One of the questions I’ve been asked most is, “How was your budget?” Often this is prefaced by, “I don’t want to be nosy” or “I hope it’s not inappropriate but I’m really curious.” Because of this, I’ve debated how transparent I want to be about my budget; money is always a little uncomfortable for people to talk about. But in the interest of other RTW travelers everywhere, I’ve decided what the hell, here it is.
I budgeted $30,000 for the trip, with $5000 marked as my “Go Home Now” money (flight home plus 2 months to figure out what to do next). That left me with $25,000 to spend. I divided my trip into three segments – South America, Australasia, Asia – and allotted the same amount of money to each, taking into account both time and potential costs of the regions. Three months in South America should be about the same as two months in Australasia and four months in Asia. Therefore each leg got an even $8000. I told myself each had $6000. I preferred to lie to myself to keep my budget in check, aiming low but knowing that I had a little wiggle room, and it seems to have worked.
The end results:
South America: $6289.90
+ Initial RTW flights: $3434.00 & Flight back to the US: $612.64
I came home under budget. Most people are pretty surprised I was able to travel for so long for less than $20,000. Plus I did everything I wanted to do – skydiving, scuba diving, Salt Flats tour, Whitsundays boat, two tattoos, etc. These things did cost a decent chunk of change but I found ways to save elsewhere, making it possible to really experience more of the world instead of just hanging in a hostel barely getting by. In fact, in the breakdown of where most of my money went, the activities section comes in second, followed by food in third, and accommodation in fourth.
So where did most of it go? Transportation costs. If it wasn’t for the planes, trains, and automobiles I would have done the trip for just over $10,000, but then I also wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. Flights around Brazil were a major contributor – hence the decision to move around only by bus for the rest of South America – as well as international ones.
How did I end up under budget? There are a few reasons. First, incredibly helpful, generous people, who happened be in some of the more expensive places I went to. I stayed for free at a friend of a friend’s in Sydney for 6 nights, and again with a family friend in Singapore; I lucked out in New Zealand twice with an amazing couchsurfing host in Christchurch and a friend who gave me the rest of her Naked Bus pass to use for free, which is how I got back up to Auckland from Queenstown; I can’t even begin to describe the generosity of my family who was with me in Vietnam; and the wonderful Christmas gifts from family that helped cover some of Ko Phi Phi and Bali.
The other two main money savers were cheap food and sleeping on transportation. In a lot of South America and Southeast Asia it’s possible to get meals for $1-$3. I’ll eat pretty much anything and was happy to try the local street food, and was lucky to not have any stomach issues, so I picked most of my meals based on what cost the least. In New Zealand and Australia I often made food in hostels with other travelers, saving on the expensive costs of eating out there. And I always had granola/muesli or cereal bars with me as a back-up and for food on transportation; I never bought food at a rest stop. All the nights I slept on buses weren’t for my enjoyment, they were ways to save on accommodation. The way I saw it, I had to pay to get between places anyway, so why not sleep on the transportation? It’s not like there’s much else to do that I would be missing out on, and my budget would benefit from a blank spot in the accommodation column. Any time I slept on transportation I saw it as funding my next activity. Sometimes I would arrive pretty tired, but the adrenaline from arriving at a new location was all the caffeine I needed to still make use of the day.
The most surprising outcome to me was Australasia. I was terrified of how much that part was going to cost me, but somehow I ended up not just under budget, but under my budget lie.
The most challenging part of budgeting was when friends from home joined me. It’s a different kind of travel when it’s not your daily life, and I wanted to make sure they had the vacation they came for while still taking into account my strict monetary concerns. This was hardest during the World Cup in Brazil. For those who came to travel with me for a bit, thank you for understanding my constraints and enduring some less than desirable travel situations to help me out.
My reward for being under budget was Japan. None of those numbers include Japan. When I got to Japan I already felt that the trip was done and anything else was bonus. I didn’t entirely ignore the way I had been living, but I didn’t log everything I spent either. In the end, I added up my credit card bill and cash withdrawals to get my Japan spending total of $2476.78 (not including my flight from India to Japan, which was $412.39). For one month in an expensive country during the biggest tourist draw, the cherry blossoms, that’s not so bad really. It brings my total trip cost to $22,398.75.
Some things that are not included in this total are visas and pre-trip purchases like gear and immunizations. Those were all paid off when I still had a job or with back-up cash that wasn’t part of my initial $30,000 departure money.
I logged every cent I spent in an incredibly detailed spreadsheet – which I got from alittleadrift.com and definitely recommend to other people who want to keep track of their spending – which helped immensely to see where I was in my budget and make decisions about whether or not I could do an activity. If I was under the daily budget for a country, I was more likely to spend the money on something like scuba diving the Similan Islands or a flight to Goa instead of a long bus ride. I based my daily budget per country on BootsnAll’s destination guides, another very helpful resource worth looking into if you’re planning a RTW trip.
I’m proud of myself for not just sticking to my budget but actually coming in under budget, and it’s part of the reason I’m so confident that I can travel for another six months. I returned with more money than initially planned, and after three months of working will have replenished my account enough to take off again.