Our Costs to Travel the World
We never thought we’d be lucky enough to travel the world, and we were concerned about how much it would cost. However, after getting our money under control and saving intensively, we knew would be able to pull this off.
In 2013, my wife and I went on a round the world trip of our dreams where we rode elephants in Laos, visited the incredible ruins of Angkor Wat, camper vanned in New Zealand for a month, experienced the Northern Lights and did many other things we never thought we’d have the fortune to do. In 250 days we traveled across 5 continents, 25 countries and took over 52 flights.
We’re more “explorers” than “beach bums”. We had a long list of places we wanted to see with limited time, so instead of lying on a beach for two months in Thailand (which would’ve been very cheap), we averaged a new city every 2-3 days and a new country every ten days. We moved pretty fast, but we did have a few extended stays in countries to catch our breath.
That’s one major thing to consider if you’re using this information to determine if you can afford to take a similar trip. Many people do year-long backpacking trips on a much smaller budget than ours by focusing only on a few countries or areas. But if you want to see the entire world in 250 days with two people, it might look something like this. Just like I do with all of my spending summaries, lets get into the numbers.
Round the World Cost Summary
Total Trip Cost: $56,096
Cost per day: $224
Total days on the road: 250
Travel stats: 5 continents, 25 countries, 52+ flights
My wife and I both had dreams of traveling the world, but they always seemed similar to my dreams of becoming a professional baseball player as a kid – something that sounded cool but that I wasn’t willing to put the time in to make happen! However, when her work contract was coming to an end in 2012, and I was becoming restless at work, we fell into a dangerous spiral of not calling each other’s bluff as we started ‘planning’ our trip. “Want to travel the world? Sure! Should we just quit our jobs? I’m fine with it! Then I’ll book the first flight. Sounds good to me!”
Neither of us wanted to be the reason it didn’t happen, so our trip started taking form. I researched and realized we needed at least six months to get all of our vaccinations and plans in order. Luckily, I was granted a one year unpaid leave at work which lessened the stress considerably since I had a job to come back to, and then we sold our house in New Orleans which took less than a week to go under contract. This was actually going to happen.
The trips plans started with an “okay, where do you want to go?” where Jocelyn named many countries that sounded like they were on terrorist watch lists or you only hear about when the bird flu breaks out, but it was good logic since we wanted to go now before we had kids. We decided to go west to east and booked our first one-way ticket to New Zealand, with a nice ten day layover in French Polynesia! From there, we figured it out as we went and made changes as we talked to other travelers who filled us in on must visit destinations.
It was a lot of money to spend, especially for a money guy like myself who knows how bigly it could be in twenty years when invested right, but we made the decision to do it because we also knew we would probably have many more limitations in twenty years and this might be our only shot until we’re 80. So we committed, and luckily, we were able to pay for the entire trip with the profit we earned from renovating and then selling our New Orleans house. Let’s get into the details.
Round the World Cost Details
The “best good” was that we took the trip. We didn’t leave it as one of those things we ‘want to do someday’ that never happens. As a few years have passed since we returned home, I’ve forgotten some of the memories along the way, but I’ve also continued to gain from the perspective we received from the trip. We realized how lucky we were to win the birth lottery. Instead of born into a slum in the developing world where our best hope would be good health, we were born into a world of privilege and opportunity. We were born into one of the most powerful countries in the world where other people would sacrifice their own life just to give their family a chance to live there.
We also realized how lucky we were to have each other. When we came back to our jobs after traveling, we saw our incredible fondness for each other fade as career and life demands stacked up. I explained it to a friend that I never had before understood how old couples could be so in love with each other, but the trip taught me how. I could count on one hand the number of times I was apart from Jocelyn for more than one hour, and neither of us liked being apart (for too long). It’s like we had squeezed decades of life into a single year. We depended on each other so much, sometimes for survival, and we were able to see the incredible strengths of each other. When I was very sick with food poisoning for a few weeks in SE Asia, it was Jocelyn who took the trip planning over and took care of me. When the taxi mafia in Jordan tried to rip us off and I firmly stood up to them, it was her who had my back and helped us get our (cheaper) ride.
And the things we saw. From some of the world’s most incredible archaeological sites like Petra, Angkor Wat, Bagan or even Jerusalem, to the stunning natural vistas in New Zealand, Nepal, Turkey or Iceland (and of course, the Northern Lights). We saw one of the richest areas in the world in New Delhi, India with slums just adjacent. We gained perspective from a non-centric US view, like the “Museum of American Atrocities” in Vietnam and learning facts like we bombed the hell out of Cambodia and Laos at the same time as the Vietnam war, making Laos the most bombed country per capita (although a new country might have taken that honor by now).
And the people we met. People living the simplest lives in Myanmar, barely getting by on what they could pluck from the land and wheeling barrels of water from charity-sponsored wells back to their shacks. Or one of our scariest times when we took the public bus in Jordan and thought we might die, but instead found one of the nicest people of the trip who talked with us for over an hour as we both laughed and bonded over no common language, but instead one we had to decipher from each other. Or the hotel manager in Siem Reap who practiced English every day on the computer while fully committed to his job, but leaving his three year old girl at home alone because they couldn’t afford a babysitter.
From an expense perspective, it was pretty interesting to take a look a few years later. The most surprising low expenses to me are for lodging and food. It’s pretty amazing we only spent a combined $30 per day on food, but that ranged from a less than a dollar for Pad Thai in Bangkok to over $30 for the cheapest lunch we could find in the UK. The food in SE Asia is cheap, but also some of the most incredible food we’ve ever had. It blew me away that each country has a fairly unique flavor developed through mixed cultures (like the French-inspired Vietnamese food) and availability of ingredients. Their use of herbs was delicious and amazing.
