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.
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:
- Even before the trip my relationship with my smartphone oscillated between love (pocket thumbing) and hate (bottom of the backpack).
- 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.
Here’s the breakdown of our expenses on the year. All figures are rounded to the nearest dollar.
- Accommodations: $10,001 (27% of total). This included hotels (Paris, Prague, Koh Lanta, Cameron Highlands, Singapore, Salta, Copacabana, Arequipa, Cusco, Machupicchu Pueblo); guest houses (Bangkok, George Town); AirBnB apartments (Boston, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Athens, Naxos, Paros, Istanbul, Melaka, Buenos Aires) and one shared room (Santiago); private rooms in hostels (Santorini, Blue Mountains, Bariloche, Puerto Varas, Pucon, Mendoza, San Pedro de Atacama, La Paz, Lima), mountain chalets and hostels (High Tatra Mountains, Colca Canyon); bungalows (Koh Samui, Ao Nang, Khao Sok); and a Spanish-language school (Arequipa). Staying with family (Košice) and friends (Bratislava, Rotterdam, Kuala Lumpur, Sydney, Mexico City), as well as housesitting (Bratislava, Budapest) were free (thank you, friends and family!); the free stays added up to just over two months, so we paid for accommodations about 80% of the trip.
- 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.
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:
- Portland, Oregon, to Boston
- Boston to Amsterdam via Reykjavik
- Paris to Budapest
- Belgrade to Athens
- Athens to Santorini
- Athens to Istanbul
- Istanbul to Amsterdam
- Amsterdam to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi
- Singapore to Sydney
- Sydney to Buenos Aires
- Lima to Mexico City
- 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.
- 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.