Money from all over the world, as seen on a wall in a hostel in Rio de Janeiro
I’m often asked how much to costs to travel the world. Specifically, many people want to know how much it costs to travel one year, as many round-the-world (RTW) trips aim for about 12 months away from home, and most gap years last for… well, a year!
So how much does it cost to travel the world?
Unfortunately, asking “how much is a year of travel?” is kind of akin to asking “how big is a fish?”. It all depends… are we talking about a dwarf goby, or a whale shark?
Okay, that’s a weird metaphor, but the point is that a year-long journey can be as cheap or as expensive as you make it, depending on where you go.
It’s difficult, if not impossible, to give a precise cost break-down for one year of travel, as there are just so many variables, but it is possible to give a rough ballpark idea.
Much of it depends on where and how you travel, and so I believe there are basically four categories of travelling the world for a year:
Option 1. Travel minimally in cheap countries
Annual cost: $6000 / €5500 / £3800 at minimum
Monthly cost: $500 / €450 / £320 at minimum
This is the absolute most basic way to travel the world. It requires focusing exclusively on the cheapest countries in the developing world (so this is not really for an RTW trip!), as well as being super frugal. This is the category of the vagabonds and the drifters with only the smallest of shoestring budgets.
Maybe you could spend time in off-the-beaten-track Central America sleeping only in your own tent or hammock, eating cheap buffet meals (and saving leftovers for later), hitch-hiking, and only going on activities that are free. You could go to India and fully immerse yourself in the local lifestyle, avoiding any of the popular tourist sites, and moving from place to place in crowded 3rd class train carriages only.
This is travel for the ultimate free birds, content to spend much of their days reading books or plucking their guitar instead of doing more expensive sightseeing.
It’s maybe surprising that you could travel a year for around $6000, but I have seen people do it. I met a guy in Nicaragua travelling on just $10 a day: all he had to pay for was a place to put his tent, and he got his food extremely cheaply straight from local bakeries and fruit farmers—the rest of his budget was for buses, if he couldn’t find a way to hitchhike safety. But you do really have to embrace the hippie lifestyle and reduce everything down to their basics, which is not for everyone.
Option 2. Travel fairly comfortably in cheap countries
Annual cost: $12000+ / €11000+ / £7700+
Monthly cost: $1000+ / €900+ / £650+
If you are not too fussy about eating the local cuisines or making due with basic accommodation, you can travel very comfortably in many developing countries around the world for about $1000 a month (e.g. much of Latin America, South- and Southeast Asia, the Balkans in Europe, and so on). You may have to stay in somewhat rustic places at times and “live like a local” a bit, but you will generally be able to afford an otherwise comfortable lifestyle with very few real restrictions.
As a rough rule of thumb, it takes about $1000 a month, give or take, to travel in many developing countries. With such a budget, you will be easily able to afford hostel beds or basic hotel rooms (particularly if shared between 2 persons), go sightseeing whenever you’d like, have sit-down restaurant meals multiple times a day, and move about using local transportation, tourist shuttle services, or the occasional short-distance flight. This style of travel is most commonly associated with backpacking, RTW and career break trips; it’s a way to see the world that is both rewarding and financially attainable for many people from high-income countries.
The standard of living in developing countries may of course be lower than you are used to at home. Don’t necessarily expect to get a Danish craft beer with your pho noodles in Vietnam, or for that ramshackle bus in Ecuador to be exactly on time. But once you adjust to the local pace and lifestyle, you can feel like you truly have everything you need.
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Option 3. Travel frugally in expensive countries
Annual cost: $25000+ / €23000+ / £16000+
Monthly cost: $2100+ / €1900+ / £1350+
Travelling long-term in expensive countries can be astronomically expensive if you travel the same way you would on a regular holiday. The cost of hotels alone can send your budget spiralling out of control. The alternative is to find creative ways to travel cheaply in expensive countries.
This could mean using basic hostels or hospitality exchanges like CouchSurfing for accommodation. You may have to cook your own meals in hostel kitchens, eat lots of instant noodles, packed lunches, or cheaper fast-food meals. You will typically avoid expensive tours and activities, and instead enjoy publicly accessible sights or go on free city walking tours.
You may not have to go to quite these extremes if you limit your overall time in expensive countries and budget adequately. It’s no coincidence that many travellers opt to go to Europe, Australia, or the U.S. for maybe one or two months—and not ordinarily for, say, half a year or a year, as this is much more difficult to sustain. (When travellers claim they’ve been travelling in Western countries for a longer time, they will usually have also worked for at least part of that period.)
This is the sort of cost you’ll likely be looking at for a round the world or RTW trip, particularly one that has stopovers in many Western countries. If you end up planning an RTW trip where you emphasize cheaper countries more, your cost is likely to fall somewhere between this and the previous category.
4. Travel lavishly in expensive countries
Annual cost: $100000+ / €90000+ / £65000+
Monthly cost: $8000+ / €7200+ / £5200+
When money is of virtually no concern, you can truly go everywhere and do anything… though this is surely well out of range for most people.
I know of a few luxury travel bloggers who spend well over $100,000 a year. One of them acquired his fortune by selling his internet business during the late 90ies dotcom boom. With such financial resources available, you can clearly book any long-distance flight without thinking twice, or spend ample time in hotels in expensive places like Dubai, Fiji, French Polynesia, Monaco, and so on. If this were you, clearly you would not be reading this blog and you would already be sipping $20 cocktails in a Presidential Suite somewhere…
But if you want to travel for a year on an average person’s budget, I would say this starts somewhere around $10k a year. At this sort of budget you will have to travel as a backpacker, and maybe do without some of the comforts you have at home, but you will be able to have some truly amazing experiences. Add more developed or Western countries to the mix, and your annual budget will get closer to at least $15-20k.
While this sure isn’t anything to sneeze at, this is also far from the millionaire status that some people think you need in order to go on a big journey!
Of course, these are all VERY rough estimations, and if you really want to know what a year of travel costs, you will have to do your own research and detailed calculations. If you want to learn more about trip financing, accurate budgeting, and sustainable long-term travel, be sure to check out my book, Travel the World Without Worries!
By the way, the costs above are for travel expenses only, and do not include any pre-travel ‘start up costs’ such as buying a new backpack, or getting immunisations, travel insurance, or your initial flights to- and from home. You should probably count on having to budget at least another $1000 for these things, but it could easily be more.
The monthly costs above indicate the rough costs once you are actually on the road, and include all regular expenses like sightseeing, accommodation, and transportation. Keep in mind that my idea of what is acceptable accommodation may be different from yours: I’m content with just a clean bed and some basic facilities, particularly in developing countries. Ultimately, to get a better picture of how much money you will need, you’ll need to do a more detailed breakdown based on your particular destinations. But for a back-of-the-napkin estimate, the above should give you some idea.