We typically stayed in a range of properties from lower end hotels to nice hotels thanks to my Starwood hotel points. At first, we thought we’d stay in hostels the whole time to keep costs down, but after seeing the price for two people and the conditions of some of them, we opted to stay in hotels instead. We didn’t want to be those dirty backpackers wearing hammer pants* and growing out trustafarian dredlocks. It is amazing how far $25/night can go in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, with beautiful hotels nicely appointed with plush pillows and soaking tubs. We stayed around 50 free nights at Starwood properties around the world thanks to hotel points, which usually included free breakfast (thanks to my hotel status) and oftentimes a lounge for evening drinks and dinner.
The experiences and our perspective change will last a lifetime, and will continue to define our future. If not for that trip, we probably wouldn’t be on the road today on another one year sabbatical, and there’s no telling what wouldn’t have happened in the future.
Entitled citizens from the US have earned a negative reputation across the world for decades, and we experienced our fair share of bombastic party-goers ruining pristine beaches in Moorea and dirty American backpackers supporting the drug culture in Vang Vieng, Laos. However, we also learned there are other countries who also complete for the most annoying travelers! Whether it be the Chinese whose new found wealth have allowed them to travel the world in swarms of tour buses while they disregard cultural sensitives like climbing Uluru, or the Australians who treat the beaches of Bali like Texans and Floridians treat Cancun (I can say that because I’m a Texan). But who knows, locals probably frowned on us a number of times as well**.
From an expense perspective, the bad comes with our total spending on flights, over $16,000! However, when you begin to break the number down, it’s not so bad. We took over 50 flights (so 100 total) which makes the total cost per flight $160. That includes major one-way flights like LA to Auckland, Beijing to Vienna and London to the US (with a stopover in Iceland). I spent a lot of time researching around the world flights, but most of them only included 10-15 legs, which would’ve meant we’d paying for another ~30 flights on our own… and their price wasn’t much cheaper than our overall amount! Flights in Australia and SE Asia were very cheap, even when booking only a few days in advance.
The flights also saved us a lot of time. Although my favorite phrase was, “we have more time than money”, we still took shortcuts when the price was right, like a 3 hour flight to Kathumandu, instead of an 18 hour bus ride that would be quite dangerous.
If we would’ve slowed down and visited fewer cities, we probably could’ve cut the costs in half. However, the big one-way flights which you’ll want to take (unless you want to ride on a cargo ship for three months across the Pacific) account for the biggest chunks of cost. In fact, the three big one-way flights listed above were $4,418 just by themselves. You’ll have to spend some money to do these big trips, the key is to be smart with your budget and know where you can make trade-offs.
The “Travel Admin” category is also quite scary at over $5,000. This category includes things like immunizations, clothing and supplies for the trip, visas and a few medical expenses along the way. We only got two visas in advance, India and China, as they required quite a bit more paperwork, but the rest of the visas were fairly easy to obtain in advance or on arrival (but that was three years ago, no telling how it’s all changing now with our present happenings).
While it’s tempting to add food poisoning as an ugly, I’m reluctant because that’s just a thing that often comes along with travel***. I could also talk about how we got scammed numerous times, but that also comes along with the travel! We never got robbed, never experienced acts of violence or even much rudeness and the scams were all for pretty small amounts. I call that a win.
However, there was one ugly that bit us a few times… currency exchanges. While traveling Australia and New Zealand, their currency was at one of the highest rates ever against the US dollar, so their already expensive countries stung even more. We tried to keep our daily costs down by cooking our own food – I even once smuggled a steak dinner I cooked in the camper, into the hotel. However, the big items like flights, camper van rentals and fuel really added up.
Our biggest ugly came in Australia when we rented a camper van for two weeks. They charged a $5,000 deposit which is just ridiculous, but then they took over six weeks to refund it. That gesture was crappy enough, but what made it even worse was there was a major change in currency valuation over those two weeks which meant we got over $500 fewer dollars back than the original $5k charge! It was very messed up and we even wrote a post on it where many others have joined in their hate for Appollo camper vans in Australia (I’d recommend not using them).
We also had some crazy experience like the taxi mafia above, we were nearly denied boarding because we didn’t have proof of onward travel when leaving Australia (although I lied our way out of it), and we (mostly me) had some really nasty bouts of food poisoning which explains why I seem to have lost half myself through SE Asia. Come to think of it, we probably shouldn’t have gone in the cage and sat with the adult tigers.
But the uglies just weren’t that ugly and the scaries weren’t that scary. I just read Orwell’s 1984 and he wrote, “If he were allowed contact with foreigners he would discover that they are creatures similar to himself…”. That’s one of the biggest takeaways. Places like Vietnam, Myanmar, Jordan and Morocco sound scary for a Westerner. They sound scary because our government and media make them sound scary – sometimes purposefully and sometimes not. But in the end, they’re made up of people who have hopes and ambitions like the rest of us, who favor peace over war, who want their kids to experience a better life and who love to smile and laugh.
In fact, that’s the same thing we’re learning on our current trip. I’m writing this from an Oregon State Park that obviously has quite a few people living in their campers or cars full-time. Not the people who have the super-cool Instagram accounts and are doing this to experience freedom, but the people who are down on their luck. Their old beat up cars and worn clothes give them a dark appearance and my instant reaction is to ignore them and hope they’ll do the same for me, just as I would’ve done with someone begging for money. But when we’re allowed contact and discover the truth, we realize they’re just like us. They have hopes and dreams for themselves, ambition to make their kids’ lives better than their own and they don’t plan to be living in a camper forever. They’re just like us.