A Chronicle of Amy and Sean's World Travels

Two Years

Home in Pittsburgh

I know, I know.  I swore up and down I wouldn’t be one of those people who abruptly stopped writing on their blog once they returned home.  But that’s exactly what I went and did.

In my pre-trip daydreaming days, it used to drive me insane when I’d be following along with someone’s travels and then suddenly would be cut off.  Sure, there’d be posts that would pop up six months later, promising updates and future writings, but then they’d trail off again.  So I won’t even pretend to make a commitment as to whether this will be a regular thing or just a little blip.  But I miss writing.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve written posts in my head since we returned home.  Often times I’d just be distracted by something shiny, and never finish the thought.  Other times I’d just struggle to find the words to articulate my feelings about being home.  Tonight I felt like writing so I did.

As of last month, we have been home for two years.  We’ve been back home longer than we were gone.  For a while, absolutely everything in our lives felt up in the air.  For all of the lessons learned during our travels about not worrying so much, that things have a way of working out, I was having major difficulty coming to terms with the fact that my post-trip plan was going awry in a major way.  Other than some freelance work, I was unemployed for a year and a half.  Being unemployed and traveling is one thing; being unemployed and job searching while everyone else is at work is quite another.  Each day brought a crushing mixture of boredom, loneliness, and soul searching, and I was losing confidence by the day.  For over a year we didn’t hang a single thing on the white walls of our rental because we weren’t sure if we were staying.  On top of that, we decided we shouldn’t put off trying to have children any longer.  Each month I was (still am) simultaneously terrified I would get pregnant and terrified I wouldn’t, and fighting the growing sense that any illusion of control I had over the process was just that, an illusion.  I felt confused.  In travel blog land, taking a trip like The Trip was supposed to catapult you into a life where you shun all desire for material possessions, get in touch with your inner soul and passion, and create a life with meaning and purpose not bound by the walls of a house or office.  Distancing myself from my hometown and circle of family, friends and acquaintances forced me to examine my inner motivations and desires.  While it did shed some light on the life I wanted to lead and the realization that no one but me would create the portions of the life I was not currently experiencing, I never found the clear sense of inner enlightenment others appeared to have.

I suppose it makes me a bad traveler that finding a job working for the man and thereby admitting that I do, at least in part, define myself by my career and crave external validation of my worth, but I can’t deny that finding a job is what brought on some sense of peace.  And I’m okay with that.  I don’t know how much our travels affected my job hunt.  It didn’t affect Sean’s in the least; his employer didn’t even ask him about our trip in his interview.  I’m sure some employers were turned off by the crazy person who quit her job to travel the world, but I found most were just curious.  I was being selective in a not so good economy, but in the end I found a job with the two criteria I was looking for most: spending my working hours doing something that (hopefully) makes a positive impact on the world and a job that allows me (most days) to have a life outside of work.  I’m working as a child welfare attorney at a non-profit – it is about as opposite from my old firm job in every way, good and bad.

The Trip, as it has become known, seems like a movie we watched about someone else’s lives, yet not a single day goes by without some memory or connection to our trip popping up in some fashion.  It changed us in countless ways: some superficial, like a higher tolerance for supremely spicy food; some deeper, like giving us confidence to choose to do things our own way instead of the way everyone else does things.  It altered the way we understand world news, it changed our perspective on what we need in life, and it gave us a better understanding of human nature.  It pushes us to continue to live outside our comfort zones and to create our own happiness.  I don’t think it is a coincidence we both are doing little things to challenge ourselves.  Sean ran his first half-marathon (and was training for the Pittsburgh Marathon until he hurt his knee) and is learning yoga.  I ran my first 5K (which is pretty much a marathon in my world), joined a beer-loving women’s group where I didn’t know anyone, and turned a job offer that was perfect for a million reasons on paper because it didn’t feel right.   And it is fantastic to be surrounded by friends and family, particularly with a new pint-sized addition in the form of a super cute nephew.

So I’d say we’re both pretty happy.  We’re certainly enjoying our lives much more than we did before we left.

And yet.

