Our success in making our round-the-world-trip happen depends not only on our ability to save money before the trip but also our ability to be frugal and maximize our budget during the trip.
For the eight months that we’ll be away, we’re planning to operate on a budget of $1500 per person per month, which I would say is at the higher end of low budget travel. That, of course, is a very broad generalization since “low” or “high” budget is all relative to where and how you want to travel. There are certainly many people who have done it for less, and of course it’s easy to spend much, much more, but that’s what we have to work with given what we have in savings minus what we’d like to come home to after our trip.
However, our monthly average is not just based on how much we have to spend divided by how many months we will be traveling for. We first had to deduct upfront costs and monthly expenses from our budget. For us, that list includes both tangible and intangible things, many of which we normally wouldn’t have to worry about for shorter trips. Between our upfront costs (e.g. travel insurance, new backpacks, a hard drive to back up our data, moving expenses, fees to rent out our apartment, vaccinations, etc., etc.) and monthly expenses not directly related to travel (e.g. life insurance payments, cloud service plan), we had to subtract $9000 from our total trip budget, bringing down our monthly trip allotment significantly.
Photo by Philip Brewer
Fortunately, J and I have a few advantages that make it a bit easier to travel on a low budget: shared expenses as a couple, flexibility in how we travel, and the fact that we usually enjoy off-the-beaten path, culturally immersive trips (read: much cheaper than tourist traps). Here’s how we plan to travel and thus, stay within our limited budget:
- Stay in small, local hotels: while we do enjoy the occasional resort or luxury accommodation, we generally prefer to stay at smaller hotels that support local business owners. However, we still expect some degree of comfort and we’re absolutely not willing to sacrifice good customer service or cleanliness for a less expensive place. We use Trip Advisor to check for possibilities before we book, and luckily (and perhaps, surprisingly) the best ranked establishments are quite often not the most expensive.
- Volunteer: we both enjoy volunteering so we’re looking forward to signing up for some projects while we’re on the road. The projects that we’re interested in only charge a few hundred dollars per person for assignments lasting a couple of weeks to a month. That fee generally includes free room and board, so we hopefully won’t need to use our full monthly budget during those time periods (which will give us a bit of a cushion for emergencies or better yet, a splurge, later in the trip).
- Rent local apartments: if we stay in a town or city for at least a week, we’ll try to rent an apartment. We generally love hotels, but on a trip this long, it will be nice to have our own space, privacy, and a sense of home every once in a while.
- Travel overland: while it’s not always the most comfortable way to travel, we generally enjoy overlanding by bus, train, or what-have-you because it’s a great way to experience firsthand life in the area and because it provides a front row seat to observe the passing scenery.
- Eat from street carts and hole-in-the-walls: it goes without saying that often the best food is found outside of the main tourist areas at local mom-and-pop productions that often take the form of street carts or tiny rooms.
- Be our own adventure guides: we love adventure sports and generally go with a guide, but we’ll try to select companies with fewer amenities (e.g. camping instead of luxury lodges) or maybe even try to navigate on our own if the areas or activities are considered safe enough to do so.
Having said this, we’re not completely delusional. Staying within a budget, as with many things in life, is easier said than done. So if we find that in the first few weeks or months we’re just blowing through our budget, we have a few contingency plans to keep us traveling:
- Stay in hostel dorms: we generally don’t anymore unless they’re incredible, and to be fair, there are some amazing hostels out there. We just often find that traveling as a couple, we can get a nice private room for the price of two hostel beds. But if worse comes to worst and we need to save a few dollars, we’re willing to begrudgingly go the hostel dorm route.
- Buy groceries and cook: since we’re hoping to rent apartments here and there, we might as well use the kitchen facilities to try to cook every once in a while. Not an ideal prospect when a world of much better food awaits, but maybe after months of eating out we’ll enjoy the idea of eating in and making some meals that are more familiar to our taste buds.
- Stay with other people: I need my “me” time, but we do plan to participate in some cultural immersion programs and homestays. And if we can find a good arrangement, we’re also open to housesitting, couchsurfing, and maybe WWOOFing. But if I’m going to work while I’m on the road, I think I’d rather do something I’m passionate about, which brings me to..
- Pick up location independent freelance jobs: with his computer background, J can really work from anywhere so while it would not be his ideal situation, he can probably pick up some jobs here or there if necessary. I plan to work, regardless, so hopefully I can add a few dollars to our budget. Every little bit helps.
- Cut out locations: the longer I plan and anticipate this trip, the less I really care where we go, as long as we go. We have a general route, but it seems like nearly everyday I’ll have a conversation with someone or read an article that convinces me I should go elsewhere. So I’m open to the possibilities that await us and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I wanted to stay longer in places. I would have no problem if our budget “forces” us to remain in a place longer and explore it more deeply.
Next up.. how thinking ahead to post-trip reintegration helps with our budgeting!
I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel others have done such a good job on before, but if you’re looking for some cold, hard numbers, take a look at these posts:
- Round the World Travel Budgets Revealed: The Real Costs of 11 Real Trips on BootsnAll
- The Cost to Take a Trip Around the World on surrounded by the sound
- What does it cost to travel the world? on So Many Places
- How much does it cost to travel around the world? on RTW Expenses
- How far will $20,000 take you? on Travels of Adam
- How to Travel Full-Time for $17,000 a Year (or Less!) on Wise Bread (by the Professional Hobo)
- Tips and Resources for Round the World Travel and Career Breaks on Legal Nomads