Choose your own Adventure: Budgeting for long term travel

The great thing about having only the possessions you can carry is that you are free to go anywhere and do anything. You are only limited by your ability to say no. This seems like it would be an incredibly simple way to live but think of the implications of saying yes or no.

Sure, you can PAY to climb that tower to see the epic view of the city, but every dollar you spend brings you closer to ending your trip. Of course there are those that are fortunate enough to not worry about money, but for the vast majority of us the amount of money left in our savings account is directly related to how long we travel.

At this point you should realize that when you’re in it for the long haul, your priorities change. In the last year of travel, after visiting 23 countries, we paid for around a half dozen tourist sites. Some of these were really expensive but nothing like them exists anywhere else in the world.

Meanwhile there is an art museum in nearly every capital, of every country, containing work by some big name artists. Seeing them all becomes less important, when that $15 entry fee will get you another day’s worth of travel.

So you get to decide what makes you happy. Can you stretch that savings to keep you on the road? Or will that beer that blows your budget bring you enough happiness to warrant imbibing the fine delicious nectar?

Of course there are other ways to stay on budget but those depend on what you are willing to live with. Is it worth saving 5 bucks to stay in that sketchy hostel? Or is it worth paying a little more for clean sheets? Money gives you freedom but to keep it in your pocket you may sacrifice comfort.

Traveling long term helps you realize what you really value and what you absolutely can’t live without. The biggest trade-offs we found come from transportation, accommodation, and food.

Transportation

Do you have a lot of time? Take the bus instead of flying. Or better yet, should the country permit it, hitchhike. Not only do you get to save some money, but you will get to meet some interesting people and perhaps even make a new friend. This necessarily brings us back to the dichotomy of freedom versus comfort.

Some of you will absolutely not entertain the idea of hitching. And that’s OK. Taking that leap from steady income, home, and community to flying by the seat of you pants every day is no small feat. Acknowledging the limits you are willing to endure will ensure you maintain that happy, free, comfortable balance.

This even applies to the general lifestyle choices we make when we aren’t on the road. Should you buy that new car and sign yourself up for a monthly payment or ride your bike? These are decisions we make in daily life no matter what our situation may be.

Just remember that if you are interested in saving for long term travel the sooner you find a work, life, cost balance the sooner you will be able to hit the road.

Accommodation

With this one it varies widely depending on which country you’re in. We’ve found ourselves spending 90 euro for a hotel in Luxembourg and camping for free along the Danube in Romania a few weeks later.

Wherever you find yourself needing a place to sleep, there is no better resource than Couchsurfing.org. The traveler’s best currency is experience and there is no better way to experience a place than by making a friend.

Our couchsurfing hosts have taken us out to bars, free concerts, off-roading in the Omani desert and have offered their homes to us for evenings of unforgettable conversation and connection. I know some of you found this site via Couchsurfing, so I’m sure you know what we’re talking about already. If you haven’t tried out the site, I suggest you give it a shot.

Whatever accommodations you are willing to accept will dictate the level of happiness you have and money in your pocket. Choose wisely.

Food

Are supermarket stops or three course meals your ticket to happiness? Can you drink the tap water or do you need to drink Evian? Does peanut butter and jelly gross you out? How about ham flavored cheese? Do you think you could be a Freegan?

We’ve eaten like kings and peasants. We’ve tried cobra, ostrich and wildebeest. There were some points where we tested the limits of food safety. We’ve had parasites and food poisoning, always at inopportune times. But those were the choices we made and some of the sketchiest meals we’ve eaten were also the best meals we’ve eaten.

You’ll never know what it’s like unless you try.

Life

Our target daily budget was $28 per person per day. Over the course of the past year, but we spent more like $35. That includes everything; food, accommodation, airfare, and entertainment. If you do the math that’s about $13,000 per person per year. I don’t know about the rest of you, but that’s not too much more than we spent on rent and monthly bills alone.

If the above isn’t a compelling reason for you to make the choices that make you happy every day, I don’t know what is. I can tell you all the clichéd phrases describing reasons to take your life back, but if the plans aren’t in the works then it might be a lost cause.

You might need to make some sacrifices in daily life to get there but there is no time like the present to re-evaluate your priorities and make the choices that will make you happy.

Special thanks to those crazy folks at Okhaos Creations for getting the juices flowing on this one and continually pushing our boundaries of comfort.

5 Responses to “Choose your own Adventure: Budgeting for long term travel”

  1. James and Carole said:

    An inspiring article Kyle, I think I’ll take 2011 off to travel the world. I figure our costs are similar – from 20 Euro a nite camping in Cortina, Italy (the dolomites, with hot shower, free laundry facities and a pool), or 2$ a nite in Arapiles, Australia with a trickle of drinkable water, a toilet and all the wildlife you need. Both places were great.


    February 24th, 2011 at 9:09 am

  2. Debi Creasman said:

    Thank you for this great article of inspiration!!


    March 13th, 2011 at 6:49 am

  3. Kole said:

    I posted this in my musician “connect the dots” touring group on FB. A great article for them as well! I can relate to all of these ideas since the next tour is 3 months nationwide and into Canada. We are indie artists so we must live this, LOVE IT!


    April 14th, 2011 at 7:13 am

  4. Jenni said:

    My husband and I are planning a year long trip starting in Aug. 2012. I was wondering how you keep up with what you spend in order to make the calculation of $35/person/day? My husband is usually the budgeter, but he is determined that we cannot travel S.E.Asia AND Europe on less than $20,000 EACH! I’m really not sure how he came up with this figure, but we are both ok with cheap accommodation, buying food from the grocery store, not going to all the tourist sites, etc. Obviously it must be possible to do it on $20,000 total (that is the amount we should have saved by the date we’ve set), what advice can you give?


    June 28th, 2011 at 12:16 am

  5. Kyle said:

    Hi Jenni,
    While we’re traveling we usually just keep a rough idea in our head about how much we are spending per day. Some days will be more and some days will be less. We usually don’t true it up until the end of the month. That’s when we check our bank statements and how much cash we have on hand to see where we stand. At that point we know how we’re doing. We had budgeted $10k/person per year and after the first year with 6 months in SE Asia and 6 months in Europe we had spent $13,000. $3,000 of that was on transportation and $10,000 was on everything else.

    I think the best thing you can do to make your money last is not move around too much. You can get significantly better deals on accommodations when you pay for weeks/months in advance. You can also avoid costly border runs by applying for visas in advance. Thailand and Indonesia offer 2 month visas which enabled us to stick around longer. Not only that, but SE Asia tends to be less expensive than Europe so lingering around there as long as possible will stretch your money further.

    Since a tourist visa for Europe expires in 90 days I would recommend assessing your budget around then and you can figure out how much of Europe you can afford and plan accordingly. You can also search for places you want to go in Europe where it will be inexpensive to rent an apartment. We stayed in Kalymnos, Greece for 2 months for about 37 Euro / day. That included scooter and gas so if you exclude that it’s closer to 30 Euro/day for two people. There are many other options for inexpensive accommodations which we have talked about elsewhere on our site. You can check here http://www.rollglobal.org/2011/03/rtw/ for complete cost on our airfare.
    Let us know if you have more questions and we’ll do our best to answer them. Enjoy your trip!


    June 28th, 2011 at 11:04 am

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