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
Buses (not counting local buses): 35
Boats and ferries: 23
Scooter crashes: 2
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: $146.43 – a 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
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…
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.)
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
Laos – $59.82
Germany – $72.71
South Korea – $74.10
Thailand – $80.44
Malaysia – $82.92
Cambodia – $91.53
Vietnam – $100.16
India – $107.09
Hungary – $108.78
Poland – $120.63
UAE – $121.64
NYC – $129.74
France – $130.54
Czech Republic – $149.21
Jordan – $149.87
Croatia – $161.39
Slovenia – $175.83
Morocco – $180.68
Portugal – $186.78
Northern Ireland – $195.51
Spain – $202.83
New Zealand – $205.03
South Africa – $222.89
Japan - $237.02
Hawaii - $237.36
Ireland - $261.03
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.
A stopover on the island of Kauai on our way home from New Zealand at pretty much the same cost in flights? You don’t have to ask me twice. And so we found ourselves back in Hawaii for the second time in our lives, something I would never have predicted during our first visit. Back when we visited Oahu, the Big Island and Maui on our honeymoon, Hawaii was pretty much the most exotic place we had ever been. We spent much of our honeymoon soaking in the differences. Now, as the grand finale to our trip around the world and the first time we were back in the United States in over a year, we couldn’t help but notice the similarities. We were bombarded with signs we were back in the United States right away: things like refillable Cokes, free ice water, incessant news coverage, BBQ, and a whole aisle dedicated to just cereal. The signs continued: warning signs at every overlook, a plethora of channels but nothing on t.v., bumper to bumper traffic, chain restaurants galore, big enormous vehicles, and a big ole’ WalMart (albeit with chickens in the parking lot).
What epitomized the differences between the United States and some of the places we visited was our scuba diving experience. Although we had gone as far as to get our advanced scuba certification, we felt like we hadn’t really experienced a great dive due to poor weather conditions and the general distractions of diving as part of a course. Pounding rain storms and flooding threatened our chances at a good dive in Kauai, but we managed to sneak awesome two dives in close to shore. Kauai isn’t known for its diving like the Big Island, but we thought our dives were pretty fantastic. Swimming in between narrow caverns along side giant sea turtles ranks as one of our favorite experiences from our whole trip. Aside from raving over our turtle friends, we couldn’t get over the difference between diving in Thailand and Malaysia on the one hand and Hawaii on the other. First of all, the cost of just two dives was half the cost of our whole certification course! But you get what you pay for – our equipment was all set up nicely for us on the dock, right next to the boat. We didn’t have to climb through five other dive boats to get to ours, or carry our own equipment on a mile long walk, or wade through swelling waves to climb on the boat. Everything was cleaned for us and our instructors spent time going over safety tips in advance of our trip. Our instructors seemed amazed that we were advanced certified divers but had only been on ten dives; meanwhile, no one in Asia would bat an eye.
Our diving trip turned out to be the highlight of our time in Kauai. The aforementioned weather thwarted many of our plans. Kauai is known as the wettest Hawaiian island, but these weren’t ordinary tropic rains. Flooding closed roads around the island from time to time, and thick fogs obscured our views of scenic overlooks. The rainy cold weather meant we only got to spend one(!) afternoon at the beach. We tried to make the best of it. While we didn’t get to view the awesome Na Pali Coast, we cruised around in our HHR as much as possible and tried to sneak in views around the island during breaks in the rains. We pretty much stalked The Right Slice pie company at various sunshine markets around the island, with the added bonus of picking up the last local tropical fruit we’d have in a while to savor back in our condo. We relished in the comfort of our ocean view condo after a month in a campervan and discovered that Blockbuster didn’t go out of business in the year we were away. Overall, while the finale wasn’t as grand as we anticipated when we booked our Hawaiian stopover, it was a pretty darn good end to The Trip.
Oh, North Island. We wanted to give you a chance, we really did, even though we heard you pale in comparison to the South Island. And you turned out to be perfectly lovely, if a tad less dazzling than the South Island, with interesting features and scenery of your own. But it’s hard to love you when you insisted on rainy weather for almost our entire stay. And not just some rain here and there. Days of nothing but downpours.
After getting a glimpse of the sunshine in Rotorua, we didn’t want to lose it. We consulted with one of New Zealand’s very handy i-Sites (invaluable information centers in every town) on the day before we left Rotorua and they showed rain all over the North Island for days. The next morning, things were looking up and the i-Site told us it looked like it was supposed to be a nice weekend in Northland. So we headed to Northland, which is the region north of Auckland jutting out into the ocean. One coast is the wild Tasman Sea and the other is the Pacific Ocean. Our reason for going far north was to try to fit in a decent scuba dive after our disappointing conditions in the Perhentian Islands. The Poor Knights Islands off the Tututaka Coast in the Pacific have reportedly some of the best sub-tropical diving in the world, at least if you believe the likes of Jacques Costeau.
