My 1 Year of Travel Budget – Costs & How to Save
Money isn’t the only aspect of planning a long term trip but it’s certainly one of the most common questions I receive. Each person’s financial situation is different and there are a number of ways to determine a one year of travel budget and how you save. For me, I planned two years ahead of time. During that time I read countless blogs, books and talked to people who had traveled long term.
I also focused on paying off debt and saved as much money as I could. This involved a lot of sacrifices, but in the end, they were all worth it because I was able to fulfill my dream of long term travel. I decided that I would budget $20,000 for travel and save an extra $5,000 just in case I needed it. This was in order to be safe in the event that an emergency came up, if I decided to stay longer or if I needed a financial cushion when I returned home.
Having extra money was good because I decided to exceed my budget and spent a total of $21,772*, or $60/day* for one year of travel around the world.
It’s possible to have a one year of travel budget for $18,000 ($50/day) or less if you’re interested in working while you travel, volunteering for a free place to stay, couchsurfing often or other budget practices. Below, I’ve listed some additional links to methods others have used, whether to save on their own 1 year of travel budget or on a shorter trip.
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous
* See total cost breakdown below. There were a few items that were not included such as some of the airfare (which I explain how to get for free), scuba diving, passport fee, etc. Total travel time was a few days short of exactly one year.
Saving for Your 1 Year of Travel Budget
So how did I save up $25,000?
I knew I needed to reduce my living expenses and pay off debt. I was living in a house that was too large and nicer than I needed. It was also getting quite expensive. Every person’s financial situation is different and I don’t advise that everyone sell their home to travel but for me this made sense.
Secondly, I decided to start getting rid of as much stuff I didn’t need as possible. This article on Minimalism by Mark Manson was one of the most important articles I read early on. It lists a number of eye-opening ideas about how much we spend on stuff we really don’t need. I continue to re-read it at least once a year. It helped me to make the following changes to my monthly budget.
5 Ways I Saved for Travel – And You Can Too!
These were my five biggest steps to decrease monthly expenses and make additional money to put towards saving for my 1 year of travel budget:
- Downsized from a bigger, nicer house to a smaller space with two roommates: Saved $700 per month
- Dined out at restaurants less frequently. Found cheaper places to eat and cooked more at home: Saved $100 per month
- Went out at night with friends less and if I wanted a beer, headed to the store to bring it home: Saved $100 per month
- Brewed all of my own coffee and tea at home: Saved nearly $50 per month
- Sold a lot of things I no longer needed. Some video games and older books were collector’s items worth more than I payed for them: Earned about $1,500 for my 1 year of travel budget
Monthly Savings: $950
I didn’t completely stop going out to eat or having a beer with friends all together, I just cut down on those expenses. They became less frequent and found that I appreciated the occasions more. My friends and I still saw each other a lot but would cook and have beers at someone’s house instead of going out. It wasn’t a big change after I got used to it. I would also still grab a coffee at my favorite coffee shop every so often.
Pre-Travel Monthly Budget at Home
Many people can’t believe that traveling abroad can be done for the same amount they currently pay now in bills. Often times, as in my case, my monthly expenses traveling actually ended up being less than my monthly bills at home.
My home expense averages from 3 months prior to travel:
- Rent: $650
- Phone: $50
- Gas: $193
- Groceries: $166
- Restaurants: $213
- Alcohol: $97
- Entertainment: $163
- Insurance: $287
- Clothes, Car Repairs, Misc.: $151
New Pre-Travel Monthly Expenses: $1,970
After nearly two years of decreasing monthly expenses and saving, I had saved enough money to reach my $25,000 year of travel budget. After looking at insurance expenses I also decided to sell my car. I could have gotten by without doing this, but didn’t want the added expenses while I was away. Throughout this process I put in my notice and left my job.
A few weeks later, I headed out on my first flight to Reykjavik, Iceland and my trip began.
Travel Numbers & Costs
Everyone has their own pace for travel. Some people like to stay in each country for at least a few weeks, or even a few months. I experienced both short and long stays.
