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How much does it cost to travel the world?
I was recently asked if I had won the lottery.
That’s a strange question but it was followed by a second one: “How do you afford to travel so much?”
I really wish I could win the lottery so that I could travel even more than I have but the truth of how much it costs to travel the world is a little bit more complicated.
Here I will break down how I have managed to do it including some of the costs along the way.
Before you go
Save. Save. Save.
There is a rule of thumb in travel: whatever you pack, halve it, what money you have, double it.
Yes this might mean saying no to nights out or excursions. Get rid of expensive habits like lunch and coffees out everyday. Sell as much stuff as possible. And it might mean having an extra job on the side.
Before I left on my first long trip I didn’t have a holiday for nearly 4 years, I worked 3 jobs for two years and I moved back in with my parents to save rent. I worked in a bar in the evenings and weekends and picked up extra hours where I could. This also prevented me spending money down the pub as well, a double winner.
I had about £8000 saved by the time I was ready to leave. But some of that goes before you even walk out the door.
Costs you forget
Great! I had £8000 to travel with!
Well not quite.
Firstly I need to get my vaccinations. I didn’t really know where I was going and for how long so I got everything. Some were free on the NHS but a lot I had to pay for. In total I paid about £600 for all of these.
Then travel insurance. Everyone forgets this but it is important. It’s like putting on a seat belt in a car: you do it but hope you never need it. (Luckily I have never had to use any of the travel insurance policy’s I’ve used) The cost of 1 year of travel insurance was £407.
But here is one more big dent into your savings that I definitely did not consider. When you quit your jobs (yes plural) you have leaving drinks. Then a catch up with other friends as you don’t know when you’ll see them again. Then another leaving party with another group of friends. I live in London so let me tell you, socialising isn’t cheap! I don’t have a figure on this but I know it did take a chunk out of my budget.
I now had less than £7000 to go away with.
Choose budget travel
My first flight from London was to Mumbai, India. I didn’t know it at the time but India is probably the cheapest country I’ve been to.
Throughout my travels in Asia, I had a budget of $50USD/ £30 per day. The first time I went to an ATM in Mumbai, I withdrew £200 expecting it to last me about a week. It lasted me more than two.
I took a 30 hour train that cost £4.20, a night in a hotel was £3 with a pillow like a sandbag and meals were around £1 (or £1.50 with meat). In the Himalayas, I joined a 10 day tour which cost £200 with just the incidentals to pay on top.
This isn’t to brag about how little I paid, as some travellers can get quite competitive with that, but more to show you that if you travel like a local, taking local transport and working with local tour operators, travel can be a hell of a lot more affordable than you think. I’ve just seen a 10 day tour in India advertised for £1800!!! If I had gone for this, my trip would have lasted about 38 days instead of over 6 months which it was until I found work again.
(If you are looking for a card that doesn’t charge ATM or currency fees abroad, I highly recommend Wise which I have now used in over 15 countries! Use this link to start saving abroad now!)
Yes it means slumming it, uncomfy beds, dirty accommodation, cramped transport and air con being a luxury you dream of. But if it means travelling for an extended period of time its worth it in my view.
After India, I travelled around Myanmar, Thailand, China and then the rest of South East Asia. In each place the costs varied but I tried to do it as cheap as possible. Flights are expensive so I travelled from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur without taking a flight but enduring 18+ hour bus journeys. By taking night buses you also don’t have to pay for accommodation, a double win!
Costs in Asia
I didn’t record all my costs when I was in Asia but here are some averages I remember:
- Average night in a hostel = £4-6
- Average cost of a meal = £1
- Average cost of a beer = £1
- Day pass to Angkow Wat temple = $25USD (£18)
- 3 day jungle tour in Laos = $63USD (£45)
- Average cost of a SCUBA dive with equipment hire = £20-25
- Cheapest dorm bed = £2.10 in Koh Phi Phi (I think the mattress was made of hay)
- Cheapest beer = 8p (Yes Honestly! Bia hoi in Vietnam was 8p/ $0.10 per glass)
- Cheapest SCUBA dive = £11 Apo Island, Philippines
Compare this to what you may spend on your holidays on food and accommodation in your country and see how it compares?
