How Much Does It Cost For One Year of Travel?
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 to ‘get to’ eventually, perhaps after retirement or when a figurative ship comes rolling in. There are most definitely valid barriers preventing 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 blog post is not about quelling fear. If you need help, go talk to Oprah.
I’m here to talk about money. Does it need to be such a barrier?
Money is a touchy topic. Most people are terribly polite when it comes to the subject, often not wanting to offend others by posing personal questions. But since I am a mind reader, I know what you’ve been thinking. So I’m going to go ahead and ask the question for you:
“Hey Daniel, how did you afford to do such a trip?”
Well, friends, I’ve never been rich. My parents had meager schoolteacher salaries. I did not invent Facebook. I failed to find a pot of gold, even after bounding and gagging a Leprechaun. (But that’s a different story!) My journey across the world – to twelve different countries on six different continents – was self-funded (apart from reader gifts).
For the sake of sharing, and hopefully to provide a bit of 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…
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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:
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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: The goal was to exchange work for food and accommodation, but some projects were unable to offer housing and the occasional project simply did not workout (read: Morocco or Scotland). I did occasionally pay for accommodation, but the total cost to accommodate myself was minimal compared to renting a flat for a year in any western urban location.
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 sometimes this meant paying minimal fees to be involved.
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.
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HOW I GOT THE MONEY TO MAKE MY DREAM A REALITY
It was not rocket science:
1) I worked.
2) I got a line of credit.
Before leaving I read Vagabonding (by Rolf Potts). One of the ‘take-aways’ for me 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.
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
I’m not going to tell you how exactly to budget. There are a million blog posts out there with stellar strategies on how to save money. Go read them.
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, so I wrote them a mean blog post. 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. And think of a line of credit more as a student loan. A yearlong international journey is the epitome of education.
Now I’m back home in Canadaland, and have several thousands of dollars of debt to pay off. But this debt doesn’t discourage me. I’ve had student debt before, which I subsequently paid off.
Oh yes, and there’s that other reason why I’m not fazed:
Because I travelled around the world.
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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.
Here are a few ways to reduce the cost of travel:
- Go to a single continent
- Hitch-hike or rideshare
- Don’t buy shit
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 2004, Edmunds.com published a report stating that the average sticker price on a vehicle sold in the United States was $29,746 USD, and nearly ten years later, I’m certain that the figure has increased. I spent approximately $14,000 USD to travel to six different continents for an entire year. With this logic, I could get a new car or I could go around the world… twice. So really, it’s all about priorities.
If you want to make it happen, then make it happen.
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Please share this blog post with someone in your life who’s dreaming of long-term international travel.
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