One thing is for sure, it’s much cheaper if you stay in a place longer. It’s also more relaxing to go at a slower pace. I found that I traveled faster in the beginning of the trip and slowed down over time. Here are my totals from a year of travel.
Missed Flights: 2
Missed Buses: 1
Missed Trains: 1
Driving: 4 days
BlahBlah Car (Europe’s Rideshare): 1
City to City by Taxi: 1
Hostel Dorm: 269 nights
Private Room: 38
Nice Hotel: 1
Stayed with a Fried: 31
Overnight Bus: 7
Overnight Train: 2
Overnight Flight: 3
Tent: 2 (Bedouin camp in Jordan)
Slept in a Car: 2 (Legal & safe in Iceland)
Apartment Rental: 2
Slept in an Airport: 1
The Cost of Europe
June through December, 6 months of travel
Countries: Iceland, Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Germany
With its extensive history, beautiful architecture and great food, Europe remains my favorite place to visit. Though this was my fourth trip to the continent I wanted to see the Nordic countries, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, all new to me. I had an aggressive plan to see a lot of places and ended up traveling through 24 countries and at least 44 cities.
Sweden and Iceland were incredibly beautiful but were also two most expensive countries with $9 beers and $32-36 hostel dorm beds. Copenhagen and Berlin had some of the best food I’ve found and it was reasonably priced, considering the quality of the food, at $10-15. I found Estonia to be very special while staying on a farm with a friend, enjoying the nightlife of Tallinn and the beauty of the capital city’s old town. In Bulgaria and Ukraine I enjoyed getting to know locals and exploring these off the beaten path places. In both countries I was able to find 2-liter bottles of local beer at the store for $1.50 and $5 hostel dorms.
- Flights: $0
- Hostels: $2,512
- Transportation: $1,325
- Food: $2,324
- Groceries: $704
- Alcohol: $1,780
- Souvenirs/Other: $603
- Activities: $926
Total Cost for 6 Months in Europe: $10,174 ($57/day)
The Cost of Israel & Jordan
December, 3 weeks of travel
Countries Visited: Israel & Jordan
After Europe I met back up with a friend to travel through Israel and Jordan. I had an opportunity to learn more about the conflicts of the last several decades firsthand, as well as to see the coexistence of Haifa. It is here that many religions and cultures live side by side in peace. Nazareth and Jerusalem were full of history and I found them to be truly impressive.
In Jordan, we spent Christmas morning riding through the desserts of Wadi Rum with a group of a dozen Saudis. They invited us to ride in (and drive) their 4×4 trucks, share their meals and lots of tea. We wandered through the awe-inspiring ancient city of Petra and the Roman ruins of Jerash.
Prices were similar in both countries with $25 hostels, $5-8 beers and budget meals for $8-15.
- Flights: $0
- Hostels: $395
- Transportation: $270
- Food: $350
- Groceries: $35
- Alcohol: $230
- Souvenirs: $50
- Activities: $115
Total Cost for 3 Weeks in Israel & Jordan: $1,445 ($69/day)
The Cost of Southeast Asia
January through April, 4 months total.
Countries Visited: Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
In Thailand and Vietnam I observed the craziness of their big cities and by contrast, the peaceful outlying villages. I ate street food in Bangkok and many other places for $0.50-$4 per meal. I took in the beauty of oceans, misty mountain tops and hundreds of smiling local faces. The vibe and scenery were much different from anywhere else I had been. I had many new experiences, stayed in countless $5/night hostels and made many new friends.
- Flights: $1,086
- Hostel: $1,579
- Transport: $503
- Food: $1,155
- Groceries: $290
- Alcohol: $983
- Souvenirs/Other: $155
- Activities: $305
Total Cost for 4 Months in Southeast Asia: $6,056 ($50/day)
The Cost of Australia & New Zealand
April and May, 5 weeks total.