Work and holiday?
When your savings run out, you don’t have to run home. There are plenty of jobs for you to do on the road and plenty of countries in which to do them in. I met travellers working for accomodation or working in bars in Asia but that means you get paid a local wage. As low as $5USD per day in some cases, which won’t leave you much to save.
Fortunately for many European passport holders, a lot of countries have working holiday schemes in place. These are visas that allow travel to that country for a long period of time (usually 1 year) and allows you to work or study in that country as well.
One of the most well known and most popular is the Australia Working Holiday visa. I spent Christmas and New Year in Sydney, I bought a van and then, with only $300AUD in my account, I went about looking for work. The next day I was picking blueberries for $100AUD per day cash in hand.
Over the next two years in Australia, I had 13 different jobs, some were just for a day or a weekend. Others last for months. I would do anything for money, if a guy walked in the hostel and asked if anybody wanted to earn $100 loading solar panels in the back of a van all day, I said yes. If somebody offered me to be their taxi driver for a day whilst they did a pub crawl, the answer was yes. If somebody asked me to fold used bedsheets to be packed up and shipped to charity stores, the answer was yes (I should’ve said no to that one…).
But I continued to live frugally when I worked so that when I did travel around the country, I had the funds to do it.
I did a medical trial in Brisbane to earn $2000 which allowed me to travel up the East Coast. I slept in my van outside a hostel so it reduced my rent. And if there was something in the free food box in hostels, I snapped it up.
After working in a bar for 5 months in Parkes, NSW, I saved $10,000. I honestly went from $0 to $10,000 in that time. I was incredibly broke when I turned up but I did every shift imaginable and saved as much as I could. This allowed me to tick off two bucketlist items (going to the MCG for an AFL game and watching sunrise at Uluru), travel around Australia for a few months, take side trips to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands and even to return to the UK for 2 months. I worked my arse off in those 5 months but what I did with that money was priceless.
After 2 years in Australia, I still wasn’t ready to end my travels so I got another Working Holiday Visa in New Zealand. The wages in New Zealand aren’t quite as high as Australia and the cost of living was slightly higher. I still managed to save but not quite at the same rate as in Australia.
I ended up falling in love with New Zealand and I stayed for a few years getting small promotions at work. Those came with pay rises, but my frugality remained. I always wanted to travel more.
Don’t worry about costs too much
By 2019 I had a job in New Zealand and was earning good money. I had 5 weeks off to travel around Japan. I also wanted to go to South Korea. My mouse wandered on Google maps and then I was looking at North Korea.
I found a 5 night tour to North Korea for €945. Not too bad. However there were a lot of other associated costs involved. Flights to and from Beijing, a Chinese visa, costs in Beijing for my few days there, additional costs for my 5 days in North Korea. Whilst the first price seems reasonable, one everything is added up, it can become quite costly.
However, when else would I get a chance to go to North Korea? Since early 2020 their border has been closed and no foreigners have been allowed in. In total my trip to North Korea costs $3500NZD (£1700) and in total, 5 weeks in Japan, South Korea, China and North Korea was just under $10,000NZD (£5000) but I would say it was worth every penny.
I had a job to go back to, I had some savings and it was a once in a lifetime experience. Although it was a budget trip (there are tours that are a lot more expensive!), it was still not as cheap as having a few weeks in Thailand or India. Sometimes it is worth it to spend the money if you have it on incredible experiences.
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I haven’t written this post to brag about how much money I have (or don’t have) or how little I can spend but more to dispel the myth that travel needs to be expensive. I’ve been very open about what I’ve saved and what I’ve spent. I know that budget travel isn’t for everyone and some people would prefer more luxury, but if your goal is to see more of the world, it can be done affordably. Is it more or less than what you expected?
Now you know about budget travel but how much does it cost to travel as a digital nomad? Find out here!
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.