It’s the question we are asked more often than any other. “How much does it cost to travel?” Conveniently, it’s one we can answer with pinpoint accuracy – from our perspective, at least – because we track every penny we spend on the road.
In this article, I am publishing some of the headline statistics of our travel spending. This is the first in a new series of resources that will explore how we managed our travel budget country by country.
People tiptoe around this question because money is a sensitive subject. We want to be open about our spending to help others plan similar trips. We made a plan, worked hard and saved for five years to make this trip a reality, so don’t be put off by some of the large figures below – it can be done!
Before I crack on with the details, for the benefit of anyone new to this blog, I’ll explain some relevant background details about our trip. Lisa and I (Alex) are a married couple in our 30s who decided to take a one-year career break to travel the world.
Of course, different people work with different budgets and circumstances, and there isn’t an exact science of the cost to travel. We think of ourselves as ‘inbetweener’ travellers. We aren’t on a tight shoestring budget, but nor do we indulge in luxury too often.
We tend to stay in hostels, we don’t eat in many fancy restaurants, and we take buses rather than flying if we can. But at the same time, we treat ourselves to good local food, and we get stuck in with activities. We aren’t party-harders any more, but we’re social animals who like a drink (especially a local beer or a good wine). Think of us as the archetypal ‘medium budget’ 30-something travellers.
The cost to travel: our headline spending
In the space of 11 months, we travelled to 20 countries. I’ll start with the big number: in total, we spent £38,359.79 on this trip. That’s for both of us, so £19,179.90 each if you prefer to look at it like that. (There are quite a few savings you make by travelling as a couple – I’ll look at those more closely in a later article.)
A few factors are important to note about this headline figure and the breakdown that follows:
- For the sake of this travel money series, I am not including the costs of our three-day layover in Miami at the beginning of our trip. It was very much a holiday rather than travelling. We stayed in a hotel, we splashed out on food and drink. (On one single day in Miami we spent more on alcohol than we did in an entire month in Peru.) During those three days we spent over £800, which would throw the overall data out of kilter.
- I have not included costs that we incurred as a direct result of being robbed in Buenos Aires. This was an anomaly in the context of our general spending, and would paint an inaccurate picture of our average costs, in particular those for Argentina. While we did get some money back from insurance, the incident still set us back a net £933.
- There are some pre-travel costs I have not included, which I will write about later in the series. These are mainly clothing, equipment and gadgets, in particular for hiking and camping. These, together with the two bullet points above, mean that we spent more like £42,000 all in.
Breaking down the big figure
The pie chart below shows how our expenditure was distributed during our 11 months of travelling. You can hover over or click on the segments to see the corresponding amounts:
I will go into each of these areas in detail in further articles in this series. For now, here are a few notable points:
- Our transport costs – the biggest area of spending – include £2,414 each for our main round-the-world flight packages;
- The Inca Trail in Peru cost us £799 each, and therefore accounted for over 20% of our entire activity expenditure for the year;
- We spent £3,372 on alcohol, nearly a third of our total food and drink expenditure;
- The sundries figure includes £250 on money withdrawal charges, £216 on visas, £330 on cigarettes and tobacco, £230 on toiletries and medication, £192 on laundry, and £190 on gifts and souvenirs, among other miscellaneous costs.
Some country comparisons
The countries we visited – not including the USA – are shown in order in the table below, together with our total outlay in each:
Total daily costs by country
The chart below shows our average daily spend in each country. As the table above highlights, in some countries we spent very little time. For those where we stayed less than 5 days – Paraguay, Uruguay, Singapore and Brunei – the statistics should be taken with a small pinch of salt.
As our average spending in Peru was hugely affected by the single outlay on the Inca Trail, I have also included the country’s stats with that cost removed.
Fiji was by some distance the most expensive country of our trip by daily average. While it would be possible to travel around its main island – Viti Levu – very cheaply, like many travellers we headed out to the smaller Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands. The ferries between them were not cheap, and we stayed in backpacker resorts with pricy mandatory food packages.
It’s no surprise to see the Oceania countries (Australia, Fiji, New Zealand) up near the top, the south-east Asian countries near the bottom, and the South American countries somewhere in between. This is true to the stereotypes, but not everything worked out like that, as you will see.
Indonesia and the Philippines may seem out of place in the top half of the chart, but it’s easily explained. In both countries we did a lot of scuba diving, one of our highest-cost travel activities.
Accomodation costs by country
Accommodation expenditure is a very telling factor in assessing the cost to travel in different countries. Here’s how our average daily accommodation costs broke down:
I was surprised to see New Zealand so high given that we camped for about two thirds of our time there! The campsite fees were still quite expensive, in fact they were higher than hostel costs in many other countries.
While Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were the three cheapest countries for accommodation, that doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with the places we stayed. These countries had some of the very best hostels and guest houses of anywhere.
Conversely, while the cost to travel in Australia was by far the highest in terms of accommodation, the hostels there were among the very worst we stayed in.
Food and drink costs by country
Here’s how our average daily spending on food and drink broken down by country:
This chart tells a quirky story about travel lifestyle. Vietnam and Cambodia feature higher than the likes of New Zealand and Argentina in this chart, but this doesn’t mean they were more expensive countries to eat and drink in.
The truth is that because Vietnam and Cambodia were so much cheaper, we indulged a lot more. As simple as that. In Vietnam in particular, we ramped up our ‘enjoyment spending’ as it was the last country of our trip. If times had been tighter, I think £10 per day would have been comfortably enough to cover food and drink for both of us.
Food, drink and accommodation costs combined
As food, drink and accommodation comprise the main basic living costs, it’s useful to combine them into a single ‘average cost of living’ chart by country:
Activity costs by country
During our 11 months away we indulged in many tours, events, museums, treks and other activities. Here’s how the costs for this compared by country:
The countries at the top of this list tended to involve activities with a high single outlay. Peru is sixth rather than first in this chart if we disregard the Inca Trail. Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines would appear much lower down without our scuba diving packages.
While Bolivia was one of the cheapest countries for general living costs, we did a lot of expensive tours there, such as the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats), Death Road biking and Valle de la Luna.
Busting some cost of travel myths
As I started to get under the skin of this data, I noticed a few surprises. Sometimes you hear clichés and rumours so often that you accept them as truth. A look at the facts, however, shows that some of the myths and stereotypes about country costs are far from reality.
“Argentina is much more expensive than Peru”
Before we arrived in Argentina, we were told repeatedly that it was the most expensive country in South America. “Don’t get used to these prices,” people said in Peru. “Argentina is much closer to European prices.”
As you can see in the chart above, our costs for food, drink and accommodation in Peru and Argentina were identical. Today, Argentina is likelier even cheaper, as its economy has suffered a dramatic slide since we were there.
“Singapore is nearly as expensive as Australia”
This is another one we heard a lot. I think it may be a result of travellers passing through Singapore at the end of a stint in south-east Asia, and finding the prices to be much higher than the likes of Thailand and Vietnam. That much is true, but Singapore isn’t even close to being as expensive as Australia.
Our average total daily costs in Australia were £150.63 – nearly double that of Singapore (£80.25).
Tools for planning your budget
When we planned the budget for our trip, we didn’t have any idea how much it would cost to travel. We used a website called Budget Your Trip, which provides guideline costs for different destinations tailored to different budget types.
Do you have any insights on travel costs or budget planning? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
As this travel money series progresses, I will take a much closer look at the cost to travel in the different countries we visited. Stay tuned for another insight next week.