In New Zealand and Australia I met back up with friends I had made in Europe. We went hiking, boating, snorkeling, boating and I even tried (and failed at) surfing. This was not in my original budget but I’m so glad I went here. The beauty and my friends there were absolutely worth finding the extra time and money.
- Flights: $757 (including $68 for return flight to U.S.)
- Hostels: $505
- Transportation: $480
- Food: $650
- Groceries: $135
- Alcohol: $425
- Souvenirs: $95
- Activities: $435
Total Cost for 5 Weeks in Australia & New Zealand: $3,482 ($99/day)
My Total Cost for 1 Year of Travel
- 1 Year of Travel Expenses: $21,157
- 1 Year of Travel Insurance: $615
- Total = $21,772
$21,772 Total Travel Cost – $1,814 per Month Average, $60/day
My expenses while traveling ended up being even cheaper than my costs at home. Note that this was the average cost though. There were a few countries such as Ukraine and Vietnam where I spent around $1,100 for a month of travel, and that included staying in private rooms some of the time.
Had I been particularly budget conscious, I could have stayed in cheaper countries longer and lived off of $1,000 or less per month in several of them.
What’s Not Included
Travel, interests and perspectives are different for everyone. For me, I have always been a little freaked out by the ocean, for instance. That changed on this trip. I didn’t budget for scuba diving initially but decided I had to go. Not everyone will. Other expenses below may be an additional factor for others.
- Scuba Diving: The island of Koh Tao in southern Thailand offers beautiful waters and some of the cheapest diving certifications in the world. Open Water and Advanced Open Water certifications were only $450 total. These certifications were recommended by everyone I knew who had done them. I decided to take the plunge. Those 9 dives during the courses, along with 2 dives in Cambodia and 5 more in Australia were some of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. Total cost was $1,200 but this is not something everyone will do so I excluded it from my total year of travel budget totals.
- Passport Fees: I didn’t included these costs as mine is a few years old. Costs can vary from $135-$165.
- Vaccinations: The cost of travel vaccinations can vary based on region and what health insurance will cover. Mine were almost all covered. I’m told some state hospitals and clinics offer the most affordable rates, depending on the state. This wasn’t an option for me in Arizona so I went through Passport Health. They were helpful, professional and fast. I paid around $70 total, out of pocket.
- Storage Fees: Between selling off and donating personal items, selling my car and also having a house fire destroy nearly everything else, I didn’t have anything I needed to pay to store while I was away. I just left a few small boxes up in an attic.
5 Cheapest & Most Expensive Examples
After total costs, I’ve received a lot of questions about most and least expensive costs in a few areas:
- Cheapest: $1.50 for a huge bowl of beef & noodle soup in Luang Prabanh, Laos.
- Most Expensive: $60 for langostene in Höfn, Iceland. This city was also to be one of the weirdest pronunciations. I thought it would be Ha-fen. It’s actually pronounced Hep.
READ MORE: 10 Ways to Stretch a Food Budget for Travel
- Cheapest: $1.50 for a 2.5 or 3 liter bottle of beer in Sofia, Bulgaria.
- Most Expensive: $9 for an 8oz. draft in a plastic cup at a club in Stockholm, Sweden.
3. Public Transportation
- Cheapest: $0.20 public transportation in Ukraine.
- Most Expensive: I waited too long to book a train from Gothenburg, Sweden and it ended up costing me $120 for a 2 hour ride.
- Cheapest: Ukraine and Romania in Europe were very affordable. It was very possible to live on $30-40/day there. Laos and Vietnam were similarly inexpensive.
- Most Expensive: Sweden was crazy expensive with $35+ hostel dorms, $9+ beers at a club and $18 for a ‘cheap’ burger with fries and a drink. It was, however, very clean and beautiful. Sydney and Reykjavik were also quite expensive with $30+ hostel dorms and $8+ beers. Each of these countries were worth it.
- Cheapest (That Could’ve Been Expensive): Leaving my tablet in a hostel in Bangkok but having a friend who was nice enough to grab it for me and we met up later. After that, I left a bag with some other electronic gear and memory cards in a hostel in Siem Reap. I had another friend passing through who agreed to retrieve it for me until we could meet up again.