As we headed north, the darks clouds rolled in, and the rain started pouring down. So much for sunshine. We held out hopes for diving anyway, but when we finally reached Whangeri and checked in with the dive company, we learned they anticipated not being able to go out to the islands until Tuesday – the day we were leaving New Zealand. Quite disappointing, but at least I wouldn’t have to freeze my butt off on the dive boat.
Since we were all the way up north, we tried to make the best of it. We drove up to the Bay of Islands and then over to the Kauri Coast using mostly the scenic routes, trying to fit in as much beautiful scenery as we could. Mother Nature had other plans and threw some fierce winds at us for our final days. As I mentioned here, the winds were so strong it was a constant struggle for Sean to keep our campervan on the road. It’s hard to convey wind in a photograph, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if the wind lifted me up and blew me away when I was taking the picture above. Turns out winds reached up to 80 miles per hour; there was a tornado the day we left just outside of Auckland. Mother Nature, please give New Zealand a break.
By the time we left New Zealand, we were glad to ditch the sailboat/campervan. But we absolutely loved our month in New Zealand and were quite glad we tacked it onto the end of trip after all (even if our bank account isn’t). You’re a beaut, New Zealand, you really are – even when covered with fog or rain.
I admit, I wasn’t overly excited to go to Rotorua. We went mainly because it seemed to be the most popular attraction on the North Island and it is conveniently located towards the middle in a good spot to break up the drive north. Let’s face it, Rotorua stinks. It’s the hotbed of geothermal activity in New Zealand, giving off a sulphur smell as soon as you roll into town.
I ended up really enjoying our days in Rotorua. Finally, we had sunny, blue skies. And all of the geothermal activity created a different type of landscape we hadn’t seen before. Upon the recommendation of Rod and Lizzy, who had been there earlier in the month, we checked out Wai-o-Tapu Geothermal Park. The geothermal activity there results in concentrations of minerals in the ground, making it the most colorful place around Rotorua. While you can see geothermal activity for free all around Rotorua – even driving down the street in town reveals steaming earth – the Wai-o-Tapu park was a beautiful sight. Upon the recommendation of Akila and Patrick over at the Road Forks, we stayed at the Cozy Cottage Holiday Park. Since they didn’t have our internet plan, we might have passed this park by had Akila and Patrick not highlighted its cool (or really, its hot) features on their blog. I love when wise people travel to our destinations shortly before we do.
The hot feature I was most excited about trying at Cozy Cottage was their hangi steam cooker. The native New Zealanders, known as the Maori, traditionally cooked their food by burying it underground. The geothermal steam (yes, the same stuff that stinks!) slowly cooks the food, making it tender and flavorful. You can try hangi cooked food at a Maori cultural performance. We weren’t planning to partake in one on this trip, so I was eager to try my own hand at cooking Maori style. The one at Cozy Cottage is modernized insomuch as it is above ground, but it still utilizes the cooking method of natural steam. As Sean put it anytime we discussed things we wanted to do on the North Island, you want to go to some town to cook some potatoes. He made it sound so un-fun, but he was glad we went to Rotorua when he reaped the benefits.
Cooking in a hangi oven is very simple. Cozy Cottage provided the necessary pot. In the pot I threw chopped carrots, beets, parsnips (only because I never had tried one) and red, orange and yellow kumaras (New Zealand grown sweet potatoes) on top of the drumsticks of a once happy organic free-ranging chicken. I added a couple of garlic cloves from one of our farmer market bounties, sea salt, crushed peppercorns and some dabs of New Zealand butter, placed the pot in the steaming cooker, and left it there for about three and a half hours. Just enough time to explore the other hot features – namely three different hot mineral pools – as well as take a walk to the beach by Rotorua Lake. There, if you dig a little hole, warm underground water rushes in to fill the place where the sand once occupied. We also made a quick stop to Rotorua’s Thursday night market, where we would have dined on all of the delicious food on offer had we not had our hangi meal cooking away. At the market we scored some delicious passion fruit desserts for later.
When we returned to the hangi oven, we found our dinner ready to eat. The chicken and veggies were so tender they melted in our mouths. Everything, especially the chicken, had the faint taste of sulphur, which, strangely enough, was a good thing. I know you don’t believe me, so why don’t you cook some up yourself and try it? Geothermal steam is a necessary ingredient, however, so if you don’t want to travel where the earth is so hot it boils, you’ll just have to take my word for it!