We both feel a restlessness deep down that we can’t figure out how to address.  We recognize that life can’t always be so dramatic as the year we sold our house, quit our jobs, and hit the road.  And neither one of us wants to pick up and take off for good tomorrow.  But we can’t help having this nagging feeling that we don’t want our lives to be defined by Before Trip and After Trip.  Otherwise the most awesome thing we’ve ever done and ever will do is already over, and that just can’t be.

So that’s what we’re up to: enjoying the stability that being at home brings, but feeling its limitations as well.

Of course, we’ve hit the road as much as possible.  Six months after we got home, we skipped across the pond and finally went to Italy just before Christmas, spending ten glorious days eating our way through Rome and Naples.

Last summer, we dug out our passports again, this time for a weekend trip to our neighbor to the north, visiting Niagara Falls and Toronto.

In July, we reminded ourselves that domestic travel can be pretty awesome as well in a nine day road trip through Oregon and Northern California.

In December, we headed to Curacao in the Caribbean for our first underwater exploration since Hawaii.


And, finally, we just returned from a trip to a new frontier for us: South America.  We spent 16 fantastic days in Brazil, exploring urban life in Rio de Janiero, taking a peek at the seaside colonial town of Paraty, “hunting” for jaguars in the Pantanal, and tasting, seeing and hearing African culture in Salvador.

We’ve returned with a big hole in our pocketbooks (Brazil is expensive – true story!), depleted vacation banks at work, an insatiable desire for caipirinhas and samba music, and a renewed case of wanderlust.  I’m glad spring gave way to summer while we were gone, making it easier to look forward to the coming sun drenched days ahead instead of just daydreaming about our next trip.  The choice we’ve made for now is to try to curate a life with balance of trips with a lower case “t”, day to day pleasures at home, and work and responsibility, and we’re still learning how best to do that.

So, that’s all for now.  I hope you are well.  I hope you are exploring and creating your happiness day by day.  I hope you have the courage to leap outside what you feel you ought to do to go somewhere or do something where the end of the story is not yet written.

p.s. A while back, I put together an album with 180 photos from The Trip.  Check it out!

p.p.s. Last summer, I came across this poster twice within a few weeks, first in a bathroom of a winery in Oregon and second in a dressing room of a small shop in my neighborhood.  Both times, I was struck how well it summed up the lessons I learned on The Trip.  I took it as a sign and bought a copy for my living room wall in case I ever need a reminder (which, in turn, spurred me on to hang other things up to make our rented rowhouse look more like a home).


Our Trip by the Numbers


Days on the road: 409

Countries visited: 26

Countries with English as an official language: 6 (United States, Ireland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Fiji, and New Zealand)

Borders crossed: 31 (15 by air, 7 by train, 4 by bus, 4 by car, and 3 by water)

Nights spent in transit: 8

Planes: 18

Trains: 28

Buses (not counting local buses): 35

Boats and ferries: 23

Cars: 7

Scooters: 5

Scooter crashes: 2

Motorcycles: 2

Campervans: 1

Countries where we drove on the left: 5 (Ireland, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Thailand, and New Zealand; Japan, India, and Malaysia also drive on the left but we didn’t drive there)

Forms of transport: 24 (camels, auto-rickshaws, bicycle rickshaw, songthaews, tuk-tuks, scooters, motorcycles, vans, moto taxis, trains, ferries, speedboats, longtail boat, row boat, slow boat, metro/subway, streetcar, cars, pick-up trucks, auto-taxis, river/canal taxi, cable car, funicular, houseboat)

UNESCO World Heritage sites visited: 42

Photos taken: 31,467 (an average of 77 a day taking up 450 gigs of storage!)

Addictions to delicious Cadbury candy bars not available at home: 3 (Moro in Ireland/Northern Ireland; Tempo in South Africa; and Moro Gold in New Zealand)

Days where it rained: 105

Overall percentage of time spent in rain: 25%

Countries with squat toilets: 8 (South Korea, Japan, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia)

Times when Amy got really sick: 4 (stomach ailments in Morocco; South Korea; Laos; Vietnam)

Times when Sean got really sick: 5 (stomach ailments in Morocco; South Korea; Thailand; India; Vietnam)

Number of hospital visits: 2 (both Sean for the same bacterial infection, including a two night stay)

Number of mosquitoes bites: impossible to count (There were times where Amy would have 30+ on one limb alone, despite using bug spray!)

