as a present to bring us good luck in saving for the next trip.

To adhere to the budget, we decided to track our spending conscientiously. I was in charge of expense tracking. First I considered using an expense-tracking iPhone app but I decided against it for the following reasons:

  1. Even before the trip my relationship with my smartphone oscillated between love (pocket thumbing) and hate (bottom of the backpack).
  2. I knew I had to record expenditures right away lest I forget.

Thus an app would have been an unreliable way of tracking our expenditures. So since I used my laptop almost every day to work on this blog, I went old school: a no-frills spreadsheet with columns for each expenditure category and rows for each day of the trip with SUM formulas in all the right places.

Expense tracking allowed us to see how we’re doing against our budget (or daily maximum) every day. We tightened or loosened our spending accordingly: if we saw we’re way under budget, we treated ourselves, and if we saw we’re getting close to the daily max, we tightened the purse. There were only a few days that the daily average exceeded the $100 mark. We concluded we could travel on a much tighter budget (and, of course, on a much more generous one). Overall, tracking expenses worked out really well for us.

The trip expenses only include those we spent while traveling together for 365 days. The tally on Day 365: we spent a total of $36,539 with the daily average of $100.11. That is only $39 or $0.11/day over our budget.

Breakdown of RTW trip expenses

Travelers who track their expenses in greater detail than we do (see for example here and here), break their travel spending down by month/travel period or by country or both. We decided against doing so for several reasons:

  • In any given month we could have been in more than one country or traveling differently (staying in an apartment versus taking a multi-day tour, for example), which would have made the months impossible to compare. A year, i.e. the entire duration of our trip, made more sense.
  • In many countries we used different kinds of accommodations and particularly staying with friends/family or housesitting would skew the picture of spending in that country.
World trip budget

In my parents’ apartment building, Košice, Slovakia, July 2013.

Here’s the breakdown of our expenses on the year. All figures are rounded to the nearest dollar.

  • Food/beverages: $15,168 (41%). This included restaurants, street food, fast food, snacks, and groceries, as well as water, juice, soda, tea/coffee, beer, wine, and cocktails. In short, we ate well.
  • Ground transport: $4,081 (11%). This included car/scooter/bicycle rental, busses of all sizes, boat/ferry, train, metro, and monorail.
  • Activities: $2,314 (6%). This included entries to museums, parks, various attractions, cinemas; excursions and tours; and other trip-related activities.
  • Miscellaneous: $4,975 (14%). This included clothes/shoes, backpacks (we downsized midway through the trip), camera, toiletries, gifts and souvenirs, postage, medications, books, money transfer and ATM fees, laundry, language school tuition, and other minor trip-related expenses.

Cost of flights around the world

We tracked flights separately: flights didn’t figure into our daily expenses and we financed 90% of them, a debt we were willing to undertake to make our dream happen.

World trip budget

On the flight from Cusco to Lima, Peru, June 2014.

We considered buying round-the-world plane tickets, which would have cost us about $5,000 each for the itinerary we had planned. In the end we decided to buy one-way tickets as we went, even if it meant spending more on flights. This allowed us greater flexibility, which we came to appreciate as the trip progressed and we loosened our own limits on the itinerary. Round-the-world plane tickets are also complicated so figuring out the best deal also seemed like extra hassle (to me anyway) while we had to deal with other issues before the trip.

We took 12 flights:

  1. Portland, Oregon, to Boston
  2. Boston to Amsterdam via Reykjavik
  3. Paris to Budapest
  4. Belgrade to Athens
  5. Athens to Santorini
  6. Athens to Istanbul
  7. Istanbul to Amsterdam
  8. Amsterdam to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi
  9. Singapore to Sydney
  10. Sydney to Buenos Aires
  11. Lima to Mexico City
  12. Mexico City to Portland

These 12 flights cost us a total of $8,796.28, some $1,200 less than what we’d thought we’d have to spend on flights. As with our daily expenses, we were happy about the final amount.

Money on the road: Scattered lessons and surprises

  • An obvious one: One-way plane tickets purchased on the go cost us less than round-the-world tickets.
  • Places that turned out to be more expensive than we’d anticipated: Istanbul (mostly accommodations – food was inexpensive); Central Europe (while still affordable, prices have been climbing steadily as the standard of living has improved); Singapore (we knew it was up there, we just didn’t realize how much); and Peru (locals told us prices had gone up in the previous three-plus years, chiefly in response to increased tourism).
  • Places that turned out to be less expensive than we’d anticipated: Thailand (inexpensive as advertised but offering a plethora of ways to spend more than we wanted); Malaysia (street food was so good and cheap it made no sense to cook at home even when renting an apartment).
  • Thailand, Chile, and Peru shocked us with exorbitant ATM fees for withdrawals from foreign accounts.
  • When not staying with friends/family or housesitting, we planned to stay mostly in apartments. Staying in private rooms at hostels turned out to be much more fun and a great way to meet fellow travelers, and it often cost about the same as apartment rentals.
World trip budget

Our favorite hostel on the entire trip, Bariloche, Argentina, April 2014.

