How much does it cost to travel the world- many people dream it, even Jules Verne wrote about it in his famous chronicle “Around the World in 80 Days” but very few people dare to try it- either for the fear of the unknown or the fear of finances. But, traveling the world can be accessible to almost anyone, whatever their budget.
The secret to a low cost around the world vacation is in the destination. Imagine the cost of travel in London, England vs. Delhi, India. In London your hostel bed in a shabby dorm room would start from $30+ and a pint of beer from $5 whereas a private room in a budget hotel in Delhi would cost you about $4 and a bottle of Kingfisher beer could be found for under a dollar. If you do the math traveling in London vs. New Delhi would cost you 7 times more per month. So before you go, make sure you do homework and see whether your preferred destinations are affordable. Some guaranteed cheap countries are: India, Nepal, Bolivia, Peru, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia. Most European countries tend to be pretty pricey but if you have your heart set on seeing some European history spend more of your time in Eastern Europe in places such as Hungary, Romania and Bosnia where prices are anywhere from 20 – 50% cheaper than in Western Europe. While South America is notoriously cheap- stay away from extended visits to Chile and Brazil, as they can be quite pricey even for budget travelers. Similarly, in Africa, pretty much the only people dining in restaurants and sleeping in hotel rooms are those with cash in their pocket- so prices tend to be pretty high. In Mozambique, I once slept in a wooden shack on the beach, with sand as the floor, 2 tiny beds with dirty linens and a mere light bulb for $26 a night.
When I was 21, I decided, post University, to test how much it would cost to travel around the world. I started in South Africa, made my way to Eastern Africa, flew to India, traveled through South East Asia and finished my trip in the Middle East. I managed to scrounge up enough cash from my babysitting gigs during high school and my sporadic summer jobs to afford a 10-month trip around the world. I opted not to buy an around the world ticket and instead choose a Singapore Airlines ticket that included a stop in South Africa via Singapore, a one way flight from Nairobi, Kenya to Mumbai, India and a flight to Bangkok, Thailand from Delhi, India all for $2300. I bought all my own internal air tickets and took many overland journeys even traversing borders. We stayed in budget accommodations/friends homes, ate at roadside stalls, occasionally indulged in high-end cuisine and never really held back on excursions. Our total trip cost was about $19,000. On average we spent between $45- 60 a day and had a bunch of international flights, pricey vaccinations and multiple visa application costs. Countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania were considerably more expensive than India, Laos and Thailand. While, we cut corners where we could- it’s always possible to travel for cheaper- below are some suggestions to reduce your total travel cost.
The major costs for any around the world traveler are:
Around the World Ticket
- Depending on your itinerary, an around the world ticket can set you back anywhere from $1800- 6000 +. If your around the world ticket hovers over the $3000 mark look into whether buying independent fares is cheaper than one bulk fare. Airteks is one of the most reputable online around the world ticket companies. Keep in mind that an around the world ticket can be very restrictive and date changes could make your seemingly cheap ticket very expensive. These tickets can also be extremely complicated requiring many stops before reaching your ultimate destination.
Transportation- International/domestic flights, trains and buses
- If you use low cost airlines, domestic and international flights can start anywhere from $20 and up. Air Ninja allows the user to input their “to” and “from” info and automatically outputs all low cost airline carriers which service that region. If you have the time and want to reduce your costs you can pretty much overland (i.e. train, bus) it anywhere, unless it’s a transatlantic journey, which will save you tons of money and allow you to experience local culture from the window of a bus or train. As previously mentioned, its all in the destination; for instance, the Eurostar in Europe can be upwards of $100 a train ticket for a 4 hour trip but a 12 our train in Thailand can cost as little as $30. While the standards aren’t quite the same- if you are amendable to mild discomfort than you can save on your transportation costs.
Administrative fees- i.e. visas, guidebooks, travel insurance, phone cards/ sim cards and immunization fees
- Visas – Visas can be anywhere from $10 in Nicaragua to $140 in Brazil. A great way to save on visa fees is to arrange the visa on your own- cutting out the middle man- and if possible try and get your visa on arrival, as it will almost always be cheaper than any embassy prices.
- Guidebooks - Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet, Rick Steve’s, the The Rough Guide, Globe Trekker and Fodor’s range from $20- 60.To reduce guidebook prices, I either buy second – hand books (most of the information stays the same year after year) or I pay online only for the particular chapters of the book that are relevant to my trip and print them out.
