Travelling the world for a year. That must be expensive, right?
Well, yes and no.
For many folks, long-term world travel is a pipe dream. It’s something they aspire to, perhaps after retirement or when a figurative ship comes rolling in. The true is that valid barriers can prevent a person from engaging in long-term international travel: personal health, family health, nationality, professional commitments, debt, money and more. The only non-valid response — as far as I’m concerned — is fear. But this article is not about quelling fear. If you need help, go talk to Oprah.
I’m here to talk about money. More specifically: does it need to be such a barrier?
Money is a touchy topic. Most people are terribly polite when it comes to the subject, not wanting to offend others by posing personal questions. But I know what you’re thinking, so I’m going to go ahead and ask the question for you: “Hey Daniel, how did you afford to travel around the world for a year?”
Well friends, I’ve never been rich by North American standards. My parents had humble schoolteacher salaries. I did not invent Facebook. There is no trust fund waiting for me to tap. My journey across the world — to twelve different countries on six different continents — was self-funded.
To provide some food for thought, I want to unpack the main costs of my journey, explain where the money went, and share the two primary ways in which I funded the journey.
This was the cost, for me, to travel the world for a year.
All figures in US Dollars
Flight costs: $7399
Reciprocity Donations: $904
Entry/Exit fees (Visas, etc.): $264
Health Insurance: $471
Membership fees: $112
Couch Surfing: $25
WWOOF (Central America): $33
Subtotal: $11,281 USD
Approximated extra costs
Food (when not provided by host organization): $1500
Local transport (taxis, trains, buses, boats): $500
Activities (cultural activities, museums, tours): $350
Approximated extra costs subtotal: $2350 USD
Total (approximated) cost of a year of travel to twelve different countries on six continents:
Unpacking the numbers
Flight costs: At over 50% of the entire cost of the journey, airfare was by far the biggest expense. My goal, however, was to experience a slice of life on six different continents. And I was willing to pay to achieve this. I did not buy an around-the-world ticket because many of my destinations and work projects were unconfirmed/undecided before my departure. I opted to maintain greater flexibility, and ended up visiting countries and participating in projects based on the recommendations of people I met on the road. This flexibility came with a price tag. But in the famous words of French songwriter Charles Dumont – “Non, je ne regrette rien.”
Accommodation: One of my main objectives l was to exchange work for food and accommodation, but some projects were unable to offer housing and the occasional project simply did not workout (to discover more, pick up a copy of The Traveller). I did occasionally pay for accommodation, but the total cost to accommodate myself was minimal compared to renting a flat for a year in most urban locations.
Reciprocity Donations: Some of the work projects requested administrative fees, or had other types of costs to be involved. Attaching cost to volunteerism is certainly fodder for a debate on the true meaning of “volunteering.” But I opted for non-absolutism in my travel philosophy. Essentially this meant that I would evaluate the overall learning potential of an experience, and if this meant paying minimal fees to be involved, I was willing.
Entry/Exit fees: Fairly self-explanatory. Some countries, such as India or Argentina have fees to enter or exit the nation. Fees can vary from one year to another, and often are scaled based upon the traveller’s country of origin (i.e. If you’re from a more developed nation, expect to pay more fees).
Health Insurance: I opted for a Canadian company that provided up to $1 million of coverage. For my one month in New Orleans I had to buy separate (and more expensive) insurance for coverage specifically in the USA (included in the $471 total). When purchasing international travel insurance, my advice is to ensure each country you are visiting is covered. Read the fine print.
Membership Fees: The cost to join certain online networks that match travellers with locals. These fees were definitely worth it.
How I got the money to make my dream a reality
The money came two ways:
1) I worked
2) I obtained a line of credit
Before leaving I read Vagabonding (by Rolf Potts). One of the take-aways was the concept of earning one’s travels. Essentially Potts states that the journey will be more meaningful if the traveller has worked to save money. After working (and saving) for a few years, I couldn’t agree more.
I had approximately $10,000 USD in savings to start my journey. This might sound like quite the cash wad, and that it might take forever to accumulate. But with a bit of budgeting and some discipline, monthly saving can become second nature.
I’m not going to tell you how to budget. There are a million blog posts out there with stellar strategies on how to save money. Go read them. But here’s what saving $10,000 can look like:
$500/month for 20 months = $10,000
$300/month for 36 months = $10,800
$200/month for 48 months = $9600
It would be foolish, however, to believe that $10 000 would be enough money for a year of travel to six different continents. So I went to the bank to request a line of credit. The first bank rejected my request of a $10,000 loan. The second bank approved my request, and subsequently offered me a $15,000 loan. (Rest assured that most banks are happy to have you owe them money.) I viewed the line of credit as a student loan. In my mind, a yearlong international journey was the epitome of education.
When I returned to Canada, I had several thousands of dollars of debt to pay off. But this debt didn’t discourage me. I’ve had student debt before, which I subsequently paid off.
(Editorial update: the debt from this trip was paid off within a year.)
Don’t be scared
Travel does not have to be financially frightening. A common misconception is that “travel” and “work” are mutually exclusive options. But they’re not. To make my journey economically realistic, I had to think about how I could reduce my costs. I was drawn to a work-exchange style of journeying, where I traded a certain amount of hours per day for food and accommodation. If a traveller is willing to work, the duration of the journey can be indefinite.
With that in mind, here are a few ways to reduce the cost of travel:
– Go to a single continent
– Hitch-hike or rideshare
– Stop buying stuff (TVs, new clothes, spa trips, etc)
A final word
Let’s go back to the start. The big question posed by this blog post was, “How much does it cost for a year of travel?”
My official answer for the record books is this: “Well, it depends on the degree of frugality in which one is willing to travel.”
If a traveller is pennywise and/or willing to focus on one corner of the world, it is possible to be on the road for a longer duration with even less money than I personally spent.
Before I leave you, let me put things into perspective. In 2015, USA Today reported that the average sticker price on a vehicle sold in the United States was $33,560 USD. I spent approximately $14,000 USD to travel to six different continents for an entire year. My trip was in 2011, and we have to take into account inflation. But even when we do, the figures are quite simple: I could get a new car or I could go around the world — twice. So could this all simply be a question of priorities?
If you want to make it happen, then make it happen.
(This article was first published in 2012.)