  • We also never considered couchsurfing. But in Mendoza, Argentina, we encountered a lively community centered around Couchsurfing.com, and now we want to try it on the next trip. We also learned about WorkAway, which allows for exchanging a few hours of work for free accommodation in hostels and such.
  • Though we never tracked the actual expenditures, we spent way more than we imagined on Coca Cola, a fast cure for digestive ailments and hangovers, a substitute for afternoon coffee, and a pick-me-up before a night on the town.

23 Responses

  1. Amy

    Great breakdown guys, I think you did well cost-wise considering how much ground you covered. We tried couchsurfing right at the end of our trip in Taiwan and had an amazing experience, we’ll definitely give it a go again in expensive places – house sitting here in London has worked out well for us too and saved us loads of money. Andrew is in the process of writing a post like this, it’ll be interesting to see how our costs compare 🙂

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Amy. We look forward to couchsurfing, too! We’ll keep an eye out for your cost breakdown. Even though every trip is different, it’s always good to compare.

      Reply
  2. Carmel

    Those ATM fees in Thailand KILLED us. So annoying. I don’t really have a final tally for what we spent. I was so over tracking everything after saving that we gave ourselves a loose budget and basically stuck to it. Once we reached Europe, we did go the same route of the good old spreadsheet and it worked great. Part of me wishes we had started it sooner, but honestly, it was nice having a break. And we still ended spending about the same per month. Nice work guys!

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Carmel. For us expense tracking was not only a way to make sure we stay within the budget but also an exercise in discipline. We used to be much looser with money. Only when we sat down and created a budget, with a line item for trip savings, did we start making the trip happen. One reason, I believe, people may have a hard time imagining a trip like this or saving for it is that they don’t know where their money’s going. Once you see it laid out in front of you, it gets much clearer and you can move the money around toward the expenses you really want to make, whether you’re still in the planning/prep stage or on the road.

      Reply
  3. Michele

    Thank you for sharing we are 6 months into ours and tracking our spending we have only on one month made it to the $110 a day limit. You have shown it is possible we will keep trying. So glad to hear you have discovered couchsurfing I am sure you will enjoy it once you start…you can also welcome travellers while you are at home and show them around your area if you can’t host.

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      We’ve talked about becoming couchsurfing hosts. What a great way to meet fellow travelers! We’re in a shared house, though, so it’s a bigger discussion to have. We’ll keep you and all our readers posted.

      Reply
  4. Emily

    Fantastic rundown you two! We haven’t been nearly as diligent! And yes to those evil evil ATM fees. When we had a few days in North America between South America and Europe we were so happy with just a couple of bucks instead of 7! Yeesh.

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Emily. We did need something productive to do aside from staring at the Southern Cross at Laguna Colorada, relaxing on the Klong Nin beach, or drinking tea on the Golden Horn… Anyway, on our next trip we’re taking one of those no-fees cards everyone keeps talking about.

      Reply
  5. Kathrin

    Wow! I can’t imagine keeping track of all that for a year. Bravo you two! Our budget is a bit more fluid. As you know, spending a lot of time in SE Asia during our year helped a lot.

    How much will you budget for the next trip? 😉

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      It helps to be a little obsessive/retentive like me, Kathrin. Budgeting for the next adventure is waaays out. I do know that we could easily go with the same budget, especially now that we know of even more ways to save and spend less. We’d love to go back and spend more time in SE Asia but we are also thinking of a few more expensive stops like Iceland.

      Reply
  6. Ashley

    I’m fascinated by budgets, traveling, and especially traveling budgets! I can’t believe how you were able to budget so nicely for such a HUGE trip! Looks like such a fun time.

    Reply
  7. Meg @ Mapping Megan

    You guys did really well to (a) stick to that buget and (b) keep track of it all. We had a rough budget when we set off for our travels, however we haven’t any idea of if we’ve stuck to it. Really need to start keeping track of things!! Might be in for a bit of a surprise when we sit down and check the bank account!!

    Really great tips as well – going to look into getting a budgeting app 🙂

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      That’s just it, Meg. We knew that, since we like to treat ourselves, if we didn’t track are expenses we might be in for a surprise at some point. In the U.S. I’ve learned to always have at least an idea how much I’m spending and on what. Using different unfamiliar currencies every few weeks over a 12-month period was bound to confuse that sense. No chance with expense tracking! I’d be curious to hear about your experience with budget/expense tracking apps.

      Reply
  8. Rhonda

    Good for you for keeping so close to budget. Always interesting to see what others spent as well.

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Rhonda. Every couple is different and so is every trip, so comparisons can only take you so far. Including around the world 😉

      Reply
  9. Lance

    The money question is always the big one for a lot of people. I’ve always wondered what RTWers or Nomads spend. Thanks for answering!

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      Money/trip cost is indeed a major question, though in the final analysis I found it to be just a matter of logistics. The bigger questions have to do with the decision to actually take a big trip, to discard the excuses for not doing it, to change your life in order to make it happen…

      Reply
  10. Arianwen

    This is really interesting and helpful. I wish I kept better track of my finances when I travel. People often ask me how much certain countries cost and all I can give is a very rough ballpark figure…!

    Reply
    • Peter Korchnak

      Thanks, Arianwen. It’s kind of a pain to track expenses religiously. At least you have an idea of rough numbers. And you can always point people to bloggers who do track and report.

      Reply

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