- Sim Cards - Sim Cards in developing countries are unusually cheap (other than Myanmar) and pretty easy to get (other than India). They usually include bonus minutes, free incoming calls and cheap long distance rates. To use your cell phone abroad, bring an unlocked cell phone and simply buy a sim card once you reach your destination. Sim cards in places such as Thailand and Mozambique range from $1.00 to $6.00. Alternatively, you can either use skype from an internet cafe or purchase a phone card to reduce international calling fees.
- Shots- Depending on the countries you plan to visit / the order you plan on visiting them (i.e. if you have recently been in a yellow fever zone you may be required to produce a yellow fever vaccination on arrival), you will likely need a range of shots. Tetanus shots range anywhere from $25- 50, yellow fever $65- 85, Japanese Encephalitis costs anywhere from $450- 1000. To reduce your vaccination costs only get those vaccinations that you are strictly required to get. Most chances are that you wont be going into the region where you risk contracting Japanese Encephalitis and your doctor is trying to make a pretty penny off of you. As well, many overpriced durgs in North America are available over-the-counter in developing countries and are priced almost at 7o-90% cheaper. Anti-malarial pills, ciprofloxacin and even many of the vaccines are readily available abroad.
- In Italy internet fess can be as much as 5 Euros an hour and in Indonesia it can be as little as $0.50 per hour. To save on internet costs, avoid using the internet on islands where there are exorbitant internet fees and poor connections. Bringing a small laptop is a way to cash in on free wireless connections.
- Depending on the country, hotel rooms can start anywhere from $0.50 in India and go up to $200 + in Bora Bora. Especially if you are counting your pennies, choosing the cheaper category room or a budget hotel can save you a lot of money over a several month period. Hotels that offer shared bathrooms tend to be significantly cheaper and as long as you don’t find it too great of a nuisance to search for the bathroom in the middle of the night – its another great way to save a little. In addition, if Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the United States is on the itinerary try camping /renting a campervan which will save you a ton on your accommodation and food costs plus its a fun way to see the country.
- Dining in restaurants can range anywhere from $0.50 in Indonesia to $8 in Barcelona. Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Argentina offer communal kitchen facilities, which helps travelers save on food costs. Alternatively, street food is usually super tasty and a great way to experience truly local cuisine (just make sure the vendor’s stall looks clean and the food isn’t sitting out for too long to avoid any possible stomach problems).
Entrance/ Activities Fees, Day and Multi-Day Tours
- Touring the Mekong Delta for 2 days costs about $15 whereas a surf camp in Byron Bay, Australia could cost over $200. To save money on tours, always bargain and look into whether the excursion is feasible/cheaper on your own. Activity fees vary greatly based on the destination and activity; for instance, climbing the Sydney Harbor Bridge is $260 whereas zip lining in Bolivia can cost as little as $35.
Alcohol and Bottled Water
- If you are planning a low cost trip to developing countries, chances are the water is undrinkable, which means that you will have to pay for all your water. Bottled water can range from 20 cents in Kathmandu, Nepal to $3.50 a bottle in Paris, France. Its pretty hard to save on water, as you don’t want to compromise your health- but if you are trekking, you can bring a water bottle and iodine tablets to reduce the costs of overpriced water and your carbon foot-print.
- In terms of alcohol, a bottle of Chang beer in a Thai 7 eleven costs as little as a dollar whereas a bottle of Chang in a decent restaurant can be as much as $5. Thus, limit your restaurant drinks and try in drink in your room or on the street. Another easy way to save is to drink local. While its comforting to indulge in the brands you know and trust, a local whiskey / vodka is usually half the price of the imported booze.
- Depending on your bank’s program, transaction fees range anywhere from $0 – 5 per transaction plus the ATM company’s own fees. This means that you could be paying over $8 per transaction and with 15 transactions a month that translates into $120 of wasted cash per month. To avoid these exorbitant fees, either talk to your bank before you go to try and work out a more favorable transaction rate or investigate other banks and move your money into a more international transaction friendly account.
- Face it, your clothes sitting into a musty backpack amongst sweaty t- shirts are bound to get dirty, quickly. Be prepared to do your laundry anywhere from once a week – once every 2 weeks. In Bangkok, laundry prices start at $1 per kilo whereas in Nadi, Fiji, prices start at $15 per kilo. To cut down on costs, bring laundry detergent, a clothesline and a universal plug and do your laundry in your sink.
Overall, its really up to you- you could have a luxury holiday spending upwards of $500 a day or spend $500 a month- its all in the planning.