Number of “Thai tattoos”: 1 (Okay, it actually happened in Vietnam. And it’s not a real tattoo. Just a nasty burn from a scorching hot moto-taxi exhaust pipe.)

Different beers drank: 127

Books read by Amy: 58

Books read by Sean: 2.  (At least 2 others were started but not finished.)

Number of times we heard You Can Call Me Al: 4

Cheapest accommodation: $6.61 in Chiang Khong, Thailand

Most expensive accommodation: $146.43a 50 square foot room in New York City on our very first night

Cheapest activity: $0.48 admission fee per person to the Hanoi Hilton

Most expensive activity: $175.50 per person to scuba dive in Kauai, Hawaii

Cheapest dinner: $1.95 for dinner for two in Vietnam

Most expensive dinner: $143.35 for dinner for two in Kobe, Japan

Sean’s cheapest haircut: $3.33 in Saigon, Vietnam

Sean’s most expensive haircut: $34.58 in Paris, France


 


The Cost to Take a Trip Around the World

I don’t know about you, but I’m incapable of reading about round the world trips without thinking in the back of my head,  well that’s great, but how much did it cost?

The truth is, it depends. The title of this post is somewhat misleading. I can’t tell you how much it will cost you to travel around the world. I can only tell you how much it cost us to travel around the world. Everyone’s travel style and tolerance varies widely. Even in the realm of budget travel, there is a lot of variance. So much depends on things like the season, the country, the current economic state, and the strength of your local currency against the foreign currency, let alone personal factors like can you handle sharing a bathroom? Sleeping in a room with strangers?  Taking cold water showers?  Not having wi-fi?  Going without a/c in the tropics?  Taking public transport? Long haul bus rides? Eating on the street? Do you want to hop from country to country or city to city or do you like to stay in one place for a long time?  Do you eat ramen to stay on budget or do you splurge on nice meals?

Besides travel style and other variables, the other thing to keep in mind when comparing long-term travel budgets is to determine what the numbers include.  Some people include pre-trip costs like vaccinations and gear. Some people don’t. Some people include transport in their daily averages. Other people don’t, or only include certain types.  Some people couch-surfed or stayed with friends, whereas others had to pay for all of their accommodations.  What about things like prescriptions? Gear you pick up on the road? Travel insurance? Health insurance? Renter’s, home owner’s, or car insurance at home? Storage costs of keeping all your crap? Big ticket items like scuba certifications? Souvenirs for yourself? Holiday or birthday gifts for your family? Bills you have at home? Money you lost selling your home or your car at a reduced rate? There’s many direct and indirect costs that factor into how much a trip of this scale costs.  When you’re checking out other people’s budgets, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.

Even though I can’t tell you how much it costs to travel around the world, I’m sharing our numbers with you in the hopes that it may be a helpful starting point to someone who is trying to put together a budget. So without further ado, here’s our…

GRAND TOTAL

For the two of us to travel to 26 countries over thirteen and half months (409 days, to be precise), it cost us $71,897.46.

In this number, I’ve included the items that are most helpful for someone planning a budget:

- day to day costs (such as accommodation, meals, snacks, drinks, alcohol, activity fees, intercountry transport, tips, etc.);

- miscellaneous costs (laundry, ATM fees, exchange fees, gear and supplies picked up on the road, internet, etc.); and

- intracountry (i.e. cross-border) transport ($11,432.11).

I did not include the following items in the grand total.  Many of these costs will vary widely based on your own situation.  Plus, we didn’t track our pre-trip costs closely.  When you are doing budget research, don’t forget to keep these costs in mind even if you don’t include them in your daily average estimate.  Remember other people’s budgets may include some, none, or all of these things.

What’s not included:

- Student loan payments paid while we were away

- Minimal car insurance we kept on our car sitting at home

- Renter’s insurance for our items at home in storage (incidentally, I highly recommend looking into a renter’s insurance policy.  It was cheap and turned out to cover items we brought abroad – like our stolen SLR. Our renter’s policy covered most of the loss when our World Nomads travel policy did not).

