We are a little over 6 months into what started as a year-long, round-the-world journey from where we were living in Australia back to our permanent homes in the United States. You may have been keeping up with our travels and seen us lounging on beaches in Malaysia, drinking liters of fine wine in Europe, and staying in resorts in Fiji, and thought, “Those trust fund bitches…”
Actually, no. Our budget for a year of travel through Australia, Southeast Asia, India, Dubai, and Europe is $50 per day (per person), which includes everything: accommodation, food, transport, activities, excursions, flights, toiletries, alcohol, souvenirs, and incidentals.
First, let me describe the premise of our budget. I have been reading Nomadic Matt’s blog since I was a teenager, and he wrote a book called How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. In it he describes how to travel for an average cost of $50 per person per day. In some countries that are more expensive, like Australia and places in Western Europe, your budget may be $75-$150 per day while in places like Southeast Asia your budget may be $25 per day. You balance your time in different parts of the world so your spending averages out to $50 per day, for a total of $18,250 a year. Nomadic Matt (Matt Kepnes) also goes into logistics of budget travel in various countries as well as cost-saving measures at those destinations.
So with Nomadic Matt’s assurance that it could be done, Joe and I began saving $18,250 each for a year of travel. That may sound like a lot of money to you (or it may not), and it definitely was to me. But I stuck to a personal budget that allowed me to put much of my paycheck toward travel. It feels like a lot of money when it’s all in a lump sum, but if you calculate how much you are spending on necessities such as housing, food, and transportation in your home country, you may find, as I did, that $50 a day would not cover your current expenses.
Once we made the decision to travel long-term and stick to a $50 a day budget, we also made the decision that not a penny more than the $18,250 we each saved was to be spent on the trip. We are taking a very long way home to America, but we do not yet have jobs, cars, or a place to live once we arrive. Our budget is very strict, which means sacrifices have to be made. If we overspend, the amount of days we can travel gets cut short. We set out to travel for a long time, so we needed to employ some measures to leverage our money, track our spending, and stay within our $50 a day budget.
Let me start by saying traveling on $50 a day is difficult. Prior to setting off on our trip, I researched suggested budgets for each of the locations we planned to visit. There are so many blogs of people who are making the $50 budget work, spending $25 per day in Southeast Asia or $50 in Europe. However, pretty much as soon as we started traveling we realized that most of those bloggers were not including everything in their budget. Sure, the cost of a hostel and food and maybe some rickshaws in Thailand is not more that $25, but when we added in transportation in and out of the country, intercity travel, excursions, toiletries, phones, and incidentals like laundry or a haircut, our budget was blown immediately.
Most RTW budgets do not factor in costs of flights, simply brushing them off as the price to pay for traveling, and the suggested budgets usually only refer to the average costs of food, lodging, and maybe some local travel or the cost of a beer. Rather than throwing in the towel on this round-the-world thing, we decided to move forward with our budget of $50 that includes (almost) everything, but this meant we had to pay even closer attention to our spending and save money however we could.
The two things not included in our trip budget are travel insurance and our phone bill. Travel insurance for the both of us is about $1500 total for one year, and our combined phone bill is maximum $1200 for the year. We use Google Fi, which caps at $100 per month for unlimited data for the both of us. We could have saved money by buying local SIM cards in each place we visit, but since we already had Google Fi which works in 170 countries (including everywhere on our itinerary and back in the US), it was worth it to us to save the headache of buying SIM cards and/or relying on Wi-Fi.
Of course as soon as we think we are doing pretty good, staying in budget, getting clever to save some cash, some fellow traveler (usually a European) has to come along and tell us that they are traveling with HALF our budget! They found a hostel for $1 a night! They don’t pay for transport, they hitchhike! They don’t need travel insurance, their government pays for it! Honestly there must be some sort of prize for European self-flagellation in terms of traveling in comfort, as these people we meet from the richest countries in the world would rather sleep in a rat-infested shanty for free than pay for a hotel, but that’s a blog post for another day.
I had an Australian girl tell me she travels Europe for 10 Euros a day, which is about $11 USD. Come to find out she eats a banana for breakfast and some plain pasta for dinner, couchsurfs for accommodation, and hitchhikes everywhere. Fair enough, but my bullshit-o-meter was still going off the charts. I asked her if that budget includes flights and/or inter-country travel such as trains or long distance buses. She said yes! She must not be including the ferry from Croatia to Italy, which would have cost at least 35 Euros, but perhaps that’s because SHE CONTRACTED BED BUGS ON THE FERRY AND HAD TO BE HOSPITALIZED DUE TO INFECTED BITES. Ah yes, I’m sure that hospital bill was not included in her budget either because #nationalhealthcare.
Okay, rant over, but I had to include that information because 1. If I didn’t some Eurasshole would get on here and comment how they traveled for $1 a day and I am a fool for wasting the other $49 and 2. We are not those people. Joe is 31 and I am 29 but basically 30. When I was backpacking Europe at age 20, I too would have slept on a floor as long as it didn’t cost me anything, and I did. Now I need a few creature comforts. Not many, but a few. For example, when traveling with my partner of five years, I would like to sleep in the same bed as him, preferably in a private room. There’s been several times that the cost of a dorm bed in a hostel was too cheap to pass up, so we went our separate ways. But if it costs a few bucks more for some comfort and privacy, then take my money.
Also, vegetables. I like them. I need them. We have ventured down the path of $1 pizza slices as sustenance, and I literally developed heartburn. I’m old, bitches. Finally, I’m not into weirdness, and you come across some weird people and situations while traveling. I’m not talking “cultural experience outside of my comfort zone” weird, I’m talking, “you can stay for free in my forest shanty that lacks walls and plumbing” weird. Hard pass from me, folks.
Now that I have laid out my budget for a year of round-the-world travel, including how I arrived at $50 a day, what’s included, and what’s not included, my next post will go into how I am sticking to my budget and the tricks I have for making a tight travel budget work.