- Most Expensive: Missing a flight due to lengthy security questioning. The flight was booked with points and couldn’t be rescheduled for days. I had to pay $750 to book a flight on another airline.
8 Budget Travel Tips to Save
- Whether you want some pointers on how to sell some or everything you own for travel, check out this thorough post by ThriftyNomads. They sold everything they owned and made more than $6,500 to add to their savings for travel. Then they sold their car for another $5,500.
- Rewards Cards for Travel: My flights getting to Europe, within Europe and getting home from New Zealand were covered using these methods I wrote about. They saved me around $2,000. The same article also covers how I managed to find a debit card that doesn’t charge a fee for international withdrawals and reimburses you for any ATMs that do. That saved me over $500. If you have to pay without miles, check out Finding Cheap Airfare to learn about other tips for save on flights.
- OffBeatTravelling: My friend Bart is one of the most adventurous travelers I met during my trip. He’s also a master of Couchsuring and hitchhiking. He used these skills and others to get himself around Europe, Africa and the Middle East on $33/day for 100 days (in Jordan he averaged a mere $10/day!). Whether it’s to read about his adventures, learn from his budget strategies or looking at his great photos, I highly recommend checking out his site.
- I chose not to work while traveling but many people do. Check out (ExpertVagabond) Matt Karsten’s post 33 Best Travel Jobs to Make Money Traveling. Or, if you know you want to teach English abroad, check out my friend (TheHungryPartier) Drew Binsky’s article Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in South Korea with lots of helpful links to getting your certification.
- Food Budgeting: If you’ve ever seen this website before now, you know that I’m a huge fan of eating street food & at budget restaurants to stretch my food budget. I think that trying local dishes and meeting the people who prepare them is an important part of experiencing the culture when traveling. Most street food went for around $10 in Europe and the Middle East, $1-4 in Southeast Asia and $10-12 in Australia & New Zealand. Budget restaurants were usually about twice as much but I found some better deals as well. If you’re looking for a city/country I haven’t written about, check out BKPK.me for more great street food and budget travel. Jodi Ettenburg’s LegalNomads also has incredible stories, photography and personable stories about her food findings all over the world.
- Stay in Hostels: Check out HostelWorld to find reviews and the costs of hostels in each place you visit. You’ll meet a ton of new friends this way and staff are usually knowledgeable about nearby activities, what to do and where to eat.
- Free Walking Tours: There’s no better way to see the city than by taking a free walking tour, offered in most cities around the world. The tour guide will also usually have lots of extra recommendations on what to do in the area.
- How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: This is the best single budget travel resource I came across prior to my trip. It covers some of the things I’ve mentioned and elaborates on additional ideas Matt Kepnes of NomadicMatt has gathered over nearly a decade of travel.
When I left for this trip I had a very loose plan in place.
“We don’t take a trip. A trip takes us.” – John Steinbeck
I had tickets from the U.S. to Iceland, Scotland and Denmark. I thought six months would be a fair amount of time to explore the north and eastern portions of Europe. Then I thought the final six months would be spent in Southeast Asia.
I had no plans to visit Oceania initially. As I continued traveling some of the most incredible new friends I made were from across Australia and New Zealand and it made me so curious about these places. How was it that so many of them were as friendly as they were? How was it that a majority of my new favorite people were all from this part of the world. I decided I needed to check these countries out and added it to my plan. With the additional flights and general expenses they were some of the most expensive places I visited but it was absolutely worth it.
I wouldn’t have changed anything about those experiences but they made a difference financially and put me beyond my $20,000 budget. I’m so glad I set aside the extra money. That said, had I stayed in Southeast Asia the full 6 months I planned for, my total expenses would have been right around $20,000 total.
Overall, this was the most eye-opening and personal growth focused year of my life.
I have a little surprise in store to show you more of what I mean soon…
Would you budget more or less than me? Please comment below!
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