- Extra money saved as a buffer

- Cost of obtaining wills/power of attorney

- Costs of selling house/temporary housing

- Costs of selling house/stuff/car

- Costs of obtaining passports/passport photos/international drivers’ licenses

- Accountant fees for filing our tax returns while we were away

- Vaccinations, doctor co-pays for physician visits before we left, and prescriptions (guesstimate of about $2,500)

- Supplies & gear purchased before the trip (guesstimate of about $4,000 for everything except our SLR camera and camera gear)

- Storage for items we kept at home (about $1400 for the months we were away)

- High deductible health insurance we purchased to cover us in the United States (about $1,673 for the months we were away)

- World Nomads travel insurance ($1,113 for 12 months; we didn’t extend for the last 6 weeks)

- Scuba certifications ($1,201 for both of us to get our PADI certification in Koh Tao, Thailand and our advanced PADI certification in Perhentian Kecil, Malyasia)

- Gifts & souvenirs (about $2,100; includes our souvenirs, Christmas, birthday/Father’s Day/Mother’s Day/general gifts for family and friends, and shipping)

We’re pretty happy with our grand total.  We never intended our budget to be firm and unyielding.  Instead, we viewed it as more of a guide.  We’re not the best budgeters, but it’s funny how lack of an income and a desire to keep traveling will keep you on track.  We originally estimated $60,000.  Had we not made the decision to add on 6 more weeks in New Zealand and Hawaii, our costs for our original plan of one year would have been about $62,710.

BUDGET IN CONTEXT

To put those numbers in context, we traveled with our budget in mind and watched expenditures, but we generally went for the best value instead of the absolute cheapest.  This means, for example, that we might shell out an extra five dollars in Asia for a hotel room that was cleaner and brighter, or perhaps we would take a more expensive train instead of a bus if it got us there a lot faster.  We always did our homework to be smart about our spending.  We kept a close eye on ways to cut costs, like doing our own laundry when coin-op machines were available, or booking a service directly if it was just as easy to figure it out ourselves, or paying with a international fee-free credit card any place that would take it.  We always had a private room and usually had private bathrooms, but from time to time we’d get a room with a shared bathroom if we were in a money saving mood.  We sought out rooms with wi-fi  and occasionally splurged on a/c.  Because we love food and found food to be the way to the heart of a country, we ate almost all of our meals at a restaurant or on the street.  We ate what the locals ate most of the time, but threw in some pricier Western style meals when we got sick of the local cuisine.  We moved around a fair amount, and followed the weather even if it meant jumping around.  We generally only flew when we had to, although we did take a few intercountry flights in India and one in Vietnam.  We rented cars in a number of countries, but only compact or older cars.  We didn’t shy away from doing activities even if they were costly, taking a when in Rome approach.  (See, e.g. food and beer fest in Belgium; staying in a riad in Morocco and a ryokan in Japan; white-water rafting in Slovenia; cruising with Easy Riders in Vietnam; scuba diving in Thailand, Malaysia and Hawaii; taking a cooking class and visiting an elephant conservation center in Thailand; a candlelight tour of Petra; going up to the viewdeck on the world’s largest building in the UAE; getting up close and personal with whales in South Africa; going jetboating in New Zealand; etc.)

COUNTRY AVERAGES

There’s no doubt that WHERE you travel constitutes the biggest difference in your overall trip cost.  Traveling through countries that are not as developed will drastically reduce your costs.  We averaged $97.54 a day in countries that were generally less developed than at home – think of the type of places where cash is king.  Our average was almost double in countries that were more developed, or about $190.69 a day.  On the other hand, don’t assume that just because a country is less developed that it automatically is inexpensive.  We found countries like Morocco and Jordan to be much pricier than countries like Laos and India (but much cheaper than countries like Spain and South Korea).

(Note: In order to give you an idea of what it costs to travel through different types of countries, these daily averages only include day to day costs (such as accommodation, meals, snacks, drinks, alcohol, activity fees, intercountry transport, tips, etc.) and miscellaneous costs (laundry, ATM fees, exchange fees, gear and supplies picked up on the road, internet, etc.).  They do NOT include intracountry (i.e. cross-border) transport).

