It’s the question we are asked more often than any other about our travels. “How much does it cost to travel the world for a year?” 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, to help you plan your own round the world trip budget, we break down everything we spent during our travel career break, and we also take a general look at the cost of world travel.
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In this article:
How much does it cost to travel the world in 2020?
The truth is that there is no single or simple answer to this question. There is no one-size-fits-all itinerary for a round the world trip, and so the price of one depends on many different factors.
However, you can make a ballpark estimate based on the biggest of these factors. The two things that will have the most significant impact on your world trip costs are:
- Your travel style (budget, mid-range, luxury)
- Where you plan to travel
Let’s compare two extremes. If you were to travel on a very basic budget, saving money wherever possible on things like accommodation and food, and focus your travels in a low-cost region (Southeast Asia for example), you could get by on as little as $5,000–$6,000 for a year’s travel. On the reverse side of the coin, if you opt for a luxury travel style focusing on an expensive region (like Western Europe), you would struggle to spend less than $50,000 in a year.
In this article I take a look at what Lisa and I spent in a year across a range of destinations, from expensive Australia and Patagonia to low-cost Bolivia and Vietnam, on a fairly mid-range travel budget. First, though, I will share some key takeaways from our experiences about the cost to travel, and some useful tools you can use to plan your own round the world trip budget.
Key lessons we’ve learned about world trip costs
When planning your round the world trip budget and figuring out how much you will need to save, there are some important things to consider. The following three knowledge-bombs would have helped us greatly if we’d been aware of them before our big trip:
1. Budget travel can be hard work
While it is becoming increasingly possible to travel cheaply (or even freely), there are some non-financial costs of doing so. Budget travel can be exhausting and it isn’t for everyone. Before you think, “great, $5,000 will be enough for me to backpack Southeast Asia for a year… let’s go!” – consider carefully what you will be comfortable with, and what you want to get out of your trip.
Travelling on a shoe-string budget might mean staying in cheap hostels, Couchsurfing or camping, perhaps. Will you be happy in extremely basic accommodation? Will you feel comfortable staying in the home of someone you’ve never met? Or does sleeping in a tent appeal to you?
Budget travel will also often require you to travel out of season, be flexible with your timings, and make the most of free activities. You will need to be savvy and willing to try self-guided exploring; package tours are off limits. Is this the experience you are seeking, or will it stop you from realising your travel goals?
Maybe you will need to find work along the way or volunteer in hostels for accommodation – would that hinder your enjoyment?
We decided to save for an extra couple of years for our round the world trip, as we wanted the financial freedom to enjoy the big experiences, eat in nice local restaurants and stay in places that would suit our style. We still had to scrimp at times, and were constantly mindful of budget – but we’re glad that we had that extra buffer.
Some people thrive on the challenge of budget travel, but for others it’s just a drag. Think about how you will fare with it before you go ahead and book anything.
2. Beware of hidden costs
When we planned the budget for our round the world trip, we made a big spreadsheet covering the most obvious things we would need to pay for: transport, accommodation, food and activities. After setting off, we soon found that there were many things we needed money for that we hadn’t considered.
For example, you won’t get far on the road before you need to do some laundry. After a while, things break and you need to replace them. And what about haircuts? Local taxes? Medication if you get ill? Books to read? Even withdrawing money often comes with a fee.
There are many hidden costs of travel that are easy to miss when you’re in the planning stage. For a deep insight into the most common ones, check out our article on the hidden cost of travel and how to avoid them.
3. Currency fluctuations can hit your travel finances
Travelling around the world, you will likely use many different currencies. Exchange rates are always changing, and this can have a big impact on your expenditure. We know this all too well coming from the UK. After the vote on Brexit in 2016, the pound sterling crashed – a year before our big trip – and as a result we lost thousands.
Currency fluctuations can, of course, work out in your favour too. The peso in Argentina has been sliding badly over the last few years amid economic instability. Back in 2017 you could only get around 17 Argentine pesos to the dollar, but by the beginning of 2020 it’s more like 60 pesos to the dollar! The same is true of the Philippine peso; if you travel there now, you will spend a lot less than two or three years ago.
With this in mind, it’s prudent to keep a close eye on the exchange rates in the countries you plan to visit. You can see live market rates and historic trends on xe.com – it’s a great resource that we use regularly when planning and reviewing our travel spends.
Travel budgeting tools and resources
Our go-to resource for planning travel spends is always Budget Your Trip. It’s an incredibly useful website that gives estimates of travel costs for destinations all over the world. You can filter the cost estimates by budget, mid-range or luxury travel styles, and it’s broken down into various different categories such as accommodation and entertainment.
We used the site for budgeting throughout our year-long travel career break, and found the estimates to be mostly very accurate.