No big shocker here, but it was our experience that your dollar stretches the furthest in Southeast Asia, which is why we spent four months in that region.  You really can get really nice rooms for $12-$25 (as long as you are willing to put up with your fair share of not so great rooms in the same price range, as quality can be somewhat inconsistent).  And if you are willing to eat on the street (and hopefully you are, because the food is delicious and that’s how Southeast Asians eat), you really can get dinner for two for a couple of dollars.  Our daily average in Southeast Asia was $81.70 a day, and it would have been possible to go much lower.  Our daily average in Asia overall was $109.09 – flanked by a very expensive Japan on one end and a very cheap Laos on the other.

By sticking mostly to Central Europe, our European daily average was $175.92.  (Note: our earlier post about European costs did not include intercountry transport, which is why those figures were lower).

Fiji - $53.48

  • Total costs: $53.48
  • # of days: 1
  • Notes: We were only there for a long layover.

Laos – $59.82

  • Total costs: $1,435.68
  • # of days: 24
  • Notes: The cheapest country for us!

Germany – $72.71

  • Total costs: $218.12
  • # of days: 3
  • Notes: No lodging costs because we stayed with a friend.

South Korea – $74.10

  • Total costs: $740.98
  • # of days: 10
  • Notes: No lodging costs for 7 days while we stayed with a friend.

Thailand – $80.44

  • Total costs: $4,021.83
  • # of days: 50
  • Notes: Love Thailand!  Includes travel through the islands during high season.  We also did a lot of shopping/replenishing in Thailand so that is reflected in the cost.

Malaysia – $82.92

  • Total costs: $1,243.84
  • # of days: 15
  • Notes: Similar in cost to Thailand, but we found lodging value to be better in Thailand.  Transport in Malaysia tended to be nicer, though.

Cambodia – $91.53

  • Total costs: $1,006.84
  • # of days: 11
  • Notes: Cambodia is pretty inexpensive, but two costs drove up the price somewhat: eating at restaurants where funds go to NGOs and fees for Angkor Wat.

Vietnam – $100.16

  • Total costs: $2,504.03
  • # of days: 25
  • Notes: These costs drove up the price: one internal flight and guided tours (including a three day, two night Easy Rider tour, hiring a driver after Sean got sick to see the Vihn Moc Tunnels, and a mid-range overnight Halong Bay tour. Otherwise, Vietnam is a good value; you do get more for your money in lodging and food than the rest of SE Asia.

India – $107.09

  • Total costs: $3,426.74
  • # of days: 32
  • Notes: India’s food and lodging are inexpensive.  In fact, we found increasing your budget does not always bring a corresponding increase in quality.  Costs are higher because we flew internally several times, including to the Andaman Islands.

Hungary – $108.78

  • Total costs: $870.24
  • # of days: 8
  • Notes: Hungary is a good value in Europe!

Poland – $120.63

  • Total costs: $482.50
  • # of days: 4
  • Notes: We only there for a short time, stayed solely in Krakow and ate pierogies most of the time.

UAE – $121.64

  • Total costs: $243.28
  • # of days: 2
  • Notes: We were there twice. The first time, only to sleep in a hotel. The second time, we had a really long layover and went to the Burj Kalifa.

NYC – $129.74

  • Total costs: $259.47
  • # of days: 2
  • Notes: This is for 2 days, one night. Our tiny hotel room alone was more than the daily average.

France – $130.54

  • Total costs: $1,958.05
  • # of days: 15
  • Notes: No lodging costs except for one night in a B&B in Mont St. Michel and an air mattress because we stayed with a friend in Paris.

Czech Republic – $149.21

  • Total costs: $1,193.71
  • # of days: 8
  • Notes: We were mainly in Prague, except for a day trip to Plzen.  Costs tend to be higher in Prague, but you get a lot for your money.  Beer is really cheaper than water here!

Jordan – $149.87

  • Total costs: $1,348.84
  • # of days: 9
  • Notes: The activities in Jordan drive up the cost, especially the entrance fees to Petra.

Croatia – $161.39

  • Total costs: $2,582.17
  • # of days: 16
  • Notes: This includes island hopping by ferry and a car we rented to go to Sean’s family’s hometown and Plitvice National Park.  Food tended to be expensive (and average).

Slovenia – $175.83

  • Total costs: $1,406.67
  • # of days: 8
  • Notes: This includes a car we rented for part of the time.

Morocco – $180.68

  • Total costs: $2,710.17
  • # of days: 15
  • Notes: This includes a rental car and shady fees charged by the rental company.

Portugal – $186.78

  • Total costs: $1,307.47
  • # of days: 7
  • Notes: This includes a rental car.

Northern Ireland – $195.51

  • Total costs: $1,173.03
  • # of days: 6
  • Notes: This includes a rental car.

Spain – $202.83

  • Total costs: $4,665.01
  • # of days: 23
  • Notes: This includes a rental car for a few days.

New Zealand – $205.03

  • Total costs: $6,150.98
  • # of days: 30
  • Notes: Includes campervan rental in shoulder season.  We did cook a lot, but when it rained for days on end, we ate out more than we planned to get us out of our campervan.

South Africa – $222.89

  • Total costs: $6,017.93
  • # of days: 27
  • Notes: This includes a rental car.

Japan - $237.02

  • Total costs: $7,110.45
  • # of days: 30
  • Notes: This includes a Japan Rail Pass.

Hawaii - $237.36

  • Total costs: $2,136.22
  • # of days: 9
  • Notes: This includes a rental car.

Ireland - $261.03

  • Total costs: $3,654.45
  • # of days: 14
  • Notes: This figure is estimated; we lost track of our budget quickly after many a round of Guinness.  Costs are also higher because we rented a car and went out more than usual while our friends were visiting.

Belgium -$271.59

  • Total costs: $543.17
  • # of days: 2
  • Notes: This just for a 2 day, one night trip to Brussels.  Again, costs were probably higher because we drank a lot with our friend (alcohol will get you every time!) and bought an excessive amount of chocolate.

SETTING THE BUDGET AND MAKING IT HAPPEN

Traveling around the world sounds like a pipe dream, but all it takes is prioritizing travel above other things in your life, whether it be your car, your house, your wardrobe, your gadgets, etc.  Getting Sean’s sweat equity out of our fixer-upper before we left was instrumental increasing our money stockpile, but so was living well below our means and several years of saving.   If you want to do it – really want to do it in reality, not just in theory – you can make it happen.  And you should make it happen.  Because I can tell you, as much as it stung to find out in the middle of India that the sellers to whom we sold our house – you know, the one that we poured our hearts and souls into for four years – sold the house for $30,000 more less than a year after we sold it to them, the sting dissipates quickly when you realize, holy crap, I’m in India.

If you want to travel but don’t have the ability, desire, or time to save $60,000 or $70,000, don’t be scared by our numbers.  It is absolutely possible to travel around the world for a long period of time for less than we spent.  Check out two good round-ups of other traveler’s budgets here and here.  If you want to or need to spend less, there are many ways to reduce the grand total.  (And many ways to increase it, should you want to travel more extravagantly).  For example, to cut costs, go for 11 months instead of a year.  Go to fewer places for longer periods of time.  Stick to countries that are less developed.  Go in the off season.  Skip pricey activities and stick to soaking up the atmosphere.  Select accommodations where you can cook yourself.  Consider couch-surfing.  Don’t rent a car and take public transport.  Limit the amount of fancy gear you buy in advance.  There’s lots of ways to save, so don’t let money stop you from traveling.  Prioritize what it important to you when traveling – location, accommodations, activities, comfort, value, lowest cost, weather – and the rest will fall into place.

We were fortunate to have enough money in the bank that we didn’t have to be slaves to our budget and could travel, for the most part, without money hindering our choices.  We could have spent less, sure, but at this stage in our lives, we wanted a certain level of comfort and decided if we were going to do it, we might as well do it.  And we could have spent more; there were times when we felt like spending a little more money would have allowed us to do more things or be more comfortable.  But overall, we were happy with our style of travel and what it cost to travel that way.  Because there are so many variables, setting your budget will not be an exact science.  Once you have an idea of how much it cost other people to travel the world, you may want to pick a number that is feasible for you to save and that you feel comfortable with spending, and work from there to make your travels fit your number.

 


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