Here are some other neat tools and resources you can use to plan budgets and save money:
|Budget planning and management||TravelSpend – an app you can use to track your travel expenses and monitor your budget
Xe.com – check the latest currency exchange rates
Travelex travel budget calculator – tool to get a quick estimate of your travel budget
|Transport||Rentalcars.com – search and compare the best prices for car rentals
Busbud – find and compare the best prices for bus journeys
Skyscanner – find and compare the best prices for flights
Uber – find low-cost taxi rides nearby
Driiveme – find one-way car rentals for €1 / £1 in Europe
|Accommodation||Booking.com – find and compare accommodation options anywhere in the world
Hostelworld – find and compare hostels anywhere in the world
Couchsurfing – find local hosts who can spare a room in their home for free
TrustedHousesitters – find house-sitting and pet-sitting placements for free accommodation all over the world
Campspace – find small campsites on private land around the world
|Entertainment||GetYourGuide – find, compare and book tours anywhere in the world, with best price guarantee and free cancellation
Kibii – use this app to find nearby things to do in places around the world
Wikiloc – find information about hiking trail routes anywhere in the world
You can also check out our complete guide to managing money when travelling for more tips and tricks.
About us and our trip: what did we spend?
Before I get into the details of our round the world trip costs, I will explain a bit more about us and our itinerary to set the context.
People sometimes 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!
Lisa and I are a married couple in our 30s who decided to take a one-year career break to travel the world. We think of ourselves as ‘inbetweener’ travellers when it comes to money. We don’t travel a tight shoestring budget, but nor do we indulge in luxury very 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 spend on activities and experiences. We aren’t party-harders these days, but we’re social animals who like a drink (especially a local beer or a good wine). Think of us as the typical mid-range budget 30-something travellers.
The cost to travel the world: what we spent overall
The costs I outline in this analysis are presented in pounds sterling and US dollars based on the average exchange rates at the time of our trip.
Our journey lasted for 11 months, during which we travelled to 20 countries. I’ll start with the big number: in total, we spent £38,649 / $51,790 on this trip. That’s for both of us, so £19,325 / $28,895 each if looking at individual costs (however, note that there are quite a lot of savings you can make when travelling as a couple, so solo costs would likely be higher).
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:
Here are a few notable points:
- Our transport costs – the biggest area of spending – include £2,414 / $3,235 each for our main round-the-world flight packages;
- The Inca Trail in Peru cost us £799 / $1,071 each, and therefore accounted for over 20% of our entire activity expenditure for the year;
- The ‘sundries’ figure includes:
- £250 / $335 on money withdrawal charges
- £216 / $289 on visas
- £330 / $442 on cigarettes and tobacco
- £230 / $308 on toiletries and medication
- £192 / $257 on laundry
- £190 / $255 on gifts and souvenirs
- 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:
|Peru||28||£3,897 / $5,222|
|Bolivia||14||£1,105 / $1,481|
|Chile||23||£2,075 / $2,871|
|Argentina||58||£4,941 / $6,621|
|Brazil||16||£1,663 / $2,228|
|Paraguay||2||£85 / $114|
|Uruguay||3||£345 / $462|
|New Zealand||22||£2,688 / $3,602|
|Fiji||7||£1,272 / $1,704|
|Australia||36||£5,423 / $7,267|
|Singapore||4||£333 / $446|
|Malaysia||11||£751 / $1,006|
|Indonesia (Bali)||8||£950 / $1,273|
|Brunei||2||£99 / $133|
|Philippines||15||£1,469 / $1,968|
|Thailand||28||£2,028 / $2,718|
|Laos||16||£980 / $1,313|
|Cambodia||14||£966 / $1,294|
|Vietnam||23||£1,605 / $2,151|
Total daily costs by country
The chart below shows our average daily spend in each country, in pounds sterling. As the table above highlights, we were in some countries for just a few days. In these cases – for example 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 one single outlay on hiking 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 expensive 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 consistent with reputations when it comes to travel costs.
Indonesia and the Philippines may seem out of place in the top half of the chart, but this is easily explained. In both countries we did a lot of scuba diving, one of our highest-cost travel activities. Our general travel costs in these countries were on the cheaper side, as you will see below.
Accommodation costs by country
The accommodation costs in a country are often a good indicator of what the overall general travel costs will be. Here’s how our average daily accommodation costs broke down:
At the end of the trip, I was surprised to see New Zealand so high in the chart 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, there wasn’t anything wrong with the places we stayed. These countries had some of the very best hostels and guest houses of anywhere we went. Conversely, while the cost to travel in Australia was by far the highest in terms of accommodation, the hostels there were among the worst we stayed in. Maybe we just got unlucky.
Food and drink costs by country
Here’s our average daily spending on food and drink broken down by country:
This chart tells a quirky story about travel spending habits. 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 we indulged a lot more in Vietnam and Cambodia precisely because were so much cheaper. We rarely cooked our own food, and we ate in restaurants most of the time. In Vietnam in particular, we ramped up our ‘treat spending’ as it was the last country of our trip. If times had been tighter, we could have probably got by on less than half the expense. Conversely, on our New Zealand South Island road trip, we cooked most of our own food on a camp stove, and couldn’t have done it any cheaper.
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 our activity costs 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 are so high up because of our scuba diving experiences.
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.
Individual country spending breakdowns
If you are planning to visit any of the South America destinations in our travel itinerary, you may find some of our individual country and region trip cost breakdowns useful:
- How much does a Peru trip cost?
- How much does a Patagonia trip cost?
- How much does a Chile trip cost?
- How much does a Bolivia trip cost?
That’s it! If you have any questions about budgeting for world travel, drop me a line on email@example.com and I’ll be happy to help.
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